§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Before the House rose for the Christmas Recess, I said in reply to a Private Notice Question by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) thatHer Majesty's Government think that in present conditions, when there is so much anxiety about crimes of violence, it would not be right to overlook the deterrent effect on criminals which would be achieved if it were made an offence to he found in possession of an offensive weapon, without lawful reason, in a public place or a place to which the public have access. Her Majesty's Government are at present examining the possibility of introducing legislation to achieve this object."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1952; Vol. 509, c. 1803–4.]The result of our further study of the whole problem is the Bill which I now commend to the House. While I do not seek to divest myself of any responsibility, I should like to acknowledge the helpful advice and suggestions I have received from all quarters of the House which, in my opinion, have improved the Bill.
As a background to our discussion of this Bill, the House will wish to have some indication of the size of the problem of crimes of violence. We had a very interesting discussion a couple of weeks ago about one particular form of punishment for crimes of violence and differing views are conscientiously held on that point by different hon. Members. But there can be no dispute that there is much more crime, and much more violent crime, than any of us wish. May I illustrate this by giving a few statistics? I will not discuss again the figures of robbery with violence into which we went so closely a few days ago, but I should like to draw the attention of the House to two other groups.
The first is offences which are usually grouped together under the heading of "felonious wounding." The figures of offences known to the police in England and Wales for each of the years 1948 to 1952 were: 1948, 646; 1949, 625; 1950, 976; 1951, 1,078; 1952, 1,023. It is important to note that the corresponding 2324 figure for 1938 was 388. I also ought to give the House the figures for malicious wounding, although this group includes a number of offences which do not involve the use of weapons. The corresponding figures are: 1948, 3,547; 1949, 3,705; 1950, 4,201; 1951, 4,445; 1952, 4,866. Again the corresponding figure for 1938 was 1,602.
Taking the three groups together, the trend over the last five years is: 5,294, 5,320, 6,198, 6,323, and 6,891, as compared with the 1938 figure of 2,277; that is to say, there has been an increase over the last five years of as much as 30 per cent., and we are now faced with a level of violent crime roughly treble the prewar rate.
These are disturbing figures. I do not want to overstate the matter. Many of these offences do not necessarily involve the use of offensive weapons, but too many of them do. The task which concerns us is to check, and indeed substantially to reduce, an evil in our midst which is alien to our traditions and which, if allowed to develop in the way in which it has been developing, will render it much more difficult to preserve the Queen's peace.
There is one other preliminary matter, and I hope the House will forgive my mentioning it, although the House has heard it from me before. I wish—I am sure the whole House wishes—that crime could be abolished by legislation; but we are all too conscious that that cannot be. I say again that the attack on crime must be much wider than this, and the Bill before the House represents only one facet of our attempt to deal with it. Other more important steps include the improvement of our penal system and the full development of reforms instituted under the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, especially those which deal with persistent offenders and with juvenile offenders. Another step is to bring our police forces up to strength, especially in the big cities. May I remind the House again that even those measures must be of limited effect unless we can arrest the decline in moral standards which concerns us today.
I have said that because I think that today's Bill should not be looked upon as an isolated proposal. My claim for it is that it would bring an immediate strengthening to the forces of law and order in the fight against crime. 2325 Responsible chief officers of police assure me that a provision of this kind is likely to be of great value in placing a curb on violent crime.
I say at once that it may not of itself be effective in stopping a criminal who, of set purpose, addresses himself to a criminal enterprise, taking with him such articles, including weapons, as he thinks may help him to carry that evil business through to success. But there is a large number of people on the fringe of the criminal community who will resort to crime if opportunity presents itself.
Among these, and others with a lax standard of conduct, there is a growing tendency to slip a weapon—perhaps a knife or a knuckle-duster—in the pocket. Such a person may get into a quarrel, perhaps after a drink or two, and then the weapon is brought into use. Again, there is the type of young ruffian who, often in a gang with others of the same kidney, sets out to terrorise other people in the neighbourhood.
It is primarily against persons of this type that the Bill is directed; and it is the view of responsible and experienced police officers that the knowledge that the mere possession of an offensive weapon carries a liability to a substantial penalty will have a salutary effect. As I see it, the Measure is likely to achieve its main effect, not in a vast number of prosecutions, but in terrorem, and in securing a reduction in the extent to which weapons, or articles capable of use as weapons, are carried at all.
I would point out at this early stage that the Bill gives no power of search. It will not enable a police constable at his whim to stop a passer-by in the street and feel in his pockets to see if he is concealing a knuckle-duster. But we all know that there are many ways in which it may come to the notice of the police that a person is carrying an offensive weapon. In the course of their normal crime prevention duties, police officers often have occasion to keep persons under observation. If they see such a person has with him an instrument of violence. they will be able to deal with him under this Bill. In other words, and to put it bluntly, they will be able to cope with the "cosh boy" before he has used his cosh. It will be up to him to explain for what lawful purpose he is carrying a bludgeon or a life-preserver.
2326 To take another example, a person may be involved in some incident, such as a brawl in a public house, to which the police are called. A person involved in such an incident, who had on him an offensive weapon, might find himself charged not with the trival offence of being drunk and disorderly, but with an offence under this Bill. Or again, a gang of young hooligans, armed with bicycle chains, who might be terrorising a dance hall, could be dealt with by the police under this Bill.
To come to the Bill itself, I would remind the House that the offence which it creates is limited to the possession without lawful authority or excuse of an offensive weapon in a public place. The term, "public place" is defined by Clause 1 (3) as including,any highway … or place to which at the material time the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise.That, in itself, is an important limitation for those who are concerned with that aspect of the matter, because it excludes the whole class of persons who are on their employer's property and doing their work. The night watchman who carries a bludgeon or a life preserver would not come within the scope of this Measure when carrying out his duties on his employer's property. A collector of weapons would be committing no offence by having such a collection at his private residence. You yourself, Mr. Speaker, may be reassured by the fact that a golfer who, out of affection coming from constant use, surreptitiously puts his niblick beside his bed will have nothing to fear from this Bill.
The principal difficulty, as the House will appreciate, has been to define the term, "offensive weapon." There is a vast range of articles which, for journalistic purposes, may be conveniently classified as coshes. But that is hardly an adequate word for use in a statute as a definition of articles which range from milk bottles to tennis rackets, and include such implements as iron bars, meat cleavers, Indian clubs, pick-shafts, chisels or chair legs.
There are precedents on the Statute Book for using the phrase "offensive weapon" without definition. For example, Section 4 of the Public Order 2327 Act, 1936, makes it an offence to be in possession of any offensive weapon, otherwise than in pursuance of lawful authority, at a public meeting or on the occasion of any public procession. There is also a reference to "offensive weapon" without definition in Section 23 of the Larceny Act, 1916. But in the present Bill we thought it right to give some clearer definition of the weapons at which its provisions are aimed. All of us are constantly handling items capable of being used offensively. Even the poker with which we stir the fire and the umbrella we carry to work are, in certain circumstances, capable of that use.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
And a penknife. That is a very good example, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady. The problem we had to solve was to ensure that the definition was comprehensive enough to cover weapons carried for criminal purposes, but at the same time did not place in peril the innocent citizen pursuing his or her daily round.
The definition of "offensive weapon" in Clause 1 (3) is an attempt to solve the problem. It includes three groups of articles. First, the article made for use for causing injury to a person, that is to say, weapons properly so called. The stiletto or the knuckleduster would be obvious examples. Second, the article adapted for use for causing injury to persons. Within this definition will fall many ordinary articles which have been fashioned in such a way as to make them specially useful for criminal purposes. A sock full of sand or a piece of wood with a razor blade inserted into it, would fall into this group.
Third, there is the article intended—and I repeat intended—by the person possessing it for use for causing injury to a person. That covers items, of themselves innocent, which in the circumstances in which they are carried give rise to a reasonable apprehension of an intention to use them as weapons. A bicycle chain could be included in this category. As hon. Gentlemen know, there is a habit among criminals of breaking a bicycle chain and putting it under a coat collar so that it is convenient for use as an offensive weapon.
2328 To establish that an article falls within this third category the prosecution will have to satisfy the court that there are sufficient grounds for believing that the person carrying the weapon intended to use it for causing injury to another person. That would cover the penknife mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock). This is of considerable importance. It provides an important safeguard for the innocent person. Before I leave the question of definition, I should tell the House that I am arranging to place in the Library of the House photographs of some of the implements recently discovered by the police in one of the major cities of this country.
Then one comes to the next stage. If the court is satisfied that an article is an offensive weapon within one of these three groups, the person concerned is guilty of an offence unless he can show that he had a lawful authority or excuse to have the weapon with him. There has been some comment on this proposal to depart from our traditional practice and to place the onus of proof of lawful authority or excuse on the accused. I repeat that the House will recognise that, with the third group of weapons I have described, the prosecution has to establish the intent of the accused in relation to the article found on him.
Moreover the requirement that it is for the accused to prove that he had lawful authority or excuse, although exceptional, is by no means without precedent. I have quoted the Public Order Act. I will not say any more about that. I give as examples Section 23 (2) of the Firearms Act, 1937, which provides that:If any person, at the time of his committing, or at the time of his apprehension for…one of a number of offences—… has in his possession any firearm or imitation firearm, he shall, unless he shows that he had it in his possession for a lawful object, be guilty of an offence…I also remind the House of Section 28 (2) of the Larceny Act, 1916, which provides that:Every person who shall be found by night—having in his possession without lawful excuse…2329 Then there are added the words:(the proof whereof shall lie on such person)and certain implements of housebreaking are mentioned:shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.There are those precedents, but I admit that this Bill is drastic. I think that I have shown that the circumstances of the case require drastic measures.
I want to make the point, which I believe to be sound, that the innocent citizen has nothing to fear from the Bill. An offence under this Measure would ordinarily be disclosed only if a person came to the notice of the police because his conduct had in some way or other aroused their attention. I emphasise that this is a deterrent provision designed to stop criminally-minded persons from carrying around weapons of the kind that have caused so much anxiety. It is, as the title shows, a Bill to prevent crime.
I should like to go a little further and to consider the power of arrest. There has been some misapprehension about the power in Clause 1 (2). It is a strictly limited power of arrest without warrant. No general power to arrest without warrant is given by the Bill, the two classes of cases in which the power may be exercised being, first, if the constable is not satisfied as to a person's identity or place of residence, and, secondly, if he has reason to believe that it is necessary to make the arrest in order to prevent the commission of any other offence.
The latter provision is in line with the whole purpose of the Bill. We want to stop these crimes of violence being committed; it is not enough to deal with the offender after he has attacked his victim. We think that the forces of the law must be able to intervene. If there is good reason to believe that a man is carrying a weapon, it is surely right that a constable who is called to the scene should be armed with effective powers to stop an assault or attack taking place. It is no less reasonable, if an individual cannot identify himself to the satisfaction of the constable, that he should be taken into custody on the spot.
I remind the House—I am sure hon. Members are well aware of it—that the police have certain powers of arrest without warrant at common law, and many Acts of Parliament give them the power in relation to certain offences. A lot of 2330 these offences are not felonies. To give one illustration, Section 41 of the Larceny Act, 1916, empowers any constable to arrest a person without warrant if he has reasonable cause to suspect him of having housebreaking implements by night.
The powers in this Bill are much more restricted than that. A constable who arrests without warrant under the powers set out in Clause 1 (2) is always liable to proceedings being brought against him for wrongful arrest. If proceedings are brought, he may be called upon to establish to the satisfaction of the court that he had reason to believe the person in question to be committing an offence. That does not mean that it is only his belief. He has to establish honest belief based on reasonable grounds, which are objective grounds on which the court trying the case has to be satisfied. He has also to establish either that he was not satisfied as to the person's identity or place of residence or that he had reason to believe that it was necessary to arrest him in order to prevent the commission of another offence.
§ Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
Is it "reason to believe" or "reasonable cause to believe"? There is a vital distinction.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I should like to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman develop that point. My recollection of the matter is that the House of Lords, when considering Green's case in great particularity, said that subjective belief was a very rare matter which they were good enough to attribute as being appropriate when it was a case of a Home Secretary's power under Regulation 18B. But, except in exceptional circumstances, reasonable belief is an honest belief based on reasonable grounds. It has been so held, to my recollection of the law, for nearly 100 years.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
It may be a reason based on very bad judgment indeed. It may turn out to be completely unfounded and very wrong, yet the police constable may be protected.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will develop this argument later. I say that reason to believe a person to be committing an offence conveys the constituents: one, of honest belief, and two, that the belief 2331 is based on reasonable grounds. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will refer me by name to any case which contradicts that construction, I shall be pleased.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
I cannot quote a case to the right hon. and learned Gentleman now, but I can say that, where it is a case of mistake, that is no defence in criminal law. The mere fact that a person wrongly thought that he had a right reason is not ordinarily a defence. But this Bill will protect the police constable who honestly believes that he has reason to interfere and does so. He will be protected.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
With the greatest respect, I hesitate to correct the hon. and learned Gentleman—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) is in danger of exhausting his right to speak.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
I was just about to say, if I may, that I hope, Mr. Speaker, to catch your eye.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I shall be very interested if the hon. and learned Member's view of the law of false imprisonment receives support from any other hon. and learned Gentleman in the House because, with the greatest deference to him, I think I have correctly stated the constituents of the law of false imprisonment.
The point that is important is that it is not enough to say "I have made a mistake in all honesty." One has to prove also "I made that mistake reasonably, on reasonable grounds," and one is not the judge of whether the grounds are reasonable; the court trying the case is the judge. When the hon. and learned Member considers the point again, I really think he will find that that is a correct statement. In any event, I shall be glad to be corrected.
§ Mr. Granville West (Pontypool)
I wonder whether the Home Secretary would not agree that there is a distinction between the phrases "reason to believe" and "having reasonable cause to believe."
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I shall be very interested if the hon. Member develops 2332 that point. I should not have thought so; but, if anyone has any doubt about my view, I am quite prepared to consider the matter. I should not have thought that "reason to believe" meant anything other than "having a belief based upon reasonable grounds." That is what the Bill ought to say, and I think it says it. But I will listen with interest, and I ask the House to do likewise, to the case upon which the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester is relying, because I have not so far seen it. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member will make good my deficiency.
I am sorry that I have had to pause over one or two questions, but they were put to me. It would be useful if, just to present the full picture, I said a word or two about firearms because it has long been recognised that firearms are in a special position. I was asked at Question time today to say something about it. It may well be that in certain circumstances the court will hold, if a charge is brought, that a firearm is an offensive weapon for the purposes of this Bill.
But I wish to remind the House that the penalties provided, notably in Sections 22 and 23 of the Firearms Act, 1937, for the criminal possession and use of firearms are far heavier than anything contemplated under the present Bill in respect of other offensive weapons. The possession of firearms with intent to endanger life or to cause serious injury to property, and the use of a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to resist arrest are indictable offences which may be punished by imprisonment of up to 14 years. I wish to make it clear that these offences and penalties are not affected by the Bill.
I have explained the Bill in some detail because I am concerned that there should be no misunderstanding about what it does, and especially about what it does not do. It is not a Measure under which law-abiding citizens will be in danger of committing an offence every time they handle something that might be used as a weapon. The carpenter carrying the tools of his trade, the housewife taking home a new chopper, the motorist taking a spanner from his tool kit, a Boy Scout displaying a knife on his uniform, the Highlander wearing his skean dhu—all these and a thousand other similar actions will not be interfered with.
2333 I repeat that the good citizen has nothing to fear. On the contrary, this Bill is for his protection. We have, I am glad to say, a long and honourable tradition which rests on confidence derived from experience of the good sense and judgment of the police; and beyond the police lie the courts which, we may be sure, will not frivolously or vexatiously convict under this Bill. The Bill will not stamp out all violent crime but there is good hope that it will go some way to diminishing such crime, and I have no hesitation, therefore, in asking for the undivided support of the House for the Measure.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has introduced the Bill with his usual lucidity and fairness. I am sure that he will not be surprised to hear me say that I do not intend to intervene in the question that arose between my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) and himself. I have the advantage of having had my own view fortified by the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice), who will intervene later in the debate. Any argument between lawyers I intend to leave for the lawyers to settle among themselves.
I do not want the debate on this Bill diverted, however, into a field day for lawyers. There is sometimes a tendency, when we go into a matter of this kind, for hon. and learned Members to get involved in the very remote intricacies of the law and the meaning of a particular phrase, to the obscuration of the principles that lie behind a Measure and the causes that inspire the Measure.
During the 19th century and the early part of this century this country managed to live down a reputation that it had acquired in the Middle Ages of being a country in which civil turbulence and violence were frequently seen in the streets. Down to the period of the First World War there was a very marked improvement in the habits of the people until we came to a time when they bore very little resemblance to what was depicted in some of the scenes described by so modern an author as Dickens on subjects such as this.
It is to be regretted that during the last 25 years or thereabouts there has 2334 grown up among a limited section of the community and we are not here legislating to deal with the practices of any very large number of our citizens—a recourse to violence in pursuit of other crimes. That has made it necessary that law-abiding citizens should, for their own protection and for the good name of the country, see that something is done to bring an end to such a state of affairs.
