§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Hardy (Salford, South)
I make no apology for raising this question this evening. It arises out of a Question I asked the Home Secretary on 8th May, and out of his unsatisfactory and ungracious reply. I feel that Salford has the right to have its case presented through its representative from the watch committee in the same manner and spirit as that in which the Home Secretary dealt with the Question. I asked the Home Secretary about the appointment of the chief constable of Salford. The Home Secretary has no greater freedom or right in this House to say things about a person outside than has a back bencher. I am a humble Member of this House, and I feel I am entitled to protect people who are not able to defend themselves against an onslaught such as was made by the Home Secretary on 8th May, against the watch committee. For many years Salford has been proud of its police force. Its former chief constable, the late Major Godfrey, was a national figure who for many years was held up as a sterling example for other police forces to follow. I am not going to take up a great amount of time in dealing with the individual concerned; I am concerned about the watch committee whose confidence has been shaken. They should know more about their job than any hon. Member in this House, and I want to raise this matter in their interest.
The person concerned started as a probationer constable, and went through every phase of police work until in 1939 he was appointed deputy chief constable of Salford. During the blitz period, with a chief constable aged between 65 and 70, one can appreciate the responsibilities and duties which fell to the deputy chief constable during war difficulties and overcrowding, and the type of work for which he was responsible at that time. When the vacancy occurred, the watch committee decided on a ballot by 12 to three that this man should be appointed chief constable. On the vote for the substantive motion it was unanimously agreed. We were then told that because the person had not served in any other police force the Home Office were not too ready to approve of the appointment. Arising out of the first refusal, a deputation went from Salford Watch Committee and 138 waited on the Home Secretary to whom they put their case on behalf of the deputy chief constable being appointed chief constable. I believe the Home Secretary will agree that he complimented them on the manner in which they put their case and on the very good case they made out. Until then we were told that the appointment was not confirmed because the man had not served in any other police force.
Since then a second refusal was brought about after the Home Secretary had agreed to see the individual who had already been turned down once, and he had no knowledge of the atmosphere at the meeting of the deputation and the Home Secretary. He was sent for to be interrogated and interviewed by the Home Secretary, and following the interview the Home Secretary again refused to confirm the appointment. At the interview reference was made to some little difficulties which existed in 1940 between the deputy chief and the chief, and members of the deputation were not able to do justice to the references the Home Secretary made, with the result that the deputation brought the person who was mayor in that year to deal with the question in every aspect. In the meantime, I saw the Home Secretary, and he said he had forgotten all about it, and now we are in the position that we do not know why it has been turned down, except that, arising from my Question to the Home Secretary asking why the man had been disqualified from the post, we were simply told that he was unfit and, in reply to a supplementary question, that he was inefficient—
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
Would my hon. Friend mind saying what it was that he said I had forgotten?
§ Mr. Hardy
The Home Secretary will remember that I asked if he had received a letter from the town clerk of Salford asking to see the deputation again, and he said "Yes." My right hon. Friend then said to me, "That is not an indication that my mind is open." I replied, "I hope it is not an indication that your mind is closed either, for you are wasting your time in fixing up the interview." I said, "They are bringing a man who will deal with the questions and answers arising out of the matter you raised at the previous interview." The answer I got was, "That has gone from my mind. I 139 have finished with it and have thought no more about it." We brought the man, who talked. We are told that the officer concerned has been rejected because of an interview that may have lasted for 45 minutes.
This is a serious matter for watch committees and local authorities. I know that my right hon. Friend may tell the House, as he told us on the deputation, and as he is very fond of repeating, as though no other person has served on any local authority, "I have given the greatest part of my life to a county borough." I would never use that for the purpose of building up my case. Even if I had been on a county council or on a joint committee, that would not give me any greater right to say that I was in a position to decide in 45 minutes whether a stranger was a fit and proper person to be the chief constable of a particular city.
