HC Deb 16 April 1946 vol 421 cc2594-631

7.3 p.m.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid (Glasgow, Hillhead)

I beg to move, That the Order in Council, dated 20th March, 1946, amending Regulation 56A of the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939, and the Defence (Recovery of Fines) Regulations, 1942 (S.R. & O., 1946, No. 371), a copy of which was presented on 25th March, be annulled. This Order in Council is an addition to Defence Regulation 56A. That regulation is used for the purpose of preventing building operations being carried out without licence from the Ministry of Works. If any work is carried out, beyond what I think is at present the limit of £10 normally, either without a licence or in such manner as to infringe any condition in a licence, then no less than three different kinds of people are subjected to penalties: first, the person at whose expense the work is done; secondly, the person undertaking the work; thirdly, the architect or engineer who supervises the work. All three people are guilty if any infringement takes place. In the Defence Regulations there are set out defences, rather difficult to interpret in particular cases, which may easily give rise to quite legitimate differences of opinion. The first is, if those who are charged reasonably thought, when they began the work, that the permitted limit of expense would not be exceeded—a somewhat difficult question, very often, to determine whether that defence can be sustained. The second, equally difficult, is to the effect that a permit will not be required, and an offence will not be committed, if the work carried out was urgently necessary, so that it was impracticable to obtain the necessary authority. Obviously quite difficult questions can be raised there, and persons may easily be guilty of an offence without any serious criminal intent, merely by making some comparatively trivial error.

I agree that at the other end of the scale there may very well be deliberate attempts to evade this control. I realise that, as the Government policy is at present proceeding, this control is vital to them. Perhaps their policy is not as good as it should be. Nevertheless, we have to take things as we find them, and if they insist on this policy I cannot object to a raising of the maximum penalties. The maximum penalties at present are quite severe. They are, three months' imprisonment or £100 on summary conviction, and two years' imprisonment or £500 on indictment. It may well be—and I do not quarrel with this at all—that those penalties may have to be stepped up in particular circumstances. I ask the learned Attorney-General, whom I am glad to see in his place, whether he really thinks it a good thing to step up the penalty on summary conviction to the extent of one year's imprisonment. I do not take any exception to stepping up the penalty to seven years' penal servitude for the serious type of case. However, I do venture to suggest that we should not get out of line with the normal maximum penalty on summary conviction. I would be interested to know why a penalty so heavy as one year's imprisonment is thought necessary on summary conviction. Although the financial penalty may be raised—and I take no serious exception to that—for both summary conviction and on indictment, and although the penalty of imprisonment on indictment may be raised, we should be very careful about raising the penalty of imprisonment to these heights on summary conviction.

The main matter to which I have to draw the attention of the House is the novelty of a minimum fine. I draw the attention of the House to the new paragraph (6B): The minimum and maximum amount of the fine referred to (above) shall, subject to the provisions of the three next following paragraphs, be as follows… I leave the summary conviction and pass to the other, for a reason that will appear later: on conviction on indictment the minimum amount shall be the said cost of five hundred pounds, whichever is the less, and the maximum amount shall be three times the said cost or five thousand pounds, whichever is the greater. That does not make sense grammatically. The word "of" obviously ought to be "or," and it ought to read: …the minimum amount shall be the said cost or five hundred pounds, whichever is the less, and the maximum amount shall be three times the said cost or five thousand pounds, whichever is the greater. One would not mind very much about a misprint in a comparatively obscure part of an Order, but I am bound to say I am astonished that in the most important part of the Order we should be given a misprint of this kind. It is the sort of thing that would not have happened in ordinary times; it could not have happened. The idea that a document containing a misprint of this character was submitted to His Majesty in Council would be just unthinkable in ordinary times. I do not seek to blame anybody in particular for this, because I know that the Government are overdriving the machine, and this is the kind of thing that happens when the machine is overdriven. I hope the Government will take warning from this comparatively trivial incident, and see to it that the machine is not driven in such a way that those who are responsible for this important work have not even the time to see that there is no misprint in a legislative instrument. Of course, the Government must accept this Prayer. An Order containing an absurd misprint of that kind cannot be left. Therefore, because the Government must accept the Motion which I am now proposing, I cannot imagine the learned Attorney-General or the Parliamentary Secretary would wish to persist with an Order which contains an error of this character. I do not want to criticise anybody, but I think we shall criticise very strenuously if this Order is not withdrawn.

I pass to the problem of what the substituted Order should contain in addition to the correction of this misprint. A minimum fine is not a good thing, and I do not think either of the Law Officers would say that it was a good thing in the ordinary case, It is a bad thing, and I know of no precedent at all like this. I can think of only one, which is quite different, and that is the "black market minimum. There we do not have a settled sum; we have a minimum penalty of the amount of the profit involved in the offence. The amount of the profit is proved in the course of the case, and then, quite properly, the court is directed that, in the absence of special circumstances, the man must be fined the full amount of the profit. There the amount of the minimum fine depends on the circumstances of the case. In this case—and I know of no other—the amount of the minimum fine is settled in advance, however trivial the case may be. It is worse than that, because the amount of the minimum fine is £50 on summary conviction and £500 on indictment. It is bad enough for Parliament to enact a minimum fine, but it is very much worse that Parliament should delegate to somebody the settlement of what that minimum fine shall be, because the question of whether a case is to be taken summarily or on the indictment, according to the procedure with which I am familiar, is determined by the Lord Advocate and by nobody else, that is to say, by a Member of the Government. I know it is not quite the same in England. It is wrong for this House to delegate to a Member of His Majesty's Government the task of determining what shall be the minimum fine imposed upon a particular defendant. I hope that point will be taken into consideration.

What is the point of having a minimum fine at all? In the normal course Parliament indicates to His Majesty's judges the gravity of the offence, as they see it, by determining the maximum. Any court, seeing a maximum of seven years' penal servitude, will, of course, see that, apart from common knowledge, this is regarded by Parliament as a very serious type of offence; then it is the duty of the judiciary to determine what the penalty is to be. This is an encroachment by the Executive on the judiciary of a wholly unwarranted character. Why are His Majesty's judges not to be trusted to inflict a proper penalty? Is the object of this minimum fine to ensure that His Majesty's judges do their duty? Is it the Government's view that His Majesty's judges will not inflict a proper penalty unless this is done?

To my mind it seems to be rather insulting, and I do not think that is at the back of the minds of the draftsmen of this Order. There is some muddleheaded idea that the gravity of the offence is indicated by fixing a minimum fine, and the meaning of fixing a minimum fine is that it is ensured, or at least provided, that the man's deserts are not to be the measure of the penalty. No matter how technical the offence may be, no matter how deserving the man may be, he will still be fined £50 on summary conviction and £500 on indictment unless he can point to special circumstances.

What are these words "special circumstances "? They are not new. Under the Road Traffic Act the provision for the suspension of a man's licence can be modified for special reasons. Those words "special reasons" have caused the courts of Scotland a great deal of difficulty, and we have had a series of cases, but nobody has quite determined what they mean. But one thing is quite certain. It is not a "special reason" merely that the man does not deserve to have his licence suspended. It must be something different from the deserts of the individual offender to come up to "special reasons." If that is good authority there, it is good authority here, and, indeed, we should not want that authority here, because if it is suggested that it is a "special reason "that the man does not deserve to be fined £50, then the enactment of a minimum fine is wholly nonsensical. If we are going to reduce the minimum fine every time a man does not deserve it, we may as well not have one; and, therefore, the court will necessarily be driven to the conclusion that Parliament meant something different from merely reducing the minimum fine when the man appeared not to deserve it. This will result, in my judgment, in the courts construing this provision in this way.

