HL Deb 14 April 1953 vol 181 cc705-28

4.5 p.m.

Debate on Second Reading resumed.


My Lords, I confess that I am not at all happy about this Bill and equally I am bound to say I am not at all happy about the reasons which the noble Lord has just advanced for not giving it a Second Reading. If he will just consider what he has said, I think he will realise that he went much too far. He said he did not advocate the use of pistols. Why not? Logically, on his argument, it would follow that everybody ought to walk about armed to the teeth with pistols. Indeed, a poor frail girl who was being set upon by some thugs would be much better off if she had a pistol than any kind of stick or knife which would probably be difficult to get out. I venture to think that the Government are completely right in saying that it would indeed be panic legislation if we were to say that the state of affairs today is so bad that peaceful and law-abiding citizens should walk about the streets armed to the teeth to protect themselves. Surely they are right in saying that the primary duty of protection rests upon the police.

The noble Lord is, of course, right in saying that if two citizens see a girl being attacked by thugs, their duty, as a matter of good morals, good law and good sense, is to go to her assistance, whether or not there is a policeman there I venture to say that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has never had an easier question to answer than the one which the noble Lord put to him—that is, whit two men ought to do when they see a girl being attacked: should they cross the street and leave her to her fortune, or should they go to assist her? The answer is obvious. But if the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, is going to advocate the doctrine that, because there are difficulties to-day, because there is a shortage of police, people must now go out with arms to protect themselves, then logically it follows that they must have the most efficient arms with which to protect themselves; and the most efficient arms would be some kind of revolver or sawn-off shot-gun. We should all see each other walking about the streets with these appalling weapons, and in the last stage things would be worse than they were in the first. Therefore, I am opposed to the underlying reasoning of the noble Lord.

On the other hand, I am not happy, and I do not suppose anybody in this House, representative of the Home Office or the Lord Chancellor or anybody else, is happy about this Bill. Speaking for myself. I know, of course, that it has gone through the other place unopposed, but I think it behoves this House to look at it with some care and anxiety to see if we can improve it I take it we are all acting here from the same point of view. We realise the danger. We want to strengthen the hands of the police with regard thugs in arty way we possibly can. On the other hand, none of us much likes—I assume I speak for the whole House here—the drastic powers which are here being given to the police and which may affect the life of the ordinary citizen in all sorts of ways.

I remember very well in the days of the last Government introducing a Bill which provided that if a company was convicted of a crime, it was to be presumptive evidence that every director of that company had been a party to the crime, unless he proved that he had nothing to do with it; and I remember the howl of indignation which this proposal evoked from the other Benches. I was glad to see such vigilant watchdogs of the citizens'rights—and noble Lords who took that view of course won the day. But this Bill seems to me to go very far indeed. Just consider the effect of what is here defined as "an offensive weapon." It does not matter what it means in other Acts of Parliament; it is defined here as any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person"— such, for instance—recollecting my childhood—as a sort of cane or ash plant that was used for beating small boys. I suppose that would be a typical instrument to come under this description. The definition goes on to read: or intended by the person having it with him for such use by him. I know that people take out a walking stick or an umbrella, intending that if anybody does set upon them they are going to try to get in a crack with the walking stick or umbrella. As I read the definition, that might be regarded as an offensive weapon. Therefore, I think we must look rather carefully at the definition, because obviously that is not what is intended.


I do not want to interrupt the noble and learned Earl—he is a much greater expert on this question of definition than I am—but I understand that an article such as a walking stick or an umbrella will come into the third category. There is a great difference between that and the other two categories. I should not have thought that the two articles mentioned by the noble and learned Earl would come into the categories where the onus of proof lies on the individual; but I may be wrong on that point.


My Lords, before the noble and learned Earl resumes, may I remark that I think he has made one of the primary points which I raised—namely, that this Bill does import a sort of moral quality into an inanimate object. That is exactly my point.


I am not going to argue one way or another about this matter. This is the Second Reading of a Bill which, I take it, will be carried, whether or not the noble Lord opposite seeks to oppose it. All I am saying is that I think we want to look at it rather carefully from that point of view when we get to the Committee stage. Hitherto no one has succeeeded in finding any better definition. Although I trust the police completely, it seems to me undesirable that a citizen carrying an article of that sort should be subject to arrest and to be locked up for the night, or something of that sort, unless and until he has proved that he is a perfectly innocent person. I think we must take such steps as we can to avoid that result.

