National Registration Bill.

Orders of the Day — Ways and Means. – in the House of Commons on 5th September 1939.

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Considered in Committee.

[Sir Dennis Herbert in the Chair.]

CLAUSE 1 (Establishment of National Register.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

4.35p.m.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Gledhill Mr Gilbert Gledhill , Halifax

Is it the intention that when this Bill is passed, those people who are over military age need not regard themselves as being liable for any work until they are called upon? There are many people who are over military age who want to do something, and I should like to know what is the intention.

4.36p.m.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

No, Sir, that is not an accurate statement of our intention. The object of this Bill is to ascertain the manpower and woman-power of this country and the manner in which it could be best used. Under the Military Service Act, which this House passed, it is quite clearly the intention of the Government to proceed in an ordered way with the calling up of men for the armed services of the Crown, but when this Bill is passed the position will not be that everyone may sit still and wait until he is notified for service, either with the armed Forces or in some other form. Citizens should continue to exercise that initiative which has been so strikingly shown up to the present.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 2— (Duties of Registrar-General.)

Motion made, and Question proposed "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

4.37 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke

I want to make a suggestion with a view to improving the efficacy of national registration. The Clause says that the Registrar-General is for that purpose to make arrangements for the preparation and issue of the necessary forms and instructions and for the collection or reception of forms when filled in. My suggestion, which arises out of our experience in the trade union movement, would involve a little additional work, but I think that additional work would be well repaid. In 1922 my union was involved in a six months' lockout, and in 1927 and in 1930 we went through a great slump. The result was that there were thousands of highly-skilled engineers and others in this country who were forced into small businesses, insurance work, and other callings. I suggest that when the Registrar is preparing his forms, instead of providing for only one answer to the question about a person's occupation, he should ask for at least two—the occupation of the person at the present time and any occupation in which the person may be skilled. We want to organise the manhood and womanhood of this country in such a way as to obtain the best possible results. I am convinced that there is a great reservoir of skilled and semi-skilled labour available, and we ought to have a record of it, so that it may be tapped when the emergency demands. For instance, I have a friend who is a professional footballer, but who is also a draughtsman. When his registration is taken, the probability is that he would describe himself as "professional footballer." This is only giving a concrete example of the need for at least two answers to be given. Anyone who follows the daily newspapers will see advertisements for draughtsmen, and we ought to be bringing these men out from the different ways in which they are obtaining their livelihood in order that they can be put to employment to suit the nation's demands better than at present.

4.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Kirkwood Mr David Kirkwood , Dumbarton District of Burghs

There is certainly no shortage of skilled labour at the moment. It is true that between 1920 and 1922, because of the conditions that prevailed in the engineering industry, when the wages of highly skilled engineers were reduced below the level of many scavengers, some of the best engineers cleared out altogether. There were drivers and conduc- tors of trams and buses who got higher wages at those occupations than they did as skilled engineers. Our idea now is that we may be able to reach those people and find out whether they are skilled in any other occupation than that which they perform at present so that the nation may get the best results possible. It has been stated in this House time and again by persons in responsible positions that there was a shortage of skilled engineers, and to make that statement at the time it was made, in 1934, was advertising to our enemies something which was not true. It appeared on the face of things that there was a shortage of skilled engineers, but the powers-that-be know perfectly well that we have more skilled engineers than any two Powers put together. This is a proposal to get them registered so that we may know where our skilled men are, and I hope the Minister will pay attention to our request.

4.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

There is more in this than I thought at first. We know of people who, through stress of circumstances, have had to take other occupations and cannot revert to their original occupations. A man who has to fill up his record may think that he must put his latest occupation which is not the one at which he is best. If there are any means by which you can get fuller information, it will be useful for the State and it will give a certain satisfaction to the man himself to think that there is some chance of getting back to his original occupation. If a method could be devised, without overloading the statement, it would be a very wise suggestion for the Minister to examine and see whether something can be done.

4.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I will certainly examine it and see what can be done in that direction. The form will be left at the man's house and it can be studied until the census officer comes to collect it, and it is possible for the man to discuss with him anything that he has set down. I hope it will not be taken in the country that a. skilled engineer is debarred from offering his services merely because he has not entered himself as such in some census or other. I am sure that the initiative which has been a very marked feature of the present crisis will continue, and that a man who is both a professional footballer and a skilled draughtsman will not wait until he has entered both on the national register and then been called up but will consider for himself whether there is an opportunity of using the skill that the country more greatly needs, and will offer that skill without necessarily going through the machinery of registration and subsequent calling up.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

I am wondering what is in the right hon. Gentleman's mind in opposing this idea.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I am not opposing the idea. I said definitely that I would examine it and I said I hoped they would not wait till they were called up, because that might not be the way that the opportunity would arise. I hope very much that the hon. Member will not find it necessary to pursue his argument on the line that I have opposed the idea.

