HC Deb 26 June 1961 vol 643 cc117-20
Mr. Paget

I beg to move, in page 20, line 19, to leave out from "include" to the end of the Clause and to add: any property into or for which that property, to the knowledge of such person subject to military law has been converted or exchanged and the proceeds of any unlawful or fraudulent sale of that, property". The Clause seems to me to be rather wide. I think that this Clause applies only to paragraph (b) of Section 44 of the Army Act, that is to say, to the man who receives any public or Service property knowing it to have been stolen. That is to be extended to anything that it is converted into.

If some one steals money from the Army, buys a car with it, sells the car and then stands somebody a drink out of the proceeds of the sale of the car, is that man to be held guilty, even if he knew, or had reason to suspect, that his friend was up to some monkey business? It seems to me that the words used in section 44 are too wide: … shall include not only a reference to such property as has been originally in the possession or control of any person, but also any property into or for which that property has been converted or exchanged, and anything acquired by a conversion or exchange of that property, whether immediately or otherwise. We are dealing with a very serious offence indeed. If one takes it to the third remove, any exchange of property—and this is the assumption in the example I gave—even if the person who had a drink knew that his friend had been up to monkey business and that the money with which he was standing his friend drinks was probably the proceeds of some sort of villainy, I do not think that is enough to make a man a receiver of stolen goods It certainly would not in civil law, and I do not see why it should in Army law.

I have suggested words which seem to me to be about wide enough. They may not be suitable, but I should be grateful if the Minister would say that he will have another look at this. The words I suggest are: any property into or for which that property, to the knowledge of such person subject to military law has been converted or exchanged and the proceeds of any unlawful or fraudulent sale of that property. These words seem to me to take in the larger transaction while cutting out the more minor and distant participants. I am simply asking that the right hon. Gentleman should look at this point.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Ramsden

The idea of this Clause is to effect another amendment which experience of the working of the 1955 Act has shown, to our way of thinking, to be desirable. Supposing that a soldier or airman stole a truck—the hon. and learned Gentleman gave a rather more recondite instance—sold it while it was in his charge and divided the proceeds among his comrades, under the present provisions of the Act charges could be preferred in those circumstances only under Section 69, or possibly Section 70. This Clause will enable charges to be brought under the appropriate Section of the 1955 Act, that is Section 44 cited by the hon. and learned Gentleman, provided that those who have received and shared the money can be proved to have known in what way it was obtained. The effect is to bring in the proceeds of the stolen property as well as the property itself.

The hon. and learned Gentleman objected to the way in which we are proposing to do this, because he thought that it was unnecessarily wide. In fact, we are proposing to do it by using almost exactly the words in the definition of property under Section 46 of the Larceny Act, 1916, which I have here, and with which I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman is much more familiar than I am. I must confess that I looked at this with great care, knowing that this Amendment was to be moved, but I have been unable to convince myself that there is any great advantage in having different wording in the two cases, when, in this context, both are intended to fulfil very much the same purpose.

I imagined at one moment that the hon. and learned Gentleman might have been worried in case a charge could lie against a man who might receive the proceeds of some stolen property in ignorance of the fact that it was stolen, or in ignorance of its origin altogether. He got near that position when he talked about the man who might be bought a drink by someone who got the money from selling stolen property. I can reassure the hon. and learned Member, but to do so I must stick out my neck to the extent of quoting a learned authority, something which I have never done before and which I do only with great timidity. It is the case of Regina v. Cugullere, which was heard in the Court of Criminal Appeal on 17th April, 1961. It makes clear, I think, that the onus of proof of knowledge in the mind of the man accused is firmly on the prosecution. In that case, the court held that a charge failed because the prosecution had not established knowledge.

The main point of the hon. and learned Member's argument was that we are casting the net too wide by using this wording. I hope that he will agree that in following almost exactly the wording of the Larceny Act we are doing nothing very remarkable and are in line with the civil law. I hope that, on reflection, he will not press the Amendment.

Mr. Paget

I confess that my knowledge of the criminal law was never very profound and that I did not recognise where these words came from. If they come from the Larceny Act, that is a very effective answer to my objection. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 22 to 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.