HL Deb 19 June 1906 vol 159 cc7-16


Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 31"—(Earl Beauchamp.)


who had given notice to move to resolve "That in the opinion of this House the proposed inquiry is of too limited a character to serve any useful purpose," said: My Lords, your Lordships will recollect what took place on the Second Reading of this Bill, the print of which only reached the House at the moment when the Second Reading was being moved; and the circumstances which compelled me, therefore, to defer my observations upon it until this stage. The objection, to this Bill presents considerable difficulty, because it is impossible to amend the portion to which I invite your Lordships to take exception—that is, the terms of reference to the Royal Commission. These are contained in the recital of the Bill, and it is therefore impossible to put down an Amendment. The terms of reference in the Bill are as follows— To inquire into and report upon the duties of the Metropolitan Police in dealing with cases of drunkenness, disorder, and solicitation in the streets, and the manner in which those duties are discharged, with power to make recommendations thereon. From the time that this matter first arose objection has been taken in both Houses to the limited nature of the reference, and I would call your Lordships' attention for one moment to the class of cases which the reference will exclude from the consideration of the Royal Commission.

One of those cases must be fairly well known to you Lordships. I refer to the case of Police-constable Rolls, who was sentenced to a long term of penal servitude for perjury. There are many people who have taken the view from the beginning that the trial of that police-constable was conducted in an unsatisfactory manner, and that he did not in fact receive justice. In connection with this very Bill I find an article in one of this morning's newspapers dealing with the case of Rolls, in which the following is said— The release of ex-Police-constable Rolls does not signify pardon or legal rehabilitation, but it certainly mitigates what we believe to be a wholly unmerited tragedy. This man has never had a fair trial, nor will the police officials permit the Home Secretary to allow the case to be publicly inquired into. Your Lordships may recollect that the accusation against this constable was that he took a prisoner to the station, and in the course of searching the prisoner at the station foisted upon him and professed to have found on his person a hammer and some other instruments intended for housebreaking; the evidence against him was that of the person so arrested, a man of unfixed home, and of a woman of the lowest class, who was not introduced until late in the proceedings, and whose evidence has always been regarded by a large number of persons as unsatisfactory and unreliable. The newspaper article proceeds— The way in which this girl was summoned to Scotland Yard and there subjected to solitary cross-examination is not more strange than the determined effort to prevent the case, at all costs, from coming before the Royal Commission, which is thus reduced to a rather palpable farce. There are other cases with which your Lordships may not be so familiar, but all of the same character, dealing with arrests by the police and with what is believed to be mistaken, and, in some cases, manufactured, police evidence to justify the police if a mistake had been made.

There is the case, to which I may have to call your Lordships' attention again later, of a man named Croucher, who was sentenced to imprisonment for theft, a charge of which I believe it is now admitted he was innocent. That man was released, but was not compensated in any way for the injustice done him, and he has been convicted since of an assault upon the police in circumstances which made many people think there was no justification for that conviction. That being an assault on the police, it is doubtful whether it will be covered by the terms of reference to this Royal Commission, because the actual words are "drunkenness, disorder, and solicitation," yet that is one of the cases requiring investigation.

Then there is the case of a man named Scott. Scott was arrested on a charge of betting and convicted on the evidence of two detectives; she has subsequently done what he could to produce several witnesses—it is true he did not call them at his trial, though of that he gives an intelligible explanation—and to have his case reopened, but he has found that impossible. The magistrate has refused to grant process against the detectives who gave evidence against him, and that refusal on the part of the magistrate has been supported by the High Court on appeal. That is a case in which it is believed that the police have made an entire mistake and have given evidence which is not true. That case also cannot be investigated by the Commission.

I think it is not too much to say that in the other House there has been a very large and general discontent at the limitation of the terms of reference. It is not a real and genuine inquiry which it is proposed to hold by this Commission into the conduct of the police, and I have some apprehension, if further inquiry is necessary, as it most certainly is, that when that inquiry is demanded, we shall be met with the statement that a Royal Commission has been appointed and dealt with it. On the other hand, it is possible that the evidence which is brought before this Commission may be of such a character as to cause the public to demand that another inquiry on a larger scale should take place.

Is it, or is it not, desired by His Majesty's Government to get at the truth in this matter, and to sift these cases thoroughly? I ask that in view of communications which I have myself had with the Home Office in the course of preparing some evidence for this inquiry. The clerks' notes upon which these prisoners are convicted are in the custody of the magistrates. They are apparently not public documents to which the public is entitled on the payment of the necessary fee; but it is obvious that if any case where it is alleged that there has been miscarriage of justice is to be presented to the Royal Commission, even among the limited number of cases that do come within the terms of reference, it will be necessary for those who present it to see the magistrates' clerks' notes. I applied to the Home Office in the hope that authority would be given for those notes to be supplied, and in reply I received this letter on behalf of the Home Secretary—


"9th June, 1906.