4.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

We have done a lot of registering in recent years and surely we ought to be able to learn from our experience. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the necessity for initiative, but the very registration that he spoke about, which ought to create initiative, has, on the part of Government Departments definitely and distinctly to my own knowledge been responsible for preventing that initiative being used. What my hon. Friend has said is perfectly true, that a man who is recorded at an Employment Exchange has been refused time and time again within the last six months an opportunity to exercise the skill that he has learned previously because he is registered in the job that he is at present following. We ought not to lose sight of the experience that has been gained as a result of registering. I am not opposed to registering as registration, but 1 want it to be useful, and I cannot see any purpose in building up a register unless it is to be used to the best advantage. We can, if we are not careful, prevent a person doing the very thing he wants to do, which will be most beneficial to the nation.

4.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hastings Lees-Smith Mr Hastings Lees-Smith , Keighley

Although the right hon. Gentleman welcomed the suggestion in general terms, he gave us no idea how he is going to get it carried out. I should like him to tell us in rather more than the few words that he used what he has in his mind. He said the form would be left at the house for a week and could be discussed. Has he got it in mind to give instructions to those who take the census to bear this point in mind and definitely ask whether a man has had previous occupation and make arrangements that he should definitely enter into it?

4.49 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke

We are very much concerned about this. We find that, when a man is once classified in a particular occupation, he has great difficulty in getting out of it. All we are asking is that, instead of there being one column, there should be two, so that a person can insert what he is engaged on at present, but there should be an alternative so that he could say, "I can do so-and-so" and those responsible for compiling this can say, "We have so many people engaged in so-and-so but if you want to call upon them for other services you can ask that they shall be employed in those services.''

4.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alfred Denville Mr Alfred Denville , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

I should like to support the suggestion made by hon. Members. I cannot for the life of me see what objection there can be to asking a man what alternative service he could offer to the State. I have in mind dozens of cases of men who are to-day in occupations which they had taken through the force of circumstances, and which they would willingly give up in order to go back to their own occupations in a time of national emergency like the present. There are many thousands of people in the entertainment industry who came out of certain industries and entered occupations in picture houses, theatres and music-halls of this country. I have in mind a personal friend who came to me the other day and said, "I should like to offer my services." I said to him jocularly, "You are no good. You are a common or garden comedian and no good to anybody. "And his reply was," I am a first-rate draughtsman." Is such a man to put on his registration paper, "comedian," "actor," "picture-house attendant," "cinematograph operator,'' "scenic artist "or" wardrobe maker," or anything of that sort, when he might put down a trade which might be of great benefit to the country at the present moment? I hope that the Minister will consider that it is very fair for the Committee to ask that every man and woman should be given the chance of offering their services to the country in any capacity whatever at the present time.

4.52 p.m.

Photo of Mr Wilfrid Burke Mr Wilfrid Burke , Burnley

May I ask the Minister to see to it that, if he puts down any alteranative question, it should not be made obligatory for an answer to be given? While it may be true that men have escaped from the mines—and I use the word "escaped" advisedly—to some other job, we do not want these men necessarily to be brought back into the mines. I see as much danger as advantage in the proposal. I hope, therefore, that when the Minister examines it, it will be done from the point of view that, while people may be asked to give any information about occupations for which they have been trained, it should be made perfectly clear that the answer to the question is not obligatory.

4.53 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

I saw in a book, a psychological study, that in England about one man in 10 and one woman in six who are regularly employed have an alternative occupation for which they are competent and fairly well trained; so that this is a manageable proposition. In my own constituency, which has benefitted immensely from the vast transfer of men and women from the North to the South during the past 10 years, I reckon from a sound knowledge of them that about half of them are not following the occupations for which they were trained and habituated in early years. Nearly all of them have two thoroughly useful occupations, both of which are likely to be of national advantage. I therefore hope that the Minister will see his way to devise, with the Registrar-General, some form which will make duplicate registration possible.

4.54 p.m.

