HC Deb 01 March 1927 vol 203 cc268-95

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The object of the Bill is quite clearly set forth in the Title. It is a Bill to provide for a right of appeal by members of police forces who are dismissed or required to resign. The question of the institution of an appeal tribunal in the police forces of this country has been discussed on many occasions and for many years past, but it has been especially brought to the notice of the police forces and of Members of this House by the Report of the Committee on Police Services in England, Wales and Scotland, of which Lord Des-borough was the Chairman. That Committee issued its Report in 1920. In page 9, paragraph 125, of that Report, the Commission recommend that any constable should have a right of appeal against a decision of a chief constable involving his dismissal. It is right to say at once that the suggestion of an appeal was not brought forward because of any harshness on the part of chief constables, or any unfairness or unreasonableness on their part towards those serv- ing under them. In fact, the same section of the Report, to which I have already referred contains also this passage, which it would be well to read to the House as the opinion of the Commission. We do not make this suggestion"— That is the suggestion of an appeal— because any abuses in the exercise of their powers on the part of county chief constables have been brought to our notice. On the contrary, there was a striking absence of complaint throughout the evidence, and testimony was borne by a number of witnesses from the lower ranks to the impartial and considerate way in which the county chief constables had exercised the powers vested in them. The suggestion that there should be a right of appeal was made to us by a number of county chief constables themselves. This is a subject on which, naturally, the police feel very keenly. There has been no suggestion by the police and there has been no suggestion by the Home Office, that discipline is not reasonably and fairly administered but very exceptional cases may arise where there is a suspicion of bias, or doubt as to evidence, or where fresh evidence has come to light after a case has been dealt with. At present, such exceptional cases are not provided for, and the House will realise that it is not unreasonable to have an appeal when we consider the very serious consequences to the individual constable of dismissal. In ordinary walks of life, 1,11 individual who is at cross-purposes with his chief and who is dismissed, can frequently get another position in a similar occupation under another chief. That is not so in the police force. There is no chance of making a fresh start in another force. If a police constable is discharged in one part of the country, he has no opportunity of being taken back to the force in any other part of the country. His reappointment is barred by police regulations. Having thus established, as I believe we must establish, the principle of the right of appeal, the question which the House has to ask itself is: What form should such appeal take, and how does this Bill deal with the subject?

I frankly admit that the proposals of this Bill are not those which are contained in the recommendations of the Desborough Committee. The question as to the form which the Bill should take must, of necessity, be viewed from different standpoints by different autho- rities, and must involve intricate problems of police administration. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has considered all the different standpoints, he has carefully deliberated upon all the representations that have been made to him from all those who are directly or indirectly interested and concerned, and I may add that he will still give consideration and attention to any further representations that may be made to him before this Bill gets into Committee and during its passage through Committee. But, after having considered all the representations that have already been made to him, he has decided that the best course is to introduce the Bill on the lines laid down in the particular Measure which is now before the House. The reasons for this form are twofold. In the first place, the lines of this Bill are those best calculated to preserve discipline in the forces, and we must all admit that we must not sacrifice discipline under any consideration. The other reason which leads him to believe that these are the best lines on which to proceed is because, in his opinion, they are the most likely to meet with general support.

Briefly, the terms of the Bill are these: A member of a police force who is dismissed or required to resign may appeal to a Secretary of State, and, having received his appeal the Secretary of State may appoint one or more persons to hold an inquiry and report to him. After having considered that report, the Secretary of State shall, by Order, do one of three things. He shall either allow the appeal, or dismiss the appeal, or vary the punishment by substituting some other punishment for that which the disciplinary authority might have awarded; and, finally, an Order made by the Secretary of State shall be final and binding on all parties. The other Clauses of the Bill are of really minor importance. The principle is contained in the first two Clauses. Clause 3 gives the Secretary of State power to summon witnesses; Clause 4 allows him to make certain rules; and Clause 5 gives him the opportunity of deciding upon whom the costs and expenses shall fall. All the costs and expenses of an appeal shall be defrayed out of the Police Fund unless the Secretary of State otherwise directs. Clause 6 is the application of the Bill to Scotland, and Clause 7 is the short Title of the Bill. It is perfectly simple in principle, and, although there may be some details which it is necessary or desirable to amend in Committee, the broad principles of the Bill are clear, and it is because I believe that legislation upon the lines which I have sketched will be generally acceptable to all connected with the police forces in this country that I ask the House now to give the Bill a Second Reading.


I hope there will be, in no part of the House, any definite objection to the principles of this Bill, and I congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State on having had the opportunity of introducing the Bill, which, so far as the police of England, Scotland and Wales are concerned, sets up a very definite mark in getting rid of the possibility of discontent or unrest which may arise from either a right conception or a misconception of the decision of a police authority which means a man leaving his employment, particularly when the man's punishment is not just that of depriving him of that particular job in that particular place, but a punishment that will follow him to the end of his days. I think the very seriousness of that decision justifies the consideration by the Home Office of the principle—and I am glad of the acknowledgment of the principle—of the right of appeal. I am also grateful to the hon. and gallant. Gentleman for the promise that, on points upon which there may be some difference of opinion, he or his right lion. Friend will give careful consideration to them in Committee, and I hope that if he can see his way, as we hope he will, on sonic points which will be reasonably submitted, he will so amend the Bill that it may not be necessary even in years to come to ask for an amendment of the Act.

