HC Deb 08 November 1949 vol 469 cc1151-73

8.18 p.m.

Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)

I beg to move: That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 24th October, 1949, entitled the Motor Spirit (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations, 1949 (S.I., 1949, No. 1973), a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th October, be annulled. These regulations purport to define the composition of commercial petrol commonly called red petrol, and the order comprising these regulations amends Order No. 1127 made last year, both of which were made under the Motor Spirit Regulations Act, 1948.

I should like to explain straightaway to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power that I am not moving to annul these regulations out of any special affection for the black market. We feel that it is important that these regulations should be carefully examined and that the House should be sure that they hold water better than those which were made before and which they amend. We also want to be sure that the Minister's intentions will be entirely constitutional, The Act of 1948, the parent Act, lays down in Section I the definition of the commercial petrol which is to be: motor spirit which contains any of the prescribed ingredients"— that is, prescribed by regulations made by the Minister. The Minister has so prescribed in the order of 1948 and in this order.

There is a further Section in the parent Act to which I must call attention and that is Section 11. It provides: In any proceedings in respect of an offence under this Act, a certificate purporting to be signed by an authorised analyst and certifiing the ingredients of any such sample of motor spirit as may be specified in the certificate shall … be evidence of the facts therein stated. Then under that Act as soon as it became operative, the Minister made the first set of regulations—Statutory Instrument 1127—which prescribed that the essential ingredient should be a substance called diphenylamine. In pursuance of that legislation the Minister's analysts proceeded to give certificates, and convictions were obtained, but I know that I cannot pursue that aspect of the matter any further, and it is not in any way essential to my case.

That continued until on 19th October this year when I think the Minister got rather a shock, there was a case in the sheriff court in Edinburgh which really blew the existing regulations sky high. This case was the fount and origin of the regulations which I am now moving to annul. Here I wish to read from the report which appeared in the "Daily Telegraph" of 20th October this year: Sheriff Garrett, K.C., at Edinburgh sheriff court yesterday, held that it was impossible for the Crown to obtain a conviction against persons suspected of having red petrol in the tanks of their private cars as the motor spirit regulations stand at present. … The sheriff said that regulation three of the statutory instrument provided that to make motor spirit commercial petrol for the purpose of the Motor Spirit Regulations a prescribed ingredient, diphenylamine, shall be added. The evidence given by two analysts was that by applying the prescribed tests the sample analysed gave a colour reaction indicative of diphenylamine. But they frankly admitted that they were unable to affirm positively that it was in fact present. The same reaction could be obtained from certain other substances of which diphenylamine was one. That group consisted of half a dozen related substances. The evidence was not of reaction to the particular substance but to the group. That decision having been reached, it was quite obvious that the first order containing the first set of regulations could no longer be relied on.

Then this amending order was made—the order which I am now moving to annul—and it came into operation on 28th October. I want to invite the attention of the House to the precise terms of this order and its explanatory note. The original order which this amends merely defines commercial petrol as petrol containing diphenylamine. This order enlarges that definition in this manner. It says: The prescribed ingredient … shall be diphenylamine (which expression shall be deemed to include any nuclear substituted diphenylamine). Not being an organic chemist, I had to look at the explanatory note to find what explanation might be given of that sentence. One finds this: These regulations amend the Motor Spirit Regulations, 1948, so as to make it clear that the expression 'diphenylamine,' specified in the regulations as the prescribed ingredient for the purposes of the Motor Spirit (Regulation) Act, 1948, comprises not only the parent chemical diphenylamine but also compounds of the same basic structure closely allied to it. I would call attention particularly to one phrase in the text. The phrase is "shall be deemed." I cannot understand why the Minister does not say quite clearly that in future commercial petrol shall be petrol containing certain defined ingredients. Why say that in future the expression "diphenylamine" shall be deemed to include a number of other substances? This curious method of circumlocution makes one suspicious, and, when one comes to the explanatory note, I think even more so. Instead of merely saying that in future the essential substance for the test of commercial petrol shall be so and so, the Minister says that these regulations amend the previous regulations so as to make it clear that the expression diphenylamine' comprises not only the parent chemical diphenylamine but a number of other compounds. Why to make it clear? Why does he not simply say that in future the position will be so and so?

Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)

Could the hon. Baronet suggest another name for this chemical—perhaps a shorter one? I am sure he does not like it being called "diphenylamine," nor do I, Could he not make a constructive suggestion as to some shorter name which could be applied?

Sir J. Mellor

I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for having taken so much trouble to advise me how to pronounce this word, but I would rather continue with my remarks.

