HC Deb 10 May 1948 vol 450 cc1842-53
Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I beg to move, in page 4, line 23, after "months," to insert: less any period during which the operation of that Subsection was in force prior to the order of the court suspending it. This is almost a drafting Amendment. The Clause provides for the automatic disqualification for 12 months of retailers convicted of offences under previous Clauses. It is provided in Subsection (6) that where a person who has been convicted appeals against his conviction, the disqualification for carrying on his business is suspended pending the appeal. There is a further provision in the concluding words under which, if the appeal fails and the conviction is therefore sustained, the disqualification shall run for 12 months from the dismissal of the appeal. It may well be the case that where such an accused person unsuccessfully appeals he does not receive notice of his disqualification for some days after the original conviction in the court of first instance. Where that is so, the effect of the Clause as it now stands is that he suffers disqualification for 12 months plus that number of days which elapsed before the disqualification was suspended.

The effect, therefore, is that someone who unsuccessfully appeals is by reason only of that unsuccessful appeal submitted to a slightly longer period of disqualification from carrying on his business than if he had not appealed. The number of days will in general probably be small, which is why I suggested that this Amendment is in the nature of a drafting Amendment. The Amendment will, however, have the effect of preventing persons from being automatically penalised by exercising their right of appeal. The Attorney-General will be well aware that in the case of other offences where an appeal fails it is open to the appellate court to direct that the sentence shall run from the date of conviction or the date of appeal; it is within the discretion of an appellate court, which can in that way on occasion mark its view of the genuineness of the appeal. Here, where the penalty is automatic and the provision as to the date from which the disqualification runs on dismissal of the appeal is automatic, there is no discretion. It seemed to us that there would be an automatic increase in the penalty in the case of any person who unsuccessfully appealed unless he had succeeded in getting the disqualification suspended from the day of conviction. I think that the Bill would be a better Bill and would be less inequitable if this Amendment were accepted.

The Attorney-General

Under the normal provisions of the law, for example under the provisions of the Court of Criminal Appeal Act, when a person appeals against his sentence and his appeal is eventually dismissed, he will normally find that his sentence runs from the date of appeal and not from the date of sentence. That is the normal result because it is expressly provided in the Court of Criminal Appeal Act that it should be so. However, I gave a firm undertaking to the Committee earlier today that if any Amendment which was reasonable was moved from the other side of the House I would accept it. I gave that undertaking firmly and I mean rigidly to adhere to it. Therefore, I am glad to accept the principle of this Amendment. I say the "principle," because we shall have to look at the corresponding case where the driving licence is suspended, and we shall have to try to introduce some similar machinery in regard to that. I am not sure about the drafting of this Amendment. We shall wish to frame the provision in line with that which we provide in the other matter. If the hon. Member will accept my assurance that we will adopt his Amendment in principle and put down the appropriate words in another place, I shall be glad to give that assurance, and I hope that the hon. Member will agree to withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In view of that assurance, I have pleasure in asking leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

This Clause must, in its context, surely be unique in the annals of our legislation. I could understand a person being deemed guilty of an offence which he had not in fact committed and which had not been proved against him if the court was left free to modify the penalty accordingly. I could understand there being a minimum penalty if we were sure that every person subjected to it had in fact been proved guilty of an offence. But in this Clause we find for the first time that a person who is only convicted because this Bill gives to the prosecutor the benefit of the doubt is subjected to an extremely heavy minimum penalty, indeed a universal penalty. I cannot really believe that it is essential to indulge in that kind of thing in order to protect this new system. Observe what happens. Premises are debarred from certain activities for 12 months. The result is that a greater part of the custom will leave the premises. That is the intention. In the case of premises of any magnitude a number of employees will become out of work. That, presumably, also is the intention, although they are not in the least guilty, but that is not a circumstance which the court is allowed to take into account. I ask the Attorney-General, why cannot he trust the courts of this nation? Why cannot he give them a dispensing power?