We must contemplate circumstances in which this Order will require the court to impose upon the offender a penalty greater than he deserves by imposing this minimum fine. This, surely, is a new theory of criminal jurisprudence. I have always thought in the past that even the most reactionary people did not want to impose on persons who offended against the law a greater penalty than they deserved, and I thought hon. Gentlemen opposite regarded themselves as rather enlightened in the matter of criminal jurisprudence. I am very surprised that they of all people should come forward and say that they now require to impose upon offenders penalties which, admittedly, are not deserved, and that they are doing so only in order that it may be a warning to others not to offend. There is a good deal of controversy in legal circles about what is a proper philosophical basis of a scale of punishment, but I had thought that we were long past the day when the Government had to come forward to impose upon an offender a penalty which they knew he did not deserve because they thought that would act as a warning and a deterrent to others. That, unquestionably, is the theory that underlies this minimum fine. I defy anybody to prove otherwise.

It seems to me that we ought not to accept this new doctrine. If we are to accept this doctrine of imposing a minimum fine, which must be imposed even upon technical offenders, where are we to stop? Nobody can suggest that a breach of control of building regulations is one of the most serious crimes in the calendar. Nobody can even suggest that this control so much more vital to the recovery of this country than any other in the book of Defence Regulations. Why should it he treated separately? There are many other controls in the book much more important in the national interest. I cannot see any reason at all for imposing this new type of punishment in this limited class of case and not imposing it also in a great number of other controls under the Defence Regulations.

I do not know whether the Government intend to bring in this penalty in other cases. I do not know whether this is just an example of what we are seeing increasingly—that one Department in this Government does not know what another is doing. I strongly suspect that. I know how busy the Law Officers are. I am sure that this has not been properly considered by them. I strongly suspect that it has not been properly considered by other Departments concerned, and I suspect that this is a result of gross overwork, that one Department has had a bright idea which has slipped through without much criticism by other Ministers. It certainly slipped through without the supervision of the draftsmen, of the Stationery Office, or whoever has to see that these things are properly printed. I am very much afraid that this is a result of a little slackness and a little lack of coordination. The Attorney-General is really asking for well-merited comment from His Majesty's judges when they are asked to enforce this. I should have thought he would have sought to avoid that. But we shall see what they do. I do not think any of us would hold it against the Government, if they were to withdraw this, and modify the penalty. These things happen and it is a pity. But we hope that the Government can learn from their mistakes. It they persist in this new type of jurisprudence of a rather un-British character, I think we shall have to take such steps as are open to us.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether we are in Order in discussing this at all. It is within my recollection, which is, of course, quite different from that of the Law Officers, who were not in the old Parliament, that on a previous occasion we had a somewhat similar case in connection with the Unemployment Insurance Regulations. At that time, if my memory is right, the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T Smith) in the course of Debate found there was a misprint. It had no relevance at all to the subject under discussion; it did not make any difference. But it was then ruled that the Order could not be discussed, and the Order, as such, had to be withdrawn, and was discussed anew on another day. That is exactly what has happened here. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) has pointed out, the Order, as printed, on page 2, Bb, does not make sense. For that reason I submit that the Order should not be discussed any further until it is reprinted.

It is true that the Government have introduced a little corrigendum affair here with a sticky back. But in its present form, I submit, it is not valid. It just states that it is an Order in Council. It does not give the proper definition or state when the Council was held or where. At the end it just says "London. H.M. Stationery Office." I submit to you, Sir, that that is not a proper designation of the Order, because all the Orders bear the words "London. Printed and published by His Majesty's Stationery Office." That is the usual description, which is the common form and governs the validity of the document. This little corrigendum slip has none of that on it. On the precedent of the Unemployment Insurance Regulation, which had to be withdrawn on exactly the same ground, I put it to you, Sir, that we should no longer discuss this Order, but that the Government should withdraw and reprint it, and that we should discuss it on a future occasion.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has made a very interesting point; but as far as my recollection goes on the former occasion to which he refers, there was no slip attached amending the printing of the Order. It was incorrectly printed. In this case the House has a corrected form, and can learn how the Order should have been printed. On the former occasion, as far as my recollection goes, no public attention was drawn to the error until the time when the House discussed it. On this occasion, attention was drawn by a Question on the Order Paper, and, therefore, the House had notice, so to speak, that there was a slip and that there was a misprint. Therefore, it seems to me that this is correctly put before the House of Commons, and so far as I am concerned, I cannot rule that the mater should not be discussed.

Captain Crookshank

I am very much obliged to you, Sir, far what you have said But the House must surely take it that the original document was the document which was before the King's Most Excellent Majesty in Council. If we are right, we must assume that it was that document, which does not make sense, which was before His Majesty in Council. We then get this little document which corrects the mistake, but there is nothing to say the error has been before the King in Council and rectified there. It is on that point that I join issue with the Government

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Harold Wilson)

Further to that point of Order. Perhaps I can set the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's mind at ease. I can tell him that the original Order in Council, of which I have myself seen a copy—I had it dug out of the archives especially for this purpose—was quite correct, and that the misprint which has occurred, and for which my right hon. Friend apologised to the House this afternoon, occurred in the printing of the copies. I can give him the whole story of how it happened in the Stationery Office, but I am sure he does not want to press the matter so far. I can assure him, and you, Sir, that the Order was quite correct.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

How are we to know? Of course, I do not doubt the word of the hon. Gentleman, but these things must be done formally, I submit, and it is wrong that this House should have to depend upon the word of any Minister or any other Member of the House in matters of this kind, particularly as the hon. Gentleman has seen only a copy of the document which was submitted to His Majesty. He has not seen the document submitted to His Majesty in Council, and it is that document which ought to rule. We are entitled to have that document, and we ought to have a right copy before us. To say we are going to save 2½d. by putting in a corrigendum is absurd. I ask then whether it is proper for us to discuss this.

Mr. Speaker

The point has been carefully explained at Question time, and, therefore, the House has had notice of it. It is in Order to discuss it.

Captain Crookshank

Further to that point of Order. I am not sure whether this point is for you, Sir, or the Minister. What I had in mind and what I am wondering about is the position of the general public. Have any of these Orders gone out without this corrigendum? So far as I know, hundreds must have gone out, because the error was only discovered later on. That reinforces the point that I have been making to you; that we should not discuss it, until it has been reprinted correctly, because so far as this subject is concerned outside the House, those who have received the Order in its original form will see that it is nonsense and will be unable to be informed in the proper sense by that document. Of course, if I am assured that all the Orders recently printed have been withdrawn, and every one concerned now has a correct one, that alters the case, but, unless it is so, I submit that these Orders should be withdrawn, and should not be discussed, until the matter is clean and tidy.

Mr. Speaker

The situation, so far as I am concerned, is this: Has the document been properly presented to the House of Commons? I think it has been properly presented. What happens to the public is a matter which will he decided by our votes. I cannot rule the document out of Order because there is the possibility that one copy may have gone out without this corrigendum. We are discussing the document which has been put before us, and all we are concerned about is whether it is a correct document.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

I do not want to labour this point, but I have in my possession two copies which I obtained on different days from the Vote Office, neither of which has this corrigendum. I shall be surprised to be told that this corrigendum was added before yesterday, whereas the document has been available in the Vote Office for a matter of three weeks, and every copy issued to this House, and the copy which was laid on the Table of the House, were without the corrigendum. These copies have been issued from the Vote Office without the corrigendum to this House for a matter of three weeks, and I submit that at the last moment, to stick a piece of paper on the remaining few copies in the Vote Office, is not treating the matter properly.

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

May I point out that this Order has affected the law from the date of its presentation, 25th March, and that all the earlier copies of the Order have gone out without this addition?

Mr. Speaker

It seems to me, from the little Debate we now have had, whether "of" "or" "or" is the correct word, that public attention has been drawn to the misprint, and everyone who has a copy will now know perfectly well the position. As far as I am concerned, this document is in Order for discussion.

7.34 P.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston upon Thames)

The difficulties and the complications to which the printing error contained in this document has given rise, seem to me to be a most vivid illustration of this unsatisfactory method of dealing with serious matters of this kind by delegated legislation. Here we have a document which has been part of the law of the land for over a month, containing an error in the most vital part, which affects the subject, namely, the penal Clause. It is now admitted by the Government to be completely erroneous, which illustrates the dangers necessarily involved in dealing with criminal legislation by this method. It illustrates further the technical difficulties in which the Government involve themselves. I do not know whether it was by happy coincidence that the corrigendum happened to be mentioned at Questions today—no doubt it was a spontaneous Question to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works. I do riot know whether it is proposed to lay the corrigendum upon the Table of the House, and whether it will be possible to pray for its annulment within 40 days from today. It is an illustration of the complexities and technicalities in which the Government involve themselves by this method of legislation. It is no doubt by reason of this that the House has the advantage of having a straight flush of Law Officers to assist in the deliberations of this evening.

