HL Deb 08 March 1906 vol 153 cc572-4

Order of the day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 3a—(The Earl of Halsbury.)


Before the Motion is put I should like to say a few words. There were, I understood, Clauses in this Bill which were under the consideration of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, and he certainly intimated that he would undertake the revision of some of those clauses. In my opinion, the presence of the word "corruptly" will place great difficulties in the way of enforcing the Act; and I also think that the clause which makes the permission of the Attorney-General necessary before anyone can prosecute under this Act is a very objectionable clause. My noble and learned friend in charge of the Bill is aware that the House of Commons has already opposed the Bill on the ground of the existence of that clause; and, as far as my information goes, there is every possibility, if this blot, as I think it is, on the Bill remains, that it will be again thrown out by the House of Commons. I abstained from raising the point in Committee, for I have every faith that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will carry out his promise and see what Amendments can be made in the Bill. Whether these Amendments will be made in the House of Commons or not I do not know; but I hope it will not be supposed that silence on our part gave acquiescence to these objectionable provisions.


My Lords, I should like to say one word in support of what has fallen from the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down. The bankers are anxious that the fiat of the Attorney-General should not be necessary. There will certainly be an immense number of very small cases under the Act in which it is surely unnecessary to call in such expensive machinery, and we are very much afraid that the Act will not do all the good which the noble and learned Lord in charge of it wishes if this provision is insisted upon. We are very much obliged to the noble and learned Lord for introducing the Bill again, but we very much hope that the suggestion which has fallen from Lord James of Hereford will be acted upon.


My Lords, I have frequently explained to this House that my fear is that without the provision with regard to the fiat of the Attorney-General this Bill might be made a vehicle of one of the worst forms of crime that now prevails, and prevails very extensively in this country—I refer to what is commonly known as blackmail; and for that reason I did not think it right to yield to the suggestion of my noble and learned friend Lord James, when he made it last year. I am still of the same opinion. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has been good enough to say that he will aid and assist the Bill as much as he can, subject to his right to make corrections. I can only say that any corrections he makes I shall be very glad to accept when this Bill comes back to this House, if it does come back; but I wish to say very distinctly that my own opinion is unchanged. I do not think the members of your Lordships House, and, indeed, the public generally, are at all aware of the extent to which that most odious form of crime—namely, blackmail—exists, and it seems to me that the new offence which you are here creating is one which will particularly lend itself to this crime unless there is some safeguard.


My Lords, I am very sorry if there has been any misunderstanding with regard to the Amendments which I intimated I intended to move. Those Amendments will be entirely free from any hostility to the Bill. I did not think it worth while making them here, as the process of the Bill would have been thereby delayed. Upon the point of the fiat of the Attorney-General being necessary, I am afraid there has been a misunderstanding. In the House of Commons I objected to the Attorney-General's fiat being required, because I thought it was an ineffective bar against the hideous crime of blackmail to which my noble friend has referred. My objection to the Attorney-General's fiat being required was that, having held that office, I knew how slight was the opportunity of the Attorney-General to inquire himself into these matters. If any more effective means could be found of preventing blackmail, which I think is a serious danger, no one would more heartily welcome it than myself.

On question, Motion agreed to.

Privileged Amendment agreed to, and Bill passed; and sent to the Commons.