HC Deb 03 November 1954 vol 532 cc444-7
Mr. Willey

I beg to move, in page 21, line 28, to leave out "one hundred" and to insert "five hundred."

I ought to remind the Minister that we came to an understanding with the Government, through the usual channels, that we would endeavour to conclude our proceedings by seven o'clock. That is fully understood on this side of the Committee but it does not seem to be appreciated on the Government benches. I am sorry to see the Leader of the House losing his grip on his own benches. We will endeavour to do all we can to reach this objective. I see that we have the learned Solicitor-General with us.

6.45 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

On a point of order. Was the agreement not subject to the understanding that both the Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) to this Clause were to be taken together?

Mr. Willey

I am much obliged. They might well be taken together.

The hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that when we discussed the Merchandise Marks Bill last Session he moved an Amendment to increase the penalty to £250. I hope the Minister will look at this matter again, and that the Solicitor-General will look at the Amendment in the light of the Amendment he then moved. I want to expedite consideration of the Bill and am anxious to get ahead.

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will look at the Committee proceedings on the Merchandise Marks Bill he will see that the then Attorney-General listed a number of recent Acts of Parliament in which the penalty ran at about the figure suggested by the present Solicitor-General, from £250 to £200. Perhaps I might remind the hon. and learned Gentleman of those Acts. They are: the Dangerous Drugs Acts, the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act, the Statistics of Trade Act, the Civil Aviation Act, the Air Corporations Act and the Agricultural Development Act.

In those Acts the penalty is from £200 to £250 and it is undesirable to have a lower penalty in the Bill. I am not one who places over-reliance on the penalty but it certainly seems to us that the penalty is too low. We are suggesting £500 but I should be well content if the Government would promise to look at the matter again in the light of the Solicitor-General's contribution to our discussion on the Merchandise Marks Bill.

So far as imprisonment goes, I am content for the Government to promise to look at the matter in the light of other legislation. I agree that it is extremely difficult to have a fundamental principle in legislation in these matters, but we should see that the Bill runs in line with the penalties in other recent Acts.

The Solicitor-General

The hon. Member reminds me of a fact which I had forgotten. There was a process of Dutch auction, as it were, in which we had shots on the Order Paper at the right sum for the penalty in the Merchandise Marks Bill. Ultimately my own figure was the lucky one, in the sense that the Committee agreed upon it. Some hon. Members thought it should be more and some thought it should be less. It always will be so with maximum penalties.

I could not accept the principle that the appropriate maximum penalty in one statute for the purposes of that statute is necessarily the proper one under another statute. Greatly as I would like to oblige the hon. Gentleman in this matter, I am afraid that I cannot. We have given very careful consideration to the money penalty. Unless we are thinking in terms of very rich people we seem to be tending towards too high a maximum penalty. The amendment effected by this Bill would involve making it five times as much as it has ever been before for a first offence, adding £5 a day for a continuing offence and adding three months' imprisonment. He would be a very stalwart offender who would not be deterred by those maximum penalties.

The real objection, as the hon. Member will understand, is much more fundamental. If we adopted the Amendment offences under the Bill would no longer be tryable summarily. They would have to go to quarter sessions and be tried by a jury. That would be much more cumbersome. Think of the third-party procedure, as it is called, whereby the defendant is allowed to call in the man who supplied him and to say, "It's your fault." Sometimes one gets as many as six defendants standing before the magistrates. To try that kind of case by jury would be impossible. In view of these considerations I am obliged to say that we cannot accept the Amendment.

Mr. Willey

I am sorry that the Solicitor-General is less amenable on this matter than I had hoped. Will he look at the very valuable contribution he made in Committee on the Merchandise Marks Bill? Refreshing his memory may alter his approach to this Bill. The Solicitor-General made his own position quite clear. We will study what he said and consider whether we should pursue this matter further on the Report stage. On the understanding that the Solicitor-General will look at his earlier contribution on the subject of penalties, I shall ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

On this matter, there is one aspect I should like to mention. We heard from the Solicitor-General one of the difficulties consequent upon increasing the money penalty as well as the term of imprisonment. Instead of being a matter for summary jurisdiction an offence would of necessity have to go to quarter sessions if the Amendment were accepted. But that is hardly a sufficient objection to the increase of the period of imprisonment to six months, which would still keep the offence within summary jurisdiction. Certainly, there would be more to be said for making the maximum six months than three months.

The money penalty as it stands is an inadequate and ineffective sanction for the purpose for which it is being applied. After all, a very grave offence is involved, and one which might lead to death. It might cause great suffering to quite a large number of people, yet from the point of view of punishment, it is to be treated as though it were just a light matter. There are numerous offences for which at least three months' imprisonment and a maximum fine of £100 are imposed—quite trifling matters by comparison—but here we have a very grave matter, and I think that the Government not only should, but must, reconsider the matter.

The penalties of three months' imprisonment and the fine of £100 are, as I have said, quite inadequate and ineffective. If there is any difficulty about the question of jurisdiction, it would be quite simple to increase the period from three months to six months, what at all events is twice as much and very much better, and to step up the money punishment so that it will at least be the sort of sanction that will have some effect on this type of offenders.

Mr. Willey

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.