HC Deb 08 February 1945 vol 407 cc2343-54

Order for Second Reading read.

4.48 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

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

This is a modest and small Measure which I hope will commend itself to the House. The appointment of inspectors of constabulary in England and Wales was authorised by Section 15 of the County and Borough Police Act, 1856, which was the Act of Parliament which, for the first time, made it obligatory for each county to establish a permanent salaried police force. The provisions of Section 15 of the Act limited the number of inspectors to three, and required each of them to make an annual report to the Secretary of State which would be presented to Parliament. The provisions which related to Scotland were very similar except that Section 65 of the Police (Scotland) Act, 1857, permits the appointment of one inspector only in Scotland. The definition of the inspector's duties in Scotland is almost the same as that of the duties of inspectors in England, and the duties for England are defined in the Act of 1856, to which I have made reference as follows: they were: … to visit and inquire into the state and the efficiency of the police appointed for every county and borough, and whether the provisions of the Acts under which such police are appointed are duly observed and carried into effect and also into the state of the police stations, charge-rooms, cells or lockups, or other premises occupied for the use of such police. There is provision for reporting annually to the Secretary of State, who shall cause such reports to be laid before Parliament. When the 1856 English Act was introduced there was a Debate in Parliament, and in that Debate there was a good deal of suspicion because it was thought that the Government, by introducing a Measure making it compulsory for all areas to have a permanent police force, were moving directly towards despotism and the suppression of individual liberty. In the course of the Debate one hon. Member, according to the records, said that he thought the Measure would make the Secretary of State for the Home Department a second Fouché with spies all over the kingdom, and another Member, on the particular proposal to appoint inspectors, said that, having had much practical experience in the transaction of county business, he could state that he had frequently been obliged to fight against suggestions of inspectors, who had little or no practical knowledge of their business, but merely wished to exercise their authority. There was no Debate on the Clause, but in the Second Reading Debate several Members referred to the "degradation of inspectorship," and expressed the fear that inspection would mean interference and, indeed, direct control, by the central Government.

As the years have passed since that Act of the middle of last century, the police service has abundantly—as I think the House will agree—demonstrated that the fears expressed at that time were unfounded, and that so far from the police becoming an instrument of oppression and despotism they have, in fact, shown themselves to be a bulwark of democracy and of liberty. The police have established a great tradition, based on the respect and trust of the community. This was, indeed, the spirit of our police from the outset. I found last week, on the occasion of my visit to the Lancashire County Constabulary, an old poster, or circular of instructions, which had been distributed among the police of Lancashire, and which contained a number of maxims. It was issued by the first Chief Constable of the County of Lancashire, and although perhaps we would not write some of it now, broadly speaking, it shows how excellent were the principles on which the police were established even at the beginning of that county force, and I think the House may be interested to know what the poster said: (1) Constables are placed in authority to protect, not to oppress, the public. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is admirable, and I am glad that it has the support of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams).

  1. "(2) To do which effectually they must earnestly and systematically exert themselves to prevent crime.
  2. (3) When a crime has been committed no time should be lost, nor exertions spared, to discover and bring to justice the offenders.
  3. (4) Obtain a knowledge of reputed thieves and idle and disorderly persons.
  4. (5) Watch narrowly all persons having no visible means of subsistence.
  5. (6) Prevent vagrants.
  6. (7) Be impartial in the discharge of duties.
  7. (8) Discard from the mind all political and sectarian prejudices.
  8. (9) Be cool and intrepid in the discharge of duties in emergencies and unavoidable conicts.
  9. (10) Avoid altercations and display perfect command of temper under insult and gross provocation, to which all constables must occasionally he liable"—

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

That is like a description of a Minister.