I would invite the House to consider what is the position under Section 11 of the Act because, as I mentioned before, under Section 11 the authorised analyst certifies the ingredients. I think it is perfectly clear from the case I mentioned that it is quite impossible for any analyst by means of the existing test to certify the presence of diphenylamine or to certify the presence of any individual compound in that group. The analyst is required to certify ingredients, and that is the basis of any prosecution.

What he can do, presumably, if the Minister is right, is to say that the sample contains one or other, perhaps more than one, of the diphenylamine group, but he cannot say which one. In my contention, unless he can say which particular substance he is certifying he is not certifying the ingredients. It is essential that the analyst should say that as a result of his analysis certain particular specified substances are present. I suggest that it would be quite insufficient for him to send to the court a certificate saying that in the sample which he analysed, there was, in his opinion, one or more substances comprised in that group but he could not say which.

That being the case, the Minister has, by these regulations, got himself in an even bigger mess than he did by the previous regulations and he would be well advised to consult some new advisers to see whether he can find some fresh reagent which will give a more exact test. There is no doubt—although this point seems to amuse the Parliamentary Secretary very much—that the Minister must have been very much misled by the advice which he originally obtained because he continued for some time under the previous regulations to obtain convictions upon evidence which has been proved entirely unreliable. He must recognise that the technical advice he obtained was misleading. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us what advice he obtained and whether he is satisfied that the new provisions will work more satisfactorily than the previous ones.

There is another question I want to raise. I asked the Minister last week what he proposed to do about proceedings instituted under the previous regulations and whether he would abandon those proceedings, in view of the fact that the evidence—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to go into what has happened in the past.

Sir J. Mellor

I think you will recognise, Sir, that I am in Order when I point out that I am putting these points to the Minister because he said that he did not propose to abandon any proceedings commenced before this order became operative. If he is not going to abandon those proceedings, and having regard to the fact that under the previous order such proceedings would obviously be abortive—

Mr. Nally (Bilston)

Not necessarily at all.

Sir J. Mellor

I can only come to the conclusion that the Minister intends to operate retroactively this order which I am now moving to annul. That is the point. I do not think that I need refer again to the past. The order came into force on 28th October. I want to know what the Parliamentary Secretary understands. Is it intended to apply the definition contained in the order to offences alleged to have been committed before the order became operative? I thought the Parliamentary Secretary was going to tell me how. Perhaps he prefers to wait. If the Minister intends to try to apply evidence under the new order to offences committed before the new order became operative, that is highly objectionable on every constitutional ground as retrospective legislation.

The Minister may reply that, after all, we can leave all this to the courts. Last week the Secretary of State for Scotland, in reply to a Question, told me that we make legislation here; we do not interpret it. That is true in the sense that what we say here has no influence whatsoever or should not have any influence over the interpretation placed by the courts upon our legislation. None the less, I feel that when we pass legislation, and particularly delegated legislation like this order, we should know precisely what the Minister thinks the interpretation is, and that is what I am here to ask. I want to know what interpretations the Minister of Fuel and Power places upon this order in the two respects which I have mentioned. Raising the matter in this way by a Motion to annul the order is the only way in which we can obtain his explanations.

8.36 p.m.

Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

I beg to second the Motion.

I want to preface my remarks by pointing out to the House that there are now no fewer than three different compounds present in commercial petrol which are necessary to identify it as such and that the order relates to only one of the three. If I may be allowed to refer to them in passing, one is the red dye to make it visually identifiable; second, there is the special compound, the identity of which has not been generally released, which enables the police litmus paper test to work; and, third, the telltale substance, diphenylamine, which the analysts are supposed to be able to identify when samples are forwarded to their laboratories for test, examination and report.

It is plain from what has taken place in the Edinburgh courts that the test is not sufficiently discrminating to pick out only the parent compound, namely, diphenylamine proper. The reaction would take place if any of a number of related compounds were present in the sample. Because of this situation it has been necessary for the Minister to bring this further order to the House to widen the range of compounds which may be present or alternatively, if the test is too coarse to pick out only the compound which is present, then a number of other compounds may be deemed to be present in order to satisfy the crude positive reaction obtained by the analyst. This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs, and it could so easily be rectified if reliance were to be placed instead upon the second of the three compounds which are now placed in commercial petrol. The way out of the Minister's dilemma—my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) has pointed out that he is indeed getting into difficulties—is to place reliance on the second compound and not upon the third of the three which I mentioned.

In any event, however, the putting of diphenylamine into the petrol is leading to a considerable extension of black market activities and is causing an outbreak of dishonesty among many of the operatives of petroleum companies who are compelled to operate the scheme. This order places upon them the burden of putting the diphenylamine into the petrol in order, with the other compounds, to make it red. I should like to see the annulment of this order for that reason. It is disturbing the trade unions and workers' organisation concerned that dishonesty should be spreading as the result of the lucrative black market which is growing up through the temptation to forget to put the diphenylamine into the petrol and thus sell as white petrol what was intended to be red. In fact it is significant that black market prices should have dropped somewhat over the last few months, indicating a more plentiful supply, as doubtless the Parliamentary Secretary will know. [Interruption.] It is indeed his business to check—

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us exactly how he knows what is the black market price of petrol?

