HC Deb 09 October 1946 vol 427 cc279-94

Order for Second Reading read.

8.15 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)

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

This Bill, to which I ask the House to give a Second Reading, deals with three matters affecting the administration of police in Scotland—amalgamation of police forces, the Exchequer grant towards police expenditure and the provision of buildings and acquisition of land for police purposes. The main purpose of the Bill, like the Police Act for England and Wales which recently became law, is to provide suitable machinery for the amalgamation of police forces. At the present time there are in Scotland—I am sure this will be of interest to my Scottish colleagues—31 county forces and 18 burgh forces. Eighteen of the 49 have a strength of less than 50 and eight have a strength of less than 30. Over a quarter of a century ago the Desborough Committee unanimously and strongly recommended a reduction of the number of Scottish forces then existing. A small step in this direction was taken in the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, which abolished eight small burgh forces and combined two pairs of county forces.

In 1932 a Committee which was set up by the three Scottish associations of local authorities under the chairmanship of the late Lord Lovat unanimously reported that the maintenance of numerous separate police forces resulted in duplication of staff and administration costs, and that on practical grounds the enlargement of units appeared to be advantageous. That Committee accordingly recommended that a further Committee should be appointed to survey the possibility of dividing Scotland into a smaller number of police areas. This further Committee, which consisted of police authority representatives under the chairmanship of the late Lord Ormidale, produced a report in 1933 which unanimously recommended the gradual reduction of Scottish forces to a total of 14.

Since these Committees reported, the case for reorganising the police resources of Scotland so that the units of administration will be large enough to cope with modern requirements has become still stronger. The mobility of criminals, to whom the existence of numerous police boundaries seems, in some cases, to be a godsend, the increase of road traffic and of road accidents, which create problems requiring unified police control over relatively large areas, the increasing need for expensive technical apparatus and for creating specialised police departments— all make it essential to have reasonably large units of administration. In large forces the men themselves will have wider opportunities of gaining experience and promotion, and there should be economies in overhead expenses as compared with the cost of maintaining a number of separate forces in the same areas.

The existing Statutes are quite inadequate to enable the requisite reorganisation to be made. Section 61 of the Police (Scotland) Act, 1857, contains provision for merging, by local agreement, a burgh force in the force of the county in which the burgh is situated, but this provision, though its use has been urged on many occasions, has in fact been used only twice within my knowledge, namely, in Dumfriesshire and in Stirlingshire. Section 63 of the 1857 Act gives power by Order in Council to effect the compulsory consolidation of burgh and county forces. This provision, however, can be used only on application by the burgh, and it has been a dead letter since its enactment. There is no provision, either in the 1857 Act or elsewhere, so far as I know, for the consolidation of two or more burgh forces or the consolidation of two or more county forces. The Bill proposes to repeal these antiquated and unsatisfactory provisions and to replace them by new provisions under which any two or more police authorities, whether burghal or county, can agree, with the approval of the Secretary of State, to combine their police forces. The combined forces will be administered by the police authorities jointly through a Joint Police Committee in accordance with the provisions of an amalgamation scheme. I earnestly hope that the new facilities for voluntary amalgamation provided by Clause I of the Bill will be freely used by police authorities, and I will be prepared through my Department to give them every possible assistance in formulating their schemes. The Clause has been drawn so as to leave wide scope for arranging the contents of each amalgamation scheme to suit the circumstances of the areas because of the varying conditions in Scotland to which it will apply, and the wishes of the police authorities concerned.

There may, however, be cases where it is expedient, in the interests of efficiency, that police forces should be amalgamated and jointly administered, but where the police authorities concerned have not found it possible to submit a satisfactory scheme. Clause 2 of the Bill enables the Secretary of State to require amalgama- tion in such a case, and himself to make a scheme for the purpose. Very full safeguards are, however, laid down. The Secretary of State must give the police authorities concerned notice of the general nature of the proposed scheme and, unless they agree with his proposals, must publish them and cause a public local inquiry to be held by an independent person. If he decides to proceed upon the report of that independent person, he must lay before Parliament a draft of the scheme and a copy of the report of the person by whom any inquiry has been held, and either House may reject the scheme within a period of 40 days.