This man has an exceptional record. If there is any weakness in his case at all it is because he does not wear "the old school tie." He had no college or university education. He came from a working-class family, left school at 14 years of age and continued his studies at night school, which was all that his parents could afford. In course of time he was seconded to A.M.G.O.T. and sent out as a lieutenant-colonel. Since he came back he has carried on as the deputy chief constable, and has been acting chief constable during the time this vacancy has been pending. He has only achieved that in 27 years, passing through every phase of the service. I want to remind the right hon. Gentleman and the Members of this House that in 1939 there was a minute from the Salford watch committee, which was approved by the then Home Secretary and the Home Office. I hope that the House will pardon me if I read it, as I feel it is very material. I recognise that a lot of people have said, "You are wasting your time; the Home Secretary will never change his mind." That may be true, but someone else's battles have to be fought, and there is a vital principle involved in this matter, because we pay 50 per cent. towards the cost of our police force and it is somewhat difficult to maintain efficiency if we are refused the appointment of a chief constable because he is not satisfactory to 140 the Home Secretary. That is why the public of Salford are so keenly interested.
I know that the Home Secretary and the chairmen of watch committees have said from time to time that the watch committee have the power, but when it comes to a question of choosing a man., the cost of whom the ratepayers would have to find, it becomes a people's question. We on the watch committees represent the people. We have been elected to the watch committee to represent the same people who have elected us to represent them here. The minute which I wish to read is dated 28th March, 1939. It states:SIR,Recommendation for the award of the King's Police MedalI have the honour to submit a recommendation by the Watch Committee of this City for the award of the King's Police Medal to Mr. Robert Howard, the Deputy Chief Constable, in respect of the services he rendered in connection with the recent trial, Rex v. Walsh and Others, at the Manchester Assizes. From six o'clock in the morning of the 16th January, when a series of bomb explosions took place in the city of Manchester, until the conclusion of this trial on 10th March, Mr. Howard was daily engaged on investigations regarding members of the Irish Republican Army and the preparation of the case in question. On t7th January he remained at this Headquarters until after midnight, arranging for the protection of vulnerable points, armed patrols, etc., and soon after returning home in the early hours of the 18th he was notified that certain information had been received con cerning a man named"—I do not think I need mention the name—who was suspected of being concerned with the outrages. He immediately left for this man's address and, taking charge of the party of police officers who went to arrest him, Mr. Howard was the first to enter the house. He was later successful in obtaining evidence which led to the apprehension of one of the ringleaders, who was sentenced to 20 years' penal servitude, and throughout the period the prisoners were on remand he worked in close co-operation with the Manchester police officers engaged in the case. On l0th March, at the conclusion of the trial, Mr. Justice Stable spoke of the excellent work performed by all the police officers concerned, and I have since been informed by the Director of Public Prosecutions that Mr. Howard was the principal officer of this Force to whom he referred. In my opinion he thoroughly deserves the honour for which he is recommended.That letter is signed by C. V. Godfrey, chief constable.
Mr. Howard is the man about whom this country has been talking. He has been front page sensational news. People 141 are saving that somebody must know something about this man that the public know nothing about. That is why I raise the matter here. I want information to be given rebuking what has been stated in this House. I want the information to be given so that hon. Members and the people of the country can form a judgment for themselves. This man has had the confidence of the watch committee for many years. In a democratic State, who knows the nature of the duties of a particular police force better than those on the spot? We at Salford, like many other authorities, promoted our town clerk from the position of deputy town clerk. He is a man who started work on our staff and has never served anywhere else. Our transport manager has been in the employment of the corporation since he was a boy and we have followed the same procedure with regard to the gas and electricity undertakings. We have never had any trouble from any Government Department. We have confidence in our officials. We think they are as good as those of any corporation in the country.
The deputy chief constable was bred and born in the town, was seeking only what has happened in other cities and towns. Only a short time ago under the present Home Secretary the Corporation of Wigan appointed one of their own men to high office though he had not served in another police force. The present chief constable of Cardiff, Sir Henry Wilson, started in that city's police force. Other men include the one at Oldham and the former chief constable of Manchester, Sir John Maxwell. This is a very important matter and I know that other hon Members wish to take part in the discussion. I have left my brief because if I had stuck to it I should have spoken for a great deal longer. However, I think I have said sufficient to indicate the indignation created among the ratepayers of Salford and the watch committee who were told deliberately and coldy on 8th May that they had appointed a man who was unfit to be their chief constable. In reply to a supplementary question, it was stated that he was said to be inefficient. I am satisfied that no one has any authority to disqualify a person because he has never served in another police force. There is no statutory right to do it, unless there is a background, and there is no background in this case. We may have had it 142 in one particular case where there was a background and another Home Secretary, but that excuse is not going to be used today as far as Salford is concerned.