I believe the success of the Police (Appeals) Bill, when it becomes law, will depend not so much upon the actual wording of the Measure as upon the spirit in which it is applied, both from the point of view of a chief constable, who has a point of view—and no one admits it more readily than I do—and from the point of view of a watch committee, which has to accept its responsibility on behalf of the ratepayers for the management and efficiency of its force; and I hope also that it will be worked in a very reasonable and sensible spirit by the rank and file of the police forces in the country. It will be appreciated by them as a great concession, and, when one remembers that the police services of this country are very nearly reaching the completion of the first hundred years of their existence, I think it will be something that will be of great interest to all students of police organisation that, at any rate, there has been established in the first century of that organisation a very reasonable recognition—at long last, if I may say so—by the Home Office, as responsible for police administration in the country, that policemen should have this right of appeal. Having said that, I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not expect me to sit down without making one or two points on the Bill.

I think the Bill itself will be responsible for less dismissals or decisions requiring men to resign in the future than in the past, for the very simple reason that a man who may run the risk of being discharged from the police force is not likely to appeal if, as a result of his appeal, facts that have been accepted by the investigating authority have become confirmed by the appeal authority. He would, therefore, be more likely to refrain from appealing than he would be without this Act, when he could grumble about the fact that he had no appeal available at all. From that point of view, I am satisfied that, although the number of dismissals from the police forces in this country might average something from about 150 to 200 per year—which, considering that the force numbers sonic 60,000 men all told, is not a very substantial number—of the number that are discharged, there will be a considerable number of men who would not think of asking for an appeal, because of the character of the offence for which they might be discharged. I say that, because I think the existence of the appeal tribunal that is going to be appointed will be a deterrent to any man to make an annoying appeal or one that really has no basis in justice.

From another point of view, in the decisions that will be arrived at from time to time by chief constables, by watch committees, by the Commissioners of the City and Metropolitan police forces—I say this without any reflection on them as to the way in which they discharge their duties—I am certain that those officers whose duty it is to present the case to the chief officer of police will be exceedingly careful, by virtue of this Bill, and perhaps more careful in the future than they have been in the past, in collecting the evidence to place before the chief officer of the police. I realise that it is a very heavy responsibility to put upon a chief officer of police, who must, in the interests of discipline, it is often said, accept the word of the officers of his force, if an inspector feels it his duty to report a subordinate for a very serious offence, it may not be serious by one act, but may have become serious by virtue of the fact that the officer may have had several reports against him in the past, culminating in the recommendation to the tribunal inquiring into the case that the man is no longer fitted for the service owing to the reports against him over a period of time. The consequence is that the chief constable is faced with the very painful duty of having to believe his officers in respect of the reports covering a long period, and can come to no other conclusion than that I he constable is unfitted for the police.

We all know that there are cases—and it is the exceptional case that, I am afraid, is responsible for this Bill —in which when a man's cases do not fit, there is a distortion of facts by a superior officer—not necessarily the chief constable or the officer who is working immediately with the officer complained of—or a tendency sometimes to use one's imagination in presenting a case against a subordinate officer. If there have been several offences extending over a period, this right of appeal will make the reporting officer particularly careful that the facts that he does submit are facts that can be established, and the constable himself will have a full and proper opportunity of refuting them when they are submitted. The Bill is limited in its application to those who are required to resign, which is equivalent to a dismissal, and also to those who are directly dismissed without being allowed the concession of tendering their resignation. But there is a feeling that sometimes a punishment can become even worse than dismissal. I have in mind cases of men, inspectors or superior officers, of very long service, admittedly honourable ser- vice, who, for some offence which I will not specify, but which may have been an act of indiscipline or the result of having a sharp tongue, leading to words of recrimination, may be punished by being reduced from their high rank to the lowest rank in the force, to the rank of constable. I have in mind cases of inspectors who might have been holding the rank, perhaps, only for six months, and who, at the end of that six months, when the probationary report had to be submitted as to whether or not they were fitted to hold the rank, might find themselves doing duty in an area where their superior officers might be men who had come into conflict with them somewhere else in the days gone by, and at the end of that probationary period there might be a report against the inspectors. It leads sometimes to bad feeling, and that may be subsequently followed by the inspectors being reduced in rank.

The House will appreciate this, that to reduce an officer from a high rank to a low rank is one of the greatest punishments that can be inflicted. It often is far worse than a dismissal, though it does not entirely deprive him of the right to some form of pension if he can carry on for the rest of his working days, and we did hope that the right of appeal would have been extended to those cases where men have received such severe punishment that the rest of their service would be without promise of restoration of their rank. However, we do not seek to be carping in our criticism. One is grateful for the recognition of the right of appeal, even if only to those men who are required to resign. The Desborough Committee, of which the hon. Member for Holborn (Sir J. Remnant) and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) were members, went very carefully into the whole question of police administration. They were without bias and without prejudice, and I submit that the evidence which was tendered to that Committee was also tendered by the rank and file without bias and without prejudice. I quite accept the statement of the Desborough Committee that this proposal for the right of appeal emanating from the Desborough Committee was not based upon specific instances brought to the notice of the Committee, but was based upon the genuine understanding they arrived at both as to the difficulties of chief constables called upon to perform a painful duty, and also the difficulties of the bottom dog, who may not get a fair crack of the whip, or, at least, may not think he has got a fair crack of the whip. If he has, and does not know it, then, certainly, in the interest of the chief constable, there should be sonic form of appeal that would give the chief constable continued prestige with the members of the force, if the members knew that the right of appeal existed, and that the chief constable's decision had been confirmed by the appeal tribunal.

