§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I understand, Mr. Speaker, that you have ruled that the scope of this Debate shall he a somewhat narrow one. Therefore, I do not propose, in opening it, to make any reference to the new petrol rationing arrangements except so far as they are directly and intimately associated with the contents of the Bill. All I propose to do is to explain the reasons for the Bill, to explain its provisions, and to refer—and I can do this, I think, without trespassing against the rules of Order—to certain administrative arrangements very closely connected with it.
As the House will be aware, the Bill follows directly from the Report of the Russell Vick Committee. I should like to quote something I said in the statement which I made to the House on 8th April about the Report of that Committee:The Government have decided to accept in the main the proposals of the Committee, including the passing of special legislation on penalties for those who engage in the black market. A Bill giving effect to this is already being drafted and I hope we shall have the support of all sides of the House in securing its speedy passage. I must make it plain that the Government regard this Bill as essential to the further changes which I am about to describe, and that the latter cannot be put into effect until the Bill becomes law."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th April, 1948; Vol 449, c. 367–8.]I am not sure what line the Opposition are going to take about this Bill. I am very glad to welcome the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) after his tour abroad, and I shall await with interest his comments on this subject.
I would like to establish two propositions. First, that the black market must be suppressed, and, secondly, that this Bill is essential if it is to be suppressed. As to the reasons for suppressing the black market, they are, I think, sufficiently obvious and do not excite much controversy. First, there is the belief, and I think one might say the fact, of the 914 actual loss of petrol through the black market now, which we have estimated at 100,000 tons a year. The motoring organisations estimate it at a higher figure, and, if they are right, I think the House will agree that there is all the more reason for stopping it and all the greater gain to be obtained from suppressing it. For my part, as I have said on another occasion, I think the motoring organisations' hopes in this matter are exaggerated. The total of supplementary allowances is only 800,000 tons a year, and 100,000 tons would therefore be a proportion of one in eight, and I doubt if petrol obtained by private motorists from the black market exceeds this. There is the further point, that the Vick Committee themselves estimated the leakage through the black market in 1947, when there was a basic ration for most of the year, at only 160,000 tons. We suggest that there has been some considerable decline in the leakage to the black market since the withdrawal of the basic ration, and we therefore feel that 100,000 tons is the most that is likely to be going there at the moment.
The second main reason for suppressing the black market, indeed, more important than last, is the great potential loss through the black market as soon as free motoring is restored. I think that all of us will agree on the desirability of allowing free motoring, but I think I am justified in pointing out that, as soon as we drop the rule that petrol is only issued for specific purposes, and as soon as we make it possible for motorists to be on the road anywhere and to have justification for it, we are bound to increase the demand for black market petrol very substantially. The Vick Committee themselves put the problem this way, and I quote from Paragraph 10 of their Report:We do not feel able to make any estimate of the extent by which the black market has diminished in these changed conditions, but there is no doubt that for the time being the black market is not nearly such a serious factor in the petrol situation. On the other hand, in any plans for restoration of a basic ration it is the potential dangers which must be guarded against, particularly since the smaller the basic ration, the keener the temptation to try to get some extra petrol by unlawful means. In our view these potential dangers are far too great to be ignored.The third reason for suppressing the black market is one on which I feel strongly myself. This is that, on a scale 915 of the kind indicated by the Russell Vick Report, it is a moral scandal which we should not tolerate. We have in this country a remarkably high standard in such matters, and the petrol black market is an unfortunate lapse from a standard high in other respects. Furthermore, surely it is quite wrong that people should benefit from the black market at the expense of their fellow-motorists who are playing the game and observing the rules. I think those arguments, fairly simple and, I believe, convincing, are sufficiently cogent to persuade everybody in the House, irrespective of party, of my first proposition that we must suppress the black market in petrol.
My second proposition is that this Bill is essential for that purpose, and, in order to establish my case here, I must make some reference to the causes of the black market. These were revealed, I think it will be agreed with great clarity, in the Russell Vick Report. They pointed to three major factors. First, the demand for more petrol, arising from a shortage of petrol in the sense that people get a smaller ration than they would like, and, from the lack of co-operation and respect for the law on the part of motorists. I am a motorist myself, and I have no desire either to criticise or to defend in this matter, but I think it is reasonable to say that one cause of the lax attitude of motorists towards this problem has been the fact that, even in pre-war years, there were a number of offences for which motorists were liable to be fined, which they did not take at all seriously. One could be fined for parking one's car in the wrong place and at the wrong time, and one could be fined for speeding in circumstances in which no dangerous driving was involved, and I think that most motorists did not take offences of that kind very seriously. It was when it came to dangerous driving that we got a stronger moral pressure, but, on the minor offences, there has always been a rather lax attitude, perhaps inevitable in the circumstances. So much for the first of the two factors.
The second factor to which the Committee drew attention was the supply side. They put it like this:The main source of black market supply is the over-issue of coupons to commercial users (including industry and agriculture) to whom, because of their essentiality, petrol has to be allocated rather than rationed.916 I think that what that means is that in commercial use we have a group of consumers whose needs have got to be met. We cannot run the risk of road haulage being cut off through lack of petrol, nor can we run the risk that farmers will not be able to do their job as farmers by cutting off petrol from their tractors. Therefore, we have to make quite sure that they have got enough. At the same time, the nature of the problem is such that we cannot estimate precisely how much they will require, and, in consequence, the tendency has always been in these cases towards an over-issue of coupons. The Committee were quite clear in their minds that this over-issue could not be prevented, that it would not be possible by more careful scrutiny of the allocations to commercial users to prevent over-issue. I think it is for this reason that the Committee were satisfied that it would not be sufficient merely to recommend a cut in the commercial allowances. At first sight, that appeared a rather attractive proposition. If there is a special issue of coupons to the road haulage people, why not impose a cut of 10 per cent. so that it will dry up the supply? The answer of the Committee, I think, would be—because they did not actually discuss this in detail—that we could not, by means of this rough method of applying a cut of 10 per cent., prevent any leakage going through to the private motorist. For that reason, they were convinced that more drastic and elaborate action was necessary.
The third factor in the existence of the black market mentioned by the Committee was the difficulty of enforcement and the inadequacy of the penalties imposed. What they have proposed is a method of dealing with the problem on three lines of attack. First, that petrol should be divided into two classes, commercial and private, and that commercial petrol should not be made available for private motorists. They wanted, in other words, to deal with the petrol which had previously been running from the commercial into the private sector. Their proposal for blocking those channels, as the House knows, was by adding to the commercial petrol first of all a dye, and secondly a chemical which could be readily identified. I emphasise this because I think there may have been some misunderstanding about it. It may be possible to remove the dye, but it would not help any offender if he were to succeed in doing it, because 917 he would find it very much more difficult, I think, to remove the chemical, and the chemical is fortunately easily detected by a simple process with which the police will be familiar.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
If I may be permitted to interrupt my right hon. Friend, I have heard rumours—I cannot prove them—that already private motorists are storing up large quantities of ordinary uncoloured petrol. Could my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he does not want the House and the country to believe that he is irrevocably committed to making commercial petrol chemicalised and coloured, but that he might do it the other way round, and by that method prevent this defrauding by those people who are hoarding petrol?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I think my hon. Friend's idea is ingenious. I would like to think it over, but it would mean some substantial changes in this Bill during the Committee stage. I appreciate the point, and I will certainly bear it in mind.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
I do not want to ask the right hon. Gentle man to reveal any secrets, or in any way to diminish the effectiveness of the control, but could he say whether very small quantities of the treated petrol are detectable? Will it be possible to detect a very small quantity added to a substantial amount of ordinary petrol, or will it have to be half and half?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I can give that assurance. It will be detectable in what I think the Russell Vick Committee called a weak solution. I do not think we need worry very much about that. Of course, there is a limit. If there were a very tiny proportion of the red petrol in the private motorists' petrol, obviously the possibility of detection would be very small, but it is pretty effective.
The second line of attack was the one with which we are particularly concerned this afternoon; namely, that special penalties for infringements should be imposed which would be more appropriate and effective than those at present existing. The third line of attack was to provide that motorists should keep—and indeed must keep—a coupon record sheet on which they should record the numbers of the coupons they give up and the garage from which they obtain the petrol, these sheets to be initialled at the garage.
918 Before I turn to the second line of attack, which, as I have said, is the one with which we are particularly concerned, I would like to say a word or two about the third and the first. We do not intend to proceed with the proposal that motorists should keep coupon record sheets. As hon. Members will have seen, no provision is made for this in the Bill. We think it is too difficult and cumbersome a proposal; we do not think that it would in fact be observed, and we do not want to introduce something which could not be enforced. What I shall do is to refer the matter to the Advisory Committee which I have set up and invite them to keep a watch on the situation. If something of the kind is needed, we shall have to try to find something that is less onerous on the motorist and the garage proprietor, but I am rather hopeful that nothing will be necessary.
As to the first line of attack—the division between the two types of petrol—I would like to inform the House what we have done. Frankly, we should have liked rather more time. I should have liked to have a trial run with the two types of petrol before we actually introduced free motoring, but everybody is anxious that we should start the new scheme as soon as possible, for very good reasons, and I have insisted that it should begin by 1st June. Arrangements are proceeding, I think reasonably smoothly. All the garage proprietors have been asked to mark their pumps "private" or "commercial" by 18th May. From then onwards the Petrol Board will start delivering the red petrol—the word is used in quotes—into the commercial pumps, and this, of course, will take some time to complete. Clearly, in the case of some garages with a slow rate of turnover it will be some weeks before the petrol in their commercial pumps is wholly coloured and wholly treated. Therefore, it may be that in certain more remote areas, where the turnover is slower, there will be, even after 1st June, a continuance of uncoloured petrol from commercial pumps. I regret this, and obviously one is taking some risks in carrying on with it, but it is a risk which I think in the circumstances we are justified in taking.
There is one other point connected with administration to which I want to refer before I come to the details of the Bill, and that is the problem of single pump 919 garages which is referred to in the Vick Report. Hon. Members may well ask exactly what the position of those garages will be under the Bill. Such proprietors, of course, have an option, and they will have to choose whether they will have the commercial or the private petrol. That is a disadvantage to them, and I will not deny it for one moment, but it is fair to point out that these single pump proprietors throughout the war and up to now have had a substantial advantage over the prewar position because of the existence of Pool petrol. Prior to the war there were no less than 30 different brands of petrol, and if a man had only one pump he could stock only one brand. Now there will be, in effect, two brands of petrol, of which a single pump garage will be able to stock one. We discussed with the Motor Agents' Association the possibility of some compensation scheme, but neither side found it possible to devise anything that was fair and equitable as between the single pump garages and the others.
As to the position of motorists in remote areas, I do not think this need present insuperable difficulties. I should have thought that with some forethought most motorists would have little difficulty in making arrangements to pick up petrol supplies. Obviously, there would be very great dangers in relaxing our arrangements so as to allow private motorists to obtain supplies if they were in danger of running out of petrol near a pump containing commercial petrol, but far away from a pump containing private petrol. There might be great dangers that that was a disease which was rather catching, and that many people would somehow or other find themselves in areas remote from private pumps. Therefore, I do not think we can make relaxations of that kind.
What we do propose to do, in very special cases, is this; under this Bill it is not an offence to sell private petrol to a commercial vehicle. Administrative control is quite sufficient, I think, to prevent any abuses arising out of this. A garage proprietor will not normally be willing to sell private petrol against commercial coupons because he will not be able to replace the private petrol except against private coupons. Therefore, if he were to supply private petrol against commer- 920 cial coupons he would find himself unable to replace the private petrol. However, what we may do in these remote areas, where we are satisfied that there would otherwise be a real hardship, is to enable garage proprietors to obtain private petrol against commercial coupons which they hand in to the Petrol Board. I hope I have made that reasonably clear. I know it is a little difficult to follow. There are clearly dangers in this procedure. If it became known that there was a garage where private petrol could be supplied against commercial coupons there might be a strong tendency for motorists to congregate round that area and go to that garage. The only way we can stop that happening is by watching very carefully the turnover of petrol from such a garage to see that there is no abuse.
Now I turn to the second line of attack—the special penalties and the Bill itself. I would like here to quote from the report what may be termed the introduction of this whole business. I quote from paragraph 57 in which the Committee said:In our view the existing Defence Regulation penalties of a fine and/or imprisonment are generally inappropriate for the kind of black market transaction with which our inquiry has been concerned. Imprisonment cannot be lightly inflicted and the scale of the fines imposed is all too often quite inadequate to deter actual or potential offenders; in this view we are supported by the experience of the police as expressed to us at the Conference of Chief Constables … We are convinced that the only really appropriate and effective penalty for these offences is deprivation of petrol and of use of the road.The Bill carries out fairly closely the proposal which the report then goes on to make. It is, of course, concerned almost wholly with creating offences and laying down penalties for those offences. It is not, therefore, a particularly attractive Bill to move, but in my opinion it is a very necessary Bill.
The main groups of offences under the Bill are as follows. First, the offences committed by garage proprietors and retailers. These are not having their pumps correctly marked, or having commercial petrol in a pump not marked "Commercial," or supplying commercial petrol to a private motor vehicle.
Then, there are the offences which may be committed by private motorists—having commercial petrol in their tanks, 921 or acquiring commercial petrol for use in their cars. Lastly, there are certain other offences, of which by far the most important is the removal or attempt to disguise the distinctive ingredient of commercial petrol. We have, wherever it is appropriate, decided that it shall be a defence to show that the offence was committed without the consent or connivance of the retailer or the motorist, and if they exercised all due care and diligence to prevent it. In one respect this differs from the Vick report which recommended that there should be no such defence for the garage proprietor found with commercial petrol in a pump marked private.
Turning to the penalties themselves, I would not pretend for one moment that they are not severe. They are severe, particularly so in attempts to remove or disguise this distinctive ingredient, and retailers who are convicted of doing this—anybody so convicted really is a black marketeer in the worst sense of the word—will not be allowed to sell any motor spirit at all for 12 months. A retailer who is found with commercial petrol in a private pump will not be allowed to sell motor spirit on those premises for 12 months, and a retailer convicted of the rather less serious offence—though bad enough—of supplying commercial petrol to a private car or vehicle, will not be allowed to sell commercial petrol for 12 months. That is the position of the garage proprietor or retailer, and these are the simple but severe penalties which we propose.
The owner of a private car who is convicted of having commercial petrol in his tank—always assuming that he has not established the defence I have mentioned earlier—is to be disqualified from having a motor licence for 12 months. The Vick Committee proposed that he should be deprived of the use of the road by cutting off his petrol. Ours is a much easier way of making sure that he is deprived of petrol. If he cannot licence his car we can be quite sure that he will not get any petrol either.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
That is a different point. He cannot licence that particular car and, that being so, if he is still the owner of it, it is really immobilised for the full period.