Photo of Mr Samuel Viant Mr Samuel Viant , Willesden West

There is much to be said for the point which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke), and I want to make an Appeal to the Minister in this regard. If a further reply is to be given, it should be of an optional character. I know men associated with the building industry, which could employ a greater number than are available at the present time. During the period of the trade depres- sion these men went in other occupations, and they are now doing tolerably well. If it is thought that the Government are seeking this information with the idea of imposing industrial conscription they will not get the replies, and it is only reasonable to expect that the men will not give replies. They have not been treated by the State in the past as they ought to have been, and so the Government need to be careful in regard to the manner in which they seek the information. It should be made optional for the individual to reply to the second question. I say definitely, in spite of the difficulties with which we might be confronted, that I would not be a party to anything in the form of industrial conscription. The best results will be obtained by voluntary effort in this regard. The information is needed at the present moment, but the introduction of anything that savours of industrial conscription will split the country from top to bottom. There is no doubt about that, and therefore, the Government must be careful, if they seek this extra information, that it must be of a voluntary character, and made optional whether the individual replies or not. The spirit in the country is good, and the trade union movement is behind the Government, but, as I have already said, anything that savours of industrial conscription will split the country from top to bottom.

4.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke) and the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) have shown that this matter is not as simple as might appear. I thought I had met the Committee when I said they would naturally desire that any information as to subsidiary occupation which individuals were willing to volunteer for should be collected if possible, but clearly it should not be a compulsory question. The offer which I made to the Committee does, I think, meet the sense of the Committee as expressed, not merely on one side, but on both sides of the Committee. There is a statutory question put down in the Schedule to which an answer must be given. Obviously we cannot alter that. But I shall certainly undertake either by broadcast or through the enumerators to make it clear that, if a person has other skill which he desires to offer, he should let it be known, but it will not be a compulsory question. With that undertaking perhaps the Committee will be able to pass this Clause.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clauses 3 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 6 — (Identity cards.)

4.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

I beg to move, in page 4, line 23, to leave out from "uniform," to "may," in line 24.

This Clause deals with the identity card which each person must have if the Bill becomes law, and for the purpose of having a check on the identity card Subsection (4) lays down who must be a person to challenge or demand the production of this card. First of all, it says a constable in uniform. We do not object to that, because we have great respect for a policeman in uniform and recognise his authority. It goes on to say: or any person authorised for the purpose under the said regulations. That at once raises doubt in our minds as who this class of person will be. Will the challenge in regard to the identity cards be made in the street or at the home? That is a point on which we want to be quite clear. Let me give an instance of what happened last night. We know that at practically every street corner men are stationed, wearing helmets, watching what is taking place. It almost appears as though we were under martial law for the time being. Last night when I was going up Kingsway a man in front of me stopped two young women and said: "Have you your gas masks? "I wondered what his intention was, because I did not know of any authority having been given to anybody to ask such a question. The man was not wearing a helmet. The two young women stopped, and after having apparently decided that it was a bit of bluff, they passed on. That incident made me think that we must be careful not to give authority to persons who are not recognised. If we do so, there will be a state of consternation as to the right of challenge.

In Sub-section (4) it might appear that the power of challenge can be put into the hands of persons not in uniform. One wonders whether that will be so. If the challenge is to be exercised by persons not in authority, there may be many scenes. I should not like anyone to stop me and challenge me. I should question whether he had the right to do so, and there would probably be trouble for the man if he had not the right. If, however, a constable stopped me I should recognise at once that he had authority, and I should do what I could to meet his demands. I should like to know exactly what the Sub-section means, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will clear our minds on the subject. If it should be necessary for anyone except a constable to have the authority to challenge, I want the authority to be narrowed down as much as possible, and that the person authorised should at once be able to prove his right to make the challenge. I should like to know definitely where the challenge can be made. I should prefer that it be made in the home. Otherwise, difficulty may be created, and there may be antagonism created in the minds of the people, although they are ready to help the Government in regard to the matter.