Therefore, I feel that the Desborough Committee were very keen upon taking the question of decision out of the hands of anyone or any body directly connected with the service. May I carry on from that part of the Report referred to by the hon. and gallant Gentleman? In paragraph 126, the Desborough Committee say that On the whole we recommend that the tribunal to hear appeals from forces in England and Wales should be a barrister of standing (possibly a County Court Judge or a Recorder) to be appointed by the Secretary of State for the purpose of hearing such appeals, with one of His Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary as assessor on technical matters. This Bill does not give effect to that part of the recommendation of the Desborough Committee. But Clause 2 says: The Secretary of State, unless it appears to him that the case is of such a nature that it can properly he determined without taking oral evidence, shall appoint one or more persons (one at least of whom shall be a person engaged or experienced in police administration) to hold an inquiry and report to him. That means, that if the Secretary of State feels that this is not a case for the holding of an appeal inquiry which the man seeks to have, the case cannot in fact proceed beyond the Secretary of State. I am rather sorry that the Secretary of State in this Bill should seek to be the arbitrator as to whether a man should go to an appeal tribunal or not. I think that rather cuts across the principle of the Bill. I do not say it in the sense that I would not trust the case to go to the Secretary of State. I do not care whether he belongs to my own party or the party now in power. I am positive that, in the main, the Secretaries of State do endeavour, as far as they can from the papers which are put before them, and from the files at their disposal, to come to a decision in accordance with the facts. But I want to feel in this matter that if we are to have an appeal tribunal at all, the responsibility for any decision which may be arrived at is taken out of the hands of those responsible for the administration of the police.

I say that in fairness to the Home Secretary, and I know that if a decision of that kind were giver, by a Home Secretary, the man's colleagues in the force might think the Home Secretary had been rather harsh, or somebody might trace, possibly, the fact that the Home Secretary at some time or other had met the local chief constable. It would not be fair if I did not put these things to the House, because I know the House desires to remove the possibility of friction, and I know these things are said among the rank and file. Whether they be true or not, or whether there be any substance in any such references, the fact remains that such a rumour very quickly spreads, and then arise bias and prejudice, which would be obviated if the Secretary of State did not take unto himself the power to decide whether an appeal should be heard or not.

I hope the Bill, when it comes back from Committee, will be a Bill which will establish definitely, without question, the right of every police officer who has been dismissed, or required to resign, to have his appeal heard, or, at any rate, that it shall he decided by the appeal tribunal whether it shall he heard in person or whether the evidence shall be taken from papers only. When we come to the question of what shall be the appeal tribunal, if the Secretary of State decides to appoint one, we find that the position is this with regard to the English and Welsh police forces, and I am sure the Secretary of State for Scotland will not he anxious to see members of the English and Welsh police forces at a disadvantage as compared with his own force. Perhaps he will give attention to this particular point. Clause 2 states that the Home Secretary: shall appoint one or more persons (one at least of whom shall he a person engaged or experienced in police administration) to hold an inquiry and report to him. If you appoint one person, according to this Clause, that one person shall be a person engaged or experienced in police administration. If the Home Secretary appoints for the English and Welsh police forces one person only to inquire into an appeal, and that one person must be a chief officer of police, one of His Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary, or some person definitely associated with the police force, it will be readily understood that not unlikely a feeling will grow up that when an officer is appealing from the decision of one chief officer to that of another chief officer, it is almost like appealing from Cæsar to Cæsar, and that is not likely to give the best result. We have no objection to a chief officer of police being a member of the tribunal, in so far as technical matters are concerned. I think that is not an unreasonable suggestion, for I quite appreciate that you must have someone who—to put it in the vernacular—knows the ropes; and there are many ropes in the police to be known, both from the chief constable's point of view and from the point of view of the rank and file. I have no objection at all to a chief officer of police sitting on the tribunal, but I say that where there is only one member of a tribunal, at any rate, he should not be a chief officer of police. I am asking, therefore, that what is good enough for Scotland ought not to be too bad for England and Wales in this particular case. I notice that Clause 6 states: The provisions of this Act shall apply to Scotland, subject to the following modifications: (1) Any inquiry and report in pursuance of Section two shall be held and made by the sheriff (excluding the sheriff substitute): I have not been in any Scottish Court. I hope I never shall be, in the sense that one does not want to have to pay for the experience one gains in that way but I imagine, from my inquiries, that the Sheriff in the Scottish Court is somewhat similar in his appointment to a County Court Judge in this country. I stand, subject to correction on that point, but, at any rate, the Sheriff in Scotland is a, barrister of some standing. On the Labour Benches, we are rather chary of recommending our people to the mercies of the legal profession. My hon. and learned Friend will not mind this observation, but, on the contrary, I think, will support that part of the Bill which, as far as the Scottish police forces are concerned, says the composition of the tribunal in Scotland is to be one person, and that one person is to be the sheriff. That is exactly the spirit of the recommendation of the Desborough Committee. While it has been accepted as far as the Scottish police forces are concerned, it has been departed from in the case of the English and Welsh police forces. Numerically, the English and Welsh police forces are considerably stronger than the forces in the Scottish area, and in Scotland, apparently, there is no question of there being an assessor representative of the police administration on the tribunal.

