HC Deb 10 May 1948 vol 450 cc1885-94
Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I beg to move, in page 7, line 46, after "constable," to insert "in uniform."

The Clause we now come to is the one which gives power of entry by constables to commercial premises, to enable them to take samples and otherwise to proceed to the enforcement of the Bill. The Clause, as drawn, is silent as to whether the constable must be in uniform or not and we have some apprehension on this side lest a constable may enter premises in plain clothes. If that is the intention, unless we can have some very good reason for such power, we shall oppose it.

I do not think I can labour this point until we hear what the Government have to say, but quite clearly the private rights of citizens of this country tend to be winnowed away—a tendency which is going on rather fast at the present time—and clearly it is of some importance, quite apart from the particular merits of this Bill, that private individuals should not be constantly the recipients of the attentions of snoopers and others. I must admit that I can see no reason whatever for taking powers for constables in plain clothes to go into premises in order to enforce this Bill. It seems to me that if a constable in plain clothes can do it, a constable in uniform can do it equally well. I can imagine no reason whatever for giving powers to plain-clothes snoopers to go trespassing and looking into the private affairs of the community. We feel strongly on this subject. I hope very much that the Government will be able either to accept the Amendment as it stands or, at any rate, to give assurances which will allay all the fears on this side.

The Attorney-General

I am afraid we are not able to accept this Amendment. People who are minded to commit black market offences do not normally do so when they hear the heavy regulation boots and see the distinctive blue uniform of the constable approaching. It seems to us quite essential to the detection of the black market, as indeed to other offences, that the ordinary detective force of the constabulary should be utilised. There seems to be no reason to exclude from the administration of this part of the criminal law the services of the force who have proved invaluable in the detection and prevention of all manner of other crimes.

Police constables armed with warrants have effected searches of premises, and those whose premises are searched are, of course, entitled, whether the officer is in uniform or not, to demand the production of his warrant card. So here, if the plain clothes or uniformed officer seeks to search premises for the administration of this Bill, the garage proprietor, the hotel keeper or whoever it may be, will be entitled first to demand the production of the officer's warrant card. In the case of the enforcement officer, the authority is signed by the Minister appointing him. That seems an ample safeguard against the risk that anyone may snoop or trespass when he has no right so to do. I might add, although I have never hitherto had personal experience of this matter, that many people who have to have their premises searched prefer that the search should be conducted by a person in plain clothes, who does not advertise to the neighbours the fact that the search is being conducted by the police.

11.45 p.m.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I am not altogether satisfied by what the Attorney-General has said. It appears to me that if a person has something to hide, he is not likely to welcome anyone coming in to take samples and otherwise look into his private affairs, whether the unwelcome visitor is in heavy boots or plain clothes, or whether the gentleman produces a police warrant or a duly authenticated document. I cannot see the purpose of retaining powers to allow individuals in plain clothes to enter premises of the public. I can see the intention the Government may have in mind is that in certain cases a police officer will be able to get into premises unchallenged and do his work unknown to the owner of the premises. It might be on occasions that that would produce useful results, but it seems to me to offend against all those principles which both sides have always held dear in this country. We hold the view that a man should be protected from an invasion by people who pass themselves off as friendly visitors. I appreciate that there may be cases where these visitors would be more welcome if they did not appear to bring the weight of the law behind them, but if the person were guilty it would not matter. In the circumstances, I feel that we should not press the Amendment, but should register our protest against this additional case of snooping.

Amendment negatived.

The Attorney-General

I beg to move, in page 7, line 47, after "superintendent," to insert: and any person authorised by the Minister of Fuel and Power. This Amendment can be taken together with the Amendment, in page 8, line 8, after "may," to insert: and any person authorised by the Minister of Fuel and Power as aforesaid, on producing, if so required, a duly authenticated document showing his authority, may. These are the Amendments I referred to in moving the Amendment to Clause 6, giving powers to enforcement officers appointed by the Minister. The Committee will not want me to repeat the arguments I used on that occasion.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The Attorney-General moved this Amendment with disarming brevity and innocence, but I am not sure that it deserves brevity or claims innocence. On the previous Amendment, reference was made to snooping in relation to police officers. I did not think there was a great deal of force in those arguments, but this is a totally different matter. Under this Amendment, the Minister can authorise any person to enter premises. He can authorise not only his regular enforcement officers, which is no doubt the intention, but is given the power to authorise any persons whatsoever. Surely that is using powers to permit the possibility of snooping on a very large scale indeed. The right of entry into private premises is one which surely the Committee should seek to protect as far as possible, and while it is right to give to the police the necessary power to enter and enforce the law, it is quite a different matter when giving authority to any person whom a Minister of the Crown may authorise. I am somewhat alarmed at this proposal. I do not think that it is necessary. I have heard nothing from the Attorney-General to convince me that this could not be done by the police, or why it should be necessary now to take powers to authorise large-scale entries by large numbers of people, for that is the power which is granted, whatever the intention. I do not think we ought to accept the Amendment without further information as to its necessity.

