HC Deb 10 May 1948 vol 450 cc1883-5
Mr. J. S. C. Reid

I beg to move in page 7, line 44, to leave out from "of," to the end of the line.

Clause 7 as it stands allows prosecutions in England and Wales by a constable by or with the consent of the Minister of Fuel and Power or the Director of Public Prosecutions. The purpose of this Amendment is to leave out the Minister of Fuel and Power. The Committee will see that the limitation is to England and Wales because in Scotland the Lord Advocate is in command of all prosecutions and that seems to me to be a concession which might well be imitated in England to a greater extent than it is. This amendment takes on an additional importance by reason of the fact that the Minister proposes, in the next Clause, to empower his enforcement officers to go into premises and take samples, and so on, and accordingly, if you have the position that the Minister's enforcement officers can go in and collect the evidence and the Minister can authorise the prosecution, then the ordinary forces of the law never come into the matter at all.

I can see a possible case of the Minister authorising a prosecution when the investigation has been made by the police, though I should have thought that in most cases that would be unnecessary, and I can see a possible case of the Minister's minions collecting the evidence providing that someone else decides that the prosecution is to take place. In matters of this seriousness which might result in a man's livelihood being stopped for a year and the gravest possible inconvenience being cause, not to speak of loss, surely it is inconceivable that the Minister should have the whole thing in his hands from beginning to end without obligation to refer to any legal officers at any stage?

I would not have pressed the Amendment very strongly had not the next Amendment been put on the Order Paper. The effect of that Amendment on the Paper makes this Amendment all the more important, and I hope that the Attorney-General will accept this Amendment or give some assurance that in those circumstances there will not be left in the hands of the Ministry such power that they will both collect the evidence and conduct the prosecution.

The Attorney-General

The right hon. and learned Gentleman boggled at the provision that prosecutions may be instituted by, for instance, a village constable. One finds it a little surprising in those circumstances that he should think there is any danger in a Minister of the Crown responsible to this House having the power to initiate prosecutions. We are unable to accept the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment, but I should like to say that there is no doubt that the main burden of prosecutions will fall upon the police. That is the intention and it is not contemplated for a moment that the Ministry will undertake them. On the other hand, under the existing Defence Regulations—those relating to the control of motor fuel—the Minister already has the rower to prosecute, and it really would be a most anomalous position that, although he had the power to prosecute and was in fact instituting prosecutions in connection with certain offences under the control of motor fuel, he had no authority at the same time, in respect of the same defendant and using perhaps exactly the same motor vehicle, to institute a prosecution for offences under this Bill.

It did not seem to us that there was any reason for excluding from the Minister the power he already possesses under the Defence Regulations and which is vested in many other Ministers in regard to breaches of the law of a comparable kind to this. Actually, the Minister, while he does not intend to take over the main burden of prosecutions, does hope in the early stages of the administration of this Act to keep in close touch with the police so that he may be able to give advice and ensure some consistency of policy in the administration of this Act over the whole of the country. I venture to think that the Committee will feel that that is a useful course for the Minister to pursue and that it will avoid prosecutions being taken in cases of a completely trivial kind where it would be inadvisable to proceed at all, and it will ensure prosecutions in a uniform way. I hope that in the light of the explanation, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will feel that it is not necessary to press this Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.