In any case, we would ask that if the tribunal is to consist of one person, it should be someone who thoroughly understands the finer points of law and the manner and methods in which evidence should be given on both sides. I, for one, would be quite prepared, as the result of my own experience, to accept a tribunal which, if there is to he only one person, he should be a man of some legal standing, a barrister, say, of five or seven years' experience, or a County Court Judge, or a Recorder. I am sure that the confidence of the police would repose in such a tribunal, and, incidentally, even if you wanted to extend that tribunal for the purpose of informing the chairman, there would be no objection to the chief officer of police sitting on the tribunal, but I do not think it would be regarded as an unreasonable proposition that there should be on the tribunal, sitting also in an assessing capacity, one of the rank of the person who is being tried. That would give the tribunal three members—the chairman, to be a barrister of some standing, and two other persons, one to be nominated by the Home Office to represent the administrative side of the police service, and one to be nominated by the Police Federation of England and Wales, and of Scotland, too, if you extend the principle to Scotland. That person should be of a rank equivalent to that of the person appearing before the appeal tribunal. I hope that point will be considered in Committee.

Further, I find that when the Tribunal, according to this Bill, has done its work, that work can be completely nullified by the subsequent decision of the Secretary of State. I quite appreciate that the Secretary of State, perhaps, is not prepared to leave in the hands of a tribunal the question of reinstatement in the police force, or the cancelling of the decision of the local police authorities, and that he prefers to accept that responsibility himself. It may, perhaps, be, from his point of view, quite a good thing, but of what value would it be to have an appeal at all, unless the decision of the appeal tribunal was going to be accepted by the Home Office, by the police authorities and by the man himself I want to see some finality in this question of appeal; but, apparently, when the tribunal has done its work, it sends its Report to the Secretary of State, and neither the tribunal nor the police authorities nor the appellant knows what point of view the Home Secretary is going to take. I think it is very difficult to know just why that distinction has been made, because whatever the decision of the tribunal it cannot become effective unless and until the Secretary of State makes an order and prescribes that the appeal is to be allowed, or is to be dismissed, or that the punishment is to be varied by substituting some other punishment. I sincerely hope we shall find eventually that it will be the decision of the tribunal that will be accepted.


This is a very important point which the hon. Member is making. He seems to prefer that the responsibility should be placed upon the barrister, or whoever it is, who may be the Chairman of this tribunal, but that individual would have no responsibility to the House of Commons. If the responsibility were placed upon the Home Secretary, he would have to answer to the House of Commons for all his misdeeds, and that would give hon. Members a better opportunity of making their case and making certain that the Home Secretary does not go wrong.


That may be all right, from the point of view of the Home Secretary facing the fire of the House of Commons. He would do that quite cheerfully.


The present one.


I hope every Home Secretary would. The present one does it, and does it very well. The man who cannot fight for his Own corner cannot fight for anyone I have no complaint to make about that, and I do not fear that the present Home Secretary even in the strenuous way in which he would defend his own action, would be guilty of an injustice in examining the case; but once he has taken the decision as to whether he will allow an appeal or not, he cannot go back on that decision without losing prestige. As to his being challenged in the House, the hon. and gallant Member himself knows something of the difficulties hon. Members have when challenging decisions of the Home Secretary affecting police service; and in any case it would be rather taking away from the appeal tribunal the judicial functions which we hope it will have. It would be almost an impossible position, I suggest, if an appeal tribunal allowed an appeal and the Home Secretary disallowed it; we should cause more feeling and friction in the service than if the appeal tribunal had disallowed an appeal and it was then the end of the matter. I suggest this is very important, because I am positive that the Home Office, who are sponsoring this Bill, are really anxious to find a way out of the difficulty of making these very serious decisions.

With regard to legislation already in existence, I want to put forward the question of procedure in a case where the tribunal recommends that an appeal should be allowed by the tribunal and the Secretary of State decides that the appeal is to be allowed. Under this Bill, the Secretary of State prescribes the decision and informs the local authority responsible for the particular case that the man has had his appeal allowed and is to be reinstated in the police force. Under Sub-section (4) of Clause 2, any such Order issued by she Home Secretary shall automatically reinstate the appellant in the police force, and it is directed that such service as he would have had if he had not been dismissed shall be reckoned for pension purposes. I appreciate the very careful drafting of that Sub-section in order to get over the difficulty that might arise if a local authority or a local chief resented the decision of the appeal tribunal; out under the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, and under the County Police Act, 1839, there still exists an absolute right of dismissal—by watch committees under the Municipal Corporations Act, and by chief constables and standing joint committees under the County Police Act—and it is questionable, even if this Bill became law, whether the local authority would not have some case against obeying the Order of the Home Secretary, unless the powers in those two Acts were repealed. There has been some difficulty over this before. There was one case in the Courts which was not taken to the House of Lords, and, therefore, the position is that we are still where we were, that the Home Secretary is still all-powerful in this matter; but I am anxious that there shall be no question subsequently of a local authority using the ratepayers' money to challenge at law the authority of the Home Secretary. I hope provisions will be introduced into this Bill to repeal the provisions of the two Acts of Parliament to which I have referred.

There is also the question whether an inquiry before the tribunal shall be open to the police service or whether it shall be held in private. In many cases which one can think of a private inquiry might perhaps be better than a public inquiry. I say that because I do not want the plea of Crown privilege to be raised on the question of the production of documents. It might be that when a case was before the tribunal and the appellant demanded the production of certain documents Crown privilege would be pleaded, and under the protection of that plea the police authority might be able to withhold the production of all the documents that are necessary for the appellant's case. Section 3 makes provision for the production of documents, but only gives such power as exists in an ordinary public court, and I know that in many cases when it is a question of the production of papers it is merely necessary to say that the occasion was a privileged one or the documents are privileged and there the matter ends so far as the Court is concerned—so far as it has any right to demand the documents.

