asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that the public is concerned at the alarming increase in cases of robbery or attempted robbery with violence by armed men in the Metropolis; how many such cases have been reported since 1st January, 1947; and in how many instances the culprits have been convicted.
During the first four months of this year, 25 robberies occurred in the Metropolitan Police district where a firearm was known to have been used. Eight of these cases have been cleared up, involving the arrest of 14 persons, 13 of whom have been convicted and one of whom is awaiting trial. The Commissioner of Police is giving every attention to dealing with this series of crimes.
Is it not really astonishing that so many crimes of this nature should escape solution, and can nothing be done to tighten up public security in this regard?
I imagine that criminals of this type are pretty astute, and that they take steps to assure themselves that the coast is reasonably clear before they commit their crimes. I think the number of detections that I have been able to announce is not unsatisfactory, having regard to the number of desperate men there are about at this time, but the Commissioner of Police and myself are fully seized of the importance of putting down this form of lawlessness, and I am quite sure that we shall have the support of all law-abiding citizens in the efforts we make to achieve our object.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the main, the illegal possession of firearms is punished in the lightest possible way by the magistrates, who are not using the maximum powers they possess? Would my right hon. Friend consider issuing a recommendation to the magistrates for the imposition of maximum sentences for illegal possession of firearms, or coming to the House for further powers to increase those punishments?
It is my endeavour to issue as few recommendations as possible to magistrates because, having been a magistrate myself, I know the resentment with which the Home Secretary's circulars are sometimes received, but I have no doubt that the question put by my hon. Friend will draw the attention of magistrates to this matter, and I hope they can feel that the House is behind them in seeing that the law is enforced.
May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is in consultation with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power with a view to the immediate termination of blackout conditions in the streets, which give these thugs an excellent opportunity of making their escape?
Is it the case, as I have been told, that the police are sometimes very badly handicapped in that they have not sufficient power, and that in cases where they know they could make the necessary arrest they are thereby handi- capped? If this is the case, will not my right hon. Friend ask the House for further powers?
No, Sir. One has to be very careful how one arms the police with additional powers. I am quite sure of this. The police themselves are very keen to bring this form of crime to an end, for, after all, they quite frequently are the persons most in danger from the use of these illegal weapons.