HC Deb 04 July 1860 vol 159 cc1372-8

Order for Committee read.

MR. SPOONER moved, that the House resolve into Committee on this Bill.


said, he desired to have some explanation of the purpose of the Bill, for it had passed through the second reading without notice. As he understood the Bill it would make it incumbent on all plumbers, blacksmiths, silversmiths, ironmongers, and on all men dealing in metal, to take out a licence, keep their books in a certain way, and submit their premises to regular inspection by the police. This was a very serious matter, and he could not help thinking that the Bill went further than his hon. Friend intended.


said, that as originally drawn the licences would have been necessary; but he should in Committee introduce an Amendment which would rectify that objection. The provisions of the measure would attach only to those persons who, in the opinion of the magistrates, were carrying on the business of marine storekeepers in an illegal manner. In the manufacturing towns there was great loss of property through the dishonesty of workpeople in factories, who were enabled to dispose of the property they took away by carrying it to those shops; and in Birmingham alone it was estimated that nearly £40,000 a year was lost in that way. In very many of those stores a "hot pot" was kept ready, into which stolen plate was thrown and at once melted down, in order that identification might be impossible. The Bill provided that where there was primâ facie evidence of such practices the owner of the shop should be compelled to take out a licence which would put his shop under the surveillance of the police.


said, he would confess that his attention was not drawn to the Bill until after it had passed the second reading. Seeing the words "marine stores" on the hack, he thought it was more a question for the Admiralty than for the Home Secretary. He had, however, carefully examined the subject, and although he had no doubt that the dealers in marine stores were to a considerable extent receivers of stolen goods, and that it would be desirable to place them under some supervision and control, a Bill with more arbitrary provisions than the present he had rarely seen. A very ample definition was given as to who was to be considered a dealer in marine stores, and, as had been stated, every blacksmith immediately became, under that definition, a dealer in marine stores, and must take out a licence. Now, it so happened that in an Act for consolidating the laws relating to wreck and salvage—9 &c 10 Vict. c. 99, there was a statutory definition of a dealer in marine stores, which did not agree with the definition in the present Bill; so that if the present Bill passed, there would be two distinct statutory definitions of the same matter. The 9th and 10th Victoria defined as marine store-dealers "all persons who shall trade or deal in buying and selling anchors, cables, sails, or old junk, old iron, or marine stores of any kind or description." It was true that here old iron was mentioned, but the context showed that the iron of ships was meant. The definition in the Bill ought to be limited in accordance with that contained in the Act. But the hon. Gentleman proposed to empower all police inspectors and sergeants to enter marine stores, and that dealers, besides being subjected to these domiciliary visits, were to keep a book or books in which to register their dealings and enter the name, business, and place of abode of any customer. Now unless they imposed a penalty on the customer for refusing to give that information, it would be impossible for the unhappy dealer to comply with these requisitions. He had not had time to inquire whether any necessity existed for this arbitrary legislation; but if the House wished it, he should not oppose the going into Committee, though the provisions of the Bill were such as the House ought to be very cautious in adopting.


said, he thought that if the object of the Bill were to put down petty thefts by boys engaged in trades where metals were much used, the licence should be made renewable annually, and the price, instead of being 5s., should be something far more considerable. Then the small dealers—the receivers of stolen goods—would be put an end to.


said, it might be advisable to relax some of the provisions of the Bill in Committee; but the evil which his hon. Friend wished to remedy was a crying one. These marine store-dealers, particularly in the large manufacturing towns, became, in many cases, the channels for disposing of stolen goods. This was especially so in Birmingham; and perhaps it would not be unwise, in the first instance, to limit the operation of the Bill to that town, where his hon. Friend's definition of a marine storedealer was perfectly understood.


said, a marine storedealer might very often be defined as a person who was willing to receive, at any hour, without any inconve- nient inquiries, any goods that might be offered to him. The trade was one which, perhaps, required more stringent regulations than any other; and he thought the House might fairly be asked to go into Committee to see whether the Bill could not be so framed as to meet the evil.

House in Committee.

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 (Definition of Terms).


said, that was the time to consider whether the definition of marine stores given in the existing Act, to which he had alluded, should not be adopted in the Bill.


said, he thought that definition would not meet cases in which persons assumed the names of marine store-dealers with a view to receive stolen goods. He particularly wished to include silver and gold within the definition, so as to render the Bill applicable to the receivers of those articles when stolen. With regard to the suggestion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Newdegate) he was not unwilling to limit the application of the Bill to Birmingham; but he had received communications from a large number of towns asking him to proceed with the measure, and expressing an opinion that legislation on the subject was greatly needed.


said, it might be desirable to extend the definition of the existing Act; but was not his hon. Friend proposing to extend it too far? He proposed to bring within the grasp of the Bill all persons who bought old metal. Bankers bought bullion; and bullion was old metal. Would not bankers, therefore, come under the provisions of the Bill? At all events, it would include jewellers, watchmakers, dealers in copper, iron, and other metals.


