HC Deb 30 June 1933 vol 279 cc1811-36

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £5,141,915, 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, 1934, 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 a Grant in Aid of the Police Federation, and a Contribution towards the expenses of the International Criminal Police Commission."[Note.—£5,141,000 has been voted on account.]

11.7 a.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Gilmour)

I think it would be in accordance with the wishes of the Committee that I should make a short statement upon this Police Vote. The chief thing the Committee will be interested in, I believe, is the state of crime and the features of the statistical returns which are in the hands of Members of the Committee, those returns showing what has been the trend of events in the period since this question was last discussed in the House. Of course, it is clear that a large part of the time of the police is necessarily taken up with minor offences, such as traffic offences, most of which are connected with motor cars. In fact, these accounted for 43 per cent. of all the criminal proceedings taken in 1931. Except for these traffic offences there has been in recent years a decrease in almost all classes of non-indictable offences, including drunkenness, assault, begging, sleeping out and offences against the Poor Law. The detailed figures are given in the published volumes. It is gratifying to notice that there is, broadly speaking, an improvement in the general social conditions and social behaviour. When we turn from the non-indictable offences, it is equally satisfactory to note that there is a decrease in the gravest forms of crime such as those involving the taking of life. The figures show that there has been no increase in recent years and no increase over the past 20 years.

Numerically considered, offences against the person constitute a very small proportion of the total volume of crime, 95 per cent. of the indictable offences known to the police being offences against property, and over 90 per cent, of them fall under the three headings of larceny, breaking and entering, and false pretences and other frauds. In each of these classes of offence there has been a substantial increase in recent years. If the figures for the year 1931 are compared with the annual average for the five year period 1925–1929, it will be seen that there was an increase of 19 per cent. in larcenies, of 24 per cent. in false pretences and other frauds and 47 per cent. in crimes covered by the term "breaking and entering." It is interesting to note that whereas there has been this large increase in cases of housebreaking and shop-breaking, there has been no increase in the offence of burglary. As I daresay hon. Members are aware, the definition of burglary is house-breaking after dark, and the greater part of these offences are committed during daylight.

The figures presented by the police returns do not make a distinction between major and minor offences. A case in which expert thieves break into a house and steal valuable property, such as jewellery, and a case in which a child may lift a window and steal something out of a small village shop are both returned on the same basis, and therefore it is a little difficult to find out exactly the proportions of what are serious and what are non-serious crimes, but I think it is perfectly clear that a large proportion of the crimes are of a less serious type. We find that 35 per cent. of the persons found guilty of breaking and entering were under 16 years of age, and the figures relating to shop-breaking, as distinct from other forms of breaking and entering, show that quite half of the persons found guilty of those offences were under the age of 16. It is necessary to bear in mind that with the increase of the minor cases there is an increase in the more serious and major offences, and it is because of these that the greatest importance attaches to the steps which it is possible to take to counter this movement and to protect the public against it.

We are always endeavouring to coordinate the work between Scotland Yard and the different authorities throughout the country, and I am glad to say that I think there is an increasing appreciation on the part of police authorities throughout the country of the necessity to co-operate with the Home Office, and an earnest desire on the part of chief constables to do so, and we are taking every step, by committees, inquiries and co-ordination, to entourage that attitude in order that we may grapple with this difficulty. Of course, the police forces, like everything else in the country, have undoubtedly been affected to some extent by the difficult times through which we have been passing. The Committee will realise that the police in the country are not directly under the Home Office; their control by the Home Office is only a matter of general supervision to see that the service is effectively maintained. In the course of the past year there has been no great increase in the strength of the forces; in fact, I think there has been a small decrease, from 58,656 in September, 1931, to 58,529 in September, 1932. That is not of much account one way or the other. Anyhow, I think it is fairly obvious that in these modern days it is essential to have the greatest coordination. In that regard, the utilisation of wireless and of police boxes, and of other approved means of communication are of the very greatest importance.

I have recently had an opportunity of seeing the working of some of the police boxes and of noting the rapidity with which the ordinary public may get into touch with the police. When these boxes are increased in number, as I hope they will be by degrees, the opportunity which they will give to the public of communicating rapidly with the nearest police station will be made the most of by improved, scientific methods, and the linking up of the telephone and the typewriting instrument. It is now possible to communicate from police headquarters with outlying police headquarters by simultaneously transmitting messages by typewriter. The messages are immediately committed to paper in the corresponding offices, so that information is circulated with the very greatest rapidity. That is very desirable.

