§ MR. EATON
said, in the absence of his noble Friend Lord George Lennox, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether it is true that on Monday 29th March a person named Macdonald, who was engaged in Ms occupation of delivering Treasury circulars to the Members of the House, was stopped by a policeman at the corner of Stratton Street, in Piccadilly, and called upon to state his name and address; whether, on his declining to do so, he was seized by the constable on a charge of "loitering," and taken through the streets to the police station, where he was detained for some time, until the officers on duty could verify his account of himself; whether any report on the occurrence had been made by the officials which explained the action of the police; and, whether the instructions issued to the police authorities, authorizing such conduct, can be laid before the House?
Sir, the account I have received of this affair is as follows:—About eight o'clock on the evening of March 29, a police sergeant observed a man standing in Stratton Street, Piccadilly. He afterwards moved stealthily on towards a doorway, stood at that door for some short time, went away without waiting for the door to be opened, and passed on as if wishing to avoid the policeman. The man's conduct being thus, in the opinion of the police sergeant, suspicious, the latter, as he says, asked him very civilly what his name was and what he was doing, but received a very rude answer. Thereupon the police sergeant told him that it was his duty when he observed people loitering in the streets under suspicious circumstances to ask their names, and if no satisfactory answer was given, to take them into custody. As the man still refused his name he was accordingly taken into custody and removed to a police station, where he gave an explanation, and was released after being detained thirty-five minutes. Now, the police 478 sergeant acted under the authority, not of any rule or order given by the Commissioner of Police, but under the authority of the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839 (2 & 3 Vic. c. 47), the 64th section of which enacts—It shall be lawful for any constable belonging to the metropolitan police to take into custody without a warrant [among other suspicious persons] all persons whom he shall find between sunset and the hour of eight in the morning lying or loitering in any highway, yard, or other place, and not giving a satisfactory account of themselves.This Act has been enforced for some thirty years. It confers, no doubt, very large and somewhat formidable powers on the police, and it is to their credit that during these thirty years very few cases appear to have occurred where they have exercised this discretion injudiciously. It so happens that on that very night, under the authority of the Act, three persons were taken up, who turned out to be notorious thieves, and have since been committed to gaol. There is no doubt that in this case a mistake was committed, partly from the fault of the man himself, who might have relieved himself from all suspicion by saying who he was; and it seems only fair that when the police have a very difficult duty to perform they should have some assistance, so as to execute their duty.