If it comes to a question of a vote on the Second Reading, I shall support the Government, because, frankly, I want to give the Home Office and the authorities drastic powers to deal with thugs. At the same time, I want, if I can, to save innocent people from being troubled. I feel that the reason why this Bill will probably work all right is because, taking it by and large (and thank God it is so!) the police have great common sense. I suspect that in practice the awful results which we all now envisage will not result. But that leads me to suggest to the Lord Chancellor (I do not want an answer now) that this is the sort of measure which might be considered on the basis of an annual Bill. By adopting that method we should see how in practice the intention of the Bill was working. I rather suspect that it will work all right and that these eventualities will not arise, but if, by any chance, they do arise, then I think we might keep a hold on the matter by having a provision of that sort. I should like the Lord Chancellor and his colleagues to consider in due course whether this Bill might not be suitably dealt with in that way, to ensure that these dreadful results are avoided.

For the rest, as I have said, if it comes to a vote I shall support the Second Reading of this Bill. I merely rise to say that I think we must all pool our ideas in Committee, to see whether we can draft a better form of phraseology, because obviously there is a danger here of the innocent liege being interfered with. But in so far as there arises the question of giving the police greater power to deal with thugs, then. I am wholeheartedly in support of the Bill. For those somewhat mixed reasons which I have endeavoured to explain, I am sure we must look carefully at this Bill in Committee; but at this stage I should advise your Lordships to consent to the Second Reading of the Bill, in order that it may reach the Committee stage.

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, when I first read this Bill I thought I should be supporting my noble friend Lord Saltoun. I visualised circumstances which might arise when I myself might be arrested. In my own rather deserted part of the country (at least, part of it is rather deserted) there used to be bands of poachers who attacked keepers and sometimes other people. I thought, suppose that happened again and I wanted to take an evening walk on the moors. Almost for certain, I should take with me a rather unusually large and heavy walking stick that I have. It might be that on that walk I should meet a police officer who was new to the district, who asked me who I was, where I lived and why I was carrying such a big stick. And when I told him, probably because the clothes I wear in the country are not always very respectable clothes, he might disbelieve my answers and say to me, "You are carrying an offensive weapon. I must arrest you and you must come to the police station with me." After a walk of some six or seven miles we should come to the police station, and the station sergeant would recognise me and, with many apologies, would tell me to go home. By the time I had got to that stage in my imagination, I was becoming quite heated. I could not see why a perfectly innocent person should run the risk and ignominy of arrest and have two or three hours of his time wasted. So I thought that this was clearly an occasion for a strong speech on the liberties of the subject.

But I thought that, before I made that speech. I had better go rather more fully into the matter. I consulted various people whose advice I value, and I read all the debates on this Bill in another place. Quite independently of my noble friend Lord Lloyd, I have to inform the House that, in the circumstances which I visualised and which I have outlined, there is not the slightest chance of my arrest; and so I am afraid noble Lords will not hear my speech on the liberties of the subject. What I am going to say will, I am afraid, repeat to a large extent what my noble friend on the Front Bench has said, but I think it ought to be said from the Back Benches, and by a noble and "unlearned" Lord. It seems to me that there are, quite clearly, three adequate safeguards against an innocent person being arrested, particularly when all three are taken in conjunction with each other. The first is that there is no power of search by the police. The police cannot search a person in the streets; nor can they say "Turn out your pockets" and, when they find a large clasp knife in one of them, base a charge on that.

The second safeguard, as has already been said, is that a police officer must have reasonable cause for believing that a person is carrying an offensive weapon. The police, of course, have various methods of obtaining information that a person is carrying a weapon. As a rule, they suspect the person; they watch him, they see him actually in possession of that weapon, and, as often as not, about to use it. But the strength of this safeguard, in my view, lies in the reverse of it. A police officer, not having reasonable cause for believing that a person is carrying an offensive weapon, who arrests an innocent it individual is running a very great danger. Apart from the fact that he will not get a conviction, the newspapers, quite properly, will almost certainly get hold of the matter and will make a "song and dance" about it. Then the police officer will have to explain to his superior officers how he came to make such an idiot of himself. I think the net result will be that a police officer will make an arrest under this measure without a warrant only when he is, for all practical purposes, certain that the person concerned is carrying an offensive weapon.

The third safeguard is in the definition of "offensive weapon." In the first category come the two classes of weapons which are made purely for offensive purposes—for example, the cosh (so far as I know the cosh can be used only for coshing) and, secondly, articles of ordinary use which have been altered so that, in effect, they can be used only as offensive weapons. A bicycle chain which has had the links filed so that they have razor edges, and which is carried under the coat collar, cannot be used again for its proper purpose as a bicycle chain, owing to the sharp edges: it can be used only as an offensive weapon. I think it is not unreasonable to ask a defendant to show that such a weapon is intended for an innocent purpose.