Mr. Erroll

I should have thought it was in the interests of the efficient working of any petrol rationing scheme that the current black market price should have been known by the Minister.

Mr. Robens

I am asking the hon. Gentleman how does he know, or is it that he merely reads the same Sunday newspaper as myself.

Mr. Erroll

As far as I know, there was no reference to what I was saying in that Sunday newspaper article. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, there was."] If there was, I failed to read it. It is plain that if the Department is to function efficiently, it must have some knowledge of the black market prices—

Mr. Nally

The hon. Gentleman is taking the responsibility—

Mr. Erroll

—in order to ascertain the cash value of coupons and so on, but that is apart from the subject of the Prayer, and I did not wish to be diverted into the workings of the Ministry of Fuel and Power to that extent. I wanted instead to make the point that the temptation not to put the diphenylamine into the petrol is making it hard for many otherwise honest workers in the petroleum distribution industry—

Mr. Nally

How does the hon. Gentleman know all this?

Lieut.-Colonel Harry Morris (Sheffield, Central)

Where did the hon. Gentleman get that information? What authority has the hon. Gentleman for making allegations of that kind?

Mr. Erroll

I have quite sufficient authority for making that statement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Tell us what it is."]—and the statement does not come from the Sunday newspaper referred to by the Parliamentary Secretary. [HON. MEMBERS: "Tell us where it comes from."] The difficulty is that through there being—

Mr. Nally


Mr. Erroll

I will not give way.

Mr. Nally

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. It is a criminal offence to do what the hon. Member suggests is being done in certain places. He says that transport workers yield to temptation and allow petrol to go on the black market because they do not do something which is essential in treating the petrol. That amounts to a criminal charge being alleged by the hon. Member against certain people whom he does not specify. Am I right in assuming that where a Member of this House makes allegations of a criminal offence against any person, whether inside or outside the House, his public obligations carry him far enough to enable us to ask him to justify himself and, indeed, to insist that he provides some evidence for his allegations to the House?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

There is no such Rule in this House. The hon. Gentleman must, of course, take responsibility for the statements he makes, but when general statements of that kind are made against unidentifiable persons, it is not possible for the Chair to intervene.

Mr. Erroll

The evidence is available to parties who ought to have it made available to them. I would point out, in passing, that the evidence of the number of dismissals from employment of people connected with this work is some indication of what has been going on.

Lieut.-Colonel Morris

Where is the evidence?

Mr. Erroll

And it is some evidence of how badly the red petrol scheme is working. Everybody likes to think that the presence of diphenylamine in the petrol is a sure safeguard but I am quite sure that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will be able to agree with me that the scheme is far from satisfactory, and that the black market in petrol which should have had diphenylamine in it is on the increase, and that he has plenty of evidence to show it. I shall be very glad to supply further evidence if the Parliamentary Secretary does not possess it.

The result of the ineffective operation of these schemes is to create a further area of dishonesty and black market operations and is, therefore, thoroughly unsatisfactory. The right procedure, of course, is properly to ration petrol for lorries, as was always done and could have been done far better without recourse to diphenylamine or any of its nuclear substituted compounds, or the red dye or the secret police compound. Furthermore, the wording of the regulations is bad, and it would be far better to use the wording of the explanatory note; for the regulations constitute an attempt to ascribe to a well-known chemical compound a meaning other than that ascribed to it by organic chemists. This will only further confuse an issue which is already one of extreme complexity. The final point in my argument is the possibility of the retroactive working of the regulations. I very much hope we shall have assurances that they will not operate retroactively.

8.46 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)

I came to the House to reply to the Motion, feeling that the hon. Baronet the Member for Sutton Goldfield (Sir J. Mellor) was merely taking advantage of his rights to move the annulment of the regulations in order to draw attention to the points which he raised last week in Questions to the Minister.

The subsequent speech of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll), however, was a really amazing doctrine which cannot go by without some remarks from me. The hon. Member has made some very dangerous allegations against the honesty of a body of very hardworking men. He was quite unjustified and ought to present evidence to prove his statements. I was not joking when I said I had read the same newspaper as the hon. Member, but the article in question contained not a word in support of the allegations of the hon. Member, whose action has been very wrong. If hon. Gentlemen opposite were genuinely anxious to stop the black market in petrol they would oppose neither the original regulations nor the present ones. If, however, they want to make political jobbery, this is the way to do it.

