HC Deb 13 June 1956 vol 554 cc605-8

  1. (1) In any case in which the Registrar has given notice to any person under section eleven of this Act, the High Court may on the application of the Registrar order that person to attend and be examined on oath in accordance with the following provisions of this section.
  2. (2) Where an order is made under this section for the attendance and examination of any person-
    1. (a) the court may examine him, either by word of mouth or on written interrogatories, concerning the matters in respect of which the Registrar has given notice to him as aforesaid;
    2. (b) the Registrar shall take part in the examination and for that purpose may be represented by solicitor or counsel;
    3. (c) the person examined shall answer all such questions as the court may put or allow to be put to him, but may at his own cost employ a solicitor with or without counsel, who shall he at liberty to put to him such questions as the court may deem just for the purpose of enabling him to explain or qualify any answers given by him;
    4. (d) notes on the examination shall be taken down in writing and shall be read over to Or by, and signed by, the person examined, and may thereafter be used in evidence against him;
    5. (e) the court may require the person examined to produce any such particulars, documents or information in his possession or control as may be specified in the notice given by the Registrar as aforesaid.
  3. (3) In the application of this section to Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively, for any reference to the High Court there shall 606 be substituted a reference to the Court of Session or the High Court of Northern Ireland. —[Mr. P. Thorneycroft.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. P. Thorneyeroft

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

We had discussion on this matter in Committee. It is another of the problems about how to discover whether there is an agreement and is the "looking for the children" occupation to which an hon. Member opposite referred earlier. It is an important part of the whole operation whatever is done about them afterwards. The Clause borrows from the Companies Act the procedure, which is used on occasions when there is doubt as to what is happening, of examining the parties upon oath in the High Court. The procedure is fully set out in the Clause and it is not necessary for me to spell it out.

My proposal to the House is that we should use this method as a substitute for the arrangements set out in Clause 11, subsections (3) and (4). Those subsections set out certain provisions about search, which came under proper and adequate scrutiny by all parties in Committee. To tell the truth I have never had much confidence that anything would ever be found with the power of search; I regarded it as largely a waste of time. I am certain that when a prima facie case exists, a proper and orderly examination upon oath would be the best method of dealing with something which would be caught by the Bill, and I commend these arrangements to the House.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney & Shetland)

I should like to thank the President of the Board of Trade. As he said, many people felt that the original powers in Clause 11, which allow a widespread search of premises, were undesirable. Personally I do not have any objection to the new procedure. I think it is worth saying, however, that even the new procedure is fairly drastic, though I do not think it is any more drastic than is needed, because we are facing a new situation. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Companies Act as a precedent, and I dare say there are other precedents under the proceedings in bankruptcy.

In general, one is not allowed to fish about until one can get people to incriminate themselves—I do not mean in the strict sense—as carrying on a restrictive practice. Normally one is not allowed to put interrogatories before starting an action of any sort. However, as I say, I take no objection to it in this case. I take it that it is necessary to make out a case in the High Court before obtaining authority to do this at all. I should also like to know whether the examination will take place before a master according to the ordinary rules of the High Court.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

I should like to join with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in thanking the President of the Board of Trade. We took the view in Committee that the search warrant procedure was quite inappropriate and much too drastic. I do not myself share any kind of reservation on the lines suggested by the hon. Gentleman about this Clause. There is no question of any analogy with ordinary civil actions where interrogatories are administered and so on.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that one did not do this before the action has started, but of course the position is entirely different. Here, according to the President of the Board of Trade, there is a duty imposed upon parties to the agreement to register. Before this Clause can come into operation requiring an examination on oath, first of all there must have been a failure of that duty to register, which has nothing at all comparable in any civil action, and of course under Clause 11 the Court must be satisfied that the Registrar has reasonable cause to believe that the person is in default. Therefore, I am not at all troubled with any kind of analogy with civil actions.

I am glad that the President of the Board of Trade has introduced this Clause because it is a great improvement on the search warrant procedure, and we on this side of the House certainly welcome it.

Mr. J. E. S. Simon (Middlesbrough, West)

I too would like to thank my right hon. Friend for what seems to me a very great improvement in the Bill. I have only one question that I should like to put to him.

Subsection (2, c) is drawn in very wide terms. I should like the President of the Board of Trade to give an assurance that it is not drawn in such a way as to exclude the ordinary privileges of a witness to refuse to answer any question which might incriminate him or disclose confidential communications with a legal or professional adviser.

Mr. Thorneycroft

With the permission of the House, may I say that I am sure that the ordinary rules of privilege and of refusing to incriminate oneself apply to this as to any other examination in the High Court.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.