If I may revert to the thick stick which I took on my imaginary country walk, so long as it is a simple walking stick it will clearly be an article of every day use which has not been made an offensive weapon; it has not been altered in any way to make it into an offensive weapon. But if I took that walking stick, split it, and into the split inserted the blade of a dagger, and wired it in, I think it would not be unreasonable to ask me to prove that I normally used that somewhat fearsome weapon for cutting off the heads of dandelions. If, in fact, I do use it for cutting off the heads of dandelions, I shall have no difficulty in proving it, because people will have seen me carrying out that practice. With regard to this category of weapons, comprising those two sorts, it is, of course, the case that a defendant has to prove his innocence, rather than that the prosecution has to prove his guilt. But in the other case, the case of articles of every day use which have not been altered, the prosecution must prove that the person concerned intended to use the article as an offensive weapon. From a common-sense point of view, how can that be proved unless a police officer or some witness has seen the person using the article or about to use it? My walking stick cannot be an offensive weapon within the meaning of this Bill unless somebody sees me attacking someone with it.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack will deal with that point as regards the offensive weapon. What many people, I think, would like to know respecting the second category of weapons—that is articles not made or altered to be offensive weapons—is this. If any article in that category is, in fact, used in defence, does it automatically become a defensive weapon and not an offensive weapon within the meaning of this Bill? I believe that it does. It would certainly be a reasonable excuse that one was defending oneself, and I believe that the article would no longer be an offensive weapon. With regard to what Lord Saltoun has said about carrying a weapon, if people are frightened they do carry weapons—for example, a walking stick such as I have mentioned. For ladies, a hatpin may be the chosen defensive weapon, and if the ladies are fisher girls they may well carry their gutting knives, though I should like to point out to my noble friend Lord Saltoun that they would need only to carry them in Scotland; they would not need to carry them in Scarborough. In Scarborough, we were always law-abiding in the days to which the noble Lord was referring. I would submit that if things of this sort are carried, they are not offensive weapons as such; and that if a person likes to carry a heavy stick, a hatpin or some tool of his trade—such as a gutting knife—then, within reason, he cannot be charged with carrying an offensive weapon. So I would recommend friends of the noble Lord to choose their defensive weapons with care.

Personally, I think that in view of this present wave of crime this Bill is necessary; and, in particular, it is necessary for what I believe to be its main reason—the prevention of crime amongst young people. A very good example was given in the debate in another place. This was the example. Supposing a Fascist meeting was held in the East End of London, and at the back of the crowd at that meeting there were three or four young men, each carrying a broken bottle. Under the provisions of this Bill, the police could arrest those young men before they used the bottles, and the crime of which they would be accused would not be a very serious one. But if they were allowed to use those bottles a much more serious charge might result—it might well be a charge of murder. For that reason, I believe this Bill to be necessary at the present time.

If I may be so bold, I should like to say that I very much agree with the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, in being rather unhappy about the Bill in one respect. I would ask the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack whether, instead of the Bill becoming—as the noble and learned Earl has suggested it should—an annual Bill, it would not be possible for a clause to be inserted whereby it would remain in force for consecutive periods of three or five years—let us say three years. In that case, it would come before Parliament at the end of each period of three years, and it would automatically lapse unless Parliament specifically renewed it for a further term. The advantage of that system, as compared with the annual one, is that it would give Parliament a proper length of time to see how the measure worked. Apart from my not being very happy about this being a permanent Bill, I certainly support the Second Reading.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we have all followed with very great interest Lord Derwent's walk upon the moors, but I think he would have been less happy about that walk if he had reflected on two matters. In the first place, he might have considered how matters would have stood if he had not been a well-known citizen of Yorkshire—as he is, so that the apologies from the police station would quickly and automatically follow the mistake of the new constable. The second point is this. I hope he is right about his reading of the last category of weapons, and the effect of the other clauses, but I am not at all so confident of them.

Like the noble Lord, I am a layman, and I shall be grateful to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack if he can answer one or two questions which are worrying us, and if he can give us assurances, for which I think we ought to ask, because I am certain that noble Lords wish to do everything we properly can to deal with this horrible outbreak of violence. But do not let that natural and proper desire stampede us into doing panicky things which will pass into the body of law, and which may become the means of abuse in days to come, as has happened before. It is our duty to scrutinise carefully this kind of legislation. When in London, I live where I did when I was a Member of Parliament for Lambeth, in Lambeth. People there go for walks along dark streets in very poor neighbourhoods, and they would not always be recognised and apologised to if, by mistake, they were taken up in circumstances similar in character, if not in location, to those of the noble Lord's walk upon the moors. In a case of mistaken identity, humble people who have no powerful friends and no ready means of establishing that they are law-abiding citizens find it difficult to prove the innocence of their actions.