I heard the advance explanation of the Attorney-General when he was speaking on Clause 6, but he did not give the Committee any reason to believe that the entering of premises for this purpose, or for the inspection of vehicles, was beyond the capacity of the ordinary police, or that there was any necessity whatsoever to grant this power. I do not know whether it is the intention that these enforcement officers should be accompanied by police officers, or entitled to operate wholly independent of the police. I think that is also a matter on which the Committee should be informed. While one does not wish to deprive the Minister of Fuel and Power, or the police authorities, of any power for the proper enforcement of the provisions of this Bill, it is quite another matter to give them a blank cheque without any necessity for it being established.

The Attorney-General

I cannot help thinking that the hon. Member for Kingston - upon - Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) must have been absent during the time when we discussed this matter earlier. If he was I congratulate and envy him. If he was not absent at dinner, he cannot have been paying much attention to the arguments. I pointed out then that enforcement officers already have the power under the existing Control of Motor Fuel Order to enter premises. It might often be that, in the course of investigating the commission of offences under the existing law and in the general administration of the existing control system, offences under this Act will be detected. It really would be anomalous—and I venture to say that I would not be using the language of extravagance if I said that it would be grotesque and absurd—if an enforcement officer entitled to enter a garage in the administration of the existing law to examine the petrol pumps was not entitled, when he found that that petrol was red, to take, for instance, a sample in order that the matter might be further investigated with a view to prosecution under this Bill.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The provisions of this Amendment authorises these people not only to take a sample when otherwise legitimately on the premises, but gives them a new power to enter. Surely, that is so? If so, it does not cover the case the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind of people legitimately on the premises.

The Attorney-General

I am not at all certain about that. Although the enforcement officer might be legitimately on the premises, he might not be entitled to take a sample unless he had the right under this Bill to be on the premises. That is a matter which gives rise to interesting legal considerations. I say I am not sure about it because I should not be able to accept it without argument from the hon. Member in the way he put it just now. But, of course, there are many other cases which one can readily suggest. Consider, for instance, the case where an enforcement officer is outside a garage in the course of the administration of existing powers under the existing law, and finds, from what he sees outside the garage, some reason to suspect that inside is a motorcar which has just been filled with red petrol.

Is he not to be entitled to follow that motorcar into the garage to take a sample from the tank? Is he to bicycle away to try to find, if he can, some police officer who can be detached from his other duties to go back to the garage in the hope that, by that time, the motorcar will not have departed? I venture to think the Committee will consider that any such limitation of the powers of these officers would be absurd, and would not be conducive to that suppression of black market activities which, I am sure, all Members of the Committee desire to suppress. I really cannot take the view that this power ought not to be extended to the enforcement officers—80 of them, as I mentioned earlier in the Debate—in the way proposed by these Amendments.

Mr. Howard (Westminster, St. George's)

Because I have listened to this Debate, and because I have been very worried by some of the arguments that have been advanced, I want to ask the Minister of Fuel and Power one question. He may be able to give an answer that will be satisfactory enough to allay some of the worries that laymen have, although lawyers may remain unsatisfied. Will the Minister give an undertaking to this Committee that he will instruct his enforcement officers, and anyone else whom he may authorise to enter premises, to state that they are enforcement officers or duly authorised persons, and to produce their authorisation there and then? If he would do that he would remove to a certain extent the fear of abuse of snooping powers.

Mr. Gaitskell

Since the hon. Member asks for an assurance from me, I feel I should reply. I fancy, but I am not absolutely certain, that the instructions that enforcement officers already have are precisely to that effect. I quite agree with the hon. Member that it is, of course, desirable that when either enforcement officers or police officers enter premises they should disclose their right to be there, and I shall certainly take note of that point.

Mr. Howard

May I press that a little further? Instead of taking note, will the Minister be prepared to answer my question? Will he, instead of taking note, give an undertaking which even a layman can understand?

