§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Templemore.)
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME
My Lords, I have not put down an Amendment to this Bill, in order to save expense, but I have given Lord Templemore notice that I intended to raise a point on Clause 10. This clause constitutes a new offence, and it is usual, where a new offence is constituted, for a proviso to be inserted in the Bill that no private prosecution shall be brought without, the consent of the Attorney-General. If your Lordships will look at subsection (2) paragraph (a), you will see that it says if any personsends any message by telephone which is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing characterhe shall be guilty of an offence. It would be very easy for a crank to say that so-and-so had insulted him on the telephone, and it would be simply a question of evidence between the two parties as to which the magistrate believed. Even if the person against whom the prosecution was brought got off, the costs which he would incur would involve a great deal of money. I therefore urge my noble friend seriously to consider whether, on the Third Reading, there should not be inserted an Amendment such as I have suggested.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I am not quite sure that this discussion is very regular at this particular stage, because the present Motion is that this House shall resolve itself into Committee, and this is a Committee point. I should like to assure the noble Viscount that it is a mistake to suppose that wherever a new offence is created it is the practice to provide that no prosecution shall take place without the consent of the Attorney-General. It is true to say that there are some occasions on which it is thought desirable to limit the ordinary right of the private individual to institute criminal proceedings, and when a case is made out it is true that in certain cases the magistrate will wish to obtain the fiat of the Attorney-General, but these cases are the exception rather than the rule. It is my recollection that 345 during my term of office I had a list made out which showed that only in something between fifty and sixty Statutes, out of a number of hundreds, was such a proviso inserted. Normally the rule is that anybody can institute a prosecution, but in certain cases Parliament thinks it right to limit that power to public authorities.
With regard to this particular case I think all I can say, or that my noble friend. Lord Templemore could say, if such an Amendment were moved, would be that one would necessarily communicate with the right honourable gentleman whose Department is immediately concerned, and let him know of the suggestion put forward. I cannot pretend to answer what view the right honourable gentleman would form about the Amendment or suggested Amendment. Unfortunately it is not a very long time before this Bill is expected to become law, but the suggestion of the noble Viscount will certainly be conveyed by my noble friend, and I am sure will be received with that respectful consideration with which any suggestion from your Lordships' House ought to be received by a responsible member of the Government.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to: House in Committee accordingly: Bill reported without amendment.