922 There is one particular problem with which we have to deal here. There is the possibility that a man might perhaps knowingly have committed an offence this kind and then, before his case came up in the courts, he might dispose of his car. A rather awkward situation would arise, if as a result, a perfectly bona fide purchaser of the car found he could not license it. What we have done is this: provided he is still the owner of the car at the time of the conviction, the disqualification from having a motor licence applies. If, on the other hand, he is no longer the owner of the car, he is subject to a forfeiture of half the value of the car. In effect, if he chooses to sell the car in order to try to evade this, he is running the risk of losing half its value.
The other penalties laid down in the Bill are these. There is a driving licence disqualification both for the owner and the driver and for any others who aid and abet. There are certain other penalties which may be imposed in addition to the automatic penalties I have described. These are matters open to the court. The most important one here is in the event of a second offence by garage proprietors and private motorists; that is to say, if they in effect disregard the order of the court and, say, a garage proprietor carries on business and sells motor spirit or commercial spirit after being prohibited from doing so he makes himself liable to the heavy penalties laid down.
There is another point under the Bill—the power given to the police under Clause 8 to take samples in any premises other than a private dwelling—
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
Before the Minister leaves the subject of penalties, may I point out that the marginal heading of Clause 5 is:Disqualifications and special penalties in respect of offences by private motorists.Clause 6 has the general heading "Penalties," but that Clause includes penalties for offences by private motorists. It is very confusing. Would it not be better to amalgamate Clauses 5 and 6 under the general heading "Penalties"?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Perhaps we could discuss that on the Committee stage. I am sorry the Bill is confusing. These are special penalties, whereas the ones in Clause 6 are the Defence Regulation penalties 923 which are re-enacted here for this particular purpose.
I have endeavoured to explain the Bill and the part it plays in the plan to suppress the black market. I repeat, I do not deny that the penalties are heavy for those who break the law but, as those who have read the Vick Report will know, these severe penalties were recommended by the Committee and were supported by the motoring organisations and the Motor Agents' Association, Ltd. I think we all want to see free motoring restored as soon as possible, and although some people may want more petrol and think that they are not being fairly dealt with, at the moment nobody would wish to do away with the standard ration. I have tried to show that the suppression of the black market is essential if we are to have free motoring restored and, that this Bill is essential if we are to suppress the black market. The Russell Vick Committee have, in my opinion, put forward the only proper solution to this problem. They have emphasised that more appropriate penalties are necessary against the black marketeers. Without those penalties the standard ration and free motoring will be in danger, and it is for those reasons that I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
I was a little alarmed by one remark made by the right hon. Gentleman towards the end of his speech when he mentioned the question of whether the ration was fair as between individuals or not. That, of course, is quite outside the scope of this Bill.
§ 4. 10 p.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
The right hon. Gentleman made a very ingenious defence, as far as he went. However, he omitted—very naturally, of course—to deal with a number of what I think are important considerations. For example, there is all this talk about a black market. I do not think there is any tone on either side of the House who is anxious to defend the black market in theory, but it is worth noticing that this is a new red herring drawn across the trail of restrictions on motorists.
§ Mr. Hudson
When the announcement was made in August last year of the abolition of the basic ration, the ground on which the Government's decision was taken was said to be the absence of dollars to provide the necessary cash for obtaining the petrol; and the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will remember that this decision was among the most unpopular that this Government had ever taken. I am not going into the details of the unfairness as between one consumer and another and the anomalies that arose, or, indeed, into the question of the unfairness and the anomalies that are bound to arise from the present Bill, because I understand that, through the usual channels, arrangements have been made to have a Supply day on this question in the near future, when he shall go into it at length.
It is, I think, worth while for the public to notice that it was not until January that the Russell Vick Committee was appointed, and, indeed, it was not until January that we heard all this story about a black market; and it is pretty clear in retrospect, and from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that the Russell Vick Committee was, in fact, used by the Government as a very ingenious method of retreating from what they realised in the light of public opinion was a wholly untenable position. What did the Russell Vick Committee actually say? The right hon. Gentleman talked about the evils of the black market, and he said, I think, that it was a "moral scandal which we ought not to tolerate." If hon. Members will turn to page 5 of the Russell Vick Committee's Report, they will find that the Committee gave no fewer than five reasons for the existence of a black market. The interesting thing about this is that it deals with only one. The provisions that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned certainly do not meet the remaining four.
What were the five reasons that the Russell Vick Committee gave for the existence of a black market? First,The variability of the extent and intensity of individual needs in contrast with the inevitable rigidity of the rationing system.This Bill does not remove in any way, or purport to remove, the inevitable rigidity of the rationing system or to accommodate the "intensity of individual needs" in the amount of petrol each man or woman 925 is going to get. I do not propose to go into that in detail, because that will form the subject of a later Debate. I merely note that the Bill does not meet the first of the requirements of the Committee. Secondly they said:Exasperation at actual or supposed anomalies in coupon allotments, accentuated by widespread misuse. …This Bill does nothing to remove that. Third:Failure to appreciate the need for such stringent rationing of petrol or the part which this rationing is meant to play in mitigating the country's dollar shortage.Nothing I have heard in the course of the last few weeks since my return, leads me to suppose the public believe in the Government statement about the reasons for abolishing the basic ration. Indeed, if it were in Order, we should have occasion to go at some length into what we believe to be the reasons why the Government are short of petrol, and which are not mainly associated with lack of dollars. Again, that is a matter which we shall raise at a convenient opportunity. However, I am perfectly certain that the majority of motorists in this country do not believe that the Government's decision on the basic ration was due principally to dollar shortage: they believe it was due to mismanagement of the supply position by the Government, especially their failure to purchase tankers. The Minister shakes his head. All I am saying is that the Russell Vick Committee said that the black market was due to certain impressions that prevailed throughout the country. My answer is that those impressions will still prevail under this Bill. It does nothing to mitigate or alter those impressions, and to that extent it will not be effective.
The Committee's fourth reason was,The difficulties of enforcement where offences can only be detected if the offender is caught in the act.That is dealt with—it is the only point that is dealt with—in the Bill. We shall have to examine in Committee fairly closely he actual provisions, because it is fairly certain that a certain number of motorists may well be caught "in the act" who are not, in fact, offenders. The fifth reason was:A general lowering of moral standards.This Bill does nothing to raise the moral 926 standards of the people. Indeed, I go so far as to say it does exactly the reverse.
Surely there must he general agreement, even on the Government side, that if we want laws and regulations to be obeyed and agreed to by the country as a whole, they must be laws and regulations which the generality of people believe to be reasonable. It is because so many of the controls under which we labour today are regarded by the community as being unreasonable that they are evaded. As the right hon. Gentleman so rightly said, before the war a motorist on a perfectly open road and driving slightly in excess of the speed limit thought that the speed limit, in the circumstances, was unreasonable, and did not observe it. So today, vast masses of people believe that many of these controls under which we are suffering are unreasonable and do not regard it as in any way morally wrong to break them. I suggest that a Bill of this kind is really one not calculated to increase general respect for the law.
I wonder how many hon. Members have actually read the title of the Bill? The Prime Minister in his speech on Saturday is reported to have accused Russia of being "the supreme example of a police State." If Generalissimo Stalin read the title of this Bill I think he would be not unjustified in suggesting to the Prime Minister that the pot ought not to call the kettle black. This is a Bill to "create certain offences. …" I should think—I have not had time to look this up—that it must be almost unique in the annals of Parliament in this country for a Bill to be brought in whose Title is "to create certain offences." If that is not the beginning of the police State I should like to know what is.
§ Mr. Hudson
I agree that the black market should be stamped out. Is it, however, really necessary, in order to achieve that, to have such ferocious penalties? They go far beyond, so far as I can make out, anything we have known in this country. The right hon. Gentleman said that Clause 6 merely reproduces the Defence Regulations. I am not a lawyer and speak subject to correction, but the penalties seem to me to go certainly beyond the penalties prescribed in the Defence Regulations, a copy of which is in the Library.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Hudson
The learned Attorney-General shakes his head. Perhaps he will go and check it up, as I did just before coming into the Chamber.
§ The Attorney-General
I was shaking my head at the tenor of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, because he apparently has not settled down yet.
§ Mr. Hudson
Is it really suggested that a man who tries to sell petrol from the wrong coloured pump is guilty of a very much worse offence morally, than a man who drives a motor car on the public roads when he is drunk? A man driving a motor car on a road when he is drunk is subject to six months' imprisonment or a fine of£100; but the fellow who sells petrol from a pump with the wrong colour, is subject to a fine of£1,000 and two years' imprisonment. Is a disparity of that kind really likely to promote observance on the part of the public of the general level of moral standards about which the Minister spoke? He said that he would have liked more time to consider the Bill. I quite agree; but I hope that in Committee we shall be given ample time to go into this.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The right hon. Gentleman must have misunderstood something I said. I said that we should have liked more time before we introduced the new system. I was not referring to the Bill at all.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am sorry. In any case, I communicate to the Government now the fact that we shall want considerable time during Committee—which I hope we shall get—to go into these matters, which are very largely matters for that stage of the Bill.
The Minister also referred to the fact that a man will be given a chance to get off if he can prove that the offence was committed without his connivance. I wonder if that is true? During his speech the Minister was courteous enough to give way to me, and I asked whether this dye and this chemical could be detected in a comparatively slight dilution; and the Minister was good enough to say that he understood that, in fact, a very small quantity could be detected. Imagine the case of a motorist who has parked his car in a car park at night, having in the tank, perfectly legitimately, 928 nothing but private petrol. Suppose that then some person—whether deliberately or merely some boys ragging about—inserts a certain amount of commercial petrol into the tank.
§ Mr. Hudson
That is a comparatively easy thing to do; and that is a quite likely case—especially at election time. What defence will the motorist have? Two days later, when the police or the public analyst, discover the presence in his tank of some of this dye, he would not be able to prove that the petrol had been put there without his connivance, because he would have no possible means of knowing how or when it was done. In that case the court has no option. As far as one can read it—and we shall be glad to learn about this from the learned Attorney when he replies—the court has no option; the penalties and the punishments are mandatory. Anybody discovered with this petrol in his tank is for it.
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
I should like to follow what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Suppose a motorist said that he knew nothing about the presence of commercial petrol in his tank. What then?
§ Mr. Hudson
It might be proved, but I understand that he would have some difficulty in avoiding being convicted.
§ Mr. Hudson
The onus is on him to prove that it was done without his connivance, and I am told that it will be very difficult to prove a negative of that kind; and the court—so I am told—will take account of his general creditability.
§ Mr. Mitchison indicated assent.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am glad to see that the hon. and learned Member agrees. Let us take two or three possible illustrations. Suppose it happened to hon. Members opposite. Their credibility would be called 929 in question. Their gullibility might even be called in question. It is conceivable that the court might make a distinction between, say, the "Nenni goats" and those who are going to the Hague.
§ Mr. Hudson
All sorts of interesting possibilities arise, which we shall pursue later in Committee.
I was very interested to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about the question of single pumps. As he probably knows perfectly well, that presents a very real problem in rural areas. I am not at all sure I agree with him that it will cause no serious inconvenience to legitimate private motorists; because, inevitably, if the single pump provides nothing but commercial petrol, then the ordinary motorist will have to travel considerably further in order to draw his supplies of private petrol. To that extent it is bound to cause inconvenience and put the man at a certain disadvantage. As far is I could make out, the Minister suggested that the difficulty might be got over by the single pump man keeping only private petrol and supplying private petrol against commercial coupons. I agree that that provides a way out; but I should have thought it equally opened the door fairly widely—in view of the large number of single pumps that there must be—to considerable leakage through the black market in very much the way that the Russell Vick Committee suggest happens at the present time: that is, by the illegal disposal of commercial coupons that are surplus to requirements. However, we shall be very glad indeed to hear how the Minister proposes to get round that difficulty.
This is a fairly narrow Bill. It does however, raise fairly wide questions, most of which I would suggest can be considered more in detail in Committee. We on this side of the House realise, as I think everyone does, that provisions of some sort are necessary to deal with the admitted evil of the black market. We believe, however, that the black market itself—at all events in the extent to which it has developed in recent months—is very largely the fault of the sins of omission by the Government; and we believe that a Bill creating offences of this kind with penalties of this sort, is a classic illustra- 930 tion of the direction in which a Socialist Government is bound inevitably to be driven.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
I did not expect to speak in this Debate at all, except to intervene and ask my right hon. Friend one question—the question which I put to him in the course of his speech. Before I put it to him again, I would say that it is quite obvious to me, and to others who go about the country, that there are people who regard themselves as privileged people; people who really feel that they should not be put upon the same basis and the same level of rationing as others. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) and I attended a certain number of political meetings during the weekend, during which we went into a hotel for refreshment. We there saw two or three crowds of men—who no doubt vote Conservative at every election—who were talking, audibly enough for both of us to hear, about how they could get round the new scheme of petrol rationing. They were completely open about it, completely unashamed, and thought it was a question of being clever; they were not at all anxious about the morality of the thing.
The right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) described the long title of the Bill as creating certain offences. For his benefit, that really means that it creates legal offences of things which ordinary people regard as morally heinous offences. To my mind there is no need to have the word "legal" in the title.
I had to stop at a garage the other day, and the garage man said to me—and he also, no doubt, was a gentleman of good social standing—"The white petrol coupons will be very valuable soon, won't they, Sir." I do not quite know what he meant, but perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell us whether there is any objection to a man who is entitled to ten standard gallons a month selling his coupons at£1 each to another man who is also entitled to more or less the same amount. Supposing a man has a right to claim ten white petrol coupons—if we may call them that—can he sell them to a man who is prepared to pay£1 each for them and to give up motoring for that month, or possibly use a taxi for that month? Does the Bill prevent 931 a person from getting more petrol than he is legally entitled to have on his standard ration in any given month by buying it from someone who, through illness or for some other reason, does not want to motor for that month, or because the price offered to him is sufficient to encourage him to give up motoring for that month?
It would not be putting it too high to say that there are people already known to other people—some may be known to hon. Members in this House—who, knowing that the standard basic petrol is coming back on 1st June, have already been storing up petrol in cans and tanks, and possibly burying some of them. I have heard mentioned the figure of 85 gallons stored by a private gentleman in readiness for his being able to use it freely when the standard ration comes into force on 1st June. I want that man caught. One way of catching him might be for my right hon. Friend to reverse the colour for private petrol and commercial petrol before 1st June. It might be very useful for him to consider doing that and not to tie himself down to what the colour is to be until 1st June or until the regulations come into force. Perhaps the Attorney-General would emphasise on behalf of the Government that they are not yet committed to making commercial petrol red and private petrol white. They might keep it up their sleeves, so as to make certain that the people now storing so much petrol will not be able to get round the good spirit and desire which the Government are exhibiting in introducing this Bill.