It is our boast we have a very small police force compared with the total population of the country, a police force that is generally unarmed. A police officer who wants a lethal weapon has to give very good reasons for requiring it, and if he is granted it he has, when he brings it back, to give an account of what he has done with it and to account for all the ammunition with which he has been supplied.
Even in the case of an ordinary brawl in the street, when a report is made by a police officer or by a group of police officers through their senior officer with regard to the action that has been taken, a separate report has to be made about whether truncheons were drawn—even so comparatively inoffensive a weapon when one thinks of what some foreign police forces are armed with—and whether, having been drawn, they were used. That is the standard we have managed to achieve in the last 124 years since the establishment of the Metropolitan Police Force in 1829.
I recollect dining with a Member of another place, who is also a Member of the present Government, when he entertained a very distinguished American divine. We were looking out of this noble Lord's window—I do not often dine with noble Lords when an ordinary Metropolitan policeman went by. The divine said to me, "What is he armed with?" I said, "Well, he has a truncheon. You cannot see it and I would not like to say exactly where he keeps it, but he has got it." The divine said, "Do you mean to say that is all he has?" I said, "Yes," and he asked, "Do you think it is safe in the capital city of your country to have no greater protection for the police force than that?" I said, "I will put this simple test to you. If you were walking down this street, would you feel safer here than you would walking down a street in Chicago?" He said, to his credit, that he would feel safer in London than in Chicago.
2335 That is the standard we try to apply, and, be it said to their honour, the police forces in Great Britain, whenever they have been approached on the subject, have always said they do not wish to be armed. That is the standard they set for themselves, and I think it pretty safe to say with regard to what one might call the regular members of the criminal fraternity, those who are apt, I have no doubt, to complain on occasion to the right hon. and learned Gentleman as they did to me when there was difficulty in putting them in Dartmoor that they objected to being put with petty sneak thieves in county jails, that they reciprocate and are themselves very indignant if they find some apprentice to their fraternity beginning to carry arms.
We must recognise that unless we are very careful we may depart from the high standard of civil conduct in this country which is represented by the fact that neither the professional criminal nor the police want to carry arms. Therefore, it is essential that we should have particular regard to the steps we take through Bills such as this to deal with the problem that confronts us at the moment of a number of people who carry arms and who are not afraid to use them when they are in public places and, on occasion, carrying out other crimes than the crime of violence.
I agree with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said. We cannot abolish crime by legislation, and we as a House and all good citizens in the country have to consider the situation in which we find ourselves. I have never heard the problem better, more plainly and, in some ways, more eloquently described than it was by the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) in the debate in this House on 13th February. He was dealing with the type of criminal that I have just been describing, the man who at the moment does not hesitate to use violence either in pursuit of his crime or to prevent himself from being arrested after the crime has been committed. He said:He is not a man who cares; he is vain, ignorant, lazy, selfish—unbelievably selfish—no decent hobbies, frequenting street corners, pubs, betting houses and cinemas, no conception of loyalty. It is a most pathetic experience to have to go and see one of these people and say, not in the pompous words of 2336 the law but in ordinary simple human terms, 'Can't you see how selfish your conduct is, how utterly it disregards the feelings and interests of the victim?' and to have your words and ideas obviously regarded as mere twaddle, as something unrelated to reality. That is the terrible thing we have to face."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1953; Vol. 511, c. 812–3.]The hon. and learned Member for York is entitled to speak with very considerable weight on an issue such as this.
I am quite certain that we must give very serious attention to the causes of this. As an ex-teacher in the rate-aided schools of the country, I would say that there is some responsibility there, but I particularly welcome what the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General said on this matter a few weeks ago when addressing a school audience. He said that the ordinary rate-aided school only has the children for five and a half hours, at the most in the day, and that for the rest of the time they are under influences other than those of the school.
I am not, therefore, putting the blame on the school too high, but most of the young people and the kind of adult and adolescent who get involved in crimes of this nature are people who want some sense of achievement, and who, when they cannot get it in the ordinary way, may sometimes find it very easily in exhibitionist forms of crime leading in the end to some form of violence. We must all recognise that for those young people to whom ordinary academic forms of achievement do not come very easily, it is desirable that we should find, both in the school and in social arrangements outside, some activities that will give them opportunities to acquire a sense of achievement.
That is why I was very glad to hear what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said today with regard to the Borstal boys from Hollesley Bay who played so distinguished a part in dealing with some of the problems that confronted us on the coast during the recent floods. I hope that similar opportunities inside the penal system will be found for bringing home to some of these people the fact that in ordinary work, not usually regarded as highly skilled, there is still some opportunity for a sense of achievement.
If I were asked what gave me the greatest sense of satisfaction during the 2337 six years I was at the Home Office, I would say it was what we did at Burton-on-Trent in restoring the land that had been completely devastated by the underground explosion that occurred there towards the end of the war. We took 14 men from Stafford gaol, unskilled labourers of no great mental calibre, and gave them the task of dealing with the appalling devastation. A considerable tract of country had been completely spoiled. They got a sense of achievement out of every week's work because at the end of the week there was something substantial to show for what they had done.
When I listened last Friday to my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) dealing with the problem of the slag heaps and the marshes that sometimes surround them, I was not at all sure that there we could not use this same kind of labour to restore the countryside and to give people a sense of achievement. I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and those who advise him have always in front of them some way in which to bring home to this section of the population which is tending towards a life of crime a sense of their own capacity to do something worth while.
I agree that one of the things confronting us most urgently is bringing our police forces up to reasonable strength, because the appalling thing is that those places where this trouble is most rampant are those places where the police forces are most under strength. The statistics the right hon. and learned Gentleman publishes from time to time show that recruitment is now steadily progressing; that the balance of recruitment over wastage is quite good; and that since 1st August, 1951, the date on which Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve's award came into operation, there has been a steady improvement without, as far as I know, any occasion when there has been a surplus of wastage over recruitment.
But the numbers are still very low, and in the whole of the period 1st August, 1951, to 31st December, 1952, the increase in the Metropolitan Police Force was only 457, which, while it is better than a wastage of 457, is still not nearly good enough. In the counties the increase in the same period was 1,785, and in the cities and boroughs 1,449. Those 2338 figures are certainly encouraging compared with what had happened in the prior period since the war, but they are not nearly good enough.
I would hope that some citizens who could find in the police force an opportunity for public service would be willing to consider enrolment in the police force, because I am certain that many men who would not otherwise get it would there get an opportunity of helping their fellow citizens, because the job of the police is not so much to detect crime as to prevent it. I am certain that if we could bring the Metropolitan Police Force and the police forces in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham up to full strength, we could get the police forces far more effective as a preventive influence in the community than it is possible for them to be in their present depleted conditions.
I should like to bear testimony myself to the work done by many police forces, where the police take an active part in running clubs for boys and adolescents. There is a very good club, for instance, as I know, in Croydon, which shows the sound social instincts that inspire the modern police force in dealing with youths and adolescents.
I hope that we shall not get too much depressed by our consideration of this problem, which is continually being forced upon us. The other night I listened on the wireless to the Third Programme. An American criminologist was giving an account of what happens in America, and he said that in America they have 160,000 people in prison. We have got about 24,000. They have between six and seven times as many people in prison in America with about three times the population. I know that when I was in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's position and made inquiries about the proportion of violent crimes to every 100,000 of the population. the figures were far higher over there than they are here.
Now, that is no cause for our feeling complacent. It is a reminder that we live in a world where the events that have surrounded all of us during the past 30 years have led to a glorification, in some cases, of taking the short, easy and forceful way towards an end that may sometimes be good in itself, and that there has been a lessening of respect for the 2339 law, not merely in this country but in most countries of the world.
I sometimes think that the invention of the internal combustion engine has not helped us very much in this matter. When I first served on a lord-lieutenant's advisory committee, we would never recommend as a magistrate anyone who had been convicted of anything in a magistrates' court. But motoring offences became so prevalent that we had to say that the minor motoring offences did not count. Yet, after all, what is a minor motoring offence is only a matter of opinion. The general lessening in respect for the law among large sections of the community is another thing we have to take into our consideration in trying to deal with this matter.
These are the general grounds that must form the background to our approach to this problem. After I have heard the umpire's decision on the point raised between my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester and the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I may feel rather more certain about some of the words in subsection (3) of Clause 1. I believe that, administered by the police forces that we have in this country, supported by the magistrates and those in higher authority in the judicial system when convictions have been obtained, this is a necessary step towards re-establishing our belief in this country in the rule of law, in the avoidance of violence and in the condemnation of violence in private disputes.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman enabled many of my hon. and learned Friends to see this Bill in its early stages. We gratefully acknowledge the extent to which we were consulted. As far as I am concerned, I shall advise my hon. Friends, who like myself, are unlearned to support the right hon and learned Gentleman. I shall advise my hon. and learned Friends to listen to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Neepsend, and then follow whatever lead he likes to give them. But we all know that this has been a matter of concern to our people for a very considerable time. We congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman upon the steps he has taken to bring this Bill before the House, and we wish him every success 2340 in getting it practically and thoroughly administered when it becomes the law of the land.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Higgs (Bromsgrove)
After what the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has just said about lawyers, I feel somewhat diffident, being the first one to address the House on this matter from the back benches. I know, however, that this House traditionally listens with interest to those who have a personal concern in the Measures which are before it.
I shall not begin by disclosing that I have a personal interest in this Bill in the accepted sense, but I have had much experience as a prosecuting and defending solicitor before justices in an urban and industrial area—one of the areas, in fact, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred in dealing with offences under Acts which are similar in their wording and aims to the Measure which is now before the House.
While I do not want to introduce any discord into the accord which seems to exist about the desirability of this Measure, I propose to invite the House to deal with one or two other aspects of it and to consider, while all that has been said from the Front Benches about the background of this matter may be true, whether this Bill is the Measure that is required to deal with the state of affairs which we all agree exists.
I say "we all agree"; we all agree now, but 13 days to be precise. we were considering a Measure by which it was suggested some form of corporal punishment should be reintroduced. One of the arguments in support of that case was that there was an increase in crimes of violence, and one of the answers given to those of us who, like myself, supported that Measure was that there was no increase but a decrease in crimes of violence of certain kinds.
Oddly enough, by coincidence—for I can think of no other reason for it—they were the kinds of crime which, prior to 1948, had been punishable by corporal punishment. I do not think it is likely that the criminal community in this country have shown their gratitude to this House for removing corporal punishment by refraining from committing the kinds of crime which previously could have 2341 been punished in that way, but it is an odd fact, the explanation for which I should like to hear, that whereas some crimes of violence have increased as we have heard, others appear to have decreased.
The fact remains that there is in some classes of crimes of violence an increase which must be dealt with in some way. This Bill, which is propounded as the Measure to do that, does four things which in any Bill I would regard with suspicion. First, it creates a new crime hitherto unknown to the law. Secondly, it gives a new power under certain circumstances to arrest without a warrant a person in a public street. Thirdly—and this may be a matter on which those who are inclined to go into legal niceties more than I intend will have more to say it is of necessity vague in some of its terms.
Lastly—and it is to this that I propose to address myself—in some circumstances this Bill puts the burden upon a person who may be innocent to stand in the dock and prove that he is so. I do not say that there are no circumstances in which this House ought to embark upon a Measure which does those things, but I do say that the House ought to consider very seriously before it does so. Since it seems that we are agreed that there is need for some action, we ought to consider in particular whether this Bill is the kind of Bill which will lead to the kind of result we want to achieve.
There is some risk that the attitude in which this Bill is put forward is this: "There are people going about who carry weapons when they intend to commit the sort of crime which has always been committed, but there are people who 25 or 30 years ago probably would not have carried weapons. There is an increase and we want to stop it. Therefore, we will put a Measure upon the Statute Book which is called the Prevention of Crime Bill. We hope that it will reach their ears, and we hope that they will understand this much about it, that it makes it an offence to have a cosh in your pocket, and we hope this does them some good."
I hope we shall try between now and the Third Reading of the Bill, if it is to go through, to see, first of all, that the Measure which we put forward does not infringe any of our valuable traditions—some of which have been mentioned 2342 already—and secondly, that it is an effective one.
My principle in approaching this matter would be this: If it is true that there is an increase in the violent element of crime, I would rather see the punishment made more severe and drastic, after what I consider to be a fair trial according to British methods, than I would go the other way about it and try to cure the situation by creating new crimes, if there is no need for them, or by making it more easy for the prosecution to secure convictions for crimes which are already known. I would rather see a man dealt with drastically after a fair trial than I would wish it to be more easy for the prosecution to secure a conviction.
I wish now to consider the question of putting the burden of proof, in some circumstances, upon the defendant. There is no need for me to say more than that this is a very vital and valuable principle that we have tried to preserve in our justice in this country for centuries. It is as vital and important that our courts should retain their reputation for a fair trial in that sort of way as it is that our police should be able to go about unarmed. They are both valuable things, and since our courts have that reputation, it is just as important to preserve it and to preserve that principle.
There are, I know, a number of precedents in which that principle has been infringed. It has been nibbled into in a number of ways. I am going to ask the House to consider one or two of those precedents. It is true that those precedents exist in some measure, but I want to consider whether this one goes some distance further than most of the others which one can find.
The precedents are of a variety of kinds. There are those, for instance, where a person is presumed to have knowledge of something done by somebody or some body for whose actions he is responsible. I suppose we had the best example of that in the Finance Act two years ago when it was sought to be provided by right hon. Gentlemen opposite who were then in office that a director should be deemed, until he proved himself innocent, to know of things which were done by his company. If the company committed fraud, then the company was in the dock, and the director was put in the dock simply because 2343 he was a director, and he was presumed to know what the company had done.
I suggest that that precedent is not as strong as what we are now seeking to do, because there one had to prove the case against the company without the help of any presumption of guilt. In addition, one could at least say of the director that he had some responsibility for the actions of the company and that he was at any rate one of a limited class of people who might be said to have a duty to account for what the company did, and could be put into the dock with the company and asked to prove his innocence. But that precedent is nothing like as strong as what we are now seeking to do.
What concerns me is that I and my hon. Friends went into the Division lobby against that provision in order to protect directors of companies, in certain circumstances, from being presumed guilty of what had been proved against their companies. I have considerable anxiety about the fact that, having taken that step on behalf of directors of companies, I am now asked to approve of this Measure in respect of any of my fellow citizens who may be walking down the road in the outskirts of any one of our towns, having in his pocket, by chance, a stick, knuckleduster or something of that sort. The precedent of the director and his company is not as strong as this one, and yet in that case we felt it necessary to express ourselves quite strongly against it.
There are other precedents, including some which are so archaic that one can almost dismiss them as museum pieces. The burden of proof is put upon the defendant who chooses to adopt the broad arrow as his laundry mark, and another gentleman who might find himself in the same situation is one who signals with a lanthorn to smuggling ships lying out to sea. I suppose one can dismiss such cases as remaining on the Statute Book long after their term of use has expired.
While on the subject of those rather interesting examples, I confess that I should attach more value to the argument of precedent if Ministers were to state in the House that there was something of an emergency; that there was a precedent, and that it was therefore necessary 2344 for those who were going to deal with this emergency to have some rather extraordinary powers. I should also regard that argument with a great deal more sympathy if we had a Home Secretary or some other Minister who would say that people have stopped waving lanthorns at smuggling ships at sea and that he was now prepared to surrender that extraordinary power. The list of cases naturally grows in that way and, as it goes on, the argument gathers a weight which it does not merit.
Lastly, there are the precedents which are much more to the point than those I have mentioned. In Section 28 (2) of the Larceny Act, 1916, it is provided that every person who shall be found by night:… having in his possession without lawful excuse (the proof whereof shall lie on such person)any housebreaking tools is guilty of an offence. But even there it is noticeable that half the round of the clock has been taken out, because this additional power applies only to those who seek to commit these offences during the hours of darkness, and those who are behaving suspiciously can properly be said to do so with greater risk and therefore greater foolishness during the hours of darkness.
It is therefore possible to say that that very important precedent does not go quite as far as we seek to go in this case, because here we seek to put the burden of proof on the man—only in a number of cases, I admit; it does not apply to everybody—who walks about with a knickle-duster in his pocket in broad daylight. One can expect it in the hours of darkness; it is a little more foolish then. But here we seek to provide these powers in respect of acts committed in broad daylight.
There are other precedents, and the list is so long that it is impossible to search through every one; but I found a very interesting fact about the Larceny Act, which is one that is used quite frequently. I have found that it passed through this House with no reference to that particular Section and that all its stages occupied only two or three columns in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Much of it re-enacted the Larceny Act, 1861, which did not occupy even one column in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I shall be a little happier if my few words this afternoon do no more than draw 2345 attention to the fact that in this case someone has sought to put the presumption of guilt upon the defendant, and that there is a need to think before doing something which does not seem to have happened before.
