§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. BOOTH
I wish to know whether it is proposed to get the various stages of this Bill to-day. Is there some special reason? I have only one objection to make in reference to Clause 9, but if we are not taking the Committee stage to-day, I will defer my observations until after the Recess. But perhaps it will be convenient to explain my point. Sub-section (2) of Clause 9 provides that where it appears to the superintendent of police there is a case of emergency, and that in the interest of the State immediate action is necessary, he may give to any constable such authority as may be given by the warrant of a justice of the peace. That seems to me to be conferring great powers on the police, and I take very strong objection to the multiplication of the powers of officials. The Sub-section gives very large powers to the constable, but I desire to be reasonable, and if those powers were conferred on an officer of superior rank and special training, a sergeant of police or someone in a higher position, I think I could withdraw my objection. To give an ordinary constable power to arrest people who are taking photographs of a signalling station, perhaps, seems to me to be going too far. I think where the superintendent of police has these extraordinary powers, dispensing with the magistrate, he ought to select a competent sergeant; otherwise the people's liberty might be involved, and a great deal of harm might be done. People might be put in a very serious position, and might be prejudiced for the rest of their lives by reason of the action of some inexperienced constable. With regard to the rest of the Bill, although I do not like some of it, I understand that it is necessary.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Colonel Seely)
With regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend as to Clause 9, of course it is the justice of the peace who is the responsible person, and he will not issue a warrant except on good grounds.
§ Colonel SEELY
I agree with the hon. Member on that point, but I would say that it is the general opinion that it is necessary there should be some amendment of the law. I agree that the powers should be placed in the hands of a responsible officer, but where immediate action is necessary, perhaps a sergeant or higher officer might not be on the spot, and it would be necessary to empower a constable. We desire, wherever possible, that the powers to be applied shall only be exercised by highly responsible persons. I do not think it is possible, however, to lay that down in certain cases without making the Bill of little effect. Certainly, wherever possible, the warrant should be issued to an officer of higher rank than a constable. My hon. Friend has pointed out that the superintendent of police is the person in authority, and, except in cases of emergency, I think his point under Sub-section (2) will be met by drafting instructions to be given in all cases to an officer of higher rank, who should exercise those powers.
§ Colonel SEELY
If the House agrees to pass the various stages of the Bill to-day it will be a great convenience. This Bill is not aimed at anybody in particular, but it is highly necessary that it should be passed. Every other country has legislation of this kind, I understand, and in no case would the powers be used to infringe any of the liberties of His Majesty's subjects.
§ Mr. MORTON
I am not going to obstruct the passage of the Bill, but I should like to say that it is certainly a very unusual and a very extraordinary thing to pass such a Bill without an opportunity of discussing it. Although I do not wish to insist upon the point, I submit that all the stages of a Bill ought not to be dealt with in this House without a proper opportunity of discussing every Clause.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Rufus Isaacs)
Of course, this House knows that the principle of this Bill is not new. There is an Act already in force, the Act of 1889, but it has been found in practice that there are certain points which were not foreseen at the time that Act was passed. There is nothing novel in the principle of the Bill 2253 which the House is being asked to accept now. Therefore, it is desirable and necessary to remodel the legislation, in order to adapt it to particular circumstances or emergencies.
§ Sir W. BYLES
I share the view of my hon. Friend that this Bill really ought to have very careful consideration by Members of the House, and ought to be fully debated on the Second Reading. I do not profess to be an expert in these matters, but there are legal Members of the House who would be able to advise us on the rather stringent provisions which I find in this measure. I refer to Sub-section (2) of Clause 1, which says: "It shall not be necessary to show that the accused person was guilty of any particular act tending to show a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State, and, notwithstanding that no such act is proved against him, he may be convicted." That certainly strikes me, a layman, as a very startling innovation upon our ordinary legal precedents. I hope, before this Debate closes, some eminent legal authority who knows how to safeguard the ancient liberties of this country, will direct his attention to these various provisions, and will give the House some enlightenment on the subject.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
I wish to put a small point to the Attorney-General with regard to the interpretation of the words "any prohibited place." It appears from the Clause that ft refers to any person who approaches "any prohibited place" within the meaning of the Act. In Clause 3 a "prohibited place" is defined as "any work of defence, arsenal, factory, dockyard, camp, ship, telegraph or signal station, or office belonging to His Majesty, and any other place belonging to His Majesty," etc. I suppose that applies to the various properties which belong to His Majesty in the sense of belonging to the State.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The hon. Member for Salford (Sir W. Byles) has in his mind the words of Sub-section (2) of Clause 1; but it is perfectly plain that there may be an intention or a purpose prejudicial to the State, though it might be difficult to prove any overt act. It was 2254 a very difficult thing to administer the old Act, and it is essential to have this provision. The sense of justice in this country is perfectly fair to all persons, and there would be no danger to anyone engaged in something perfectly innocent. It would undoubtedly give power, which at present does not exist, to the prosecution to bring the matter before the Court.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
I take it that this means that it is perfectly plain to the judge, and not simply to the prosecution?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, that this House do immediately resolve itself into Committee on the Bill.—[Colonel Seely.]
§ Bill accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. EMMOTT in the Chair.]