We are entitled to know—and we should not be given a cold-blooded message—why the Home Secretary came to the conclusion that a man with an exemplary record like this man, who was approved by the watch committee and who had been complimented from time to time by the watch committee and at the assizes, and to whom the Home Office had given the Police Medal, was not suitable for this appointment. I am raising this question tonight in the interests of the people of Salford and of the man concerned. Some people may say that I am not doing him any good by so doing. It cannot do him any good to agree to his condemnation for the rest of his life. This man has been sentenced for life never to receive a chief constableship in this country because of the reply which was given by the Home Secretary on 8th May.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the.Home Department (Mr. Ede)
On 8th May, I was asked a Question by the hon. Member for South Salford (Mr. Hardy), and, in this House, when I am asked a Question I endeavour to give a straight-forward and honest reply. I did not raise this issue in the House; the hon. Member for South Salford raised it. The hon. Member has not given a complete history of what led up to this matter. After he had asked this Question, supplementary questions were asked by another hon. Member for Salford and by an hon. Member from the Manchester area. I had to give a truthful answer to the questions put to me, and it would have been a poor compliment to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Withington (Squadron-Leader Fleming), who also put a question, if I had given other than truthful answers to the questions put to me.
I made no slur on the watch committee. Let me read to the House what I actually said:I make no reflection on the good faith of the Salford watch committee. They have discharged their responsibility. I have discharged mine. I regret that our views do not coincide."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1947; Vol. 437, c. 783–4.]If we were to accept the logic of the speech of the hon. Member for South 143 Salford, it would mean that the confirmation of the recommendation of a standing joint committee, or watch committee, with regard to the appointment of a chief constable by the Home Secretary, would be a mere matter of form. That is not the position. The position is that the final responsibility for approving the appointment of a chief constable rests with the Home Secretary. That is a duty which I have to discharge. It is always a difficult thing for a watch committee, or other appointing committee, to hold the balance fairly when they are interviewing a person who has been previously in their employment and other people whom they have called up on a short list. That is a difficulty which practically every committee has to consider at some time or other, and, when the watch committee of Salford informed me that they were proposing to interview five chief constables and their own deputy, I realised that particular difficulty with which they would be faced, and I took the precaution of having a letter written to them, in which I pointed out that, in the case of any of the five chief constables whom they chose to select, I should be quite willing to confirm the appointment. But I added this paragraph:There remains the question of the remaining candidate on the short list, namely, the deputy chief constable. We recognise Mr. Howard's merits as a practical policeman, and it is primarily for the watch committee, as police authority, to consider whether, in addition, he has the qualities of personality and leadership needed in a chief constable. We hope, however, that the watch committee will bear in mind the desirability, on general grounds, of wide experience, particularly where, as in the present instance, there has been no change in the chief constableship for such a very long period. Other things being equal, therefore, we would suggest to the Committee that they should consider the question of selecting an officer who has wider experience than can be obtained by long service in a single force.That was followed by a visit from the Inspector of Constabulary who went at my request to interview the mayor, the chairman and the deputy chairman of the watch committee to bring before their notice, once again, the views that had been formed on this particular case.
A chief constable is something more than a mere policeman. He has to be a man who can take his part in the conferences with surrounding chief constables with regard to police matters generally, 144 and who is able to count as at least one in any such conferences. On the reports that were in front of me, I had reached the conclusion at that stage that this particular man—as my hon. Friend has raised the matter again, I am quite sure that he would desire me to be as frank with him and the House as he has been about my many shortcomings—had not those qualities of leadership and ability in conference which would justify him in holding the position of chief constable. There are plenty of people in this country who are perfectly competent to fill the post of a deputy but who are not competent to fill the chief post when it becomes vacant. It is no reflection on a man to say that. I was only asked in this House whether I regarded him as an efficient chief constable, or whether he was inefficient for the job. I made no reflection at all on his past service.