Even in the case of the suspension of licences there is a dispensing power. It has been found in practice that that dispensing power is not wide enough to enable courts to do justice. I have myself encountered a number of cases where it was not, one would have thought, just or necessary to suspend the licence in circumstances where it had to be suspended because the rules called for it. The right hon. Gentleman spent a good part of the time in the earlier part of this sitting arguing that he must have power to convict a person who has not been proved guilty. He must be allowed to give the prosecutor the benefit of the doubt. In my opinion that is what Clauses 1 and 2 did. Let me accept his view for the purposes of this argument. A person who is convicted only by that means is to be subjected to this penalty as much as a deliberate offender against whom the deliberate intention to offend is proved up to the hilt. This so offends any conception of justice that I cannot see how even the present Government can defend it.

Mr. Turton

I wish to say one word as a magistrate. I have no wish to be kind to the black marketeer in any respect in regard to this offence but I think it is acting in an insulting way to courts of summary jurisdiction not to give them power in special cases to relieve from the harsh penalties which occur in this Clause. In many cases courts of summary jurisdiction have powers to find special reasons for withholding automatic penalties. I should have thought that that proviso ought to be in this Section. There will be cases where a garage proprietor, through some inadvertence, is culpable, although he has not any intention of black marketeering, but has not got his pumps properly earmarked. In that case he must be found guilty under paragraph (a). It will be extremely hard for the court, when they find him guilty, if they had no alternative but to put that man completely out of business for the whole of the 12 months. I do hope therefore that the Attorney-General will reconsider this matter.

There should be some loophole under which courts of summary jurisdiction can treat this matter with the common sense they usually display. If the Attorney-General does not give way, the only result will be that in these cases the courts of summary jurisdiction will do their very best to find a man not guilty of the offence of which he is guilty.

9.30 p.m.

The Attorney-General

The question that arises on this Clause is whether a person convicted of black market offences should be subjected automatically to the special penalty which is here provided or whether the matter should be left entirely to the discretion of the court. That is, of course, a matter which, following upon the recommendation of the Russell Vick Committee, we have most anxiously considered. I cannot help feeling that the danger of leaving this matter to the discretion of the court is well illustrated by the apparent difference of opinion which exists as to the nature of these black market offences. Some people regard these offences as being morally wrong in themselves. I think one might include the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison) in that category, because I think he compared these black market offences in regard to petrol with the offence of receiving stolen goods.

On the other hand, some people regard these offences as being merely things which are prohibited. I expect the noble Lord, the Member for Dorset, Southern (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), would say that it is another of that long list of things verboten, not to be publicly applauded perhaps, but if people can do them without being found out, well, good luck to them. I do not want to appear pompous or priggish about this matter, and I hope that what I say will not seem to be priggish; but if one recalls the incalculable harm, both political and economic, done on the Continent of Europe by black market offences, I think the Government are justified in asking all sections of the Committee to set their faces most sternly against any manifestation of offences of that kind in this country.

It is not really surprising that some people, including some magistrates, are inclined to take a lax and lenient view of black market offences when one can find a London daily newspaper saying, as one London newspaper did in its issue of 4th May this year, these words about this particular Bill: Petrol Drive Towards the Police State. Mr. R. S. Hudson was fully justified in telling the House of Commons, yesterday, that the Motor Spirit (Regulation) Bill marked a step in the direction of the Police State. It provides savage punishments for actions not in themselves criminal. They are offences not against any moral law, but against the Government. Economic circumstances make it necessary to punish these offences, but it is characteristic of the ethical code of a Police State that they should be punished more harshly than others which transgress not only man-made law but Christian morality. Under this Bill it will be safer to steal than it is to use commercial petrol in a private car. It will be safer, even, to display gross physical cruelty against a harmless child. I pause for a moment to observe that, if that were true, it would remain entirely irrelevant. It is, of course, entirely untrue. The penalty for larceny ranges from two years to 14 years imprisonment, and for cruelty to a child from two years to five years. If Justices impose lesser penalties—

Mr. R. S. Hudson

I did not use these arguments.

