HL Deb 05 May 1870 vol 201 cc268-70

rose to move for Copies of the recommendations addressed by the Home Department to Chairmen of Quarter Sessions relative to the visits of local inspectors of weights and measures to regimental canteens, and of any answers received thereto. For many years inspection of the weights and measures used in regimental canteens had, with very few exceptions, been carried on without opposition. He believed that, in some cases, regimental canteens were licensed to sell liquors and other articles to the public at large, and not merely to the troops; and these certainly ought to be open to the visit of inspectors of weights and measures in the same manner as other licensed houses. Last year, however, two cases occurred in which the right of the inspector was disputed. It appeared that the War Office issued instructions to the effect that the inspectors should not be allowed to enter the canteens. One inspector summoned an adjutant for obstructing him in the execution of his duty, when he was informed that canteens were not open to inspection. The result of the hearing before the magistrates was, that the adjutant was fined 40s. for obstructing the inspector; and from that decision there appeared to have been no appeal. A similar case occurred at Woolwich, when the officer in charge of the mess-room was summoned. In that case the justices dismissed the summons, on the ground that the defendant believed himself to have been acting legally. After this the War Office found it necessary to issue different instructions, in which they directed that the weights and measures in canteens should be inspected twice a year in England and Scotland; but although the inspectors were to be at liberty to inspect the canteens, they were prohibited from removing any of the articles without the sanction of the Secretary of State for War. Then the Home Office issued a circular to the magistrates, advising them to direct the inspectors to take the course of simply reporting to the military authorities. In so doing they issued instructions which they had no power to enforce The Middlesex magistrates at their meeting in February last resolved, with reference to the Homo Office circular— That the Court is of opinion that it is incompetent in the interests of public justice that the suggestion of the Secretary of State should be adopted. In his opinion the Department had lowered its position by exposing itself to be treated in this cavalier manner. The whole subject was under the consideration of the Royal Commission on Standards, and Parliament might perhaps think fit to modify the law so as to limit the rights of inspectors with reference to canteens. Until, however, there was such legislation, no executive authority ought to claim superiority over the law of the land. Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Copies of the recommendations addressed by the Home Department to Chairmen of Quarter Sessions relative to the visits of local inspectors of weights and measures to regimental canteens, and of any answers received thereto.—(The Lord Colchester.)


said, he had no objection to the production of the Papers, although he wished to make a few remarks on the circumstances which led the Home Department into the position described by his noble Friend. A case occurred in Hampshire last year in which an inspector of weights and measures was called in to inspect the weights and measures of a regimental canteen. Doubts were raised as to whether it was within the province of inspectors to inspect canteens; and, accordingly, a communication was made to the Home Secretary, who consulted with the Law Officers of the Crown, and was informed by them that, in their opinion, regimental canteens did not come within the purview of the Act, because they were Drown property, and consequently exempted from statutory provisions, unless specially mentioned therein. Under these circumstances, a circular was issued by the Home Secretary to the Chairmen of Quarter Sessions. A request, not an order, was made that the inspectors of weights and measures should be allowed to visit the regimental canteens within their jurisdiction; but, instead of proceeding in the ordinary way, that they should be at liberty to report anything to which they might desire to call attention to the War Office. In some cases this request had been complied with; in others it had been negatived, in accordance with a power undoubtedly existing. That was the whole case; and if his noble Friend thought it for the interests of the public that the Papers should be produced, the Government would offer no objection.

Motion agreed to.