asked the President of the Board of Trade whether enforcement officers are authorised to entice traders to sell goods against loose coupons; whether it is contrary to regulation to offer, as well as to accept, loose coupons; and will, he instruct enforcement officers to stop this improper practice?
My enforcement officers, have strict instructions not to entice traders to break the law. It is, in general, an offence to offer, as well as to accept, loose coupons. To ensure that retailers are complying with the law it is necessary for my officers, on occasions, to make test purchases, and, in appropriate cases, to prosecute if a contravention is discovered. In most cases, however, offences are dealt with by means of warnings.
While agreeing to a great extent with what my right hon. Friend says, am I to understand that he approves of agents provocateurs? In order to obtain a conviction, do not his officers commit an offence by seducing other people to commit an offence?
If my hon. Friend understands that, he has not understood my answer. What I said was that I had given express instructions—which I do not think were really necessary, but for safety I have given them—that there is to be no enticement to break the law. At the same time, there must be certain means of securing that the law is kept and that black-market operations conducted on the basis of loose coupons are held in check.
My right hon. Friend says that he has to take these means in order to check what he calls the black market, and does not that mean that his enforcement officers are committing an illegal offence in order to seduce shopkeepers also to commit an offence?
No, Sir, that is not so. My officers when they act under my instructions are covered. That is in the Defence Regulations. Further than that, there is a sharp distinction, which I endeavoured to draw in my answer, between enticing people to break the law and testing whether they are prepared to obey the law.