HC Deb 07 May 1930 vol 238 cc1078-85

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £5,205,308, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931, for the Salaries of the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, and of the Receiver for the Metropolitan Police District, Bonus to Metropolitan Police Magistrates, the Contribution towards the Expenses of the Metropolitan Police, the Salaries and Expenses of the Inspectors of Constabulary, and other Grants in respect of Police Expenditure, including Places of Detention, a Grant-in-Aid of the Police Federation, and a Contribution towards the Expenses of the International Criminal Police Commission."—[Note.—£5,200,000 has been voted on account.]


I notice that Sub-head G of this Vote—International Criminal Police Cornmission—is apparently a new service, and I would like the Home Secretary to explain for what purpose this expenditure is being incurred, where the International Police Commission site, and what its operations will be. No doubt the answer will be satisfactory, but I think the Committee would like to know, as it appears to be a fresh service. Then I notice that the item for Metropolitan Police in Dockyards and Military Stations shows a decrease of £20,000, and I should like to ask what is the reason for that decrease. I am under the impression that there has been a rearrangement of the police services in the dockyards, and that they have been taken over by the local staffs; and, if that be so, it may account for the decrease.

With regard to Sub-head E—Grants in respect of Police Expenditure—there is an increase of £3,161,000. I realise that, of that amount, £2,074,000 is due to a rearrangement of local taxation accounts, but still that leaves an increase of £285,000 in the total amount granted by the House of Commons to local police organisations. Perhaps we might have some explanation of that increase. Then, under the heading of "Metropolitan Police,' we have a sum of £10,000 odd for the salaries of the Commissioner, Assistant Commissioners, and so on, and I want to touch very lightly on this matter. I think it includes the examination of taxicabs and vehicles which have to be licensed or passed, or deals with the granting of badges and licences to taxi-cab and motor drivers. In view of the fact that the living of these men who obtain these licences and get their vehicles passed depends on their being treated in the way in which the House would wish them to be treated, I should like to ask if there have been any complaints in relation to these licences, and, if so, what is the nature of the complaints; whether there have been any investigations, either by the police or at the instance of the Home Office; whether any of the complaints have proved well-founded; and, if so, what has been done to prevent the recurrence of the cause of the complaints.

10.0 p.m.

The grants under Sub-head E in respect of police expenditure cover what is granted by the House from the Exchequer for equipping and clothing the police in various parts of the Kingdom. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade and myself have sat on the Watch Committee of our native city of Norwich, and so we are aware of the working of these grants. I am under the impression, from my experience in corporation work, that there are no fewer than 350 different types and patterns of police clothing, and I think the time has come when the Home Secretary should take very strong steps to see that there is a standardisation of pattern and of quality of material for the uniforms used by our police forces. I know, of course, that badges and crests and buttons referring to counties or cities must be different. That is a matter of civic pride, and, of course, I concede it; but, in regard to questions of helmets and patterns of uniforms, quality of clothing, type and colour of clothing, and so on, there should be standardisation, so that we may have one or two, or perhaps three, different patterns from which the municipalities can draw, and so save the taxpayer and the ratepayer the very considerable expenditure involved by this variation of patterns. There may be some reason for the variation of pattern, but, having thought the matter out, I can see no reason for it whatever, and it seems to be quite beyond what is reasonable that there should be between 300 and 400 different types of specification. These points are not of a contentious nature, and I trust that the Home Secretary will take an opportunity of dealing with them.


As all experienced Members of the House know, it is a great ad vantage to any Minister having to deal with questions of detail, and particularly with such items as are to be found in the pages of this Vote, if he receives some little notice of any intention to raise them. I am not complaining—


I agree that that is so, and I took the precaution early this morning to ring up the Home Office and present my compliments to the right hon. Gentleman, and give him notice that I was going to raise both these points. I spoke to the right hon. Gentleman's private secretary.


I can only say that to-day has been an exceptionally busy day for me. I have been occupied during the whole morning, and I regret that I have not had the opportunity of dealing with these points. In a general way I can say that there is an increase in police costs of the very large amount to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, and it may be that some of that increase was due to the action of the Government which preceded the present one. I should prefer, therefore, as I understand that this Vote will be carried over, to defer to some later date a full reply to the hon. Gentleman on the points he has raised regarding police expenditure.

I may say that there has been some question as to the conduct of certain police officers in relation to matters of discipline, I think arising out of the licensing of taxicabs. One of the police officers concerned was dismissed, and he has now appealed under the Police Appeals Act for a reconsideration of the case. It would, therefore, be wrong for me to go fully into it, but I will bear in mind the representations which the hon. Gentleman has made.


I would point out, in case the right hon. Gentleman's reply is deferred until there is again an opportunity of dealing with this Vote, that it bears very hardly on the living of these men if they are not treated properly when they go for their licences.


It is also the fact that in such cases it very often prejudices men's future opportunities of employment to reveal too much, and there is a great deal to be said for not making too public the whole of the facts which sometimes cause disciplinary action to be taken. However, I will see what it may be proper and feasible for me to do.

On the question of police clothing, there are two aspects, relating to standard clothes and standard patterns. The Home Office has done a great deal to secure standard clothes but finds it extremely difficult to secure standard patterns. The police are local bodies and we have found it hard to override the local sentiment in the 180 types of uniforms. Some scope has to be allowed. The Home Office has gone into the matter of standard uniforms from time to time, and in, 1907 it was agreed that it might be possible to standardise the type of garment, leaving each force to have its own badge, but further conferences have failed to carry the matter further in face of local prejudice, and the Home Office considers that nothing would be gained by pressing it. The matter having been raised on the ground of economy is being further considered. I know the interest the hon. Member has in this matter because of his association with other committees.