The hon. Baronet related the position about the main Act in 1948 and the regulations to be made under it and the fact that under the regulations the Minister prescribed diphenylamine as the ingredient. He asked, as did also the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, whether we would proceed with existing cases which originated prior to the introduction of the new regulations on the basis of the new regulations. The answer is, of course not. How could we do so with regulations which did not specify that they operate retrospectively? We would not proceed in that way in a court of law, and none of my many legal friends in the House would have any hesitation in defending anyone in the courts who was prosecuted under the new regulations for old cases.

Sir J. Mellor


Mr. Robens

I know exactly what the hon. Baronet is going to say. He will ask, "Then why proceed with it?"

Sir J. Mellor

I should like to proceed, nevertheless.

Mr. Robens

The hon. Member need not ask the question. We proceed with those cases because we have every justification for doing so. The new regulations do not in any way mean that the old regulations were bad. There have been prosecutions under the old regulations, and it would be very wrong for the hon. Baronet, for me or for anyone else in the House to cast doubts upon decisions already given by the courts on evidence. They have come to their decisions in accordance with the law, and I am content to leave it at that. All cases which arose prior to the introduction of the new regulations will be dealt with under the old regulations.

Before I give way to the hon. Baronet, I ought to say that, as regards the case in the Scottish court, I am precluded from pursuing this matter because we are appealing against the decision and will state a case to the divisional court. I am sorry, therefore, that I cannot pursue the very interesting argument which the hon. Baronet raised.

Sir J. Mellor

I am obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary. As he said the matter is now under appeal, that, of course, alters the position. It may be that if they are successful in the appeal it will prove that the new regulation would have been unnecessary, but have they not prejudiced their position by making the new regulation?

Mr. Robens

No, not at all. If the hon. Baronet would be a little patient and let me finish what I have to say, he would see that there is nothing foolish in this regulation. He must give me an opportunity to reply to some of the points he has raised and then to deal with the regulation. There is one great mistake which the hon. Baronet made in relation to this matter. It is that he thought it was necessary for the prosecution to prove beyond doubt that the prescribed ingredient was in fact there. The prosecution had not to do that at all, but had to prove beyond reasonable doubt, and it was up to the court to decide whether in fact, on the evidence before it, beyond reasonable doubt the prescribed ingredient was present. Each case must be taken on its own basis. People plead guilty, for example, and there are other cases where the circumstances are such that this evidence may not be required at all in order to prove the case. Therefore, to talk about quashing past convictions is, to my mind, quite foolish and something which one would not ask the Home Secretary to deal with at all.

Sir J. Mellor

On a point of Order. The Parliamentary Secretary now starts talking about my having referred to quashing past convictions. I carefully avoided doing that, because I was warned by your predecessor in the Chair that that would be out of Order. As I did not mention that at all, I think the Parliamentary Secretary ought not to raise it now.

Mr. Robens

When the hon. Baronet gets up, he makes too obvious precisely what he is going to say. He sailed too near the wind and succeeded in making the point while telling Mr. Deputy-Speaker that he would keep in Order. It is an old Parliamentary trick which we all use from time to time, but nevertheless it was perfectly clear what he had in mind, and that is my reply to it.

When breaking down crude oil into petrol, the prescribed ingredient is not produced as part of the process nor are the associated substances. When the test is made—and it must be made clear that we do not lay down what the test shall be—it is still for the analyst to prescribe his own test, although we give an example of a test which can be used. What has happened is that the colour reaction on the particular test in question gives the same results for about half a dozen associated substances as the prescribed ingredient, but in point of fact those associated substances are not within the reach of ordinary individuals at all. They could not be a constituent part of the petrol, but would have to be put in deliberately.

No garage hand anywhere could get hold of them. They are used for certain industrial uses. I am not proposing to say what the industrial uses are. Is it conceivable that a motorist would go to the trouble of searching for some of these compounds, which are ancillary to and associated with a prescribed ingredient, and put them in his tank, just for the pleasure of kidding the police? That is just absurd. The fact is, of course, that because they give the same colour reaction, the new regulations make it very much simpler for the court when an analyst's certificate is given and that analyst is able to say that this petrol does in fact contain the prescribed ingredient, or the associated substances. In other words they make clear beyond doubt what has been added to the petrol so as to make it commercial petrol, and if it is in the tank of a private car it is illegal.

We could have put the whole six substances in the schedule, but assuming that next week a chemist finds two more substances, have we then to come along with a new regulation, including those two new substances, because it is only the associated substances which give the colour reaction? It seems to me that it is sensible and better, in the light of substances being constantly found, to make it perfectly clear that the diphenylamine which is introduced plus the associated substances provide the methods by which we trace commercial petrol. That is the reason for this regulation. Its intention is to prevent a black market in petrol.