The watch committee met. Their attention had been particularly directed to this phase of the importance of the appointment All I received was a bare notification that they had made the appointment. They did not allude to the letter that had been sent or to the interview that had taken place with the Inspector of Constabulary, even though they knew the point which was exercising my mind with regard to this appointment. Therefore, on the reports that I had in front of me, with regard to this man, I declined to confirm the appointment, and the Salford watch committee asked for an interview. I am told that it is most unusual for a Home Secretary to give an interview in circumstances like that
§ Mr. Ede
Oh no, there are plenty of examples. In any case, I am not here to follow precedents but to create them when I think they are good ones. I agreed to see the watch committee. They came up, and I am bound to say they made out a very good case for this man. I told them so, as my hon. Friend has admitted. I was faced with this dilemma. I had the reports of my inspector and my staff on whom I am entitled to place reliance. I had also the very good and, I believe, sincere testimony of the watch committee, who were, of course, hampered in making their selection by the fact that they knew this man and did not know the other five. What was the fair thing for 145 me to do, having responsibly to exercise my authority and to decide whether I would or would not confirm this appointment? I thought the proper thing to do was to see the man himself and to judge for myself. Does my hon. Friend object to that?
§ Mr. Ede
Does my hon. Friend object to my calling up the man for interview by myself? It is true I may have conducted the interview badly, but that does not matter. Did I take a reasonable step in saying that I would like to see the man and judge him for myself? I had the responsibility of confirming or rejecting this appointment. I had two sets of evidence, each of which I held in great respect. I thought, and I hope the House will think, I did the right thing in saying that I would see the man for myself. I saw him and interviewed him for three-quarters of an hour. I did all I could to put the man at his ease. I will admit that it is, of course, difficult for a man, such as a deputy chief constable, who knows that he is coming up to be interviewed for a job for which he has great and legitimate ambitions, to be faced with the ordeal of interviewing a Secretary of State. He does not know me as well as my hon. Friend who has never shown any such fear of me in my presence. On the answers he gave to me on the two points which I have submitted are essential, namely, his ability to conduct a conference and to work with adjoining chief constables—and those, to my mind, are the essential things for a policeman who expects to become a chief constable—I came to the conclusion that he did not fill the bill.
I want to draw the attention of the House to this: When this man came up for interview by the Salford watch committee, five chief constables were called up as well. I would not have disclosed this to the House had my hon. Friend not done so, but on the first vote the voting was 12 for this man and three for another. Having disclosed it, my hon. Friend must not mind-if I disclose a little more. Within a few days of this appointment, the man who received only three votes as against 12 was appointed chief constable of Leeds. Every man is entitled to be proud of his own city, but I would say that the 146 appointment of chief constable of Leeds is a more important job than the chief constableship of Salford.
§ Mr. Ede
But they are not people who are applicants, interviewed by committees. The Prime Minister sees one man at a time. So far as I know, no one has ever refused the job of Home Secretary when it has been offered to him. But I did not interrupt my hon. Friend—at least, only once, when I did not understand a point he was making—though he was making a most provocative speech; and I am trying to pour oil on the troubled waters. I venture to say that, had these six men been interviewed by a body which had not previously known this particular man for the 27 years, the man who was appointed chief constable of Leeds would have been appointed chief constable of Salford. Another man who came a cropper, within a few weeks was appointed chief constable of Stockport. There are people who think it is better to be chief constable of Salford than of Stockport. I understand that there are some people who think that, though Stockport carries rather less money, it is better to be in Stockport than in Salford. I saw this man. I would not myself have alluded to his experience in Italy but for the fact that my hon. Friend introduced it. But, really, of course, if things are put up, the hon. Member must expect that I shall answer them. This man was sent to Italy as a policeman, but the police authorities of A.M.G.O.T., after some little experience of him, decided he was unsuitable to be a policeman out there, and he was made head of a labour force instead. I regret having to say that—
§ Mr. Ede
The interview was quite sufficient for me. I should not have mentioned this now, but for the fact that the hon. 147 Gentleman himself raised the matter. We are told that there is great indignation in Salford about this. I was threatened that this would be raised at the Margate Conference. Apparently, the Margate Conference had something better to do. But the Salford watch committee went to the Manchester and Salford trades council on the issue, and they submitted a resolution, asking the trades council to congratulate the Salford watch committee on the dignified and statesmanlike manner in which it conducted its representations—
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Manchester, Hulme)
On a point of Order. My right hon. Friend referred to the Salford watch committee, saving they went to the trades council. Would he tell us how long the Salford watch committee has been a body affiliated to the trades council?