The noble Lord realises that my whole case was that I could not have been arrested because I was not carrying an offensive weapon.


That is where I think the noble Lord is in error. I wish he were not, but I feel he is; though I hope the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will be able to tell me that he is right. It is one of the most unfortunate things in working-class neighbourhoods that people are in terror of "getting in wrong" with the police. Everybody who knows working-class areas in big cities knows the sort of feeling which prevails, especially in a man who at one time or another has done something wrong. However small his offence may have been, he goes through the rest of his life in fear of again falling into the hands of the police. I think that sort of man will be placed in great jeopardy under this Bill.

I would ask the noble Lord to look at the words in Clause 1: Any person who without lawful authority or without reasonable excuse, the proof whereof shall lie on him, has with him in any public place any offensive weapon… An offensive weapon is clearly defined in subsection (4). Let us take the last category about which we are talking. An offensive weapon means any article whether adapted for use for causing injury or intended, without being adapted, to be used for causing injury. The noble Lord went for a walk with his heavy stick, and although it was not adapted in any way for offence if he intended to use it for an offence it was, by definition, an offensive weapon.


That could not be proved.


But the onus of proof is upon the noble Lord. The Bill says: Any person who without lawful authority or reasonable excuse…has with him an offensive weapon… and an offensive weapon is an article intended to be used as an offensive weapon. I see no words for transferring the onus of proof in this matter from the defence to the prosecution, and I should be grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor if he could say that the onus of proof is transferred in some magical way from the defence to the prosecution just because the walking stick has not been adapted. There is nothing in the Bill which says so. It is all right for the noble Lord. He arrives at the police station, and there they say, "My, if it isn't Lord Derwent with his old cudgel! We are terribly sorry. Of course, we are sorry." But in Lambeth a heavy stick, although not adapted, may, in the opinion of the police—and in the perfectly genuine opinion of the police, who, after all, have a hard time of it—be an offensive weapon in the hands of the person arrested; and the onus of proof that the arrested man had no such intention lies upon him. That is my view, and I shall hold that view until the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor tells us that is wrong, which I hope he will do. This is a menacing Bill, particularly to people who have difficulty in establishing at once their bona fides.


My Lords, surely, according to the words of the clause, the only onus thrown on the defence is to prove lawful authority or reasonable excuse. That is the only point where the onus is thrown on the defence. Of course, if it is a matter of excuse the person setting up the excuse must always prove it, because nobody else can do so. In regard to the point about offensive weapons, the onus is on the prosecution.


I listen with great respect to the noble and learned Lord on a matter of this kind, but I cannot give up my point on that. It is not easy for a person who at one time or another may have slipped from the path and who is suspected by the police to prove that he has a lawful excuse for carrying a heavy stick. It is not necessary for a bicycle chain to be filed to make it an offensive weapon; a chain as it comes from the bicycle may be a nasty weapon and may be carried innocently and lawfully. In the case of mistaken identity, where the police have picked up the wrong man because they have reason to think that he was intent on a crime, it is terribly hard for such a man to prove his innocent intentions. Sometimes I should find it difficult to prove my own. And how on earth is it going to be done by someone who knows nothing of the ways of the laws and is embarrassed, flustered and frightened by these circumstances? I suggest that it is the duty of all of us, in scrutinising a Bill of this kind, to see to it that in attempting to curb the actions of the criminal, we are not imperilling innocent people.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I regret that I was not here at the beginning of this debate, but there is one thing that occurs to me that happened soon after the First World War. Round where I lived, people were often held up at night on the road, and many of us used to put a revolver in the pocket of our cars. I always used to put one in the pocket of my car, in case anybody switched a light on me and told me to pull up. It never happened, but I had the revolver, and I should have used it if anyone had attacked me. In this connection, an amusing episode took place in a bus which was packed with people and which had in one corner a man, very drunk, who was fast asleep. A man held up the bus. He came to the door of the bus and shouted, "Hold up your hands and turn out your pockets." This woke up the man who was drunk. "Let me get at him," he cried, jumping up—and the man who held up the bus made off as quickly as he could. I should like to know from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, supposing there was a recurrence of the sort of thing that happened when I first went to live in the area where I am living now, should I be justified in putting my revolver in my car in case of need?

