HC Deb 24 June 1891 vol 354 cc1359-63

As amended, considered

(5.3.) MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

The main object of this Bill is so good that I am unwilling that the commencement of its enforcement should be deferred, as proposed by the Home Secretary, until the 1st day of October. The chief object of the Bill is that the present minimum term of penal servitude which can be inflicted shall be reduced from five years to three years, and I believe that that proposal receives universal assent. That being so, it occurs to me that the postponement of its operation until the 1st day of October is undesirable and unnecessary. The reason assigned for the delay is that it is desirable to allow an interval between the passing of the Act and its coming into operation, so that Judges and others may inform themselves of its contents. But surely a considerably shorter interval than that proposed would suffice. Her Majesty's Judges will shortly be going on circuit, and if the Bill is left as it now stands they will be prevented from exercising a very salutary discretion. In the interval too, there will be two sessions of the Central Criminal Court, and several Sessions for the County of London, and yet, in all these cases the Judges will be bound by the existing law. If the Home Secretary is unwilling to accept my Amendment, will he agree to the date being fixed at the 15th July? I think it would afford ample time for the passing of the Bill, and for Judges to make themselves acquainted with its provisions.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 18, to leave out sub-section (4) of Clause 1.—(Mr. Pickersgill.)

Question proposed "That sub-section (4) of Clause 1 stand part of the Bill."


The words to which the hon. Member, objects were introduced for this reason. The date of the passing of the Act is uncertain. I am not so sanguine as he is that we could get it through by the middle of July, but, assuming that the Royal Assent could be obtained by then, it would be very inconvenient to allow it to come into operation in the middle of the Assizes. I think, therefore, it would be better to adhere to the date fixed in the Bill. Draw the line where you will, there will always be a disagreeable contrast between sentences passed before and after the date of the Act coming into force.

MR. WADDY (Lincolnshire, Brigg)

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will re-consider his decision to retain the date. If the suggestion of my hon. Friend were accepted the Act would be in force before the Assizes come on in large towns such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Bristol—the places where the power of passing the reduced sentences is most needed. If the Act is a beneficial one, let it come into force at once; if it is not, then, by all means, drop it.


I think any alteration of the date would be prejudicial rather than otherwise to the object the hon. Member has in view. Courts, of course, will know what is contemplated by the Bill, and many Judges who deem five years' penal servitude too heavy a sentence will, in view of the Act being shortly passed, not inflict more than 18 months' hard labour.


I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


The next Amendment is, I think, more important. The 2nd clause of the Bill gives constables extremely stringent powers over persons, not only while they are under sentence of police supervision, but after the term has expired. My object is to protect a person who has undergone punishment and expiated his offence from unnecessary police interference. As the law stands, a man who has passed five years in prison, and three years under police supervision, is liable to be arrested by any constable who reasonably suspects him of having committed an offence. But this Bill goes further, and will enable him so to be arrested, even after his sentences have expired. I wish to provide that the constable shall be authorised in writing by his superior officer. We have had before us many instances in which serious mischief has been done to men through the improper interference of the police. Some men have absolutely lost their moans of livelihood through police indiscretion. If this system is to be retained at all, and if, after the period of police supervision, constables are to have the power of arresting a man without warrant for an offence alleged to have been committed before the expiration of the ticket-of-leave, every means ought to be taken to prevent any abuse of the power. It, therefore, ought only to be intrusted to specially-selected constables. If my Amendment is agreed to, it will restore the Bill to the form in which it was originally submitted to the Grand Committee.

Amendment proposed, In page 1, line 20, after the word "constable," to insert the words "for the time being specially or generally authorised in writing by the chief officer of police in his district."—(Mr. Pickersgill.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

(5.20.) MR. MATTHEWS

I do not think the observations of the hon. Member quite accurately represent the facts. If the clause is not passed in its present form, the law will be left exactly where it stands now. At present, if the holder of a licence commits an offence during the currency of the licence, he can be arrested at once by any constable without warrant. If, however, having committed an offence, he can only keep out of the way of the police until the term of his licence has expired, a constable cannot touch him. This was a manifest absurdity; and the object of the clause is to do away with the anomaly by enabling a constable without warrant to arrest a man after the expiration of his licence for an offence committed daring the currency of the licence. I can see no reason for requiring that the arresting constable should have either a general or special authority. If you want justice well and promptly administered, you do not require general or special authority. Men who have held licences will be quite adroit enough to keep out of the way of any specially authorised constables; while if other constables knowing them well meet them in the street, they will be unable to arrest them.

(5.25.) MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

I hope the Amendment will be pressed to a Division. It is well known that men who hold licences are hunted about the country by the police and prevented from earning an honest living. I have had some of these poor devils in my employ, and have always taken good care that the police should know nothing about the matter.

MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)

May I point out that under the clause any police constable will have the right to arrest a man without warrant on the mere suspicion that he has committed au offence long ago, before the expiry of his ticket-of-leave. The man may be perfectly innocent, and yet he will suffer greatly in character by the mere fact of his being arrested, for it will draw attention to his past career. I trust that the Amendment will be agreed to. The exclusion of the words which my hon. Friend proposes to re-insert was only carried by the Government in Grand Committee by a majority of one. This clause introduces a new principle into the criminal law—a principle which will be most detrimental to ticket-of-leave men who, having served their term of imprisonment, are surely entitled to be reinstated in their civil rights.

(5.29.) SIR R. PAGET (Somerset, Wells)

I hope the Amendment will not be pressed. I do not think the plan of giving special authority could work satisfactorily; it is necessary that any constable should have the power of arrest in these cases.


I hope the House will not interpose fresh obstacles in the way of these wretched men returning to decent and respectable lives. The argument of my right hon. and learned Friend appears to be——

It being half an hour after Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.