The right hon. Member for Southport referred to the fact that the Russell Vick Committee said that there were five means of rooting out the black market. That is true, but they cannot all be dealt with by legislation. There are such things as moral outlook and fairness to others, which are matters for the individual. The Bill is only designed to carry out what has to be done and can only be done by legislation, and the other matters must be left to the conscience of the motoring public. I hope that the great mass of motorists, who are essentially decent people, will keep their ears open to talk in garages and other places which might eventually lead to the withdrawal of the standard petrol which my right hon. 932 Friend is granting. I know very intimately a man who told me that he was asked by a garage hand in a West End London garage, where he has been regularly garaging his car, whether he wanted any petrol. The garage hand said, "How are you off for juice, Sir?" The man replied that he had five gallons in the tank of his car, and he did not need any more. The garage hand said, "That chauffeur with the Rolls Royce over there has got plenty, and we do not mind our regular customers having it." In other words, the garage man would not mind, if I were a regular customer keeping my car in his garage, my having black market petrol from a chauffeur garaging a car in that garage. That gives us an extraordinary insight into the mentality of these people.
The public is very annoyed to see the number of hackney carriage cars running about and going to Epsom and other racecourses. I think it annoys decent people who are entitled to their three or four gallons of petrol a month when they see a man who is wealthy enough to do so taking a party to Epsom. Last week, I saw a large number of Daimler and Rolls Royce cars in the West End picking up people. The cars were marked "To Epsom Downs," or something of that sort. There are cars which go to all these race meetings, to the annoyance of ordinary people who have petrol to go to their office or for some other specific purpose.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on doing what he has done. He is courageously putting the motoring public on their trust and honour in the interest of decent motorists, and I hope that, with the good will of the people as a whole, this Measure will be successful.
§ 4.37 P.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I do not think that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), in the closing passage of his speech, fully appreciated what a damning indictment he was presenting against the administration of the Minister of Fuel and Power. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a large section of public opinion in this country which does not co-operate loyally or easily with the Ministry in the administration of their petrol schemes. I agree that there are instances, such as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, to be heard of in all parts of the country; but 933 does not the hon. Member realise that that fact is an indication of something far more profound than the mere willingness of certain citizens to break the law? It is an indication that the law, and the regulations made under it, has not the general respect of public opinion of this country. It is useless to become highly indignant about widespread infraction of the law unless the hon. Gentleman realises that the law, like everything else, rests on the general tendency of public opinion and is flouted inevitably when public opinion thinks that the whole system has been unfairly or inefficiently administered. There was strong corroboration of that in the Russell Vick Report. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that the first subparagraph of paragraph 46 states:The main source of the black market demand is the motorist, who has largely withdrawn the co-operation which was readily forthcoming during the war, and who, when his ration falls short of his requirements, has no hesitation in accepting additional supplies in breach of the lawSurely that statement, in his own Committee's report, is as powerful a condemnation of the administration of the right hon. Gentleman as could be found from any other source whatsoever. It is admitted, in that Committee's report, that the right hon. Gentleman has lost the confidence and co-operation of the motoring public. I believe it is for the reason given in that paragraph that this Bill is being introduced. Members opposite will recollect that a great deal was said in this House a short time ago on another Measure about the need to keep both penalties and offences in line with public opinion. It is apparent that public opinion does not accept that petrol is being properly and fairly administered at the moment, and that is why public opinion largely favours the law-breaker.
It is, surely, committing almost the oldest of legal and administrative errors, when the support of public opinion has been lost, to try to bolster up the system by ever increasing the sharpness of the penalties. That attempt will fail here, as it has always failed, because it is only increasing the extent of the disparity between public opinion and the law. Public opinion does not accept the present regulations as being fair, but it will accept them as much less fair when they are bolstered up by penalties quite out of pro- 934 portion to the gravity or severity of the offence. The right hon. Gentleman is going almost exactly in the wrong direction if he really wants to deal with the black-market.
Consider the disparity in the case of fines. Even on trial before the justices, quite apart from the penalty of imprisonment, the fine which can be imposed is precisely 250 times the size of the fine which can be imposed upon a person who travels on the railway with intent to avoid payment of his fare. Is it really suggested that these offences are 250 times more grave than that?
I invite the attention of the House to one or two peculiarly oppressive provisions in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman certainly did not satisfy me that it would be an easy task for the owner of a motor car, when that motor car was being driven by someone else, to establish his innocence if the wrong sort of petrol had been found in the tank. What can that owner do other than say: "I do not know anything about this"? I am certain that the Attorney-General will not tell the House that such a defence would be likely to succeed when the onus is put upon the owner to establish his innocence. Obviously, in many cases the owner would not be successful with that defence. It seems quite wrong that the owner of a car should be necessarily implicated, even though he may not have been in the car at the time, and it may have been loaned to someone for a matter of weeks. It is a situation which is calculated to bring about injustices. I must confess that I view with some suspicion the proviso in Clause 3. It provides:that anything done by a person authorised by the Ministry of Fuel and Power or the Petroleum Board or done for the purposes of the enforcement of this Act or in connection with any proceedings in respect of an offence under this Act shall not constitute any such offence as is mentioned in paragraph (c), paragraph (d) or paragraph (e) hereof.That would seem to contemplate the use of agent provocateur methods on enforcement. Why should it be necessary for anyone concerned with the enforcement of the law to remove from any commercial petrol any of the prescribed ingredients? It seems a little difficult to envisage any legitimate reasons which would cause that to be necessary. Oppressive as this Clause is, its administrative execution is likely to be still more oppressive. I should 935 like to ask one or two questions about the prescribed ingredients. The Minister wrapped them in mystery, but presumably they will have to be prescribed in the regulations. I do not understand what the mystery is about, because surely he will have to lay down precisely what are these ingredients, otherwise he will be making it an offence to put into petrol or take out of petrol some unknown substance the name of which is not even stated. I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman was so evasive. Was he suggesting that these ingredients were some peculiar secret of the State, which could not be known to Communists in the Civil Service?
Clause 5 is a very curious provision. Where an offence is committed, not only is the owner and driver of a car put off the road for a year, but so is the car, unless the car has been hastily disposed of before the offence has been tried. That seems to me to be a very extravagant method of imposing a penalty. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that there is still a great shortage of motor cars, and many persons engaged on important work, such as doctors, are having to carry on with aged and decrepit machines which are liable to break down at any moment. District nurses arid others are all having great difficulty in getting motor cars. This seems an unnecessary provision, because, however morally guilty the owner may be, the car must surely be morally innocent. If it is desired to impose a further penalty, why not let there be an additional financial penalty? In these days of shortage of motor cars, to put a car away so that it cannot be used for a year seems to me to be wanton extravagance.
Clause 5 is subject to the criticism that it gives the courts no discretion to mitigate the penalty. It apparently provides that, in a case where there has been a conviction recorded, where there may be mitigating circumstances, such as in the case referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), the court has no freedom, however inclined it may be, to mitigate the penalty. I fully appreciate that in other cases the courts have no discretion, such as those cases where the licence has to be endorsed for certain offences. Here, however, we are 936 not dealing with trivial offences or penalties, but with serious offences and penalties. It is quite wrong in these circumstances to deprive the courts of any right to mitigate the penalty in particular circumstances.
I hope the Government will appreciate that the courts must be trusted to administer both the law and the penalties with fairness and common sense. To adopt an automatic penalty for these comparatively serious offences is a wholly retrograde step, and the only effect will be that the courts will seek every possible opportunity to avoid recording convictions in these cases. It is once again the old example of which we heard so much in this House a few days ago—that if automatic penalties are excessive in the view of those who have to administer the law, every possible action will be taken to avoid recording any convictions.
That seems to be one of the many defects in this Bill, and I invite attention to only one other—Clause 6. This Clause is concerned with penalties upon bodies corporate, and it is curious to note that no limit is prescribed to the fine which may be imposed. This is a curious provision in a penal statute, and seems open to the criticism that in extreme cases the courts must act without any indication whatever as to what the intentions of Parliament were in the matter of penalties. While it is perhaps reasonable to impose higher penalties on a corporation than on on individual, I believe that a maximum figure should be laid down so that the courts will have a general line to follow.
I must object strongly to the provisions of the Clause which impose automatically criminal liability of this serious kind on any director or senior officer of the corporation. Apparently, the Clause covers directors, secretaries, and similar officials, although not, apparently, members of a Transport Executive or a Transport Commission—a rather curious exception if there is anything at all to be said for the Clause. It seems that if someone in remote branch of a large corporation, say, in the Outer Hebrides, is guilty of an offence against the Act, every one of the directors, and a good many of the senior officials of that corporation, will, in theory, be exposed to prosecution in 937 circumstances in which the onus is put upon them to establish that innocence. That is a very heavy liability to place upon men when we are concerned with serious criminal penalties. The necessity has not been established in anything that the Minister has said today. He has not indicated that with the power to inflict unlimited fines on the corporation itself it is necessary to have this enormously widespread criminal liability on its directors and senior officials.
I feel considerable reluctance to agreeing to a proposal to spread criminal liability so widely, without any real justification. Criminal responsibility, like currency, is easily inflated. If people are made to feel that, however assiduously they try to comply with the law, they cannot escape the possibility of criminal liability, they may well be discouraged in their efforts to abide by the law. It is, once again, an example of the fact that if penalties of this sort are sought to be imposed, to spread the liability widely over all sorts of people who are regarded by their fellow citizens as morally innocent, effective enforcement of the law will not be secured. On the contrary, there will be built up in people's minds contempt for the law and for those who are administering it. By inflating criminal penalties in this way their value is diminished, in the same way as currency is devalued if it is inflated.
I fully appreciate the intention of this Bill; I believe it is aimed at a large-scale violation of the law, but I prophesy that that large-scale violation will in no substantial degree be diminished by the Bill. On the contrary, I believe that the Minister's failure to obtain the co-operation of the public will be accentuated and increased by the provisions of the Bill. For all the elaborate penalties prescribed, and the occasional injustices which will inevitably be imposed on comparatively innocent people, and despite its object of preventing the enormous leakage of black market petrol which, according to the Russell Vick Committee, has been going on month after month during the right hon. Gentleman's administration, I am quite certain that it will fail.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)
I had not intended to speak in this Debate, and I do not want to follow the hon. Member 938 for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) in the detailed points which, as he said, can be more fully dealt with in Committee. I would like, in a few minutes, to try to persuade the hon. Member to take a slightly different view of the fundamental point which he made at the opening of his speech. If I understood him aright, his case was this: "Here are large numbers of people who do not co-operate in trying to keep the law. On the contrary, they exercise their ingenuity in every possible way to see how they can break the law, and this proves, therefore, that the Government ought not to have passed the law." The hon. Member said that if the law had not the confidence of the people then, ipso facto, it should be repealed—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I do not think the hon. Member appreciated my point, which was that we shall not get the co-operation of the people in carrying out a law relating to motor fuel, until the Ministry of Fuel and Power is administered in a way which that public opinion regards as being fair and efficient.
§ Sir R. Acland
We shall see what the hon. Member said when we read the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow; we shall see whether I was right or not. The hon. Member suggested that if many people break the law then, ipso facto, that is a reason for not enforcing the law. In reply to that, I think it is relevant to point out that, whereas a very large number of people who own motor cars, and particularly motor cycles and motor cycle combinations, are small wage earners and small traders, by and large the people who own motor cars have a tendency to be a good deal richer than the average member of the public. Therefore, it is not untrue to say that the people to whom these regulations will apply have a tendency towards being rich. On the whole, although there are exceptions, the people who are rich do not readily see any reason why they should not have as much of everything as their money can buy. That is following the happy condition which they and, still more, their parents, had enjoyed hitherto. Go back some years, to 1900 or 1910, and see how we regularly dealt with the problem of shortage by leaving it in the hands of those economic forces which arranged that in the event of a shortage, the poor should have none.
939 As time has gone on, and despite many difficulties, we have persevered towards a different system, in which we are trying to deal with shortages by sharing them. Naturally, those who, in the past, were always out to get as much as they liked simply by paying for it do not like this process. That is to be understood, but the argument which the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames advanced, and which the official record will show, boils down to this: that the people who have plenty of money, at any rate enough to buy themselves as much petrol as they want, must not be subject to Government laws or regulations which will oblige them to go fair shares with everyone else, and that if the Government do make such laws then they will lose the confidence of such people. I hope that argument will not impress itself upon my right hon. Friend or any other Minister, or indeed on anyone on this side of the House, because I am sure that the people in this country are firmly resolved that in these days of difficulty and shortage, the shortage shall be dealt with by fair sharing. We should not turn back from that resolve simply because these people are prevented from getting more than a fair share and express their lack of confidence in the Government because they cannot get more than their fair share.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)
The hon. Baronet the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) entirely misunderstood the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). The Bill confirms the view which my hon. Friend was expressing that the unpopularity of regulations of this kind, and dealing with this matter in this way, is a measure of the unpopularity of the administration. The hon. Baronet proceeded to argue on the same lines as the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) that the large number of people who break the regulations are all Tories. I suppose the two gentlemen to whom the hon. Member for Nuneaton referred, namely, the garage mechanic and the chauffeur who said that one could give the other some juice, are both good Tories. The assumption was that it was only Tories who are dissatisfied with the petrol situation. If that is right it shows that a vast number of people in this 940 country are Tories. And it, therefore, follows from that that they are dissatisfied with the present Government. This reinforces the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. Large numbers of people are not satisfied with the administration. Nor are they satisfied with the introduction of legislation of this kind.
§ Sir R. Acland
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman mean that all the restrictions should be taken off and that each person should get just as much as he chooses?
§ Mr. Marlowe
The hon. Baronet is not going to trap me into suggesting that we wish to wipe out all regulations. He is entirely wrong. The view I am putting forward is that if there were an administration in which the people had confidence, they would accept such reasonable regulations as are necessary to avoid a black market of this kind. It is because the people have no confidence in the present administration that a Bill of this kind, with harsh penalties, has to be introduced. The people are not prepared to co-operate with this administration, and therefore they have to be driven by severe penalties.
I want to deal with one or two particular aspects of this Bill, which is an alibi Bill. The Government abolished the petrol ration which we had last year on the score that it was seriously affecting the dollar position, but found the position to be the contrary. It was believed by the Government, as has been expressed by the hon. Member for Gravesend, that it was only Tories who used the petrol. Subsequently it was discovered that quite a number of Socialists used petrol, and, therefore, it became necessary to seek an alibi of this kind. I am justified in describing this Bill as an alibi. There are two matters about which I am disturbed and perhaps the Attorney-General will deal with them when he replies. There is the question of Clause 2, under which the onus of proving innocence is placed on an accused person. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) was illustrating how a man might innocently get petrol into his tank it seemed to cause some ribaldry on the other side of the House.