§ Mr. Ede
There was a resolution submitted to the trades council in these terms: The resolution urged:That the council congratulate the Salford watch committee on the dignified and statesmanlike manner in which it conducted its representations concerning the appointment; it records with regret that a Socialist of such high rank as the Home Secretary should be so irresponsible as to defy two accepted codes by an unwarranted attack from his privileged position in the House of Commons on an official who was unable to reply. Finally, this council views with major concern the vicious bludgeoning of the Salford people into submission to the dictates of a Minster by the withdrawal of the Police grant of £100,000 a year, an impossible burden for a city impoverished by the ravages of industry, bombing and the flood.148 On that motion Mr. Blackwell of the E.T.U. said:I believe the Watch Committee have been totally irresponsible, and to an extent I have never known before. I do not consider it in the interests of the people that the. Labour Government should depart from Standing Orders which have been laid down. I stand by Mr. Chuter Ede and ask that this motion be thrown into the wastepaper basket.At the end of the discussion the motion was turned down, according to these three newspapers, by an overwhelming majority.
§ Mr. Ede
So much for the indignation of the people of Salford on this matter. I have also had letters from Salford congratulating me on the stand that I have taken, but I do not lay undue emphasis on that. I do want, however, to assure the House that, in reaching this decision, I took every precaution that I could to see that justice was done to this particular applicant. I know of no other step that I could have taken. But the responsibility for approving or disapproving this appointment rests on me, and while I have that responsibility resting on me I shall discharge it to the best of my judgment and ability, and I shall take every step I can to be fully informed on all the matters that appertain to such an appointment.
I regret very much that the Salford watch committee and my hon. Friend should have thought it necessary to compel statements to be made in this House on this matter. I believe that the best interests of all parties would have been served had they taken the hint—which is generally taken—when the letter, which I read, is sent to a watch committee or a standing joint committee, and had recognised that there would be at least difficulties, probably insuperable difficulties, in securing the appointment of this man. Now, I regret that in this matter it was not possible for me to see eye to eye with the watch committee. I do not think it can be said that I failed in my endeavours to reach an understanding with them. I sent a letter; I sent the inspector; when they sent me the appointment I arranged for an interview; after the interview I interviewed the candidate; and after that I again interviewed the Committee.
149 I think I ought to say this with regard to that last interview. At the first interview I was asked to appoint this man because he had carried the confidence of the previous chief constable. Now let us be quite certain of this: Chief constables cannot leave the jobs in their wills; there has to be a proper competition. I knew of an incident, about which apparently the members of the watch committee who came to see me did not know. There was a great deal of mystery as soon as I mentioned it. On the next occasion when they came, they said, "We will bring the man who knows all about that incident." I was then asked to appoint this man because he was at loggerheads with the previous chief constable.
§ Mr. Ede
He said it in front of the whole deputation. Admittedly, these appointments are always a matter of great delicacy, and need very careful handling. I hope I have convinced the House that as far as my handling of this matter was concerned, until it was raised in this House, I took every possible step to deal reasonably with the Watch Committee of Salford. Once questions are asked and debates are raised in this House, it is essential that this House should be spoken to truthfully and fully by the Minister who is attacked in the course of the proceedings. I regret that I should be one of those animals who when attacked defends himself. I have no apology to offer, either to the Salford watch committee or to this House, for the way this matter has been handled. I assure the House that it is a matter of great regret to me that these Questions should have been asked and this Debate should have taken place, but if my action as a Minister is attacked, it is due to me and to the House, and more particularly to the House, that I should state, fully and frankly, the whole of the circumstances which have led me to take a certain decision.
§ Mr. Hardy
Will the Home Secretary tell the House the strength of the other forces and the strength of the Salford police force, because I think he will find that in one case the strength was 31 in another case 32, and in another case it was 41? The 151 in Stockport seem to be grieving because we did not make the appointment instead of Leeds.
§ Mr. Ede
I am quite prepared to accept those figures. When I was in the Army I was told opportunity was a fine thing. These men called up were evidently regarded by the Salford Committee as being, at least worthy of interviewing. They had their opportunity, and I regret that they had it under circumstances which prevented real justice being done.