HC Deb 11 May 1964 vol 695 cc108-10

Lords Amendment: In page 23, line 46, after "contravention" insert (i) of the infliction on him of imprisonment except in a case where the offence was committed recklessly or wilfully or, as the case may be, the failure or contravention was reckless or wilful; or (ii) in the said excepted case,

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

This is a new Amendment. There was some criticism in Committee and on Report stage of the penal Clause associated with control of movement orders. In Committee, the Opposition moved an Amendment which would have deleted imprisonment as a possible punishment. I explained then how serious might be the consequences of deliberate disobedience of one of these orders and the Amendment was not pressed.

On Report stage the Opposition moved an Amendment to reduce the maximum period of imprisonment from six months to three months. The Government resisted this and the Amendment was negatived on a Division. In another place, similar arguments were advanced against leaving the possibility of imprisonment in the Bill. However, my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor set forth, with great force and clarity, reasons why there should be this sanction against wilful and reckless disobedience of a control of movement order. Several of their Lordships, however, suggested that the sanction should be confined to cases where the prosecution was able to prove that the infringement was reckless or wilful. That is what the Amendment does.

There are precedents for having, as it were, two degrees of the same offence carrying different maximum penalties. An analogy is to be found in the Merchant Shipping Act itself, where the offence of disobeying collision regulations is punishable by imprisonment if caused by wilful default. Again, a number of the Articles of War in the Naval Discipline Act carry different penalties. Turning to the general criminal law, the crime of unlawful wounding offers an analogy. The crime of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm is a felony, whereas unlawful wounding by itself is a misdemeanour and carries a lower maximum penalty accordingly.

I hope that the Amendment will go a long way to ease the misgivings of hon. Members who fear that imprisonment might be imposed for offences which might be of a comparatively minor or technical nature.

Mr. Mellish

I can understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman looking at this Amendment with mixed feelings. He was an ardent supporter of the Clause as it stood and would not give way on this point despite repeated efforts by us. We have always believed that this part of the Bill was written by him and he seems to confirm that by referring to the Naval Discipline Act. I am not sure what that has to do with the Bill.

The penalties which the Bill included when it left this House for another place were not even contained in an international convention. We considered these penalties to be unrealistic. Their Lordships, about whom one can have certain views, have succeeded where we failed. I can understand how the hon. and gallant Gentleman feels but this is a tremendous improvement and we welcome it.

We believe that this penalty should have been wiped out altogether but we must be grateful for what we have been able to obtain. But at least now, before imprisonment can be imposed, it must be proved that the captain had wilfully or recklessly ignored the order and thereby caused the great damage which would undoubtedly follow.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to.