HC Deb 27 July 1944 vol 402 cc872-4
15. Sir Robert Young

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many prosecutions have taken place for looting of houses damaged and destroyed by enemy action; how many convictions resulted; and what were the lowest and highest penalties imposed during the years 1942 and 1943 and the latest possible date in 1944.

Mr. H. Morrison

From July, 1940, when Defence Regulation 38A came into force, to the end of 1943, 4,927 persons, including 1,505 children and young persons had been prosecuted for looting under this Regulation, of whom 3,281, including 1,421 children and young persons, were found guilty. The highest penalties imposed during the years 1942 and 1943 were sentences of seven and five years' penal servitude respectively. I have no information as to the lowest penalties imposed, but I have no doubt that there will have been some cases that were dealt with by fines or by binding over under the Probation of Offenders Act. I regret that no statistics are yet available in respect of 1944, and the figures which I have given are provisional so far as they relate to 1943.

Sir R. Young

Will my right hon. Friend take into consideration making a strong recommendation to magistrates along the lines suggested yesterday that these cases should go to the assizes; and are not many of these people fifth columnists in this country?

Mr. Morrison

We did give advice not out of harmony with the point my hon. Friend has raised some time ago and magistrates are well aware of it. On the other hand, it is only fair to say that some of this, while thoroughly objectionable, is in the nature of petty pilfering—some of it by children, unfortunately.

Mrs. Cazalet Keir

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the sentence should be imposed on the crime itself, rather than on the value of the things that are stolen?

Mr. Morrison

I am not sure about that. We are now getting to the point where, if I am not careful, I shall be telling the courts precisely how to do their own business. If I try to do that, I am sure that other Members of the House will pull me up.

Mr. Graham White

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will use his influence to see that the word "stealing" is substituted for the word "pilfering" or "pilferage," wherever that is possible, having regard to the fact that pilfering is regarded more like a game of cribbage, involving varying degrees of skill?

Commander Sir Archibald Southby

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that many people who have suffered the loss of their homes are now suffering the loss of everything they possess because of this looting which is going on; and does he also appreciate that it would be much worse were it not for the excellent work done by the Home Guard, who are trying to preserve the people's homes?

Mr. Morrison

I quite agree that the police are doing all they can, but the police are fairly far stretched themselves; and I thoroughly agree that the Home Guard have been most useful on many occasions.

17. Mrs. Cazalet Keir

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware of the growing resentment of the public against those who pilfer after bombing attacks; and what further action he proposes to take to prevent such offences.

Mr. H. Morrison

I would refer my hon. Friend to the answers given to my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Hynd) last Thursday, and to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans), yesterday.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider causing notices to be posted in some parts of the bombed areas warning people against looting? The police, as he says, are far stretched and are not able to deal with the matter adequately. Perhaps, if notices were posted, it might have a deterrent effect.

Viscountess Astor

Is it not true that a great deal of the looting is done the minute the "All clear" sounds, and that people have to sit up all night by their furniture to prevent it from being looted?

Mr. Morrison

I will consider my hon. Friend's point about posters. But may I say this to the House? I do hope that hon. Members will not give an impression that this trouble is greater than it is. It does no good abroad and it causes great anxiety at home. As a matter of fact, it is limited, is definitely less than it was in 1940–41. I want to deal with it all I can, but we are really in danger of giving the impression that this country is more wicked than it is.

Mrs. Cazalet Keir

Is the right hon. Gentleman really satisfied with the penalties inflicted for this abominable crime?

Mr. Morrison

It is not for me to say whether I am satisfied or not. I have given advice to magistrates. If Parliament wants the Home Secretary to run the courts of law, then Parliament must so enact, otherwise I do not propose to do so.

Mr. Pritt

Is the Home Secretary aware that in one well-administered borough in London they were putting up posters immediately after there had been a bombing incident, and that that has already been done for some time? Perhaps he can tell me whether it has had a good effect?

Mr. Morrison

I will try to guess which borough it is, and find out.

Forward to