I say at once to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale that, of course, there is a black market in petrol, as there is in everything that is in short supply, but we have done more as a Government to try to stamp that out than hon. Members opposite would have done had they had their way, because they have time and time again opposed the introduction of red petrol and steps of that character. We feel that we are perfectly justified in pursuing this course. There is a large body of decent-minded citizens who are motorists; it is a minority who operate on the black market. We should protect decent-minded honest citizens whenever we can, and this Regulation helps to do that.

If hon. Members were as interested in the protection of the citizen as they seem to be in making some sort of political trick out of regulations that are made, they would not come to this House to complain about this regulation but would be saying, "That is sensible. Make sure you do this in other directions in which a black market exists." I defy hon. Gentlemen to go into the Lobby and vote against this regulation, but if the matter goes to a Division I hope that the House will support it.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. John Foster (Northwich)

In the closing part of his speech the Parliamentary Secretary referred to this Motion as being a political trick. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Everybody on the other side of the House is cheering. Let us examine that assertion. The Parliamentary Secretary has just said that the main body of motorists are decent citizens, with which I agree. He said that it is desirable to stamp out the black market in petrol, with which I agree and with which the majority of the country agrees. Does the hon. Gentleman suppose that it would be a very clever political trick to appeal to the minority of criminals? That would be pretty stupid, would it not? What are we doing?

Mr. Nally

The allegation is not that the hon. Member and the party opposite are anxious to help and support a minority of wrongdoers. Their offence lies in trying to persuade decent and honest people that it is a good and proper thing to ignore and hold in contempt regulations devised for their protection which are introduced by this Government.

Mr. Foster

That is nonsense, but I am dealing with the point of the Parliamentary Secretary saying that it is a smart political trick. What is the smart political trick in appealing to the criminals? The majority of the country is decent and objects to the black market. How is it a smart political trick to say that we are in favour of the black market? It is lunacy—

Mr. Nally

If the hon. Member is asking me a question the answer is perfectly simple. The despicable quality of what the Opposition does consists in the extent to which, in the case of perfectly justifiable laws and regulations which are intended for the protection of the honest majority, the Opposition seeks for political purposes to persuade the honest majority that there is either an infringement of liberty or some other offence against the normal requirements and liberties of the average citizen in the regulations which the Government introduce. The result is that on the questions arising from petrol black marketing since the beginning of the regulations, since 1945, the Opposition has in effect been on the side of the black market and against honest citizens.

Mr. Foster

The hon. Member is still in the same difficulty. If it is so despicable and if it is so wrong, how can it be a smart political trick unless the majority of the country have an appeal made to them, because they are despicable? A despicable thing cannot be a smart political trick. Now we come back to the Parliamentary Secretary who said that this was a political trick. He must think we have gone off our heads. I understand the Parliamentary Secretary is saying that we are so stupid that we want to do something despicable and wrong because we think it is a smart political trick. If hon. Gentlemen opposite think that will cut any ice in the country they are much mistaken.

What my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) wanted to know was why the regulation was worded in that fashion, with this expression: shall be deemed to include. The hon. Gentleman gave an explanation which was not an explanation. He said it was nonsense to set out all the substitutes which constituted the "nuclear substituted D" as I will call it. Why, he asked, should it not be written in plain English? The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) who made an interruption left the Chamber in order not to wait for an answer. I shall give an answer which will satisfy what the hon. Gentleman wants. I agree with him on this point. I ask that the prescribed nuclear shall be D and include substituted D. That is all it need be and the reason for saying it should be "deemed to include," is that it may have a retroactive effect.

The hon. Member says he has been advised, but his advisers may be wrong as were the advisers of the present Secretary of State for War over the electricity cuts. Therefore would he consider wording this properly and not have the words, "deemed to include." That is useless and unnecessary legal jargon. It is much clearer to the ordinary man to say that the ingredient shall be D and any substituted D. I appeal to reason on both sides of the House that surely that is much better wording.

The second point is with regard to prosecutions now pending. If the decision of the Sheriff is right anybody can successfully defend a motorist accused of this offence. Therefore it means that the prosecutions which will go on can, if his decision is right, be successfully defended. Surely those prosecutions should be held up until it is decided whether the decision is right or wrong. If he is right they will have to be dropped, and if he is wrong they can be gone on with—

Mr. Nally

Even where defendants plead guilty?

Mr. Foster

Defendants may plead guilty, but where they know they have a successful defence it is a great temptation to a man to demand that the prosecutor shall prove his case. He is not going to say, "I did it." He will say, "You prove I did it." In our criminal law we have always allowed a man to do that. The reason is obviously founded on good sense and ethics, namely, that if a man were convicted on insufficient evidence when he was really guilty, the next man who was not guilty might be convicted on the same insufficient evidence. It has always been held that people may say to the prosecution, "You prove it." Morality may demand from a man who knows that he is guilty that he should plead guilty—

Mr. Nally

Some do.

