HL Deb 03 September 1939 vol 114 cc961-3

12.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to impose penalties for trading with the enemy and to make provision with respect to the property of enemies and enemy subjects, and for purposes connected therewith; and to move that it be read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 1a.—(Lord Templemore.)

On Question, Bill read 1a, and to be printed.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended:


My Lords, I think a few words of explanation are necessary on this Bill. As your Lordships are aware trading with the enemy is illegal under the existing Common Law, and a notice warning traders against illegal transactions will have been given full publicity immediately on the outbreak of war. It is nevertheless felt to be necessary to promote new legislation to clarify the Common Law prohibition as regards the definition of the term "enemy," to impose penalties and to make certain necessary supplementary provision, for example, as to the establishment of custodians of enemy property. The present Bill has accordingly been prepared. I think that is all I need say, but I will answer to the best of my ability any questions that may be asked by your Lordships. I move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Templemore.)

12.39 p.m.


My Lords, this is, I believe the noble Lord will agree, the most important of to-day's Bills as far as I have been able to see through them, and I first of all would like on behalf of my noble friends to congratulate the Government on acting so quickly in this matter My noble and gallant friend Lord Chatfield will remember how long we had to wait on the last occasion before we could stop open and flagrant trading with our enemies, owing to loopholes in the Common Law. I suggest to the noble Lord that all we really want to do is to make absolutely certain there will be no repetition of those loopholes in the present circumstances. So much for that.

Now with regard to the question of enemy property over here, the noble Lord did not tell us anything about that. Is it intended to confiscate all nominally enemy property over here? If so, I think that will need a little careful watching. A good deal of technically enemy property is really property of people friendly to this country who sought refuge here from abominable persecution. If that is going to be hypothecated and earmarked—seized in other words—great hardship and indeed injury to the public interest might happen. The second point is that the principle of seizing enemy property was always opposed by legalists of independent standing—I think the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will agree with me there—as not being strictly in accordance with the accepted law and customs of nations. I have not had time to consult my noble friends here or my honourable friends in another place, but I rather suspect that they would wish to have some very satisfying explanation—perhaps not to-day, but later—as to whether it is intended to follow the same practice again.

Up to the last War the seizure of private property belonging to enemy subjects inside a territory was recognised as illegal and contrary to the customs and laws of nations. It was departed from in the last War and I think we ought to have good reasons given for following the precedent created in the last War. In other words, if you can avoid penalising ordinary persons who in perfectly good faith have built up businesses in this country, and in some cases have performed great service by building them up, you should do so. Great confusion was caused in the last War by the haphazard seizure of old-established businesses which were technically enemy businesses. They were handed over to incompetent people, who made a great mess of them, and scandals resulted. I do not want to delay matters to-day, but I feel sure that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will agree that we ought not to rush into hasty action under the technical rights given by this Bill.

12.42 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord opposite has raised two points of great importance. If I cannot deal with them as fully as I should like he will perhaps excuse me, but I think he may take it that the Government will be extremely careful and considerate both in the case of property connected with persons who may have come here on account of persecution and in the case of old-established businesses which happen to be held by aliens. I think I may give him an undertaking that the Government will be extremely sympathetic in both cases. I hope he will take that explanation from me, but I am afraid I cannot go further into the matter at the moment.

12.43 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to say a word in regard to this, and to point out that the arrangements are only of a temporary character. The noble Lord will notice that there is a clause dealing with the collection of enemy debts—that is in their favour as far as it goes—and dealing also with the custody of enemy property. That, again, is not adverse to alien enemies. It is quite true that in the last War enemy property and British property held by enemies was dealt with in the Versailles Treaty which set off the one against the other, but that is not the subject matter of this Bill, which is really only of a temporary character.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.

Bill read 3a: Amendments (Privilege) made: Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.