Mr. Morrison

It goes on:

  1. —"(11) Never strike but in self-defence, nor treat a person with more rigour than may be absolutely necessary to prevent escape.
  2. (12) Practice the most complete sobriety. One instance of drunkenness will render a constable liable to dismissal.
  3. 2346
  4. (13) Treat with the utmost civility all classes of Her Majesty's subjects, and cheerfully render assistance to all in need of it.
  5. (14) Exhibit deference and respect to the magistracy.
  6. (15) Cheerfully and promptly obey all superior officers
  7. (16) Render an honest, faithful and speedy account of all moneys and property, whether intrusted with them for others or taken possession of in the execution of duty.
  8. (17) With reference to the foregoing, bear especially in mind that 'honesty is the best policy.'
  9. (18) Be perfectly neat and clean in person and attire.
  10. (19) Never sit down in a public-house or beer shop.
  11. (20) Avoid tippling.
  12. (21) It is the interest of every man to devote some portion of his spare time to the practice of reading and writing, and the general improvement of his mind."
Lastly—and this is very good—
  1. "(22) Ignorance is an insuperable bar to promotion."
I thought that was a good try in those early days, and a lot of it still stands up. Similarly, His Majesty's inspectors of constabulary have completely falsified the apprehensions expressed about their possible activities, and this is a convenient opportunity of paying tribute to the invaluable work they have done in the past, and the great contribution they have made to the smooth running of the police system particularly during war-time. It has been the general practice to recruit the inspectors from the ranks of senior chief constables, and they have consistently succeeded both in maintaining the confidence and respect of the police service itself and also in giving technical advice of the highest order to the Secretary of State and his officers.

The House will note that this Bill does not suggest any change in the definition of the duties of the inspectors. In practice, although there is no statutory provision on the point, the inspectors in England are assigned separate districts and are principally responsible for inspecting the forces in those districts. They have, however, a considerable number of duties in addition. They are always available to advise and assist chief constables who wish to take advantage of their great experience and they are all constantly being asked to advise the Home Office, both on particular points of police administration affecting individual forces and on general questions affecting the police service as a whole. They also conduct special investigations at the request of the Home Secretary when particular difficulties arise, and sit on tribunals set up under the Police (Appeals) Acts, to hear disciplinary appeals.

It is rather remarkable that the number of inspectors authorised by Acts passed as long ago as 1856 and 1857, when the police service of the country was scarcely out of its infancy, should have lasted so long without need for modification. But it is felt that, having regard to the duties of the police service, and particularly the prospects of post-war and technical developments, and the increasing complexity of police work, we ought to remove this limitation. There is, however, no question of any large-scale increase in the inspectorate. In time of war it has been found that the numbers of inspectors permitted by these old Acts was not enough to perform the multifarious duties put on to the inspectorate and Regulation 40 of the Defence (General) Regulations allows the Secretary of State to appoint additional inspectors of constabulary, notwithstanding the limitations in the Acts of 1856 and 1857.

At present, there is a total of four inspectors on active duty in England and Wales, and two in Scotland. In addition acting inspectors are attached to five of the Regional Commissioners in England and Wales for purely war-time duties. However, these last appointments attached to the five Regional Commissioners will shortly disappear. But in any event appointments made under Regulation 40 cannot be permanent, established appointments. It is not possible at this stage to forecast in detail how post-war developments are going to affect the inspectorate but it is clear, for the reasons I have given, that it will be of increasing importance and it will need to be strengthened if the police service in Great Britain is to be maintained at the standard of quality that all of us would wish, and if the necessary expert advice is to be available. Therefore we seek this additional power. Possibly one of these inspectors should be a person who has specialised knowledge of, say, the scientific side of criminal investigation, which becomes a matter of increasing importance, as I have appreciated, having seen the work of some of the Home Office crime laboratories in various parts of the country.

The proposal made in the Bill does not involve any radical change in the existing traditional organisation whereby the separate police forces exist as separate units with their own authorities, and appointments will probably be made of four or five inspectors, I should think, at any rate for the time, each responsible for a separate district. In addition, it is contemplated that it may be found advantageous to appoint a Chief Inspector for England and Wales, and the Bill includes a provision which will permit the appointment of a Chief Inspector for England and Wales. If a Chief Inspector is appointed, he will in large measure be relieved of territorial responsibilities and in the main be responsible for directing the work of the inspectorate and will be generally available to advise the Secretary of State on technical matters and to help with the increasing volume of work arising out of special inquiries and the hearing of disciplinary appeals.

As regards Scotland, the present view of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is that one inspector of constabulary should be sufficient, but it will depend on the way post-war circumstances develop and, in case it should be found desirable when the time comes in the interests of Scottish police efficiency to appoint a second inspector, the opportunity of this Bill is being taken to give the necessary authority. If the Secretary of State for Scotland should appoint a second inspector, he might wish that one should be made Chief Inspector for Scotland.