Mr. Foster

I agree that some do, but a man might say, knowing that he had a good defence "You prove it," and I do not think that I could blame him.

What do the Government propose to do? If a person is prosecuted for an old offence and puts up this defence and is found guilty by a court which does not follow the Sheriff's decision, will the Government make him appeal and perhaps bear the costs? It seems rather hard just because the Ministry have drafted a regulation which does not work out right that people should be prosecuted at present. The proper way would be to hold up prosecutions until we know whether that decision was right or wrong. If the decision is not upheld then the prosecutions can go on because those accused may have committed an offence, but if it is upheld they will not have committed an offence in the sense that the prosecution may be able to prove it, and that is the only sense in the criminal law which is of importance.

Hon. Members must bear in mind the principle of criminal law—it is one of the corner stones—that the prosecution have to prove the case, even though if the real facts were known the man would be as guilty as hell.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)

The hon. Member must not use that expression.

Mr. Foster

I beg your pardon.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)

As guilty as the Government.

Mr. Foster

In those circumstances the defendant who can say to the prosecution, "You prove it" is entitled to demand that the case against him should be proved. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to explain these two points. The first is the small matter about the wording which is a puzzle unless some retrospective intention is behind it. The second which is much more important, is the question why he does not hold up the prosecutions, because it is not right that people should be convicted when the prosecution cannot prove their case.

9.7 p.m.

Mr. Nally (Bilston)

Let us assume that at the moment—indeed we have no need to assume it because it is a fact—there are pending a number of prosecutions under the old regulation in which, because of the weight of evidence of various kinds, not necessarily in the chemical formula of the petrol, people indicted have decided to plead guilty, and have made statements to that effect to the police. What we have had tonight from the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster), of whom I am very fond, is a touching and plaintive plea to allow these gentlemen who already know themselves to be guilty, and who intend to plead guilty, to be left alone for the time being because it is unjust to proceed against them.

It is true that when we are dealing with a black market of any kind, whether it be at one Ministry or another, periods arise when it is possible to detect some loophole, or it may be that a decision of the courts creates a situation in which a regulation must be reconsidered. But it does not follow that because of that, the original regulation was bad. What it means, in effect, is that the purpose of the new regulation replacing the old is simply to pull the noose a little tighter around the throats of those who should be dealt with in the most severe way possible.

I repeat that, whilst one accepts as a matter of course that any hon. Member is genuinely anxious to clear up some of these offences, it happens to be the hard fact that since 1945 I cannot recollect at any time, either in Parliamentary questions, Parliamentary discussions on regulations or in general Debate, that we have ever had from the Opposition one sound or constructive proposal on these matters. With all the array of legal talent, particularly that which is present tonight, we have never had from the Opposition one really constructive suggestion designed to assist the Government in their war upon the black market.

That is particularly true in relation to petrol. The hon. Baronet who introduced the discussion will recall the time when the authorities in Scotland were holding an investigation which involved two things. They were investigating, first of all, illegal slaughtering for the black market and also black market petrol, which was in this case part of the same racket. The officers concerned in association with the police were holding up cars for inspection from time to time. They were doing this quite politely and courteously, and anyone with any elementary common sense—

Mr. J. Foster

On a point of Order. Is this in order?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think it is relevant so far, but I am listening very carefully.

Mr. Erroll

May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that we have suggested a very good solution, and I have done so tonight—to ration lorry petrol properly, which the Minister has failed to do?

Mr. Nally

I was making the point that investigations in Scotland were proceeding in a two-pronged attack upon the black market in petrol and the illegal slaughtering of animals. The first hostile question that was asked in this House, designed to prevent the authorities from conducting this quite proper investigation, was put by the hon. Baronet, who was anxious to prevent these officers from examining in a perfectly courteous way people driving cars who were proceeding in these areas.

One does not allege, indeed it would be improper to allege, that the Opposition desire to serve the cause of people engaged in this sort of illicit traffic.

Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)

Will the hon. Gentleman take into consideration the many speeches made from this side of the House on the most important black market of all, which was the attack on sterling being made by people from the non-sterling group?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We are now going much too wide, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will confine himself to this particular order.

Mr. Nally

I was making the point that the Opposition attacks upon these regulations have been, in effect, an encouragement to those who would evade them, and an encouragement to all those who hold the law in contempt, to all those who hold honest dealing in contempt and are an invitation to all to regard this and other regulations presented by the Ministry as being not only something which they can ignore, but something which they ought to ignore as being unjust and ethically to be opposed or evaded.