Clauses 3 to 9 are supplemental and consequential. They include provisions, on the same terms as those accorded in the recent Police Act for England and Wales, safeguarding the position of chief constables and local government officers affected by an amalgamation, and also the position of policemen who are serving in the Armed Forces or overseas. The position of policemen other than chief constables is safeguarded by paragraph 1 of the Third Schedule and in addition, officers who have been serving in a burgh force will be protected by a regulation to be made under the Police Act, 1919, against being moved out of the burgh without their consent. The local authority associations and the Chief Constables Association will be given an opportunity of considering a draft of the regulations to be made under Clause 7.

Clause 10 has been included in the Bill to give effect to a recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee that, where grants are supported solely by the authority of annual Appropriation Acts, the opportunity should be taken of inserting regularising Clauses whenever appropriate legislation is introduced. I have been advised that, apart from the annual Appropriation Acts, there is no operative statutory authority for the payment of police grant in Scotland. Clause 10 fills in this gap. As regards the conditions to be determined under the clause, the Associations of Local Authorities will be given an opportunity of considering a draft of these before they are settled.

Clause 11 redefines the purpose for which police authorities, or in certain cases Joint Police Committees, may provide and maintain property for the transaction of their business and for police purposes, and applies the procedure of the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act to cases of compulsory purchase.

Since its introduction in another place the Bill has been amended on a number of points to meet representations made by the Convention of Royal Burghs, the Association of County Councils, and the Scottish Police Federation. When it is being examined in Committee in this House, no doubt further improvements will be made. The Bill is a long overdue contribution to the development of police efficiency in Scotland, and I trust that all sections of the House will agree that it should receive a Second Reading.

8.28 p.m.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid (Glasgow, Hillhead)

I think the Secretary of State is quite right when he says that there is a case for some further amalgamation of police forces in Scotland. There are too many small ones, but, on the other hand, such a process can easily be carried too far, and I very much hope that the Secretary of State, now or on the Committee stage, will be able to give us some assurance that, where there is a borderline case, he will decide it in favour of the status quo and not force an amalgamation on unwilling authorities.

It is essential that the police of this country should be part of the local community, that they should be the friends and guides of the people rather than that they should be ultra-efficient and lose the confidence of those among whom they work. There is nothing like remote control for destroying the present happy relations, which are almost universal, between the police and people of Scotland. It may well be that apparent extra efficiency may be gained in a number of cases by amalgamations, but we must remember that, in some of these cases, there will be a countervailing loss which we cannot evaluate in statistics, but which will, nevertheless, be very real. I hope the Secretary of State, or whoever is administering this Bill when it becomes an Act, will bear that in mind.

The Secretary of State placed some stress upon economy. It is very doubtful whether amalgamations do produce economy; in many cases, where apparently they do, something goes wrong when we get a larger authority. There is more top hamper, so to speak, from officialdom, more red tape, and a great deal is lost that way. Many cases occur where, looking at the thing at first sight, one would say that great economies could be made by amalgamation. But when the amalgamation is made it is found, to one's surprise, that there is no economy at all. In fact, very often it is the other way. I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State will not raise the economy argument when he considers the question of amalgamation, because it is a wholly unreal argument.

Another point which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned was that he hoped amalgamation would lead to the development of more specialist branches of police work in the amalgamated forces. I hope he will not try to carry that too far, because my impression—and it is a strong impression—is that it is a great mistake, even in the medium sized police forces, to seek to have too much self-sufficiency. We have a very happy spirit of informal co-operation in Scotland between the smaller police forces and the larger ones. It would be a great pity if amalgamation led to the formation of specialist services, which cannot be as full or numerous as those in the great cities, and to the breaking of the spirit of cooperation between the smaller and larger forces. In many cases the right way to cope with requirements for specialist services is to invoke the assistance, which I think is always freely given, of the large city forces. I hope there will not be any idea, if a new amalgamated force is set up, that that force is then going to be self-sufficient and that the most admirable specialist forces in the larger cities will be called upon less frequently. These things should not be done in any formal way; they ought to depend on informal, friendly relations, as I think they do at the moment and which I hope will long continue.

