HC Deb 13 March 1963 vol 673 cc1400-2
The Parliamentary Secretary for Science (Mr. Denzil Freeth)

I beg to move, in page 18, line 29, at the end to insert: (2) Without prejudice to the liability of any equipment to be forfeited, it shall be a defence for any person charged with an offence under subsection (1) of this section in respect of the use for trade of any equipment to show—

  1. (a) that he used the equipment only in the course of his employment by some other person; and
  2. (b) that he neither knew, nor might reasonably have been expected to know, nor had any reason to suspect, the equipment to be false or unjust.
The purpose of the Amendment is to meet an important point which was raised in the Standing Committee by the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine). I am very pleased indeed and honoured to have his support, as shown by the fact that his name is attached to the Amendment on the Notice Paper.

In discussion in Committee hon. Members drew attention to the possibility that under the Clause as drafted a shop assistant might be prosecuted and convicted for using false or unjust scales even though he was entirely innocent of any responsibility and completely unaware that the scales were not accurate. The hon. and learned Genthgpan said: We do not want to be oppressive to traders or, perhaps, in particular, to their employees who in many instances may be using unjust and false weighing equipment entirely innocently, at least from the ethical point of view."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B. 29th November, 1962; c. 146.] I promised to look at the point to see whether we could find a better form of words, and I think that the form of words which I am now proposing meets the point which hon. Members had in mind.

It is very important when we are talking about an employee to realise that the term employee "can cover a wide variety of persons occupying a wide variety of posts. The word can stretch from a person who holds the very responsible post of managing a large store in a multiple grocery chain down to the shop assistant who may merely be 18 years old and only just starting. A manager, of course, is generally responsible for the weighing equipment which is under his charge, and if he fails to ensure that it is checked and if it is then found to be false or unjust I do not think any hon. Member would suggest that he should escape liability.

We have, therefore, laid down in subparagraph (b) of the Amendment three conditions for establishing a defence: namely, that the employee neither knew, nor might reasonably have been expected to know, nor had any reason to suspect, the equipment to be false or unjust. I think that this would give a very reasonable defence to the young and innocent employee, but it would not exonerate—I am certain that it would not be right to exonerate—the employee who, despite lack of knowledge, might reasonably have been expected to know that the weighing equipment was unjust, such as a manager or an assistant who had a clear responsibility for looking after it. Nor do the words I am proposing exonerate the employee who had reason to suspect that the scales were unjust; for example, the assistant to a barrow boy who might from his general observation have good reason to know that the scales were not all they should be. I think that in that case hon. Members would agree that the employee should not be automatically exonerated.

I therefore recommend the Amendment to the House, not least because it has the support of the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. A. J. Irvine

I think it would be appropriate if I expressed my gratitude to the Parliamentary Secretary for his treatment of this matter and for the Government's decision on it, and I do so.

At first sight, the juxtaposition of the names of the hon. Members supporting the Amendment somewhat startles the eye, but the explanation, as will be readily recognised, lies in the circumstance that this was, as the Parliamentary Secretary indicated, a point that we took in Committee, when an endeavour was made by some of us on the Opposition side to find wording for an Amendment which would cover the case. The principle was agreed upon, and now a skilled draftsman, if I may mention this with respect, has put the point in what I think all of us on this side of the House regard as admirably chosen language. The point is met and covered.

In these circumstances, and having sufficiently explained, I hope, for every purpose why the President of the Board of Trade and I are united on this point, I think I may say that my hon. Friends and I welcome the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.