§ Mr. Marlowe
Amusement if the hon. Member likes it better. I did not see that there was any cause for it. The case could happen where a car was parked somewhere in London and was unlawfully taken away for a joy-ride. I believe that the police statistics show that somewhere between 60 and 70 cars per day are taken away in the Metropolitan area. It could happen that the person who takes a car away without authority finds that he has not enough petrol to continue his joyride. He may acquire some by buying black market petrol, which he would put into the tank of that car. After the joyride was over he might return the car to where it was parked. A perfectly innocent owner would then have black market petrol in his tank.
§ Mr. Follick
When my car was taken for a joy-ride, it was abandoned five miles away from where I had parked it.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I am not in the least interested in what happened to the hon. Member's car. It has nothing to do with the argument I am putting forward. I am putting forward the case of a car which is taken away without the authority of the owner, and during the time it is away, black market petrol is put into it. It is then returned to the parking place with a little of that black market petrol still in it. It may be that one or two days later the owner will be stopped and black market petrol will be found in his tank. The onus will be on him to prove himself entirely innocent, and all he can say is, "I did not put it there." No doubt the Attorney-General's reply to that would be that he has discharged the onus if he is believed. But many a court in such circumstances would find it difficult to believe that a man with black market petrol in his tank had got it in that way.
I would ask the Attorney-General to give us his view of Subsection (2c), which says that it shall be a defence for any person charged with an offence to move:that he did not neglect to take any step which in the circumstances he might reasonably have been expected to take to prevent the petrol being in the tank.Reverting for a moment to the case where a man leaves his car in the car park, it is taken for a joy-ride and is subsequently 942 left with black market petrol in it, could it be argued that the owner had not taken reasonable steps? Supposing, for instance, that he left that car unlocked, which we are now allowed to do in this land, as I understand this paragraph, it would be open to the Crown to argue that because he had not taken all reasonable steps to prevent this happening that he was liable to suffer the penalties prescribed in the Bill.
The question of a garage with one pump is one of considerable difficulty. Surely a solution is bound to be found because it is going seriously to diminish the business of the man with one petrol pump. Hitherto the owner of one pump has done business in commercial and private petrol. There are large numbers of small garages which have only one pump and these people have hitherto done the double business. As far as I can see from this Clause they have to make a choice, which will mean half of the amount of custom which they have hitherto had. That will be a severe hardship on the small garage owner, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will apply his mind to it. Whether a solution can be found by selling the petrol in cans or by some other such method is not for me to suggest. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will go seriously into the question of the small garage owner who has only one pump and whose business will be seriously affected.
This is the kind of Bill we are bound to get following the difficulties which the country got into when an initial error was made last year by the right hon. Gentleman. The initial error was that it was sought to justify the abolition of the petrol ration on a false basis. Now the right hon. Gentleman is in the position of having to retreat. The Bill is only an attempt to recover the ground which he lost then.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
I beg to present my apologies to the House and to the Minister for not having been here at the beginning of the Debate. I have been endeavouring to pick up the threads of it, and I hope that I shall be able to make sense in my contribution. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) with regard to the one-man pump. Not only must it cause hardship to that man in having to make a choice between stocking commercial and private petrol, but it will give 943 rise to very grave inconvenience in agricultural areas.
A constituent of mine seems to present a perfect test case in this respect. He told me recently that he serves 11 villages and that he is five miles away from the nearest pump. He serves 20,000 gallons of petrol a year. If he closes down, the district is bound to suffer very considerably. The same will happen whichever way he chooses to decide in regard to petrol. If he chooses to serve private and not commercial petrol, there will be a problem for farmers close to him in deciding how they are to get their tractors filled. It may be that a statement has been made to cover this point, which at any rate needs very careful attention and clarification. If we are not Careful, petrol will be wasted because low-geared vehicles may have to travel too far to get their fuel. That is something which the Government no doubt will wish to avoid.
I read with very great interest the ingenious, thorough and lucid report of the Russell Vick Committee. I was appalled at the kind of society which has to be envisaged, if experiments of this kind are repeated on a large scale. It is bad enough to have a mechanised, civilised society submitted to the kind of bridge problem which everybody will have to do in order to understand this Measure. It is a very serious price to pay for the right to take an internal combustion engine on the King's highway.
Before we make laws imposing this kind of puzzle upon society we should try to consider exactly where we are getting. The Russell Vick Committee said that during 1947, which was a period of petrol rationing incidentally, something between 30 million and 180 million gallons—probably much nearer to 180—of petrol found its way from the legitimate to the black market. In spite of that enormous leakage the Government seemed to be satisfied with the amount of petrol saved by the experiment, carried out during the last quarter of the year, of abolishing the basic petrol ration and of curtailing the supplementary ration. In spite of being satisfied with that saving, they now find it necessary to impose a new system upon the country. In that somewhat paradoxical state of affairs, our thinking must be a bit sloppy if we are to create still further difficulties for society, as it is obvious the proposals of the Bill will do.
944 I was not greatly impressed with the arguments either of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) or the hon. Baronet the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) when, with some moral indignation, they talked about the principle being one of fair shares for all and of all people being asked to understand and to co-operate with the Government in these exceedingly unnatural schemes. People will respect the law when the law makes sense and is administered fairly—and appears to be administered fairly. The trouble is that the Government have worked themselves into a position in which this branch of the law at any rate does not gain the co-operation and the respect of the people. That is the real problem, much more than the fact that we are trying to corner a small minority of people who wish to break out of petrol rationing.
I spent a couple of hours going over a regional petrol officer's office. I gained immense respect for the earnestness with which he and his several hundred able assistants were trying to achieve an impossible task. There they were, sitting there in large numbers, dealing with thousands upon thousands of individual applications which were coming in daily, and almost every one of those applications was different from every other. The staff were looking at Government regulations and directions from the Ministry of Fuel and Power on their left hand and at the applications on their right hand, and were trying somehow to make the one fit in with the other. It was an impossible piece of applied administration for them to have to perform.
I ask the Government—if it is not too late to ask, now that they are so heavily committed—seriously to consider the possibility of evolving a new system. Let them go right back to the start of this petrol rationing and try to evolve a much more rough-and-ready scheme which does not attempt to do so much, which may perhaps have risks attached to it, but which in the end will not tie down so many people as at present in useless pursuits which can only lead to public mistrust because of the inevitable social injustices which follow. I would ask them to bear this point in mind: You cannot simply say to people in our highly mechanised twentieth century society: "Freedom of movement is not permitted." In the present state of the 945 country, freedom of movement must be preserved above all, if we are to preserve our society at all.
It would be well worth while, in order to try to avoid having to present a Bill like this, to cut 10 per cent. of the rest of the items in respect of which we have to pay dollars, if that would mean an improvement. I feel sure that people of all classes would benefit enormously—if we hear in mind the need for relaxation and the lifelong habits of the British people—and that production would go up, if freedom of movement were granted.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. and learned Member is entitled to ask that question, because I expressly said, "The rest of the items" in respect of which we pay dollars. We pay dollars for wheat among other things. Bread rationing, however, is a—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
The hon. Member is not entitled to go into the general question of rationing.
§ Mr. Renton
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I should not have been in difficulties but for the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), to whom I shall reply on some other occasion perhaps. Perhaps I may now, in accordance with your Ruling, direct the attention of the House to one or two specific matters in the Bill, having meanwhile made my plea to the Government to reconsider petrol rationing from the start.
In Clause 4 there is an injustice which might arise; and, again, it affects one-pump businesses. It may hit the small man very hard indeed. Incidentally, Subsections (1) and (2) are almost completely repetitive and their drafting might be improved. We find that, after a conviction, the court is compelled to close down, at the premises where the offence occurred, the business of acquiring and selling motor spirit. If a proprietor is fortunate enough to have more than one such establishment he can still carry on business according to the wording of this Clause, but if he has only one establishment he has "had it" and his business of selling petrol is finished. In any event I would agree with my right hon. Friend 946 the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) when he says that the courts should be given a discretion in these matters. Automatic punishments are alien to our tradition of justice; and they are, by the way, inconsistent with what the Home Secretary stated during the proceedings on the Criminal Justice Bill, when he said that we must make the punishment fit the offender.
There is no attempt here to make the punishment fit the offender. The punishment, or a large part of the punishment—and may be the most important part of it, the closing down of the business—is to fit the crime, and that quite irrespective of any mitigating circumstances which may well be introduced.
The conception of putting a car off the road—the poor inoffensive car, which has no animus of its own at all—is the most remarkably retrograde step on the part of the Government. I always understood that the conception of deodand, whereby the offending chattel or animal was forfeited or destroyed, was abolished about 100 years ago, having become obsolete 300 years before that, but this Government are as capable of going back in time as they are apparently incapable of going forward in step in time.
This is a time, above all, when we should be having great expansion in every form of national activity, and the unproductive effort which is necessary to create and to enforce these new-fangled offences, for which the Bill provides, will further sap our vitality and manpower, and indeed our public spirit. This Bill compels us to turn our minds and energies from the vital task of restoring our balance of trade to a complex, uncreative, mental teaser. We should have avoided this if a more strenuous attempt had been made to obtain petrol from different sources overseas. The Government should consider the possibility of scrapping the whole of this complex system and getting back to something less ambitious, but possibly less likely to lead to social injustice.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Walker (Rossendale)
I have listened with a great deal of interest to this Debate and I have been waiting for a few solid arguments to be produced against the provisions in the Bill, but up to the present I have heard nothing in the 947 way of an argument to gainsay the Government's new scheme to control and regulate petrol. One would gain the impression from the Debate that the motoring public are nothing but a lot of artful dodgers and that because of their practice in dodging the regulations and restrictions contained in the Bill, these heavy penalties are to be imposed.
I am a motorist and when the basic ration was abolished, I immediately laid up my car and made no attempt to secure any petrol, although I think I could have produced a very good case for a supplementary allowance, not only because of my age but because of the condition of my wife's health. However, it appears to me that the attitude of the majority of the people in this country to this question is that the more conscientious one motorist is—such as those who act as I have tried to act and give honest-to-God recognition to the regulations and conditions imposed—the less conscientious is the motorist on the opposite side of the street. The black market has gone on to such an extent in every direction that many people who are otherwise highly respectable and profess to be highly moral in all their conduct, have not hesitated a moment at any artful dodging to secure extra petrol in order to go here, there and everywhere.
I presume that is why the Government, in granting this increase of petrol from 1st June, have had to lay down these conditions. I do not quite see eye to eye with hon. Members opposite and do not understand why they should object to the penalties to be applied to people who practise these dodges in order to secure petrol. There has been a tremendous amount of this malpractice. I went to a football match not long ago and saw parked 50 or 60 cars belonging to people watching the game. I do not suppose one of those car owners had acquired petrol in order to go to a football match. They had acquired it entirely for other purposes. I was so interested in this that when I was sitting in the police court a week or two afterwards, I asked the superintendent of police why no action had been taken against the people using petrol for that purpose. He said that the police had not gone to the trouble of prosecuting that sort of person but had taken the numbers of the cars on that parking ground while that football match was in progress so that 948 in any future case brought against any of those owners, the police would have a record that they had attended the football match on that occasion.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) referred to public opinion on this matter. What is public opinion? What public opinion have we to consider with regard to petrol rationing and motoring? Out of a population of 45 or 46 million people, 8 million are interested in motoring, and that is the public opinion we have to consider. Everything said this afternoon from both sides of the House about motorists suggests that they are prepared to do anything irregular or illegal to get extra petrol to go here, there and everywhere. It is suggested that the commercial user would like to use his petrol to go to the seaside on a Sunday and that the private owner does not mind going to the local farmer and asking if he has an extra gallon of petrol in order to go a few miles further. The whole business is disgraceful, and it is not a credit to the highly respectable people who are supposed to be motorists.
The hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) said that hon. Members on this side of the House gave the impression that nobody but Tories drove motors. Of course that is ridiculous; any number of Socialists are motorists, and I am glad to think they are; but I am not saying for a moment that they are one whit more honest than the Tory motorists. As I say, public opinion shows that there are a lot of people who have not a grain of honour in them when it comes to wanting to go a mile or two further.
With regard to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) does he really imagine that if a man took his car into a garage and left it there all night, someone would put commercial petrol into it and thus make him guilty of an offence against the law? I have heard of people taking petrol out of a tank, but I have never heard of anybobdy putting any in. That was an absurd argument.
I am glad that this Bill has been introduced. It it can kill the black market, if it can stop these irregular practices, if it can prevent the motorist from being an artful dodger, then it will be doing a good thing. The penalties are heavy, but there are hundreds of heavy penalties 949 for cases which come before the magistrates. For instance, when we try the case of a man who is found guilty of driving a car to the danger of the public, the magistrate asks the clerk what is the penalty, but that penalty is rarely imposed. I am assuming that the heavy penalties under this Bill will never be imposed by any bench of magistrates. They are there as a deterrent, and as a deterrent I hope they will stop this black marketeering, so that the honest motorist will be safeguarded, and so that we shall have in future a more contented motoring public because equal shares will be given all round to those who enjoy using cars.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is it your intention to call another back bench Member?
§ 5.35 P.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Walker) said that he thought this Bill would promote the equal sharing of petrol. Of course it does nothing of the sort, and the anomalies in petrol distribution on which I could dilate but, if I did I would be ruled out of Order, will remain unaltered by this Measure. The hon. Member fell into one other error in his enthusiastic advocacy of it when he expressed the view that no bench of magistrates would, unless the case absolutely warranted it, impose the heavy penalties adumbrated in this Measure. If he will read the Bill, indeed, if he had listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman moving the Second Reading, he would have appreciated that whether the moral guilt of the offender be large or small, the sanctions imposed are in many instances entirely automatic. Perhaps consideration of that aspect may make him qualify the approval he expressed of this Measure.
It is interesting to find that it meets with such approval from all who have spoken from the benches opposite, because it is quite clearly a Bill based on the belief that heavy penalties will deter people from the commission of offences. Yet 950 how is that consistent with the view expressed by the larger proportion of the party opposite with regard to capital punishment? Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. If it be right—and it is the argument in favour of this Measure that heavy penalties are an increased deterrent—is there any place where one should stop? I shall be interested to hear what view the right hon. and learned Attorney-General will express when he winds up. It seems to me a little inconsistent to urge this Measure and to urge the contrary with regard to the most serious crime that can be committed in this land. One thing is clear: the heavier the penalty for a criminal offence created by Act of Parliament, the more important it is to secure every possible safeguard against the conviction of an innocent person. I am sure hon. Members opposite will agree on that, and one of my criticisms of this Bill is that I do not see the safeguards there that I would like to see to prevent the conviction of an innocent person. I will return to that later.