The position surely is this. The Amendment to the law affected by this Order is one of serious import in the criminal code. It involves the possibility of the imposition of a sentence of up to seven years' penal servitude. It is a serious matter, quite apart from the confusion in dealing with the matter in this way, and there is the further disadvantage that we are not told and have not been told of the necessity for it. Surely, if it is thought necessary by the Government to amend the law of the land so as to include serious and substantial criminal penalties, before that is done some explanation as to the necessity for this change should have been given. Had this matter been dealt with properly by Act of Parliament, an explanation would inevitably have been given by a responsible Minister on the Second Reading of the Bill. Here we find that the law is changed in this direction, and changed over a month ago, with no explanation whatever. Owing to the vigilance of certain hon. Members, it is only now that we have an opportunity to discuss it. On the principle of better late than never, I hope that someone on the Front Bench opposite will explain to the House the necessity for this very big increase in criminal penalties. I am perfectly certain that progressively-minded Members opposite would not increase the penalties of the criminal law in a light hearted or wanton manner. I am sure that there must be some serious and substantial justification for it.

It would appear that the existing penalties must have proved inadequate. I hope that the House will be told in full detail and with full evidence why the present penalties are inadequate, and why this change is necessary. There is the strange provision, to which my right hon. and learned Friend drew attention, that in the absence of special circumstances there shall be minimum penalties. I put it to the Government that that provision will either have no effect at all and will be worthless, because it will be disregarded, or, inevitably, it will cause injustice, because it will take away from courts of law their very difficult and complicated discretion in assessing a proper penalty. That is the dilemma with which we are faced. Either this provision is not worth the paper it is printed upon, because the courts will be able to find special circumstances, or it is a calculated attempt to inflict injustices on individuals. In matters affecting the safety of the Realm, it is necessary sometimes to include such a provision, but is it seriously suggested that breaches of the regulations, directions, orders and rules, and other pronunciamentos of the Minister of Works will affect the stability of the Realm to the extent that it is necessary to inflict serious hardship upon individuals in the administration of the criminal law?.

Finally there is this strange provision which gives to the Minister the right to direct that a case be not tried by the magistrates, but shall be sent for trial on indictment. The provision giving discretion to the Director of Public Prosecutions is not unreasonable, but why is it desirable to give these special powers to the Minister is it seriously suggested that the Minister is vindictively to pursue alleged offenders against his Orders? Is the Minister who has made the Orders to be entitled to dictate the forum in which breaches of these Orders are to be discussed and awards made? For a party which prides itself upon a progressive approach to criminal jurisprudence, this seems to be a strange provision.

I hope that we shall be given an assurance, if only as a result of the technical deficiencies which have been fully elucidated, that this Order will be withdrawn. If it is not, I hope that we may be taken fully into the confidence of the Government, and that they will explain why the necessity to increase the penalties has arisen. If a full explanation is not given, no doubt hon. Members on this side of the House and most people in the country will regard this Regulation as being simply part of the Government's policy to substitute the uttering of threats for the building of houses, and of indicat- ing, as a last resort, that they have decided to solve the problem of accommodation for our people by ensuring that, at any rate, there is no waste of accommodation in His Majesty's prisons.

7.41 p.m.

Mr. Weitzman (Stoke Newington)

I do not desire to criticise the Government with regard to the necessity of these provisions, but I wish to make one point with regard to Paragraph (6G) of this Order. I would like to draw the attention of the House to its wording: Where proceedings for an offence against this Regulation are being carried on before a court of summary jurisdiction—

  1. (a) by or on behalf of the Minister; or
  2. (b) by a person specified by an order made by the Minister and for the time being in force; or
  3. (c) by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions,
the court shall not deal with the case summarily if it is certified by the Minister or the Director of Public Prosecutions, as the case may be, that there are circumstances which make it undesirable that the case should be dealt with summarily. I desire to draw attention to what I suggest is a grave danger which is now increasingly affecting the liberty of the subject. In the days before the war, before the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939, were passed, the position was this: If a person committeed an offence and was dealt with summarily under the provisions of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, the proceedings had to be commenced within a period of six months. That was increased to 12 months by the Defence Regulation of 1939. That meant two things. It means, first, in the case of a Ministry bringing proceedings, that they had 12 months in which to make up their minds, and, if they did not do so, they could not bring summary proceedings. It also meant—and I want to impress this upon the House—that if proceedings were brought in summary fashion, and the Ministry failed in their case, the magistrates had power to grant costs against the Ministry. By way of contrast, if proceedings were brought by indictment, generally speaking, there was no time limit and there was no power to give costs to an injured person. The result, in my submission, is that a premium is given for delay.

Officials of any Ministry—I am not criticising any one in particular—if they care to delay, may take a considerable time in making investigations and bringing proceedings. Twelve months and possibly years may elapse, and, in that way, the matter is kept hanging over the head of the individual concerned. Then proceedings are brought by indictment, because there is no time limit, and when they are brought, the person concerned may be involved in an elaborate trial at assizes, quarter sessions or the Central Criminal Court, incur very considerable expense, and get no costs at all because the proceedings are brought by indictment. I suggest that that is a very grave danger, and it is very important to note it now because we must, by the very nature of things, have many more Orders brought into being The more Orders we have, the more provisions, and the more provisions, the greater the likelihood of more offenders. As there is no remedy against the Crown, and no question of costs, the result is that, if proceedings are brought by indictment, an innocent person may suffer very considerably..

I suggest that this is a power which ought to be exercised only in very special circumstances. I am glad to see that in this Order it is stated that the court shall not deal with the case summarily if it is certified by the Minister or Director of Public Prosecutions that there are circumstances that make it undesirable. But what are these circumstances? The circumstances are made in a very vague fashion. I should have thought that some indication would have been given to justify a course being taken which may mean so much to the subject. I agree with the criticism made on the other side of the House that the Minister should certainly not be the person to certify that this matter shall be dealt with by indictment and not summarily. I would suggest that the Director of Public Prosecutions ought not to be the person. Why a magistrate should not certify, I do not know.

We are in danger of taking away from the judicial functions which we praise very much in this country. Whatever Government is in power, we know that we have a splendid set of persons in our judges and magistrates, and we ought to rely upon them to act properly in these cases. I would press that the rule ought to be in this Order, and in other Orders, that the greatest possible care should be taken in every case which might tend to interfere with the liberty of the individual in that way. If you give him the right to trial in summary fashion, do not take it away in such a manner that you allow officials to delay for a long period, then get a certificate of special circumstances, and involve the individual in the cost of a trial before judge and jury without any possible compensation for the loss incurred.

7.47 P.m.

Mr. Maude (Exeter)

I feel somewhat diffident in following the hon. Member for Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) partly because I agree with him profoundly on certain points, and partly because I think he must have given considerable thought to arguing his contention. It seems to me that there must be power for the Minister to certify because—I am sure the hon. Member will see the point immediately—it is not wise that the Director should be involved in the case. It would be an intolerable nuisance, so far as the prosecution is concerned, if the Department who were prosecuting were perpetually having to consult the Director. If it was a very serious case, no doubt the Director would quite properly be invoked. Nevertheless, it does leave one with a considerable amount of anxiety on the point of delay. There is considerable force in what the hon. Member says about delay.

If I may be allowed to give the benefit of some experience in these matters from an angle which is not universally seen by hon. Members here, I have had and will have the opportunity of seeing this matter from the point of view of the Bench. May I draw attention, first, to the fact that, it is true, as the hon. Member has told the House, that there is a tendency to delay. He has voiced something which I can echo with absolute certainty. Certainly there has been this sort of tendency to delay. Let me draw attention to this because, although you entrust everything to the Law Officers and prosecuting agencies, such as the Director and so on, surely the House must be careful to try to understand the complexities in these matters and see that attention is given to these points.