said, that the only persons who would be brought under the provisions of the Bill were such dealers in old metal as the magistrates had reason to believe to be receivers of stolen property. There must, in the first place, be application made to the magistrate, and prima facie proof of an illegal trade offered to him before he could compel the dealer to take out a licence. Pawnbrokers were subjected to much the same restrictions; and he did not see why they should not be extended to dealers in marine stores.


observed it would be very difficult to carry out the Bill, if it applied only to persons who were suspected of being receivers of stolen property, as there were grave objections to magistrates acting on suspicion merely. There were, however, strong grounds for requiring every person, who professed to deal in marine stores, to take out a licence.


observed, that every dealer in marine stores might be called upon by a policeman to show cause why he should not take out a licence. That, combined with the definition given, would be a very arbitrary provision. If the hon. Member's object merely was to enable the police to deal more effectively with these cases, why not arm them with greater powers where a reasonable suspicion existed that persons were receivers of stolen goods?


said, the Bill applied to dealers in old iron and metal. But suppose a person dealt in old rags, and had in his cellar a crucible—he would not come under the operation of the Bill, and yet he would be just the person resorted to by those who wished to get rid of stolen property. The manufacturers of Sheffield suffered much from these petty thefts; but the Bill would not protect them, and would merely create an arbitrary power for no useful purpose.


said, that if a man were only to take out a licence when suspected of being a receiver the words "dealer in marine stores" painted over his door would, in that ease, be a notice to all the world that he was prepared to buy stolen goods. Now, it was certainly desirable that the trade of a receiver should be carried en without a public advertisement of this kind. If these dealers were carrying on an illicit trade, it should not be regulated, but put down. But it was contrary to the common right of the subject that a man without proof should be assumed to be dishonest, and should be visited with these arbitrary police regulations.


said, the explanation of his hon. Friend (Mr. Spooner) made the Bill ten thousand times more objectionable than before. The great iron manufacturers, who bought old stuff to work up, and ironmongers, whether great or small, were at the bidding of a police constable to go before a magistrate, who was to decide whether they were respectable or not; and if a man squinted, or there was anything else about him which the magistrate did not like, he would have to pay 5s., take out a licence, be subjected to police visits, and make all kinds of entries in his books. If boy, then, came into his shop to buy a knife, he must ask his business and place of abode. Why, a good many boys would have neither place of abode nor business. It would be very well if you could only define exactly who were thieves and who receivers, but as that was impossible, it was unjust to subject a whole class of men to such arbitrary restrictions. Policemen were always given to suspicion—it was their trade—they suspected everybody, and no one could tell whom they might include in the drag-net with which this Bill would furnish them.


said, he believed it impossible that the discussion on such a Bill could have any satisfactory conclusion, and he should therefore move that the Chairman do leave the chair.


said, there was already an Act compelling marine storedealers to keep books and to paint their names and business over their doors, and the hon. Gentleman's object would probably be attained if the definition in that Act were extended. There could be no doubt of the existence of the evil; but it was very doubtful whether it would be met by the remedy now proposed, and he therefore suggested that the Bill should be withdrawn, and that on another occasion the hon. Gentleman should try to amend the existing definition.


said, his hon. Friend (Mr. Henley) was very much like a ferret in a rabbit-warren, and when he got hold of a Bill there was generally an end of it. But his hon. Friend was inaccurate when he said that under the Bill the suspected dealer, on the mere authority of a policeman, must go before a magistrate. The policeman must first of all convince the magistrate that there were grounds of suspicion, and the magistrate alone could authorize any police visits.


said, he thought that the hon. Member had done well in bringing the subject before the House. At Birmingham and elsewhere metal was stolen to a large extent. Whether the Bill would meet the evil he was not prepared to say, but now that public attention had been directed to the subject a remedy would doubtless be provided.


suggested that the Home Secretary should obtain information on the subject from the stipendiary magistrates throughout the country, in which case he believed it would be found that there were every year a large number of cases of receiving which it was impossible to deal with adequately under the existing law.


said, he quite admitted the existence of the evil the Bill was intended to meet; but what he objected to was that they should attempt to meet the evil by a Bill so arbitrary and so likely to prove inefficient.


said, he would withdraw the Bill on the understanding that the Government would endeavour to amend the existing law, and to grapple with an admitted evil.


said, he was quite prepared to admit that marine store-dealers generally, especially in the large towns, were concerned either constantly or occasionally, in receiving stolen goods. He was also quite prepared to inquire whether any improvement could be made in the law affecting persons suspected of being receivers. He could not undertake to introduce a Bill, but so far he would pledge himself; and he thought the hon. Gentleman had shown proper deference to the feeling of the House by not proceeding with a measure which proposed such an interference with individual liberty.

House resumed. [No Report.]

House adjourned at five minutes before Six o'clock.