By this Bill the Secretary of State is to have the power to make rules governing the tribunal. The rules will be an important part of the structure of this Bill. I would make the suggestion that in framing the rules the Home Secretary would be acting to his own advantage, and certainly in the interests of obtaining good will throughout the service, if he followed the lines laid down in the Police Act of 1919. By Section 4 of that Act, the Secretary of State makes the Statutory Regulations for the whole of the police forces in England and Wales, and the Secretary of State for Scotland makes the regulations for the Scottish police; but before those regulations are made the draft proposals must be submitted to the body appointed under that Act, which consists of representatives of local authorities, representatives of chief officers of police, representatives of the Police Federation—for the rank and file —and representatives of the Home Office. The proposals must be submitted to them, and any representations they may make must be taken into consideration before the regulations are made absolute. I suggest that any rules formulated under this Bill should be submitted to the Police Council appointed under the Police Act. I quite appreciate that the majority of them are not representative of the rank and file of the police, but I think that from the point of view of getting local authorities to accept this Bill in the spirit in which I am positive the Home Office is putting it forward it would be a real contribution to the effective working of the Bill.

Then there is the question of legal aid. I will be quite frank. This Bill does something more than we expected. Hon. Members may think I am making a bad debating point in saying that, but I say it because I am positive that in the long run the Home Office will find it has been of great value to allow legal aid to be available for the appellant and for the chief officer of police or the local authority in the presentation of their respective cases. I should imagine that any chairman of a tribunal inquiring into a case, particularly if it be an involved one, would much prefer to have it presented by a trained mind, a legal mind, a mind that can marshal all its facts and can plead a cause without any feeling or fear that there is bias or prejudice. I hope before we get rid of this Bill we shall have included provisions under which it will not be necessary to obtain the consent of the tribunal to the employment of legal aid, but that it will be established as a matter of right that the appellant may be represented by counsel if he so desires. If he is to be restricted to having his case presented by a serving comrade, it does not require very much imagination to see what difficulties may arise. No man can present his own case at a tribunal as well as someone whose mind is not disturbed by the consequences of the decision. A policeman submitting his own case has before him all the time the thought that for the remainder of his life he may be deprived of the means of livelihood to which he has been trained. He becomes over-wrought and over-anxious, and he cannot do himself justice, and in the course of examination or cross-examination he is likely to indulge in mannerisms or in language not calculated to secure the right decision. A man who is to have his case inquired into will do better to be represented, not by a colleague in the police service, but by someone dissociated from the police service entirely.

7.0 p.m.

To ask a constable or a sergeant of the police to represent his colleague at an appeal tribunal is rather putting the test of loyalty and friendship pretty high. I do not say it in any unkind way with regard to Chief Officers of Police. I have on many occasions, when in the service, represented a man's point of view, and I must admit that I never suffered personal victimisation through putting a point of view different from the official's point of view. Some people have an unfortunate habit when they represent a man's case of representing it with some personal feeling, and they also have not the trained experience of putting the case in a cool and calm way, free of feeling. On the other hand, a Chief Officer of Police who is inquiring into disciplinary proceedings nay take exception to a subordinate officer even presenting his case. I do not think I could do better than quote from the report of Sir Leonard Dunning, who is accepted as a very high authority on this matter, and is one of His Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary. I quote this to show that am not making the statement for the purpose of making any capital, but to get over some of the difficulties and snags which exist. Sir Leonard Dunning said: It is not always safe to measure the merits or demerits of a system, be it one of those described or that the regulation, or that recommended by the Desborough Report, on the idiosyncrasis of the individuals who would administer it, and it must be remembered that rot only are there Watch Committees and Watch Committees, but that there are also Chief Constables and Chief Constables. In the evidence that Sir Leonard Dunning gave to the Desborough Committee he added the words: and some of them should be swept off the face of the earth. That is not my statement. I merely quote it to substantiate the claim that with the presentation of these cases it does not do to leave it to the feeling of individual police officers, and I think, in the interests of both sides, legal aid should be available for the police officers. The House will probably think when we are asking it to consider the question whether legal aid should be made available, that we may want to ask the ratepayers or the taxpayers to bear the further burden of the cost. According to the Bill as at present drafted, the police authority may not have legal aid unless certified by the tribunal, in the same way as the police officer. But a local authority may be represented by its clerk. The majority of clerks to local authorities are solicitors, and the prosecuting solicitor for the local authority is the officer of the local authority in many cases. If you do not grant legal aid to the local authority and to the police officers by virtue of this Bill, the local authority may instruct any officers who may be solicitors or barristers, and, in any case, if the chief constable himself represents the case for the authority, the chief constable is sometimes a barrister and certainly has experience in presenting cases in the Court, and the dice is loaded against the officer making the appeal. With regard to the question of cost, you cannot say in the Bill that the cost of every appeal shall be borne by the ratepayer or the taxpayer. There may be some vexatious appeals, and, if there are vexatious appeals, the cost of them should be borne by those responsible for them.