5.4 p.m.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) for giving me the opportunity of making this matter clear. Whilst we have in mind the constable in uniform, we want to go a little further. The local registration officer ought also to have the power. I am anxious to ensure that no unauthorised person shall be enabled to ask for the card, and therefore I am willing to move a manuscript Amendment which will, I think, go a long way to meet the point. The words of the Clause are "if unable to produce." I, propose to amend that so that it will read "fails to produce." That would mean that if anybody challenges a, person to produce a card he would not necessarily have to produce the card there and then. He would be able to produce it at a time and place to be laid down in the regulations. In the regulations it will be laid down that he shall have 48 hours in which to produce the card at the appointed place. If the demand had been made by a constable in uniform, the person would have to produce it at a police station in regard to which there could be no misunderstanding. If the demand had been made by a registration officer, the card would have to be produced at the office of that officer. It is, however, impossible to put all these things in the Bill itself. For instance, it might be necessary for an embarkation officer to be authorised to have the card produced at a dock. We shall make it clear that when the challenge is made, whether by a person in uniform or a registration officer, there will be two clear days in which to produce the card at a recognised place.

Photo of Mr Morgan Price Mr Morgan Price , Forest of Dean

Would special constables have the power to challenge?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I should think so. If any constable in uniform asks for the card, the person will still have the alternative of presenting it within the next two days at the police station.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

The answer is quite satisfactory, and I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 4, line 27 leave out '' is unable," and insert, "fails" — [Mr. Elliot.]

Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell us whether it is proposed to add an index number to each identity card. It would greatly increase the efficiency of this national registration if every person on his card has a distinctive index letter and number.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I dealt with that matter yesterday. For index there will be four letters like A, B, C and D, and two numbers like 12. That will give complete identification to each individual in 46,000,000 people.

5.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

While I am not anxious to oppose the Clause, I would ask that its administration should be carried out with some leniency. As I indicated in commenting upon a Bill that we passed yesterday, the British people have never taken very kindly to registration of any particular kind, and it seems to me that the provision with regard to the keeping of the identity card and the penalties which will follow if it happens to be lost, will need to be administered — I was going to say in a Christian spirit. I am afraid that it is a little bit out of harmony with the times to talk about the Christian spirit, except when we are dealing with our own people. Those of us who have had experience of the working of the National Health Insurance Act know how easy it is for a card if it is not constantly required, to be misplaced, and for more than 48 hours, without any intention to deceive. The penal Clauses. of the Bill are evidently put there for the purpose of dealing with the individual who is intending to deceive, either by withholding information or utilising the provisions that are made in a detrimental way.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Perhaps it will save time if I say that there is an Amendment on the Paper in regard to the penal Clauses, considerably reducing the penalties, and I am willing to accept that Amendment.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. That will cut short my speech. I should, however, like to know who will be responsible for the loss of a card that belongs to an evacuee. The national register will be taken and the identity card will be made out. I happen to have in my home at the present time five individuals all of whom are of different names. Who is to be responsible for the card of the child who has come to the household for a period? Is it the responsibility of the mother or the father in the house? Am I responsible for the card of a child in my home for a period? The knowledge we are requiring is for a given purpose, and I should like to see the penalties in regard to a child under age cut out altogether. I have a grown-up daughter and for the first time for two years she required to visit the doctor, but neither the doctor, myself nor her mother could find her medical card. She could not have presented the card to a police officer within 48 hours, and if it had happened to have been an identity card somebody would have been liable for something. Our people do not take kindly to the penalisation of mistakes which are genuine or due to a little carelessness. I plead that there should be a moratorium for 12 months so far as penalties are concerned, in order that our people may become accustomed to be known by a registered card.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 8.—(Offences and penalties.)

5.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Dingle Foot Mr Dingle Foot , Dundee

I beg to move, in page 6, line 8, at the end, to insert:

  1. "(i) in the case of an offence under Subsection (3) of this Section, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month or to a fine not exceeding five pounds, or to both such imprisonment and such fine; and
  2. (ii) in the case of any other offence.—
I understand that the Minister is prepared to accept this Amendment. It has been pointed out that the offences under this Bill differ widely in their variety. No doubt heavy penalties should be provided where you have a case of deliberate forgery of an identity card, but it seems to some of us that the penalties in the Bill, going up to two years imprisonment, are altogether out of proportion in the case of someone who merely fails to give an answer to a policeman or to observe some regulation. I am proposing that for these minor offences the penalties should be limited to a month's imprisonment or a fine of five pounds, or both imprisonment and fine. I want to thank the Minister for accepting the Amendment, and as I do not suppose I shall be speaking again on these proceedings I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that he may be coupled with another great Conservative leader whose slogan was "register, register."

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I propose to ask the House to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

I hope it will be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to meet the point made by the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson). If he would put in the words "if any person fails without reasonable cause," I think it would meet the case, and they could be put in without weakening the purpose of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I think it is best to leave the matter to the discretion of the courts. If we put in the words "without reasonable cause, "they might actually have a contrary effect to that which we desire.