There are of course other methods of police control. Motor-vehicles for police supervision on our highways are being used with great effectiveness, and will, I hope, prevent many accidents, and will act as a cautionary measure to those who rather abuse the high-powered car of the present day and do not realise what forces they have under their control. There is a point to which I might refer, in connection with all this co-ordinating work. The Committee will remember that something was said in the inquiry which was conducted by the Select Committee on the amalgamation of small police forces. That Committee recommended a modest measure which pointed to the reduction in the number of units of administration, by the amalgamation of about 20 of the smaller borough units being joined to the county forces, leaving still about 100 separate borough forces, including a number with 40 men or less. I hope that it will be possible to deal with this problem, though I am not at present able to say what progress may be made in the present session. In the course of that Committee of Inquiry, it was pointed out that the reduction in the number of units of administration, if carried further than is at present contemplated, would not be enough, without close co-operation between the various forces. The country generally will realise that there is that co-operation.

One of the problems of police work is the duty, of which I have spoken, of communication between headquarters and the outlying departments. With the help of technical advisers and experts, very considerable progress is being made in that matter. The duty of the police is to prevent crime as far as possible, and to detect and bring to justice offenders in those cases where crime has not been prevented. The duties which fall upon the police now are increasingly onerous and difficult. There is no doubt that, while there is a great demand for man-power, there are, fortunately, some other aspects which go towards the relief of man-power. One of those is the introduction, upon a fairly wide scale, of light-control of traffic.

I answered a question in this House some time ago with regard to the saving of man-power in the Metropolitan Force. Over the whole country, by March last, the number of constables relieved from traffic duty, as a consequence of the installation of traffic lights and signals, had risen to more than 550. In many instances it has been possible to effect a reduction of the forces concerned, but in the majority of cases men who have been relieved from traffic duty have turned to other duties, which is a useful measure of relief.

In regard to traffic accidents, this is a problem which the Committee, the House of Commons and the country generally, will feel is of some moment. The Committee may remember that the total number of persons killed in traffic accidents in Great Britain in 1932 showed a slight fall, being 6,667, as against 6,691 in the preceding year. The total number of persons killed or injured was 213,117 as against 208,810. These figures are terrible enough, but there is some slight consolation in the fact that the numbers show a reduction—although I must confess that the reduction is very small. It may be worth mentioning that there is a drop of nearly 200 in the number of persons killed in accidents attributed to mechanically-propelled vehicles; this, on the other hand, is nearly counterbalanced by the increase in the number of persons killed in accidents attributed to pedal cycles.

It is clear that a great majority of these accidents must have been preventable, if only by the exercise of greater care on the part of motorists and pedestrians, and not by any action which could have been taken or might have been taken by the police. The public must realise that the prevention and solution of a great part of this difficulty depends upon the common sense of the individual driving the vehicle, riding the bicycle or proceeding to cross the highway on foot. Motor patrols have helped in this matter, and have been of considerable value. As we go on and make careful examination of the problem, it may be that we may try new means, in the course of time, to help in this matter.

As, I think, the Committee know, it was decided in 1930, on the passing of the Road Traffic Act of that year, to establish this new system of motor control, the main factor responsible for its introduction at that time being, of course, the disappearance of the speed limit of 20 miles an hour. I do not think I need add anything on that subject, except to say that, obviously, it is always a necessary and an important part of the work of the police to secure by precept and example the highest standard of conduct on the part of road-users generally, and to prevent the commission of offences, rather than to take action after they have been committed. That is why the police controls are largely turning their attention to guiding and checking rather than actually arresting.

As one example of the multifarious duties which the police have to perform in these complicated times, reference may be made to the statistical investigation of the causation of road traffic accidents which has been set in train by the Mini-ter of Transport, after consultation with my Department and with the chief police officials. The object of this investigation is to make some attempt to deal with the increasingly serious problem of fatalities on the roads. For this purpose the police have been asked to report to the Ministry of Transport in detail every road accident which results in a fatality, and to ascertain and furnish detailed information, under a large variety of heads, in order that in the fullness of time their reports may be collated and analysed with the object of determining, if possible, what factors are mainly responsible for the serious mortality on the roads from which we now suffer.

It is, of course, only possible for me on this occasion to touch upon some of the broad aspects of police work. I trust that in the course of the Debate I may be able to answer any questions which hon. Members may put to me, but I think they can at any rate feel sure of this, that there in an increasing co-ordination and co-operation between all the police forces of the country, that they are alive to making use of the latest scientific developments in communication and the like, that we are looking forward to having, as better times come to this country, a fall in the difficult problem which faces us, and that the police forces will prove themselves to be adequate and satisfactory to the House.

11.29 a.m.


I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.

These Estimates are for more than £10,000,000, and cover the State contribution to the maintenance of hundreds of police forces, in which there are more than 60,000 men. We have listened to a review from the Home Secretary, and I think he will be grateful to us for having afforded him the opportunity of giving that review, of what is being done by the police forces in the country to-day; but I missed from his speech any tribute to the work of the police of the country. More than 99 per cent. of these men are as straight as the best of us. They come from working-class homes; they are somewhat isolated from the general public; their home life is very much like what it was in pre-service days; their wives are their best helpmeets, and often their confidants; and their children mix with other ordinary children in the locality, and attend the same elementary schools.

