HC Deb 26 July 1944 vol 402 cc759-60
47. Captain Gammans

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department to what extent looting of bombed property has increased during the present air attacks on London and Southern England; and if he has taken adequate steps to deal with it.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)

My information about the extent of these offences is that up to the present they are substantially less than during the blitz period in 1940 and 1941. The police are taking all possible steps, consistently with their other duties, to guard damaged property, to prevent offences and to detect offenders, and they have been successful in making a number of arrests. So far as the courts are concerned, they have been made aware of the need for imposing appropriate penalties. The matter is kept under consideration by the Civil Defence Committee, over which my right hon. Friend presides.

Captain Gammans

Does my right hon. Friend feel that some of the sentences given recently by the courts are appropriate for this despicable form of offence?

Mr. Peake

I cannot undertake to criticise particular sentences, but I would remind the House that a very large number of these so-called looting offences are really cases of petty pilfering, and that, as regards serious cases, magistrates have been reminded on more than one occasion by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that they are to be dealt with very seriously.

Mr. Thorne

If a magistrate feels that he is not in a position to inflict a very heavy penalty can he commit to the assizes?

Mr. Peake

Yes, Sir, Defence Regulation 38A was amended in 1940 to provide that persons may be committed for trial at assizes, and sentenced either to death or penal servitude for life for such an offence.

Mr. Goldie

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the death sentence has yet been passed in any looting case?

Mr. Peake

Not so far as I am aware.