I say in conclusion that this House is entitled to know when Prayers are put down against regulations of this kind, whether or not it is the honest purpose of the Opposition to divide upon them, and whether it is the honest intention of the Opposition, provided that they do not receive satisfactory replies from whoever speaks for the Government, to divide the House. The sincerity of the Opposition can be tested by this means. They have no intention of dividing, and they did not have any intention when the Debate began. This is another illustration of introducing into this House and the Press of the country, under the disguise of protecting the subject, part of the Opposition's propaganda campaign to make impossible of operation regulations designed purely to protect the public. Thereby indirectly the Opposition gives comfort to every crook in the country who seeks to batten upon the nation in its time of difficulty.

9.14 p.m.

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

I cannot accept the contention of the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally) that we can only take part in Debates on Prayers in this House if we are going to divide on them. After all, there are many occasions on which they provide the only means of making a protest against something which ought to be the subject of such protests, and it is for that purpose that I intervene now. I feel that some protest should be made against this very cumbersome and elaborate, as well as inefficient, method of attaining the object, however worthy it may be, intended by these two regulations.

I had a scientific education a long time ago, and I have forgotten most of what I then learnt on the chemistry side, but I am still left with a considerable respect for scientists and scientific methods. I think that the procedure envisaged in these regulations is really making nonsense of science. Science is being treated with complete disrespect; it is really being prostituted for the purposes of these regulations. The original intention was to find some substance by which red petrol could be distinguished, but why, in this year of 1949, with our present chemical knowledge, should a substance have been chosen which afterwards was found to contain four or five similar substances that gave the same reaction?

As a result of that initial mistake this second set of regulations has had to be brought forward, in which, in effect, we really say that when we speak of diphenylamine, which I agree could be much better called "D," we also include five other substances which are not diphenylamine at all. Diphenylamine, presumably, has its formula as well as the other five substances. We are deeming that diphenylamine also includes five other substances which may be of the same basic structure, or closely allied to diphenylamine, but which are definitely not diphenylamine. That is really making nonsense of science for the purposes of the law, and I protest against it because I do not think it was necessary. However, nothing can be done about it now and there is not much more we can say about it.

9.18 p.m.

Mr. Maude (Exeter)

May I bring this matter back to the practical point of what is to be done? It has been suggested that all the prosecutions under the old regulations should not be proceeded with, but I would not suggest that for one moment. Where previous admissions were made, one would naturally proceed under the old regulations, but where admissions had not been made by the suspected person and where there is no other evidence, such as someone who saw the petrol being put into the car, the Crown is, of course, in difficulty. The Crown is in a difficulty because if the Sheriff is right, then the Ministry may be carrying on a number of prosecutions which will be abortive, and if these prosecutions turn out to be abortive, it is quite obvious that the courts will impose very heavy costs against the Crown. In that connection, I rather hoped we should hear a word from the Minister.

I should like to put in a personal word against some parts of the speech of the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally). I know it is tiresome to be kept here on these occasions, I know that people tend to think that everyone else is very silly and that they themselves are very clever, but when my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) is doing what we know he conceives to be his duty in connection with these orders—as he has done for some years—I bitterly resent the sort of attack made by the hon. Member for Bilston. He suggested that anybody who indulges in such matters—it may be with some pernicketiness and not always cleverly—and does his best to examine these things should be at once accused of wanting to do something dishonest.

Mr. Nally

I made no accusation about the hon. Baronet's honesty; it is his wisdom which was in question.

Mr. Maude

I suggest that there is not one of us in this House at the moment who is not quite certain that the hon. Gentleman's explanation is quite unsatisfactory. The suggestion made against my hon. Friend and some of his hon. Friends was that for months, if not for years, they have been trying to do a very dishonest thing—to encourage those persons who have not only been dabbling in, but are absolutely up to the neck in, a black market in petrol. When the hon. Member for Bilston reads his speech tomorrow, I think he will regret it; I do not believe it reflects his ordinary nature at all.

It was a great mistake to allege anything of that sort. It is important to avoid a great deal of cant about this matter. Any suggestion that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield has some information, improperly obtained, showing that there was a black market in petrol, when nine Members out of ten have more than a shrewd suspicion

to exactly the same effect as the Minister, namely, that there is a black market, is nothing but cant and humbug. It is much better to leave my hon. Friends alone; they are trying their best to see that the regulations which the Ministry have introduced are regulations which work. After all, if it is found that a Sheriff in Scotland has come to a decision which has upset this order, is it not right that the Government's nose should be rubbed in it just a little, with just a little tiny pinch of pepper?