It was due, I think, to the police forces that the Home Secretary should have said something regarding their efficiency and conduct. He has kept up the reputation that he had during the passing of the Metropolitan Police Bill. During the discussions on that Bill he said that there was grave disquiet over the control of the police, that there was a lack of efficiency, and that he was unable to obtain proper information. As a result of those statements, which he never backed up by a single argument, and for which he offered no justification whatever, he was given power to cripple the Police Federation, the organisation of the police forces of the country, and also to institute a new method of recruiting short-service men. That, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, will, in our opinion, mar the efficiency of the Force.


I must remind the hon. Gentleman that not only can he not discuss that position, but he certainly cannot return to a Debate which took place on a Bill only a few days ago.


That was only a passing reference. I am concerned about the confidence of the men in their duties, and also the confidence of the general public in regard to these matters. I submitted to the right hon. Gentleman a number of questions, only one of which he has touched upon this morning, but I agree that there is some disquiet to-day with regard to the Metropolitan Police. I do not agree that the Bill we have just passed will remedy the evil, but the public mind is stirred, and has been stirred during the last few days, with regard to what has appeared in the newspapers—not what we are told by the Home Secretary. We have seen that a superintendent in the Metropolitan Police has been dismissed, and that a number of inspectors have been suspended. I can quite understand that, when men in such important positions in the Force are dealt with in that manner, it is bound to cause disquiet. These are not the first that have been dealt with; there have been quite a number during recent years who have been suspended or dismissed, and, when it was a sergeant, he was prosecuted and imprisoned. I want to ask if these cases have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and whether there is any likelihood of further action being taken with regard to what is happening in the case of a few—only a few—of the men in the higher ranks of the Force.

After all, we want to see that there is no corruption in the Police Force; we want it to retain the confidence of the general public; and, if there is corruption, if these men are guilty, no punishment is too severe to impose upon them. But those who lead them into temptation ought to be dealt with. If there are people in high places who have tempted these men to commit these offences, the last person to shield them should be the Home Secretary. He ought to see that full light is thrown on this matter, so that the whole nation may know what has taken place. Therefore, I would ask hint to publish a White Paper on these matters which are taking place just now, and let the House know what the position is with regard to them. If he will not publish a White Paper, I ask him to have a full, open and impartial inquiry into what is taking place in the Metropolitan Police Force.

I noticed a few days ago that the Chief Constables' Association have been meeting at Birkenhead, and the Chief Constable of Birkenhead presided over the conference. I should like to quote something that he said regarding indictable offences. There is, however, one matter that I should like to touch upon and that is the great increase of indictable offences, especially against property. The offences may be breakings-in, sneak thieves, and raids on gas or electric meters. The value involved may not be great, but it is the reason for this increase that is the most disturbing feature. From personal experience and observation I am satisfied that the increase, which we hope is only temporary, is mainly to be attributed to the existing industrial conditions and the vast amount of unemployment, with the consequent reduction in incomes. Until these conditions improve—and there would appear to be hope—and men, particularly the young men, are absorbed into industry, I am very much afraid that there will be no downward tendency in the figures. Side by side with this problem is the increasing urge to displace police by the use of traffic signals, telephone boxes, and other devices of a mechanical character. As regards signals, I agree that very much more can be done in that direction. As regards police boxes, I have always held firmly to the opinion that these should be supplementary to men, as I do not believe that the presence of a box will ever prevent a crime, however valuable it may be afterwards in the matter of speedy communication. We have had so much economy preached that one is apt to overlook the efficiency side and, while thousands of pounds may be saved, taking the country as a whole, by reducing personnel, it surely cannot be any sort of compensation for a huge jump in crime figures, with a feeling of insecurity in the minds of householders, very many of whom are scared to leave their homes unprotected. After all, prevention of crime is still supposed to be our first duty and, with sufficient force to carry this out, part of the enormous expense of a highly-trained and scientific detective force would be obviated. But to further reduce the preventive strength seems to me to be a very dangerous proposition. I agree with that chief constable, except in one particular. He says that there is hope that there are going to be opportunities of work for young men. "Hope springs eternal," but I am afraid we cannot see the realisation of it coming about very soon. There are tens of thousands of young men who have no opportunity of employment. There are millions of people who have no employment and millions more with very low wages. I think it is remarkable, in this country of 45,000,000 people, that there is not more crime than there is. It is a compliment to the good character of most people that we have not more than we have. I agree with him in his suggestion that there is no soul in a telephone police or a police box. They will never detect criminals. If they do help the police force, it will only be in a small way. It ought" to be understood that they can never take the place of the police.

I am satisfied that, if we have in any sense a disgruntled police force, it is largely as the result of the cuts and economies that have been practised and the reductions in the Force, and also the continuance of special constables, who have been given increasing powers, and are doing duties which are not going to help the force to deal with crime.


Would the hon. Member mind elaborating that? I am an old member of the special constabulary and would like to understand exactly what he means.


