§ Read 3a (according to Order) with the Amendments.
Clause 12 [Offences in relation to schemes]:
(4) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) of this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds, and a person guilty of any other offence under this section shall be liable—
§ 3.23 p.m.
LORD STONHAM moved in subsection (4) to leave out "one hundred pounds" (where those words occur a first time) and insert:
fifty pounds in the case of a first offence or one hundred pounds in the case of a second or subsequent offence".
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Amendment which stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Wise and myself, I hope it will not be regarded as necessary for me again to deploy the arguments which I used in support of the two rather similar Amendments which I moved in Committee on Tuesday. As your Lordships will be aware, in the Bill then are three different grades of penalty for offences of different gravity, and on Tuesday I moved two Amendments to reduce the maximum penalties in the case of the two lesser offences. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, in considering the arguments which were then put forward, suggested, without giving any undertaking, that it might be of advantage if he had time to consider them, and that is why the Amendment has been put down to-day.
§ Meanwhile, however, I also have considered what was said, in particular by noble Lords opposite, who, although generally supporting the idea that there should be lesser penalties, nevertheless suggested that my Amendments did not quite meet the case. In particular, the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, suggested that there should be a smaller maximum fine for a first offence, but for a second or subsequent offence the maximum fine should be greater, otherwise it might profit a person to keep on committing the offence for a small fine. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, agreed with me 1271 that offences under the particular subsection with which this Amendment deals would generally be offences of ignorance, which he said, of course, was no defence, but the offences under the next subsection would usually be deliberate. I accept that argument and I am no longer trying to press the point of my second Amendment on Tuesday, which was to remove the possibility of imprisonment for that offence. But I feel that the Amendment as it now stands, with a lower penalty for the first offence and a higher one for subsequent offences, meets the point and the general argument put forward on Tuesday; and I also believe would more nearly do justice to people who, as we recognise in many cases, do not keep books and who, in filling up forms, might possibly commit an offence of this kind, at least the first time, from inadvertence. I hope, therefore, that in this amended form the Government will welcome the Amendment and accept it. I beg to move.
Page 11, line 3, leave out ("one hundred pounds") and insert ("fifty pounds in the case of a first offence or one hundred pounds in the case of a second or subsequent offence.")—(Lord Stonham.)
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has put down this Amendment in this way, because to my mind it still leaves us with the disadvantage to which I drew attention during the Committee stage; that is, that it may well be that a person will find it to his advantage not to keep books, even if he has to pay an annual fine of £100 for not doing so. I think it would be no bad thing that for a second or subsequent offence the power of imprisonment should be held in reserve. On the other hand, for the offences under summary conviction I still feel that a sentence of imprisonment for a first offence is one which should not be prescribed. I wish, therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, had put down his Amendment in a different fashion.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, I said during the discussion on the penalty provisions of this clause during the Committee stage that I had some sympathy 1272 with the views that were expressed not only by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, but by my noble friends Lord Brocket and Lord Mansfield. The views, as I understood them then, were broadly that the penalties for the less serious offences—that is to say, those under Clause 12 (1), of failing to register and failing to keep records, and so on—might be thought excessive. I undertook to discuss this matter with my right honourable friend. I have done so and I can say that he is also sympathetic to this view. We have now before us—and I think we really must confine our attention to the Amendment that is before us in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—an Amendment which is designed to reduce the maximum penalty for a first offence under subsection (1) of Clause 12 from £100 to £50, but which would leave the maximum of £100 for subsequent offences. If it is your Lordships' wish that this Amendment should be made to the Bill, I am prepared to accept it. I can say that, in our opinion, it is correctly drafted and can be accepted into the Bill as it stands.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Earl Waldegrave.)
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I rise not for the purpose of obstructing the passage of this Bill but to raise a question of procedure. I have from time to time had occasion to make representations to your Lordships about the manner in which Bills come here and are disposed of without this House being given a reasonable opportunity of dealing with them and of carrying out its proper functions of going through the Bill, suggesting reasonable Amendments and having them properly discussed.
In the case of this Bill we had the Second Reading on March 7 and the Committee stage on March 15. I make no complaint about that: it allowed eight days in which to consider Amendments on the Committee stage. We had a fairly long and exhausting Committee stage. There were nine or ten Amendments, which were dealt with by the noble Earl, with his usual efficiency, ability and 1273 courtesy, and I make no complaint about the Committee stage of the Bill. But on the following day, when a number of matters were left over for consideration, certainly by my noble friends on this side of the House, we had the Report stage. And to-day, the day following, we have the Third Reading. That is not treating this House with proper consideration. If we are to have a Report stage at all, some time ought to elapse between the Committee stage and the Report stage. Likewise, in this House, where we are entitled to put down Amendments on Third Reading, there ought to be a reasonable time allowed before the Third Reading.
I do not know whether there is any great urgency about this Bill. I understand that the Government are anxious to get it passed in time to put it into operation on April 1. But, without going into the Bill in great detail, I do not understand why it is so important that it should come into operation on April 1. It might equally come into operation on May 1, without, I imagine, hurting anybody at all: and if we had had this extra month it would have enabled this House to perform its functions in a proper and seemly way. As it is, it is really making a mockery of these deliberations and, may I say, putting a very unfair burden on the limited number of individuals on this side of the House who have taken an interest in the Bill. The Committee stage was quite an arduous business, and to have the two following stages on succeeding days is really too much. I enter this protest in the hope that the Government will do everything they possibly can to enable this House to do its job properly, and to give adequate time for the various stages. I am not complaining of the outcome of this particular Bill, but I am using this as a case in point, where there ought to be more time. I hope that in future we shall not have occasion to complain of this sort of thing.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will realise, it is not my personal responsibility, and he was generous enough to say that. I should not like to express any opinion about this matter as an individual. The remarks which he has made and put so fairly, if I may say so, I will, of course, bring to the attention of my noble 1274 Leader, and I am very sorry that this difficult Bill has had to be hurried in these last days. I should like to say that we have done what we could within the programme set for us by higher authority, because we have even taken an Amendment on Third Reading to-day, and we have been able to discuss these matters fully. The point of April 1 is, of course, that it has been widely and for a long time publicised that my right honourable friends wanted to be able to receive applications for this new scheme as from April 1, when the Spring is beginning and the horticultural growing season is starting. I think that it is a suitable date to start a horticultural Bill. I will not say more about that, except that of course everything that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said will certainly be taken into consideration.
However, as this is the last opportunity for me to say anything about this Bill in your Lordships' House, I wonder if I may, with your permission, thank your Lordships for the most useful discussions that we have had in all stages of this Bill, short though they have been. We have not been able to go in some directions quite so far as some noble Lords opposite would have wished us to go, but I think I can fairly say that our differences, at any rate in the great majority of cases, have been differences only on points of detail. I hope—indeed, I believe—that I am not overstating the case if I say that this Bill will leave your Lordships' House as basically an agreed measure, which we hope and believe will not only afford real assistance to growers of horticultural crops in this country, but also help to lay the foundations for improved marketing and presentation of all horticultural products, whatever their origin, which are sold in this country. If our hopes are fulfilled, as I have every confidence they will be, this will surely come to be considered as a most important Statute.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.