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Tuesday, 17 July 1906


Mr LONSDALE (New England) . - The Attorney-General stated that he could not see any difference between an importer who committed treason against the community being allowed to escape imprisonment for his first offence, and a person who made a wilfully false statement having to pay a penalty of only £100, and being allowed to escape imprisonment. In the first case the reason why there should be no imprisonment for a first offence is that this is novel legislation - of a character entirely different from any which has governed commerce in the past, and the importer might act unwittingly. It was felt that in the circumstances he should be given full notice, and that no verv drastic punishment should follow a first offence of the kind. But under clause 2i we are dealing with a man who deliberately and wilfully makes a false statement, and there is no reason why he should be given any particular notice. A man who comes forward to make a statement of this kind which he knows to be false, deliberately and wilfully makes a false statement, and in such a case it would appear that the punishment should be governed bv the enormity of the offence. The Attorney-General went on to say that the statement made is one which the Minister can test, and that he will not put the Act into force unless he is satisfied that there is good ground1 for so doing. The honorable and learned gentleman's faith in the Minister of Trade and Customs is much greater than is mine. I judge the Minister only by our experience of his actions on previous occasions. We must allow our experience to govern us in these matters. Unless we have a strong recantation from a person who has offended, we are justified in concluding that what he has done in the nast he will be prepared to do in the future. As in the past the Minister of Trade and Customs has put the law into force without any consideration except for one side, we may reasonably expect that the honorable gentleman will put this law into force in the future against these treasonable importers. In connexion with these matters there is no doubt that strong preventive means should be adopted. I am not quite sure that legal, sentences always prevent people from committing offences, but when people do commit offences their punishment should have some relation to the nature of the offence committed. To make a wilfully false statement, which has the effect of stopping a man's trade completely, and of injuring him largely in his business, must be admitted to be an offence of very great magnitude. and one which should be visited with severe punishment. The Attorney-General has stated that the Justice can five costs against such a person, as well as fine him .-£100. What costs? I take it that the justice is not empowered under this clause to say, "You have stopped this man's business for one, two, or three months; as a consequence, he has lost -£2,000 or £3,000. and therefore you must pay him that £2,000 or £'.000."


Mr Isaacs - The business is not stopped


Mr LONSDALE - I say that publication of the certificate of the .ComptrollerGeneral in such a case may stop the importer's business. I am suggesting only what can happen, and what I feel pretty sure will happen, under this Bill, unless the Minister changes his mind. There is nothing in the sub-clause to which the Attorney-General has referred to meet that difficulty. The honorable and learned gentleman knows that the costs which can be recovered are only the usual law costs of barristers, solicitors, and witnesses, and there is nothing in the clause to empower the Justices to award damages against the person whose wilfully false statement has prevented a man's business from being carried on. If it be contended that that is not perjury, then I think that every statement required by the Act should be made upon oath. I take it that we should not lightly allow any man's business to be shut up or to be interfered with on the statement of a single individual, and that, therefore, when a man makes a statement of that kind, he should be called upon to make it in the most solemn manner possible. I am not here to defend the taking of oaths, because I believe that a man who will wilfully and deliberately tell a lie will swear falsely. If I had to try a person upon the evidence of a man whom I would not believe when he told me a thing in the ordinary way, I would not believe him when he made his statements upon oath. I do not believe that the taking of an oath has any controlling power in respect of many individuals. The only advantage in the svstem is that there is a certain punishment attached to perjury, and that some men may be deterred thereby from making a false statement. I submit to the AttorneyGeneral that if the Bill does not make a wilfully false statement perjury it ought to do so. It ought to compel all this information to be given toy means of a statutory declaration, and in the usual form. I hope that we shall at any rate increase the penalty. It would only mean a fine not exceeding £100. Under the provision a man might be fined £1. The Justice wouldhave to decide as to the heinousness of an offence, and he would fix the amount of the penalty according to the enormitv of the offence. When the Bill was passing through Committee, we tried to get inserted a provision for the taking of a bond so that nobody could complain against an importer or anvbody else unless he had entered into a bond. We ought to have made that provision. In this case, a man might be put upby his employer to make a complaint for the purpose of injuring a competitor in trade. I have not very great faith in the nature of men who are continually wanting Government assistance. My experience of them is that their intense selfishness will lead them to do anything in order to attain their ends. They will lie, they will take every course that is vile in order to accomplish their purpose. I would do everything I could to prevent these men from seeking to destroy the competition which prevents them from robbing the public, as they now do by law. In this case, severe penalties should be provided for the commission of the offence, otherwise men of straw might be put up to lay the information. I do not think that we should allow the Bill to pass with all its power to prevent men from carrying on an honest business, and to abolish that competition which, at any rate, keeps somewhere within bounds protectionist manufacturers, who would screw the last shilling out of the unfortunate public. Men whom we look upon as being respectable ask for this kind of legislation in order that they may enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. In these circumstances, we should not act as is done in America, but we should allow competition to be as free as possible. And in cases where men make charges against others, the penalty should be extremely severe, so that nobody would make a complaint unless he was absolutely certain he was on the right track. I support the proposal for a recommittal of the clause.







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