I understand that in the Metropolitan Force inspectors are taking about with them men in the special constabulary, visiting licensed premises and other places and obtaining information which may not be for the efficiency and good government of the police force. I do not think they ought to be taken into that kind of work.


Why not?


That should be the work of the Metropolitan Police and not of private individuals, who may afterwards make use of the information that they have obtained.


The hon. Gentleman will admit that the police are a civilian force. Why, therefore, object to civilians being taught the same duties.


I think most Members would agree that a special constable is in the same category as an ordinary full-time constable and, even though he goes to the aid of the authority on occasions, there are many duties which those who control the force ought to exclude from them and retain as the duties of the ordinary force.

Another matter about which I should like to have heard something is the idea of bringing military men into the most important positions. Recently a man was made a chief constable in the Metropolitan Police who had been imported from India and who had no special knowledge suitable for the police force in this country. We should like to know why this practice is continued. We are opposed to the militarisation of the police force anywhere. We do not believe that military men or military ideas are suitable for the control of the police force. We want to see more and better training than there is. We have no objection to every facility being given for the education of the police. We should like to see the encouragement of initiation, and we should like to see the possibility of promotion to these higher positions from the ranks. The Report of the Desborough Committee said: We realise the importance of this question from the point of view of the control and efficiency of the police force, and we should not hesitate to recommend the appointment of chief constables from outside the service if we considered the requisite qualifications could not be found within, but after a full consideration we recommend that no person without previous police experience should be appointed as chief constable in any police force unless he sustains exceptional qualification or experience which fits him for the position. The Report of the Committee that dealt with the amalgamation of police forces, and which reported a few months ago, said Very much the same thing. I am pleased to note that in the provincial forces that is largely acted upon. In my view, the Home Secretary ought never to approve of a military man unless there are those exceptional circumstances and, wherever possible, men should be appointed to these positions who have had police experience and training. If we are to deal with crime effectively, we must have men who know their work and can win popularity among the public and retain their confidence. It is for those reasons that we object to the introduction of military men, or anything in the nature of militarising the police forces of this country. In dealing with the question of how to prevent crime or even how to detect crime, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that there is that co-ordination which he mentioned this morning between the different forces in the country? Is there the co-ordination which there ought to be between the detective forces in the country? I believe more could be done if regions were arranged, and if between Scotland Yard and all the forces in the country there were more direct connection and communication than is the case to-day. I do not say that we could keep down all crime, but I am satisfied that with cooperation much more could be done than is done to-day.

There is another question which, I suggest, the right hon. Gentleman might consider. It may be only a small matter, and one of which he has not heard, though I think he must have heard of it in the Metropolis. It is the question of the number of men who are engaged practically full-time in doing nothing but sell tickets for various objects. I should be the last to say that efforts should not be made to assist charities and hospitals in the country, but the police should not be engaged in that particular work to the extent they are. Some time ago I put a question to the previous Home Secretary and asked how many days were given to that work. He was not able to give me the information, and, unfortunately, I do not think I subsequently received the information, but there must be thousands of days lost in the year in connection with that kind of work.

I have actually heard of men obtaining promotion by reason of the fact that they were good ticket-sellers. There is a danger of corruption in this sort of thing. There are still men with money in this country prepared to pay almost anything to escape being brought before the court, and for a man to offer to buy five pounds worth of tickets for charity from a policeman makes it very difficult for the policeman to deal with him when he may have committed an offence against the law. I believe that law-abiding citizens will agree with me that some steps ought to be taken to deal with the matter, and put it on a proper footing. I understand that in the Metropolis something has been done in connection with the matter.

There has been considerable disturbance and feeling aroused in Stoke-on-Trent regarding some point of discipline in the force in that part of the country. Is the Home Secretary aware that the branch board of the Police Federation has ceased to carry on as a result of what they feel has been an injustice imposed upon them by the Chief Constable in that area? Would it be possible for His Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary to make a special inquiry into the matter? Then will the right hon. Gentleman give particulars of the sports ground at Leyton? Where has the money come from to provide that sports ground? I understand that it has not come from police funds.

We want to know something more about the position of the men in the police force in the Metropolis who have been suspended or dismissed at the present time. I am very pleased that we have had an opportunity of hearing the Home Secretary upon these various matters, because it is important that the police should have the confidence of the public. I do not believe for a moment that the whole force is corrupt. There may be a few blacklegs among 60,000 men, but we are proud of our civilian force in the country to-day, and with the conditions obtaining, and with the large volume of unemployment and poverty, it is a great credit to us and to the police of this country, who are respected by the people, that there is not more crime with which to deal. We object to the military being, in control. Unlike the military, the police have a soul as well as a head, and I appeal to the Home Secretary, that, before any drastic change takes place in the future in connection with the police force, and instead of producing an ill-considered Bill such as we had before us a few days ago, there should be a full inquiry into circumstances which are causing us so much disquiet and anxiety. Anxiety has arisen largely since the passage of the Bill a few days ago, but there should be an inquiry into the whole of the circumstances. I hone that the right hon. Gentleman will agree, either to publish a White Paper upon this matter, or to give us the opportunity of an inquiry in order to restore confidence, if confidence has in any way been lost, in the police forces of the country.