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I think everyone will agree that this Bill was produced because of public agitation. I myself feel that the agitation for corporal punishment made it necessary to do something to satisfy the public clamour, and this is the result. It may be a good or a bad Bill, but it is a response to newspaper criticism. I can confirm what my noble friend Lord Wilmot said about the attitude of humble folk to the police. I represented for some time St. George's, in Wapping, which is a very poor part of London. I knew the people very well; many of my friends from time to time have been involved with the police, but they were very decent people. I feel that this is, in a way, tipping the balance a little against them; and, in fact, it creates an interest. The police will get more powers under this Bill. Therefore, I listened with some sympathy to what my noble and learned Leader, Lord Jowitt, said about putting a time limit on the Bill. I hope the Lord Chancellor will consider that, because it seems to me just the way to deal with it.

If it is a good Bill—and I do not challenge that—but what may be called a temporary Bill, then it is better to give Parliament the right to bring it to an end when it sees fit. If you allow that, the question is how it should be done. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, suggested that the Bill, when it had become an Act, should lapse unless an Affirmative Resolution was presented to the House. I have never heard of that being done in respect of any Act. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, would accept that; I should not think he would, But if he would, and the time limit were suitable, that would be a perfect way of dealing with it. But the way suggested by my noble and learned Leader was that the Act should be included in the Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. That is an excellent suggestion. There need not be any discussion if the Act is all right; but if it is not, it is competent for anybody to move that it should be omitted from the Schedule. That is much simpler than introducing a repealing Bill. There would be this further advantage if we put it into the Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. In this House we have plenty of time for our work, but that is not the case in the other place, and there the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill is exempted business. Therefore, if we adopt the suggestion of my noble and learned Leader, it would give Parliament, and any Member of Parliament, a complete and unfettered control. Therefore, I hope that the Lord Chancellor will give us some encouragement in regard to this suggestion.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I did not intend to speak this afternoon, and I desire to address only a few words of appeal to the Lord Chancellor. Many minds—I do not say great minds—seem to think alike, and it appears to have occurred to a number of your Lordships simultaneously that the right way to deal with this Bill is to have it on some form of continuation basis. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, will look into that point carefully. Undoubtedly, this is a Bill that has come forward as the result of popular clamour, and it is one of the duties of this House to try and save the nation from what may be its own precipitate folly. I do not say that this Bill is unduly precipitate, or that it is a folly; but if we give it three years, we can see how things go, and by doing that I believe the House will have done its duty to the nation.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I did not come down to the House to-day with any intention other than of voting whichever way my leaders directed me to vote. I certainly did not intend to take part in the curious semi-legal discussions that have taken place across the Table. I rise to say only two things, the first of which is that I am sure that all these horrible disasters with which we are threatened will not and cannot possibly take place under the Bill. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, is always full of a crusading spirit, and I am sure that when he goes out crusading he always expects to find an enormous number of infidels galloping against him and using the most insidious means of tripping him up. However, I assure him that this is all nonsense, and that there is nothing in all these perils that have been described. My criticism of the Bill is otherwise. I do not think it will effect anything at all. I believe it to be a mere piece of eyewash—not on the part of those who put it forward, and who are honest and sincere men, working hard in a way which they believe will cleanse the country of crime. But I do not think the Bill will have the smallest effect on anybody who uses a cosh or a bicycle chain for improper purposes. There is only one way in which the wave of crime among young people can be dealt with, and that is by the rod and the "cat." So long as we go on passing anodyne Bills of this sort, which can affect nothing, so long do we put off a serious attempt to deal with a difficult problem.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like from the Back Benches on this side of the House to say a few words in support of this Bill. Personally, I do not feel the nervousness about it which many of your Lordships have expressed. It seems to me that, quite apart from the present wave of crimes of personal violence, there is a great deal to be said for making it a criminal offence for people to go about armed in the way that has been described by several noble Lords this afternoon. Most of us can remember the time when it was perfectly legal for people to carry firearms without a licence. I can remember that when the licensing system for revolvers was introduced between the wars there was a considerable outcry by conservative people like the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, that it was an invasion of personal liberty. In a sense that was so. But, looking at it broadly, in the interests of the community, surely, everybody must admit that it was a sensible provision. Likewise, surely, a provision which makes it an offence for men to go about armed with coshes and razor blades let into walking sticks, and that sort of thing, quite apart from the present wave of crimes of personal violence, is a sensible measure.

