HC Deb 07 May 1965 vol 711 cc1761-6

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

11.16 a.m.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is a very small and simple uncontroversial Measure which has had the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House. The Bill was considered in Standing Committee on 18th March, when there was no Amendment.

The Bill does two simple things. It amends the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892, which has applied only to burghs in relation to lost property. This Amendment of Section 412 of that Act applies the provisions of Section 412 to the landward areas of counties as well as to burgh areas. It will be possible for the chief constable of the county or for an officer designated by him to dispose of lost property remaining unclaimed at the end of six months.

Although there may not be a great deal of such lost property, it is an embarrassment for the police and the officials who have to deal with it that, under existing legislation, there is no power to dispose of it. Chief constables in county areas will be given the same powers as presently apply to chief constables in burghs.

The Amendment brought about by the Bill also gives power to both county police authorities and burgh police authorities to deal with perishable lost property. Up till now, the police in burghs and in landward areas of counties have had no power to dispose of perishable lost property reported to them. A box of fruit or a box of fish or something which easily went bad within a short time just had to go bad. The Bill gives the chief constable or the officer designated by him in either a county area or a burgh area the power to dispose of such perishable goods if unclaimed by the owner after the expiration of such period as the chief constable or the other officer thinks fit.

Therefore, while we recognise that we are seeking to amend a very old Act and that to do this properly would require possibly an entirely new Act, I think it would be a much larger Measure and would be outside the scope of private Members' legislation. That being the case, we are making the most of the situation. We have been asked by the Country Councils' Association, in particular, to amend the Act of 1892 to give the police power to deal with lost property under the two categories that I have mentioned.

The other point I wish to make is that the proceeds from any sales—and I cannot imagine that they would amount to very much—will go into the burgh and county police funds in the county and burgh areas and, therefore, help towards the functioning of the police in these respective areas.

11.21 a.m.

Dr. M. S. Miller (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

I am very glad to have the opportunity of supporting the Third Reading of the Bill. I was hoping that my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) would suggest that the amount of money available as a result of the disposal of these goods would make a significant contribution to the rates of the areas in which the goods were disposed. It may be that there will be more goods available for disposal than we imagine. However, I feel it is only right that landward areas should have the same right as burghs have in relation to the disposal of lost property.

I remember not long ago finding a £1 note, an unusual thing to find. I found it in the street outside a shop. I went into the shop and asked if by any chance one of the customers had mentioned the loss and the shopkeeper said there had been no such inquiry. I handed in the £1 note to the local police station and I received a receipt for it. Six months later I received a note from the police saying that the property which I had found had not been claimed and that I could go and collect it.

I had forgotten all about the incident by then. I was requested to produce the receipt. Some time went by and then I found the receipt in my pocket. I took it to the police station where I was offered the £1 note. The story, however, has a happier ending, for I gave the £1 note to the Police Benevolent Fund. Therefore, I think the landward areas should have the same right as the burghs to dispose of lost property. As to the second part of the Bill, a problem arises when perishable goods are lost and have to be stored because the police have no authority to dispose of them. This can cause a cluttering up of storage space which could be used for other purposes.

I therefore support the Third Reading of the Bill.

11.24 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)

I should like, on behalf of the Government, to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), together with the sponsors of the Bill, for having promoted the Bill.

I like to think that the Bill reflects three essential virtues of the Scots. It shows good sense, awareness of thrift and an anxiety to inquire. It is true that it set an all-time record in the Scottish Committee in that it managed to get through that stage in 36 minutes, which is remarkable. Nevertheless, while the Bill was in Committee a number of small points were raised which merit some further comment by the Government.

The essential point that was raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire West (Mr. Hendry)—who found himself in the peculiar position of being an enthusiastic sponsor of the Bill, but also one of the major criticis of its essential provisions—was the question of treasure trove; and we had a long debate on the treasure at Tobermory Bay, the finding of the trove in Shetland, and one or two other instances. For a while some of us were rather alarmed in case we should become involved in all questions of treasure trove in Scotland.