The Attorney-General

No; the right hon. Gentleman certainly did not use these arguments. I am sure that no one who gave consideration to the matter would use arguments of that kind. But it is unfortunate that articles of that kind appear in newspapers. The article went on to say: Such incidents can be multiplied, but the grave injustice implicit in certain of the Bill's provisions will not be allowed to weigh against considerations of State expediency. That also is typical of the Police State. The right hon. Gentleman certainly did not use those arguments. I am sure that when he read this, if indeed he did read it, he certainly did not glow with inward pride or swell with moral satisfaction at the commendation which was given to him in this most unfortunate article. It was published in a paper which has no particular importance—[HON. MEMBERS: "What name?"] It was published in the paper called the "Daily Graphic." No doubt that is an excellent paper in so far as it supports with servile sedulity the party to which the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset belongs. [Interruption.] It is encouraging to hear the noble Lord speaking about the side of the people. That is not a subject about which hitherto the noble Lord knew anything. I must not allow myself to be diverted by the interjections of the noble Lord. It is possible that this kind of paper is read by the thoughtless sort of people who would be influenced by expressions of view of this kind. That is the danger of this kind of view about black market offences.

I hope that the whole Committee will agree with me when I say that it simply is not true to say that offences of this kind are offences against the Government except, indeed, in the sense that the Government is the embodiment of the State and represents the community. I suppose that one could say that treason or sedition were offences against the Government in that way, but good citizens regard treason, sedition and black market offences—offences of this sort—as thoroughly discreditable offences which violate the moral code which good citizens uphold, the moral code which is well expressed perhaps in the duty good citizens owe towards their neighbours.

It is because there are these two different views taken about black market offences that we thought it right, adopting the recommendation of the Russell Vick Report, supported as that recommendation was by the motoring associations representing those people most directly affected by this Bill, to provide that these special penalties should be automatic ones. The Russell Vick Committee, as is shown from their Report, heard a great deal of evidence about this, considered all the aspects of it, and considered that where a discretion was left to the justices in cases of this kind, undue laxity and leniency might be displayed. They found themselves forced to the conclusion that if effective measures were to be taken to suppress the black market in petrol, the only way was to deprive those who took part in it either of the use of the road, if they were motorists, or of the possibility of carrying on their business, if they were garage proprietors at that garage at which the offence had been committed.

We accept the conclusions of the Russell Vick Committee on this matter. After all, once a garage proprietor or—under the next Clause—a motorist is convicted of black marketing, there really is not much ethical ground, at all events, for discrimination between different cases and for the imposition of a different penalty. The offence is the same. It is a grave offence, an offence against the community, and it is extremely difficult to see grounds on which a different penalty should be imposed in one case from that which is imposed in another.

Justices, sometimes possibly influenced by mischievous articles such as that to which I have referred, occasionally do strange things. The other day, there was the case in the Court of Criminal Appeal in which a bench of justices had refused to convict somebody whose name was Rosa because the name appeared as Rose on the charge sheet, and the Court of Criminal Appeal made some very strong animadversions on the conduct of the justices. We think this is a case where it should be made known that this is an automatic penalty, and that Parliament, in order to mark the gravity which it considers ought to be attached to black market offences has provided that this admittedly severe penalty will inevitably follow the commission of such offences. I am not able to take the view that this is not a perfectly proper course to adopt.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The learned Attorney-General says that to treat various concerns differently as regards penalties would be unfair. I submit that this Clause is much more unfair as it stands by purporting to afford uniform treatment, whereas the treatment would not be uniform at all. Let us take the case, for example, of a large multiple concern. As the Clause is drafted, and I do not see how it could be drafted otherwise, we are only going to stop a concern carrying on business at the premises where the offence was committed. It might well be, in the case of a large concern, that they could move their men, a great deal of their gear and their stocks, and might not suffer, in very marked degree, harm from that penalty, whereas the individual who has put all his savings and everything he has got into one or two pumps would be altogether precluded from earning a living for the large space of a year.

