HC Deb 21 April 1948 vol 449 cc1892-5

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

I wish to bring before the Home Secretary a point which I think creates a difficulty in the operation of this Clause. The Clause is designed to bring into operation proceedings under the Ballot Act, 1872, and the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, 1883, in order that in any infringement under the present Bill these particular statutes should be made machinery with which to institute proceedings for offences under the Bill and to apply the appropriate punishment. There is by Clause 67 added to the two statutes I have mentioned proceedings to come under the present Bill. That brings in Clause 35 which we were discussing last night in regard to any person transmitting from abroad with a view to influencing the voting at a Parliamentary election here. The phrase "any person," or as it says there "no person," which in effect is the same for this purpose, must include persons other than British subjects. I think that was expressly conceded yesterday by the Home Secretary.

So far as Clause 67 is concerned any offence under this particular Bill relates expressly only to British subjects and to no one else. In that connection it has to be remembered that Subsection (3) of Clause 35 states specifically that any offence under Clause 35 is to be: an illegal practice within the meaning of the parliamentary corrupt practices Act. I take it that that means the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Acts of 1883 and the amending Act of 1895. If that stood alone, that would make a person other than a British subject liable, although Clause 35 does not attach any sanction whatsoever nor does it say what sort of proceedings, if any are to or can be brought. The question of proceedings is provided solely by Clause 67 but that Clause which is intended to be the machinery for that purpose, does not do that. It specifically limits proceedings and punishments to a British subject. In order to catch the offender under Clause 35 who is not a British subject, it would be necessary in my submission after the words "British subject" in line 5, to add the following or other similar words: … or any person within the meaning of Section 35 of this Act. Then we would have a two-fold operation. We would have a British subject amenable to the Statutes referred to for any offence of what is prescribed there, and in addition we would also be able to cover any person who is not a British subject. I ask the Home Secretary to look at that point. I have not examined the matter closely, but from a superficial glance I cannot see that without those words a person other than a British subject would be caught under Section 35. The Home Secretary said explicitly last night that it was intended to cover non-British subjects as well as British subjects. I hope that he will consider this suggestion.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The Home Secretary will recollect that in the course of a tolerably prolonged discussion on Clause 35 last night he indicated that when we came to this Clause he would have something to say upon the position. He said: I have no doubt that when we come to Clause 67 I shall be asked to say something further on it, and I will endeavour by the time we reach that Clause to be informed of the proper answer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th April, 1948; Vol. 449, C. 1730.] I take it that among other things, the presence of the learned Solicitor-General is an implementation of that undertaking. I hope that we shall have a position cleared up which is far from clear at the moment. I hope that the Home Secretary will not allow himself to be induced by the blandishments of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) into going lightheartedly into a proposal to make an offence triable in the English courts when that offence is committed by a foreigner abroad. That would be a very serious development. It may be that there is an argument for it in these circumstances, but it would be a most serious thing to do. It appears to me that this Clause does not do that. I hope, therefore, that the Home Secretary will adhere to the wording of the Clause in that respect at any rate.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

Clause 67 does do that. In the last two lines of Subsection (1) it says: … in the United Kingdom having jurisdiction in the place where the person charged is for the time being. If my words are added, that would include any person.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. and learned Gentleman's words have not yet been added. I hope that they will not be added. At the moment this applies solely to British subjects. I hope that we shall confine ourselves to British subjects, since obviously the implications and possible consequences of extending it further would be difficult and dangerous. In any event, I hope that the Solicitor-General will throw a light of blinding clarity upon the fogs that so far have engulfed this subject.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

The hon. Gentleman says that this matter should be confined to British subjects. That would open the door to the very thing against which we wish to provide. Suppose a British subject deliberately engaged some alien here as an agent for this purpose, then, of course, the provision would be defeated.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Under Clause 35 a British subject who procures the commission of an offence by somebody else is himself liable. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would read the Clause he would find the answer to his question.

7.45 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Frank Soskice)

The last observation made by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) adequately meets the objection of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). My hon. and learned Friend thinks he has detected inconsistency between Clause 35 and this Clause. I am bound to tell him that in my view there is no inconsistency. A true reading of Clause 35 shows that the words "no person" do not include a person who was not a British subject. Clause 35 does not create an offence on the part of an alien. It only creates an offence on the part of British subjects. Therefore there is no inconsistency between the two Clauses. It is true, as my hon. and learned Friend points out, that the words "no person" are apparently unlimited in scope. If read by themselves they might be construed as including an alien, but in their context, and particularly as Clause 35 must be read together with this Clause, there can be no doubt that Clause 35 would not affect aliens and would not create offences on the part of persons who were not British subjects.

If a British subject counselled and procured an alien to commit the offence described in Clause 35, the position would be entirely different. Then one would have to consider whether it was a case of the British subject using, or aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the use of a transmitter. In the circumstances, I hope that the Committee will agree that the difficulty to which my hon. and learned Friend called attention does not exist outside his imagination.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

This is more than a question of my imagination. This was the view expressed by the Home Secretary last night and, with all respect to the learned Solicitor-General, I think that it is the proper view. The meaning of the language in this Clause is perfectly clear. If Clause 35 is to be governed by Clause 67 the position of any person here other than a British subject is left in a vacuum. In that sense, the Clause would be otiose.

The Solicitor-General

In order to correct a possible misapprehension, may I say that Clause 35 would apply to an alien in this country? I was referring to aliens abroad.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

That is the point which is important. It completely destroys the whole argument of the Solicitor-General. The alien here would not be a British subject and, therefore, Clause 67 would not apply. It is as clear as daylight that an alien here doing this act would get off scot free, because there is no machinery by which he can be caught.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.