There is something to be learned from Section 28 of the Larceny Act, It contains four subsections, three of which are of interest. I have already referred to one, which states that it is an offence to commit a certain act without lawful excuse and the proof thereof shall lie on the person committing the act. Side by side we find this, in subsection (1):Every person who shall be found by night armed with any dangerous or offensive weapon or instrument, with intent to break or enter into any building and to commit any felony thereinshall be guilty of an offence. The House should require an explanation with regard to this before giving this Bill a Second Reading.
Why is it that we cannot in this case adopt the same form as was adopted in the subsection which I have just read? Why is it impossible to provide that it shall be an offence to go about by day or by night armed with an offensive weapon with intent to do injury to somebody? After all, that is what we are seeking to provide. Why is it that under this Bill the prosecution does not need to prove—as prosecutions under the Larceny Act, 1916, have had to do now for some considerable time—that the accused had an intent? Why say to the accused, "We, the prosecution, are not going to prove you had an intent; we are going to put you in the dock and, if you come within two or three certain classes of case, we are going to say that we need not prove your intent; you have to prove your innocence "?
That seems to be the real question underlying this Second Reading debate. It may be said that this is a Committee point, but in a Bill which consists of only 21 lines I think it is more than a Committee point, and I make no apology to the House for having so treated it. Although it may be that there is a necessity for some sort of action, I have very grave doubts whether this Bill will be effective. I would much rather try to achieve the object by working the other way round not by attempting to make a new crime or to make conviction easier, 2346 but by making some arrangement that would be a greater deterrent. I expressed my view about that a fortnight ago in the Lobby, if not in words.
Above all, I regret that we are introducing into the law yet another instance of the burden of proof being put upon the defence. I sought for some words which would express what I have in mind. I found them in "Taylor upon Evidence," which is a book long respected in the law, at any rate on matters of this sort. Speaking of the reason we put the burden of proof on the prosecution, it says:The right which every man has to his character, the value of that character to himself and his family, and the evil consequences that would result to society if charges of guilt were lightly entertained, or readily established in Courts of justice:—these are the real considerations which have led to the adoption of the rule that all imputations of crime must be strictly proved.That is what gives me cause for doubt about the Bill. A little later in the book there are no fewer than three pages of footnotes containing exceptions to the rule, and I should think very carefully and very long before I added another to the list.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I am not a lawyer, but I was a magistrate for a number of years and was chairman of the Glasgow Magistrates' Court. Therefore I am glad to be able to follow the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs), because almost all his objections were very evident in cases which were constantly brought before the magistrates.
Loitering with intent was a common charge, and to it could be addressed all the criticisms which the hon. Gentleman has uttered on this occasion. It would appear that any hon. Member could find many flaws in an Act which enabled a policeman to charge a man, take him to prison and then bring him before the magistrate, on a charge of loitering with intent. Hon. Members might say that such circumstances could apply to any of us, that they could apply to a man waiting in the lounge of a hotel for his wife to come down from upstairs. One might also ask how a policeman or anyone else could know a man's intentions. Yet a policeman can arrest a man for loitering with intent. No one knows another man's intentions. Many a woman 2347 would be very glad to be able to do so. Yet the police profess that they know.
I remember one case of loitering with intent which came before me. I had all the feelings which the hon. Member for Bromsgrove has just expressed. I wondered how the police knew the intentions of the two men concerned. They were awaiting the arrival of the London train at the Glasgow Central Station at 6.30 a.m. Looking at the men, one immediately felt that they were not the type to be up before an honest working man, and they certainly would have to be if they were to be at the station at 6.30 a.m. Apparently they loitered, and they followed passengers into tramcars.
If the passenger put his case on the outside of the tram and took a seat facing his case, the loiterers did not jump on the tramcar. If the passenger went upstairs, the loiterers jumped on immediately. If the passenger came down in time, the loiterers jumped off the tram at the next stop. It was for those actions that the loiterers were arrested. Our law is scrupulously fair. Men are tried first, and afterwards their record is given. In this case the record showed that one man, at any rate, was a known thief.
I welcome the Bill. I am sorry to say that, however well it is worded and however well intentioned it is, I do not believe it will make much impression, but I welcome whatever impression it will make on the terrible figures we have been given. The figures have trebled since 1939, and we were told that in the past five years there had been an increase of 30 per cent. in this type of crime. Many of us were inclined to attribute the increase to the war years and believed that the crime would subside after the war, but even since the war there has been an increase. I believe we are correct in assuming that it is a newer generation which is now responsible for the figures, and I wonder whether the Home Secretary is not correct in the end in attributing it to a decline in moral standards.
I blame the parents, the newspapers and the magistrates. Without the cooperation of parents, newspapers and magistrates, we shall not make much impression on these alarming figures. I mention the magistrates because I remember that when I was the chairman of the Glasgow Magistrates' Court during 2348 the time Sir Percy Sillitoe was brought in to deal with the gangsters, we had been imposing paltry fines for these offences. It is amazing now to read of the magistrate telling a prisoner, "You have been guilty of an abominable offence. I must see that it is put down at once. You are fined 7s. 6d." Such situations are ludicrous.
It has often been implied that the lay magistrate imposes such small fines because of the influence on the votes in his constituency. I represent a ward in Glasgow which was notorious for its crime, but I cannot be said to have dealt leniently with the gangsters in my constituency; I was too close to my constituency and I realised that the gangsters were making life intolerable for the people around them. The people there were very grateful to the magistrate who did not deal with the matter from a vote-catching point of view but honestly tried to face up to the situation.
Now I come to the newspapers. What happened during the time of the Bentley-Craig case was disgusting. When all was finished, the impression left was such that I sometimes wondered whether it was not the Home Secretary who had committed the crime and had left a poor woman widowed and children without a father. All the limelight was focused on the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and all the sympathy that went out to him—and there was a great well of sympathy could hardly be expressed, at any rate, it received no note at all in the newspapers.
There is an even more recent instance. Two days ago one who was guilty of the worst possible crime—he paid the penalty for it—had the love letters which he had written in prison plastered over the front pages of the newspapers. Who cares what love letters this wretch had written? Who wanted to read his love letters? Who, with any feelings in their heart for that old gentleman and that old lady and all the miserable, heart-breaking years that they must have spent with that lad, could feel that they ever wanted to read his love letters? There was never a spark of feeling in his heart for his old father and mother, and yet his love letters were glamourised in the newspapers. The newspapers are glamourising crime. When one realises that the figures submitted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman are 2349 treble what they were in 1939. there is something to be said about the fathers and mothers.
We see our newspapers glamourising the film stars who flout their marriage vows and care not twopence for the vows they take. They are glamourised in the newspapers — "Five times married;" Four times married "what an example to hold up to the young married people of today. They should be scorned and no one should go to look at anything they have performed for the films. Young women today say, "She could not put up with her husband, why should I?" They do not seem to know what Barrie said and what every woman knows—that the second is likely to be worse than the first, the third worse than the two that have gone before, and so on. So there is a disregard of the marriage vows and all that they entail. The marriage tie and the loosening of the moral code starts there.
I have found it in my constituency when a mother came to me and pleaded for her son to be released from Borstal. She said, "You know, he did nothing wrong, Mrs. Mann." I said, "You know, they don't put him in there for nothing. What actually did he do?" Then I was told what he did. To me it seemed very serious. Then I said, "What did he do before that?"—" Oh, nothing at all much; just trivial things." When I got the report the trivial things were breaking into shops, stealing chocolates and cigarettes and breaking into houses, and the mother says these are just trivial things. Looking back, I remember when I committed my first theft. I saw a flower pot, and it looked to me very lovely. Nobody seemed to want it. It was on the outside of a window and the window was closed. I had an aunt who was very good to me—constantly giving me sweets. I thought that my aunt could do with that flower pot. I was about five years old at the time, and I carried it up to my aunt.
That night there was a tribunal in our house. There was father and mother and a threat of two policemen who would lay their hands on me, and there was the further injunction that I would finish up not in the House of Commons—but in police cells. That was perhaps a little exaggeration, but it impressed on my childish mind that I had done something 2350 very wrong. Now the slackening of the moral code has the support of many psychologists who, when they are asked to study a certain gangster for coshing an old lady, excuse the gangster. "I have found out," says the psychologist, "that when this gangster was three months' old his mother slipped him out with the bath water, and this left an impression in his memory, and so we must excuse him for coshing an old lady on the head when she was going along a dark lane."
That may he a little exaggeration of some of the arrant nonsense that is poured forth by psychologists. I myself and my own children were taught from the beginning that life was not an easy matter, that we would encounter difficulties all through our lives. We were taught that at school, and, as a mother. I did not pass on what I should do to the teacher. I think that the mother should have a job apart from the teacher, and I did not blame the teacher. We were taught from the beginning that life would be full of difficulties, that we would encounter joy and sorrow, that there would be dull days and sunny days, and that there was something in which we could put our faith which would pull us through. We were taught the well-known old hymn:
Courage, brother, do not stumble,Though thy path be dark as night.That was altogether different from taking us to a psychologist, who would discover that dad and mum had quarrelled early on in their married life and that this had left a repression.
There is far too slack a view paid to the criminal tendency which begins in the very young. I have seen mothers today whip a boy because he came in with his trousers torn. My boys came in over and over again with the seat out of their trousers. Sometimes it was a pair of trousers newly put on. They did not get a whipping. But if I detected dishonesty or telling a lie, then I took a very serious view of it. That is when parents should take a serious view.
I noticed in a newspaper the other day the picture of a mother running with her three children to a greengrocer to find out if the stuff her boy had brought home from the greengrocer had been honestly come by. The greengrocer assured her that her boy had performed some service 2351 for him and that the fruit he took home was honestly come by. I thought it was rather surprising that that story was featured and a photograph put in a newspaper. Is it odd that mothers should question their children and say, "Where did you get that; where did this come from?" If that is odd, then it is something new to me. Is it so odd that it requires half a page and a picture in a newspaper? If it is odd, then there is no doubt, as the Home Secretary said in his opening speech, that there is a loosening altogether of the moral code.
As a mother, may I say, in conclusion, that not merely have children to be watched from their very earliest years, but guided and corrected in adolescence. They should be asked where they spend their leisure—"Who were you with tonight?" That is a question which every parent ought to ask her youngsters. I am sorry to say that many a mother when her adolescents get home says "Get away out of this and let your father get peace in his own house." They are chased out. What mothers ought to do is to say, "Bring your friends and pals in tonight—it is a very wet night." That is a very good way of finding what company they are keeping. I used to do that myself. Time and again I would say, "Bring your friends in and we will have some games, or you can play cards; and there will be coffee or something like that." That is how to find out how youngsters are spending their time.
It is most important that parents should find out how their children are spending their leisure and with whom they are keeping company. I do not want to appear too hard on parents, because there are some who have obeyed all these rules and have been very unlucky with their children but I am speaking generally, and I think that generally the Home Secretary is right about the standards deteriorating.
I welcome the Bill. It will go some way towards achieving what we want. I wonder how it will apply in Glasgow, where they sew razor blades into the skip of their bonnet and into the sleeves of their jackets. I hope that the policeman, when he sees the glint of the razor blades, will be able to lay his hands on the gangster, who usually is the biggest coward one could meet. I hope that 2352 what we do here, which is but a small contribution, will be reinforced by magistrates, by newspapers and, most of all, by the parents.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Southgate)
I am very glad to be called after the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann), who has referred to newspapers, because I should be in the advantageous position of being able to refute what she said if I took that view, because I could plead special knowledge of the subject. But, not for the first time, the hon. Lady's common sense has come like a whiff of fresh air to the House.
I am bound to say, as one who has spent nearly all his life in journalism, that I think the newspapers are much to blame for the increase in crime. I do not enjoy saying that. Newspapermen are a decent lot of men, but their defence is that, "Well, this is the news. This is what the people want to read." I disagree with the hon. Lady when she says that nobody wants to read the love letters of that wretched fellow who killed his father and mother. The people do want to read them. That is where the newspapers must be blamed.
The taste of the public is very low, and I feel that it grows lower. Again, I blame to some extent the cinema, and with a sense of full authority for what I am saying—it will be examined in cold blood in Fleet Street I think that those newspapers which devote most of their space to crime, especially sex crimes, and to the glamorisation of sex, must face the responsibility of the harvest that has come from it. I do not want to labour the point, and I repeat that it gives me no pleasure to say that, but the mass circulation newspapers—there are honourable exceptions—cannot be divorced from the responsibility for what we are discussing today.
I find myself a little puzzled by the Home Secretary's statistics. It was only a few days ago that we were provided with statistics for not restoring corporal punishment. It was said that there had been a reduction of the crimes for which corporal punishment would have been used. Today my right hon. and learned Friend has produced statistics to show that there has been a great increase in 2353 crime which would justify the searching, or, at any rate, the apprehending, of people on the charge that they were going to commit a crime. I wish that the Attorney-General would tell us whether crime is on the increase or the decrease We are quite willing to accept the statement if he and the Home Secretary—
§ Mr. George Benson (Chesterfield)
In the debate on corporal punishment, the point that was made was that the crime which was a floggable offence—that is, robbery with violence—had decreased since 1948. There was no suggestion whatever that all crimes of violence had decreased. It was merely that the crime that had been floggable had decreased from the time that corporal punishment was abolished.
§ Mr. Baxter
Surely the Bill that is before the House today is to deal with incipient criminals who carry hidden implements with the purpose of committing a crime of violence.
§ Mr. Benson
In 1951, there were 800 crimes of robbery, over 1,000 crimes of felonious violence and over 4,000 crimes of malicious violence. Crimes for neither felonious nor malicious violence were floggable. The hon. Gentleman must not confuse general crimes of violence with the particular crime of violence—robbery—which was floggable.
§ Mr. Baxter
I am the more confused, but it appears that crime is increasing steadily towards a deficiency. I find myself very puzzled by the whole thing.
As we look upon the whole crime situation—I know that strictly this has nothing to do with the Bill, except that we are considering the whole situation on the broad scale—I should like to see an experiment of a five years' suspension of the death penalty. I need not go into the reasons, because I have spoken on this matter in the House before. Having said that, I should like the House to say to the criminal population, if so we can describe them, "This country is making a great struggle for rehabilitation. It has grave responsibilities to its allies and friends. This country has the responsibility of resuming, if it can, the leadership of the world"—because I cannot see any other leadership as yet that can take its place. Therefore, I should say 2354 this; "In the front line in Korea, even today, if a young fellow's nerve breaks under heavy bombardment and he deserts, he is shot." At least, men used to be shot in my war, and I suppose they still are now.
We have molly-coddled the criminal too long. We have tried to explain things far too long, as the hon. Lady was saying, by looking back with psychiatrists to find something that happened when the criminal was a child. These men, young or old, who commit crimes of violence and who threaten and terrorise the people, are the traitors of the home front. We should look upon these young people for whatever they are, and whatever age they are. The criminal who attacks with violence is far worse than the young fellow whose spirit breaks in the front line.
I should have liked the other day to have restored corporal punishment, and I voted for it, but the House took the other view and certainly the Home Secretary did not encourage it in any way. This Bill today, which in some ways goes against all our concepts of justice—that is, by presuming guilt before it has been proved—offends us in many ways. But it is the criminal class that has forced it upon us, and I, for one, will vote for it and hope that the House will do the same thing.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
I doubt very much whether there is anybody in the House who disagrees with the aim of this Bill. There is no doubt that we are faced with a serious situation in which violent crime has to be dealt with, and with what the Home Secretary said on that aspect of the matter I entirely agree.
It was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that we ought not to have a lawyers' field day on this matter. Well, so far, it has been a laymen's field day. I was gratified to listen to the eloquent generalisations that we have heard today on crime and on how deplorable the whole situation is and what may be the basic causes of it; but this is not intended to be merely a lamentation on crime; this is not intended to be merely a general debate.
2355 We have to bear in mind the fact that we are dealing with a Bill, and a serious Bill, and we must try to apply ourselves to its text, because there can be no argument that upon the operation of its text is involved the freedom of the members of the community. Maybe in some cases this freedom has to be curtailed because of crime, but it cannot be gainsaid that the freedom of the subject is involved in this particular legislation, and that, therefore, the matter is of some importance.
We have heard from the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) that he disagrees with various aspects of the Bill, and I think he did a great service to the House in sounding a note of warning as early as he did that all is not so easy in this matter as the generalisations we have heard might lead one to believe. That does not derogate from the good object of the Measure, nor does it lead me for a moment to say that the Bill ought not to be supported. What I am anxious about is that certain matters should be considered in connection with it so that in due course it can be reshaped in order to make it safe and satisfactory in its effect.
Before I come to specific parts of the Bill, there are one or two general matters that I think ought to be mentioned. The first thing that I think ought to be said is that this Bill is not a substitute for corporal punishment. I think it is important to point out that the Bill is intended simply to prevent crime, and that it is not primarily concerned with punishment at all, and it would be very wrong, in my opinion, for the idea to be allowed to go out that this is in any way a substitute for corporal punishment, because that could be used later, if this Bill failed, as an argument for saying, "Well, now we have to have corporal punishment."
