§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into a Committee read.
§ Moved, "That the House do now resolve itself into a Committee on the said Bill."—(The Earl of Dalhousie.)
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said, that the effect of the Bill would be to centralize in the Home Office powers formerly held by the local authorities, and that interference would be very much resented by them. The 3rd clause of the Bill read as follows:—The chief officer of every police district in England shall, from time to time, give to the Director of Public Prosecutions information with respect to indictable offences alleged to have been committed within the district of such chief officer, and to the dealing with those offences, and the said information shall contain such particulars and be in such form as may be for the time being required by regulations under the principal Act.In this way those who had control of the police were absolutely passed by, the magistrates were set aside, and the whole power put into the hands of the Home Office. To show how strong was the feeling on this subject, he would read from a letter from the Town Clerk of Nottingham, a passage in which the opinions of that gentleman were strongly expressed on the subject. After referring to the Bill generally, he proceeded—You will see that the 3rd clause of the Bill provides that the Public Prosecutor (a Government official) can issue orders to the chief of police all over England with regard to certain prosecutions, and to that extent can supersede the authority of the Watch Committees 81 of the Town Councils. He can also employ an agent for this purpose, who will then have power to intervene between the Watch Committee and their servants. My Committee consider this the thin end of the wedge, for it is the first time that anyone has had power to intervene between them and the police. My Watch Committee have resolved to take the peril of directing the police to refuse to obey any orders excepting those they receive from the Committee. I trust it is not too late to arouse public attention to this important Bill, which strikes a more direct blow at local control over the police than the Superannuation Bill.He trusted that the Committee would not consent to the insertion of this clause.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, the noble Earl (the Earl of Wemyss) had read a letter from a gentleman occupying the position of Town Clerk in the important town of Nottingham, announcing that the Watch Committee would refuse to obey a law if it was passed. That was a very serious matter. He should be sorry to impute such an intention to the Watch Committee of Nottingham, and he trusted the statement was an inaccurate one.
§ LORD BRAMWELL
said, it appeared to him that the clause was a reasonable one. He did not understand that it was in any way intended to interfere with Watch Committees; but it was necessary for the Public Prosecutor that he should have these Returns, in order that he might know what cases he would deal with himself and what would be left to the police or to private persons. He would suggest, however, for convenience sake, that the Returns should be confined to offences not triable at Petty or General Sessions.
THE EARL OF LONGFORD
pointed out that the Return, as it stood, would include cases that might have been locally disposed of before they came to the notice of the Public Prosecutor at all.
said, there was some prejudice in reference to this Bill, and he thought it was not unfairly founded. It was alleged, and he believed truthfully, that it had been passed between the hours of 3 and 5 in the morning, when the House of Commons was by no means full, and when both political Parties were not adequately represented.
§ Motion agreed to.82
§ House in Committee accordingly; Bill reported without Amendment; and to be read 3a To-morrow.