I agree up to a point with the noble Lord, Lord Schuster, that it is not a very strong Bill. It is not a Bill which will stop the present wave of crimes of personal violence. On the other hand, I certainly should not be prepared to go so far as the noble Lord and to say that the whole thing is eyewash, and that it will have no effect whatever. In that regard, I much prefer the evidence which the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, has produced from the Home Office and the police. I am sure your Lordships will agree that the men who have the job of dealing with these ruffians know a great deal more about what is likely to be effective than the noble Lord, Lord Schuster, whose experience of these things, great as it has been, has lain in rather a different branch of the administration of the law.

I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, and I agreed with a good deal of it. I am sure he is right when he says that the real weakness of the present situation is the undermanned police force. I am quite satisfied that until we bring the police force up to its proper strength the wave of violence and the general outburst of crime will not be satisfactorily dealt with. There are various methods by which the police force could be adequately recruited and built up, and I hope the Government will give serious attention to seeing that they are used. So far as this Bill goes, I think it is a useful Bill, and I am sure that that is the view of the majority of your Lordships. The case brought against it by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun—a case which has been echoed to some extent by the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot—is that under it there is a danger of some innocent people being wrongly accused, and the noble Lords muttered dark things about its being made use of by the police for picking up people for whom they have a dislike and whom they suspect, and that sort of thing. After a not very intensive but fairly long experience of criminal administration, I do not believe these stories that the police look around for excuses for behaving unfairly in this way.


I hope the noble Lord does not think that anything I have said gave rise to that thought, because I can assure him that nothing was further from my mind.


And if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt, I should like to say that I made no such suggestion and I have no such opinion. I think the police discharge their duties in most difficult circumstances with astonishing speed and fairness, and I make no such suggestion.


I am very glad indeed to hear that fall from both noble Lords, because I had a feeling that it was being suggested that the police would possibly make a wrongful use or, at any rate, a mistaken use, of the powers which are given to them under this Bill. This Bill is being introduced for the purpose of assisting the police, and it seems to me most unlikely that the police will use it in a way which will be unfair. It is possible to make out a theoretical case of the kind which the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, was making out about his walking stick, although I really could not follow the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, when he suggested that an ordinary thick walking stick was a weapon of offence. Of course, the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, made the answer very clear in his interjection, and did not leave anything for the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to clear up. After all, all those of us who have had any experience of the administration of the criminal law and, indeed, of the law generally of this country, know quite well that it is the common-sense administration of it which is the strength of our legal system. There are all sorts of things which can be done technically under the law but which would be most absurd and which would be worse than absurd—they would be really wrong. Now and then, out of the tens of thousands of cases which are dealt with one does come across a case where some silly stupidity of that kind has taken place, and it is blazoned abroad in the newspapers. But, by and large, and in a much larger proportion than 999 cases out of 1,000, the law is sensibly administered with that deep common sense which is characteristic not only of our police force but of the administration of our whole law. I am sure that we can rely upon them for the sensible use of this Bill.

The Bill is directed, in its rather narrow way, for the protection of large numbers of men and women, and particularly women, who are in a very real danger in some parts of our cities and, indeed, in some country districts at the present time. If it should happen that here and there somebody like the noble Lord is subjected to a little inconvenience for an hour or two, surely he should be ready to put up with it if, in return for that, even a few dozen people are in fact protected against molestation and, indeed, against worse—against serious physical violence at the hands of young ruffians and hooligans of the kind which has become only too common in our streets during the last few years. Therefore, I am quite sure that in terms of convenience this is a sensible Bill, and I hope your Lordships will support it.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, nobody can complain of the reception which this Bill has received in this House. It is a Bill, your Lordships will remember—and I think this has been referred to in this House—which passed the House of Commons without a Division. It is a Bill which was introduced in answer not merely to popular clamour, but to informed opinion. In its general tenor and in its actual words it was submitted to the Opposition before it was introduced to the House, and Sir Frank Soskice acknowledged in most generous words the way in which his help had been sought. Therefore, although I agree most heartily with what fell from the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, that the language of the Bill must be scrutinised in the closest possible way, I think it may be found difficult to find words more apt than those that are in the Bill to give effect to its purpose. But I welcome from him or from any noble Lord in this House, any suggestion which will give the effect that we want without unduly weakening the provisions of the Bill.

The Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, has moved is immediately before the House, and I should like to say just one or two words about that. What the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, said is exactly what I would have said; and he said with all the weight and impressiveness that he commands. This is not panic legislation. It is a moderate measure designed to assist the police in the prevention—and I emphasise that word—of what, to use a popular but perhaps too emphatic a phrase, is called "a wave of crime." To my mind, to give effect to the suggestion which the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, has made would be panic legislation of the worst kind; to reverse the trend of centuries, to say to a citizen that he is to take the law into his own hands and turn the country into an armed camp. I could not imagine anything worse than the sort of encouragement which his words gave—an encouragement which was in direct defiance of Acts of Parliament which have been passed these many years. For it is a crime to-day for people to do that which the noble Lord would advocate.

He says they are to go armed. Armed with what? He gives us an example—armed with pistols which may discharge obnoxious liquid. Section 17 of the Firearms Act, 1937, makes that a crime. In some respects the, noble Lord's law is impeccable. It is absolutely true that it is the duty of every citizen to aid in the preservation of the peace. It has been picturesquely said that a policeman is a citizen in uniform. Every citizen has many of the same rights and duties as the policeman to preserve the peace. But is the policeman armed? He is armed with a truncheon, which does not go nearly as far as the noble Lord would suggest. According to him, every citizen is to be armed with what he thinks adequate for the preservation of his own safety. He gave examples of the fisher-girl with her gutting knife, and somebody else with a pistol, and so on. I venture to ask your Lordships to resist the Amendment which the noble Lord proposes, which is the rejection of this Bill, and to proceed after Second Reading to its proper consideration.

The noble Lord further challenged this Bill upon the ground that it made no provision for housing or for increasing the police. Of course it does not; it is not a Bill which has that purpose. The noble Lord challenged the definition of "offensive weapon." Certainly we should welcome his assistance, and, indeed, that of any other noble Lord, in defining what is an "offensive weapon." Some definition must be found. I venture, therefore, to hope that the noble Lord may be persuaded to withdraw his Amendment; but if not, that at least your Lordships will not give effect to it.

Now I come to deal with certain of the criticisms which have been made of the language of the Bill. I should like, first of all, to reply to a very important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, and, I think, by one or two other noble Lords. The onus of proof in criminal trials is, of course, a most important matter. Generally speaking, there is a presumption of innocence. I think that Parliament is very slow to depart from that presumption—although in a number of cases it has done so. But it has not done so in the case which the noble Lord suggests. Let me glance for a moment at the Bill. Clause 1 of the Bill provides as follows: Any person who without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, the proof whereof shall lie on him, has with him in any public place any offensive weapon.… Now let us read for this purpose the single category of offensive weapon with which we are concerned. Then, it would read thus: …has with him in any public place a weapon intended by him for such use… That is, for the purpose of causing injury. Well, my Lords, I hate to be dogmatic, particularly about a matter which, if the Bill passes in its present form, may have to be considered in the courts but I have little doubt, as had the Lord Chief Justice when he intervened, that those words put on the prosecution the onus of showing that the weapon is intended by the defendant to be used for the purpose of injury. It is quite true that if that has been proved by the prosecution it will then lie with the defendant to say "Oh, yes, but I have lawful authority" or, "Yes, but T had reasonable excuse." This would be a difficult thing for him to prove if it has already been proved against him that he intended it for injury. I have no doubt at all that there the burden of proof remains with the prosecution and is not thrown upon the prisoner.

The words to which the noble Lord has referred: without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, have a very important bearing upon the other categories of offensive weapons. The other categories of offensive weapons are weapons made or adapted for causing injury. Now if a person in a public place carries with him a weapon made to cause injury it does not seem to me to be going very far to require him to prove that he had "lawful authority or reasonable excuse" for carrying it. Why should a man go into a public place carrying a bicycle chain or a razor blade? No, let the burden in such a case be put upon him.

Then the question arises, how is the offence to be dealt with? That is covered by Clause 3 of the Bill. Although, like the noble Lord, I at first felt a little unhappy about this, the more I came to study it the more it appeared to me that there were adequate safeguards. In fact, my mind went through very much the same process as that of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, who delivered, if I may say so, a most cogent and instructive speech, in which he interpreted this Bill in a most lucid way. I was not altogether happy at first, as I say, but it did appear to me that there were so many safeguards, not only in Clause 1 but in Clause 3, that there was little apprehension to be entertained that an innocent person could suffer under this Bill. I must differ from the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. This surely is not a Bill in which the balance is tipped against the poor person. It is a Bill which is intended for the protection of all people alike. I think it is giving a wrong balance altogether to the matter to suggest that it favours one section of the community rather than another. I should be sorry indeed if it were to go out from this House that that thought had any place in the minds of any of your Lordships.