11.64 a.m.


I am certain that we all agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) when he says that we are grateful to the Home Secretary for the very clear and explicit statement which he made with regard to the various activities of the police forces in the country. During a very long experience of their various activities in more than one county in North Wales of a more or less rural character, there has been an immense improvement both in personnel and also in the way in which their manifold duties have been carried out. Anyone who looks back over a period of 35 or 40 years must realise that there has been a revolution in police methods. One knows what the old village police constable was, and how very different in every respect he was to the present police officer, whether in town or country. In many cases under the old regime, before county councils and joint police committees came into existence, the village police officer was often more a gamekeeper's assistant than a police officer. Happily, one has no reason to complain to-day. It is very rarely that one has reason to complain that a police officer has been stationed at points where he could be useful in that capacity. That is all to the good. The police officer is now generally regarded as the servant of the community, and his work is carried on much more efficiently than formerly.

Time was when if a solicitor were engaged in a police prosecution, the information supplied to him was of a very meagre character. The evidence of witnesses was drawn up often in a hopelessly confused manner, whereas to-day we find that the police officers, from the very time that they start on their duties, are in a position to draw up a clear, lucid report. Moreover, in most police offices typewriters are available, and reports of all kinds are produced in a very different and much more effective way than in the past. There is another point that one cannot overlook, and that is that there has been a vast improvement in the way the police officers in the courts deal with offenders. I am certain that we all wish to see offenders, particularly those who are brought up for their first offence, treated as indulgently as possible. In former days in the police force there was too much of a disposition to regard offenders in custody as persons who could be roughly treated by everyone associated with the court. That attitude and that frame of mine have very largely disappeared in recent years. The police realise that in their work of doing what they can to prevent the recurrence of offences a great deal is to he gained by treating the first offender, in particular, with all consideration. That is due very largely to the fact that the police officers who are now taken into the various forces are men of a different type from the police officers of many years ago.

We shall all agree, I think, that it is desirable that, as far as possible, promotion should be in the force itself, and that every police officer from the time he enters the force should realise that, there is no position in the police force, whether in his own area, whether it be a county, a county borough, a borough, or any other part of the country to which he cannot attain by attending to his duty and proving himself generally efficient for the service he has entered. In this connection I should like to endorse the view expressed by the hon. Member for Rothwell that no men should be introduced into the police force as chief constables or in other important positions until they have had a large amount of experience and training in the police force itself. I understand, from the statement made by the hon. Member, that there has been complaint of a recent appointment in the Metropolitan Police Force. I am, however, glad to say that when a few months ago there was a vacancy for a chief constable in the county of Montgomery, and the joint police committee provisionally appointed a military man, who had not had experience in a police force, the Home Office declined to sanction the appointment. Subsequently, another appointment had to be made, which was ultimately sanctioned by the Home Office. I am pleased to think, that although complaint has been made that there has been a military appointment in the Metropolitan Police Force, without good reason, we have here an instance of the Home Office adopting a different policy, which, I am certain, will be approved by the great majority of hon. Members.

In connection with the organisation of the police forces generally, I understand that the Home Office have had under consideration for some time the question of amalgamating some of the smaller borough forces with those of the adjoining counties. I think a good deal more might be done in that direction. Even some of the smaller counties might, from many points of view, be regarded as too small for effective administration. I have for some time felt that, so far as North Wales is concerned, it might be an advantage in many directions if the six counties of North Wales were amalgamated so as to form one unit for police administration. In that way we should secure a good deal of the co-ordination to which reference has been made. It would be possible, also, to facilitate police appointments in the North Wales counties.

There is only one other matter to which I should like to refer, and it is causing a great deal of concern, not only to many Members of this House but also to the general public, and that is the terrible toll on the roads, not merely in fatal accidents but in other accidents, where many men, women and children are maimed for life. A fair proportion of the non-fatal accidents on the roads result in such serious injuries that many of our fellow-citizens pass through the rest of their lives unable to perform their domestic duties, or to follow their occupations or perform their civic duties to the community. Every possible effort should be made to decrease the number of accidents on the roads, and I am satisfied that in this respect the police are performing a very difficult duty in a very efficient manner. On the other hand, I regret to say that I am not satisfied that the magistrates throughout the country always take the course of supporting the police to the exent that they should. I am certain that there would be a great reduction in the number of accidents on the roads if drivers realised that when they are brought before the court the magistrates will see that they are dealt with as they ought to be dealt with—


That is a matter which certainly does not come under this Vote.