I can think of a recent case, in one of the most distinguished courts of the realm, in which a man was brought there for an offence against a Regulation—quite properly, no doubt—but a mistake had been made in the indictment. Owing to a technicality, he was free, and months went by before that man was brought back again to the Old Bailey. There the case was dealt with, but the man had suffered agonies, and had become ill through worry. I will willingly give the Law Officers particulars of the case but I ought not to mention the name in this House.

The Department have now discovered that they desire to proceed in respect of matters well within their knowledge at the time when the man was brought before the Old Bailey months ago. I assure the House that unless we take particular care here to see that the various legal advisers to the different Ministries act with speed we may be certain they will not act with speed. It needs that spur, which the Lord President of the Council, or perhaps it was the Home Secretary, used to say should be applied to legal departments as well as other persons who may be a little dilatory.

May I turn to something different? I am not going to take the view of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). That does not mean that there is a division in the camp, because one may speak differently from one's colleagues on an administrative point. Let us turn to the short words Paragraph B and try to imagine ourselves in the position of the judge on an indictment at assize or quarter session. The House does not need an assurance that the judges are trying to do their duty and enforce the law of the land no matter who has brought the law into being. They try to see that the law is carried out. They have at the back of their minds the fact that they have to regard the individual who stands in the dock, which is a comparatively modern idea. They have to make the punishment not only fit the crime, but the individual. The judge finally hears the man either plead guilty or be found guilty. What does he then do? He has to turn to the Regulation and instead of finding something perfectly simple with a maximum penalty like seven years' penal servitude or a maximum fine of £7,000, he discovers that he has to look up and pay attention to a complex Regulation and that he has to impose a minimum fine. I can assure the House that that is quite unnecessary.

The whole desire of the justices of the peace or the court of assize or quarter session—and I am sure the Home Secretary will agree with me because he sat for several years in a most distinguished position—is to enforce the law. Having heard the police officer say what he has to say and having heard the pleas on the man's behalf, the courts of this country try to decide what is the right thing to do in the particular circumstances. On the whole, it is done extraordinarily well. We here tonight are satisfied that the administration of justice in this country is beyond reproach.

As far as the magistrates really following up the desires of the Government are concerned, there is no difficulty, and there are no complaints about it. There is no material to show that at all. When I say there is no material I do not want to exaggerate it. Of course, in individual cases a small penalty may be imposed which should be a lot larger. May I give an example of a case of receiving stolen goods? A small fine may be imposed whereas some people think that the man should go to gaol. On the whole, however, it has worked faithfully. With regard to Statutory Rules and Orders we find that a magistrate has to see whether, in fact, there is some minimum penalty, and then it is a considerable nuisance working out the minimum penalty. In Paragraph 1 (6B) we find The minimum and maximum amount of the fine referred to in paragraph (6A) of this Regulation shall, subject to the provisions of the three next following paragraphs, be as follows, that is to say— (a) on summary conviction the minimum amount shall be the cost of execution of the operation, or the carrying out of the work… It should not be like a mathematical calculation trying to enforce the laws of Parliament. It is not a fine piece of needlework. It is a rather broader thing. When one finds one has to decide the exact amount of the cost of the execution of the operation or the carrying out of the work one feels that the House is out of touch. May I show what happens when, having heard what is the cost of the execution of the operation, or the carrying out of the work involved, the chairman of quarter sessions, or the judge of assize, looks at, or has his attention drawn to, a paragraph which says that he need not impose the fine. unless, having regard to any special circumstances, the court thinks there is good reason for not imposing a fine or for imposing a fine of less amount. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) drew the attention to the difficulty of special circumstances in respect of an offence we all know and which we arc endeavouring to stop—being under the influence of drink to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of a motor vehicle. Those of us who have sat in the various courts and have looked up the Statutes already existing have found that there is no need to suspend a man's !icence for the automatic period of 12 months when there are special circumstances, but to find out what Parliament meant by special circumstances is extremely difficult. It is extraordinarily difficult to determine when circumstances are special. To say that a judge need not impose a fine if there are special circumstances is no help whatsoever. That is a bit of clever drafting; it is well drafted and I make no complaint of that. It is skilful drafting, but it does not help any of the conrts throughout the land in any shape or form. Let the House consider for one moment what happens. A judge tries to decide whether there are special circumstances for not imposing a fine. The judge or magistrate will remember that under the Summary Jurisdiction Act Parliaments that have gone before us have been extremely careful to see that penalties are not fixed as minimum penalties. In that connection I would draw attention to the customs' penalties. In the old days the customs people came down to the courts and demanded certain penalties, but in the Victorian days Parliament very sensibly and finally said, "No, we cannot have that; we will have the magistrates deciding the amount. We are not going to have a Government Department deciding the amount."

Recently that has been got round and no doubt it will be raised in this House at some future date. The weapon is being revived of a writ of Capias. The person concerned remains in gaol pending the decision of the Treasury to let him out. So far as taking proceedings against persons before a court of summary jurisdiction is concerned, the position until this war was almost invariably that no minimum penalty was laid down, but it 'vas really left to the magistrates to enforce the law and they did it well. To say to them that they must impose this or that amount is simply undermining the whole structure and asking magistrates to search in their minds to see if there are any special circumstances.

May I press the point about what is called the "drunk in charge case? In the case of a drunken motorist I believe that one of the most efficient ways which have been found of punishing him is by taking away his licence. Every now and again you will find that courts have taken away a man's licence for five years, often more. They have been experimenting, and watching their lists, to see how many cases of that kind have been brought before them. They have tried their hardest to see what is necessary, and no more. When anybody has been appointed to a judicial position in this country the Home Secretary used to send out—and, I fancy, still does—a circular saying, ' Do not send the man to prison unless you have made up your mind that it is really necessary." That 's the most useful bit of instruction I ever got from anybody.

I ask the House to look at the Regulation, and consider this: Supposing it had been drafted to say that the maximum penalty should be raised, on indictment, to seven years' penal servitude and a maximum fine of £5,000, who would mind? Nobody. But in order to do something clever, an extra bit has been put in about the minimum penalty, which gives justices and judges a power to mitigate a fine which they would have had already, if the whole matter was simply left to them. I speak with diffidence on this matter, because it is difficult, but if you know that at some future date that you will have to administer a particular law, you look at that law from the point of view of those who passed it, and wonder whether those who passed it really understood that what was being done was necessary.

I urge the House to say that this matter should be reconsidered, and the Regulation redrafted. Do not put in minimum penalties. Supposing you had a bench of justices, a body of hard-faced, tire some, magistrates—and I have no doubt that they exist, although not in Kingston, and places like that—who found it difficult to find special circumstances to enable them to mitigate the fine, who is in front of the court? Somebody who, you know quite well, has never been in trouble before, and who has never done any wrong at all. What happens? The magistrates are advised by the clerk that they must find special circumstances before they can mitigate the penalty, and there is then imposed on the wretched defendant a penalty that is far and away more than is necessary. That is the point I am pleading tonight. You must not set your courts to work imposing penalties that are more than necessary. Why is it thought that this is necessary? Why is it thought necessary to impose a minimum penalty? I honestly do not know why; I have not the slightest idea.

The sending to prison, which is provided for by the Regulation, is for three months on summary conviction, and the fine, on summary conviction, is £100. Is it sufficient? Who says it is not, and why not? There must be some reason to suppose that it is not. My own belief—and I say it in no uncertain terms—is that up till now it has been sufficient in the majority of cases which have been dealt with by the justices. If it is not, the case can be sent for trial. What do you find then? Something heavy. On indictment, there is liability for imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine not exceeding £500, or both. I suggest that it is taking leave of one's senses to suppose that there are persons who are prepared to enter into building operations and face two years' imprisonment lightheartedly, that there are people who would willingly undertake this work in order to make money, and be prepared to undergo two years' imprisonment. If there is a Member who believes in such a thing then the reason, I think, may be this: There are, on both sides of the House, Members who have been and are anxious to ameliorate punishment in gaols. The belief has grown up that prisons arc really very comfortable, that there are lectures, that the inmates mess together and have separate bedrooms, and that they have the wireless turned on at mealtimes. [Laughter.] I have not mentioned anything which is not a fact. The belief has grown up that a prisoner is able to pass in and out of his cell with much greater freedom—

Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)

Where is this prison? In the hon. and learned Member's imagination?