Before I go any further, perhaps I may be allowed, by way of illustration of a point which has arisen, to refer to the umbrella or the stick. If a person goes out with an umbrella or a stick it is quite clear that something more has to be proved against him than the mere possession of the umbrella or the stick. It has to be proved that he intended to use that umbrella or stick for the purpose of causing injury. I conceive that it would be very difficult to prove it against him; and if that were all that there was to it in the Bill I should be inclined to subscribe to the view which has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Schuster. But there are articles which, although not normally used for purposes of injury, are capable of being so used; and I conceive that it may be possible in certain cases for the police to prove that such articles are carried with that intent. For instance, in the case of a bicycle chain carried in a mackintosh pocket, the police may suspect a man because they have known him to use a bicycle chain before for the purpose of causing injury.

I come now to a substantial point made by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and others; that was whether this Bill should become part of our permanent law until repealed, or whether it should be an annual measure subject to the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. I need hardly say that representations that have been made on this matter will be conveyed by my noble friend Lord Lloyd to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. I would say, quite frankly, that I do not hold out too much hope on that point. It would not be right for me to suggest to the House that it had not been considered: I know that the Home Secretary has considered it, and on the whole has come to the conclusion that it should find a place in our permanent law; but no doubt the representations made on both sides of your Lordships' House on the matter will weigh with him. I am quite sure that noble Lords can take it that the matter will be reconsidered. There are no doubt matters which can be considered on the Committee stage of this Bill; but on its general principles which, if they have not the universal support of the House have the support of at least a good majority, I hope your Lordships will think I have said enough.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, I am going to answer the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on one particular point, which is this, They both attacked me on the ground that I said citizens should go about armed to the teeth, bristling with weapons. I think the Lord Chancellor said that I recommended that they should carry pistols. I think the only time I mentioned the word "pistol" was when I said "not a pistol"—but possibly the noble and learned Lord's wig was my enemy, and he did not hear it. But what the noble and learned Earl opposite meant when he said "armed to the teeth" was exactly how people are going about to-day. Is it wrong for the Glasgow school-teachers to defend themselves on their way back from their work in the dusk? Is it wrong for a girl who is crossing a lonely common to have something which will enable her to repel an assault? Or are the Government prepared to have a policeman ready to accompany every girl home? The thing is impossible. The noble and learned Lord Chancellor asked me to define a defensive weapon. That is one of the points I made. A weapon is neither offensive nor defensive. It is entirely a matter of intention.

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, opposite for a singularly sympathetic speech, with every word of which I agree. I have been asked whether I intend to divide the House on this Bill. If I am going to divide it on this Bill, it is on an important principle. The reason why I am going to divide the House is this: that here and in another place it was said—and it is perfectly true, T believe—that the effect of this Bill will be to make the police into a special force different from the ordinary citizens. They will be armed with coshes or truncheons, whatever you like to call them, while the rest of the population have no right, apparently, to carry anything at all for self-defence. I say that is wrong, and I am prepared to divide the House. I should be wrong not to divide it when I oppose that principle, which is being introduced for the first time into our law. For that reason, I will certainly divide the House on my Amendment.

Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.


In view of the assurances given by the Lord Chancellor on the points which I raised, I hope that the noble Lord will not take this to a Division.

On Question, Whether the Amendment be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 3; Not-Contents, 60.

Hatherton, L. [Teller.] Middleton, L. Saltoun, L. [Teller.]
Simonds, L. (L. Chancellor.) Portman, V. Lloyd, L.
Stansgate, V. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Salisbury, M. (L. President.) Swinton, V. Macpherson of Drumochter, L.
Trenchard, V. Mancroft, L. [Teller.]
Linlithgow, M. Merthyr, L.
Archibald, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Bingham, L. (E. Lucan.) Milverton, L.
De La Warr, E. Brassey of Apethorpe, L. Monson, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.) Burden, L. Ogmore, L.
Carrington, L. O'Hagan, L.
Dundonald, E. Cherwell, L. Pethick-Lawrence, L.
Jowitt, E. Chesham, L. Sandhurst, L.
Onslow. E. [Teller.] Chorley, L. Sandys, L.
Selkirk, E. De L'Isle and Dudley, L. Schuster, L.
Shaftesbury, E. Derwent, L. Sempill, L.
Gifford, L. Shepherd, L.
Devonport, V. Haden-Guest. L. Silkin, L.
Goschen, V. Hawke, L. Teviot, L.
Harcourt, V. Henderson, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Hudson, V. Howard of Glossop, L. Wilmot of Selmeston, L.
Hyndley, V. Iliffe, L. Wolverton, L.
Long, V. Kenswood, L. Woolton, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.