I would like to say a word on the subject of the proposed police college. The college has been welcomed as a most promising part of the structure of our police service. A sub-committee at work on the foundations of the scheme is representative of all the experience and difficulties of service in the police force. The scheme which is being prepared has three main features, the conditions of entry, the scope of the college force and the position of the officers who have successfully passed through the college. There must be many pitfalls in such a scheme. One of the most fatal mistakes would be to overstress the merely theoretical side of police work. The scheme will not be primarily intended as giving directions for the every-day work of the police force, which ought to be obtained in the course of actual police work. It is intended for the double purpose of providing officers who have special qualifications with opportunities that they would not otherwise enjoy for widening their horizons and enlarging their personality, and of instituting a centre for research into police organisation in a way which would hardly be practicable in an individual force.

I do not wish the Committee to relate this too closely to particular appointments which from time to time have been the cause of criticism in different parts of the country, but I want the police force to be absolutely a civil force, and I would therefore like to develop this college so that the best of the personnel of the police force should find an opportunity of coming to the top and taking the higher and more responsible posts. They may rise from the humble position of a constable, so that in future we should not have to go outside for the heads of the police force.


The House will have heard the last few words of the right hon. Gentleman with very considerable pleasure. There is a great feeling on this side of the House in particular, and I have no doubt it is shared in other parts, that the highest positions should be open to men who join the force in its lowest ranks, and we shall watch with interest the development of the college in the hope that it will do something to enable that ideal to be realised. I shall have to mention another matter to-night, because I am afraid that before the Vote is next before the Rouse the event to which I refer will have happened. The Home Secretary is responsible to this House for the Metropolitan Police Force and that Force is responsible for the conduct and good order of the great race meeting on Epsom Downs at the end of this month or the beginning of June. Many members of his Force are employed on that occasion. For many years I was a member of the Epsom Urban District Council. I have had communications with the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors on this matter, and I know the anxiety Epsom races have caused them and the way they have endeavoured to secure good order.

During recent years the force has been largely used to assist the Grand Stand Association in some quite commercial transactions for the letting of land for the parking of vehicles. I wish he could use his influence with the Association to make sure that it is clear who are the people entitled to receive money in respect of these parking places. I have seen his officers having to settle disputes between people more or less of the gypsy fraternity, who each claimed that the Grand Stand Association has allowed them the use of the land. It must considerably add to the difficulties of the force if that kind of thing goes on. I know his Department can exercise considerable pressure on the Grand Stand Association in this matter, because one of the happiest episodes of my life was going with one of the Assistant Commissioners of his Department over various parts of Epsom Downs and with the secretary of the Grand Stand Association. The Assistant Commissioner assured the secretary that unless he fell in with the local authority, he would withdraw the police and leave them to manage the races themselves. That was a prospect the Grand Stand Association did not contemplate with equanimity. That is a kind of difficulty that is not likely to arise again, because I believe that that secretary of the Grand Stand Association has since passed to a world where I understand horse races are no more.

I am sorry to allude to another matter on which I have addressed questions to my right hon. Friend and which I also addressed to the present Lord Bridgeman when he held my right hon. Friend's distinguished office. I regret certain prosecutions by the Metropolitan Police after these meetings, and it is a great pain to me as a magistrate to fine men for playing certain games which I played on the recommendation of the Army, when I was in France. There are games for which men should be fined. I have played them myself, but I knew I was running a risk. Crown and Anchor is a game that should be put down. I ran a Crown and Anchor Board myself, and I knew that if I had been caught I should have paid the penalty. There is another game for the playing of which the police in this country insist on prosecuting, though I do not think it is a game within the meaning of the Act; it enabled us to win the War in spite of the staff. I mean the game of House. It is not a gamble at all; it is a quite steady investment for the banker and everybody knows it. If we started playing House on a desert island, and my hon. and gallant Friend, being the Gentleman with the loudest voice amongst the people shipwrecked, was the banker, at the end of a certain time he would possess the money of all the others. There is a feeling amongst those who play the game that this is a very unjust and tyrannical use of police powers that it should be regarded as gambling and that magistrates should be called upon to convict people who play it. It seems to me to be a quite unjustifiable interference with legitimate rights to prosecute people for playing the game, and it probably drives them to other games which are far more pernicious in their effects and which have more of a gambling nature. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to see that better order is preserved on the Downs through the Grand Stand Association acting in co-operation with the force and that these petty persecutions may cease.


May I say, as a matter of personal explanation, for fear the right hon. Gentleman might be under a wrong impression, that I hope he will not blame his staff for not informing him that I proposed to raise the question of expenditure. I only notified the Home Office that I would raise the clothing and licences points.


Having sat on a watch committee for some years in the West Riding, I want to emphasise the remarks of the hon. Member opposite with regard to the clothing of the police. I believe that the Home Office could effect great economies if they standardised, not the type of uniform, but, at any rate, the specification for the cloth itself. We in the West Riding are supposed to know something about cloth and, in our own police force, insist that the men should be clothed in the very best serge for summer and Melton for winter. But, going about the country, I notice that, if any sunshine comes at all, the summer cloth at any rate, has faded and some of them look rather shabby. If the Home Office could say there shall be a certain weight of cloth for the serge for summer clothing and a certain weight for the winter clothing, a certain fast dye and so forth—the mills could tell them what to provide—by mass production they could produce the cloth more cheaply. We believe we can clothe our own police force more cheaply than they can in the South. The Home Secretary would be performing a real service if, through his officials, he could specify what type of cloth has to be used for summer and winter and, what is more important, the weight of that cloth. The policeman has to do his work on a hot summer day with 20 or 21 ounce cloth when he could get cloth of 17, 18 or 19 ounces much more cheaply. The policeman himself would enjoy more comfort and the country would save thousands of pounds.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.