"My LORD, —With reference to your application of the 29th ultimo that Mr. Timewell may be furnished with certain papers for use in connection with the preparation of evidence for submission to the Royal Commission on the Metropolitan Police, I have the honour, by direction of the Secretary of State, to say that he cannot direct magistrates to furnish copies of depositions or notes of evidence to Mr. Timewell. If the depositions or notes of the evidence in any case should be required by the Royal Commission the magistrates will no doubt be ready to supply them direct to the Commission.

"I have the honour, etc.,


No doubt they will, but it is not possible to present a case so well if you are furnished with a portion of your evidence in the middle of the inquiry, and when there is a great deal of difficulty and delay in obtaining it. If it is desired that this should be a real inquiry, I submit that no obstacle should be placed in the way of preparing evidence to be laid before it. The impression is gaining ground that this is not intended to be a real inquiry, that it is not intended to be an inquiry as a result of which the police force shall be cleansed of the abuses that exist, but that it is merely an inquiry to whitewash the C. Division as a whole, or the particular constables concerned in one particular case which has been much discussed. In these circumstances it is hardly to be expected that the police witnesses who give evidence before the Commission will be frank or state fully everything that they know and everything that has been brought to their notice as to irregularities in the police force.

I desire it to be understood that I make no general charge against the police as a whole. Your Lordships, of course, come in contact with the police in a manner in which you find them extremely agreeable and useful servants of the public; but there is a section of the population, the poorest of the poor, whose club is the public-house and whose home is to a large extent the streets, who are practically at the mercy of the police, and who constantly suffer injustice on account of the conduct of certain police constables who have not sufficient regard for the responsibilities which their position casts upon them. Those are cases which, I think, ought to be inquired into, and inquired into fully, and I very much regret that this has been rendered impossible by a Government to whom many of us looked for so much, to whom many of us looked for a reversal of the more official attitude of past years, and who we expected would have gone into these matters without prejudice, and with a free and open mind. I feel bound to make this protest at this stage of the Bill, and to express my regret that the inquiry has been limited in this way.

Amendment moved— To resolve, 'That, in the opinion of this House, the proposed inquiry is of too limited a character to serve any useful purpose.'"— (Earl Russell.)


My Lords, the answer which I have to give to the noble Earl is probably the one which he anticipates, as it is exactly the same as the one I gave to a Question which he addressed to His Majesty's Government some time ago. I must, however, say that I am quite unable to agree with him that there is any general discontent with the action of His Majesty's Government in this matter. If there had been it would certainly have found expression in the other House, where, as a matter of fact, the Bill setting up the Royal Commission passed through all its stages without a division. The terms of reference, of which the noble Earl complains, are not really before your Lordships' House this afternoon. The Bill is concerned only with the nature of the powers to be conferred upon the Commission.

With regard to what the noble Earl has said generally on the question, I am sure I shall have the support of your Lordships in saying that the general confidence of the people of London in their police force is very great indeed. The metropolitan police occupies a position almost unique in that respect among the police forces of the various capitals of the world. But however great public confidence may be, agitations are bound to arise at times in certain quarters which tend to create a feeling of uneasiness. That, I think, has happened on the present occasion, and people have taken, as is not unusual, certain test cases. It is, therefore, thought desirable by His Majesty's Government that the particular cases which have attracted public attention should be referred for inquiry to as strong and impartial a body as it is possible for them to constitute. The case of Madame D'Angely and the boat race night incident are the two cases into which the Royal Commission will probably inquire first of all.

I cannot think with the noble Earl that any very useful purpose would be served by inquiring into the case of ex-Police-Constable Rolls, who, as the noble Earl told us, was released this morning. Rolls was convicted four and a-half years ago, and it is obvious that the memory of those concerned cannot be as fresh as it ought to be if a case of this importance is to be inquired into. I entirely repudiate the suggestion made by the noble Earl that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to whitewash the metropolitan police, and I venture to think that the constitution of the Royal Commission is sufficient to exonerate His Majesty's Government in that matter. Mr. Alfred Lyttelton, Mr. W. H. Dickinson, Mr. Rufus Isaacs, Mr. D. Brynmor Jones, and Mr. C. A. Whitmore are gentlemen who are in no way likely to lend themselves to such a design as that attributed to His Majesty's Government by the noble Earl. I regret that we are unable to accept his Amendment.