I will now pass to the question of procedure before amalgamation is forced upon any area. I welcome the fact that there is to be a local inquiry. Still more do I welcome the fact that the report of the person who holds the inquiry is to be made public. I hope this means a change of heart in the Government when we come to other Bills. This is not by any means the first time that this question has cropped up, and I do not say that previous Governments have been altogether blameless in the matter; far from it. But I hope this is the start of a new tendency, because I have always regretted that the report of the person who holds the inquiry is not made public. There are, of course, a few cases where that cannot be helped. Those whose affairs are affected by the ultimate decision feel that justice has been done behind closed doors, and that that is really not justice at all. If they get the report of the person who holds the inquiry published, then they know that they have seen into the mind of the person who heard them give the evidence and submit the argument. I hope, therefore, that the next time this kind of Clause comes along the Secretary of State will be true to his present form.

Mr. Westwood

If the step is in the right direction.

Mr. Reid

Yes, the step is in the right direction, and we shall want to know why if he tries stepping back next time. I am glad to see in the Second Schedule that the right hon. Gentleman is not repeating the error which he perpetrated a little time ago of seeking to impose his expenses on the parties. In a recent Bill, he insisted, quite unwarrantably, on putting his own expenses on to the parties. He has now returned to the path of rectitude, and I hope he will stay there.

Mr. Westwood

I am doing very well.

Mr. Reid

Yes, the right hon. Gentleman is doing very well. Perhaps he will not be doing quite so well tomorrow, but I think it is a good thing to give credit where it is due; then, perhaps, when I have something less favourable to say it may get home.

There are two other points I wish to make. Clause 10, which the Secretary of State has told us is put in to regularise the position, does not go very far in that direction. I have seldom seen a more general and unilluminating Clause. It allows the Secretary of State to pay— such sums, at such times, in such manner and subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State may with the approval of the Treasury determine. That does not regularise much. It leaves the Secretary of State a completely free hand. It may well be that that is desirable, but I hope the Secretary of State will give us a little more information on this point when we come to the Committee stage. To say that one is doing anything more than making a formal change when inserting a wide provision of that sort, is, I think, claiming too much. This is a sort of "red tape" Treasury device which means nothing but, apparently, satisfies some formalistically-minded people that something has been done. I hope the Secretary of State will be able to tell us whether this Clause has any content at all, or whether it is only there because somebody wants to have something on paper that looks nice. I am not objecting to it, but I hope we shall get a little more explanation when the time comes, because it does look a rather questionable way of dealing with the matter.

The only other point I wish to make concerns Clause 11. This Clause gives power to acquire land by the new procedure in the Acquisition of Land Act, 1946. I do not think we ever took serious exception to the provisions of Section 1 of that Act. It tidied up a great many existing Acts which required to be brought into line, and I do not think we had any serious objection to that. To Section 2, on the other hand, we did object most strenuously, and, indeed, it Was only supported by the Government from the point of view that it was required in exceptional circumstances of great urgency. I cannot imagine that there would be exceptional circumstances of great urgency with regard to the acquisition of land for the purposes of this Bill. Therefore, I hope that the Secretary of State will see his way to exclude the application of Section 2 of that Act, and, if he will not do that, at least will give us an assurance that that Section will not be used. I cannot imagine any conceivable circumstances in which it would be proper to use the Section and, therefore, as Acts of Parliament ought, so far as possible, to coincide with the intentions of the Government which introduces them, it would be well to bring the Clause into line with what, I am sure, must be the intentions of the Secretary of State. I hope, therefore, the Secretary of State will accept an Amendment to that effect. As I say, I think this Bill is one which, if rightly used, can produce good results, but it does hold out some temptation to go too far, and I hope the Secretary of State will resist that. As I have said, it contains some good minor features which I hope the Secretary of State will keep in mind when he is drafting other bigger and more important Bills.