Mr. Maude

No. The hon. Member's recollection goes a long way back, I know, but things have changed. May I tell him, so that there is no doubt? Take the Exeter Gaol, which I know well, which I visit. After the first month of your imprisonment—I am sorry, when I said "your," I do not mean the hon. Member—which is a lone performance, although breakfast is delivered to your cell door, after that month there are midday and evening meals with the other prisoners—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

The hon. and learned Member is getting very wide of the subject.

Mr. Maude:

Well, perhaps the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) will come and see me afterwards, when I will give him all the assistance which we on this side usually give to Members opposite. The Home Secretary would, no doubt, be able to give him the same information, but at any rate what I have said, as will be seen in HANSARD tomorrow, is not incorrect.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)

Two years would not be punishment.

Mr. Maude

Two beers?

Mr. Messer

No, two years.

Mr. Maude

If the House thinks that two years is not enough I can assure you that the deprivation of liberty for such a period, even on the most benevolent terms, means exactly what it says. There is no reason to suppose that it is not sufficient. There is no reason for not doing what I have urged on the House, namely, put up the maximum to seven years' imprisonment and a fine of £5,000, if you like, but leave it to the courts.

8.9 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I can understand Members opposite raising this matter, because we are all aware that the repair or decoration, or adaptation and improvement, of business property is, in normal times, a perfectly lawful and highly desirable operation. This Order, which Members opposite are seeking to have annulled tonight, makes such building without a licence a serious criminal offence, and the House is certainly entitled to be told why we consider the Order to be necessary. I hope that when I have given an explanation those who have raised this matter, and others who may have been in doubt, will agree that it was absolutely necessary, and that any lesser measure would have been inadequate in the highly abnormal and difficult times in which we are now living.

The Order we are discussing piovides heavier penalties for a breach of Defence Regulation 56A, which came into force in October, 1940, and which prohibited all building work undertaken without authorisation or licence except within the financial limits prescribed by Order of the Minister of Works These limits are at present £10 on any single property in the current period of six months, plus £2 worth of work in each calendar month. At the outset, the financial limit was £500, but this was reduced in April, 1941, to £100 in any period of 12 months. Following the V-weapon attacks, it was further reduced to £100, first in London, and then in other areas of Southern England, and on 22nd March, 1945, the then Minister of Health in the Coalition Government—the right hon. and learned Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) —announced that, in view of the need for concentrating the maximum possible force of labour and materials on house building and house repair, the limit was to be fixed at £ for the whole country.

The need for this strict control of relatively unessential building is, I am sure, fully recognised by most hon. Members, although perhaps, judging from the discussion which has taken place in the last half an hour, it is doubtful whether some hon. Members opposite are fully aware of the need for it. I want to indicate very briefly why we consider this necessary. In spite of the rapid expansion of the manpower of the building and civil engineering industry in the last few months, it is still impossible to meet all the demands that could be placed on it in a free market, and impossible to meet the priority requirements, without the strictest control of less essential work. It is not generally realised that the number of building trade operatives employed on repairs and maintenance, to housing alone, before the war, was as big as the number employed on new buildings. During the six wartime years, there was virtually no private building, and the arrears of maintenance are so great that if we did not control them they would be enough to employ a labour force equal to the whole present manpower of the industry for at least a year to come, without leaving anyone for housing or other essential work.

Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)

Is it not a fact that there was a building force in prewar years of,000,000 or 1,250,000, and that the maximum number employed on maintenance was never more than 300,000, so that it could not he equal to the whole present manpower of the industry?

Mr. Wilson

I said that it would be equal to the number employed on the provision 'of new houses.

Mr. Bossom

Only about 300,000 were so employed before the war.

Mr. Wilson

I think the hon. Member will find that the figures are very close to what I have said. It is not only a question of manpower. As I think the House will realise, the pressure on available supplies of building materials is even more severe than the pressure of manpower. I take it that the need for the licensing system, and for pressing it right to the £10 limit, is accepted on all sides of the House. What I have been asked to explain by a number of hon. Members is why the existing powers under Regulation 56A are inadequate and why this new Order has been found necessary. It was necessary to tighten up our powers because there was and is a large and most malignant black market in unessential building—hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of building far in excess of the £10 limit, without any licence, or of building far in excess of licences which have been issued. I was fascinated by the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude), who proved, in a way I could not possibly disprove, because of the complexity of his argument, that with the penalties as they are today no one would think of doing any black market building. But the plain facts are that there is an enormous black market going on in spite of the hon. Member's proofs.

Mr. Maude

That was not my suggestion. In order to stop crime of that sort, one has to catch the people. If one catches them, one finds that the fine, or the two years' imprisonment, is quite enough. But it may not be possible to catch them. That is the trouble.

Mr. Wilson

I am sorry if I misrepresented the hon. and learned Member's argument, which was a little difficult to follow. The point is that if we have a sufficiently heavy penalty, we hope we shall deter a very large number of those people whom the hon. and learned MemLer advises us to try to catch which is not always too easy. This black market is certainly going on, although much of the Debate this evening has taken place in almost happy ignorance of the fact that the black market is so serious. I do not think we can sufficiently strongly condemn this kind of conduct among those who are running the black market. It means that property owners are gratifying their desire for improvements in their house, or for changes in their place of business—a very large proportion of the cases which have been brought were night clubs, restaurants, and so on—on a scale sufficient to endanger the housing programme. Such property owners—I know they are a small minority—and the builders who collaborate with them, and often lead them on—again a small minority—tempted by the higher profits they can obtain, are not only deliberately flouting the law. Although they may not realise it, they are standing in the way of someone, with very much greater need than themselves, getting a house. We must make it quite clear that this sort of activity is not merely a technical offence; it is a selfish and an immoral course of action. Too many people have thought of black market building in the past as a fair game; they have thought of it rather in the way they have thought of defrauding the Customs. If they could get away with it, they were clever, and no harm was done But we must emphasise that great harm has been done, and the small minority of builders who have gone in for this sort of activity are most severely condemned by the great majority in the industry, who realise what it means.

Mr. Bossom

Could the hon. Gentleman give us any figures or an estimate of the numbers doing this? It is rather important to have an estimate, because we may be getting this entirely out of perspective.

Mr. Maude

How many prosecutions have there been?

Mr. Wilson

I am sure that no one will realise better than the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) that it is extremely difficult to form any estimate of the exact numbers employed in the black market—

Mr. Bossom

The approximate number would do.

Mr. Wilson

—because it is permissible to undertake building work up to the £10 limit. Unless it were possible to take returns from the builders in the black market it must be, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, quite impossible to say how many builders are engaged in black market operations and how many in legitimate maintenance.

Mr. Bossom


Mr. Wilson

It is not possible to give even an approximate figure.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

Could the hon. Gentleman tell us how many prosecutions there have been? Mr. Wilson: No, Sir, I am afraid I have not the figures with me. If the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question he will be given the information.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

Can we have the number of cases of indictment?

Mr. Gallaeher (Fife, West)

Not enough.

Mr. Wilson

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will put down a Question it will be answered at the appropriate time. What I am telling the House, and what everyone on this side realises, is that whether we can give figures or not there is a very serious black market going on, and anyone who knows anything about the building industry today or is in touch with that industry will know that it is one of our biggest problems. It is not always necessary to put statistics to a problem to prove that it exists. The local authorities are particularly anxious, and only last week I was approached by the Chairman of a Housing Committee in the North who was greatly concerned about the amount of black market work in his city in spite of the previous Regulation. He was concerned about the extent to which it was likely to interfere with the housing scheme and he asked us for a promise to cooperate to the full under our new powers to stamp out that black market.