This, I think, will be regarded as a generous offer to the Home Office, to relieve the local authorities, and police funds, and the Exchequer. The police themselves will, if the Home Secretary will give permission—and he can do it without altering this Bill—make contributions to a fund which will exist for that special and specific purpose. That fund would be administered by the Police Federation for the purpose of providing legal aid for men who appeal. I am positive that, if the Home Secretary would agree to that, the police forces in the country would in return honourably undertake to meet the cost of any appeal so far as their own side is concerned, whether the appeal were allowed or not. I do not think anyone could put the proposal much fairer than that. The hon. and gallant Gentleman might say it is too good a proposal not to have a catch in it. It is what I would say if the Home Office said, "Here is the Appeal Tribunal; just all you ask for." You are quite entitled to ask where is the catch. I will tell you where it is. The catch is this. If the Home Secretary will not give permission for the establishment of this fund, it means that, when an officer makes an appeal to a tribunal, he runs the risk of having to pay the cost, and, if he is going to pay the cost, he will probably lose his job, because he has lost his appeal. In addition to losing his livelihood he is saddled, before he commences his appeal, with the problem of how he can raise the money. If there is an Appeal Fund, he will not have that worry at all. He will at any rate know that, if he is in difficulties in that way, when he presents his appeal he need not be worried. There would be none of these contributions and collections that are made among his comrades to see him over his difficulties. There has been a case just recently in which all the sympathy of the force was in favour of two officers who were prosecuted. They wanted to raise the money necessary for the defence of the men. They could not raise the money, because it is contrary to the existing regulations. If the Home Secretary would give his permission for such a fund to be raised, am positive, in return for that permission, the police force would be prepared to relieve the ratepayers and taxpayers of the possibility of having to pay one cost. We do not intend to divide against this Bill. We particularly want it. It is an acknowledgment of a prin- ciple for which we are grateful, and I congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman on being presented with an opportunity of introducing something which will make history so far as the police forces of this country are concerned.


I wish to thank my hon. and gallant Friend for at last giving us what we have fought for for so many years, the right of appeal in the police force. There are some items in the Bill which I think might be more conveniently delayed until we get into Committee. That the second Reading will be passed, there can be no question. Practically, everybody is agreed that the matter should go to Committee for discussion of details. The principle of the Bill is one that must be admitted on all sides as only fair and just. The question as to what the tribunal should consist of is a matter for discussion. As a member of the Desborough Committee, to which reference has been made, I would like to remind my hon. and gallant Friend that the Committee had different tribunals suggested before it and discussed them very fully. The three main suggestions were: (1), That the Home Office or, in other words, the Home Secretary should be the final tribunal; (2), that the tribunal should consist of superior officers of other police forces; and (3), that there should be an absolutely independent tribunal which should consist of a County Court Judge or a Recorder assisted by one of the inspectors of constabulary who would act as assessor. After very full consideration of all those three proposals, it was the unanimous decision of the Committee that the last was the best, not only from the men's point of view, but also from the Home Secretary's own personal point of view as well.

I am afraid in these times a great many of us are apt to think that all is well in the police force; that their pay and conditions of work are satisfactory, and that they have nothing to complain of. I am not so sure that it is all as satisfactory as we are apt to think. There are one or two or three grievances which men feel, one of which is going to be remedied under this Bill. We all have a painful recollection of a very efficient officer in the Metropolitan Police Force who imagined himself—I will not go further than that—suffering under a great grie- vance. He had no right of appeal. He had no chance of putting his case in the first instance such as would have been given him under this Bill. He had no chance of being heard when the whole thing was fresh in the memory. He went out, and he did many illegal things. Who of us would believe otherwise than that, had we had that court of appeal, which was promised so long, that man would have appealed at once to an independent tribunal with, I will not say the certainty, but with the chance, that the service would have been richer by a very efficient officer, and that the man himself would have been spared the subsequent consequences of his action.

I do not wish to pledge myself more at this moment than to say my hon. and gallant Friend can count on me as one of the supporters in carrying out the principle of the Bill, and I promise to give no factious opposition to anything in it. I am out, like a great many others, to do the best we can to remedy undoubted grievances. There will be opposition from some Watch Committees. There are some Watch Committees so good that you would not want any authority they have changed. There are others not quite so good. During the recent troublous months we have had cases where, in the view of the Watch Committee, the Chief Constable has committed an act of administration which was illegal, and in one case, T believe, he was dismissed. After all, the police are human. The police, as far as I know generally, are agreed to be a very excellent and efficient body of men, carrying out their duties with great courage and great devotion. They have a helpfulness, a tact and a great civility. The latter has been disputed lately by one of the chief men in the police farce, who has thrown a stigma upon the force which is not justified. They have the best qualification of the lot, and that is a right understanding of the circumstances by the public. Already, they have earned their gratitude, and we shall do everything we can to see that the discontent which undoubtedly exists at the absence of an independent tribunal will be remedied. If a force be not satisfied and be discontented it cannot be as efficient as we all desire such a great force should be. I promise that, so far as I am con- cerned, I shall approach this question with one object, and that is to get the best independent tribunal we can for these men, in order that they may feel that they have not to submit to the caprice of superior officers who may possibly have a personal antagonism against the members of the force under them. We want the men to feel that they hate an independent tribunal to which they can appeal to obtain justice.


I want to ask one or two questions on this Bill. Like the last speaker, I have heard of some opposition to this Measure, and I wonder whether that opposition is due to the fact of a misunderstanding as to what is contained in this Measure. I know that watch committees in some parts of the country consider that at present there are adequate opportunities for appeals, but, judging by some of the cases we have heard of, there certainly seems a grievance in this respect which ought to be remedied. I am anxious to know whether this Bill meets the position so far as the metropolis is concerned. The Home Secretary is in close touch with these forces, and it does appear to me to be curious that, after he has come to a decision in the first instance through the officers immediately appointed by him, he should be the one to be appealed to by the police officer who has a grievance. I would ask the Under-Secretary in charge of this Measure to say whether that is the position at this moment. Does it mean that the appeal will have to be made to the Home Secretary who will already have taken a decision to allow a further appeal to be made. I take it the position is that, so far as the provinces are concerned, the appeal against the chief constable can only be to the watch committee and that that is the end of the case, so far as the police officer is concerned. If that be so, I hope that we shall be told of it because certainly one can quite imagine that there should be other opportunities given particularly when a man's livelihood is at stake.