Another thing which this Bill omits to do, while working on the deterrent principle, is to increase the penalty which a dishonest lorry driver is liable to incur. In the Russell Vick Report, it is said on page 12:Of the deliberate offences, the one which we are told is the most prevalent is that of the disposal of coupons by dishonest lorry drivers.And on the next page:Although much of the information which we have received and reviewed above has necessarily been hearsay, the conclusion is inescapable that the petrol allowances for goods vehicles provide the main source of black market supplies.So far as the increased deterents are concerned, there is an omission in that there is no increased deterrent to prevent the lorry driver going into the black market. Of course the Government seek to prevent that happening by the division of petrol into red and white, and of users into commercial and private. Yet, curiously enough, the Bill does not define what is a private motor vehicle. I do not know why it does not. That is to be prescribed by regulations, yet I think it is important to know what is to be a private motor vehicle within the meaning of this Measure, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman should tell us so that people will know in advanced where they stand.
951 Why is this power to alter the definition of a private motor vehicle by regulation in this Bill? Is it intended that on 1st June certain vehicles shall be private vehicles and perhaps next September the class of private motor vehicles will be extended? If that is to happen, I can see that a tremendous amount of confusion will arise.
§ Mr. Bowles
Often a man carries a lot of dresses in the back of an ordinary saloon car from Monday to Friday, but on Saturday and Sunday he drives the car to Brighton without those dresses. Is that a private car, or not?
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The hon. Member has put a point which I was going to make. I am grateful for his helpful illustration. I was not going to refer to the vehicle which has a lot of dresses at the back, but to the instance of a farmer with a dual purpose motor car. Into which category will he come? That ought to be made clear at an early stage, because it will affect the single pump user's decision whether he should stock commercial or private petrol. Before we give the Bill a Second Reading we should have information about that. In the Russell Vick report it is recognised that in the case of the farmer, the motor car is very often used for agricultural purposes. In future is the farmer to get a private supply for his motor car, although as the Russell Vick Committee says, it is used for drawing trailers; and will he get a different supply for use on every agricultural implement? The definition in line 20 of Clause 1 is of the utmost importance and we should be told more about it.
I do not think any lawyer, on any side of the House, likes the onus being cast on an accused person of proving his innocence and it is cast remarkably heavily here. In moving the Second Reading, the Minister of Fuel and Power sought to gain praise for his conduct and the conduct of the Government in putting into this Measure provisos stating that certain things should be a defence which were not recommended as a defence by the Russell Vick Committee. In my view, the defence foreshadowed in Clause 1 and in later Clauses is a defence which is most unlikely to prevail, even in the case of an innocent offender, except in the most exceptional cases. Let us look at what 952 the person accused has to prove, and to prove to the satisfaction of the court. Supposing a man is in the police court on a charge for one of these offences but is in fact innocent.
What has he to do to escape conviction and heavy penalties? If he is a garage proprietor he has to satisfy one of the two requirements to the proviso to Clause 1 depending upon which offence he is alleged to have committed. In one case he has to satisfy the court he has exercisedall such diligence to prevent the petrol being in the pump as he ought to have exercised having regard to all the circumstances.In a pump case ex hypothesi the case will not be brought unless there is some commercial petrol in the private pump. The owner of the pump has to show that he usedall such diligence to prevent the petrol being in the pump as he ought to have exercised.Obviously he has not, otherwise the petrol would never get into the pump. In my view it will be very singular for any roan to escape conviction once it is shown that the petrol is in the pump.
I put forward the view that that protection for the garage proprietor is scarcely worth the paper on which it is written. It might be a protection in one particular case, the case where before the petrol is put into the pump someone has removed the colour. The colour can be taken out, I believe. It was found during the war that colour can be removed from petrol quite easily. I also believe that during the war there were cases of wrong delivery of coloured petrol made to the wrong pumps, with the result that perfectly innocent people got it into their tanks, although they did not wish to break the law. That has happened, and it may happen again by accident, and not be discovered until a good many tanks have been filled. It may also happen if the black market goes on, after the removal of colour innocent people will be getting petrol that looks white and which in fact contains the chemical.
There again the onus is on the owner or driver to prove his innocence. Under Clause 2 (c) he has to satisfy the court:that he did not neglect to take any step which in the circumstances he might reasonably have been expected to take to prevent the petrol being in the tank.If any motorist has his petrol cap unlocked he will be considered not to have 953 taken reasonable steps to prevent such petrol being in the tank. If any motorist sits in his car and does not look at the colour of the petrol which is being put into his tank, it might be said that he has not taken such steps. There again, there would almost certainly be a conviction irrespective of the moral guilt or otherwise of the accused person.
I support the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) in regard to Clause 3, and I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will explain why it is intended to give power to a person authorised by the Ministry of Fuel and Power to put commercial petrol into a pump used for supply of private spirit without committing an offence. Why is that express power retained for an official of the Ministry of Fuel and Power? In regard to paragraph (c) of that Clause, why should the representative: of the Minister of Fuel and Power have power to remove the colour or any of the prescribed ingredients? Paragraph (e) makes it an offence for anyone to addany of the prescribed ingredients,but, unless it is known what the prescribed ingredients are— and there is a great deal of secrecy about this which is absolutely unnecessary—the effect will be to make someone who does something quite innocently, not knowing what the ingredients are, guilty of an offence. I do not know what all these upper cylinder lubricants and other liquids which are on the market to enable one to get more mileage out of petrol are made of, but we should have an assurance that none of those articles contain any of the ingredients which are to be prescribed for commercial spirit.
A good deal has been said about Clause 5. In the first place it is not a Clause which was recommended by the Russell Vick Committee. Here the Government are putting forward something more harsh than any of the penalties proposed by that committee. In my view, Subsection (1) of this Clause is harsh, unfair and unnecessary. Why should the car be frozen if it is found that it has had a small quantity of the wrong sort of petrol in it? Why punish the car? The man who has more than one car will not be affected; it is true that he will not be able to drive the second car himself, but he can still put it on the road. The only effect of Subsection 954 (1) (a) of Clause 5 will be to take a number of cars off the road. It will operate extremely inequitably. One man will be severely punished, but another man will be merely inconvenienced. There can be no question that this provision will make the punishment fit the crime.
Paragraph (b) states that:if.…between the time of the commission of the offence and the time of the conviction…the car is sold, automatically, and without allowing any discretion to the magistrates, the court has to take a half of what it thinks to be the value of the vehicle. That is automatic. I realise the difficulty of the Government once they adopt the method of taking the car off the road when it is found to contain the wrong petrol, but let us consider the case of the man who sells his car after he has been found to be using the wrong petrol. A great deal of time may elapse between the commission of the offence and the date of conviction; six months may elapse before the summons is brought or served. A man who has had a sample taken and hears no more may think there is going to be no prosecution and he sells his car. Then he incurs this heavy financial penalty, a penalty which will vary in accordance not with the degree of criminality but with the expensiveness or otherwise of the car that he possessed and has sold—or indeed, in accordance with the age or youth of the car. If he has sold a car which is antique, although his whole petrol tank may have been full of the wrong sort of petrol, Subsection (1, b) will not affect him very much.
On the other hand, he may have a fairly new car, which is only two or three years old, and which has a pint of the wrong petrol in the tank; if, after the sample has been taken, he sells the car, he will automatically lose half of what he gets for a car. Can that be justified? I ask the Government to think again, and I suggest to them that the recommendation of the Vick Committee was much better in suggesting—and surely this can be done under the ordinary petrol issuing process—that the man who is found guilty of using the wrong petrol should be deprived of his petrol; and that we should not have this most inequitable system—inequitable because it bears no relation to the nature of the offence—imposed automatically by act of Parliament.
955 Regarding the proof of the commission of offences, Clause 11 deals with the admission of the analyst's certificate as evidence. I think that is a good thing but that, as in certain other cases, there should be provision that where samples are taken from a petrol tank—under Clause 8 they can be taken by a constable at any time without notice—the sample should be split and one part handed to the owner or driver of the car. Failing this, I can visualise it happening that a sample may be taken and a prosecution launched but that not until the service of the summons does the owner or driver know anything about it. There is no opportunity then for him to prepare his defence or secure evidence of a transaction that may have taken place six months previously.
If constables are to go around football or cinema parks taking samples from every car, is there not a risk that the samples may get the wrong labels attached and be muddled up? If in the case of certain foods and drugs and, I think, milk, one half of the sample is given, at the time of taking it, to the person who is to be charged, is it not right that a similar provision should be made for petrol? This may be said to be a Committee point but I put it forward now in the hope that the Government will consider it. This sort of alteration will reduce the risk of innocent people being convicted, a risk that I regard as appreciable at present.
I have a further question to ask the right hon. Gentleman concerning the man who is brought before the court and charged with an offence under this Bill. The court, having regard to all the circumstances, may think that the case should be dismissed under the Probation of Offenders Act in view of the man's good record. Is it not the case that, although the court may have come to that conclusion, under this Bill the man will be automatically deprived of the use of his car for a year; or that, if he has sold his car before the date of conviction, he will be automatically deprived of half the selling price which he obtained? As I read Clause 11 (2), it can have only that consequence. It seems wrong that, if a court finds that a man who is charged with a serious offence under this measure should be bound over, 956 the binding over should have that automatic consequence.
The Minister of Fuel and Power referred to the position of single pump garages. He contrasted the position of the single garage proprietor with what it was before the war. I have had letters—as I expect most hon. Members have—from single pump garage proprietors in rural areas asking advice as to the sort of petrol they should stock. They have presented the case not from their own interest, as to which petrol it will pay them best to stock, but from the point Of view of the community. There might, for instance, be the man with the one pump in the village who stocks commercial petrol and will be able to supply all the farmers, but possibly not for their private motor cars. In such a case all the motorists in that village must go several miles for their petrol, which will involve waste of petrol. Apparently it is to be left to individual choice, so the motorist who lives in a village which is some way from the town may have to go a great distance before he finds a single pump proprietor who has selected and decided to keep private petrol. I should have thought that this matter really deserved further consideration by the Government. It will obviously have a bad effect for agriculture if in one area all the pumps in the villages contain private petrol. It will obviously be most inconvenient for motorists and will involve some waste of petrol if all the pumps in a particular area contain commercial petrol. I hope that further consideration will be given to that difficult problem.
While I am not putting forward any approval of the black market, I believe that the heavy automatic penalties of this Bill are not likely to get that moral reaction from the public which is really required to ensure that in future petrol is not subject to misuse. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will increase the safeguards for the protection of the innocent, and at the same time put greater trust in the courts to secure the proper punishment—to make the punishment fit the crime—rather than provide in a Measure such as this automatic punishment without regard to the nature of the offence.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
Most Members regard this Bill, I think, with 957 rather mixed feelings. They welcome it because it makes possible the restoration of a standard ration, but they express forebodings because that is bound up with the creation of new offences. On the whole, I consider that the Government are to be congratulated on the promptitude with which they have put into action the recommendations of the Vick Committee and that Committee is also to be congratulated on having produced so detailed and practical a scheme. It would, of course, be far better if we could draw our petrol where we liked and go where we liked; everyone admits that. It is all very well for the kind of approach which is embodied in this Bill to be criticised, but what has not been put forward from the benches above the Gangway is any constructive alternative.
One often hears the Government blamed for acting contrary to or disregarding the recommendations of an impartial committee. In this case the Government have closely followed the recommendations of this Committee, and that is commendable in them. Where they have not gone so far as the recommendations of the Committee they have been wise. For example, there is the extraordinarily difficult problem of the man with a single petrol pump. That creates difficulties. In my own constituency there are a number of ex-Service men who have opened garages. The Government have decided to take some risk in that regard, I think a justifiable risk. They are to permit the supply, in such cases, of private petrol to commercial vehicles but an administrative check is to be kept to try to ensure that such a procedure is not abused. One cannot be certain that it will not be abused, but this provision is at least an attempt to deal with the injustice caused to such a garage by preventing it from supplying any petrol to commercial vehicles. It is worth trying.
As a general practice, it is undesirable in the criminal law to put on an accused person the burden of proving his innocence, as this Bill does, but that is not a novel feature of the criminal law. It has been contained in statutes connected with the supply of commodities for 30 years or more, wherever the circumstances in which an offence happens are peculiarly within the knowledge of the accused. There is nothing novel in it. Indeed, some Measures go much further than this Bill, 958 and say that in no circumstances can the accused person defend himself by saying that it could not have happened if care had been used. The Vick Committee have not suggested that. This Bill does not say that a person must prove that he exercised all possible diligence. It says that he must exerciseall such diligence … as he ought to have exercised having regard to all the circumstances;Perhaps the word "reasonable" might well be inserted so that it shall be provided that a man must exerciseall such reasonable diligence … having regard to all the circumstances;I did not find the argument of the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) convincing. People do not go about putting petrol in other people's motor cars. If a man's motor car has been stolen, the first thing an ordinary reasonable man would do is to report that theft to the police. The fact that he had reported the loss of his car immediately would be taken into account by any reasonable bench as showing that the petrol had not been inserted with his connivance, and that he had not failed in reasonable diligence.
I wish to say a word about the penalties connected with the offence itself. The hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), in referring to Clause 5 (1, a) which provides that a licence should be suspended for 12 months, said that that was not following the provisions of the Vick Report. But that report did recommend that no petrol should be allowed for that car for 12 months, notwithstanding any change of ownership. I cannot see any difference between the two provisions. If a car is not allowed any petrol it is achieving exactly the same effect as refusing to allow that car to be licensed for 12 months. In fact, it is enabling the owner to save a lot of money in tax and insurance.
It is a difficult question to decide whether to make these penalties compulsory on the court. If it is mandatory on the court to inflict these penalties in every case that may, as the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) pointed out, have the effect of making courts very chary about convicting. On the other hand is the court to be given a discretion? The danger there is that the court may rarely use its 959 discretion, as we have seen in cases of magistrates' courts not disqualifying people from driving when they ought to have disqualified them. On the whole, I think that the recommendations of the Russell Vick Committee are sound ones. Granted a shortage of dollars, granted the acute problem which that raises, and the vital necessity for conserving our dollars and therefore petrol resources, it is right that these penalties connected with the use of petrol should be inflicted and made compulsory.