Question put. That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 24th October, 1949, entitled the Motor Spirit (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations, 1949 (S.I., 1949, No. 1973), a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th October, be annulled.

The House divided: Ayes, 48; Noes, 190.

Division No. 273.] AYES [9.25 p.m.
Barlow, Sir J. Glyn, Sir R. Savory, Prof. D. L.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells) Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. Scott, Lord W.
Bossom, A. C. Grimston, R. V. Spearman, A. C. M.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley) Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. Hurd, A. Studholme, H. G.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.) Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
Butcher, H. W. Keeling, E. H. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Challen, C. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Turton, R. H.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Tweedsmuir, Lady
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Mackeson, Brig. H. R. Vane, W. M. F.
Crowder, Capt. John E. Manningham-Buller, R. E. Wakefield, Sir W. W.
Darling, Sir W. Y. Morris-Jones, Sir H. Walker-Smith, D.
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith) Nield, B. (Chester) Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)
Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness) Noble, Comdr. A. H. P. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Drewe, C. Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond) Pickthorn, K. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gage, C. Sanderson, Sir F. Sir John Mellor and Mr. Erroll.
Adams, Richard (Balham) Cullen, Mrs. Guy, W. H.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Davies, Ernest (Enfield) Haire, John E. (Wycombe)
Awbery, S. S. Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.
Ayles, W. H. Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Hannan, W. (Maryhill)
Baird, J. Deer, G. Hardy, E. A.
Balfour, A. Delargy, H. J. Hastings, Dr. Somerville.
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J. Dodds, N. N. Haworth, J.
Barstow, P. G. Donovan, T. Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)
Barton, C. Driberg, T. E. N. Herbison, Miss M.
Berry, H. Dumpleton, C. W. Hobson, C. R.
Bing, G. H. C. Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly) Holman, P.
Blenkinsop, A. Evans, Albert (Islington, W.) Houghton, Douglas
Blyton, W. R. Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Hoy, J.
Bowden, H. W. Evans, John (Ogmore) Hubbard, T.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge) Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Ewart, R. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Brook, D. (Halifax) Fairhurst, F. Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Fernyhough, E. Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T. Follick, M. Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)
Burden, T. W. Foot, M. M. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)
Burke, W. A. Forman, J. C. Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)
Champion, A. J. Fraser, T. (Hamilton) Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)
Cobb, F. A. Ganley, Mrs. C. S. John, W.
Cocks, F. S. Gibson, C. W. Jones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley)
Coldrick, W. Gilzean, A. Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)
Collindridge, F. Glanville, J. E. (Consett) Kenyon, C.
Collins, V. J. Gooch, E. G. Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.
Colman, Miss G. M. Grey, C. F. Kinley, J.
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.) Grierson, E. Lang, G.
Corlett, Dr. J. Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side) Lavers, S.
Leonard, W. Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury) Steele, T.
Lewis, T. (Southampton) Palmer, A. M. F. Stubbs, A. E.
Lindgren, G. S. Pannell, T. C. Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Lipson, D. L. Pearson, A. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Peart, T. F. Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Longden, F. Porter, E. (Warrington) Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
McAdam, W. Porter, G. (Leeds) Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
McGhee, H. G. Price, M. Philips Tiffany, S.
McGovern, J. Proctor, W. T. Tolley, L.
McKay, J. (Wallsend) Pryde, D. J. Ungoed-Thomas, L.
McKinlay, A. S. Pursey, Comdr. H. Vernon, Maj. W. F.
McLeavy, F. Randall, H. E. Viant, S. P.
MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Rankin, J. Warbey, W. N.
Macpherson, T. (Romford) Richards, R. Watkins, T. E.
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield) Ridealgh, Mrs. M. Watson, W. M.
Mann, Mrs. J. Robens, A. Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire) Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Mathers, Rt. Hon. George Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edink'gh, E.)
Messer, F. Ross, William (Kilmarnock) White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Middleton, Mrs. L. Royle, C. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Mikardo, Ian Sargood, R. Wigg, George
Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R. Scollan, T. Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.
Mitchison, G. R. Scott-Elliot, W. Wilkes, L.
Moody, A. S. Segal, Dr. S. Wilkins, W. A.
Morgan, Dr. H. B. Shackleton, E. A. A. Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.) Sharp, Granville Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Morris, P. (Swansea, W.) Silverman, J. (Erdington) Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.) Simmons, C. J. Willis, E.
Murray, J. D. Smith, C. (Colchester) Wills, Mrs. E. A.
Nally, W. Smith, Ellis (Stoke) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Neal, H. (Claycross) Smith. H. N. (Nottingham, S.) Woods, G. S.
Noel-Buxton, Lady Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.) Yates, V. F.
Oldfield, W. H. Sorensen, R. W.
Orbach, M. Sparks, J. A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Snow and Mr. George Wallace.
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