8.39 p.m.

Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline Burghs)

On general principles I welcome the Bill, the Second Reading of which the Secretary of State has just moved. There are, however, one or two comments that I would like to make with regard to this Measure. I notice, in the first place, that it is a permissive Measure, that it permits local police authorities to amalgamate. It does not compel them to do it, but the Secretary of State holds a little bit in reserve whereby he may frame schemes if the local authorities themselves do not frame schemes for the amalgamation of the police forces. I hope that as far as possible good will will be maintained between the burgh authorities and the county authorities. Since the passing of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, there has been a very considerable amount of friction, especially between the county authorities and the representatives of the small burghs over other matters, and we may have the same situation arising if compulsion is used with regard to the amalgamation of the police forces instead of good will on the part of all with regard to this proposition. This matter was discussed to a certain extent in 1929 when the Local Government (Scotland) Act was passed. I believe that at that time it was the desire of the Government to have much larger police administrative areas, but that was successfully prevented by the large burghs who have been allowed in a number of cases to continue their own police forces.

I believe this Measure ought to effect some economies. I am inclined to agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. Reid), that when we begin to talk about economies sometimes we get a surprise. When the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, was before the House we were assured that it would effect economies, that there would be great economies by having certain functions that were performed by small burghs transferred to the county. I would be very much surprised to learn that that Measure has effected economies. I think the tendency has been just as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suspects, in the opposite direction. I hope it will not mean that after these amalgamations take place all the highly paid men in the police services will have huge increases in salary, and that other expensive projects will be undertaken which would wipe out any economy that might be effected by these amalgamations. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what happened in 1929 after we got the Local Government (Scotland) Act; salaries were increased, expenses were increased, and all the rest of it. As I have already said, instead of economies we had the whole thing going in the opposite direction, and certain local authorities in Scotland have been very loud in their complaints about the county administration. Year after year, we have had protests from our small burghs about requisitioning by the county council for certain purposes. We may have the very same thing as far as this Measure is concerned, and we may not effect very many economies as a result. At the same time, I agree there should be an amalgamation of certain of the police forces in Scotland. I do not think we require all of them. Many of the large burghs can well afford to have their forces absorbed in the county area, having the whole under one administration instead of three and four as we have at the present time.

There are many other aspects of this Measure upon which I would like to comment, but I know there is other important business tonight and I do not want to delay the proceedings. I dare say that in Committee we will have an opportunity of putting forward suggestions which may improve the Measure that is put before us tonight. I hope there will be good feeling on the part of the local authorities, the large burghs and the county burghs and that we are not going to have arising between the large burghs in the county areas the feeling which exists between small burghs and the county councils at the present time. With these comments I give a general welcome to the Measure, but I hope that during the Committee stage we shall examine much more closely the details that have been explained to us by the Secretary of State tonight.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)

As the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Watson) said, at first sight this Bill is a nice permissive Bill enabling people who feel that they would like to do something, to get together to do it. Then we reach Clause 2, which pretty well does away with that permissive element. It certainly gives the Secretary of State power to say, "If you don't like doing this, you are jolly well going to do it." Reading the Clause carefully one finds that he can apply those powers: If it appears to the Secretary of State that the expediency in the interests of efficiency … and so on. Well, I should be very interested if the joint Under-Secretary of State, when winding up this Debate, would tell us how he defines this expediency. It may be a little difficult. We might have an admirable police force working in a large burgh which suddenly finds itself definitely advised that something is going to happen to it. It is bound to ask why. It may have been a very efficient force, as far as its own area was concerned, but the Secretary of State decides otherwise. On what advice does he make that decision? It would be very helpful if we could have some idea of what he is after if he applies the powers in Clause 2 of this Bill.

