HC Deb 21 June 1961 vol 642 cc1553-6

(1) Notwithstanding anything in section two hundred and eighty-one of the Act of 1952, as applied under section three hundred and thirteen of that Act, a local authority in England or Wales may authorise the bringing by any constable of proceedings, or any particular proceedings, for an offence under the excise Acts relating to any duty of excise the levying of which has been transferred to the authority under section six of the Finance Act, 1908 (licences for dealing in game, killing game, and guns) or section fifteen of the Finance Act, 1949 (hawker's, money-lender's, pawnbroker's and refreshment house licences).

(2) A document purporting to be a copy of a resolution authorising the bringing of proceedings in accordance with this section and to be signed by an officer of the local authority shall be evidence, until the contrary is shown, that the bringing of the proceedings was duly authorised.—[Mr. Page.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

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

This new Clause is intended to legalise the position of the police constable prosecuting for an excise licence offence on behalf of a local authority. I shall explain briefly what is intended. Under the Customs and Excise Act, 1952, Section 282, proceedings in a court of summary jurisdiction for Customs or Excise offences have to be commenced by an officer. The phrase "an officer" is defined in Section 307 of that Act as a person commissioned by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise.

Under Section 313, in certain cases in place of a Customs and Excise officer for prosecuting purposes there is substituted an officer of a local authority. I say in certain cases—cases in which the local authorities have been given powers to levy certain Customs and Excise duties. Those powers were conferred under two Acts—Section 6 of the Finance Act, 1908, which deals with licences to deal in game, licences for killing game, gun licences and dog licences, and Section 15 of the Finance Act, 1949, which deals with hawkers' licences, moneylenders' licences, pawnbrokers' licences and refreshment house licences.

Strictly by law, any prosecution in connection with those licences must be brought by an officer of the local authority. In fact, in practice they are instituted by a police officer, for the very good reason that they are usually prosecutions in connection with some other offence. For example, prosecutions about game licences and gun licences are usually connected with poaching offences, and it would be most inconvenient if an officer of the local authority had to bring the prosecution about the absence of a licence and a police constable had to bring the prosecution about the poaching.

This difficulty was faced in connection with motor-car licences in the Finance Act, 1956. Under Section 5 (5) of that Act a constable was authorised with the consent of a local authority to bring prosecutions in connection with motor-car licences. This new Clause merely applies that principle to these cases of minor licensing offences which I have mentioned. It does not require that a police constable should bring these prosecutions. It is entirely permissive, enabling him to do so with the consent of the local authority. Subsection (2) shows how that consent is given by resolution and how it is deemed to be proved.

I do not believe that this will impose any additional burden on the police force. It merely regularises in a simple form a present fiction whereby a local authority appoint the police constable an ad hoc officer of the local authority in order to get round the provisions of the present law. The Clause is intended to give him the right, in his capacity as a police constable, to prosecute for these minor licensing offences.

Sir E. Boyle

The purpose of the new Clause is to enable the police to prosecute for certain minor licensing offences under the Acts of 1908 and 1949.

Mr. H. Wilson

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has explained that.

Sir E. Boyle

It is my custom to remind the Committee, in case they have not fully understood, what the Clause is about before tendering advice to the Committee on it. On balance, I think that is a good thing.

Mr. Wilson

It could not have been better explained than it was by the hon. Member for Crosby. Even though I was out of the Committee for part of the time I understood it quite well. I suggest to the Financial Secretary, in order that we can keep to the timetable, that he should just accept the new Clause, sit down, and let the Question be put.

Sir E. Boyle

The right hon. Gentleman has anticipated my very next sentence. I was about to say that, having listened to the lucid exposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), I advise the Committee to accept the Clause.

Question put and agreed to.

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

Sixth Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, to be considered Tomorrow and to be printed [Bill 145].