The second point I want to refer to was mentioned by the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter). He referred to the molly-coddling of offenders. It is being said constantly that reformers are being far too lenient with offenders. Of course, it is absolutely wrong to say that judges or the law are molly-coddling gangsters or such brutal gentry. I can assure the hon. Member that gangsters are not being fooled by that talk. What is resulting from the talk is that the public 2356 mind is being disturbed, and people who have to administer criminal justice are not being helped by it.
§ Mr. Baxter
Oh, yes. The hon. and learned Gentleman often stands up when others are talking, and he must not mind somebody interrupting him. The point I was trying to make was that it is the attitude of newspapers, and the public generally, and the reformers who are molly-coddling—not the authorities themselves.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
Yes, but that does not bring very much profit to the criminal. The fact is that it is punishment that matters, and punishment is not in the hands of reformers. Punishment is in the hands of the judges.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
I think it is obvious to everyone who reads the newspapers, and to anyone who knows anything at all about these matters, that there are heavier sentences being imposed today than ever before—certainly, much heavier than they have been in the last 50 years. I quite realise that there was a time when a man was strung on a gibbet merely because he had stolen 6d., or for other felonies, but that was before 1827. Compared with most of the time from then onwards, I think it is right to say that there are heavier sentences being imposed today than there were before.
I think, too, that it is foolish and harmful to say there is a crime wave in this country. It is true that there is an increase of crime. That is very deplorable, and it has to be dealt with, but to say there is a crime wave is an exaggeration. It is true, of course, that quarter sessions and assizes have more work than they ever had. Quarter sessions that normally sat a day now have to sit several days, and, as far as assizes are concerned, there is a great deal of judicial time being taken up, so that there is delay in the civil list, and additional judges have had to be appointed because of the amount of criminal work. However, I repeat that it is the language of panic and exaggeration to describe the present position as a crime wave.
2357 As I say, I agree that there is an increase in crime. It is the duty of this House and of the judges to try to check it, and particularly in the respects in which this Bill seeks to do it. There is no doubt that there is a greater use today of lethal weapons, and, what is more, there are new and more horrible types of weapons being used. The cosh is the most prominent one, and there are others, such as bicycle chains, razor blades, and other types that have been mentioned. I quite agree that it is at this that the Bill aims, but the question I want to ask the Home Secretary is: does the Bill not do more than that?
I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give most careful attention to what I am going to say. I am sure he will agree with me when I say this. I have noticed that when lawyers get on to the Government Front Bench their outlook towards legal matters changes. I do not say for a moment that they do not desire to do what is best in the interests of the law and of the public, but they take a much broader view, and if they could hear in the courts what they sometimes say here, they would be astounded at some of their observations. I ask the Home Secretary to believe that I speak today as a Member of Parliament, I hope with a broad mind, but that I also feel it my duty, at the same time, as a lawyer, to bring forward matters which I believe are important for his attention.
The first point I want to mention is the definition of offensive weapons. In my submission, that definition needs very close attention. It covers two things: first of all, articlesmade or adapted for use for causing injury to the personand, secondly, articlesintended by the personcarrying them for use to injure the person. I put it to the Home Secretary that that is a very wide and flexible definition. I appreciate that some flexibility is inevitable in the circumstances, but there must also be some certainty of definition. I ask the Home Secretary to apply his mind to this matter, for, in my view, the definition is too flexible and some certainty should be introduced into it.
Turning next to the question of the power of arrest, I do not think it is 2358 unkind to say that it looks as though the Bill has been hastily drawn; and in my humble submission that is most undesirable in legislation regarding criminal offences. Let us consider, as an example, what could be included among the articlesmade or adapted for use for causing injury to the person.It is not a matter of what is intended or what an ordinary sensible person might think is intended; this is a matter for the courts. The definition as it stands would include an ordinary pocket knife. I agree at once that an ordinary pocket knife is not ordinarily made for causing injury, but clearly it is adapted for causing injury. The Home Secretary shakes his head, but if he looks at the Oxford Dictionary he will see that the word "adapted" means not only "altered for," but also means "suitable for." I venture to say, without any fear of effective contradiction, that a knife is adapted in the sense that would come within the Bill.
A walking stick could also be adapted to come within the Bill. An ordinary key chain, with keys at the end of it, is adapted for use as an offensive weapon, and in my submission it would come within the terms of the Bill. Even a pair of hefty boots, suitably garnished, would come within the Bill, and I submit to the Home Secretary that the Bill is so wide and flexible that a man's fist, with or without knuckle furniture, could come within it. Cases have been known of coins being placed between the fingers That is, in my opinion, adapting articles in the way mentioned in the Bill.
The Home Secretary shakes his head, but I warn him that the very fact that he thinks what I am saying to be farfetched shows the danger involved in this piece of legislation. He must look at the matter more closely in order to eliminate these possibilities. It may not be intended to include these articles in' the Bill, but what matters is whether the language of the Bill is wide enough to embrace such articles.
In my submission, the mere carrying of an offensive weapon will render a person liable. He may not intend to use the offensive weapon; indeed, he may not even realise that it is an offensive weapon Yet, in my view as the Clause stands, 2359 he must be convicted if he has that offensive weapon on him because he is guilty of the prescribed offence. The "excuse" referred to in Clause I will not help him very much, because "excuse" there means some good reason, not ignorance or carelessness. That may, of course, be dealt with if a question of pardon arises.
If, through ignorance or carelessness, he has such an offensive weapon in his possession, he is guilty within the Act. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to look at the authorities on the subject of "excuse," and he will then see that what I am saying is quite correct. There is, consequently, a grave danger of opening the door to the risk of unwarranted criminal liability.
On the other hand, if a gangster is found with a cosh, the maximum imprisonment which can be awarded is two years. Yet it may be very important from the point of view of public safety for the term of imprisonment to be much longer than that.
I turn, next, to the fact that the Bill casts the onus of proof upon the defendant to show lawful authority or excuse. This provision needs careful consideration. It is obvious that under the present drafting a police constable might risk making an arrest—because he feels that the Measure would cover his action—when, in other circumstances, he would take greater care. It is the Government's duty to make the power of the law comparable with reasonable safeguards against the arrest and charging of an innocent person. That must be particularly borne in mind when, in all probability, the right to sue for false imprisonment is being affected by the Bill.
During his speech, I asked the Home Secretary a question and he, in turn, asked me to cite a case. He tried to throw the onus upon me just as, in the Bill, he is trying to throw the onus upon the defendant. Of course, the onus is not upon me, and I have not any case with me, but I will tell him what I consider to be the law. If this were merely a question of false imprisonment it might be another matter, but we are dealing with the stage before that; we are dealing with the stage at which a police constable, possibly a very young man, who thinks, quite honestly, 2360 that he has reason to believe that a person is committing an offence under the Bill, is enabled to make an arrest.
It is true that there are other elements in the question of arrest. For instance, the officer can arrest only if he is not satisfied about identity or place of residence. But on the second ground in the Bill, he can arrest on the mere reason to believe that it is necessary to arrest to prevent any other offence. That second ground is most alarming. I am sure the Home Secretary realises that, as a result of it, a person could be arrested for any offence; it has nothing to do with weapons at all. I do not know whether he intended the text to mean that, but—
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I still do not know, and I am sure that all of us who are listening very carefully would like to know, whether the hon. and learned Gentleman is arguing that this is a subjective belief or an objective belief. He has not made that clear so far.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
I am coming to the question of "reason to believe," but I wanted to deal with the second point and come back to the general question of mere "reason to believe." On the second matter—I do not want the Home Secretary to get away from this—what he is seeking to do is revolutionary in criminal law. He is seeking to empower a police constable to arrest a person for any offence whatever if he thinks that that offence is likely to be committed. I ask the Home Secretary to look at these words and he will see that that is their effect.
I now come to the question of mere "reason to believe." I raised the point whether there was a distinction between mere "reason to believe" and "reasonable cause to believe." My submission is that there is no case—I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not found one—of which it has been held that mere "reason to believe" constitutes a reasonable cause for belief. That is for a very good reason; a reasonable cause is a matter which can be judged by a jury. A reason to believe is a matter which refers to the judgment or mind of the person who thinks he is right in believing a certain set of circumstances. That is a very different matter. It is a point which the right hon. and learned 2361 Gentleman will want to look into. The onus is firmly on him here. He is introducing a Measure which, without any question, is giving power to a police constable, on his mere belief that it is right to do so, to arrest a person.
I invite the Home Secretary to look at the Bill again. I say that it is loosely and puzzlingly drafted in language which has never occurred before in a criminal statute. "Reason to believe" is a ground carefully curtailed in civil cases, but it is not a very reassuring doctrine in criminal law. It is being left to the judgment of police constables, which may be entirely wrong and quite unreliable. But even if the belief of the police constable is well-founded—so extraordinary is the Measure—he cannot arrest under Clause 1 (1) if he knows the address or the identity of the criminal, even if he is a hardened criminal. That is a strange position. Why that protection should be given to a hardened criminal it is very difficult to appreciate. On the other hand, a police constable is given power to arrest any person for any offence whatsoever if the police constable thinks he has reason to believe it necessary to prevent an offence.
I ask the Home Secretary to think again about that. It seems to be going very far indeed. He will not find either in the common law or the statute law—except in a very few cases—any such sweeping right of arrest has ever been given, because Parliament has always been wary and the law, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman must know, has always been very jealous of that right. Indeed, the power to arrest without warning needs great vigilance to regulate it.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields said about the police. They have a very hard task to perform. Anyone who has anything to do with criminal administration knows how praiseworthy and efficient a body they are. Their task is being made very difficult by the shortage of their numbers. If this Bill is to be effective at all, if the power and machinery of detection is to be effective, it is clear that the strength of the police forces must be substantially increased.
Those are, in my view, reasonable criticisms of the Bill as it stands. In my opinion, it is a skeleton Bill. Considering 2362 what it proposes to enact, further provisions and safeguards ought to be imported into it. At the same time, I think it ought to have a Second Reading in order that it can go to a Committee, where I hope it will get some more clothing and sustenance to make it look more wholesome and enable it to operate with due warning for the lawless and proper protection for those who keep the law.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Bucks, South)
It is the common practice in a debate of this kind to disclose at the outset whether one is a lawyer or not, and I must declare my interest by saying that I am a lawyer. I would say to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that if lawyers take a more frequent part in these debates it is because our practice of the law impresses upon us the fact that the form of a Measure of this kind becomes more and more important year by year and the intention with which it was passed before long becomes of no importance at all.
Therefore, the doubts and reservations which some of us feel about a Measure of this kind are not in any way based on a doubt as to the necessity for some kind of action being taken now, nor certainly upon any doubt as to the rectitude and moral value of the motives of the Home Secretary in putting this Bill forward. We are concerned because once a Measure of this kind is launched, no reference to the motives which underlie it, no reference to Ministerial assurances and no reference to the debate in Parliament, can ever be made or accepted in any court of law. The Measure then stands to be interpreted and applied solely according to the words in which its intention was expressed.
I listened with great interest, as I am sure did the whole House, to the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann). I thought her assessment of the position was both shrewd and attractive. I am afraid I am in disagreement with the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) that there is not something which can be called a crime wave at the moment. As to its amplitude and length I do not speculate, but I should make clear at the outset that if there were a time limit incorporated in 2363 this Bill I would have very few reservations about any other of its terms. What disquieted me is what disquieted the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs)—the way in which Measures incorporating these exceptional rules about the burden of proof accumulate on the Statute Book. Not only that, but, as I indicated, as they get older they acquire a sort of separate existence which has not much relation to the cause which first brought them to life.
Some reference has been made to the Larceny Act, 1916, and the question of house-breaking implements. If a man is found in possession of a house-breaking implement at night, the burden of proof is shifted on to him Ns to whether the possession of such an implement was for an innocent purpose. I cannot follow the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester in his interpretation of what might be meant by "adapted," but we do find a rather elastic interpretation of what constitutes a housebreaking implement. For example, the court have held a screwdriver to be a house-breaking implement. One has to bear that kind of thing in mind in looking at a Bill of this character.
I am not concerned with the criminal or "cosh boy," or whatever he is called. If a man is guilty, we need not waste much time about the precise part of the law under which he is caught. The concern of lawyers in these matters is that we do not catch an innocent man in the same net. We have always to be very careful, when we lay down in an Act of Parliament that a man shall be deemed guilty until he can prove himself innocent. how we frame our definitions in the instrument by which we do it.
The Home Secretary pointed out very clearly in his analysis at the beginning of the debate that there were two main types of weapon, those made or adapted to cause bodily injury and those of a quite neutral character which could be used by anyone to cause bodily injury, as almost anything can. As regards the second category, I have not much difficulty in relation to the Bill. Before a quite neutral object can be construed as an offensive weapon, the prosecution have to prove that the person in possession of it intended to use it to cause bodily 2364 injury. Once they have proved that, the subject can hardly complain that he has been lightly put in peril.
There are still cases where it has been proved that a man is in possession of a neutral object like a walking-stick for the purpose of defending himself against attack. He intends to use it to cause bodily injury, but for a justifiable purpose. I do not think that this small category of cases will cause much difficulty. What worries me more is the first category, articles which are said to be adapted for use as offensive weapons. I have already mentioned the screwdriver as the kind of danger which lurks under a definition of that kind.
There is the sheath knife. A great many people carry sheath knives without any criminal intention. People like general labourers quite commonly carry a sheath knife to cut the enormous bits of bread and cheese which they are in the habit of eating.
§ Mr. Bell
I will not respond to that political sally on this occasion, although I should very much like to do so. Is everybody carrying a sheath knife prima facie committing an offence? That is what it comes to. As to penknives, there is a difficulty, but again the interpretation is so elastic that we may easily find them coming in. What about a man who carries a sword? Under the Bill he would be committing an offence. My right hon. and learned Friend says that a man going to a dance with a skean-dhu is not covered by the Bill, but of course he is. What is a skean-dhu made for if not to cause bodily injury? It is designed for that. The burden is then squarely put upon the carrier to prove that he is carrying it for a lawful purpose.
What does my right hon. and learned Friend mean by "lawful purpose or excuse"? We create an offence which has never existed before. We say it is an offence to carry any of these weapons—sword, knife and a great many other articles which I will not list—and then we say "without lawful authority or excuse," but we do not lay down what those words mean.
Is the position this, that the police, the Executive or the courts can decide of 2365 their own notion and with no law behind them that this or that is lawful authority or excuse? If so, we are handing the subject over to the discretion of the police and the courts. My right hon. and learned Friend said that we could safely pass a Measure of this kind because of the good sense of our police force and, behind it, the good sense of our courts; but that is not a position which ought to underlie our law-making in this assembly. An act should either be a criminal offence or not. We should not pass wide, general laws leaving to the discretion and good sense of our police whether to pick out this or that, and say "We shall go for that chap and we won't go for this one," and leave it to the courts to say "This is an innocent purpose and that is not an innocent purpose"?
§ Mr. George Porter (Leeds, Central)
Not being a lawyer and speaking purely as a layman, I think there is some relevance in the opinion expressed about the importance of the circumstances in which a person is found carrying such articles.
§ Mr. Bell
The wearing of a sword is a very simple case because we can see that it is being worn. The whole point of my argument, which I hope the hon. Gentleman is following, is that we do not want to put a burden upon the innocent citizen. Of course, if the policeman can never see that the man has a weapon, this Measure will never come into effect. It is only when a weapon has been detected or its existence is suspected that these provisions will have any effect at all. One must assume that the existence of a weapon is at least suspected.
§ Mr. Pannell
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that at some stage a policeman will wipe up the Sergeant-at-Arms for the sword that he is wearing at his side?
§ Mr. Bell
The point is that when we release a Measure of this kind, we have no control over the kind of person to whom it will be applied. The law is the law. It is interpreted according to the ordinary meaning of words and we cannot hark back to a debate in this House to find out what was really intended. What we have in mind is that we must never reach a state of affairs in which the ordinary law-abiding citizen is called upon to give an account of himself and justify what he is doing.
The Bill is called a Prevention of Crime Bill: it is a novelty, a significant and interesting novelty. Generally speaking, we punish for the crime and alternatively we punish an attempt to commit a crime. The Bill is an effort to go a little further than that and to get a criminal before he has started the attempt to commit the crime. The further we get away from the crime to events anterior to it, the more we begin to jostle the innocent citizen, because we are beginning now to go for something which is of an ambiguous character.
There are many circumstances in life where a man is caught in rather peculiar circumstances, and if a policeman came along at that moment he would find it difficult to explain why he was there and why he was behaving in a rather suspicious way. The law has covered that in the past by saying, "You can do what you please unless the Crown can prove beyond any reasonable doubt that you had committed or started to commit a criminal offence." That is the general theory of our law. I am anxious that we should not have, if we can avoid it, yet another encroachment upon that general theory of the law.
If my right hon. and learned Friend were to say that this Bill will lapse in five years, I would not see any question of principle in it, because I think there is a special emergency and that stronger measures may well be called for. However, I know—or I think I know—that when this Bill gets on to the Statute Book, it will stay there and it will be interpreted in the future perhaps in a way which would surprise the Parliament 2367 that passed it. I have seen it happen on so many occasions that I think it right that hon. Members should voice their anxieties upon this score to the House.
