§ [No. 25]
§ After Clause 31, insert the following new Clause—
§ Compensation for loss, etc. of goods seized under s. 27
§ (".—(1) Where, in the exercise of his powers under section 27 of this Act, an officer of a local weights and measures authority or of a Government department seizes and detains any goods and their owner suffers loss by reason thereof or by reason that the goods, during the detention, are lost or damaged or deteriorate, then, the owner is convicted of an offence under this Act committed in relation to the goods, the authority or department shall be liable to compensate him for the loss so suffered.
§ (2) Any disputed question as to the right to or the amount of any compensation payable 881 under this section shall be determined by arbitration and, in Scotland, by a single arbiter appointed, failing agreement between the parties, by the sheriff.")
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 25. With the permission of the House I should like to take with this Amendment No. 29 which is consequential upon it. This new clause has been introduced in fulfilment of the undertaking given by my noble friend Lord Brown to seek to implement the principle of an Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, during the Committee stage (on recommitment). It would give people a right to compensation for loss suffered as a result of their goods being seized under Clause 27, provided that they are not convicted of any offence in relation to the goods. The consequential Amendment No. 29 would simply ensure that the provisions of the new clause extended to Northern Ireland.
§ Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(Lord Winterbottom.)
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I am sorry to say that I am not at all happy with this new clause. As the Minister has said, this new clause deals with the question of compensation for loss of goods which have been seized under Clause 27, and if your Lordships will be Rood enough to glance at Clause 27 for a moment you will see that it gives officials power to seize and detain goods for two purposes which are set out in paragraphs (c) and (d) of subsection (1). The two purposes are, first, to ascertain whether an offence has been committed; and, secondly, to use as evidence before the court.
It follows, therefore, that the power to seize and detain goods under Clause 27 ends at the moment of trial, and I think it follows—I am sure the Minister will put me right if I am wrong here—that the moment the trial is concluded there is no longer power that the goods which have been seized and detained shall go on being detained. Whether the person tried is acquitted or convicted it matters not; he is entitled to have his goods back, and there is no power under the clause for the goods to continue to be confiscated.
882 This new clause deals with the position where the goods have been seized and detained but have then been lost or destroyed or have deteriorated. In that event, the new clause says—and this seems to be quite right—that the person shall be liable to be compensated for the loss that he has suffered. But the words in this new clause to which I draw attention and to which I take exception are the words of the provisounless the owner is convicted of an offence under this Act".We appear to have the position that, if goods have been seized and detained and have been properly looked after, then the owner of the goods will get them back when the trial is over, whether he is convicted or acquitted. But under this new clause it appears that, if the goods have been seized and detained and have then been lost or have deteriorated or have been destroyed while in the hands of the official who detained them, whether the owner is entitled to compensation for loss of the goods is dependent upon whether or not he is convicted of an offence. This is certainly quite wrong and unjust, and I do not believe that that is in law the effect of this new clause.
I believe that the owner of the goods which have been lost or destroyed in the hands of the official who seized them has at Common Law, or possibly under other Statutes, his right to be compensated for loss of the goods. I should have thought that the words of the proviso "unless the owner is convicted" ought to be qualified by putting into this clause a further subsection to say:This subsection is not to be taken as removing from the owner of goods his right under Common Law, or under other Statutes, to be compensated for loss of the goods which have been detained and taken out of his possession.It is a great pity that this is not made clear in the new clause. I feel quite sure that if this were not the very latest stage of the Bill in Parliament there would have been time to do something about removing the very unfortunate impression which has here been created that, for some mysterious reason, although a person whose goods have not been lost gets them back after his trial, whether he is convicted or not, yet if his goods have been lost by the person who detained them he gets compensation only 883 if he is not convicted of an offence. I am sorry that this new clause has not been drafted in a way which removes that apparent misconception, because I think that people are going to be misled about this.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his courtesy in giving me advance notice that he was going to raise this point. All one can say at this late stage is that the Bill lays down that if the individual who is convicted suffers loss he has, in fact, no right to compensation. One can only presume that this is part of the penalty of infringing against this particular clause of the Bill. Although everyone is grateful to the noble Lord for bringing to the notice of the House what may be an injustice in the Bill, nevertheless I cannot give him any undertaking that at this late stage we could alter it. All I can say is that we shall note what he says, as I expect will the Departments which have to administer the Bill when it becomes law.
My Lords, is it not an example of ill-considered legislation being pushed through the sausage-machine at much too fast a speed?
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.