One thing I fail to appreciate is that in Clause 2, Sub-section (2), it is provided that the Horne Secretary, after receiving the report of the Court of Inquiry, may refer that back to the disciplinary authority. Does that mean that after the inquiry has been held and the finding has been given by the Court of Inquiry, then the matter is sent back to the watch committee, which I take to be the disciplinary authority so far as the provinces are concerned? If that be so, that might meet the objection raised by some of the watch committees at the present time. I was struck with one answer given by the Under-Secretary with regard to the Home Secretary's responsibility to this House in reference to appeals. I hope that this is not one of the early efforts to bring the whole police force of this country under the direct control of the Home Office.

Sub-section (3) of Clause 2 appears to set out that the Home Secretary cannot make a mistake, and it gives his finding as being final and binding upon all the parties. I think it would have been far better if the particular Court which has heard the ease should arrive at a finding, and afterwards there might be an opportunity for this House, if the Home Secretary is going to be responsible for the appeal, of dealing with the matter on evidence that might be brought forward later on. I cannot understand under Clause 3 why it is necessary to insert a penalty ins order to force people to come and give evidence against a police constable. I notice that a penalty of £5 is inserted in the Clause, and this appears to me to be an incitement to somebody to come and give evidence against the police officer whose case is going before the Court of Inquiry.

With regard to the costs imposed upon the appellant, surely it is asking too much that, where a man is appealing against his dismissal from the service and against an action which may take his livelihood away from him, you may have the opportunity of imposing the whole of the costs upon him. There is no industry in this country that would impose such a penalty upon an individual making an appeal to the heads of a trust or any other concern. I hope there will be nothing in the Bill which will tend to make the police fear that the whole cost of the proceedings may be imposed upon them. I hope, therefore, the provision to which I have alluded will be deleted from the Bill during the Committee stage. With regard to the matter of legal representation, it has already been put forward, and I hope it will not be left to the discretion of a Court as to who shall put up the case, but that the Bill before it becomes an Act will lay down clearly that a man may have the opportunity of being represented by anyone whom he thinks will be able to present his case and give the whole of the facts. I hope the Under-Secretary will answer these few questions to enable us to understand what the Home Office is really thinking on this question.


As one who has had a good deal to do with the police one way and another, I should like to express some of their feelings with reference to this Measure. They welcome it very much. They have felt for a long time that the method of dealing with charges made against them left a good deal to be desired. This Measure gives the police a final appeal to an independent tribunal. It was a pleasure to me to hear the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Hayes) pay such a tribute to the legal profession, which is not the usual custom nowadays. I am sure those hon. Members of this House who follow that arduous and ill-paid occupation will be pleased to know that there is at least one Member of the Opposition who for the purposes of this Bill, at any rate, has a good feeling for them. I would like to say that I support the request made by the hon. Member for Edge Hill to the, Home Office that they will very seriously consider allowing the appellant the right to be represented by counsel and solicitor without having to make an application to the tribunal for that purpose.

I say that, not because I have the interest of my own profession at heart—far be it from me to say that, or the interests of other members of it—but I say it in the interests of the appellant. It is idle to suppose that a case which hay gone so far as the tribunal can be adequately presented or met by one who occupies a position in the police force, and who is no more than a mere friend. The word "friend" in this respect is very well known in the administration of courts-martial. It is by no means an unusual thing for a soldier charged with an offence against military law, and who comes before a court-martial, to have a friend. It is very useful to have a friend in time of need, but a friend in such circumstances as that is either useless or else a burden, unless he knows his job. You do not want anybody to hold the hand of the accused man while he is going through his trial, but you want somebody who can put it up to the other side, and in order adequately to represent the accused man you want either a solicitor or counsel, or both, who will be fearless in his cross-examination of the witnesses, whether they come from the police force or from the public. That position is a very difficult one for a friend who comes from the police force. He may find himself handicapped in putting the accused man's case to the accused man's superior officers, who may be his superior officers as well. No counsel or solicitor would ever feel the difficulties of that position, and I think the tribunal would be very happy to have the assistance on both sides of members of the legal profession in thrashing out a grievance which reached them.

I hope the Home Secretary will consider in Committee this suggestion which has been put forward, and that he will give the police officers this right. I hope it will not be necessary to have to make an application for the privilege of being legally represented before this tribunal. So far as the costs are concerned, that is a matter which might very well be considered by the Home Office when this Bill comes before the Committee. Costs are naturally a matter upon which the legal profession feel very deeply, but it is not a matter which ought to affect a tribunal of this character. It is largely of an administrative type, and therefore there ought not to arise any question of costs. It is a difficult position to realise, that a man may find himself, perhaps, dismissed from the police force, with his prospects of pension gone, may exercise his right under this Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament and go before the tribunal, lose his case, and find an order made against him for costs. It would be, indeed, a pious hope on the part of the authorities if they ever got any out of him, but let us hope that it will be possible for this tribunal to sit, as, indeed, a court-martial sits, to give a decision upon the case before them and make no order as to costs against the unsuccessful party. The suggestion which has been made by the hon. Member for Edge Hill might well be favourably considered by the Home Office, so as to grant to the police officers who come before this tribunal that very favourable position, I agree, from their point of view, but a position which, I venture to say, will make this Bill, when it becomes an Act, a very workable scheme.


