HC Deb 19 July 1967 vol 750 cc2418-20

Amendments made: No. 322, in page 84, line 33, at end insert: (aa) with a view to the institution of, or otherwise for the purposes of, any criminal proceedings pursuant to, or arising out of, the Exchange Control Act 1947;

No. 278, in page 85, line 4, at end insert: 'or (f) for the purposes of proceedings under the last foregoing section'.—[Mr. Jay.]

Mr. Corfield

I beg to move Amendment No. 128, in page 85, line 6, after 'shall' to insert (i).

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We may discuss, at the same time, Amendment No. 129, in page 85, line 12, at end insert: (ii) liable at the suit of that body in civil proceedings for any loss sustained by that body as a result of such publication or disclosure.

Mr. Corfield

These two Amendments are designed, not very elegantly perhaps, to meet an important problem. The Board of Trade and certain other bodies can, under various enactments, acquire a great deal of confidential information as a result of investigations undertaken for a variety of purposes. Very properly, Clause 107 makes clear that anyone who has acquired such information in the course of duty to investigate shall not use for any purposes other than may be necessary in relation to criminal or other proceedings arising out of the investigation. In other words, there is a protection against improper disclosure.

It takes no great imagination to recognise how a company which had been investigated but turned out to be innocent of any fraudulent or criminal intent or action might suffer ruinous damage if someone at the Board of Trade or another person to whom he spoke let out information to a competitor. The Clause makes it a criminal offence to disclose information, but the trouble is that that does not reimburse the people who have lost or suffered damage.

The Amendments are designed to create, in effect, a statutory tort, something I have never tried to draft before. I do not, therefore, put it forward on the "drafting network" with any great confidence. But it seems right that there should be a civil action open to the company which has been damaged by a leakage, perhaps, by deliberate sale of information, or by the publication of knowledge in some way. This should give rise to civil proceedings and the chance, unless the person concerned is a man of straw, to obtain damages.

The Amendments are an amalgamation of various people's ideas, plus, curiously enough, some words out of an American statute, because I could find nothing suitable in a British Statute. The purpose is clear. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is sympathetic to it, and I hope that, even if he will not accept the wording, which would not surprise me, he will promise to give the matter really genuine attention. The criminal sanction is not effective to make good the damage which can be done and, I have no doubt, in some cases will be done. I cast no aspersions on the officers of the Board of Trade, but in the best arranged organisations accidents of this sort happen, and the innocent person suffers. It is the innocent person whom I seek to protect.

Mr. Darling

I agree entirely, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that, if a mistake is made or an offence is committed under the Clause, a civil action can at present be pursued. If a person committed an offence under the Clause, he would commit the civil wrong of a breach of statutory duty and it would be possible for a person who committed that wrong to be sued for damages in a civil action. What the hon. Member seeks to achieve can, therefore, be achieved without his Amendment. I am sure that on that assurance he will wish to withdraw the Amendment.

6.0 a.m.

Mr. Corfield

I am happy to draw near to the end of the Bill on that note. I certainly was unaware of that right of action. Curiously enough, many of my learned Friends were also unaware of it. I am glad to have that assurance. Perhaps the publicity which we have managed to give, although the newspapers are not very interested in us at this time of morning, may help some people to know of that remedy, which may help them. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Jay

I beg to move Amendment No. 279, in page 85, line 16, after 'business', to insert: '(as defined by section 1(2) of the Industrial Assurance Act 1923)'. If you agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I suggest that we take, at the same time, Amendment No. 280, in line 21.

These Amendments have the effect that the expression "industrial assurance business" in the subsection means business as defined by Section 1(2) of the Industrial Assurance Act, 1923. I am sure that no reasonable person could object to that.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: No. 323, in page 85, line 18, leave out 'and'.

No. 324, in page 19, at end insert: ',the Treasury and an officer of theirs'.

No. 280, in line 21, after 'business', insert '(as so defined)'.

No. 325, in line 25, leave out and an officer of his' and insert: ',an officer of his, the Treasury and an officer of theirs'.—[Mr. Darling.]