HC Deb 16 October 1945 vol 414 cc1092-7

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £212,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1946, for the salaries and expenses of the Inspectors of Constabulary; the cost of special services, grants in respect of Police expenditure and a grant in aid of the Police Federation in Scotland.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)

I do not think I should trouble the Committee very long with the Estimate which is now before us. The position is that an additional provision of £212,000 is necessitated by the transfer as from 1st July this year of this expenditure on the Police War Reserve, etc., from full reimbursement to a grant-aided basis consequent upon the change of status of the Police War Reserve. The position in a nutshell is that as from 1st July this year we have reverted to the position whereby the State meets 50 per cent. of the total expenditure on police services. Hon. Members will be aware that at the outbreak of war the Government recognised that special defence services would have to be afforded by the police and so the Police War Reserve was set up, and the full cost of the Police War Reserve was met by the Exchequer. The reversion to the status quo as it was before the war necessitates this additional expenditure, but hon. Members will be comforted by the fact that this actually means a saving, as there will be a saving to the Exchequer in so far as they have not now got the expenditure they would have had upon the Police War Reserve.

Commander Galbraith: (Glasgow, Pollok)

I would like to put one question to the hon. Gentleman. He spoke of a saving in regard to the Exchequer, but in fact surely what happens here is that while the Exchequer saves the ratepayers in Scotland have to meet the other half of the cost. Perhaps I could have an answer to that.

Mr. McKinlay (Dunbartonshire)

Before we have a reply, I submit that the reimbursement is going to cost more. As a member of a local authority, I would like to know what consultations took place before this departure was agreed to. What I do know is that the Police War Reserve, which is much below the physical standard of the police force, has been parked on local authorities and local authorities have been asked to meet the cost. The position of the local authorities is that until such time as the necessity for the Police War Reserve has passed the Government ought to bear the whole cost. Hundreds of police who are serving in the Forces are having their wages supplemented by the local authorities, and this additional charge of £212,000, which when spread over all Scotland possibly does not come to very much, is a considerable burden in a city like Glasgow where the police force runs into thousands of men. We ought to get a little more information than just a mere statement that the Treasury are going to save and the local ratepayers are going to pay. That is no justification for putting the cost of the Police War Reserve on to the local authority, and I hope we shall get some information on that point.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth)

May I briefly put a question and also perhaps make an appeal? The Association of County Councils in Scotland approached the Government with, I submit, a very good case that this expenditure should not be transferred to their shoulders from the Imperial Exchequer. The Government said that there was no likelihood of their departing from that decision to transfer the cost of the Police War Reserve to the local authorities, subject to the 50 per cent. As the hon. Gentleman opposite has said, I think that at this stage, when the local authorities are making up the salaries of policemen serving in the Forces, local authorities are involved in a very considerable expense—admittedly a declining one, as the police return, but nevertheless very considerable, amounting to some thousands of pounds in Perthshire—which I do not think should be placed on their shoulders.

The hon. Gentleman on the Government Front Bench said that we had now reverted to the previous situation. That may be so from the point of view of the Government, but not from that of the county councils who are faced with this extra expenditure, which is not a reversion, as stated by the Government. I would ask most sincerely, and in no carping spirit, that the Government will relent and will allow his expenditure to remain with the Exchequer and not be put upon the local authority. It all comes out of the pockets of the people.

Mr. Gallacher

I do not know what sort of consultation took place, but I know that the Fife County Council have been continually making representations to the Government upon this point. Like other local authorities they have had to carry the burden of these war reserve policemen. Suddenly to be told that the Government payments are to be cut down by 50 per cent. without consultation does not seem to be good enough. I consider that while the war reserve policemen are retained the Government should meet the full cost. That is the view of the Fife County Council—I cannot say that all the members are in agreement—on the situation and on the demands that I make. Four of us were going to see the Scottish Office before the Recess, but it was put off until after the Recess.

Somehow or another it is rather difficult now, because this Estimate has come before us before they have had a chance of meeting at the Scottish Office to discuss the matter. The meeting is still in abeyance. Before we can meet at the Scottish Office we shall have to meet ourselves to come to an understanding; nevertheless, I am for the position of the county council. It is only right that, so long as they are burdened with the responsibility of maintaining the war reserve constables, the cost should be met by the Government. I do not know why the Government want to be so generous as to take off only 50 per cent. Let it be one thing or another. Either the local authorities pay, or the Government. We should hear some reason from the Government for this decision and why there had been no consultation before the decision was arrived at.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