It is in those circumstances that increased powers have been sought and obtained by means of these two Orders, Numbers 371 and 372. I believe the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Motion relates only to No. 371. What is the effect of these powers? First, as hon. Members have said, they increase the maximum penalties which may be imposed, both on the building owner and on the contractors, from £100 fine and three months' imprisonment on summary conviction, or £500 fine and two years' imprisonment on indictment, to £500 or the cost of the work, whichever is the greater, and one year's imprisonment on summary conviction, or £5,000 fine or three times the cost of the works, whichever is the greater, and penal servitude for seven years on indictment.

Secondly—and I think this is the principal point to which the right hon. Gentleman has objected—for the first time in building regulations, minimum penalties are laid down: £50 or the cost of the work, whichever is the less, on summary conviction; £500 or the cost of the work, whichever is the less, on indictment. Before I come back to that point I should add that thirdly, S. R. & O. No. 372, which was made at the same time, amending Regulation 56 AB, provides that, if the court so recommends, the Minister can revoke or suspend the registration certificate of any contractor convicted of an offence against the licensing regulations, and of course, without being so registered, he cannot undertake any building work. I rather gather that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are not protesting against that particular power given to the Ministry.

In view of what I have said about the inroads of the black market into the housing programme, new and more realistic penalties had become necessary before this Order was made.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It would be of assistance if the Minister could tell the House of any particular case in which the existing penalties have been too light for the offence.

Mr. Wilson

No, Sir, I am not going into past cases but I think it will be understood that the need for this Regulation is to act as a deterrent to this kind of thing in the future.

Mr. Bossom


Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

The hon. Member cannot intervene unless the Minister gives way.

Mr. Wilson

If the hon. Gentleman will let roe continue I think I can deal with this point. Before this Order was made the kind of penalties—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It would be better if the conduct of the House were left to the Chair.

Mr. Wilson

—the kind of penalties which could be imposed were not adequate. A rich and unpatriotic household —and there are some—to whom high building costs meant little would not be deterred by the addition to those costs of a moderate fine; a night club proprietor who was prepared to spend £1,000 or £1,500 on some building or decorative work—and I can give plenty of cases of those—and the builder who did it, would regard the previous penalty as merely a small addition to their working expenses. The new penalties, both maximum and minimum, are in line with those applicable in cases of conviction for operations in the food black market, where the fines are related to the money involved.

Hon. Gentlemen have complained about these minimum penalties as though they were an entirely new thing in this country. Let me remind them that minimum penalties in connection with the food black market were introduced by a Noble Lord whom hon. Members opposite never cease to praise, when the food situation became critical early in the war. Their introduction now shows the gravity with which the Government regard this particular black market, and the determination with which we are prepared to stamp it out.

I should like to refer to the question, upon which there was considerable discussion, of the misprint in the Order. It is, as my right hon. Friend said this afternoon, in answer to a question, a very regrettable thing to have occurred. My right hon. Friend did express his apologies for the fact that it had occurred. As I have explained tonight, and as he explained this afternoon, the original Order, as made, which I have myself seen, was perfectly correct. In view of the long discussion that went on about this matter, perhaps I should explain exactly what did occur. The original Order had been made, and the Stationery Office was preparing to start printing the copies for sale to the general public. A proof reader noticed that the word "or " in paragraph 613 (b) was rather faint. He asked the printers to bring it out more clearly. He did not realise that this would involve resetting the whole line, but that is what the printer did.

He returned the proof to the proof reader who, not being aware that the line had been reset, failed to observe the error. No proofs were sent to my Department, because this was purely a reprinting; so the error was not seen. I think I can say that it is the kind of mistake which would happen perhaps once in several thousand cases, and it is not likely to occur again. We have expressed our apology on behalf of the Stationery Office for what occurred.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

When was the error first seen?

Mr. Wilson

The day after the Order was laid, on the 25th or the 26th.

Mr. Reid

On a point of Order. This is really treating the House with the grossest disrespect. I have myself obtained from the Vote Office, days and weeks after those dates, uncorrected copies. Why did that happen?

Mr. Wilson

As soon as the error was discovered corrigendumslips were printed, and when they were available they were attached.

Mr. E. P. Smith


Mr. C. S. Taylor

On a point of Order.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Hon. Members cannot speak unless the hon. Member addressing the House gives way.

Mr. Taylor

As this is a matter which falls within your jurisdiction, Sir, may I ask how many uncorrected copies of this Order went out from the Stationery Office?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is a question that I cannot answer.

Mr. E. P. Smith

When the error was first discovered was the Select Committee's attention drawn to the matter?

Mr. Wilson

I am sorry I cannot give the figures but I am sure that very few went out to the general public that were not corrected. With regard to the Scrutiny Committee, I should say that this Order went through them last week with thecorrigendumslip attached and that there was no comment and no discussion by any Member of the Scrutiny Committee.

Captain Crookshank

On a point of Order. By what authority has the Minister any right to tell the House what happened in a Select Committee? The proceedings of a Select Committee are known only to the Members of that Committee, until such time as a verbatim report is published. By what authority can the Minister make that statement?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think the Minister's remarks would have been out of Order if he had prefaced his remarks with the words "So far as I know," the Select Committee had no comment to make.

Captain Crookshank

On that point of Order. The Minister has no means of knowing, unless it is by an improper disclosure by a Member of the Committee, and I ask him to withdraw the statement altogether.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think it would be advisable if the Minister withdrew that statement.

Mr. Wilson

I will withdraw the statement. I have not seen any report of the Committee drawing attention to this, but if that statement is not in Order, I ask leave to withdraw it. I am not aware, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will agree, that there is anyone in this country who, because of this misprint, would have been induced to go in for any black market building that he would not otherwise have done. There has been a long discussion on the subject tonight which has been carried on without sufficient regard to the urgent needs of the housing situation, which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are always complaining is not being dealt with at sufficient speed. I want to re-emphasise that the Government building programme involves not merely maximum materials production and maximum build-up of manpower in the constructional industries but also the maximum possible deployment of men and materials on essential building materials and housing. We can learn a lesson from the end of the last war. The Government of that day, impatient to remove controls as soon is possible, revoked the regulations which controlled unessential building on 14th January, 1919, and that was one of the reasons why virtually no working class houses were built for a year or two after that. Plenty of building was done in 1919 and 1920, but far too large a proportion went into unnecessary luxury improvement and building for those with the longest purses, and the erection of great mansions for the war profiteers.

Sir William Darlinģ (Edinburgh, South)

Name one.

Mr. Wilson

The building programme of the present Government, under the controls which this House has authorised them to make, is not only far outstripping the achievements at the end of the last war, but is directed and concentrated on meeting the requirements of those in the greatest need for houses. It is because the Government want to emphasise the urgency of this problem and want to show the need for controlling this black market, that I hope this House is not going to be led into temptation on the matter of this Order which has been raised tonight.

An Hon. Member

No danger.

8.34 P.m.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid Bedford)

We really cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to get away with a lame explanation of that kind. At various stages throughout his rather rambling speech, he attempted to fasten on the Opposition a desire not to forward the building programme and to show indifference to the amount of unauthorised building that is taking place in various parts of the country. At the end of his speech, he made the astonishing statement that at the end of the last war palaces were being built for the well-to-do or lavish changes were being made in some people's houses. As no doubt even the back bench Members on the Government side know, the Minister responsible for housing at the end of the 1914–18 war was the present Secretary of State for the Dominions in the Socialist Government. It is true that he was sacked for incompetence by the then Prime Minister and that he had to wait for his political revival until the present Prime Minister felt that he was about the best person he could find to fill high office in another place.

The hon. Gentleman made a series of very wild and vague charges, and we are now beginning once more to see the careful build-up of the Socialist Party alibi. On almost every public issue, whenever there has been a Socialist Government, and never more so than now when, we are assured, for the first time they have real power, they are anxious to show that somebody else is really responsible for their failure to carry out their sweeping election promises. Now it is the surreptitious, illegal builders who are really sabotaging the building programme. The truth of the flatter is, of course, that at the General Election, in a desire to snatch a cheap Party advantage, they made a series of wild promises which now they find themselves hopelessly unable to implement. We watch from our historic seclusion in Opposition the birth of a new legend, and it is of very considerable interest to all of us to be in at the christening tonight.