Hon. Gentlemen will know that whenever this issue has been raised I have intervened in debate, because on Second Reading in the House of Commons I believe that a number of people ought to say these things. If it became too easy to get these Bills shifting the onus on to the defence, the entire theory of our law would be shattered. Looking back, we find what care has been taken by our predecessors to ensure that the defence was always given the advantage. Until 1898 the accused person could not even give evidence, generally speaking, on his own behalf. That was done in case, while he was giving evidence and being cross-examined, he should support the case against himself. Our predecessors were so anxious that the prosecution should establish the case unaided that not only did they not ask the accused to say what he was doing, but they would not allow him to give evidence on that and be cross-examined. They did that for the sole reason of putting the burden clearly and entirely upon the prosecution.
§ Mr. Benson
I feel as the hon. and learned Gentleman feels. I do not think anybody likes the imposition of the duty of proving that he is innocent, but is not the hon. and learned Gentleman rather exaggerating when he says that there have not been encroachments in the past? What about loitering with intent, which is a very common charge?
§ Mr. Bell
That was mentioned by the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie. Of course, it is quite different. There, to establish the offence, it was to be proved (a) that he was loitering and (b) that he had the intent. If in this Bill we had to prove that the man had the intent, I would not say another word but I have doubts because, again to use the analogy, it has only to be proved that he was loitering and he has to say what he was loitering for. The hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie had not quite grasped that point. If one can prove that the man was loitering and with intent to commit a felony, quite clearly it has been proved that he was guilty of criminal conduct, but if one merely 2368 proved loitering and said, "Now it is for you to prove what you were loitering for"—
§ Mr. Bell
I shall not go into the ways of proving the intention. The hon. Member for Coabridge and Airdrie went on to describe how that was done and I thought she rather destroyed her own point because she described quite well how the police on that occasion set about proving the state of mind of the man.
The argument that has always been put forward on these occasions for shifting the burden has been that the matter was peculiarly within the knowledge of the accused and that, therefore, he ought to undertake the burden. I always think that is a bad reason. If a man is guilty, it is quite true that he knows more about it than anyone else, but if he is innocent he may not do so and he may be put in a very difficult situation.
The right class of cases for shifting the burden were the earliest class, that is, the licence class of case where, for example, the man is charged under the Theatres Act for not having a theatre licence. Why should police waste their time looking through all the registers when the man merely has to produce the licence and say, "There it is." That is, on the whole, the most numerous class. It is the entirely justifiable class where the burden is shifted: but if we once admit it as a valid ground for shifting the burden that the accused knows better than anyone else, we shall find that it will be difficult to see why it should not be shifted in almost every class of offence, and the entire system of English justice will be altered on that account.
I have described my reasons for having doubts about the Bill. Nevertheless I shall support it on Second Reading because if a time Clause were put in, or the burden of proof were shifted, I should think it a proper Bill to be passed by Parliament at the present time. I have criticised it because it is useful to indicate on Second Reading the kind of objections which some of us will feel it our duty to crystallise into Amendments in Committee.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
The hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) and earlier the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) have been following well in the line of the traditions of this House and of the profession to which they both belong in one branch or the other. At great pains they have tried to preserve the liberty of the subject. That is something for which we can all commend them, but I did not see why the hon. Member for Bromsgrove felt it all right apparently to have a knuckle-duster in one's pocket in the afternoon but not in the evening. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South was exaggerating when he implied, Mr. Speaker, that your skean-dhu or dirk would be in danger, or that you would be in danger for wearing either, because there is in Clause 1 (1) of the Bill a provision that if you wear them with lawful excuse, you are all right.
§ Mr. R. Bell
I am sorry to interrupt so early, but the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised a point that I mentioned. Could he help me on the question of what is the meaning of "lawful" in that connection?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
It would take some time to give a good lecture upon the meaning of the world "lawful" but there is no doubt about it in the mind of the average juryman. After all, it has been before the courts on thousands of occasions and there is not the slightest difficulty in deciding which is a lawful occasion and which is not. I admit that there is room for argument there, but I have not noticed any great difficulty in the construction or interpretation of that word by juries. Therefore, I do not agree that there is any difficulty about it.
I cannot compete either with the geniality or the all-round knowledge, the common, sound good sense of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). At the same time, I should like to be able to compete at some stage with his ever youthful elder statesmanship. I shall follow on this occasion with great glee his advice in two particulars, both as to the humility with which I must sit at the feet of my right hon. and learned Friend who is to speak from this side of the House later, 2370 and also because I shall follow him in supporting this Bill.
This is, on the whole, a necessary Bill, though I think that it contains certain provisions from which harm might easily spring. I should like to address a few words on one of these points to the Home Secretary, because I am sure that he is only too glad to receive suggestions which may possibly lead to a proper administration of the Bill if and when it becomes law.
The possibility of harm to which I am referring at present is the further point which is given to police constables to arrest. In the circumstances of the day this particular power is not too wide a power but I wonder whether the Home Secretary, when he is giving this power to police constables, would also consider sending round an instruction, from the very beginning when the Bill becomes law, that this power is to be exercised with the very greatest possible restraint.
It may very well be that already, without this Bill, the police are sometimes, I will not say too ready with the trigger, but too ready with the arrest. Sometimes, maybe, they arrest either out of nervousness or out of officiousness. We all tend to be officious from time to time. The police have the greatest possible excuse of anyone for being officious in that they are between the devil of fear that the real criminal should escape and the deep sea of their anxiety lest they should arrest a man who is not a criminal at all and do wrong to him, a fellow citizen, and suffer penalties themselves for wrongful arrest. One has great sympathy with the police.
I have a slight interest to declare because from time to time, though not so often as I should like, I carry on a certain part of my anatomy a truncheon—I am a special constable. I will not enlighten the House as to where on my anatomy I carry it. But I ask the Home Secretary to give instructions when the Bill becomes law, or even before that, that police officers must exercise this power of arrest with the greatest possible care. It would be a great help to them to be told that.
I do not feel any difficulty about Clause 1 (1). I agree with the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South and the hon. Member for Bromsgrove that we 2371 ought to view with great suspicion anything which encroaches upon the liberty of the subject. I hope that I shall always do so. But in my small experience of the courts I have not seen this difficulty which accused people are supposed to have when, in the circumstances in which this particular type of power has been used, they are called to justify their possession of house-breaking instruments by night, or whatever it may be.
It is the kind of thing of which one ought to have great suspicion, but in practice I do not think that it has led to injustice. I am sure that hon. and right hon. and learned Members who have had far more experience of these matters will agree that there have not been cases of that kind where injustice has been done. It is generally very easy to say whether a screwdriver is lawfully possessed or whether it is not and whether it is a house-breaking instrument.
But I feel that Clause 1 (2) is in a different class altogether. First, in order to arrest under Clause 1 (2) there must be reasonable cause for believing that the man whom it is proposed to arrest has on him or, as the Bill says, "with him" an offensive weapon. Secondly, there must be one or other of two things, but not both: either the police constable must be dissatisfied as to the man's identity or address, or must believe it is necessary to arrest him for the prevention of "any other offence."
I hope that in due course the Home Secretary will look very carefully at those words "any other offence." It seems to me so incongruous that this consideration of the prevention of any other crime should be linked with the possession of an offensive weapon. One hears again and again—it is common talk—of civil servants having cups of tea every day and at all times of the day. No doubt cups of tea are imbibed in the Home Office in the morning, and it may be that there are tea parties. If there are tea parties, why not a party game? One can imagine the party game of bringing new grounds for arrest out of the hat. It seems to me that this is what has happened in this Bill. These words seem to have no connection with an offensive weapon. The offence about to be committed might be 2372 abortion or forgery. What have they to do with art offensive weapon?
Yet this Bill covers any offence which might be about to be committed if the constable first of all has reasonable belief that the person concerned is in possession of an offensive weapon. I should feel very grateful if whoever replies to this debate will say something about this point. It may very well be that the Government only want this particular consideration to be one of fearing that another crime of violence is going to be committed. I suppose it is perfectly open to the Attorney-General to say that, having regard to the rule ejusdem generis, this Bill, when it becomes a statute, might be interpreted in that way. But there is some doubt about it.
I will not bother the House with quoting authorities, because I agree that we ought not to be technical in this House on any subject if we can help it. I say that there is a doubt whether the Bill as it stands means that this power should be confined to crimes of violence which the constable suspects are to be committed or whether it applies to any other crime in the world, such as fraudulent conversion. If only crimes of violence are intended by the wording of the Bill, the provision is perfectly logical and I should be prepared to support it completely. But we ought to be sure. Criminal statutes have to be construed very exactly, not only in the sense of allowing all latitude towards the accused but exactly in accord with the letter of the law. I hope that whoever replies to the debate will make a statement which will clear our minds upon this point.
We all hope that the present phase of crime—I certainly would not describe it as a wave—will only be temporary but, as the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South has rightly said, this Bill as a Statute will be permanent. I do not suppose that anybody will think of repealing it. Therefore, it is up to us to exercise the greatest care lest some permanent menace to our liberty be enshrined in the law.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel H. M. Hyde (Belfast, North)
I shall only detain the House for a very few minutes, but I should like to say that whatever differences of outlook there may be among hon. and right hon. Members about the details of this Bill, I 2373 am glad that its general principle commands approval on both sides of the House. I think also that it has the approval of the majority of people in the country who will realise that the Bill, even in its present form, shows that the Government are determined to tackle the current wave of crimes of violence.
I know that the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) dissents from the view that there is a wave of crime at the present time. He is entitled to his opinion. It is a matter of personal opinion, but there have been, whether the word used is "wave" or "increase," more crimes of violence since the end of the war. That is not to say we are a more lawless people than we were 50 years ago. I think there were at least three times the number of crimes of violence committed then than is the case today, and we can only hope that this increase over the last few years is but temporary, that the problem will respond to measures such as this, and that ultimately it will show a decline.
Prohibiting the carrying of offensive weapons for offensive purposes is only one factor to be considered in the great problem of the prevention of crime. There are other factors. There is the need, for example, for enlarging our prison accommodation and our Borstal, detention and attendance centres which have been set up under the great Criminal Justice Act, 1948. As has already been stressed, there is the need to attract more recruits to the police force, because the greatest deterrent of all and the one that operates in the mind of every citizen is the fear of being caught. That cannot happen unless there is a really efficient and adequate police force.
There is also the need—we have also heard this stressed—for a better sense of parental responsibility in bringing up the young and for more effective control of children and young people at an age when they are subject to very vital and formative influences in their careers. Offensive weapons like the cosh and the knuckle-duster, and also those which have been used as an illustration, such as the bicycle chain and the broken milk bottle, which can be easily procured and used, all constitute an important factor in the crime situation. I believe the Government would be failing in their duty if they did not tackle it now.
2374 In this debate we have heard a good deal about the onus of proof and how it has in certain circumstances shifted and been put upon the defendant. One may regret that in those circumstances and in these cases the burden of proof should be thrown upon the accused. I regard that as a necessity, possibly an unfortunate necessity, but it is a necessity if we are to cope efficiently with crime. If we do not have a shifting of the burden of proof in certain circumstances, then I believe the dice will be too heavily loaded on the side of the wrongdoer.
Like the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), I do not feel there is a great deal to worry about in Clause I of the Bill. I see no particular objection to the phrase, "without lawful authority or excuse." There are many precedents for that phrase. It has been used in other Acts of Parliament on many occasions where the burden of proof has been shifted in circumstances which have been alluded to. We have heard something about the Larceny Acts in relation to house-breaking implements. There are other precedents such as the Merchandise Marks Act, which puts the onus of proof upon anyone who is using a false trade mark that he has acted innocently.
There is also an example which I do not think has hitherto been quoted in this debate, the possession of implements for making counterfeit coins. The phrase was used in the Coinage Offences Act, 1861, where it says:Whosoever without lawful authority or excuse (the proof whereof shall lie on the party accused) shall have in his custody or possessioncoining tools shall be guilty of an offence. There is one point which arises out of that. No reference is made to the question of locality. It did not matter where the coinage offence took place, the burden was upon the possessor of the implement to say that he possessed it for innocent purposes. It has been found necessary in this Bill to restrict the carrying or the possession of offensive weapons to public places, but I can conceive where a cosh or knuckle-duster must be kept, not in a private dwelling but in some premises used for non-residential purposes like a shop, a warehouse or some building of that kind.
It appears from the Bill that this offence is concerned exclusively with 2375 members of the male sex. I do not know whether it could he argued here, but it can be in the United States, that there are "cosh girls" as well as "cosh boys." No doubt the Attorney-General in his reply will tell us why this Bill is not to be applied to the other sex.
As regards the definition of "offensive weapon," I was not clear where the burden of proof lay, but it appears now from the Home Secretary's speech that here the burden of proof is laid upon the accused person. In this instance, in my opinion—and here I think I am at one with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South—this is a feature of the Bill which seems to be open to most objection or criticism.
There is a question about the use of a weapon which may be intended by the person carrying it to be for an offensive object but nevertheless for the purposes of self-protection. I can recall an example of what I mean. There is a lady who is actually employed within the precincts of this honourable House who has to cross a heath or common on her way home. Because attacks have been taking place there, she armed herself with a knitting needle as a means of protection. A month or so ago on her way home she was attacked by a youth who tried to snatch her handbag from her, and she promptly jabbed him on a tender part of his body and the result was he made off. Is it to be regarded as an offence to carry a knitting needle or other object for the purpose of self-defence?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hyde
Finally, there is the question of the penalties. I do not know whether, in view of the seriousness of the use to which offensive weapons can be put, we ought to say that the penalties which Clause 1 lays down are sufficiently severe to act as a deterrent, but that is no doubt a question which can be pursued further in Committee.
There is only one more point I wish to make. I notice that Clause 2 states:This Act shall not extend to Northern Ireland.Speaking as a Northern Irish Member, that seems to me to be constitutionally right, as home affairs is a service which has been transferred to the local Government of Northern Ireland. I do not know 2376 whether they will in this question follow the example of this House, but it is right that it should be left to them to make the decision.
The principle behind this Bill is a sound one, and will commend itself to the country at large. There are a few points which have been mentioned, some I have mentioned myself, which are capable of improvement, but they are points which can be raised in Committee. I willingly give my support to the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I wish to deal with only one or two points. One which I hope the Home Secretary will look at has been touched upon by one of my hon. Friends. It is sometimes found rather difficult to separate the offence from the atmosphere at the time. If I may instance a personal experience, I can think of the time when the Emergency Powers Act came into force in 1926. There was a good deal of political malice in the air. One has been called on in the sort of case in which the attention of the police authorities has been attracted when one has been demonstrating. I hope that the Home Secretary will consider that factor in the context of an industrial dispute. It is an old devil that dies hard. I am a trade unionist of long standing. I do not want to recount old scores, but I suggest that the Home Secretary should look at the powers of arrest in the context of industrial disputes. That is a very valid point.
We defeated a Bill recently for the re-imposition of whipping and we have to put something in its place. It is not sufficient for us to say that we are not in favour of whipping and sit still, merely maintaining that position. There is a particular burden on those people who would do a good deal rather than see corporal punishment back to say what we should do in face of the situation at present.
We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) about the cause; and all the excuses to account for the crime wave have been brought into the picture. That aspect can be over-stated. I can remember as a small boy having streets pointed out to me as the kind of street where a policeman dare not go alone. 2377 That sort of situation has largely disappeared with the increasing standards of education. I do not think that all the changes are on the debit side.
I do not wish to labour that point but to deal with two points, an aspect of one of which affects my constituency. I refer to recruitment for the police and recruitment for the prison service, which are matters that have caused in part what is implied in this Measure.
We have tried all the palliatives which almost every other service has tried since the war in an attempt to bring the police force up to strength. In the field of local government, sanitary inspectors and technicians could not be obtained, and in trying to obtain them we increased pay and improved conditions. In the case of the police force we pushed up pay to the point at which it provoked a strike among the firemen. We should make practical suggestions, and I ask the Home Secretary to consider, bearing in mind the present state of the police force in the country, whether it is not possible for National Service men of good character and the right physique to opt to join the police force during their period of National Service.
I know some of the standard objections to that, but in the Metropolitan Police Force, and Birmingham, and places of that kind there is a serious deficiency of more than 3,000. In Leeds there is a deficiency of only 11. For various reasons we in Leeds may be lucky in not having so big a problem. Will the Home Secretary consider the advantages of the suggestion I have made? Its adoption would mean that for so long as there was National Service we should have a steady stream—we only need a few thousands—of young men of good character passing through the force for a period of two years. They would not necessarily be looking for promotion but it is generally true that integration in a police force, as in a regiment, would mean that these men of good character would retain an affection for the force for the rest of their lives.
If that could be done we should, probably for the first time in history, completely integrate the force—even more closely than now—with the civilian population. This idea might well have its attractions in a university city such as Leeds, where students are increasingly 2378 finding it necessary to have a salary and are working. In this service shifts are staggered. The more I have thought about this idea and discussed it, the more I think it should be a possibility. We ought to remove all the excuses against the implementation of the 1948 Act.