In conclusion, I would refer to what the Minister of Fuel and Power said about the lack of moral standards and the lowering of moral standards of which the spread of the black market was a symptom. Nothing will conduce more to the observance of regulations of this character than for the people to feel that the regulations are administered fairly, that there are no undue privileges for any section of he community. I hope that what I may say will not be regarded as being said in any niggardly or carping spirit, but it is essential that the man with the Austin 7 and the man with the motor cycle should not feel that anybody else is privileged, and should not see anybody else able to go as he pleases in his car. I wonder whether there is not really far more scope for the cutting down of petrol by people in Government service particularly in the Services? I should be out of Order if I developed this point at any length, but we still see great cars conveying high Service officers, particularly in Kensington where I live. I really wonder, and again I am not being niggardly, if it is really necessary for Cabinet Ministers to be carried about London in Humber pullman saloons—
§ Mr. Roberts
The point I wish to make, and I really do not wish to approach this in any mean spirit, is that the private person with the small car must not feel that anyone else has an unfair advantage over him—and I will leave that point as I see, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you are about to rise again. On the whole, this a good Bill, and although there are points to be argued out in Committee, I think that I am bound to welcome it.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) said this was a good Bill. He also said that most hon. Members looked at this Bill with mixed feelings. So far as I am concerned, I must look at it with a considerable amount of respect. For an humble individual such as myself to criticise this great creative work of the Government requires the utmost exercise of pressure. This great, constructive work of the Government is original in that, so far as I know, and I am not a lawyer, it is not very often that we have a Bill, the sole purpose of which is to create offences. Here, after these years of labouring, we have the combined thoughts of many of the right hon. Members on the opposite side of the House—the Leader of the House, the Home Office with all the backing of their various departments, the whole of the Scottish Department, the whole of the Transport Ministry and other Departments—they have all combined to help the Board of Trade to create this Bill, the first and only creative Bill of the Government during the three years of this Parliament. Surely, this is a unique effort even for this Government, and they have the backing of their distinguished Law Officers as well.
The first thing that strikes me about the Bill is the comparatively curious position from which we are facing it. We are told that there is a shortage of petrol, and therefore there is a black market, and that the object of this Bill is to subdue that black market. I would like to see that black market dealt with, as I am sure would every other hon. Member. Most hon. Members believe that it is dishonest and wrong. The Bill lays down certain punishments unless we use this or that kind of petrol. Is that the best way of dealing with a black market? A week ago there was a black Market in potatoes. No one believed that potato rationing was really necessary, and it has now been proved to have been completely unnecessary. The black market died when the rationing restrictions were taken off. There is a strong feeling in many parts of the country that the rationing of petrol is not wholly necessary. I do not necessarily subscribe to that feeling, but would quote an hon. Member of the last House, Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd, who was Petroleum Minister in the last war, 961 a person who had as great a knowledge of the history of the matter as almost any one. He was of the opinion that rationing was unnecessary. What would he a simpler way to beat the petrol black market than to abolish the rationing of petrol? The job would be done in one go, but instead of that we have this Bill.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and those very able people who have laboured so long to produce this Bill, and who have at last been able to give vent to their natural inclinations. The first thing any Socialist wishes to do is to punish his fellow human beings. That is a primary product of the Socialist Party and of their outlook. Here is a pure punishment Bill, the first creative work of the Socialist Party. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his first creative Bill. It is a matter on which the country will look with pride. At last he has created something. He has created a new punishment for wicked people who are made wicked by his own restrictions. I have always said that once regulations are made, it is absolutely wrong to break them, and I do my best to persuade other people to accept them. But I find that very hard to do, for the simple reason that we are told today that something is necessary and in a few weeks time we are told, "We have made an error, and it is unnecessary." That is why it is hard.
Let us look at the question of punishment in this way. Suppose on a dark and stormy and snowy night a car draws up at a wayside filling station. The driver is absolutely out of petrol. Suppose that, accidentally, in the darkness and the snowstorm, he is able to persuade the owner of the garage to help him to get home by supplying him with some petrol, and, by some mischance, the wrong pipe is turned on in the darkness, and he gets the wrong petrol. The driver, as I understand it, is liable to lose his licence for 12 months. The garage owner, over a mistake that might easily happen in those circumstances, is liable to lose his business. Short of the Russian method of exterminating them both—because by this method we may kill them both so far as their business life is concerned—I do not see much else that we can do to them. Compare the savage punishments for what may be a mistake, with some of the sentences imposed for other offences to- 962 day. It is perfectly true that there is a maximum, but when we are setting a maximum in a Bill such as this, why should it be so much higher than the maximum penalties for several other offences?
I gather that we may lie and cheat and do all sorts of things to dodge buying a proper ticket for the nationalised railways, and what is the maximum fine? Something like£2—or was is rather more?—for an offence which is not really a much bigger offence than this. I think there was a professor who got into trouble the other day. Perhaps some hon. Gentleman opposite will remember the name. I see that the Attorney-General is impatient of my criticism. I have no doubt that he feels that these penalties have been laid down on a rather unfair basis. I have considered the matter, and I cannot understand why in the world the Government did not try to settle on penalties according to the nature of the offences. It is highly likely that long before a year has gone, there will be no petrol rationing at all. Then we may have cases of motor owners unable to use their cars, when perhaps they may be incapacitated and unable to travel in any other way, because they may still be serving a sentence. The same applies to businessmen. There may be a proprietor of a small garage who has been suspended and unable to carry on busness even when petrol rationing is ended.
I happen to be a West Country man. In my part of the country we always try to avoid breaking the law in every respect; but it brings the law into contempt when the Government introduce Bills which are not properly balanced. That is the worst thing that can happen. The Government in this and many other Bills have shown their supreme inability to balance the details of the case. The penalties mentioned in this Measure go too far. They are not merely efforts at deterrence; they are almost sadistic in their brutality. They attack people who almost always are small, humble people, and not the great monopolists. In the main, those concerned are humble people represented by myself and other hon. Members on this side of the House. I hope that there will be no effort on the part of the Law Officer or anyone else to say that I have said anything in favour of the black market. I am unable to see why it is necessary to introduce a Measure of this sort 963 which sets down penalties of an unduly harsh nature. I can see no advantage in the Government having brought it forward. I realise the immense pride which the Attorney-General and the Minister of Fuel and Power must feel in their effort today. The position becomes almost impossible when we are called upon to approve a Bill which carries such terrific penalties when, for all we know, the Government may be completely misinformed on the position and within a few days we may have a complete abolition of petrol rationing. Then this Measure will be just so much waste paper, and we shall have wasted time and effort. However, that is what we expect of this Government. We expect them to waste time and effort in imposing heavy penalties and endeavouring to hit at the small man who may make some innocent slip or mistake.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)
I rise to give general support to the Government but also to raise a qualification on one matter which I hope will be considered in Committee. I listened to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) who suggested that, because the Bill creates new offences, it is the first of a number of steps which will lead to the police State in England. Surely, it is a most extraordinary doctrine that because new offences are created by a Government we are on the road to a police State. Many new offences have been created by the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his Friends. Let me give an instance straight away. The Trade Disputes Act, 1927, without any question was deliberately intended to create new offences. There are innumerable illustrations that can be given. It really is absolute nonsense to suggest that, because it is necessary at a certain stage of a country's history to create a new offence, therefore we are on the road to a police State.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
Surely the hon Member is not alleging that the Title of the Trade Disputes Act was, "A Bill to create offences …" I said that this was a Bill the Title of which starts, "A Bill to create certain offences …" and nothing else.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I was attempting to deal with the merits of the Bill and not with its Title. The Title is a relatively unimportant matter. I have no doubt that if the right hon. Gentleman desires to amend the Title, because he thinks a few of the words are inappropriate, that could be considered.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
I do not want to interrupt unnecessarily, but surely the fact that the Title of this Bill could be printed is an indication of the mind of the Government. I venture to suggest that no previous Minister, seeing such a Title, would have passed it. It is an indication of the mentality of the Government that they are able to allow such a Title to be printed.
§ Mr. Blackburn
We do not want to discuss totalitarianism or people flirting with totalitarianism. One only needs to read the articles in the "Daily Telegraph" to discover some rather interesting facts on that subject. The use of the words "police State" and "totalitarian" add no merit to attacks on a Measure of this kind.
It is perfectly clear—and the Opposition are only too anxious on every possible occasion to drive it home—that for a long time we have been in a period of great and continuing national crisis. It is now admitted on all sides that petrol means dollars and that it is absolutely necessary to restrict the expenditure of dollars. In order to do so, it is necessary to ration petrol. What would the Opposition say about the Government if they introduced a Measure which was designed to restrict the use of petrol and if there were no sanctions whatever applied to the Measure if it were broken? The Government would be laughed at as being ineffective. They would be ridiculed by hon. Members opposite. If the Government intend to lay down measures for the purpose of restricting the use of petrol, the Government must have a sanction to back up these measures. This Bill, in pursuance of the Vick report, is an attempt to lay down as firmly as possible measures to that end.
965 As the end is so important, I entirely support the Government, but I desire to raise the subject referred to in Clause 2. I suggest to the Attorney-General that this is a matter of great importance. It is true that there have been a number of Sections included in Acts of Parliament recently in which a man is presumed to be guilty until he proves himself innocent. There is a familiar one about company directors providing that, where a company is proved guilty, the company director is also assumed to be guilty unless he is proved innocent. We have protested against these provisions before but this today is an entirely different matter. We now have a Clause creating a new offence that any person who has in the tank of his private motor vehicle commercial petrol, shall be guilty of an offence, provided that it shall be a defence for that person to prove either (a), (b), or (c). I should like to ask if the Attorney-General will give us his opinion on one matter. Let us assume that we have a case of a man who is caught by the police with commercial petrol in his private vehicle. We will assume that he was brought before a court and that he seeks under Clause 2—if it is still in the Bill—to prove a defence under either (a), (b) or (c). Let us assume that, at the end, the magistrates or jury feel that this defence is one on which they cannot fee] certain whether it is justified or unjustified. Is the benefit of the doubt to be given to the prosecution or to the accused?
There is a vital point here, because, surely, it is completely contrary to the whole legal traditions of this country that any man should be convicted unless it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that he is, in fact, guilty of the offence with which he is charged. Surely, that is a most sacred principle of English justice, and one for which it is deservedly famous throughout the world? It goes right back to Magna Charta in 1215. I do not see why it is necessary to contravene that most sacred principle of English law in this Bill. The learned Attorney-General may argue that he would have no means of being able to say where a particular amount of commercial petrol came from, and that, because they could not trace the commercial petrol, when they stop a man with a private vehicle and discover that he has commercial petrol in his tank, the onus to prove the case ought not to be on the prosecution, because the motorist 966 was the man who knew where he got the petrol. I can understand that argument being adduced, but it is really not valid at all.
If I am caught by the police going home with commercial petrol in my tank, the mere fact that I have got it in my tank, in itself, is surely sufficient evidence for a prima facie case that I am guilty of an offence under Clause 2? Surely, in tact, it is the practice of the police in all these cases to ask questions, and to say, "Where did you get this petrol? Where are you going? Why are you using commercial petrol?" Surely, there would be the presumption raised against such a man immediately that he was guilty if he said, "I am not going to tell you"?
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham. Aston)
Will my hon. Friend allow me? Does he think it is wrong, if a man is found in the middle of the night walking along a road with a pocket full of housebreaking tools, that he is presumed to be guilty of loitering with intent, unless he is proved to be walking in that road for an innocent purpose?
§ Mr. Blackburn
With great respect, that is a proposition on which I do not desire to enter, and the learned Attorney-General will perhaps deal with that point. Even if that be the case, and my knowledge of the criminal law is rather rusty, it does not in any way alter the case that it is a basic principle of English law that a man is not to be convicted of an offence unless it has been established against him beyond all reasonable doubt, the onus being on the prosecution to prove that he is guilty. My hon. Friend may know of some parallel cases during the war, when we had experience of a quartermaster-sergeant who had in his custody certain kinds of rations. I remember defending such a quartermaster-sergeant. He was stopped at Waterloo Station with 7 1b. of margarine, 8 1b. of butter and various other goods which could only, on the face of it, have come from company stores. That is a parallel case, but the defence and submission that there was no case to go to a jury quite obviously was wrong. Obviously, there must be some kind of a case to go to a jury where a man is in possession of goods which, on the face of it, it was almost impossible for him to have acquired legally.
967 By a parallel reasoning, it a man was engaged in making a private journey from A to B, and he was doing it with commercial petrol, there would be a prima facie case. The onus would be on him to give the explanation, and in the absence of an explanation, he would be assumed to be guilty. This happens over and over again in our legal system, and I see no justification for changing it now particularly as it may happen that a man about whom there is reasonable doubt is, in fact, convicted. That is a point of fundamental importance, because we should never convict anybody unless every reasonable doubt has been resolved in his favour. I hope that, between now and the Committee stage the Government will reconsider the matter in order that this long-established principle of English justice may be incorporated in this Measure.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
This is an important Measure, and one in which the country is very much more interested than are the supporters of the Government in this House. During the Debate, which has lasted only some three hours, I think we have had the attendance of the Minister of Fuel and Power for less than half that time, and the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) was only the fourth back bencher to address himself to this subject. The hon. Member defended this Bill as being necessary to stop the black market, and if his logic is to be accepted, he would, in fact, go so far as to say that, in order to stop the black market, there should be no limit to the penalty which might be inflicted. That, I think, was the logic of his argument. We question that logic, because we think that the penalty should indeed be made to fit the crime, and should be neither too little nor too great. We have criticised this Bill and shall continue to do so on later stages—
§ Mr. Blackburn
All I submitted was that it is necessary in these exceptional circumstances to create new offences and new penalties. I have not said that the penalties should be unlimited, but, on the contrary, that the manner of the commission of the offence requires to be taken into account and that the penalty should be limited to what is reasonable.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I am glad to think the hon. Member has veered from the position he took up, and I am not certain that he stands squarely behind the Government in this matter. The hon. Member referred to a quartermaster-sergeant whom he defended during the war. I, too, defended a quartermaster-sergeant, who was charged with using military transport for a purpose for which it was not intended. What he did was to take a military car from the place where he was stationed, which happened to be six miles from the nearest town, because he wanted to go there to visit a cinema and have a drink in a public house. In that case, I did not seek to defend my client, if I might call him that, on the ground that he was not guilty of the offence. On the contrary, he was guilty. But I pointed out to the court that it was only those members of the court who could lay their hands on their hearts and say, "I have never used military transport for a wrong purpose," who were entitled to inflict a penalty on that quartermaster-sergeant. I hope that if I drew such a parallel this afternoon, the vote in favour of this Bill would be unanimous in this House.
The Bill makes a very strange bedfellow with the Criminal Justice Bill with which it is passing through Parliament at present. The Criminal Justice Bill alleviates the lot of the criminal offender, and this Bill restores the harshness of the criminal law to a very considerable extent, by adding some score of new offences and inflicting a number of what can only be described as savage penalties. As the lot of the thief, the murderer and the felon is softened and lightened, so the lot of the offender against Ministerial regulations is made more hard and more perilous.
