HC Deb 29 April 1959 vol 604 cc1309-11
The Lord Advocate (Mr. W. R. Milligan)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 27, at the end to insert: and in the case of a second or subsequent conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to both such fine and imprisonment". This is one of the Amendments relating to penalties. There are a number of Amendments on the Notice Paper and it might be convenient if, before I move the Amendment, I said a word or two about the position of penalties in the Bill.

As the House knows, some Bills have a general Clause applicable to all offences, and some Bills have a general Clause and some particular Clauses. The Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act, 1951, about which we heard so much in Committee, was a case in point. In some Bills—and this is an example of that— each offence has its own penalty Clause.

In Committee, it was clear that the Opposition took the view that some of our penalties were too severe and some were not severe enough. The Committee agreed, and think, rightly, that it would be desirable to look at all the penalties at the end of the day in order to get a reasonable balance between them. I think that we agreed mutually to take penalties to avizandum and we have come to deliver our views on penalties in general.

Broadly speaking, the Opposition's suggestions in Committee were that the penalties in Part I, the part of the Bill dealing with the Commission making returns and the like, were not severe enough and they wanted to step them up. On the other hand, the Opposition thought that the penalties in Parts II and III were too high and they wanted, if I may coin a phrase, "to step them down a little".

We have anxiously considered the views of the Opposition and we have been able to meet them to some extent, because the result is that we find on the Notice Paper only two counter Amendments so far as penalties are concerned. I shall not deal with them at present, but we find later that the Opposition still think that the penalties in two of the later Clauses are rather too high and wish them to be reduced a little.

I come now to this particular Amendment, in which the Government suggest that we should add to Clause 5 the words and in the case of a second or subsequent conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds or to imprisoment for a term not exceeding three months, or to both such fine and imprisonment". Those words have the effect of stepping up a penalty in Part I. We go even further than the Opposition wanted in regard to a second offence. The offence is failing to make a return. Normally. failing to make a return may not be a very serious offence. A great many people fail to make returns, but they must not go on failing to make returns, otherwise the whole operation will be held up. Therefore, the Government have suggested the insertion of these words at the end of Clause 5.

These are maximum penalties. Normally, a person will not go to prison for an offence of this kind, but if he is stubborn and will not make returns in an extreme case a little of "Her Majesty's pleasure" might well do him some good.

Mr. D. Johnston

I wish to say a word about the general question of penalties to which the Lord Advocate has referred. Hon. Members on this side are very much obliged for the careful consideration which the Government have obviously given to the suggestions we put forward in Committee. The method of dealing with penalties suggested by the Lord Advocate is much the best one. As lie said, at this stage of the Bill it is clear that there are only two or three points on which the Opposition differ from him about penalties.

We welcome the Amendment, though not with the idea that the penalty will ever be imposed, because I hope that no penalty will ever be imposed under any Clause of the Bill. If there is a failure to make a return, or if, as the Clause also specifies, someone knowingly or recklessly furnishes false information, it is proper that there should be this somewhat heavy penalty imposed upon the maker of the false return. I thank the Lord Advocate again for the consideration he has given to the question of penalties.

Amendment agreed to.