The problem of the shortage of police with which we are faced is the logical consequence of full employment, and its effect not only on the police but in many other spheres of employment, even mining. The hard job is not so attractive now. The building trade is affected; men would rather go into the maintenance side and work under cover rather than go on building sites in the open. I ask the Home Secretary to look carefully at this idea. When it was first put to me, I must say that it seemed impracticable, but the more I think of what we should gain from it the more attractive it seems. Already we have had War Reserve policemen, who I have no doubt have given a creditable performance. We have special constables. Having exhausted all the attractions that can be offered in the way of pay, we ought to look at some other expedients in order to bring the police force up to strength.
There is one other matter which particularly concerns my constituency, and upon which I wish to speak frankly. I refer to the question of recruitment for the prison service, with which I am not satisfied. It has attracted my attention during the whole time I have been in the House. In this matter I can also speak for the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Kaberry), who has a similar constituency problem. In both cases Armley Gaol is concerned. The hon. Member shares my misgivings and dissatisfaction.
I will give the Home Secretary figures from an answer which he gave me and ask him whether he considers they represent a really satisfactory state of affairs. I asked him how many applicants there had been to enter the prison service in Her Majesty's Prison at Armley, Leeds, during the last three years, stating separately how many had been accepted and how many rejected after the first probationary period. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West is also acquainted with this problem of men who have not been accepted for the prison service. Since 1949 I must have seen 15 or 17 2379 men about this topic. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West is in the legal profession. He is a native of Leeds and he knows the circumstances.
These applicants have been good men of the non-commissioned officer type. They included a petty officer who had won a decoration. They have all been dissatisfied about the grounds on which they have been rejected after serving a probationary period. Perhaps that is an over-statement, for they have never really known what the grounds were. I wonder whether the sort of tests to which these people are subjected are the wrong ones. This was the reply:During the year ended 31st December, 1950, 322 applicants for the post of prison officer attended at H.M. Prison, Leeds, for a first interview. Forty-seven eventually joined for preliminary training of whom 13 resigned and 18 were discharged as unsuitable to attend the Training School at Wakefield. Of the 16 who attended at Wakefield, two failed to qualify and the remaining 14 have become established prison officers.That is 14 out of 322.During the year ended 31st December, 1951, 138 applicants attended for first interview. Twenty-six joined for preliminary training of whom one resigned and 10 were discharged as unsuitable for the Training School. Of the 15 who went to Wakefield, one failed to qualify and the remaining 14 have become established officers.In that year, out of 138 applicants 14 came through. The reply continued:Three hundred and seven applicants attended for first interview during the year ended 31st December, 1952. Out of 30 who joined for preliminary training, 14 have not yet completed this period of training and six of the remainder have been discharged as unsuitable to attend the Training School. Of the 10 who attended at Wakefield five failed to qualify and five have become established officers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1953; Vol. 510, c. 140.]Five out of 307 became prison officers. All the statistics indicate that this problem merits inquiry. This criticism is not directed particularly at the present Minister. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) knows that I spoke to him on this matter when he was in office, and I took it up in conversation and argument with my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas). I can honestly say that this position oppresses me just as it oppresses the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West.
2380 I am not one of those people who necessarily blames the psychologists. I fully appreciate that in sifting men for prison service we have to guard against anti-social trends like sadism, homosexuality and related matters. But I suggest that the Department are tending to look with satisfaction at what they have done up to now. I put it to the Government that these figures show that there is cause for grave dissatisfaction. There seems to be a shocking disparity between the number of men who volunteered and thought that they had a vocation for this service and the number accepted for preliminary training. On one occasion no fewer than six men came to me in a deputation on this problem. There is something most unsatisfactory about it. My feeling of distinct uneasiness has grown during the years in which I have tried to deal with the situation.
Many hard things are said about psychology, but we should not play with science and then throw the result away. A remarkable case was brought to my attention not long ago. The diagnosis of a psychiatrist, who was a distinguished man in his profession, was alarming. It was a case of a boy growing away from his mental age, and the prognosis worked out almost with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. After that, I do not propose to say anything in criticism. It was an antidote to laymen who enjoy little quips at psychiatrists like the one by Noel Coward in "Blithe Spirit" when he says, "Why go to a psychiatrist to learn that you were in love with your rocking-horse at the age of two?"
I say to the Minister that, while we accept the Bill now with the sort of reservations I have made, because this burden of shifting the onus of proof to the prisoner rather than to the prosecution is one that has been pressed upon the minds of us all, we recognise that those who do not want to see a return of corporal punishment have a special responsibility to support the Executive at present. This is not only a question of police officers or prison officers. We must, if necessary, examine novel ideas to persuade policemen to join the force. This is not merely a question of providing houses for them or putting up pay. In conclusion, I hope that note will be taken of what I have said about Armley Gaol and that inquiries will be made.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
I am unable to follow the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) in what he said. Whatever he had to say about the prison service, we are more concerned today with preventing crime than with dealing with the criminal when we have got him inside the prison.
I prefer to follow more closely the comments of the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann), who explained that the best way to prevent crime is by the imposition of proper discipline and training when young. She explained that she herself had had that advantage but, unfortunately, there are many people who have not had the benefit of that kind of training. As a result, there has grown up a type of criminals to whom violence represents no stumbling block. Often they are young, but that does not necessarily mean that all offenders are young. Violence means no more to them than the non-violent offence meant to the criminal a few years ago.
We must deal with these people. But we have not only to deal with them. Many people forget that we ought to consider even more their victims. There has been far too much glamorisation, far too much inquiry and discussion about what should or should not be done with people who have been charged. If offenders are caught and convicted, it often happens that even if they are given what are called good stiff sentences, they are released from prison while their victims, if they are still alive, are still crippled. We should bear in mind the troubles of the victim.
That is why I abhor the kind of sensationalism, the kind of false propaganda which has been used especially in two recent cases of which all hon. Members are aware. Those who intentionally worked up these cases for their own propaganda purposes, and it may be for the purpose of selling newspapers, should not be supported in their disgraceful conduct.
This Bill is a very good one. It has the merit of being short, which so few Bills have nowadays, but there is one small point on which, in my opinion, it might be improved. I agree that the greatest care must be taken when the burden of proof is put upon the accused. 2382 But in the case of this Bill I do not think that is necessary. If the words of Clause 1 (1) were altered to say that if the courts were satisfied thatAny person who without lawful authority or excuse, has with him in any public place any offensive weapon "—etc., all that is required has been done. Evidence would be given that a person was found with an offensive weapon, and that there were suspicious circumstances, and the court would soon ask the defendant what was his excuse. If the wording was so amended, all the fears expressed by hon. Members who have referred to the matter would be assuaged, and the Bill would not be weakened.
So far as the powers of arrest are concerned, I support the Bill wholeheartedly. It is the whole essence of the Bill that a person is arrested in order to prevent him from committing a crime which there is reason to believe he will commit. If that power is restricted, if it is necessary to think ten times before exercising it, the teeth will be taken out of the Bill, and the time spent upon it entirely wasted. In such circumstances, it would be necessary to wait until a crime had been committed before arresting the criminal.
I could not follow the reasoning of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) that a policeman would be able to arrest anybody whom he thought to be a potential criminal. In the first place, such a person would have to be found in possession of an offensive weapon. Second, the circumstances must be such that the policeman had reason to think the person might be about to commit some crime. That is fair language, and I think the words referring to it should remain in the Bill without any kind of alteration.
Regarding the definition of an offensive weapon, on re-reading the Bill I do not think there is much that can be altered. An article made for causing injury is the very definition we have in the Bill. Whether the word "altered" should be used rather than "adapted" is a matter on which I hold no very strong opinion. I should have used the word "altered" rather than "adapted," because all sorts of things can be adapted for use as offensive weapons. Even an Order Paper which is rolled up and poked into one's eye could be offensive. There is, in fact, nothing that could 2383 not be taken to be included, or might be included, if the words were left as they are at present.
In this country we have very rightly prohibited the carrying of firearms except under licence, and licences are not granted except for a good reason. It seems to me, therefore, entirely wrong that people should be allowed, without lawful excuse, to carry a weapon which could cause more injury and harm than a firearm. I regard this Bill as only another extension of the Firearms Acts for the greater protection of the public.
There are many people today who, even though physically capable of looking after themselves, do not like to be taken by surprise. There are many people who, even if they were warned, would be quite incapable of defending themselves. Let us not, therefore, molly-coddle criminals. or protect those people who try to harm or injure others. We can prevent that by supporting this Bill and by giving the police power to arrest someone who has not yet committed a crime but whom there is reason to believe is going to do so; that belief being supported and encouraged by the fact that he is in possession of a weapon which can cause injury. It will give me great pleasure to support this Bill, and that is my intention.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Granville West (Pontypool)
A significant feature of this debate is that not one speech has been made against the principle of this Bill. It is clear, therefore, that the whole House supports it in principle. When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) dealt with the principles underlying the Bill, he received the assent of other hon. Members, and I associate myself with the observations he made. It was when he dealt with the legal technicalities of the Bill that I found myself in violent disagreement with him, although I must confess that when he intervened while the Home Secretary was speaking I felt some sympathy with the point of view he expressed.
When the Home Secretary said that the authority for the words, "reason to believe" used in the Bill was to be 2384 found in the case of Green, my recollection was that the form of words used in that case was not "reason to believe," but that the Home Secretary had "reasonable cause to believe." It was to that point that I sought to draw the attention of the Home Secretary. If my recollection is right, it was a case of habeas corpus. A person was detained on the authority of the Home Secretary. Instead of the court having power—as the Home Secretary suggested the court has power under this Bill with this form of words—to discover the grounds for the Home Secretary having reasonable cause for believing that the man should be detained, the Court of Appeal decided it could not investigate the grounds upon which the Home Secretary came to that conclusion.
There are certain views about this Bill to which I would draw the attention of the Attorney-General. It has been suggested that the words which throw the onus of proof upon the defendant should be omitted from Clause 1 (1), which would mean that the Clause would read:Any person who without lawful authority or excuse, has with him in any public place any offensive weapon shall be guilty…If those words were omitted, it would be extremely difficult to get a conviction at all, because it would throw the onus on the prosecution of proving a negative; that is, that the individual who had an offensive weapon upon him had it without lawful authority or without lawful excuse. It would be perfectly easy for a person found in circumstances where he had an offensive weapon in his possession to show to the court that he had lawful authority, and that the law had sanctioned his right to carry that weapon. If the law has not prohibited him from carrying it, he has a perfectly good answer to any charge under this Bill.
I have some doubt about the provision that the constablemay arrest without warrant any person whom he has reason to believe to be committing an offence…under this Bill. The Home Secretary suggested to the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester that he should say whether the authority that he was quoting was one with an objective or subjective test. I submit that on the proper construction of subsection (2) there is some doubt whether the police constable 2385 who arrests the individual has himself to have reason to believe, or whether the reason to believe is a matter which can be investigated by the court, as it says:A constable may arrest without warrant any person whom he has reason to believe to be committing an offence…That means that it is the police officer who has to have reason to believe that the individual is committing an offence, and I should be obliged if, when replying, the Attorney-General would pay some attention to these words. It seems to me they are a little dangerous and are enlarging the powers of arrest. I feel that the other form of words which has been used time and time again in many other Acts might be better—that the police constable may arrest where there are reasonable grounds, that is, where the grounds on which he forms his opinion can be investigated by the court and then decided to be reasonable. However, that is a Committee point, and there are some other Committee points which will have to be considered.
There is one further point about the definition of offensive weapons.
§ Mr. Ede
Will my hon. Friend allow me to interrupt him, because I pay great attention to what he says? He was my Parliamentary Private Secretary for some time and frequently put me right on points of law. Therefore, I want him, if he will, to pay attention to the words of subsection (2) which authorise a constable toarrest without warrant any person whom he has reason to believe to be committing an offence under subsection (1) of this section, if the constable is not satisfied as to that person's identity or place of residence.If a constable goes up to a man whom he thinks is in possession of an offensive weapon and asks him for his name and address and the man says he is the Archbishop of Canterbury and lives at Lambeth Palace, and if the constable does not recognise him as that distinguished prelate, he may take him into custody. But, apart from that, he has to havereason to believe that it is necessary to arrest him in order to prevent the commission of any other offence.Suppose I am wandering around the outskirts of a crowd with a nice piece of wood with a razor in it and am looking for somebody rather smaller than myself to slash with that weapon, surely that is 2386 the second case in which the power of arrest is given. As I read the subsection, and I hope my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—I only put it to him because, while I would argue with a solicitor, I would not argue with a learned counsel—it seems to me that those are the only two cases in which the power of arrest is given.
§ Mr. West
I quite agree with my right hon. Friend, but I am not dealing with the man who has in his possession a razor which has been adapted as a weapon; I am dealing with the individual who has no weapon at all, the innocent member of the public who is arrested by a police officer because the officer has reason to believe that he is committing an offence under the subsection. I am anxious about it because it would seem to be extending the powers of a police officer to take into custody perfectly innocent people.
Is the test to be applied whether the grounds upon which the police officer is arresting the individual are to be investigated by the court, or is it only the police officer who has to decide whether his reason is well founded or not? It is on that point that I should like the Attorney-General to give some consideration. As to the conditions, I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend has said, and I accept that those conditions exist.
I was about to deal with the definition of "offensive weapons." As the Home Secretary indicated, they fall into three categories—weapons which are made for causing injury to the person, weapons which are adapted for causing injury to the person, and any article with which the person possessing it intends to cause injury by its use. I put it to the Attorney-General that the ordinary open razor is not a weapon which has been made for causing injury to the person, and, therefore, a thug who may not be known to the police may be carrying an ordinary open razor in his pocket, but unless the prosecution can prove that he intended to cause injury with that razor, then it seems there is no power under this Bill to charge him with any offence, because the razor is not made for causing injury to the person and has not been adapted for causing injury to the person.
Therefore, in my respectful submission, instead of this definition of offensive weapons being unduly wide, it is, in fact, 2387 a limited definition. In earlier Acts of Parliament there has been reference to offensive weapons which have been defined by the courts as weapons which by their nature are offensive. In certain circumstances a large stone can be an offensive weapon. I am wondering whether it is really to the advantage of the Bill to define offensive weapons in this context. It is, of course, a matter which would have to be considered in Committee.
Although I have these criticisms to make with regard to the form of the Bill itself, I should like to join with other hon. Members in saying that it has my support. It has received support from all sections of this House because it is one of the means by which it is hoped to prevent crime.
Reference has been made to another factor, the sensationalism of the public Press. The hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter), a highly respected and well-known journalist, suggested to the House that the Press had a great responsibility in this matter. I should be glad if the Attorney-General would tell us whether the Government accept the view that the Press today are contributing to some extent towards the present trend of crime.
Reference has also been made to the kind of films being shown in this country and to their potential encouragement to crime. Do the Government hold that view? If the Government hold the view that the Press and films are contributing to crime in this country, what are they going to do about it? Are they going to take any action to limit the power of the Press? Are they going to introduce legislation with a view to limiting the power of cinema proprietors to show films which are likely to encourage crime in this country? When a Government bring in a Measure which limits and restricts the rights of the individual, I think we are entitled to say that they should also introduce legislation to restrict the power of the Press and the cinema, because it is on such tests that the sincerity of the Government will be judged.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. F. P. Crowder (Ruislip Northwood)
It is seldom in this House that a Member can say that he agrees with almost every word that the last speaker 2388 has said. I welcome the Bill for the reason that it seeks to prevent crime. There have been statistics to show that crime has been on the increase, particularly in the years following the war. I think we shall now begin to see a decrease, for the reason that many of the regulations, particularly the Defence Regulations, which themselves produced criminal offences, are gradually being done away with.
The second reason we may now see a decrease in crime is a rather more humorous reason. The late Government, without knowing it, were largely responsible for this increase on account of the inflation under which we have suffered for the past six years. When there is plenty of money about there is always plenty of crime, because the receivers are able to dispose of their goods and to dispose of them quickly; and in return, of course, they give the criminal a good price.
In my few remarks I do not seek to rely in any way on statistics. They certainly do not show the degree of violence of the crime, and very often—this is important and is particularly related to the debate that we had on flogging—they now do not show the violence at all. What happens nowhere I must declare my interest as one who practises daily at the criminal Bar—is that if a person is charged with robbery with violence, the person defending him says to the prosecutor, "Look here, the evidence on the violence is somewhat uncertain. It is going to take us about a day and a half to get through this case before the jury. Will you agree to accept a plea to the robbery and cut out the violence?"
Before the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, nobody who was prosecuting could ever have accepted that, because for the violence there was a separate penalty of whipping. Today, however, the prosecution are only too delighted to accept such a plea. The man comes into the dock and pleads guilty. The prosecution then tell the judge exactly what the case is about. They tell him of all the circumstances of the case and all about the violence. As only imprisonment can be imposed, the judge probably has 20 or 30 years at his disposal for sentence, and so everybody is satisfied. What happens, of course, is that the statistic 2389 which is recorded is for larceny or robbery only, and nothing whatever is said about the violence.
