HL Deb 17 May 1906 vol 157 cc613-8

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government if they are prepared to extend the scope of the reference to the proposed Royal Commission on certain actions of the Metropolitan Police so as to cover the action of the Metropolitan Police generally, and the practical working of summary jurisdiction.

A certain amount of interest has been created lately in the action of the police owing to the arrest of a lady named Madame D'Angely in Regent Street, and in consequence the Primo Minister has promised a Royal Commission to inquire into the duties of the Metropolitan Police in dealing with cases of drunkenness and solicitation in the streets and the manner in which those duties are discharged. I have placed on the Paper the Question standing in my name partly for the purpose of eliciting information as to precisely what the terms of reference to the Commission will be, and partly in the hope of persuading His Majesty's Government to extend somewhat the scope of the reference.

There are many who have taken considerable interest for some time in the manner in which the Metropolitan Police have carried out their duties and in cases, as they believe, of injustice and oppression,. and even where false evidence has been given in the hearing of charges in the London Police Courts; but it is generally necessary to wait until some popular interest of this kind is aroused before one can hope that anything will be done. I therefore desire that this opportunity should not be lost of inquiring more fully into the matter. The Prime Minister has stated that the reference to the Commission would be in the terms of his speech—the terms that I have stated to the House—but I notice in this morning's papers that, in answer to Sir Edward Clarke, it was stated in the other House that— A Royal Commission will be appointed to inquire into the administration of the existing law and to make any recomendations thereon. It will not be charged with the duty of making recommendations for the amendment of the law. I do not understand how the Royal Commission are to make recommendations on the existing law or even to say it is defective without, by implication, at least, supporting an amendment of the law; and it seems to me that it may place technical difficulty in the way of receiving evidence if the Commission are not allowed to make recommendations for an amendment of the law if such is necessary.

The particular case which has excited so much interest is not one to which I need refer in any detail. It is merely one instance which has aroused popular attention. If the Home Office and their advisers were satisfied, as we gather from everything that has appeared they were, that this lady was wrongly arrested and wrongly charged, it does appear to mo that the best thing would have been to offer her a handsome apology for the treatment she received. I understand that nothing of the kind has been done, but that in the hope of establishing an ex post facto case it has been hinted that this woman has been shadowed by detectives since. There have been many similar cases. There were the cases of Randall and Dunn and a woman named Daniels, who were charged with being drank and disorderly. What happened was this. One person was arrested first, and the two others, considering there was no ground for the arrest, went to the police station and asked that their names should be taken as they wished, when the case came on, to give evidence. The result of these two persons desiring to give evidence was that they were immediately arrested and themselves charged with a similar offence. When the case came before Mr. Denman he said that people who gave evidence without being asked always discounted the value of that evidence. It is a new proposal to me that the best evidence is that which is dragged from a man and not that which he gives voluntarily and from a sense of duty.

There is, I admit, a good deal of difficulty in the cases that occur. Everyone recognises that the police in London have a very difficult duty indeed in preserving order in the streets at night, and I do not suppose any one would suggest for a moment that it is impossible to make perfectly honest mistakes at times. But there is a suspicion, which does not seem to be altogether ill-founded, that sometimes when the police make a mistake that mistake is not at once frankly admitted and an end put to it, but an attempt is made to bolster up the case among representatives of the force by perjured evidence. I hope the reference to the Royal Commission will not be limited to include only inquiry into the duties of the police in dealing with cases of drunkenness and disorderly conduct in the streets, but will include inquiry into the general conduct and general management of the Metropolitan Force.

I have asked whether His Majesty's Government would be prepared to extend the scope of the reference so as to cover the practical working of summary jurisdiction. That may be a matter which is of sufficient importance to be referred at some future date to a separate Committee of Inquiry, but it must not be supposed that the present working of summary jurisdiction always produces justice. The very way in which it is arranged sometimes leads to injustice It has worked very satisfactorily in the punishment of minor offences, but I cannot quite share the optimism which is expressed in the statement in the Memorandum to the Criminal Appeal Bill which has been introduced by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that no alteration is required in the conditions of appeal in questions of summary jurisdiction, because an essential preliminary to an appeal to quarter sessions is the entering into recognisances. Those may be fixed by the magistrate, and in a recent case, of which I happen to have personal knowledge, an ordinary labourer, as a condition precedent to his appeal, was required to find two sureties in £40. That practically meant that he was not in a position to appeal at all, and I cannot regard that as satisfactory. I do not press that the inquiry should include this very largo subject, but I do ask that His Majesty's Government should allow the Royal Commission to inquire, not only into cases of drunkenness and disorderly conduct, but into the whole action of the Metropolitan police force generally, the method of its control, and of its management and discipline.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies I desire to say a word or two with reference to the first part of the Question. I understand that the police magistrate in this case said that no woman of decent character had any right to be in Regent Street between 11 and 12 o'clock at night. Regent Street is a great centre where large numbers of work-girls are employed, and there are many institutes for their benefit in the neighbourhood in connection with the Girls' Friendly Society, the Young Women's Christian Association, and the Polytechnic. There are also the concerts at the Queen's Hall and other places of innocent recreation to be borne in mind, as making it desirable that such a magisterial utterance, if it was really made, should be made the subject of qualification. It is difficult to know who should be called upon to make comment upon any unwise things that may be said by police magistrates. A large number of people are not at all satisfied with the cynical remarks they sometimes make. The police magistrates do not always seem to be willing to cooperate with those who, by their philanthropic work, are doing their best to make the streets more respectable than they now are. I hope the proposed Inquiry will be wide enough to enable the public to be informed whether people can be protected from the kind of remarks to which I have directed attention.


My Lords, it is quite impossible for me to offer an opinion on the point raised by Lord Kinnaird. It will be obvious that a judgment on the propriety of a magisterial expression of opinion must entirely depend on a knowledge of the precise form of words used. As I have no details of that kind I cannot enter into the subject. With regard to the Question of the noble Earl, I am afraid my reply must be equally unsatisfactory to him; for what I have to say is that it is very important that the Royal Commission should deal promptly and finally with the special question put before them. I am sure your Lordships will agree that there are few things more important than that the public should have confidence in our Metropolitan police force; and if there is any such feeling of discomfort in the mind of the public as has been suggested, it is all the more necessary that the report of the Royal Commission should be made with the least possible delay. The enlargement of the terms of reference in the way suggested would indefinitely postpone their report.


Can the noble Earl say exactly what the terms of reference are?


I have not got them with me.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.