My Lords, I share with the noble Earl opposite the general confidence in the integrity and efficiency of the metropolitan police and in the independence of the Commissioners whom His Majesty's Government have appointed to inquire into this matter; but I think the noble Earl who has introduced the subject has reason to complain of the perfunctory nature of the reply given on behalf of His Majesty's Government. The noble Earl said, in the first place, that there had been no objection to the Bill in the other House. This is not the first time we have heard that argument, and on the last occasion that it was used it did not meet with very great success in your Lordships' House. It is particularly unfortunate on this occasion, because I gather from the usual channels of information that the reason no opposition was offered to the Bill was that His Majesty's Government declared that if there were any opposition or any serious attempt to amend the Bill they would not proceed with it at all; so that the House of Commons was, as it were, under a sort of duress to pass the Bill in this form and without discussion. The noble Earl who spoke on behalf of His Majesty's Government said that the terms of reference could not be called into question because they had been agreed to without discussion in the other House. Poor other House! they had no choice in the matter whatever. I venture to assert that for His Majesty's Government to say that the terms of reference are not open to discussion in your Lordships' House is an observation which ought not to be addressed to one of the Houses of Parliament. The terms of reference are included in the Bill, and therefore they are open to discussion by your Lordships. As to whether it would be wise or not to extend the scope of the reference, that is a matter upon which I do not pretend to have any strong opinion; but I think we should have been more able to form an opinion if the noble Earl who has just sat down had given us more reasons why it should not be extended. The noble Earl who raised this question gave reasons why the terms of reference should be extended, but the noble Earl who represents the Home Office did not respond in any adequate manner.

Lastly, the noble Earl opposite asked that those who were interested in the proceedings before this Commission should have an opportunity of seeing certain documents which were necessary for their case. The noble Earl said that he had made application to the Home Office and that the Home Office had refused to exercise their influence on his behalf in order to obtain these documents. The noble Earl who spoke for the Government appeared to think it best to pass over in silence that complaint of the noble Earl. The noble Earl was within his rights in contending that to communicate these documents to the Royal Commission if they asked for them was not the same as communicating them to parties who might be interested in the inquiry. I venture, with very great respect, to say to His Majesty's Government and to the noble Marquess who leads this House that your Lordships are entitled to a fuller reply on a matter of such importance than that which has been given by the noble Earl who has just sat down.


My Lords, with regard to the last observations of the noble Marquess, it is true that my noble friend did not say anything with respect to magistrates' clerks' notes to which the noble Earl behind me referred; but surely it is obvious that if the witnesses wish to see those notes in order to place their case fully before the Commission they will submit their desires to the Commissioners. It is not according to usual practice to give notes of that kind to anybody who may ask for them. I have no doubt whatever that the magistrates would communicate the notes to the Royal Commission if the Commission required them. I have also no doubt that the Royal Commission, composed of such men as it is, would give ample time to any witness to consider those notes when they had procured them. But I do not think it would be desirable to set the precedent of interfering with the usual practice in a matter of this kind. Great inconvenience might arise from it. The Royal Commission are entitled to have the notes if they want them, and if witnesses require them they can have them.

I am sorry that the noble Marquess opposite is so displeased because my noble friend who represents the Home Office informed your Lordships that the terms of reference to the Commission were not open to discussion. What my noble friend said was that the terms of reference were not before your Lordships this afternoon. That is perfectly true. I did not understand my noble friend to say that your Lordships were precluded from discussing the terms of reference if you wished to do so, but that the reference did not form part of this Bill. The case is very simple. We all know that this Bill arose almost entirely out of a particular case, or, at all events, out of two cases. One of those cases has disappeared and the urgency of the Bill may therefore be less than it at one time was, but it was brought in as an urgent Bill for the purpose of making special inquiry, by eminently competent men, into two or three special cases.

It is not the intention of His Majesty's Government that the inquiry shall cover the whole working of the metropolitan police. That is a very large and difficult question, and it is not one which the Government ever intended to submit to this Commission. The purpose of the Commission is limited. The noble Earl who raised this question said that, supposing it should appear from the Report of the Commission that there ought to be a wider inquiry, those who advocated the wider inquiry would be met with the statement that there had been a Commission and there could not be another. If this Commission does establish a case for a larger inquiry of any kind into the general working of the metropolitan police, I have no doubt such an inquiry, in whatever way may be most appropriate, will take place. This Commission will not bar further investigation if it should be necessary, but His Majesty's Government have no ground for thinking that wider inquiry is necessary. I desire to associate myself entirely with the words which fell from my noble friend Earl Beauchamp with respect to the metropolitan police. I have the utmost confidence in the metropolitan police, and believe them to be an admirable body of public servants. There may be black sheep among them, as there are in every large institution, but as a body they are entitled to, and I believe they enjoy, the respect, not only of His Majesty's Government, but of the people of London.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Bill read 3a, and passed.

House adjourned at ten minutes past Five o'clock, to Thursday next, half-past Ten o'clock.