5.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

While thanking the Minister for accepting the Amendment to this Clause I am anxious to prevent, if I can, the Bill, which is clearly an emergency Bill, being utilised in the courts for what I call the purpose of collecting money in fines. The Bill may be necessary for the prosecution of the war. It may be that there is a necessity for compiling a register, but here you have the possibility of people being stopped and asked whether they have or have not lost their cards. You may challenge a dozen people and you may find one who has committed an offence. It will not help a scrap to win the war, but there is the possibility of penalising somebody who is perfectly innocent because we have passed a law for another purpose entirely. If there was some way in which the spirit of the Bill could be maintained, then what I am thinking about could not happen. If the spirit behind the Bill is carried forward into the law courts, what I am suggesting could not possibly occur. I am not suggesting that it will happen, but it can and may. The police can buttonhole 20 individuals and ask them to produce their identity cards, and it may be possible to collect for the State as a consequence, and due to the carelessness of individuals, a certain amount of money.

It is not going to be easy to pay for the war and I hope we are not going to pay for it in that way. I have had two years' experience as a magistrate. I do not want to cast any reflections, but I have been a party on more than one occasion to fining motorists who in my judgment have been subject to something similar to what I am suggesting might happen in the case of identity cards. I do not want what has happened to motorists to be extended to the people of this country. Jokes may appear out of order, but I will illustrate my point by a joke. We used to have a button club in our district, and the idea was that every member of the club should always carry his button with him. If he could not produce it when challenged by another member it cost him 3d., which went towards a picnic. Some members made a practice of asking other members "Where is your button?" In nine cases out of 10 they had their button, but if the tenth one had not it cost him 3d. That principle applied to the population of this country is possible under this Bill. The power to do it is there, but it should not be used and I am asking that it should not be used. I do not know any way by which the spirit of the words of an Act of Parliament can be carried forward into the courts, but it is because of the experience I have had in connection with words in another Act of Parliament that I am concerned about this matter.

Some years ago an Act was passed which, among other things, set out to define what was a cop, tube or bobbin. Those who were responsible for the Bill when it was passing through the House thought they knew what was meant. There was no intention to penalise anybody, but it cost us £850 to get a definition, and that definition was entirely different from what had been intended by the House. I do not want that sort of thing to happen in this case. The powers are there, and I do not want to have to come to the House and protest against the way in which such powers are being used. I do not oppose the Clause, but I appeal that instructions should be given to the police with regard to these identity cards, so that innocent people will not be pestered.

5.21 p.m.

Photo of Mr Denis Pritt Mr Denis Pritt , Hammersmith North

I should like briefly to reinforce the appeals that have been made to the Minister that some such words as "without reasonable excuse" should be inserted. It is not always easy to get into the administration of justice the spirit which the Minister is now showing. There are many very good police officials in control of prosecutions who are a little apt to say, "An offence has been committed, and, therefore, it must come before the court." It is a little easy, in times of panic especially, for magistrates rather to run away with themselves and to inflict penalties because an offence has been committed. I suggest for the consideration of the Minister some such words as "without reasonable excuse," or "without reasonable excuse shown." Such an Amendment could be made on the Report stage. If this were done, it would mean that in any case where there really was a proper reason for prosecution, the person would never be able to escape, because there would be on him the burden of proof and he would have to show reasonable excuse; but it would also have the effect that if some police officer said, "This person may be perfectly innocent, but we really do want to give some notice to the people in this district to be a little more careful," the solicitor on that side would say, "You had better not do it in this particular case, because in this case the man has honestly lost his card, and if you try to get an example out of it, it will be the wrong way round, because the magistrates will be compelled to acquit him."

5.23 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

I want to draw the attention of the Minister to what can easily happen if this provision is operated without amendment. If the Minister has read the newspapers to-day, he will have seen a report of a case before a bench of magistrates where the person who was responsible for bringing the case adopted an attitude of the most rigid character and the chairman of the bench had to say to him, "We will decide what is to be done; you will not decide." That person insisted that the letter, and not the spirit, of the law should be carried out, whereas the chairman of the bench wanted to operate the spirit as well as the letter of the law. There is always that danger. During the last War, in some districts there was an entirely different spirit adopted with regard to certain offences arising out of the emergency legislation from that which prevailed in other districts. We want above everything else to avoid any possibility of causing a situation in which anybody, without taking into consideration the spirit and conditions in which this legislation is passed, simply demands that the letter of the law shall be applied. There is another matter to which I want to refer. If a fine is imposed under this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will the instalment system in Scotland apply to such a fine? I was very much struck by the remarks of my hon. Friend who said that this Bill could be made a means of collecting money to assist in the conduct of the war. In Scotland we have a very fine system for causing a very widespread collection of fines from the population. Fines can be paid by instalments in Scotland; does that system apply in this case?