Therefore, it is not true to say that since 1948 the crime of robbery with violence as such has become less, or is, indeed, much the same. From my experience in all the robbery with violence cases which I have been in since—it has happened so very often—the probability was that if we could look deeply enough into it, we would find that this particular crime has increased a very great deal. It is for that reason that I do not seek to bother with statistics in what I have to say.
What we have to consider is the sort of person who commits these crimes. I know that there are many distinguished people in the House who give a lot of time to visiting prisoners, studying their mentality, and so on. I have had the opportunity time and again of studying the mentality of these young men about half an hour before they go into court to face their trial or to be sentenced. It is in those moments that one gets a pretty clear idea of their feelings about the sort of punishment that they will get.
I well remember, after the Criminal Justice Act was passed, how they very often had a copy of it in their pockets. I remember saying to them, "Now we have to consider, in a robbery with violence charge, the violence aspect of the case." Numbers of them said to me, "You need not worry about the violence, Mr. Crowder. That has been done away with by Parliament. That has all gone."
I wish that I could convey to the House something of the ruthlessness and contempt for authority that these young men have. On a number of occasions they have said to me, with regard to robbery. "There is no question of the cat or flogging. That is all gone and we do not have to worry about it. Thank heaven for that." In any case, the House has taken the view that flogging is not to come back. I voted for it, although somewhat unwillingly, for obviously flogging is a thing that we do not want to have, but I did so because I believe it is the only way to deal with some of these young men.
It might be said that I am, perhaps, a little prejudiced in making these remarks, but I have a quotation which is of some 2390 interest. It comes from the Home Office and is in the Report of the Central Aftercare Association for prisoners. It says, and from general observations I believe it to be true:The trouble with many of our men is that they seem to be devoid of all moral sense. Their judgment of what is right or wrong only appears to become quickened when some other person does to them precisely the same kind of action that they themselves have been doing for years.It has been agreed that flogging in that respect shall be done away with, but I should have liked to see in the Bill some form of penalty which would frighten these young thugs. I do not believe that many of them are in the least frightened of prison. I think that "three years" sounds the same to them as "six years," such is the state of their mentality. But if they knew that by committing a crime of violence they would go to something like an Army detention barracks—which used to be called the "glasshouse" where they had to get up at about half-past five in the morning and had a most uncomfortable life, drilling, marching and doubling here, there and everywhere, I believe that they would take on a very different attitude of mind.
Probably the worst thing I have seen about our prisons is the ghastly lowering effect that they have on the mentality of the prisoner. There is the appalling fact of being associated with the type of person who is found there; of being shut up in the cell from half-past four in the afternoon until half-past six in the morning; the low quality of the food and the low quality of the life. That is why there is a strong argument for saying that it is much better to produce some form of punishment, possibly on the detention barracks basis, which can be short and sharp.
To my mind, nothing can be worse than for a young man to serve a long term of imprisonment. Let him go somewhere on that detention barracks basis; where he learns to have his hair cut and to straighten his shoulders and where he can come out of the place feeling at least 30 per cent. fitter, having absolutely loathed it, but nevertheless with some respect. I think it is the most terrible thing that young men today should be sentenced by the judges to long terms of imprisonment which will ruin them as citizens when they come out.
2391 I do not intend to make what might be a Committee stage speech—and we have heard a number in this debate—but there are one or two general observations that I should like to make regarding the Bill and particularly with regard to the speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. West), in which razors were mentioned.
I can tell hon. Members exactly the kind of weapon that these people will carry when they have read the Bill—and they will be the first to read it. It is a weapon which costs sixpence, a razor knife for cutting a pencil. They will carry it lawfully and will slash with it just as cleverly and adroitly as they have slashed with the longer cut-throat razor in the past. They will have an absolutely castiron defence when a policeman finds them with that little razor. Indeed, some hon. Members may have one in their pocket at this moment. We must find some way out of that situation if the. Bill is to succeed, and I should substitute the word "instrument," with other words to assist it, for the word "weapon."
There is another equally offensive weapon which, in my experience, can be much worse. It is the beer bottle. What is to happen to the man with a beer bottle in his pocket who is on the fringe of a public-house brawl? Even if he has the most peaceful intention, he will find himself in great difficulty, with the onus of proof upon him to prove it, if he is on the fringe of that brawl, even though he knows nobody in it, and if, for instance, he has a bottle of beer in his pocket to take home to his wife. If the police come in, he is part and parcel of the brawl. He has no lawful excuse, and a more dangerous weapon in those circumstances it would be difficult to imagine.
One of the most unpleasant offences with which one has to deal is that of being a suspected person, an offence in which the police have very much the same sort of power as they are to have under the Bill. Time and again the police arrive. There are always two of them. They never compare notes, they have never written out their notebooks together, but they always read the same, curiously enough, comma to comma. They swear it on oath. They describe how the defendant looked into a number 2392 of cars and tried the handles of one or two, and, of course, he comes to be convicted, without really having committed any tangible offence at all.
I do not like these sorts of intangible offences. I should rather like to see in this Bill something on these lines: if a man is found with an instrument or weapon of an offensive nature on his person whilst engaged in the commission of an offence or a felony, then he will find himself liable to the type of imprisonment, such as the detention centre, which I have suggested.
I am quite certain that when the old lags are thinking of going out on a job, as they call it, the reason they will not go if they know that one of their number has a gun is that the punishment for murder is death. I am equally certain that if two or three of these young criminals are out on a house-breaking expedition and discover that one of them is carrying a bicycle chain or knuckleduster, and they know that if they are caught with one of those weapons and cannot explain it satisfactorily they will get that short and nasty imprisonment that I described, that weapon will be thrown away or they will not go out at all.
It is going to be very difficult to catch these people. Have the police officers to stop every third person in the street and see what he is carrying? In my experience, I have never come across people caught carrying house-breaking implements by night unless they were caught practically in the commission of the offence, either in the house or in the garden or on the window sill. We never hear of a case in the criminal courts of a police officer meeting a man in the street and saying, "How do you do? What have you got on you?" and finding a knuckle-duster or some similar weapon on the man.
Quite clearly there are crimes of violence going on. They will be going on in London tonight. Men will be going out to private houses with various offensive weapons, and anything which can be done to stop them I shall gladly support. That is why I support this Bill.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. John Paton (Norwich, North)
I listened with great interest to the argument of the hon. Member for Ruislip—Northwood (Mr. F. P. Crowder). I was 2393 particularly interested in his opening remarks when he told us that some of the tough gangster type of criminals with whom he is familiar apparently were unable to distinguish clearly between three and six years of imprisonment but at the same time, according to him, were able to quote familiarly from the complicated and huge Criminal Justice Act, 1948. I do not know where he finds that type of criminal. I have met a great many in the course of my long life, but I do not think I have ever met that inconsistent type that he has described.
§ Mr. Crowder
Perhaps I did not make myself clear. What I meant was this. It is difficult for a young man of 18 or 19 to envisage in the future the difference of time spent in prison, whether it is three, four, five or seven years. It is very difficult for him to envisage it, but he might envisage something shorter and sharper much more clearly.
§ Mr. Paton
It is my experience that none of the young conscripts who go into the Army in hundreds of thousands each year have any difficulty in appreciating what two years' absence from civil life will mean.
Like many others, the hon. Gentleman has a supreme contempt for statistics when they do not prove the kind of case he wants to present. In harking back, as he did, to the debate on the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill—the flogging Bill—a fortnight ago, he said something which I think at this time is completely inexcusable. He harked back to the fallacious argument which was made by several of the supporters of the flogging Bill that there had been some change in the method of recording crimes of violence which made it impossible to compare crimes of violence statistics now with crimes of violence statistics before the war.
That argument which was used by the supporters of the flogging Bill was completely destroyed by the Home Secretary during the passage of that same Bill when he founded his case on the number of cases known to the police which are properly comparable for both periods of years and cannot be alleged by anybody to have been altered in any way at all. It is a little too much even for learned Members of this House to show this completely perverse obstinacy about facts 2394 even when they are put before them by their own Ministers. All that has been largely an irrelevance to this Bill, but an irrelevance which was introduced by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Baxter
Then the hon. Gentleman will remember that the Home Secretary gave instances of the great increase in these crimes today.
§ Mr. Paton
This has no bearing on what I have been talking about. The capacity of some hon. Members for irrelevance really astounds me. The point I was making was not with regard to the volume of crime today, but related to the argument adduced by the hon. Member for Ruislip—Northwood, which I claim is a fallacious argument and was completely destroyed by the Home Secretary in our last debate.
I want to say a few words about the Bill itself. There has been far too much irrelevance this afternoon. I accept the principle of this Bill and welcome it. I am glad to have the opportunity of saying so, since I have been prominently identified in this House and outside it for a long time with trying to limit what I call brutal punishments. It is, therefore, something of a novelty for me to support the enlargement in an important way of the power of the police today.
Hon. Members who are connected with the law have very properly directed attention to the fact that this Bill introduces an extremely important enlargement of the small group of crimes for which the burden of proof is shifted from the prosecution to the defendant. Therefore, it is not a Bill that any of us could take lightly. But I think it was very presumptuous of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell) to tell the House that the lawyers in the House have a special concern to see that innocent people are not unjustly accused or wrongfully convicted. That duty is imposed upon every hon. Member of the House, be he learned or otherwise, and it is a duty that all of us—even those of us who are not lawyers, thank goodness—would try to discharge to the utmost of our ability.
2395 This is a most important matter, and it will be necessary when this Bill comes before us in Committee for every Member to give his mind to the exact wording and terms of the Bill in order that on this completely non-party Measure we shall all try to combine in securing as perfect a Bill as we can make it. We had an assurance from the Home Secretary this afternoon that that was his approach to this matter.
If any Member or group of Members can so improve the terms of the Bill as to make it less easy for the innocent even to be annoyed, let alone wrongfully convicted, I am sure the Home Secretary and the Government will very gladly accept their proposals. I support this Bill because I think a deterrent purpose underlies it. The whole idea is to discourage not only a criminal but any citizen from carrying a weapon which may be used for an offensive purpose. It is particularly intended to discourage the criminal from carrying, in the course of his felonies, weapons that could be gravely injurious to the people with whom he comes into contact.
I want to mention something in that connection which will be in the experience of the Attorney-General as it is in mine, because we have both reached mature years of discretion. He will know the sort of thing with which we were all familiar about 30 years ago, when the attitude of the professional criminal was wholly against the carrying of weapons of any kind. In the old days I had many conversations with criminals, trying to understand their mentality and the motives which governed their conduct. Time and time again these old lags explained that there were two reasons for not carrying offensive weapons. The first was that if they did they might be tempted to use them in the heat of the moment and commit deeds from which they would recoil in calmer moments, and the second was that they knew that if, in the commission of a felony, they were found to be in possession of an offensive weapon, the judge would give them a considerably longer stretch than he would otherwise have done.
In the old days it was very largely the judges who applied to the criminals the deterrent force that we are seeking to apply in this Bill. By the severity of the 2396 punishments which they meted out 25 and 30 years ago to the criminal who carried a weapon the judges were seeking to achieve what we seek to achieve here; they were trying to deter the criminal from carrying weapons. It is because I believe that the Bill may have that thoroughly desirable effect that I am supporting it in principle tonight, and I ask the House to give it their wholehearted and unanimous support.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Legh (Petersfield)
The legal luminaries who have spoken today have certainly enlightened, if not exactly electrified, our debates; but, like the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. J. Paton), I do not propose to follow them, for the simple but excellent reason that I am not capable of doing so. I should be mortified by that knowledge except for the fact that there never seems to be very much point in being mortified by one's own shortcomings.
I have been fortified by the opening remarks of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), particularly when he said that in his opinion this debate should not be turned merely into a lawyers' field day. The right hon. Gentleman explained that he was unlearned, but that did not prevent him from making a most entertaining and attractive speech. When he interrupted the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. West) on a legal technicality, I thought he really deserved the title of an honorary learned Member of this House.
§ Mr. Legh
This afternoon I speak merely as a layman, and the House will therefore understand that it is with what, I hope is becoming modesty that I offer a few observations on the subject of this Bill.
When I first read it I had two doubts about it. The first arose because, even to the layman, it is quite clearly inventing a new crime, and that appears to me to be a thing which should not be entered upon lightheartedly. Other very good reasons why we should have doubts about inventing new crimes were put extremely well by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs).
My other doubt was this: although it may be desirable to give the police more 2397 powers, is it really necessary to do so? Could it be that this Bill was a device to allay public anxiety about the growth of crimes, particularly those of violence? Then I reflected that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was the last person to indulge in any sort of window-dressing merely to allay public anxiety and, as a result of listening to his exposition of the objects of this Bill, I have become convinced that it is a desirable one.
The Bill is to be welcomed because it is an admission by the Government and the State that there is a need to protect the public from crime and criminals. It is a recognition that prevention of crime means the protection of the public as well as the deterring and reforming of the criminal. It is a timely recognition that the young thug should be punished rather than pitied and petted in the cosy atmosphere of the juvenile court. I am sure the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) will agree that the latter has been too much the tendency in the last 10 years or so.
But crime will not be prevented merely by inventing new crimes and prescribing punishments for them. That point was admitted by my right hon. and learned Friend when he said that crime cannot be abolished by legislation. He went on to say that this Bill is to be considered only as part of his plans for dealing with this problem; that it was necessary to improve our penal system, and that everything must be done to bring the size of the police forces up to strength.
I would suggest that there is also a need for a scientific investigation into the causes of juvenile crime, particularly that of a violent nature. At the moment there is too much uninformed surmise about the causes of those crimes which this Bill is designed to prevent. People put forward many ideas as to the causes of these crimes, including the effects of the war and evacuation; but that particular argument is beginning to wear a little thin. Another idea is that they are caused by poor home conditions, and there is a lot in that. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) has suggested that there may well be some connection between illiteracy and juvenile crime, and he has suggested that it should be investigated. That is a very helpful suggestion, 2398 but I do not think it is likely to prove very much unless some connection is established between illiteracy and the absence of moral standards. As we all know very well there are plenty of people who know how to read but never read anything but the popular newspapers.
Such an investigation should concentrate upon discovering the extent to which a growing lack of moral sense is a cause of crime. That was a point with which the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie made great play in her most interesting and sincere speech earlier this afternoon. That lack of moral sense has also been called extreme selfishness. That point was well made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) in a speech the other day. He made very well the point that selfishness is very much a part of the make-up of the young criminal—selfishness, lack of moral sense, and, I would add, lack of respect for the property of others.
I recall, and always will recall, that after the war, but before I was demobilised from the Army, at quite short notice I had to take on, in the place of a brother officer, the instruction of a class of young soldiers who were undergoing a course with a view to being promoted to the rank of lance-corporal, and I had to conduct a discussion on the subject of the British character. Inevitably, we got on to the question of honesty, and I was horrified to find that there were several of those young soldiers—very good men; keen men, anxious to get on in the Army—who genuinely believed that if one man, whom we will call A, needed some commodity, whether money or food or clothes, which we will call x, and that if another person, whom we will call B, had more of that commodity than A thought he needed or ought to have, then A was perfectly entitled to take some of that x from B. That is what some of those young men believed to be right. They knew it was against the law, but I was not able to convince them that it was morally wrong.
Why was that? Lack of moral sense. Why is there that lack of moral sense? I am sure that one reason is the decline in the practice of the Christian religion. Another reason—
I do not know to what the hon. Member's illustrations are directed, but they seem to be at the moment far wide of the terms of the Bill. which are fairly narrow.
§ Mr. Legh
I would submit to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, with great respect, that I am addressing myself to the subject of the prevention of crime, which is the object of this Bill, and I would also submit with great respect that my remarks are not running wider of the mark than a number of speeches which were made earlier today by other hon. Members before you, Sir, occupied the Chair.
I think that an additional reason for the decline in moral standards which is responsible today for juvenile crime is to be found in the close relationship which I believe to exist between the moral standards of the people in any country at any time and the climate of political thought obtaining in that country at that time.
I do not in the least wish to cause any offence towards the end of what has been a very amicable debate, but I do believe most sincerely that it is not fortuitous that there has been a growth of thuggery, a growth of robbery, accompanied at the same time by a growth of political theories which say that the State has the right to take what it wants in its own interests—the right to confiscate private property with or without full compensation, the right to nationalise, the right to redistribute incomes in accordance with its own ideas. To my mind, it is by no means incomprehensible that there should be people, whose minds, perhaps, do not work as clearly as the minds of hon. Members of this House, who argue, "If the State has the right to take what it wants, why on earth should not I?" I do submit that the longer one thinks about that question the harder it is to answer it in logic—I am not talking about politics.
I must call the hon. Member's attention to the fact that this does not come within the provisions of this Bill.
