HL Deb 16 February 1949 vol 160 cc855-6

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government whether they will make a uniform regulation applying to all police forces to allow a policeman to stop and search a person who may be conveying goods which may be reasonably suspected to have been stolen or unlawfully obtained, such regulation at present being in operation in the London area, and in a few other areas in the provinces.]


My Lords, the circumstances which made necessary the adoption of these powers in London and certain other areas do not exist equally in all parts of the country, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary would not feel justified in introducing general legislation on the lines suggested.


May I point out that ill-gotten goods may be obtained by a mobile gang? In Manchester, where these powers operate, the police can take reasonable action. In Oldham they have no such powers, while not far away, in Rochdale, they have. Just across the Pennines the people are helpless, and they wonder whether nothing can be done about the poultry "rustlers." Does not the noble and learned Viscount think that a general regulation should be adopted, applying to all the police forces, especially in areas such as Lancashire and Yorkshire?


My Lords, I am doubtful about that proposition. The law, as I think wisely, stacks the cards very much against the prosecution in order to be quite certain that an innocent man is not convicted. If we were to adopt generally the procedure which now applies in London or in Manchester, or in various other places by reason of special circumstances, it would, of course, be much easier to proceed against a man; but I do not think that we ought, without exceptional circumstances, to depart from the broad general principle of proven guilt. It is open to any locality to make good their claims for these special powers. I believe the wiser principle is the one that we have adopted for many years—namely, that it should be the responsibility of a locality to prove their case by reason of their peculiar circumstances—rather than to extend the general law in this way.


My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Viscount for the explicit answer he has given, which goes some way, if not all the way, to meet the point.

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