5.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

In reply to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), I can give an assurance that if the instal- ment system applies generally in Scotland, it would apply to fines under this Bill. As regards the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) and the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) about the spirit in which the Bill can be interpreted, I would ask them to note that in amending "is unable '' to "fails," I did not even require that a reasonable excuse should be tendered. I did not speak of a man who failed without reasonable excuse; I referred to anybody who failed; that is to say, a constable cannot say, "Have you a reasonable excuse?" but merely, "Have you an identity card?" If the person has not, the constable has no right to challenge him as to whether or not he has left it at home. If the provision were amended to read, "fails without reasonable excuse," it would put into the law something which I have withdrawn from it by my amendment. It is my intention that the Bill, when it becomes an Act, should be administered in a reasonable spirit, and I shall do my best in the regulations to see that the requirements are such as can be reasonably asked of citizens in admittedly difficult times.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

I think that the Minister has not quite grasped the point we are making. The question does not arise at the point where the officer asks for the card, but at the point where the offence is committed. Sub-section (3) states: If any person fails to comply with any requirement duly made under this Act …

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

That is a general power. The particular instance which I gave was merely an instance of the spirit in which I was trying to meet the Committee. I think the words "fails to comply" in that Sub-section may be read as the hon. Member has mentioned, but I do not wish to put in qualifying words, because honestly I think that discretion in these matters must be left to the courts. If a person fails to comply, then the court may impose certain penalties—

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

The amount of the penalty is left to the discretion of the court. 5.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

I still think that the point has not been met. As far as the spirit of the administration is concerned, I think everybody will agree that what the right hon. Gentleman has said goes all the way, but what those who criticise the Sub-section have in mind is that it ought not to be an offence merely to fail to comply with something when you have a reasonable excuse for that failure. The Clause leaves no discretion to the courts as to the conviction. If someone has been told to produce a card at the nearest police station within 48 hours and fails to do so, then the offence has been committed and the court has no discretion except to say what penalty, if any, is to be imposed. The court could do nothing but record the conviction and impose some penalty even if only a nominal one. We suggest that where the onus of showing that there is reasonable excuse has been discharged, the court ought not to be compelled to record a conviction.

Photo of Mr Nevil Beechman Mr Nevil Beechman , St Ives

Would the Minister consider adopting words such as "neglect to produce"?

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

I am afraid the hon. Member is now dealing with a matter which has already been dealt with.

5.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

I am particularly anxious about the power that is being given in this Clause and I would put this question to the Minister. If a house is blown up in an air raid and all the identity cards in that house are destroyed and if an individual ordinarily resident in that house, who was not there at the time of the air raid, was challenged on the following day by a police officer to produce his identity card, is there power to summon that individual and record a conviction against him? If so, it may be law but is it common sense?

5.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

There are innumerable dilemmas in which one might be placed as a result of enemy action of the kind just indicated by the hon. Member. For instance in such circumstances the housing regulations could not be complied with; but does the hon. Member suggest that it is likely that a housing inspector would go round after an air raid and say, "The overcrowding regulations are being contravened here because in this house which formerly had one person to a room there are nine persons in one room. Therefore, I will bring you before the court and convict you, because the overcrowding statute remains the law of the land"? Innumerable other cases of that kind could be imagined. Nobody must live in a house which has not a proper water supply and proper arrangements for storing food and, in all those respects, it might be said, after air-raid damage, that an offence was being committed. But does anybody imagine that after an air raid, police officers will go round the town taking up everybody whom they find living under conditions which do not comply with any of these statutes, or that it would be possible to get convictions in such cases? Similarly, if, in those circumstances, they went about demanding that people should produce identity cards, which in the nature of things could not be produced, can anyone imagine any court entertaining a prosecution brought on such grounds? Can we imagine any constable doing such a thing? We must assume that in exceptional circumstances these statutes and the old statutes as well, will be administered reasonably and with discretion.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clauses 9 to 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered; read the Third time, and passed.