Another point is that under the existing law each inspector has to make a report to the Secretary of State, who in turn is required to submit it to Parliament. If we have this somewhat larger number of inspectors, with a Chief Inspector, it is proposed that the inspectors' reports should be collated and the Chief Inspector should make an annual report to the Secretary of State and that that should be presented to Parliament instead of the separate reports being presented, as hitherto. The Bill provides accordingly, following the precedent of the Factories Act, 1937, and it is also provided that there need only be one report for Scotland. It is contemplated that, if a Chief Inspector is appointed, he should be directed to submit a report on behalf of the whole inspectorate, and there will be similar arrangements for Scotland. There is one small alteration as regards reports to which attention should be drawn. The Act of 1856 does not require annual reports, although it became the practice to submit annual reports. It is proposed in the new Bill to make the annual report a specific statutory requirement.

I think that describes briefly the purpose of the Bill. I know now a great deal of the work of His Majesty's inspectors of constabulary. It is very valuable work. I realise that His Majesty's Inspectors' reports are of great value to the Secretary of State in giving him a picture of things, and often advice about personalities and so on. The whole system works very smoothly, but it is thought that, whereas the system may have been good enough in the 50's, we ought now to follow the more usual custom of Parliament permitting the Minister concerned, with the approval of the Treasury, to appoint such number as he thinks fit. On the other hand, I can assure the House that there is no intention of making an increase in the number of a dramatic order.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)

I also should like to add my tribute to the police; I have special reasons for doing so. Not many years ago, burglars stole my typewriter; they filed off the number of it but the police found it nevertheless. As the typewriter is a most useful instrument to me I consequently hold the police in very high esteem. In the financial memorandum of this Bill my right hon. Friend states that when it becomes an Act it will permit the appointment of a Chief Inspector for England and Wales and also a Chief Inspector for Scotland. I can understand the appointment for Scotland, but he lumped England and Wales together for this purpose. Why did he do that? If it is an international Measure, as suggested, he should not separate Scotland but lump the three countries together. I can assure the House that the feeling in the Principality of Wales is fairly strong and growing on these issues. I have some little knowledge of the police—I was once at the Home Office—and I understand that there are very excellent officers in the force bred and born in Wales. I should imagine, therefore, that my right hon. Friend would have no difficulty at all in finding very efficient men to do the very highest technical tasks foreshadowed from among those Welshmen now employed in the police force. I leave it at that, and ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not possible to grant to Wales exactly the same privileges and facilities as are provided for Scotland in the Bill.

5.9 p.m.

Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)

Those with whom I am associated welcome the Bill. We feel that it will be a useful Measure. I think it is wonderful that the police force has been run for 90 years under such a small number of inspectors. The way the force has developed out of its own virtues is very interesting indeed. It has become very popular with the public in general, including working people.

There was a time when they were not so popular. That was when they were used in connection with labour disputes. Fortunately, we have got far from those days. Now they are the helpers of the general public. Everyone likes them, and they are good fellows. It is felt that they need helping a little more by an additional inspector or two, we are agreed. Nothing helps so much as good supervision, if it is done in the right spirit. An inspector is a kind of big super-brother who can always help in time of trouble. I am a little intrigued by the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) in regard to the police in Wales, for I was always under the impression that the Welsh were without sin and had no need for a police force.

Mr. Rhys Davies

I did not ask for more policemen for Wales; what I want is the better jobs now proposed for the policemen who are already there.

Mr. Walkden

I understood my hon. Friend to ask for another inspector. An inspector, of course, would strengthen the spirit and morale of the force, and that indicated that my hon. Friend felt there was some need for the Welsh people to be looked after. I was not aware that that was necessary, because I was once assured by an eminent Welshman who used to be Prime Minister that the Welsh were so good that they had no swear words in their language and therefore could not even swear. They are so saintly that I was amazed that my hon. Friend should ask for another inspector. The Home Secretary, with his usual fairness, will see what he can do about that, and we can leave it to him.

