HL Deb 29 May 1946 vol 141 cc556-62

1. Any person who contravenes any provision of any order made under this Act shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for not more than three months or to a fine not exceeding whichever is the highest of the following amounts—

  1. (a) one hundred pounds; or
  2. (b) the amount of any money borrowed or raised by the transaction in question; or
  3. (c) the nominal or market value, whichever is the greater, of any securities to the issue, sale or other disposal of which 557 (whether actual or projected) the transaction in question relates,
or to both such imprisonment and such fine.

3.—(1) No proceedings for an offence under this Act shall be instituted in England except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

(5) Where a person has been sentenced in England on summary conviction for an offence under this Act to a fine which exceeds five hundred pounds, any moneys recovered in respect of the sum adjudged to be paid by the conviction shall be applied as follows:

  1. (a) first in payment to the person entitled thereto of any costs adjudged to be paid by the conviction the amount of which is ascertained by the conviction;
  2. (b) if the balance remaining after payment of the said costs does not exceed five hundred pounds, it shall be applied in accordance with the provisions of section five of the Criminal Justice Administration Act, 1914;
  3. (c) if the balance so remaining exceeds five hundred pounds, so much thereof as is equal to five hundred pounds shall be applied in accordance with the provisions of the said section five and the remainder shall be paid into the Exchequer,
and so much of the sum adjudged to be paid as falls, when recovered, to be paid into the Exchequer, shall, if not otherwise recovered, be recoverable as a debt due to the Crown.

In this sub-paragraph, the expression "the sum adjudged to be paid by the conviction" includes any costs adjudged to be paid by the conviction, of which the amount is ascertained by the conviction.

2.40 p.m.

LORD PAKENHAM moved, in paragraph 1, alter "three months" to insert or to a fine not exceeding five hundred pounds or to both such imprisonment and such fine; or (ii) on conviction on indictment to imprisonment fur not more than two years

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move this Amendment to the Schedule and I hope that the House will permit me to explain now the three Amendments on the Paper because they in fact go closely together and are all intended to meet the point that was raised with a good deal of force by various noble Lords on a previous occasion. I refer, for instance, to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, the noble Earl, Lord Munster and the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun. I hope that those noble Lords and all other noble Lords will be satisfied that this is a genuine and successful attempt on the part of the Government to set at rest the not unreasonable anxiety that was expressed at an earlier stage.

The Schedule, your Lordships will recall, was strongly criticized at the Committee stage on the ground that it placed it in the power of magistrates, possibly without great knowledge and in the absence of a jury, to inflict penalties which might run into many thousands of pounds on those who might be held to have offended against the Act. We recognize that there is a good deal of force in those contentions and we are grateful to the noble Lords for giving us this opportunity of seeing what can be done. At the same time, in fairness to those who bore the heat and burden of the defence of this Schedule in another place, I must point out that the Schedule was drafted in the form in which it was presented to your Lordships in what was felt to be the interest of the defendant. It was thought he would have an easier time if proved guilty, and a softer penalty, in front of the magistrates than he would have on indictment. But we have considered the matter a good deal, and we now come forward with three reasoned Amendments that go together.

These Amendments provide that offenders under the Bill can be prosecuted either before a court of summary jurisdiction or by indictment—that would be, I understand, at Assizes or at the Central Criminal Court. If I may, I will just show your Lordships how in practice the proposed penalties would work out, hoping, of course, that the need will never arise for them to be inflicted on anybody. Let me take first of all summary jurisdiction. There the maximum term of imprisonment—of course much smaller terms might be imposed—will remain as before at three months, and the maximum fine will be £500 as compared with the present unlimited power to impose a fine up to the full amount involved in the contravening transaction, which of course might mean a sum of many thousands of pounds. That is the position, if these Amendments are carried, on summary conviction. On indictment, the maximum term of imprisonment under the Amendments will be two years. This is the same as that which can be imposed for offences against the existing Capital Issues Control under the Defence Regulations. The maximum fine under the Amendments will be either £500 or the amount involved in the transaction. I think that sets out the purpose of the Amendments as clearly as I am capable of setting it out, and I very much hope that the House will feel that we have met the criticisms that were urged on the last occasion.

Amendment moved: Page 6, line 5, after ("three months") insert the said new words.—[Lord Pakenham.]