The Attorney-General

If the hon. Gentleman, in his very understandable and very laudable desire to provide equality in these matters, will put down an Amendment providing that, with a large firm, all their garages should be closed down for a year, I will give the matter urgent consideration.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

That is not the object, for exactly the reasons which the learned Attorney-General suggested, and he has really answered himself. He has pointed out that no Amendment could effect anything like fairness, and it is just for that reason that we oppose this Clause fundamentally. We think that this type of automatic penalty must necessarily lead to unfairness. The Attorney-General says that incalculable harm was being done by the black market. We agree, and we think it should be stopped in every possible way. Our complaint about this Clause and the Bill itself is that this is the wrong way to tackle the matter. We cannot put down the black market by purely repressive measures, any more than we can put down any other form of crime by purely repressive measures.

The whole gist of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech is that public estimation of the crime is measured by the extent of the penalty awarded. I ask him to take his mind back to a Debate a week or two ago in this House. Is he suggesting that, as the result of the decision of this House, the seriousness of the crime of murder has been reduced owing to our decision altering the penalty? I do not believe for a moment that the country will wish to measure the seriousness of the black market by the amount of the penalties awarded for such offences. On the contrary, I think that, if we award automatic penalties, the only effect will be to arouse some sort of pseudo-hero worship. [Interruption.] The Committee is familiar with the stories of smuggling in the old days, but I will not pursue that illustration. If we award too great penalties for these grave offences, and we admit them to be that, we might stultify the whole purpose of the Bill, and it is because we believe that sincerely and firmly that we are opposed to this Clause.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

I wish to add only two or three sentences. The tenor of the Attorney-General's speech is that he cannot trust the judiciary of this country, either the lay judiciary of England or the professional judiciary in Scotland. That can only be for one or two reasons; because either the Bill so offends against justice that just men would not carry it out, or the judiciary are themselves untrustworthy persons. The right hon. and learned Gentleman can take his choice.

We are against both theories and shall vote against the Clause.

Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 197; Noes, 75.