I refer to the matter only in order to indicate that, although the police endeavour to do their duty in this respect, they are not always adequately supported. The Home Secretary referred to the fact that there has been an increase in traffic control light-signals, and I hope that the Home Office and the Minister of Transport will in suitable cases see that applications from local authorities are dealt with expeditiously. I had occasion to inquire into a fatal accident on a dangerous cross-road, and the jury agreed that it was a place where there should be mechanical signals.


The provision of traffic signals does not arise under this Vote.


The Home Secretary dealt with this matter.


The Home Secretary referred to the effect on the work of the police of having traffic signals set up, but the setting up of traffic signals is not carried out by the police or by the Home Secretary.


The reports received by the Home Office in connection with fatal accidents give statistical information, but do not set out the cause of the accidents. You cannot expect the police to have the technical knowledge and training to enable them to set out in detail the causation of accidents, and there may be cases where it might be advisable, in addition to receiving the ordinary reports, that the Home Office should arrange for an inquiry on the spot. There would not be many such cases, but I think a good deal of information might be made available as the result of an inquiry by an inspector who has some technical knowledge. It is only after you have discovered the real cause of accidents that you can hope to introduce reforms into road control and reduce the number of these accidents. More than 250,000 people sustain accidents, some serious and some slight, on the roads of the country in the course of a year, and more than 6,000 lives are lost each year in fatal accidents on the road. Having regard to these facts, the general public will not begrudge any reasonable expenditure which may be incurred by the Home Office or various local councils in trying to do everything in their power to prevent accidents occurring. There is no doubt that many of the accidents which take place are preventable, and, with the improvement which is taking place in the personnel of the police forces, I think we can look forward with some hope that the roads in future will be safer than they have been during the last 10 years. I thank the Home Secretary for his interesting and lucid statement.

12.13 p.m.


I had not intended to take part in the discussion, but some observations were made by the hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) which, I think, should not pass without comment. I hope that no word will be said here which will interfere with the good relations which have continued for many years between members of the police forces and the special constabulary. I have spent the whole of my working life in connec-tioin with the police force in various capacities, outside the dock, and for some years I was a member of the special constabulary during a very trying period, when the performance of necessary public duties depended largely on a close and sympathetic co-operation of the police forces and the special constabulary. I am not here as a vehicle of complaints from outside. I speak from actual personal experience, and I think it should be said in this discussion that the relations between these two forces have always been close and sympathetic. There have been incidents which have given rise to feeling on both sides. That is to be expected. A certain uppishness may creep in when public duties are being performed in any rank of society, but, on the whole, cooperation between the two services has been complete.

I ventured to ask my hon. Friend what was the nature of the complaint to which he was referring. It then appeared that some special constables had been taken, by officers of the regular force, to certain licensed premises, presumably for ascertaining matters which might arise in the performance of police duties. I cannot see what ground for complaint that action should give. I am sorry my hon. Friend, in an excess of zeal, should have mentioned such a matter. If, in the interests of the public, it is necessary to call upon the services of the special constabulary, what objection can there be to informing that force, as closely as possible, of certain circumstances with which they may have to deal? I do not want to detain the Committee, but I felt compelled to say a word on this matter of the special constabulary. I am sure the co-operation between these two forces is an important element in the administration of justice, and I am satisfied that such co-operation is as close, sympathetic and beneficial as it has ever been. I would deplore any statement made here to-day which cast a reflection upon that co-operation.

12.17 p.m.

Captain FRASER

I understood, Sir Dennis, that you have ruled out discussion on matters which came up for consideration on the recent Bill. I understand, however, that the establishment of the Police College is an administrative matter, as the College is to be paid for out of moneys to be voted to-day.


That certainly would not be out of Order. There have already been references to the Police College. That is in order.

Captain FRASER

The point to which I wish to refer to is that there are, clearly, a certain number of young, well-educated and brilliant police constables at present in the force who are the very kind who would be picked out to go to the Police College and thereby receive promotion—probably accelerated promotion. Nothing could be better than that that should happen. On the other side, there is a substantial number, probably a few thousands, in the existing force who have no hope of promotion, because they are beyond the age at which promotion is normally obtainable, or their educational background is such that they themselves well realise that there is no promotion for them, that nothing can be done for them, nor do the new proposals affect them. Between these two classes there must be a group—it may be some hundreds—who have joined the force in the last 10 or 15 years in the belief that particular chances of promotion would be theirs in the establishment of their careers. I hope that the establishment of the Police College, and the introduction of persons from outside the force, will not lead to that particular group suffering in the matter of promotion, and lead in that way to an alteration in the contract of service, viewed in its widest aspect, which they thought was theirs when they joined. I am not opposed to the new method for the future, but existing servants, with years of service, have some claim to the carrying out of contracts in the spirit as well in the letter, which was implied when they joined the force. I hope the Minister will give some assurance that the introduction of the new element into the higher ranks will not prejudice that middle group, who had reasonable expectations that they would receive promotion.

12.20 p.m.