One or two charges have been made, and one or two direct questions have been asked of the Parliamentary Secretary, and I really think he might give us an answer. If, in fact, there has been a widespread breaking of the law, why have there been so few prosecutions? Can he. give us chapter and verse? Can he tell us how many prosecutions there have been, and how many prosecutions were nearly made and then they found they were perhaps barking up the wrong tree? The Parliamentary Secretary tells us to put a Question down, yet this is a Debate on the subject, and since when has Parliamentary Question been a substitute for proper argument in the House of Commons when a formal Debate is taking place? I really believe that the defence put forward by the Parliamentary Secretary is about the lamest statement from the Government Front Bench we have had today, and that is saying a very great deal indeed.

Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)

Remember the statements you used to make.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

We object to this Order—

Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)

Will the hon. Member give way? Was he trying to elucidate a point from the Parliamentary Secretary, or was he simply gloating over the inability of the Government to prosecute these people?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Not in the least. I was asking the Parliamentary Secretary—if he had got up instead of his stalwart champion, I would have sat down—how many cases of prosecution had taken place, and in how many cases they failed to prosecute when they felt there was aprima faciecase to do so. If the hon. Gentleman will answer, I will willingly sit down; if he does not, then one can only imagine that he is not prepared to give the answer.

Mr. Wilson

I think the figure of prosecutions in the last six or seven months has been something like 75, but I am not quite certain.

Sir W. Darlinģ

Does that include Scotland?

Mr. Wilson

The number of cases where it might have been possible to prosecute, that is, the number of cases reported to us withprima facieevidence of black market building, were something like 200 times the number of cases in which proceedings were taken.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Then all I can say is that that is a pretty extraordinary reflection on the functioning of the Law Officers of the Crown. I shall be equally ready to give way for the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General if he will tell the House why no action was taken in these several thousand cases. It would be extremely interesting to know. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman vouchsafe the House an answer?

Mr. Kirkwood


Mr. Lennox-Boyd:

We are getting more and more valuable information. A few minutes ago the Parliamentary Secretary told us that the whole of the Government building programme was being held up by illegal building activities; he now tells us that, with the full power of the State mobilised against these people whom, on all sides of the House, we deprecate, and whose actions we all want to stop, only 75 prosecutions have taken place. That is, 75 prosecutions have been holding up a building programme which, I believe, to quote the words of the Foreign Secretary at the last Election would give us 4,000,000 houses in double quick time. The Parliamentary Secretary, I think, will have to get another brief. We have had no answer to the real questions of principle which have been raised. If we do not get an answer—and the Law Officers are particularly involved —we shall be obliged to take this Prayer to a Division.

In how many cases was this Order without the corrigendum issued to the general public? Is it not a fact that private citizens in this country may be prosecuted for infringing the Order which, when they received it and read it, made absolute nonsense? If that is so, it is a pretty poor augury for the private subject when we are assured that government by Statutory Rules and Orders will rapidly replace government by Parliament. The House is entitled to an answer to that question. We want further information on this question of minimum penalties. I speak with hesitation here as a pure layman—as a layman, in deference to the hon. and learned Gentleman I will withdraw the adjective. As a layman, it seems to me that this certainly is breaking new ground. I understood as a layman that there were very few offences in which minimum and fixed penalties were imposed, murder and treason being the most obvious.

The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned food penalties. I was, for a brief period, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food and my recollection of Orders there was that the penalty was based on the amount of profit the man who broke the regulation had in fact made. If that is so, and I stand to be corrected, it is no parallel whatever for these quite fortuitous and sweeping penalties which this Order enforces. For 100 years we have been rapidly getting rid of fixed and minimum penalties in the law of England. I should be very interested to know what is the attitude of the Home Secretary to an order of this kind. Did this go before the Cabinet Committee? Has the Home Secretary expressed an opinion on it? He came in for a few minutes and, no doubt for the first time, saw the Order, and beat a very hasty and wise retreat. The Home Office has realised for more than a generation, indeed for many generations, that fixed and minimum penalties of this kind defeat the ends of justice, and judges and juries alike are reluctant to convict in such cases, where the fixed penalties are out of tune with the gravity of the offence committed. We are entitled to a proper explanation from the Attorney-General himself. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry indulged in a few prehistoric sentiments about these penal sentences preventing the commission of crime. I thought we had got past that long since.

This is an attempt by His Majesty's Government, by increasing penalties, to cover up their failure to provide houses. We notice with interest that joint action is to be taken, or action taken singly by the Minister or by the Director of Public Prosecutions. We have a lively recollection of the collapse of the first Socialist Government because of a slight difference between their Front Bench and the Director of Public Prosecutions. We believe the collapse of this Administration, the first with full power, may come as a result of the complete failure of their housing programme. That is why it gives us certain ironical satisfaction to sec the marriage of the Minister and the Director of Public Prosecutions in this new Order. But our satisfaction is tempered by the fact that large numbers of our fellow citizens were in ignorance of the real purport of the Order and that, for the first time in my recollection, minimum and fixed penalties are to be imposed in defiance of the developments of the last 100 years.

8.45 P.m.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

We really cannot allow the Attorney-General [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is really quite monstrous. We have two Law Officers here. A matter of important legal principle was put forward. I challenged the Law Officers to deny my statement that all we got in reply was a long rambling statement which did not answer my points at all, because it had obviously been prepared before I spoke. We are entitled, on a matter raising important legal principles of this sort, to have an answer from a Law Officer of the Crown. If we do not, the reason is obvious. It is because the Law Officers dare not de— fend this Order, and I am not at all surprised. I knew that the Socialist Party were a good many years out of date, but I did not think they were about 200 years out of date. About 200 years ago it was thought that if penalties were increased that decreased crime. Accordingly, all kinds of things, from sheep-stealing downwards, were made capital offences. Not many offenders were caught, and crime flourished. It was only in the course of last century that we discovered that the right way to stop crime was not to increase penalties, but to catch more of the offenders.

The Parliamentary Secretary has said that, in this matter, for every one caught there are 100 offenders. What is the good of asking for increased penalties in those circumstances? This Order will not enable the Department to catch one single additional offender. All it will do will be to increase the penalties of those who are caught. We are here back to the old days of making a thing a capital offence, of not bothering to tighten up the machinery of enforcement, and hoping that crime will stop. I counsel the hon. Gentleman to reduce the penalties, make better the enforcement machinery and prosecute the people who he says are offending. If he can only prosecute one in Too, the present administration must be beneath contempt.

8.48 p.m.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

I would like to move the Adjournment of the Debate owing to the failure of either of the Law Officers, who have sat and heard the discussion, to give the House any advice on a question for which they are paid to give us advice. It is the duty of the Law Officers, when questions of law are raised, to answer them. We have no quarrel with the Minister. He is not here as one of our legal advisers His speech was adequate for the points with which he dealt, but if the Law Officers persist in not giving us any kind of advice, I wish to move that this Debate may be adjourned, in order that they can think out something to say when we resume it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I cannot accept the hon. and gallant Member's Motion. I understand that the responsible Minister, admittedly a junior Minister, has replied at length. This has been a long Debate, and it seems to me that it is not a proper case in which I can exercise my discretion and accept an Adjournment Motion.

Captain Crookshank

Then may I ask what useful purpose is served by the Law Officers sitting here?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is not a matter for me.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

Many questions have been asked. The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) said that speakers on the other side were being treated with great disrespect. Do they ask honest men to treat them with anything else but disrespect when they are defending black marketeers? For people to get a little extra profit is no serious crime to them, but we see men, women and innocent children dying for the lack of homes. That is why we cannot have any respect

of any kind for those who try to defend the people who commit these offences.

Question put, That the Order in Council, dated 10th March, 1946, amending Regulation 56A of the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939, and the Defence (Recovery of Fines) Regulations, 1942 (S.R. & O., 1946 No. 371), a copy of which was presented on 25th March, be annulled.

The House divided: Ayes, 76; Noes, 282.