Division No. 144.] AYES. [9.48 p.m.
Adams, Richard (Balham) George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey) Pryde, D. J.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Gibbins, J. Pursey, Cmdr. H
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Gibson, C. W. Rankin, J.
Attewell, H. C. Gilzean, A. Reeves, J.
Awbery, S. S. Glanville, J. E. (Consett) Reid, T. (Swindon)
Ayles, W. H. Greenwood, A. W J. (Heywood) Rhodes, H.
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B Grenfell, D. R. Ridealgh, Mrs. M.
Bacon, Miss A Grey, C. F. Robens, A.
Baird, J. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Barstow, P. G Guy, W. H. Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Barton, C. Haire, John E. (Wycombe) Royle, C.
Battley, J. R. Hannan, W. (Maryhill) Sargood, R.
Bechervaise, A. E Hardy, E. A. Sharp, Granville
Benson, G. Harrison, J. Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St Helens)
Berry, H. Hastings, Dr. Somerville Silkin, Rt. Hon. L.
Beswick, F. Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick) Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Binns, J. Holman, P. Simmons, C. J.
Blackburn, A R Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth) Skeffington, A. M.
Blyton, W. R. House, G. Skeffington-Lodge, T. C
Bowen, R. Hoy, J. Skinnard, F. W.
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Hudson, J. H. (Eating, W.) Smith, C. (Colchester)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Smith, Ellis (Stoke)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.) Solley, L. J.
Brook, D. (Halifax) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Soskice, Sir Frank
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool) Sparks, J. A
Brown, George (Belper) Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.) Stamford, W.
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Janner, B. Stross, Dr. B.
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T. Jay, D. P. T. Stubbs, A. E.
Burden, T. W. Jeger, G. (Winchester) Swingler, S.
Byers, Frank Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.) Sylvester, G. O.
Castle, Mrs. B. A Jenkins, R H. Symonds, A. L.
Champion, A. J. Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool) Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Chetwynd, G. R. Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow) Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Cluse, W. S. Jones, J. H. (Bolton) Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnel)
Cobb, F. A. Key, C. W. Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Coldrick, W. King, E. M. Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Collindridge, F. Kinley, J. Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Comyns, Dr. L. Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J Thurtle, Ernest
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.) Lee, F. (Hulme) Tiffany, S.
Corlett, Dr. J. Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton) Titterington, M. F
Grossman, R. H. S Lipson, D. L. Tolley, L.
Daggar, G. Lipton, Lt.-Col. M Turner-Samuels, M.
Daines, P. Lyne, A. W. Ungoed-Thomas, L.
Davies, Edward (Burslem) McAdam, W. Vernon, Maj. W. F
Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.) McGhee, H. G. Viant, S. P.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) McLeavy, F. Walkden, E.
Deer, G. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
de Freitas, Geoffrey Mikardo, Ian Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Diamond, J. Mitchison, G. R. Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb'gh, E.)
Dodds, N N Morley, R. White, C. F. (Derbyshire, W.)
Donovan, T. Nichol, Mrs. M. E (Bradford, N.) White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Dumpleton, C. W Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Durbin, E. F. M Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford) Wigg, George
Edelman, M. Oldfield, W. H. Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Edwards, N. (Caerphilly) Oliver, G. H. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Evans, Albert (Islington, W.) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury) Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Evans, John (Ogmore) Pargiter, G. A. Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) Parkin, B. T. Williams, R. W. (Wigan)
Ewart, R. Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe) Wise, Major F. J.
Fairhurst, F Paton, J. (Norwich) Woodburn, A
Farthing, W. J. Pearson, A. Wyatt, W.
Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.) Peart, T. F. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Follick, M. Perrins, W. Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Foot, M. M. Popplewell, E.
Freeman, J. (Watford) Porter, E. (Warrington) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N Porter, G. (Leeds) Mr. Snow and
Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Proctor, W. T. Mr. George Wallace.
Amory, D. Heathcoat Hollis, M. C Orr-Ewing, I. L
Baldwin, A. E. Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport) Peto, Brig. C. H. M
Bossom, A. C Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.) Pickthorn, K.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A Jeffreys, General Sir G Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L W Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T Lambert, Hon. G. Prescott, Stanley
Carson, E. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Price-White, Lt-.Col. D
Challen, C. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A H Raikes, H. V.
Clarke, Col. R. S. Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral) Ramsay, Maj. S
Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow Low, A. R. W. Rayner, Brig. R.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Reid, Rt. Hon. J S C (Hillhead)
Davidson, Viscountess MacAndrew, Col. Sir C Ropner, Col. L.
Dodds-Parker, A. D MacDonald, Sir M. (Inverness) Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Drewe, C. Mackeson, Brig. H. R. Strauss, H. G. (English Universities).
Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond) Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster) Sutcliffe, H.
Duthie, W. S. MacLeod, J. Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Foster, J. G. (Northwich) Maitland, Comdr. J. W Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale) Manningham-Buller, R. E Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F
Gage, C. Marshall, D. (Bodmin) Turton, R. H.
Gammans, L. D Maude, J. C. Vane, W. M. F.
Glyn, Sir R. Mellor, Sir J. Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)
Gomme-Duncan, Col. A Moore, Lt.-Col Sir T White, J. B. (Canterbury)
Grimston, R. V. Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury) Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge) Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.
Head, Brig, A. H. Odey, G. W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hinchingbrooke, Viscount O'Neill, Rt. Hon Sir H Mr. Studholme and
Major Conant.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.