HC Deb 14 April 1959 vol 603 cc960-4
Mr. Ellis Smith

I beg to move, in page 16, line 7, column 3, to leave out " £200 "and insert" £400".

May we take this together with the next two Amendments, in page 16, line 8, column 3, leave out " £100 " and insert "£200 ", and in line 9, column 3, leave out " £200 " and insert " £400 ", Mr. Deputy-Speaker?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)


Mr. Ellis Smith

My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) and I have tabled these Amendments in order to replace some of the new maximum penalties in this Schedule. I will explain our purpose for doing this.

When I was a boy I remember there were a number of shops with mirrors in them, and the people who owned these shops kept the mirrors as clean as possible. I could not understand this. As I became older I discovered that the reason was that these shops were where the local bookies assembled together, and whenever the police were about, and especially the plain clothes men, they could be seen by the people in the shops. Periodically there was a raid, but the people did not mind because the bookies contributed to the fine that was imposed, and then there was no more trouble for a long time.

We think there is something of that atmosphere about these present penalties. Some of us have experienced what has happened as a result of unfenced machinery; men have lost fingers and parts of their limbs as the result of accidents which could have been avoided had reasonable precautions been taken. We say that when men and women are subject to this kind of risk the maximum penalty should be higher than it is.

A few weeks ago I was talking to some highly-placed authorities responsible for the administration of the police, and they had been having difficulty in a certain area which I do not intend to name. They said that one of their problems was the fact that the penalty which was imposed in cases involving young people had not kept pace with the change in the value of money since pre-war days. These police officials were the type of men who had the confidence of people in the locality, and their view was therefore of value.

My hon. Friend, who has had great experience of these matters, who is a magistrate and has served on the bench for many years, and I thought that we ought to set an example in this respect by ensuring that the penalties in this Schedule kept pace with the change in the value of money.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

In supporting the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), I wish to preface my remarks by expressing the hope that the Minister and the Department and those hon. Members who served on Standing Committee B will not think that this group of Amendments has been put down in any fault-finding spirit. I can assure the House that such is not the case. We have been given to understand that the proceedings in Standing Committee B were very harmonious and that the Minister and the Department were very accommodating. Far be it from me to strike a discordant note in the termination of the proceedings on the Pill.

As my hon. Friend has said, representations have been made to him and to myself, and probably to other people too, that the fines imposed on people responsible for many kinds of misdeeds are far too small. I do not want the Minister or the Department, or the House, to get the impression that I am a harsh kind of individual. I am not. I am just the reverse. But when I come across cases where there has been stupidity of the highest degree which has caused the loss of a limb or an eye and which could have been avoided I sometimes feel that I wish that I had the power of the Almighty to deal with the people responsible.

I am not suggesting that heavy fines will cause people to be careful and to exercise the jurisdiction which they should exercise, but there is something in having a heavy fine. Happily there are very few such cases, but it is those responsible for those cases whom I want brought to book. Therefore, I wish to impress upon the Minister what I said at the beginning of my speech, that these three Amendments have not been put on the Notice Paper in any fault-finding spirit. They represent a keen desire to see that the people who break the law are fined as heavily as possible.

I have been a county magistrate for thirty-seven years. Happily, very few cases of the kind we have in mind come before me, but when they do I wish that I could go a lot further than the law gives me power to go. That is the reason why these Amendments have been put down.

Mr Iain Macleod

Unlike the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), I am not a magistrate, though I feel, in the words of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), that I have spent years on the bench.

This series of Amendments was, in fact, discussed in Committee, and I hope that the hon. Members in whose names the Amendments stand will not press them because I believe that I can to some extent meet their anxieties. I believe that we have achieved what we might call a good " package deal " on this point.

The Amendments now proposed are, I think, for different sorts of offences. As far as the first Amendment is concerned, which deals with the maximum penalty for selling or letting on hire for use in a factory a power-driven machine with insufficient protection, we have, in Clause 22 of the Bill, made it easier to facilitate legal proceedings. That and the doubling of the penalty already set out in the First Schedule is, I believe, sufficient. As to the second one, relating to the inadequate examination of steam boilers, there has been no prosecution and, therefore, I do not believe that a deterrent greater than doubling the penalty is necessary.

10.45 p.m.

It would be on the third one that I would have the most sympathy. This is a penalty for operating a factory without a certificate as to the means of escape in case of fire. We thought, I think rightly, in Standing Committee that we should pick this penalty out from all the others and apply to it a different scale of values. Under this " package deal " as I have called it—though in fact there was no deal about it—it was agreed that the important penalties in Clause 23, in the main, should be trebled.

The ordinary penalties in the First Schedule, a rag-bag of miscellaneous penalties, some of very little significance in their effects, it was agreed, should be doubled, but offences against Section 34 of the 1937 Act should be picked out and both those penalties—the main one and the succeeding one for each day—should be quadrupled. Therefore, we have indicated as a House that in our opinion that penalty should be increased in proportion more than any other. I hope that hon. Members will be satisfied with that explanation. We believe this penalty to be the right one to pick out and we have given it a higher proportionate increase than any other.

Mr Ellis Smith

After that satisfactory explanation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.