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)

I do feel that some more elucidation is required. The Attorney-General made one of his soothing speeches, which he makes more commonly now that he has become more mature in Parliamentary experience, instead of one of the sort he formerly made, when he was new here, about "We are the masters now." I would ask him to consider the difficulties there would be in such a situation as this. Suppose a motor car were left locked in a garage by the owner. The Amendment says that any person authorised by the Minister can enter premises and take samples. What, in fact, would be the situation? Is it the case that any person authorised by the Minister of Fuel and Power—who is now happily released, I gather, from his activities upstairs; who is now with us, though temporarily, perhaps—can enter the garage and unlock the car and take a sample? Has the Gestapo reached that stage? May we have an answer? It is rather important.

The Chairman

That is a point which may arise on the Question that the Clause stand part of the Bill. I do not think it arises on the present Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 8, line 8, after "may," insert: and any person authorised by the Minister of Fuel and Power as aforesaid, on producing, if so required, a duly authenticated document showing his authority, may."—[Mr. Gaitskell.]

12 m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 8, line 10, at the end, to add: and shall if possible take the samples in the presence of the occupier of the premises or of a person in his employ or when the sample is taken from a motor vehicle, in the presence of the owner of the vehicle or person in charge thereof. If the sample is not taken in the presence of any such person, the constable who has taken the sample shall forthwith inform the occupier of the premises or the person in charge of the vehicle or the owner thereof, that he has taken the sample, and at the time of giving such information or at the time of taking the sample in the presence of any such person, he shall then and there divide it into three parts, each part to be marked and sealed or fastened up and shall if required so to do, deliver one part to the occupier of the premises or a person in his employ or to the owner of the motor vehicle or the person in charge thereof, as the case may be, retain one part for further comparison, and if he thinks fit, submit one part to an authorised analyst. This Amendment raises a point of considerable substance. Under Subsection (2), provision is made for taking samples. I do not think anyone objects to that, but it is desirable, in my opinion, that where samples are taken, samples should be broken up into three and one part handed to the person in charge of the vehicle or petrol pump, one part kept by the person taking the sample, and the third kept for future comparison. This is the normal procedure under the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, and so far as I can see there is no reason at all why it should not be used in this case. If adopted, it may be a safeguard against the conviction of persons who are innocent by reason of the muddling up of samples, which may happen. A policeman at a car park taking a number of samples may accidentally put the wrong number on one sample.

The Amendment as drafted does not provide that the sample must be given to the owner of the car or the person in charge or the owner of the pump, but provides that the sample, if not taken in the presence of one of these people, should be split and the part handed to the person concerned at the earliest possible opportunity. I suggest that this is reasonable and would give a greater sense of fairness. In the case of petrol, we should follow the example created by the Food and Drugs Act.

The Attorney-General

I think the Committee will agree that I have adhered faithfully to my undertaking to accept any Amendment proposed from the opposite side which was reasonable. Hon. Members have only to propose reasonable Amendments and they will be accepted at once without any discussion. I shall accept the principle of this Amendment. I venture to think that, as drafted, it is in one or two respects defective. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will accept my undertaking and withdraw the Amendment, we need not discuss it further. In regard to the drafting of this Clause, I should say that we have in mind some slight departure from the procedure under the Food and Drugs Act. We would propose only two samples and not keep the third sample, which in these days is hardly ever used. But, in substance, we accept the Amendment.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I hope the day will come when I succeed in drafting a lengthy Amendment which is not only accepted by the Government but accepted in the way in which it is drafted. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and accept the assurance he has given. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Attorney-General

I beg to move, in page 8, line 10, at the end, to add: (3) Any person who obstructs any person exercising powers under this section shall be guilty of an offence. This Amendment is one of those I referred to in more detail when we were discussing the series of Amendments introduced by the two Amendments to Clause 6.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

You were kind enough to indicate, Major Milner, that the remarks I made on a previous Amendment would be in order on the Question that the Clause stand part of the Bill. May I now repeat my query, either to the Minister or to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General: whether any person authorised by the Minister would be in order in entering a garage and dealing with a car which has been left locked? I think it was the learned Attorney-General who said that the minions of the law might be protected by uniform. I think he even went to the length of describing flat-footed officers, camouflaged—as was the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, when I met him in the Central Hall, dressed in a different garb earlier in the evening, His camouflage was even more effective than theirs might be. But what I want to ask is whether it would be in Order for these men to break the locks of a garage for the purpose of getting in.

The Attorney-General

The answer is, "no."

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 9 to 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.