Mr. Westwood

May I point out that there is only one case in my mind in connection with that? I did not tell that local authority I would call for amalgamation, but it so happened the chief constable was resigning, and I did say there was a possibility of a Bill which would deal with amalgamation, and that they would be wise not to appoint a chief constable until they could see how much of the cost they would have to bear.

Mr. Maclay

I did not suggest the right hon. Gentleman used powers he had not got, to achieve a certain object. But I would hope that, in the reply, we shall be given some indication of how the Secretary of State could have made that rather interesting suggestion that they would be better to wait. I quite appreciate that there is a case for certain amalgamations, but we shall want to know clearly what the Secretary of State is trying to achieve in going for these amalgamations. Then I come to another point. If a police force is amalgamated under a scheme, if, previously, it was efficiently run and cheaply run, is there any protection to the local authority responsible for the police force that is to be amalgamated? It will not be called on to pay considerably more for its police force than it did before? The rate will not be heavier in relation to the police than before? I hope that an indication can be given on that now, or it may be necessary to put down an Amendment, to protect such an authority, when we come to the Committee stage.

There is another point that, I think, ought to be raised at this stage, and that is on Clause 1, Subsection 8, which reads as follows: For the purposes of the Local Government Superannuation (Scotland), Act, 1937, the appropriate superannuation fund in relation to the contributory employees of a joint police committee shall be the superannuation fund of such one of the constituent authorities as may be determined by or under the amalgamation scheme. Can we be given some indication which superannuation fund will apply, and can we be certain that no men will be worse off after amalgamation than they were before? If there are differences in the scheme, as this Clause must imply, can we be certain men are not going to be worse off after amalgamation?

The final point I would make is this. We must accept the fact that there may be a case for certain amalgamations. One is bound to view with some concern the progressive centralisation of local authority affairs and particularly of police forces. One can really see it going a very long way. I do not know how far the Secretary of State intends to take the matter under the powers given him in this Bill, or how far this Secretary of State intends to go. But ultimately, is there not a very real danger of a completely centralised police force, which could so easily become a political police force? I just raise the point; I am not certain that the wilder elements in Scotland would be very frightened of the present Secretary of State as the head of a repressive police force, but I suggest that in this passion which the Government have for centralisation, put out very nicely and attractively in this form, they have gone too far and sooner or later will find that it is an unpleasant thing they have done.

8.51 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and Haddington)

While I should like to add my meed of praise for the Measure, I am very anxious to make sure that the Secretary of State will consider the position of some of the men who have been taken over from the police forces formerly in operation. Just recently I came across a case in which a police force was transferred under the Police Acts. Four men were taken over and formed the backbone of the newly constituted police force in that locality, but they were deprived of the benefits which, I contend, ought to have followed them. For example, one man who had reached the age of 60 years was retired without any pension whatsoever. He had had 36 years' service in that particular police force, and I hope that the Secretary of State will consider the possibility of dealing with isolated cases of that kind, so that these men may find that they will not be worse off than they would have been had they remained under the old scheme. I wanted to make that point so that when we come to the Committee stage the Secretary of State will, I hope, give some attention to it.

8.53 p.m.

Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)

When I was recently on a busman's holiday in the Shetland Isles, I came across the case related by the hon. Member for Berwick and Haddington (Mr. Robertson). There were four policemen in Lerwick employed by the county council. They had a superannuation scheme, but were taken over under the new Act and had to relinquish the superannuation they were entitled to. But, having been taken over under the new Act, they were not entitled to a pension. That seemed to me to be hard lines, and there is very strong feeling locally about the way these men have been dealt with. There was one man with 14 years' service, another man with 30, and so forth, and when their time expires there will be no pension for them. In Orkney and Shetland there are only eight men affected but during the war the police force in Shetland had to be increased three times, and these men of the old force had to carry on all the extra work until the new recruits were trained. When I tell the House that there were something like 40,000 troops in the Islands during the war, it will be realised that a tremendous amount of extra work was caused. They feel, and the people also feel, that these members of the old force were treated badly when they were reduced to the status of new recruits. It is a matter which ought to be taken up and rectified.