I think it is worth calling attention to the fact that the old crimes were offences against society through injuries to one's neighbour's person or property for the most part. The new crimes are offences against society by infringing the policy of the Government of the day. I do not want to make a political point of this, but I think it is right that the Government should be fairly warned that the spirit of Hampden, so to speak, is not dead in this country, and that if the Government try to over-reach themselves by enforcing laws which are not generally acceptable, and in doing so inflict punish- 969 ments which exceed in severity the purpose for which they are intended, those laws cannot and will not be capable of being enforced.
There are genuine doubts in the country about the fairness of this Measure, the fairness of the ultimate end it has in view, and the fairness of the means by which it seeks to achieve that end. By "the ultimate end," I do not, of course, mean stopping the black market. I mean the severe limitation of private motoring to the extent now proposed by the Government. The country is not satisfied that the scheme put forward is as fair to motorists as it might be; neither is it satisfied that the means proposed in this Bill for securing that end are reasonable. If that is so, there can be only one result, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter); either the courts will refuse to convict, or else the clamour for the repeal of this Measure will be such that it will be impossible to withstand it.
The purpose of the Measure, as has been said a number of times, is officially to create certain offences. The Government say that it is in order to stop the black market, but the black market itself exists only because of anterior causes. In this case those causes are not commercial. It is quite clear from the Vick Report that there is no master mind—I think those are the words used—at work. The amount of money which passes in this particular black market is not very great. The primary cause of this black market is not the desire to make money by illicit means. Nor in this case is there any special lack of moral standard. It is true, of course, that wherever there is a black market it means that there is moral laxity, but I think it will be generally agreed on both sides of the House that there is no special lack of moral standard or of patriotism on the part of motorists or lorry drivers or others who have allegedly taken part in these black market transactions. They probably represent a pretty fair cross-section of the community, though I notice that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) and the hon. Baronet the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) were rather disposed to question that.
I do not believe that the Government's attitude is that motorists as a class are any worse than any other members of the community. The fact of the matter 970 is that modern civilisation has been built up on the assumption that there will be a plentiful supply of petrol available. Houses have been built, habits have been acquired, and lives have been planned on that assumption, and it is when the basis of that assumption is taken away that we find a whole set of influences at work which we do not find in any other connection. The man who enters the black market in food can fairly be described as greedy, and the man who enters the black market in clothes can be described as vain, but the man who obtains petrol through the black market is seeking something which cannot be easily condemned in terms of that sort. Like the quartermaster-sergeant to whom I referred earlier, he is in a sense seeking freedom—a much less definable but more desirable objective. [Interruption.] Perhaps I should say, desirable in the opinion of my hon. Friends on this side of the House. I think hon. Members opposite will learn that it is more desirable in the eyes of the country, because the people will not tolerate too great an infringement of their freedom in this respect. I believe that is the fundamental reason why this black market, above all others, has flourished in this country.
Unless this Measure is accompanied by some reasonable availability of petrol, I do not believe it will work. We must examine the means by which the Measure proposes to carry out its ends. The problem can be stated very simply. It was adumbrated by the Minister of Fuel and Power in his opening remarks. I think it is admitted that all the petrol which is sold in this country, whether through the black market or otherwise, is sold against valid Government coupons. That, I think, is quite clear from the Russell Vick Report. There are, of course, some cases where coupons have been forged, and there are some cases where petrol has been stolen, but those cases are not in any way affected by this Bill and can be left to be dealt with in the ordinary way by the criminal law. Apart from forgery and theft, all petrol is sold against perfectly good coupons.
The trouble is that there is necessarily an excessive issue to commercial users of petrol. I do not think the figures have been given to the House, but they should be given and considered carefully. The 971 total over-issue of coupons to commercial users in 1947 was no less than 165 million gallons. Of those coupons which were over-issued, 118 million gallons simply went unused. The coupons were presumably either lost or torn up. Only 17 million coupons were returned and the black market took the balance—47 million coupons. Those figures are accepted as reasonably accurate by the Committee. There has been an enormous demand by private motorists which could not be satisfied, while there has been this large over issue to commercial motorists, and the whole problem is simply one of preventing the transfer of coupons from the commercial motorist to the private motorist.
I do not see any sign of dissent from the Government Front Bench and I take it, therefore, that it can be said that that is the problem. The Government will not accept my next statement, which is that the Government's attitude in facing such a problem as this, as usual, has been one purely of restriction. That is the whole trouble. Their one idea, when faced with a problem, is to say, "Who is doing it?" and to stop them. I believe that is entirely the wrong way to tackle a problem of this kind. As soon as the petrol position became difficult, as soon as it became clear that we were going to be short of dollars and that the black market was creating a large leak, the first action of the Government was to stop basic petrol altogether. They did so without giving the slightest glimmer of hope that they were considering some such scheme as is now envisaged. It is clear that when basic petrol was abolished last Autumn, the intention of the Government was to retain the abolition for an indefinite period.
Pressure of public opinion was such that they could not hold to that. They set up the Russell Vick Committee, the consequence of which is this Bill. I think it is worth referring to the terms of reference of the Russell Vick Committee, which, again, virtually invited the Committee to consider restrictionist means of dealing with this problem. The question I would like to put to the Attorney-General, who I understand is to reply, is: have the Government at any time considered some positive incentive to cure this situation? Have the Govern- 972 ment ever thought of any means of dealing with the black market, other than by purely restrictive measures? If they have, I think the House and the country are entitled to hear something about such measures.
The outstanding fact of the situation is that there is no incentive whatsoever to commercial users of petrol either to economise in the use of their petrol or to return their coupons to the Government, as they should. I will make this as a concrete suggestion to the Government, perhaps at rather a late hour in the day: if it is a fact—and I think it is undeniable—that all petrol is sold against coupons and that the Government, in fact, completely control the sale of petrol, I should have thought it would be feasible, instead of levying the duty on this spirit, as is done at the present time, to levy the duty on the coupons by which the spirit can be obtained.
I do not know whether I have made that clear, but the position is that the present duty on petrol is 1s. 2d. a gallon. I suggest that we charge is. 2d. to anyone entitled to receive petrol for each one gallon coupon which he is given. There would be no administrative difficulty about that, so far as I can see, but it would have this effect: the commercial users would have 1s. 2d. locked up in each coupon in their hands and, instead of distributing these coupons to their drivers and having no private interest in seeing that these drivers were economical and did not pass the coupons on to the black market, they would have the greatest possible incentive to recover the coupon, if it were not used, and to return it to the Government so as to obtain the necessary rebate.
I would like to know whether the Government have considered such a scheme. It seems to me to be a fairly straightforward one. I can see no administrative difficulty. If the Government think it is not feasible, I should be interested to hear that. The really important thing is whether the Government have considered this matter at all from the positive angle. For my own part, I would go further and say that I think the commercial consumers should be entitled to a further payment—a bonus payment, if you like—for the coupons which have been issued to them. It might be 1s. a 973 gallon. That would give a very large incentive indeed to commercial users to see that their coupons did not get into the black market and also that there was the utmost economy in the use of their petrol.
Of course, that would be expensive. Assuming that an economy of 30 million or 40 million gallons were effected in that way, it would cost something of the order of£10 million a year, but we should have saved 30 million or 40 million gallons of petrol, all costing dollars, and that petrol would be available to go towards the private motorists' use, because the Minister of Fuel and Power will admit that if he could find another 30 million or 40 million gallons of petrol, he could use it for the private motorists. I should have thought there would be no practical difficulty about having, say, a second standard ration which the users could take up or not as they pleased and for which they could be charged suitably in order to recoup the Government for the cost of effecting this economy in the commercial market.
I agree that this is a scheme proposed off-hand, but surely schemes of this sort must have been considered by the Government. The question I ask is how far the Government have explored such schemes, and whether they will let us know the reasons positive inducements cannot be offered so as to ensure that this surplus is drawn back from the commercial market and does not find its way into the black market in the way all of us deplore. I believe that the proper way to deal with this problem is by some positive, constructive measures such as those I have suggested.
My hon. Friends have criticised this Bill and we shall listen with attention to what the Attorney-General says in reply to those criticisms. The Bill has yet to go through Committee, where it will receive very careful attention and where, we hope, it may be amended in such a way as to make it completely acceptable. For that reason, we are prepared to accept it on Second Reading, but we do so on the understanding that it can be amended so as to become a useful vehicle for the purpose for which it is intended.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)
We have had a fairly considerable discussion on this little Bill and 974 it has ranged over a fairly wide field. But I feel bound at the very outset to comment on what has seemed to me to be the most notable, the most unfortunate and the most surprising feature of our Debate. The motoring associations, which may, perhaps, be supposed to represent at least a substantial proportion of those who will be most directly affected by this Bill have indicated—and indeed, the Russell Vick Report expressly states—that they completely condemn the black market which exists in petrol, and that they support the imposition of the admittedly severe penalties which are embodied in this Bill. I confess that I had anticipated and that I had hoped that hon. Members opposite would join in the clearest and most forthright terms possible in the condemnation of this black market as a complete disgrace to the country. The most significant thing about this Debate has been—and it is one which I venture to think will not escape notice—that, with the exception of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), who did condemn these black market offences, and who ranked them as on the same level as the offence of avoiding payment of railway fares—as matters which he apparently suggested were properly to be dealt with by a fine of 40s.—with the exception of the hon. Member for Torquay, not one Member from the opposite side of the House above the Gangway has struck that note of complete condemnation that one would certainly have expected to hear.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
The right hon. and learned Gentleman was present during my speech. If he will take the trouble to refresh his memory tomorrow morning from HANSARD he will see that I condemned the black market.
§ Mr. Renton
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman get this clear in his very lucid mind, that when we condemn the causes of the black market we are not failing to condemn the black market itself?
§ The Attorney-General
The right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), if he thinks it worth while so to do, will, no doubt, refresh his own memory by the somewhat unentertaining task of reading his own speech in HANSARD tomorrow. I am bound to say that my impression of his speech, and of the other speeches from that side of the House above the Gangway, was that in not one 975 was that note of condemnation of the black market as a complete disgrace struck as one must have expected it to have been struck.
I am not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman in that part of his entertaining speech, as his speeches always are—in which he undertook an entertaining but a little mischievous and not very cogent discussion of the motives and the reasons underlying the existence of these black market transactions. The right hon. Gentleman certainly did not, in the course of his remarks, doubt the existence of this black market, nor did he, I think—I want to be perfectly fair to him in regard to the matter—go so far as to commit himself to saying that the black market was not something which was completely reprehensible. But the right hon. Gentleman made no attempt to put forward any constructive alternative proposal for bringing it to an end. Indeed—and I say again that it will hardly pass unnoticed by the public—every speaker, with the exception of the last one, from the benches opposite—although they raised various objections, various criticisms, some illusory, some fantastic, usually without any merit at all, about the proposals in this Bill—every speaker from the opposite side of the House spoke in opposition to the implementation of the proposals of an independent Committee, supported by the motorists themselves, for the suppression of this undoubted evil.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman again, but, apparently, he did not listen attentively, because otherwise he would have heard me say that, so far as the origin of the black market and the reasons for the black market are concerned, it would be out of Order to go into detail, and that discussion of that was to be left to a Supply day. The same applies to the alternatives we could have put forward. It was out of Order to discuss that.
§ The Attorney-General
I wonder why then, on behalf of hon. Members opposite, the hon. Member for South Hendon (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) did put forward, for the first time, what he ventured to suggest was a constructive alternative. He did, in fact, make a suggestion that some Measure should be introduced in 976 order to give persons otherwise disposed to commit these black market offences an incentive to behave honestly. His suggestion was that the duty payable on petrol should be paid on the coupon, not as it is now on the petrol itself. When the hon. Member put -forward that constructive alternative nobody suggested, I think, at that time—certainly Mr. Speaker did not suggest—that it was out of Order to consider the possible alternatives that there may be for the suppression of this black market.
This Bill is intended to deal with the practical problem which is adumbrated on page 15 of the Report of the Russell Vick Committee. It does not pretend to deal, nor can any legislation deal, with the misguided motives, and the discreditable and selfish reasons, which may lead people to commit black market offences. But what legislation can do and what this Bill seeks to do—and seeks to do, as we believe, with the approbation of the public, and certainly of the motoring public—is to mark the view of Parliament and of honest, responsible citizens that this particular conduct is anti-social by visiting that conduct with penalties of the utmost severity. This Bill does visit this conduct with penalties of great severity. Of course, it does. That is what it is intended to do. The object of this Bill, in the implementation of the Russell Vick Committee's Report, is to provide, with the full sanction of Parliament, penalties of a drastic kind in respect of offences which the public, and, I hope, the whole House, regard as being of a grave nature.
I am certainly not one of those, if, indeed, any there be, who think one can produce honesty or good citizenship, or, for that matter, anything else merely by regulations, by laws, or by penalties. As I think I said when we were discussing the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, laws must reflect the public conscience. I think they gain their strength from public acceptance. But the truth about this matter is that the law—and, perhaps, hon. Members opposite—has not hitherto adequately reflected the disapprobation of the public conscience for black market offences. It is, no doubt, very unfortunate that it should be necessary to have a Measure of this kind. I think that it is most regrettable But the unhappy truth is that a few magi- 977 strafes and some individuals have, hitherto, taken far too lax a view about this antisocial and altogether discreditable conduct. It is, I am afraid, a notable fact, and one I cannot help commenting on, that some people, otherwise no doubt people who pursue the most honest and the most upright lives, people who would piously condemn a man who stole a loaf of bread in order to feed his family, seem to regard it as a laudable form of private enterprise to exercise their ingenuity in order to defeat regulations which are designed to secure fair shares for everybody, so as to procure for themselves some greater privilege than is possessed by people who are prepared to abide by the regulations which are made.
But I utterly repudiate the view, which seemed to be implicit in some of the speeches made by hon. Members opposite, that public opinion generally does not take a very serious view about these black market offences, whether they are in petrol or in regard to other matters. It may be—and hon. Members opposite must speak for themselves on the matter—that some motorists—I believe a very small minority of them—selfishly disregarding the grim facts of our present economic situation, and arrogating to themselves the right to judge whether more petrol should be imported for their private pleasure at the expense and to the prejudice of more vital imports, do not regard offences against the petrol rationing system as being a serious matter. But I am quite sure that the great hulk of the motorists, as represented by their associations, and the public at large regards these practices with complete detestation. This Bill is necessary in order to bring home to the small minority that their conduct is regarded by the public and by Parliament as wholly reprehensible.