So that the Joint Under-Secretary should be under no misapprehension, let me say that I warmly support what has been said by my neighbour the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). There is an all-Scotland and all-party demand on this matter. We have heard from Perthshire, and the ancient Kingdom of Fife has joined in demanding from the Scottish Office reconsideration of this matter. There is a strong technical argument in favour of the local authorities' view. I do not propose to advance that argument—it is somewhat technical—but I would ask the Under-Secretary to bear in mind that there is a strong argument which could be advanced. I ask him, on behalf of my hon. Friends, to give an undertaking that he will invite the county councils to meet him, so that he and his officers may re-examine this matter. If he would give that assurance we would be temporarily satisfied, and the meeting to which my hon. Friend referred might not be necessary.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Fraser

The Committee must be under the impression, after the speeches we have heard, that I have dropped a bombshell this evening. That is not so. The Government intimated in March this year to the police authorities in Scotland that the pre-war position would be reverted to at the end of hostilities in Europe. There were consultations, I understand, at that time, but it was agreed to postpone the date of reversion until July. We now come before the Committee to ask for some extra money for the Scottish Office to enable us to meet our new commitments for we have new commitments under this arrangement. Let us look at the position. Is it that we are insisting on the local authorities carrying police forces for which they have no need? Are we insisting on their carrying forces that are only required for war purposes? The position is that the police forces throughout Scotland are doing exactly the same job now as they did before the war. If there are some hon. Members who think that the Government ought to pay more than 50 per cent. of the cost of such services, there will be other occasions on which to make such an argument but we would not be in Order in discussing that now.

One would gather the impression this evening that some police authorities are carrying a force in excess of their needs. Let me give hon. Members an assurance that if any police authority in Scotland should make a submission to me that they are carrying numbers in excess of their needs, and ask permission to pay off part of their personnel, we will readily consider what can be done, and I think that, in all likelihood, we will be able to meet them. Coming back to the question of representation, since I took office no hon. Members and no local authority have asked to be allowed to state a case to me. In the circumstances, am I not entitled to assume that this reversion to the pre-war arrangements was generally acceptable, or, at least, that all opposition to it had more or less been got rid of in the consultations that took place during the life of the Coalition Government?

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Surely the hon. Gentleman does not deny that at least the Fife County Council approached him by correspondence on this matter with all the pungency which generally accompanies letters from that council?

Mr. Fraser

I do not deny that we have from time to time had correspondents, and I have courteously replied to them and told them what the position was, but hon. Members have asked if I would consider delaying this matter until consultations have taken place. I say that I have had no request up to now for consultations. I very much doubt whether there is anything to be done under the circumstances. This reversion to the pre-war arrangements was carried through some time ago, and it is as a result of this reversion that the Scottish Home Department have to find some additional moneys to enable them to meet their new commitments. That is the only matter that is before the Committee at the present time, and I very much hope that the Committee will give me the £212,000 necessary.

Mr. McKinlay

I am very sorry, but it is not as simple as that. I have always been suspicious of consultations. If the big chief in Edinburgh sends for local authorities, they can talk for hours or for weeks. My hon. Friend is making a mistake if he assumes that anyone suggested that police forces were over strength. Our complaint is that they are under strength and we are paying more money for them. That is the trouble. My point is that those who paid for the Police War Reserve should have paid for them until, the need for Police War Reserve strength was abolished altogether. That could only be when the policemen who are now on war service come back and bring the forces up to strength. Again I say I do not like the word "consultation." With a weaker police force local authorities are paying out more money. I admit that some areas are only rated to the extent of 18s. in the £ and that is nothing at all; it can go higher; but, of course, the tap will ran dry some time. They say we have returned to the status quo, but they are asking the local authorities to pay 50 per cent. for the services of a Police War Reserve below the standard.

I will tell the Committee something else. The regular policemen are dissatisfied because the Police War Reserve stepped in on conditions at which it had taken the regular policeman years to arrive. I am not saying that they should be in a worse position. Those who created the Police War Reserve should have kept them until such time as their services could be altogether dispensed with. I know it is only a question of £212,000, but these things have a habit of accumulating, and I feel that we must make our protest—not that it will have any effect. The local authorities would be much better served if active steps were taken to have regular policemen returned to police duties. The wave of crime sweeping through the country makes it essential that regular police forces should be brought up to strength at the earliest possible moment.

Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)

One other question arises out of the Supplementary Estimate. Why was no mention made of the women's police force? I understand that now the full-time members of the women's police force have been transferred to the local authorities. Hitherto the moneys paid on that account came direct from the State, but now they come partly from the local authorities and partly from the State, and I should have thought it should have been mentioned in this Supplementary Estimate.

Resolved: That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £212,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1946, for the salaries and expenses of the Inspectors of Constabulary; the cost of special services, grants in respect of Police expenditure and a grant in aid of the Police Federation of Scotland.