8.55 p.m.

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

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) will forgive me if I do not deal with the particular case he has raised; indeed I do not know whether it would be fitting to do so on the Second Reading of this Bill. There is not very much for me to say, because generally speaking Members have supported the Secretary of State on the proposals contained in the Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hill-head (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) questioned the need for this somewhat vague phraseology in Clause 10. The Secretary of State said in his opening speech that he was seeking to regularise the payment of these moneys to police forces. If it should be any comfort to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, let me tell him that Clause 10 is precedented in several Acts of Parliament. I can give him two examples, The Probation of Offenders (Scotland) Act and The Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act. The Clause provides authority for prescribing conditions under which grants will be paid, and these conditions will be discussed with the associations of local authorities. He was concerned lest we might invoke the quick procedure under Section 2 of the Acquisition of Land Act. I give him an assurance that there is no intention whatsoever of using the quick procedure. As he suggested in the course of his speech, it is a matter which we might look at between now and the next stage in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) asked me to attempt to define efficiency and the test which is to be applied when an amalgamation scheme is proposed. I am afraid I am going to disappoint him and make no attempt to do that. I should have thought it was very clear that there is no intention on the part of the Secretary of State to impose his will harshly on any local authorities. He hopes that this Bill will be an instrument which will be voluntarily used by local authorities to bring about the amalgamation of police forces, which seems to be considered desirable by so many people. It must be some comfort to the hon. Member to note that there is to be a public inquiry, and that the person who conducts the inquiry will be asked to make a report to the Secretary of State, and that before any amalgamation scheme is put through Parliament will have had an opportunity to examine the scheme, and, if it is so desired, can negative the proposal of the Secretary of State. He raised the question about centralisation of control. We are not seeking to centralise control at all. Even after amalgamation is carried through the Secretary of State does not retain for himself any more control over the police than obtained heretofore.

All that happens is that two or more police forces become amalgamated into one police force and are controlled by a police authority which is local authority controlled, as at present. There is no tendency whatsoever in the Bill towards St. Andrew's House or Westminster control over our police forces, and I think it takes a stretch of imagination to foresee, in this Bill, the setting up of a political police—

Mr. Maclay

I appreciate that the Parliamentary Secretary finds it difficult to define "efficiency," but could he give us an assurance that the fact that something is small does not necessarily mean that it is inefficient, and that it ought, therefore, to be abolished? A lot of small things are very good.

Mr. Fraser

We do not claim that an organisation that is small is, therefore, inefficient. Indeed, someone behind me has just whispered something about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. But in any case, the facts will be closely examined by the independent person who will have his local public inquiry, and Parliament will have to give approval to any scheme submitted to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Maclay

I asked whether any protection would be given to local authorities against increases in police rates after amalgamations. Would the hon. Gentleman say something about that?

Mr. Fraser

I think that is a point of detail which can be more appropriately discussed on the Committee stage. The hon. Member also asked me about superannuation schemes, and whether those who were now covered would be brought within the schemes of the amalgamated forces. It is for every amalgamation scheme to say which superannuation scheme shall apply. I do not think that anyone will be prejudiced, because superannuation benefits are, by and large, standard throughout the country. As I said at the outset, there does not seem to be much more that can be usefully said at this moment. We appreciate very much indeed the points which have been made by the few Members who have participated in the discussion, and I am sure that we can have a frank and useful further inter- change of views during the Committee stage of the Bill.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Captain Michael Stewart (Comptroller of the Household)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."

Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)

Do I understand, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that a Motion has been moved to commit the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

The Question cannot be debated now.

Mr. McKinlay

I am not going to debate it; I am raising a point of Order. Do I understand that a Motion has been moved to commit this Bill to a Committee of the Whole House? Can we have any explanation?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am afraid not.

Mr. McKinlay

Then I move that the Bill be committed to the Scottish Grand Committee. Is that in Order?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

No, but the hon. Member can vote against the Motion if he wishes.

Bill accordingly committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.