§ Mr. Legh
Naturally, I accept what you say, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I will merely emphasise that, in my view, lack of moral standards is more responsible for crimes among the young than such 2400 things as cinematograph exhibitions, which were referred to by the hon. Member for Norwich, North, or, indeed, comic newspapers or even nursery rhymes. There is, I believe, a very real need for an investigation into the causes of juvenile crime. I believe that such an investigation would find that the decline in moral standards is one of the most important causes of such crime. Of course, that is a long-term matter. Meanwhile, this Bill is an attempt to apply an immediate solution to the problem, and we must all hope that it will succeed.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Sheffield, Neepsend)
This debate has been characterised by a remarkable homogeneity of view, and I think we are all agreed that this Bill is necessary. It may be that some hon. Members have gone a little bit to the left or a little bit to the right, but generally they have followed a broad path of agreement. It was particularly the hon. Gentleman the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Legh) who strayed, saying that he thought the necessity for this Bill arose from the fact that some industries were nationalised under the last Government. That may be. It is an argument to which, he says, he finds it very difficult to give the answer.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I do hope that the argument will not be pursued on either side, because it is quite irrelevant.
§ Sir F. Soskice
Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was about to say that I did not propose to endeavour to supply the answer.
§ Sir F. Soskice
I shall not endeavour to supply the answer because the hon. Gentleman may find it somewhat difficult to understand.
Every aspect of this Bill has been fully considered by the many hon. Members who have spoken. It is a Bill which, from its very nature, no hon. Member on either side of the House will welcome or like. To have to introduce a Bill to repress crime of a violent nature is obviously to that extent a confession of failure on the 2401 part of society. It does not follow that it is not necessary to introduce the Bill, and the Home Secretary, on the contrary, gave cogent reasons which, to my mind at any rate, and quite obviously to the minds of hon. Members who listened to him, showed it was essential so to do. That being so, it is obviously the duty of the House to scrutinise closely the terms of the Bill to see that it does not trespass unduly on the liberty of the subject and that it does not involve the risk of innocent persons being subjected to penal processes.
The Home Secretary and the Attorney-General very kindly, before they introduced this Measure, made known their general intention to us on this side of the House, and they gave ample opportunity to me and to my hon. Friends who are lawyers to scrutinise those terms which they intended to embody in their Bill and to weigh and consider them. We are extremely grateful both to the Home Secretary and to the Attorney-General for having afforded us those facilities, of which we have made full use.
We on this side are convinced that the Measure is necessary. Of course, in the Committee stage we shall endeavour to criticise and to change certain features of it, but we are satisfied that its general purport is desirable and that its general framework is on the right lines. As has transpired during the debate, we have no drastic changes to suggest.
In his reply to the Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) touched on the more human aspects of the Bill, and other hon. Members have followed him in this, because the House is naturally and instinctively interested in the human aspects, rather than the purely technical legal aspects, of a Measure of this sort. That is inevitable, and we should congratulate ourselves upon it. It rests upon me, in winding up the debate for the Opposition, to deal a little more with the details of the more dry and legal aspects.
The Home Secretary said that he hoped his hon. Friends who were not lawyers would follow the lead which he gave, and I am quite sure they will be very wise to do so. He went on to give much more questionable advice when he recommended his hon. and learned friends to follow such counsel as I gave. They will 2402 certainly not do that but will make up their own minds—as, indeed, they have done.
This Bill creates a new offence. Its core, obviously, is in the definition of an offensive weapon. The Home Secretary and the Attorney-General, confronted with the difficult task of including those weapons which obviously must be included and leaving outside the scope of the Bill such things as hatpins, penknives, boy scouts' hunting knives and so on, which obviously are not intended to be covered by the Bill, have, in my opinion and that of my hon. and learned Friends, devised a definition which, broadly speaking, is satisfactory, although it has been criticised in detail by some of my hon. and learned Friends.
It is a definition which has three separate limbs. The first limb relates to articles madefor causing injury to the person.By that, as I apprehend it, the right hon. and learned Gentleman desires to include such things as daggers or pistols, which were originally conceived and constructed to cause personal injury. They would be included on the first limb—namely, as articles madefor causing injury to the person.As some hon. Members have pointed out, there are other and more dubious instruments which in their inception are innocent—such instruments as beer bottles, which can be subjected to a process of change by having their necks knocked off, which adapts them "for causing injury to the person." I understand that the Government's intention is that this second category of instruments—such as beer bottles with the top knocked off so that they have a jagged edge—should be included within the wordsadapted for use for causing injury to the person.My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), for whose judgment I believe we all have the highest possible respect, felt some doubt about the word "adapted," and he pressed upon the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General that the word might be regarded as synonymous with "suitable for" or something of that sort and therefore might include almost anything. He gave the example of a bunch of keys. I am quite sure that the Home 2403 Secretary and the Attorney-General will take note of the argument and give it consideration.
Personally, I do not share the anxieties of my hon. and learned Friend in this connection. I should have thought that the wordsadapted for use for causing injury to the personquite clearly related to an article which was innocent in its inception but which had been subjected to a sinister process of change, which process of change made it a useful instrument for causing injury to human beings.
That leaves the third and possibly most difficult category of instruments. Here I believe the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind the type of thug who goes into a public house wearing a mackintosk underneath which is an ordinary, unchanged and unbroken bicycle chain. Those who have been interested in these matters appreciate that a bicycle chain, suddenly whipped out from underneath a mackintosh, can be a most deadly weapon and on occasions has been used with deadly effect. It cannot be said that such a weapon was originally constructed "for causing injury to the person." Quite obviously, it was originally constructed for driving a bicycle. Nor can it be said that it has been altered, because it is exactly in its pristine form. It would not, therefore, fall within the description of an article adapted.
It was therefore necessary to introduce the third limb of the definition. In the case of an instrument which has not been changed and which was not originally conceived for doing injury, it is necessary for the prosecution to show that the person who has it in his possession has it for the purpose and with the intention of inflicting injury with it. I understand that to be the purpose of the Government in framing this three-pronged definition.
This seems to us to be a businesslike way of going about it. It brings into the Bill those things which ought to be included and leaves out of the Bill those purely harmless things, such as a hatpin, which are clearly not intended to be within the scope of the provisions, unless, indeed, in a particular case it can be proved that the woman who wears the hatpin in 2404 her hair or hat carries it there for the purpose of inflicting injury, supposing she were carrying it with the intention of whipping it out and poking somebody in the eye with it.
As I understand the Bill, the onus in the first place will always be on the prosecution to show that the article in question is, in the sense of the definition, an offensive weapon. It has to be shown to come within one of the three prongs of the definition. Once that onus has been discharged, the person who, in a public place, is found with that offensive weapon on him, is put under the burden of showing that he had lawful authority or excuse for carrying it. There is, as it were, a kind of divided onus; in the first place the onus is on the prosecution, but once the prosecution have shown that it is an offensive weapon, then it is for the defendant to explain why he has it. Speaking for myself. I should have thought that was a reasonable division.
During the debate it has been referred to as something of a revolution in our criminal law to put the onus on the defendant in the context of a Bill of this sort. Speaking for myself, I do not agree with that criticism. For example, Section 28 of the Larceny Act, 1916, which is a well-tried Act, contains a very similar example of onus being placed on the defendant. That is a case in which a person is found with house-breaking implements. The onus is upon him to explain the purpose for which he had them. That seems to me to be an analogous case, and if it has not been shown to cause injustice, then there is no particular reason to fear that the present example in this Bill will cause injustice.
I do not, therefore, share the apprehension which some of my hon. and learned Friends have voiced about the question of onus of proof. Indeed, I go further than that. It seems to me that in practice it would be very difficult indeed to secure a conviction unless it were upon the accused person to explain why he had carried an offensive weapon upon him. Without hearing the more detailed argument which may be advanced in Committee, it seems to me that the onus is properly placed in being placed upon his shoulders and should rest where it is.
2405 Some hon. Members were concerned about the terms of Clause 1 (2). As I understand it, under that subsection a constable is given the power to arrest if he has reason to believe that an individual is committing the offence of having such a weapon upon him, provided that one or two further conditions are complied with. With regard to that person, he must be not satisfied either as to the person's identity or as to his place of residence. The instance has been given of a person who said that he was the Archbishop of Canterbury. That would be a very natural case and a very good example. if it came to light.
The alternative condition is that the officer has reason to think that it is necessary to effect an arrest to prevent the commission of some further crime. A man has an offensive weapon on him and the officer thinks that the man is going to use it upon some victim, and that the only way to stop such use of the weapon is by way of arrest. There has been some controversy about the interpretation of the subsection covering this point. I should think the version put forward by the Home Secretary to be the right one. I do not know whether the Attorney-General will agree with me.
The subsection says that the officer must not only think it is necessary to arrest and have reason to think that an offence is being committed, but that he must objectively have good grounds for so thinking. I should think that a criminal court would so construe the subsection. I hope that the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General will take careful note of the arguments that have been adduced to the contrary in regard to this subsection, but that is how I understand the Bill.
So understanding it, I think it cannot be said that the Bill risks the danger of arrest of an innocent person, and that it goes far enough to achieve the objective which the Government have in mind. If one applies that dual test to the Bill, one is driven to the conclusion that the Bill in its broad outlines is necessary and desirable and should be given a Second Reading. I hope that my hon. Friends will agree with me while retaining the right to question individual parts of the phrasing of the Bill in Committee. Speaking for myself, I think the Bill 2406 should have a Second Reading, and I would so advise my hon. Friends.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)
I am sure that the Home Secretary would like me to say on his behalf, as I certainly do on my own, how grateful we are for the reception that the Bill has had and for the most valuable assistance we have received from two right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. It has been said that there are novel features about the Bill, but there is certainly one feature about it which is quite novel. We have secured the services of my predecessor to explain the Bill most clearly and to put forward reasons why the House should accept it. We have also had the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) commending us, and that is indeed something of which we can be proud.
A Bill of this kind is bound to be a compromise, but none of us could possibly be accused of taking the Bill lightly. It does something which we are very averse from doing in the criminal law; it throws the onus upon the accused person. One or two hon. Gentlemen have been good enough to point out, and I think we all agree, that that is something which could only be justified by the general opinion that some such thing is really necessary, and it is so justified. What my right hon. and learned Friend made clear at the outset is that those who are best qualified to speak on these matters and who actually have to do the work of the enforcement of justice and the prevention of crime believe that this Bill will be effective.
That does not prevent us having people coming here, as is their duty, expressing their views on one side or the other. There are two classes of people who are likely to feel keenly about a Bill of this kind. There are those who feel that it does not go far enough, particularly those hon. Members who strongly supported the Private Member's Bill brought before the House a fortnight ago. On the other hand, there are those who feel that it might go too far, those who have strong liberal views. They naturally feel anxiety about it. For them I, personally, have every possible sympathy and respect.
But there is a third class of people who will not welcome this Bill, and the general 2407 public may regard their reactions as rather important. Those are the individuals who carry bicycle chains but do not ride bicycles, and who have the curious idea that the proper place to carry a razor blade is in the peak of one's cap. We are assured and we believe that those individuals will not like this Bill at all. The public might regard that as a very good reason for having the Bill.
As to the details of the Bill, perhaps one of the results of the debate having been upon such generally agreed lines is that we have tended to deal rather with detailed matters. I would not for one second complain of that. I am quite certain that this Bill can be improved in Committee, but I should add that already there has been given a lot of consideration to it, including a number of points which hon. Members have mentioned this afternoon. I had mentioned several of them to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Neepsend (Sir F. Soskice), and, indeed, we have discussed them between us. We have found that in many cases it will be difficult to find a better form of words than those we have got.
There is the question of the words "has reason to believe." There I entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We have got there, in effect. a double provision. First of all, there has to be reason to believe that the state of affairs which is described is present—that it is believed that a person is committing an offence. Secondly, there has to be reason to believe that it is necessary to arrest the man in order to prevent the Commission of another crime. I think there is ample safeguard there.
As to the point referred to by the hon and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), we are quite prepared to consider further whether any limitation can be properly placed upon the definition of "other offences." I do not think that we must take that very lightly, because if we did show that the other offences that it might reasonably be felt might be committed were of a particular character, it might result in a prosecution following. After all, I do not think one need be very astute to imagine cases where the gentleman with the bicycle chain was going to commit some remarkable offence.
2408 That is one example. There are several other things of the same kind, and I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend would like me to make it clear that the last thing we claim is any infallibility in this matter. I can assure hon. Members on all sides of the House that we shall consider these things carefully. The use of the expression "without lawful excuse"—
§ Mr. A. Hargreaves (Carlisle)
Before the hon. and learned Gentleman passes from the phrase "reason to believe," would he deal with the point of the innocent person whose fears are aroused by the newspaper exaggeration of certain crimes who, in his or her own protection, on occasion carries something as a safeguard against attack in country places?
The Attorney-General: If
I may respectfully say so, I think that the hon. Gentleman is slightly confused. He would be concerned with the lawful excuse rather than the reasonable belief. My right hon. and learned Friend and I have discussed the matter and if in a special case he really has justification for carrying a weapon of that kind because he lives on a lonely common and so on, and if he required a lawful excuse, I believe he would be found to have a reasonable excuse. Generally, however, having heard from the former Home Secretary with his great experience, and also from the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. J. Paton), how the police have always wanted to refrain from being armed and always prefer not to be armed, we ought not to mind discouraging members of the general public from going about with offensive weapons in their pockets, even for their own protection. It is the duty of society to protect them and they should not have to do that. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) expressed with great moderation views which he realised must be in conflict with those of a number of hon. Members. He told us about his friend who went about with a knuckle-duster in his pocket, and I hope it will not be necessary for him to go on doing that. The argument of self-defence is one to which perhaps we should not attach too much weight.
There are many points which we can discuss during the Committee stage of this Bill. We can imagine many cases, and 2409 I have every expectation that when we come to the Committee stage we shall have an interesting debate. I shall welcome it, and I promise the House that I shall not have a closed mind. However, I think it right to say that we are rather doubtful whether we shall be able to improve on most of this wording. I have in mind particularly such words as "made or adapted." I hesitate to differ from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels). but surely everyone reading those words "made or adapted" would imagine that something has to be done to the article, when one remembers that the words are contrasted.
The right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend gave a good example of the beer bottle, to which another of my hon. Friends referred earlier. I think a good contrast is this: If someone were walking about on the outskirts of a crowd with a broken beer bottle, something might be done about it, but if he had a full beer bottle I do not think one could describe that as an offensive weapon.
§ The Attorney-General
I was assuming that it was full and that the cork was still in it. However, I do not believe we shall get far in discussing those imaginary cases tonight.
A word or two ought to be said about the attitude which has been shown, and which I regard as so very helpful, towards the principle of the Bill. After all, we are dealing with the Second Reading of the Bill and we are in the position where we can say, I believe without any doubt at all, that it has been universally accepted throughout the House. I do not believe that anyone could have listened to the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) without regarding it as very remarkable and very moving. She spoke from experience, and she obviously would be the first person to regret the necessity of having to employ any new or special criminal methods against these people. But she regards it as her duty as a citizen to support such a proposal, and I think that that is a very fair description of the attitude of the whole House.
I also believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields spoke 2410 for us all when he said, as indeed did my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary previously, that we could not possibly hope to prevent crime by an Act of Parliament. I believe that, as he said, the most important element in the prevention of it is public opinion. I believe that public opinion now is beginning to realise that it must exert itself. It does not only exert itself through criminal prosecution, it exerts itself through ordinary contacts. It is exerted by everybody in their own sphere of life, in the family, in the school and, I would also hope, in the Press. In that way we can get a spirit moving which will have a great effect.
I believe that already we are seeing a better hope in that way. It is only just beginning to appear, but there seems to be evidence that it is being generally realised that this violence of crime must stop. There are two very small examples which I think may help to show that that is the case. They show that the men themselves are beginning to realise how much public opinion is against them.
The first was a case of a member of the Bar who was asked to defend some young men who were charged with robbing with violence an old man whom they had beaten up and left unconscious. There was obviously no possible defence except disproof of or failure to prove identity. When counsel went to see these young men in the cells they said to him, "We do not mind pleading guilty to the robbery, but we will not admit violence." When one realises that the fact that they admitted the robbery necessarily would have the effect that they were guilty of the whole crime, one realises that these men had in their minds—although they were completely muddleheaded about the result—that there was a genuine reason why they should not be found guilty of any crime of violence if they could help it.
The other example was a curious case not very long ago in which two men were arrested. They had been following a van containing valuable material for many hours over many miles. They had not done anything to it. When questioned, they said that they had followed it in the hope that it would stop somewhere, that the driver would leave it unattended and that they would have a chance of removing some of the goods 2411 from it; but they were not going to make any attack on him because they did not think it worth while.
That is the beginning of a tendency, and anything that we can do to foster that kind of approach is all to the good. Whatever the reasons are—and we have had some interesting accounts of them tonight—it must be that the climate of general opinion and instinct throughout the country is affected by this matter of crime very greatly. Once we can get a generation growing up which realises the wickedness of these terrible things we shall see an improvement, I believe quite quickly.
One of the most important things is that there should go out from this House today, as I am sure there will, the conviction which can be spread all over the country, that we are determined to give people the best measure of protection we can against these terrible things, but that we are going to approach the problem in a reasonable and moderate spirit, to consider any proposal for the improvement of the situation on its merits and that the country can be certain that any proposal which is put forward will be considered without any kind of party colour.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time. and committed to a Standing Committee.