I think the discussion this morning has shown that we are dealing with problems which are of great importance to all of us. Let me endeavour to reply to some of the questions put by the hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn). With regard to the disciplinary cases, to which reference has been made, I will only say that these particular cases are at present sub judice and, in these circumstances, the Committee will realise that I cannot say anything upon them. I would, however, like to say one word with regard to what fell from the hon. Member for Rothwell. He said that, in the judgment of those for whom he spoke, the public should be assured as to the general discipline and well-being of the police force. I would emphatically say here that, while it is true that disciplinary cases have got to be dealt with, from the knowledge I have, and speaking particularly of the Metropolitan Police Force, I have never conveyed, nor would I desire now to convey, any impression to this Committee, or the public, that the greater proportion of this force is riddled with corruption, or with disaffection. Quite the contrary. I make it perfectly plain to the Committee that discipline must be maintained in police forces, and that, when problems of this kind come up, they go through the most meticulous and careful observation. In whatever rank in the force these things occur— from the highest to the lowest—as long as I am responsible, I shall endeavour to mete out to them justice.

The Committee will agree that it would be quite an innovation, and not in accordance with what is desired in this House, that we should magnify too much these disciplinary cases. I can see nothing which would be more likely to convey a wrong impression to the public than that we should create an innovation by introducing White Papers. These are matters of internal discipline for which there is the proper machinery. I trust that the Committee will realise that every care is taken in dealing with these matters. The hon. Member made some reference to the special constabulary. I trust that both these forces will co-operate in the most friendly manner. So far as the regular police are concerned, they have no reason to suppose that the special constabulary are there for any other purpose than to render assistance and relief to the regular forces at times of emergency and difficulty with the great processions such as we have in London. I trust it will also be understood that, if the special constabulary are adequately to relieve the regular forces at particular times, it is essential they should be brought into the closest touch, and instructed in carry- ing out duties in the interests of the public.

There have been some references made to the problem of bringing into the force military people. I am precluded from referring to the Measure which this House has discussed. All I say is that the policy which we are pursuing is a policy adopted in order that that may be prevented. There will be, and in my judgment there must be, circumstances when for some particular object or some particular service it is right and proper in the public interest that someone should be brought in from outside, and we should not in any circumstances be precluded from doing that if it is essential in the public interest. On the contrary, my whole policy is more and more to make use of the opportunities which we hope shortly to have, to bring people up more and more within the force. The most recent officer we have brought in is an officer with great police training and knowledge gained in India. He comes to this force after having spent the whole of his time in police work. That should be some indication to the House, to the country and to the Police Force that we are doing our very best, when we do bring in people, to bring in those who have a practical knowledge of the subject with which they have to deal.

The hon. Member for Rothwell spoke about the problem of selling tickets. I welcome very much indeed what he said. I am in complete accord with him, and I trust that the country outside will realise the importance of the step which we have taken, at least in the Metropolis, of forbidding this evil habit. On the other hand, we are asking the public, through the appeal which has been made, to help the Commissioner's Fund, to help us to see that the various social efforts of the force and the provision for the orphanage and so on shall not suffer. It is essential that when we forbid this evil habit of selling tickets and canvassing, which has grown up and largely increased in recent years, we should have something to replace it. I trust that the appeal which has been made will be responded to by the general public. Indeed it is a good thing to feel that that is being realised.

I was asked what was happening about the sports ground at Leyton. The House will remember that I gave an answer to a question on this subject on 3rd March last. The acquisition of Leyton Cricket Ground was announced, and we hope that eventually there may be in each of the four districts a suitable ground and clubhouse. The Government fully recognise the need for improving the recreational facilities available to the Metropolitan Police, and substantial provision will be made for this purpose so soon as the financial position allows. In the meantime there are those who have anonymously subscribed to the Fund instituted by the Commissioner, which will be sufficient to enable us to make a beginning; and, as I have indicated, the Government recognise this need, and, as soon as the financial position permits, the Government intend, I trust, to make themselves responsible for the conduct and future of this problem.

There was a question put about the case at Stoke-on-Trent. I do not propose to go into that. Of course I have not got direct control over a problem of that kind. I will make inquiries into the matter. The hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) raised various issues of which I shall take very careful note. In reply to the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Capt. Fraser), I can give an assurance that that side of the problem will receive careful and sympathetic consideration. I trust that promotion in the force may eventually be accelerated, first of all by some increase in additional supervisory posts, and, secondly, because of the fact that when the new system comes in there will be a greater flow of promotion and more rapid promotion within the Metropolitan Police Force. In any case, the hon. and gallant Member can rest assured that we will look with sympathy upon that matter.

There is only one other point upon which I was asked a question, and that was with regard to the necessary measures for abolishing or merging some of the police forces of the country. There has been drafted a Bill which I hope there may be some opportunity of putting through, to deal with the very smallest of these police forces. It will, of course, remain open to the larger forces to combine on a voluntary basis. I trust that as time goes on we may see some of these combinations take place, and that through the conferences and committees which we have established at the Home Office for consultation between the various forces throughout the country, agreement in large measure may be reached.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question again proposed.

