§ 2.35 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking to deal with the danger to innocent people arising from daily battles between gangsters frequenting certain drinking clubs; and if, pending more comprehensive legislation, they will introduce an emergency regulation giving the police power of entry to a registered club or licensed café on the order of a chief constable or the Metropolitan Commissioner.]
My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend, the Lord Chancellor, who is not able to be here at present, because he is engaged on the Judicial Business of your Lordships' House, I beg to give this Answer, on his behalf, to the noble Lord opposite.
Her Majesty's Government share the noble Lord's concern about the problem of crime; and as regards the Metropolitan Police District my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is in close touch with the Commissioner of Police and is satisfied that the Metropolitan Police are doing all they can to suppress organised crime in the Metropolis. There is no power under which an emergency regulation could be introduced such as is suggested in the second part of the noble Lord's Question: but the police already have statutory powers of entry into licensed cafés and, on obtaining a search warrant from a magistrate, into registered clubs, as well as a right at Common Law to enter, without warrant, any premises for the purposes, among other things, of suppressing an affray.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that I entirely agree with him that the police are doing all they possibly can in this matter, but are gravely handicapped by the present law, in that they have to obtain a magistrate's warrant before they can enter into premises? As a consequence, every week-end in Paddington Hospital there are places which are like a first-aid post on a battlefield; and these gangsters are terrorising innocent people. I appreciate the fact that his noble and learned friend is absent, but can the noble Earl say why it is that emergency action cannot be taken to provide the police with powers of entry on the word of the chief constable or, indeed, of the Metropolitan Commissioner?
My Lords, I am quite certain that the noble Lord opposite knows the position of the law as it exists at the present time. Your Lordships will remember that we went into this question most carefully, and it was introduced by the noble Lord himself in your Lordships' House on June 1. I am quite certain that the noble Lord will remember all that my noble and learned friend said at that time about the situation of the law as it stands. I am quite certain that the noble Lord will take heart from what my noble and learned friend said.
§ BARONESS RAVENSDALE OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, may I merely put it to the noble Earl, in regard to this question, that, up to date, I am not aware that Her Majesty's Government have been quick enough and prompt enough, in view of the disastrous situation that has arisen? The action which the noble Earl on the Front Bench has offered us would seem to me no answer to the question of the noble Lord opposite, in his Motion to which I spoke the other day. Nor can I see that there is much validity in the suggested Bill in the other place merely examining and suggesting the control of vice clubs and night clubs in the West End. May I ask the noble Earl whether that is the only thing that is going to cover the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham?
My Lords, I think that the noble Lady's intervention is somewhat wide of the Question the noble Lord asked. But she has said that 647 this is a most complicated problem, and we heard on June 1, both from the noble Baroness and from the noble Lord opposite, all the undesirable consequences. It is precisely for these reasons that my noble and learned friend gave his most comprehensive answer, which I would repeat, but I think your Lordships will find it more convenient to look it up in Hansard of that date.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, the Lord Chancellor's answer did give me great encouragement; but it was long-term encouragement which cannot be fulfilled for perhaps twelve months. I am sure your Lordships are gravely concerned by the fact that these things are going on now and cannot be tolerated for another twelve months. For example, we cannot tolerate the position where a reporter of the Star paper was threatened with his life for investigating these things. Can the noble Earl say whether, in fact, the Home Secretary has given any special instructions to the Commissioner of Police to deal with this, and whether the new powers over cafés under the Street Offences Act are being implemented with the utmost rigour, so that at least we can do the utmost the law at present allows with these gangsters and crooks.
My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that the term "licensed café", which of course means a café that is opened by licence after ten o'clock, is covered, in that a policeman can go in there at any time, as indeed he can go into a café which sells intoxicating liquor, supposing there was any reason for him to go there. But in regard to clubs the law is as I have already stated it in my Answer.
Might I ask the noble Earl this question? Is it a fact that no special further action or further regulation has been taken in this matter; and secondly, that his right honourable friend is satisfied that no such action is necessary?
No, my Lords; that is not the case. So far as I know, my right honourable friend and his advisers are looking into this matter most carefully, as indeed my noble and learned friend said on June 1; and they are not at all satisfied with the situation as it is to-day.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, with regard to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, would it be a correct interpretation to say that the Home Secretary is most concerned about this matter but that, for reasons which we all understand, it is not possible for the noble Earl to disclose what the Government's future intentions are in this matter?