I know that to honest people, to the great majority of motorists and to the Treat bulk of the ordinary population, many of these regulations and restrictions which have to be imposed in these matters are inconvenient, irritating, and often no doubt extremely exasperating. But they are the burden that honest citizens have to carry because there is a small minority of people, in this and in other fields, not prepared to accept the responsibility of citizenship or to abide by these schemes which, in our present unhappy circumstances, have to be enforced. If everybody had been prepared to play the game 978 in these matters the necessity for regulations of this sort would not have arisen. Unfortunately, the truth is that everybody has not been prepared to play the game; consequently, we must have measures of this kind. However, I am confident in thinking—and I hope the House will indicate its agreement with this view—that the great mass of the people regard the conduct of this small minority with detestation, as being something utterly unpatriotic, which is sabotaging the country's efforts to rehabilitate itself, and is worthy of the most severe condemnation.
Having said that, I come to some of the more detailed and particular points that were raised during the course of the Debate. Some of them, of course, are matters which we shall have to examine in Committee; but I shall endeavour, as far as I can, to deal with those which raise the most substantial questions, which were dealt with in the course of a number of the speeches made. I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) whether a motorist was entitled to sell standard coupons. That, of course, is an offence against the existing regulations for the control of motor fuel. Coupons are issued in relation to particular vehicles, and they may be used only in respect of those vehicles; and if people are detected—the difficulty, of course, arises in their detection—in transferring them, well then, they have been and they would be dealt with. The hon. Member also mentioned motorists who are accumulating stocks of petrol at the present time. We will certainly consider the suggestion that he made in that respect. In the meantime, it should perhaps be remembered that it is already an offence to take into cans and not into the tank of the car petrol which is issued against the essential and semi-essential coupons.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) seemed to think that the proviso to Clause 3 was intended to cover the case of a possible agent provocateur. Really its purpose is very much more simple. Somebody, of course, has to be entitled to add the prescribed ingredients, the colouring matter and the chemical, to the petrol in order to enable the scheme to operate at all. That is the 979 purpose of the proviso to paragraph (e). Again, somebody—the policeman and the analyst, seeking to detect whether offences have been committed—has to be able, in the course of his analytical processes, to remove the prescribed ingredients from the petrol he is examining and bring about chemical changes in it. That is the purpose of the proviso to paragraphs (c) and (d).
Then the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames and the hon. and learned Member for Daventry, and others, came to what is perhaps the most substantial and important part of this Bill—the part which deals with the penalty by way of immobilising the motor vehicle concerned. The hon. and learned Member for Daventry was, of course, quite wrong—as the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) pointed out—in supposing that the Bill does not, in substance, follow the recommendation of the Russell Vick Committee. It is true that the recommendation took the form of providing that no petrol should be issued; but it was not that no petrol should be issued to the particular motorist. Had that been all that was suggested, it would have been very easy for the motorist in question to get his wife, his chauffeur or a friend to procure the petrol. The recommendation was that no petrol should be issued in respect of the particular motor vehicle. The purpose of the Clause dealing with that matter is exactly the same. On examining the administrative problems involved, we thought that the best way to ensure that no petrol could be issued in respect of that particular motor vehicle was to provide that it should not be allowed to possess a Road Fund licence.
The more important question referred to by hon. Members opposite was that that was an automatic penalty—a penalty which would, indeed, apply even if the magistrates were otherwise minded to deal with the case under the Probation of Offenders Act. That was mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Daventry. I confess, it had not occurred to us on this side of the House to think that, once an offence of this kind was proved, it would be appropriate, in regard to these automatic penalties, to allow the matter to be dealt with in the way in which petty offences are dealt with under the Probation of Offenders Act. I say at once 980 that, personally—and I think most people would agree with this view—I do not care for penalties which are automatic. I think that, as a rule, they are unjust, and that one ought to watch with care when any attempt is made to impose them.
But the present case, of course, is altogether exceptional. The reasons which justify severity in penalty necessitate also that the penalty should be an automatic one in order to ensure that the really severe penalties provided will be imposed. After all, once one assumes that the offence has been proved, and the defendant has been unable to establish, if he sought so to do, that he was probably innocent, the offence is the same, and it is not really more excusable in one case than in another. It seems to us desirable that the method of dealing with the offences should be uniform and that no motorist should be allowed to think that if he commits an offence he might, owing to the laxity or weakness of the particular bench of magistrates he came before, "get away with it" or be treated more lightly.
It is true, of course, that the immobilisation of the motor vehicle and the disqualification from holding a driving licence may operate more severely in some cases than in others. I think that it is perfectly true that it will operate more severely in the case of a man who drives his car for a living than in the case of a man who can employ a chauffeur or hire another car. Unfortunately, it has not been possible as yet to devise any penalty, except perhaps the death penalty, which does not fall more heavily on the poor man and his family than it does on the rich man. It is impossible, in dealing with this kind of matter, to find a penalty which falls with absolute equity and equality upon everybody. This principle, which we have applied in the Act, of disqualification is one that has already been accepted for many years past in a variety of other Acts of Parliament. It exists, of course, in regard to motor offences where, for certain offences, a man may be disqualified from holding a licence and in a number of other cases.
Hon. Members will be familiar with the case where premises may be disqualified for being used as a night club if offences have been committed in them.
§ The Attorney-General
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be more familiar with them than I am. The case with which I am familiar, and the more serious and substantial case, is that of a justices' licence where automatically for certain offences, and in some cases for offences which may not have been within the knowledge of the licensee, a licence is revoked with the result that the house has to be closed as 'a licensed house, although many thousands of pounds may have been paid in order to obtain the licence in the first instance. There is a number of other cases of that kind where forfeitures result on conviction for particular kinds of offences.
Although one does not like this kind of penalty in general—and I say this quite frankly—this appears to us to be a case where it is really the only penalty that will adequately meet this offence. We agree with the view of the Russell Vick Committee when they said:In our view the existing Defence Regulation penalties of a fine and/or imprisonment are generally inappropriate for the kind of black market transaction with which our inquiry has been concerned. Imprisonment cannot be lightly inflicted and the scale of fines imposed is all too often quite inadequate to deter actual or potential offenders; in this view we are supported by the experience of the police as expressed to us at the conference of Chief Constables.And then in double-leaded letters:We are convinced that the only really appropriate and effective penalty for these offences is deprivation of petrol and the use of the road.I come now to the point, which was also raised by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, concerning directors of companies who are made liable in respect of offences committed by their companies unless, in substance, they can show that they have taken all possible precautions to avoid the commission of the offences. As has been said and as hon. Members know, companies have no souls to damn, no bodies to chastise; but they do act through human beings, and those who choose—nobody is compelled—to conduct their activities under the not inconsiderable but none the less intangible cloak of the limited liability company will in future owe it to themselves in this matter as, indeed, they owe it to the country, to see as surely as they possibly can, that their companies do not commit offences. If they do see to it as surely 982 as they reasonably can, they will not themselves be found guilty if their companies none the less unhappily come to commit offences. If they do not, then they will be liable.
There may be a great deal to be said in favour of putting directors of companies under an absolute liability, and there are statutory precedents for so doing. We have not done that. We have given them an escape if they are able to prove—and since the facts must be peculiarly within their own knowledge, it must be for them to prove—that they have exercised all possible care, to prevent offences from being committed. There are ample precedents for that kind of liability. My own modest researches in this matter have produced 19 statutes, and it may interest hon. Members opposite to know that the great majority of them were passed by Governments prior to the war.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The learned Attorney-General has referred to directors. He does, I am sure, appreciate that this Clause also covers general managers, secretaries or other similar persons.
§ The Attorney-General
Certainly; the general manager is very often the alter ego of the company itself. It seems to us—and I adhere most firmly to this view—that with the increasing use of the machinery of incorporation it becomes increasingly important that those who are actively concerned in the administration of the company should be liable when their companies commit criminal offences, unless they can show that the matter was quite outside their province, or that if it was within their province they had taken all reasonable steps to prevent the offence from being committed. We cannot effectively enforce the criminal law in relation to companies unless we can make the directors or the general manager or the people actively concerned in the administration and management of the company liable for the offences that may be committed.
I was asked by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) and other hon. Members about the position in regard to the onus of proof. There again, as with regard to the question of automatic penalties, I agree in principle with a great deal that has been said. It is in general a perfectly sound, desirable and, 983 indeed, important principle of our criminal law that the burden of proof should be upon the prosecution, but I think that it has always been recognised—and there are many statutory precedents for it—that where the facts that might disprove guilt are peculiarly within the knowledge of the defendant, the onus must be cast upon the defendant to establish them. That is doubly the case where the instrument—in this case the motor vehicle—in connection with which the offence is committed is solely within the control of the person who is charg,ed with the commission of the offence. If that exception to the general principle about the burden of proof were not applied, some parts of our criminal law would be quite unenforceable, and manifestly the scheme of this Bill would be quite unenforceable because when people come to commit black market offences and fill their cars with petrol to which they are not entitled, they do not, as a rule, direct publicity to it. They do not do it in the light of day with police witnesses present or other law-abiding citizens who may give evidence against them, and one has to throw the onus on them to show that, if commercial petrol is found in their tanks, they have exercised reasonable care to prevent it from getting there.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Suppose that a reputable person, in whose car petrol was found, merely said: "I swear on oath that I do not know how that petrol came into my tank "—would it be open to the court to acquit him?
§ The Attorney-General
It would largely depend on the view the court took as to his credibility. I dare say that he would be asked where he had last put fuel in the tank, and whether he took any precautions to see that the pump from which he obtained the petrol was marked in the way pumps will have to be marked under this Bill. He might also be asked whether someone else had been using his car in the meantime. If, in the end, the court believed him, it would be for the court to say whether he had established the defence left open to him under the provisions of the Bill. In the end, it really comes down to the question of whether the court believes, on his oath, the motorist who gives evidence and an account of how he came by his petrol, where he bought it, what coupons he 984 surrendered, and his ability to show that the evidence was consistent with the quantity of petrol left in his tank.
§ Mr. Blackburn
What about the case where there is a reasonable doubt? If a reasonable doubt is raised by the accused, then, in accordance with every tradition of British law, he is entitled to be acquitted. Under Clause 2, if there is a reasonable doubt in favour of the accused, the man is still convicted;
§ The Attorney-General
I do not take that view of the Clause. The matter is entirely in the hands of the court. The onus is cast on the defendant to prove that he had taken precautions, and the court will decide whether he is an honest witness. Having heard the whole evidence, they will come to the conclusion whether an offence was committed.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Will the Attorney-General be good enough to back that opinion with precedents on the point, because I believe the opinion he has now given to be wrong?
§ The Attorney-General
I can assure my hon. Friend that there are abundant precedents for this kind of Clause. We were discussing one of these precedents a few days ago. There is the precedent under the Coal Mines Act, 1911, where, in a number of substantial offences, the mine owners are responsible, unless they can show that they have taken all reasonable steps. It is almost the same language as we have used in this case.
§ The Attorney-General
The language is very similar. We say:that he did not neglect to take any step which in the circumstances he might reasonably have been expected to take to prevent the acquisition of the petrol.There are a number of other cases.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Where we should like to see the word "reasonably" is in relation to the word "prove," so that the Subsection would read: "To raise reasonable grounds for believing that…"
§ The Attorney-General
We shall, no doubt, have an opportunity to discuss that point on Committee. That, I think, would open the door very wide to evasions, and 985 we have to face the possibility that weak benches might not give effective enforcement to this Measure. I can assure my hon. Friend that there are substantial precedents for this, and that this is the usual kind of Clause we have seen over the course of years. There are, for instance, precedents in the cases of being found with housebreaking implements at night; possession of explosives; unlawful possession of goods recently stolen, and a number of other quite ordinary cases which are cropping up frequently, where, because the facts are essentially in the knowledge of the person charged and cannot be proved affirmatively by the police, the onus of proof is thrown on the defendant.
I now come to the last point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Daventry, and that is in regard to the definition of private motor vehicles. That is quite clearly a matter which may give rise to some difficulties. Indeed, we anticipated that the wording might give rise to anomalies, and that is the reason we thought it appropriate to leave this matter to be dealt with by regulation; then, as anomalies arise, they can be dealt with and provided for by amending the regulations. The regulations are, of course, as statutory instruments, subject to challenge in the House. What we contemplate, in regard to dual-purpose vehicles, is that we shall deal with this class of vehicle in the same way as it is dealt with at present for the purposes of issuing petrol coupons. Some dual-purpose vehicles are licensed under the Finance Act, 1920, for goods and for private use. In that case, if they also have a "C" class carrier's licence, they receive what are called "X" coupons.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has a "C" class carrier's licence.
§ The Attorney-General
It may be that the right hon. Gentleman has committed an offence which we shall have to look into. In future, he will draw commercial petrol for that kind of vehicle.
§ The Attorney-General
An opportunity will arise for dealing with the definition of private vehicles when the regulations are made.
The Attorney-General says it is intended to define private vehicles in the regulations, and that these regulations can be amended. He will know, of course, that they cannot be amended by this House. Will he, therefore, consider tabling the definition before the Committee stage, so that the House will have an opportunity to discuss the matter and to make deletions, if necessary?
§ The Attorney-General
That would be a very difficult thing to do, but if anomalies or difficulties arise in the working of the scheme, the Government will certainly submit a fresh set of regulations to get rid of them. That is why we thought it better not to deal with a matter of that sort in the body of the Bill.
I hope I have now dealt with the main and substantial points. A number of other detailed matters were raised, and these we can discuss during the Committee stage. In the meantime, I cannot do better, in commending this Bill, than remind the House of, and adopt for myself, the last paragraph of the Russell Vick report, because it is in this spirit that we ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading and to assist in the implementation of this scheme:We embarked upon this inquiry as representatives of a much interested public. We should like to add a personal word in conclusion. Honesty cannot be universally enforced by regulations. The black market not only in petrol but in any other commodity begins and must end with the man in the street. It is not enough to point to flagrant cases and disclaim one's own responsibility. At no time in our history was it ever more important than it is today to conserve our resources. We believe that the proposals we have made, if adopted, would go a long way to preserve the available petrol supplies for honest motorists; it will then remain for the motoring public to play their part to make the scheme a success.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Am I to understand that the Government have not considered any positive means of withdrawing unused coupons?
§ The Attorney-General
I had intended to deal with that point, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will acquit me of any discourtesy. It seems to us, if I may say so without offence, that the scheme suggested by the hon. Gentleman would be hopelessly impracticable from an administrative point of view. But even if it were not, how would it prevent the continuance of the black market? The hon. Member suggested that the 1s. 2d. per gallon tax on petrol, instead of being paid when the petrol is purchased, should be paid when the coupons were acquired. If people are now prepared to purchase petrol coupons in the black market, they would be prepared to continue to purchase them, and pay the extra 1s. 2d. for them, knowing that they would not have to pay that 1s. 2d. when they went to the pump to buy their petrol. We have considered all the possible alternatives so far as they occur to us, but we do not think the hon. Gentleman's scheme is a possible alternative to the proposals contained in the Bill.
§ Committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tomorrow. — [Mr. Collindridge.]