Division No. 130.] AYES. 8.50 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. G. Raikes, H. V.
Baldwin, A E. Grimston, R. V. Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)
Barlow, Sir J. Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley) Sanderson, Sir F.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Haughton, S. G. Scott, Lord W.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells) Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C. Shepherd. Lieut. W. S. (Bucklow)
Bossom, A. C Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport) Smith, E. P (Ashford)
Bower, N. Hurd, A. Snadden, W. M.
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr, J. G. Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.) Spearman, A. C. M.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Jennings, R. Spence, Maj. H. R
Challen, Flt.-Lieut. C. Kerr, Sir J. Graham Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Strauss, H G. (Com. Eng. Univ'sities)
Cooper-Key, E. M. Langford-Holt, J. Studholme, H. G.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Law, Rt. Hon. R. K. Sutcliffe, H.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H, Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Crowder, Capt. J. F. E. Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F.
Cuthbert, W. N. Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.) Wakefield, Sir W. W.
Darling, Sir W. Y. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Walker-Smith, D.
Davidson, Viscountess Maitland, Comdr. J. W. Whealley, Colonel M. J.
Drayson, Capt. G- B. Marshall, D. (Bodmin) White, J. B. (Canterbury)
Drewe. C. Maude, J. C. Willink, Rt. Hon. H. U.
Ecoles, D. M. Medlicott, Brig. F Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Erroll, F. J. Mellor, Sir J. York, C.
Fletcher, W. (Bury) Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)
Foster, J. G. (Northwich) Neven-Spence, Major Sir B. TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. Nicholson, G Mr. Boyd-Carpenter and
Gammans, Capt. L. D. Noble, Comdr. A. H. P. Mr. G. S. Taylor
Gates, Maj. E. E. Prescott, Stanley
Adams, W T. (Hammersmith, South) Brawn, T. J (Ince) Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)
Adamson, Mrs. J. L Bruce, Maj. D. W. T. Dumpleton, C. W.
Allen, A. C. Bosworth) Buchanan, G. Durbin E. F. M.
Anderson, A (Motherwell) Burke, W. A. Ede, Rt. Hon J. C.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)
Attewell, H. C. Callaghan, James Evans E. (Lowestoft)
Austin H L. Castle, Mrs. B. A. Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)
Awbery, S. S Champion, A. J Ewart, R.
Ayles, W H. Chater, D. Fairhurst, F
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B. Chetwynd, Capt G. R. Farthing, W. J.
Bacon, Miss A. Clitherow, Dr. R. Foster, W. (Wigan)
Baird, Capt. J. Cluse, W. S. Fraser, T. (Hamilton)
Balfour, A. Cobb, F. A. Freeman, Maj. J. (Watford)
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J. Coldrick, W. Freeman, Peter (Newport)
Barstow, P. G. Collick, P. Gaitskell, H. T. N.
Barton, C. Collindridge, F. Gallacher, W.
Battley, J. R. Collins, V. J. Ganley, Mrs. C. S.
Becnervaise, A E Colman, Miss G. M. George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)
Belcher, J. W. Comyns, Dr. L. Gibson, C. W.
Benson, G. Cook, T. F. Gilzean, A.
Beswick, Fit.-Lieut. F. Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.) Glanville, J. E. (Consett)
Bevan, Rt. Hon A. (Ebbw Vale) Corvedale, Viscount Gooch, E. G
Bevin, Rt. Hon. E. (Wandsworth, C.) Daggar, G. Goodrich, H. E.
Bing, Capt G. H. C. Daines, P. Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)
Binns, J. Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Grenfell, D. R.
Blenkinsop, Caot A Davies, Edward (Burslem) Grey, C. F.
Blyton, W. R. Davies Ernest (Enfield) Grierson, E.
Boardman, H. Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S W.) Griffiths, D. (Rather Valley)
Bottomley, A. G. Deer, G Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)
Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W. de Freitas, Geoffrey Griffiths, Capt. W. D. (Moss Side)
Bowen, R. Delargy, Captain H. J. Guy, W. H.
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Diamond, J Haire, Flt.-Lieut. J. (Wycombe)
Braddook, Mrs. E. M. (L'p'l, Exch'ge) Dobbie, W. Hale, Leslie
Braddook, T. (Mitcham) Dodds, N. N Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.
Brook, D. (Halifax) Donovan, T. Hannan, W. (Maryhill)
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Driberg, T. E. N. Hardy, E. A.
Harrison, J. Medland, H. M. Snow, Capt. J. W.
Hastings, Dr. Somerville Messer, F. Solley, L. J
Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Mikardo, Ian Sorensen, R. W.
Herbison, Miss M. Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R Soskice, Maj. Sir F.
Hewitson, Capt. M. Mitchison, Maj. G. R. Stamford, W.
Hobson, C. R. Monslow, W. Stewart, Capt. Michael (Fulham, E.)
Holman, P. Moody, A. S. Stubbs, A. E.
Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth) Morley, R. Summerskill, Dr. Edith
Horabin, T. L. Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.) Symonds, Maj. A. L
House, G Morris, P. (Swanrea, W.) Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Hoy, J. Mort; O. L Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Hubbard, T. Murray, J. D. Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Nally, W. Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr) Neal, H. (Claycross) Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.) Thomas, John R. (Dover)
Hughes, Lt. H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.) Noel-Buxton, Lady Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Ed'b'gh, E.)
Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) O'Brien, T. Thorneycroft, H
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Oldfield, W H. Tiffany, S
Jeger, Capt. G. (Winchester) Oliver, G H. Timmons, J.
Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.) Orbach, M. Titterington, M. F.
John, W Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth) Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G
Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury) Turner-Samuels, M.
Jones, J. H. (Bolton) Palmer, A. M. F. Ungoed-Thamas. L
Jones, P. Asterley, (Hitchin) Pargiter, G. A. Usborne, Henry
Kenyon, C. Parkin, Fit.-Lieut. B. T. Viant, S. P.
Key C. W. Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe) Walker, G. H.
King, E. M. Paton, J. (Norwich) Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E. Peart, Capt. T. F. Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Kinley, J. Perrins, W. Warbey, W. N.
Kirby, B. V. Popplewell, E. Watson, W. M.
Kirkwood, D. Porter, E. (Warrington) Weitzman, D.
Lavers, S. Porter, G. (Leeds) Wells, P L. (Faversham)
Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J. Pritt, D. N. Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Lee, F. (Hulme) Proctor, W. T. Westwood, Rt. Hon. J.
Lee, Miss J. (Cannock) Pursey, Cmdr. H White, C. F. (Derbyshire, W.)
Leonard, W. Ranger, J. White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Leslie, J. R. Rankin, J. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Levy, B. W. Reeves, J. Wigg, Col. G. E
Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton) Reid, T. (Swindon) Wilkes, Maj. L.
Lewis, J. (Bolton) Rhodes, H. Wilkins, W. A.
Lewis, T. (Southampton) Ridealgh, Mrs. M. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Lipton, Lt.-Col. M Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire) Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Logan, D. G. Robertson, J. J. (Berwick) Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Longden, F. Rogers, G. H. R. Williams, Rt. Hon T. (Don Valley)
McAdam, W. Sargood, R Williams, W. R. (Heston)
McEntee, V. La T. Scollan, T. Williamson, T.
McKay, J. (Wallsand) Shackleton, Wing-Cdr. E. A. A. Willis, E.
Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.) Sharp, Lt.-Col G. M. Wills, Mrs. E A
Maclean, N. (Govan) Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes) Wilson, J. H.
McLeavy, F Shawcross, Sir H. (St. Helens) Wise, Major F. J
MacMillan, M K Shurtner, P. Woodburn, A.
Mainwaring, W. H. Silverman J. (Erdington) Woods, G. S
Mallalieu, J. P. W. Simmons, C. J. Yates, V. F.
Mann, Mrs. J. Skinnard, F. W. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping) Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir B. (Rotherhitbe) Younger, Hon. K. G
Marquand, H. A. Smith, Capt. C. (Colchester) Zilliacus, K.
Marshall, F. (Brightside) Smith, Ellis (Stoke)
Mathers, G Smith, H. N (Nottingham, S.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Mayhew, C. P. Smith, T. (Normanton) Mr. Joseph Henderson and
Mr. Pearson.