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, so far as my noble friend the Earl of Munster and I are concerned, and I think on behalf of the House generally, I may say that we are grateful for the proposal now made by the Government and we should be disposed to accept it. The House may remember that on the Committee stage our point was that offences under this Borrowing (Control and Guarantees) Bill were likely to differ very greatly in gravity, and I would remind your Lordships of the words I then used, when I said Those who have the responsibility of prosecuting will have a pretty shrewd idea how grave is the case they have. If it is a case which ought to be prosecuted, but which is a comparatively small matter, it would seem quite right to me that magistrates, the ordinary courts of summary jurisdiction, should deal with it.… But I went on to argue—and I am grateful to the noble Lord for the consideration that has been given to the argument—that it would be really unheard of if a court of summary jurisdiction, which might consist of two Justices of the Peace, were able even theoretically to impose quite enormous fines. I said also that I myself could imagine graver offences under this Act than would appear to be proportionately measured by a maximum of three months' imprisonment. I am perfectly content, with the changes now made, that for the grave case the maximum punishment should be increased. It seems to me, therefore, that the House would be well advised to accept this revised proposal.

I might point out—I do not think it has been mentioned hitherto in the discussions on this subject—that even if the offender is brought before the court of magistrates for what we may presume is a minor offence, the offender will still have the right, after the magistrates have dealt with him, if they convict him, of claiming to appeal to what used to be called the Court of Quarter Sessions, but which is now called, I think, the Appeal Committee of Quarter Sessions. That is a claim to have the case tried over again by members of Quarter Sessions.

The section to which the noble Lord has had his attention called is Section 37 of the Criminal Justice Administration Act, 1914. The section provides that Any person aggrieved by any conviction of a court of summary jurisdiction in respect of any offence, who did not plead guilty or admit the truth of the information, may appeal from the conviction in manner provided by the Summary Jurisdiction Acts to a court of quarter sessions"— now it is, I think, to the Appeal Committee. I would have thought, therefore, that this arrangement was a reasonable one.

I never see any good in quarrelling with a concession if one is going to accept it, but I venture to add this one thing. I cannot regard the argument as a very persuasive one, whether it was used (as it was) first of all in another place or used now by the noble Lord, that the provision that these offences should be dealt with by magistrates was really made out of consideration for the victim; that he would not want too much publicity, and all that sort of thing. People may be summoned for an offence who are under the impression that they are not guilty or who at any rate think that the Government have treated them very hardly. In those cases it may very well be that the person summoned will get no comfort at all by being told: "After all, the desire is to treat this as a hole and corner business." He may say, "On the contrary, bring it into the light of day. Let it get into the newspapers, so that I may show what is the nature of this prosecution." Therefore I would most humbly submit that in defending, as the noble Lord does with so much ingenuity and courtesy, any and every proposal he feels it his duty to espouse, he should not in future use the argument that when a man is charged with a serious crime it is really a great contribution in the nature of a provision for mercy if the Government enact that he can be tried only before a court of summary jurisdiction.

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, am I not right in saying that there is no time limit for proceeding by way of indictment, whereas when proceedings are taken under the Summary jurisdiction Act there is a time limit of six months? If so, what the Government have given with one hand they have taken away with another. If a man is liable to be proceeded against under this Act on indictment it means there is no time limit within which proceedings may be taken. I would respectfully submit that the noble Lord might consider that question between now and the time before the Bill finally becomes law.


My Lords, in connexion with this paragraph in the Schedule, may I put a question which is rather exercising my mind? There is no provision in the Bill with reference to publicity being given to Orders which may be made by the Treasury. In some Acts of this sort there is a provision for publication in the Gazette, in which case a mere statutory statement that the Order is to be found in the Gazette is sufficient. I am not quite sure that that is intended. I think it would be bad in principle and unsatisfactory to those who have the working of this Act in their minds that people should either be summoned or have proceedings taken against them on indictment who are perfectly ignorant of the existence of a particular Treasury Regulation. I ask the noble Lord in charge of the Bill (who, I may say, I have always found accessible to argument), whether it would not be better in the Schedule to provide for the publication in the Gazette of these Orders. As I have said, that would not mean a very extensive publication in the Gazette. There is an Act in point, called, I think, the Rules Publication Act, of a date that I cannot for the moment remember. That, I think, would be some guarantee that perfectly innocent people would not find themselves liable to be proceeded against on indictment.


I will certainly promise to look into the questions that have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, and the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, before the next stage.


I am sorry to interrupt again—I do not think I am entitled to do so—but may I suggest in connexion with the promise the noble Lord has made to my noble friend Lord Meston that he might look at paragraph 3 (2) of The Schedule, which shows that the Government's intention was that there should be no prosecution except within twelve months of the offence or within three months of the time the Treasury had gathered sufficient material? It seems to me that it might well be considered whether that subsection should not be slightly recast so as to cover both summary proceedings and proceedings on indictment.


I am grateful to the noble Viscount.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move the second Amendment standing in my name.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 7, leave out ("one") and insert ("five").—(Lord Pakenham.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move the last Amendment standing in my name.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 3, leave out (sub-paragraph 5).—(Lord Pakenham.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.