12.33 p.m.

Viscountess ASTOR

I want to say a few words on the subject of the enormous increase in juvenile crime. In 1930, 40,000 boys and girls under 21 were convicted. Juvenile unemployment is 200,000 now, and, as we know, in about three or four years the total will be 600,000 unless something very drastic is done. This subject of juvenile crime is one of the most important before the country. I am sure that the House would back up the Government in any steps they may take to deal with the matter. The last place to which one wants to send a young person is a prison. We have a very good probation system, but it ought to be much more extensive. We have some Judges who do not realise how much they could use the probation system. I know that the Government take what steps they can, but the system should be extended. We should spend more on probation officers; we should have more of them and have them better equipped. If hon. Members of this Committee heard the cases with which probation officers have had to deal I am certain that enormous pressure would be put upon the Government to spend more upon this work. There is nothing in the world more expensive to the State than crime, whereas probation work costs comparatively little. When the Children Bill was before Parliament, we were anxious to get observation centres for children. We have remand homes, but not observation centres. Some countries have them and they are working splendidly.


The Noble Lady is now raising a matter entirely outside the Police Vote which is before the Committee.

Viscountess ASTOR

Does it come under the Prisons Vote?


All I can say at present is that it is does not come under this Vote.

Viscountess ASTOR

Does the question of the women police arise under this Vote?


Yes, I think the Noble Lady would be in order in dealing with that question.

Viscountess ASTOR

I hope that the Government will seriously consider an increase in the number of women police We know what an enormous effect the work of the women police has had in relation to women and juveniles. There are two Government reports on the subject, and if hon. Members read those reports they will see that this subject of the women police is not a mere fancy or fad of maiden ladies or cranks like myself, but a question of vital importance. What they are finding out at Scotland Yard now, the women police knew 15 years ago. That is one of the reasons why the women police had to leave Scotland Yard. They knew too much. During the War we had systems of training and educating women, and when they got into Scotland Yard they said what they thought, and apparently they thought too much for the people who were then at the head of Scotland Yard. When I was pleading in the House on behalf of the women police hon. Members laughed at me, but the country would have been saved many hundreds of thousands of pounds if hon. Members had listened to us as far back as 1919. I hope, therefore, that the Home Office will do everything they can to increase the number of women police. Their work helps enormously in regard to women and children and will save many lives from being quite unnecessarily ruined.

The Home Office have three reports bearing on this subject. They have the report made in 1925 by the Departmental Committee on Sexual Offences against Young Persons. That is a report which every Member of the House ought to read. It is not pleasant reading. Indeed it is a horrible document but it is very necessary that hon. Members should read it. If any of these cases concerned the daughter of a Member of this House he would feel very violently on the subject. This kind of thing is increasing and the work of the women police would be a great preventive of these sexual offences. It is no good trying to raise anger upon this subject—and this is a question on which men feel more violently than women—but hon. Members ought to acquaint themselves with the facts. Then there is the report of the Departmental Committee on the Treatment of Juvenile Offenders and the report of the Departmental Committee on Persistent Offenders. This last deals with a most important question. We find men who are not normal being sent to prison instead of being treated as abnormal people. They are sent to prison perhaps only for a few months. They come out and again commit these appalling offences against very young children. We had one case of a man who had been six times convicted of the most filthy offences against girls under eight years of age. He got four years in prison and then out he comes again. That is monstrous. When we know that a man is not normal he should not be treated as normal. There should be some other way of treatment for such a man than prison treatment, and if there is no other way, then he ought to be kept there for life.


Treatment after conviction is not a matter for the police.

Viscountess ASTOR

I am sure the Home Office will note what I have already said, and I do not pursue the matter. This is not an easy subject about which to speak. Indeed it is very difficult, but it is most important, and one cannot help being moved when one hears of cases of young lives being quite unnecessarily ruined. There are cases in which it could easily be prevented. I think every father and every mother, and indeed every man and woman here will view these cases with horror, and if the Government could bring in a Bill to incorporate the recommendations in these three reports, it would cost very little. After all, we can afford a little. I am not going to talk this morning about that £14,000,000, but if we had £14,000,000 to play with, we might spare £500,000 to be spent by the Home Secretary on the saving, perhaps, of hundreds of lives. To show the importance of this question of the treatment of juvenile offenders, I may point out that we have 40,000 boys and girls under the age of 21 who have been convicted, and there are in prison 1,883 boys under 21 and 119 girls. We say that that is a dreadful thing. There is an increase in juvenile crime and if we do not look out, with unemployment as it is, there will be a further increase. I am sure that Members of the Committee will be behind the Home Secretary and the Government in any effort which they may make to stop the dreadful evils to which I have referred.


I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.