This Bill seems to bear the stamp of generosity and good intentions, but I could have hoped that its provisions would go much further. For instance, the right of appeal is confined to members of police forces who are dismissed or required to resign. I have had some years' experience in the representation of some thousands of men employed in the Service, and I find that one of the greatest difficulties, one of the greatest grievances, that I had to seek to remedy, was not that of compulsory discharge or resignation, but that of reduction in rank. There is no provision in the Bill dealing with this, and I trust that, when the Committee stage is reached, the Home Office may see their way to extend the provisions of the Bill in this direction, so as to include officers who suffer reduction in rank, and who, in consequence, although they will be in a lower rank, will remain in the Service, possibly with no further opportunity of rising again.

I should like to support the point made by the hon. and learned Member for West Leyton (Mr. Cassels) in regard to the constitution of the Court so far as England and Wales are concerned. I think it is essential that, apart from a Court sitting with some assessor with technical experience. We should have a Court consisting of some person or persons with trained mi ads, capable of sifting evidence; and, as they are to take evidence upon oath, I think that someone occupying a high position in the law ought to sit on a Court of this character. The other blemish which I observe in the Bill, and which I hope will be remedied, is the fact that the action arising from the decision of the Court rests entirely with the Home Secretary. The Under-Secretary made it perfectly clear that that was for the purpose of protecting the constitutional rights of this House in any criticism that it might reasonably level against the Home Secretary, and, in so far as that is the case, it is an excellent excuse; but, on the other hand, I do think that the decision of the Court ought to reach some measure of finality in its application, and possibly some amendment may be made during the Committee stage.

Finally, I think that, as the Home Office intended to be generous when they drafted this Bill, they ought to err on the side of generosity, and ought to allow the police the opportunity of appearing before this Court without involving themselves in high costs. If the Home Office cannot see their way to do that, they might reasonably accept the proposal put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Hayes), that the Force might be afforded the liberty of providing the means whereby these appellants might meet the costs to which they might be put in presenting their appeal. Personally, I think the will is worthy of our support, and, as one who has taken some interest in the various legislation affecting the police since 1918, I shall watch with interest its passage through Committee, and hope to see it reach the Statute Book at an early date.


I am exceedingly grateful to the House for the way in which they have received this Bill. The criticism which has been levelled against the Bill has been of a very helpful character, and I can assure the House that all the points that have been raised will be taken note of and gone through very carefully, and, if it is possible, when the Bill goes before a Committee, to accept any of the suggestions that have been made in the House this afternoon, we will do so. I cannot at this moment answer, and it would not be right that I should attempt to answer, all the points that have been raised, many of them very technical in character, but I am especially grateful for the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn (Sir J. Remnant), who took a very large part, in the deliberations of the Desborough Committee, and I am very grateful also, if I may say so, to the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Hayes), who has had such a large experience in police matters himself. The only point that I would like to mention now, in reply to the hon. Member's observations, is in connection with the appeal which he thinks ought to be allowed against reduction in rank. The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Short) also suggested that there should be an appeal against a reduction in rank in the same way in which we propose now an appeal against dismissal. As the hon. Member knows, this question was not considered by the Desborough Committee, and I think that that is an indication that they considered that, at any rate for the time being, we were going fair enough. Apart from that, there must be finality somewhere. If we grant an appeal against reduction in rank, appeals may be demanded against other consequences of possible indiscretions. We have to stop somewhere. To-day we are making great and important concessions which will be welcomed throughout the police forces of the country, and I think we cannot extend the principles of the Bill any further than is laid down in the Bill as it passes the Second Reading. Most of the other points, as I have said, are Committee points, and will be dealt with carefully and given full consideration when the Committee stage is reached.

I was asked one or two direct questions by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly). He assumed that the disciplinary authority of the Metropolitan Police Force was the Home Secretary, but that is not so; the Commissioner of Police is the disciplinary authority. The Secretary of State, as the police authority, has a general responsibility for the management of the Force, but he has no direct disciplinary authority, and there is no appeal to the Home Secretary at present from the decision of the Commissioner. Then the hon. Member asked with regard to the borough police forces. The disciplinary authority in the ease of borough police forces is the Watch Committee, and not the chief constable. The disciplinary authority in connection with the county police forces is the chief constable, and not the Standing Joint Committee. There was one other point that the hon. Member raised in connection with the Bill. In reference to Sub-section (2) of Clause 2, which deals with the question of further consideration by the disciplinary authority, he asked why the Home Secretary should have power to remit for further consideration by the disciplinary authority.


I asked whether it meant that this would be referred back to the Watch Committee.


It means this, as far as I read it, that, if the Home Secretary is not satisfied that he has received the fullest possible information from them, or is not satisfied with the report he has received from the tribunal, perhaps because of lack of information, he may remit the case back to the disciplinary authority for further information. I hope I have answered the points put to me in the form of actual questions. The other points, as I have said, will have full consideration, and I would ask the House now to give the Bill a Second Reading.


Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman inform the House whether this Bill will, in fact, apply to all the police forces to which the Police Pensions Act, 1921, applies, that is to say, the City of London, the Metropolitan, the county and borough, and the River Tyne police forces?


I am rather doubtful when the hon. Member puts to me a question like that, and I should prefer to have notice of it. To the best of my belief, however, it does apply to all the forces in the country. It certainly applies to the Metropolitan and the City forces, and it must apply to all the forces in the country. I feel no hesitation in stating that now, but if on further investigation I find that there is something more behind the hon. Member's question than I imagine at the moment, I may have an opportunity of correcting it.


Business has been set down for 8.15, and the sitting will be suspended until that time.

Sitting suspended at Seventeen Minutes before Eight o'clock.