We all recognise the virtues of the police. May I say a word about the virtues of the public? The police force functions best where it has a friendly public. In countries where the public are cowardly when a gangster appears the people hold up their hands and it is hard for the police to do their work. I have been thrilled and inspired by reports of young girls in post offices refusing to do that when a burglar comes in and demands money. Young men in banks and railway booking clerks, when burglars enter and try to commandeer the cash, will not give way to them. They take measures to have the burglar arrested, and he is either caught or he makes great haste to get away. I have noticed in this great city, where I have been living for 38 years, the wonderful morale of the people. They are fond of their police and help them, and both police and people are on very good terms. I have seen times of political stress and strain and conflicts between the two Houses of Parliament in bygone days, when there might have been great demonstrations and difficulty with the public, but the conflicts have passed off quite calmly with good feeling and good sense.

I have seen war break out and peace break out, and great rejoicings among crowds when there might easily have been difficulties. In the last Royal Jubilee the public were so full of joy that we had the British Constitution, the best in the world, that they rejoiced and poured out into the streets in such enormous numbers that the police could not control them. The police let them go, and they behaved themselves so well that there was not one regrettable incident. That is wonderful, and I hope we shall continue in that way in this dear old country of ours, with a full respect for law and order and an efficient body of police to help. The police have had additional burdens put on them in these modern times, particularly by the development of road traffic, and the House will always be willing to give them any additional help that they need to carry out their duties.

5.16 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who thought it was necessary to introduce his Welsh bias in his desire to get something for Wales. I do not propose to ask for anything for Northumberland or Durham and I really do not understand why he should have introduced it.

Mr. Rhys Davies

But Northumberland is a county and Wales is a country.

Sir C. Headlam

Nor will I say anything in confirmation or the reverse of what the hon. Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden) said. I admire the orderly deportment and the peaceful ways of the British citizens as much as he does, and we all agree that we are a very admirable people. Nevertheless, we require police, and I realise that what this Bill is asking for is necessary. I only want to be certain that there is nothing behind it. I do not wish that there shall be in any way a national police force, and I hope that there is no intention on the part of the Government to try to consolidate the police in any way that will jeopardise the present system by which each county has its own police. I do not think that is the intention of the Government, but I should like it to be clearly stated that there is no such intention behind this Bill.

5.17 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Chapman)

My hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden), in a characteristically generous and informed speech, welcomed the Bill and made, as usual, one or two shrewd points. He paid a tribute to the police and the public in which the whole House will join and drew attention to the kind of problem that is likely to arise and increase in the future. Closer supervision of problems and greater knowledge in the police is, therefore, necessary. My hon. Friend instanced road traffic, and my right hon. Friend instanced the scientific side of police work. I thought that to a certain extent my hon. Friend also answered the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies). Having the honour to speak at times on behalf of one small country, I have sympathy with another small country and believe that the Celtic fringe ought to be continuous and hang together.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

Or hang separately.

Mr. Chapman

That is so obvious an interjection that I did not think my hon. Friend would make it. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton will appreciate that the whole Bill must stand on the question of organisation and numbers. In some parts there are very small police forces and in other parts big forces, and if the inspectorate is to be used to the best advantage it must be used in relation to the numbers and size of the forces. My right hon. Friend has authorised me to say that that will have to be the guiding principle but that he is not without some sympathy with the feeling which my hon. Friend has expressed. While I am not committing him in any way he will bear this matter in mind. As to my hon. Friend's second point, the question of the number of the population comes into the picture. I hope I have reassured my hon. Friend that the question of Wales is not being overlooked. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Newcastle (Sir C. Headlam) has anxieties about there being some sinister intention behind the Bill. There is none at all. If he will look at a speech made by my right hon. Friend not long ago, he will see that he has no cause for the anxieties he expresses.

This Bill has received a kindly welcome from the House. I cannot help thinking of an incident during the last great blitz on the City, when I happened to be in conversation with a policeman. He was not young, and I should say that, had the war not broken out, he would have been near his pensionable age. I said to him, "I am afraid you are having a rather rough time." His reply was characteristic: "Not so rough as my boy is having in the Royal Navy." Then he added, "We have all got to do our bit." That "bit" by the police, whether established or war-time, whether men or women, or in town or country, has been magnificent throughout these islands. I cannot help thinking that that efficiency, that élan and organisation, has been helped by the wise supervision and advice of the inspectors of constabulary. If, in the future, with the complications of modern life—machines, science, and so on—we are to maintain that efficiency we shall have to increase the inspectorate on the lines indicated by my right hon. Friend. Therefore, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Major A. S. L. Young.]

Committee upon Tuesday next.