I undertook that I would make some comment at a later stage on behalf of the Government in order to confirm what I then advised the Committee was the case, and what I am now glad to say is clearly the case. We have consulted our advisers on the matter and we are assured that what was said in Committee on behalf of the Government is, in fact, true and legally sound. The Bill does not confuse or obscure the Crown's right in regard to treasure trove.

The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) said that we were talking about lost property and not about found property. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West gave a definition. with which I do not quarrel, of treasure trove. The definition was taken from the preface to a legal volume which, although it may be of considerable value and is acknowledged with a great deal of respect by the profession, is in itself not law.

Therefore, I want to make it clear that the advice given to me is that the Bill does not in any way confuse or obscure the position with regard to treasure trove. It is the intention of the Government to continue with the present procedure, as was instanced in the case of Shetland and the University of Aberdeen, and we shall expect the procurator fiscals to discharge their usual duties. We envisage no change in Government policy in this respect. No doubt, there will be many findings because Scotland is rich in history and undoubtedly has beneath its soil many unclaimed treasures which have accumulated in the course of our history of dispute. We would hope that whatever findings there may be in the future will become the property of the nation as a whole rather than the property of one particular area. I have no doubt that the University of Aberdeen has acted well as the custodian of the Shetland treasure.

I would say, in passing, that the possible trove in Tobermory Bay is in an entirely different position. We are not sure about this, and it is not really for the Government to come to a decision, but the advice given to us is that the trove there, if any more should be found, might be the property of the Duke of Argyll inasmuch as we believe that the Crown assigned whatever trove may be found there, resulting from the wreck of the galleons four centuries ago, to the Duke himself. However, this is a matter which, if there should be a dispute, could be resolved in the courts and the Government wish to make no comment on it at the moment. Indeed, we wish the Duke well in his further searches.

As my hon. Friend said, the Bill not only seeks to extend Section 412 of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892, to county councils, but it also faces up to the problem of perishable property. I began by saying that the Bill reflects three virtues of the Scots, the first of which is good sense. My hon. Friend is right in saying that a substantial Bill would be required if we were to revise the provisions of the Act and present them in the modern idiom. We do not wish to see the position go by default for several more years in view of the present full legislative programme—although perhaps it is not over-full—which might prevent us finding time in this, the next or the third Session of this Parliament in which to present an amending and consolidating Bill of this nature. Therefore, we have contented ourselves by accepting my hon. Friend's proposals to adapt what is Victorian legislation to this situation. We admit that in legal terms it has some defects, although it is interesting to note that in practice it has not so many defects as all that.

Some discretion is now given to chief constables in different areas and they conduct different practices. In some forces, property is simply allowed to accumulate. In other forces, after a reasonable time has elapsed, the property is disposed of and the proceeds applied either to the Police Fund or to police benevolent funds or even perhaps to charity. Some forces apply the proceeds to all three. The Government do not take the view that this is a bad practice. There have been no complaints in specific localities about it and certainly no general complaints.

Since there is no evidence that the present practice has given rise to complaint from any source, the County Councils' Association, in particular, which wants the Bill to give the councils the same power in landward areas as in burghs within the counties, hope that if the present position were regularised it would remove any lingering doubt. The very good provision dealing with perishable goods is welcomed by everyone. We were very pleased about that in Committee.

There is a last point which I should like to make and I hope that I keep in order in so doing. In Committee, it was suggested that there should have been a Money Resolution, but it was confirmed and accepted by the Committee that the amount of money involved would be so trifling that no Resolution was necessary. We received advice from the authorities of the House that this was so.

The question whether or not it was trifling was a matter for the Government to seek advice upon. We sought the advice and again we were assured that the sums involved are negligible. Therefore, the advice tendered to the Committee by the Chairman and accepted by it was reasonable. I am sorry if I have trespassed on the rules of order, but I thought that I should make that comment now to assuage any doubts in the minds of hon. Members.

Police authorities in general do not keep a special account of the cost of running their lost property service and therefore it is not possible to give precisely the amount of money involved. I assure the House that it is trifling. I am indebted for the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Dr. Miller). The proceedings in Committee were amicable and I hope that, in the absence of further comment, the Third Reading will be agreed to.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.