HC Deb 18 February 1948 vol 447 cc1247-52

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Pargiter (Spelthorne)

I beg to move, in page 80, line 27, at the end, to add: As from the first day of April, nineteen hundred and forty-nine, the expenses of and incidental to the Metropolitan Police Courts which under Section one of the Metropolitan Police Courts Act, 1897, are to be paid out of the Metropolitan Police Fund and all sums in relation to probation officers and to the probation of offenders in the County of London payable out of that fund shall be charged only on the Administrative County of London and not upon any other rating area wholly or partly within the Metropolitan Police District, and the precepts to the rating authorities in the said County of London shall be issued so as to secure that the said expenses and sums shall be levied as an additional rate on the said County of London. This Amendment is designed to remove a long-standing grievance between the areas fringing on the County of London and the Metropolitan Police areas. The Metropolitan Police Courts Act provides that expenditure on these courts, with the exception of the salaries and pensions of the Metropolitan magistrates, shall fall on the Metropolitan Police Fund. The rest of the funds are made up of fees and fines, and, for a number of years, there has been a deficiency which has had to be met out of the Police Fund. That Fund is contributed to, not only by the County of London, but also by the surrounding counties and county boroughs in the Metropolitan Police area. The police also have the duty of providing their own courts and meeting the deficiency of those courts, and the deficiency which falls in the London area. That is an obvious injustice and anomaly which ought to be rectified. Although it is somewhat late in the proceedings of this Bill, we thought it desirable to put down this Amendment in order to get it rectified in what is essentially a Local Government Bill.

It is interesting to note that the Inter-Departmental Committee in 1937 agreed that this was wrong. The charge for the area was about £12,000. London paid £7,500, Middlesex paid £2,000, and the remaining sum fell on the county boroughs and county councils in the area. This Amendment seeks to put something right which is obviously wrong, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to accept it.

Mr. Bevan

I think my hon. Friend will agree that it is rather hard lines to put down a technical Amendment of this kind at so late a stage in the life of this Bill. The Bill has been gestating for many months between the local authorities and the Ministry of Health, and the appropriate Departments of Health in Scotland.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Hear, hear.

Mr. Bevan

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman says, "Hear, hear." It is a strange thing, but one cannot make any suggestion about Scotland without some remark being made by hon. Members opposite, even though it might be said that the Bill has been led by two Scotsmen. However, I do not want to underline that, or to emphasise the irrationality of the point of view of hon. Members opposite. With regard to this matter, it seems unreasonable to move this technical Amendment at this stage. It may be that the purpose is unobjectionable, but it is certainly not a grievous burden which has been suffered.

Mr. Pargiter

Surely, my right hon. Friend would agree that any unjust burden is grievous?

Mr. Bevan

Yes, but it may be redressed in the most unjust way. I am protesting against the injustice which I am suffering at the moment in having a proposal of this kind put upon the Order Paper, I think, only yesterday. I am prepared to examine it, but I cannot accept the language of the Amendment because, I am informed, it is entirely inadequate and inappropriate for the purpose. However, as I say, I am prepared to look at it and to see if something can be done. I hope my hon. Friend will not regard that as a firm promise, but I will certainly see if something can be done, even at this late stage. In the circumstances, I hope he will withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. C. Williams

Before we part with this Amendment, I hope that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Pargiter), who had the courage and good sense to move it, even at this late stage, will not be discouraged by what the Minister has said. This is an Amendment which certainly demands the consideration of the Committee, as, undoubtedly, it should have received the very careful consideration of the Home Secretary. The fact that it has only come up now is one of the troubles and defects of the system of Standing Committees. Also, of course, there is the Report stage. I do not wish to make needless trouble for hon. Members opposite, because they have so much of their own already.

This is a matter on which I should have thought we might have had a free and open plebiscite of the Committee. If that were the case, I would not mind telling with the hon. Member opposite, provided he guaranteed that both his Whips and mine would take no action in the matter afterwards. Frankly, this Amendment is one of considerable importance, and one which deserved to be ventilated in the efficient way it was just now. We have arrived at the position that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill is going to consider the Amendment with a view to seeing whether anything which is reasonable and right can be done in another place.

I will add to the far more persuasive voice of the hon. Member for Spelthorne my humble opinion that now that the Home Secretary is here—and this matter concerns him to some extent, in view of his friendly interest in the police and matters of that kind—he might consider, between now and another stage, incorporating an Amendment of this kind. It is a good thing that this matter has been raised, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will not allow himself to be deterred by his powerful and almighty Front Bench, as this Amendment shows considerable thought, interest and care. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman sincerely on his courage. I hope that courage will have its due reward, and that the matter will be reconsidered. I hope also that he will be able to go out from this Parliament saying that he has persuaded both the Home Secretary and the Minister of Health to agree that his Amendment is right, and that it will be put on a proper footing at another stage.

I shall not commit myself too deeply on the practical side of this Amendment because, having read it carefully, I agree with the Minister of Health that there is a considerable amount of detail in the wording—which I can point out if necessary, but I rather doubt that it is necessary—which could be put in a better way. At the same time, there is something in the Amendment which is worth considering, and, after all, we are met here for the purpose of considering these matters. I am sure you will agree, Major Milner, that this is one of the rare occasions in a Committee stage on which we have benefited by having listened to a back bench Member opposite put forward a suggestion I can only add that I hope that if further persuasion is put upon the Government they may be able to accept this Amendment as it stands with a view to having it readjusted at a later stage. I see that the Minister of Health is taking an interest in my remarks, and that a kindly look is passing over his face, which I hope will enable him to accept this excellent Amendment.

Mr. Skinnard (Harrow, East)

I hope that the intervention of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has convinced the Minister of Health that while this is not a grievous burden, it is by no means a negligible matter. While the wording of the Amendment may be open to objection, I can assure my right hon. Friend that the authorities which contribute to the Metropolitan Police rate have felt in the past that this is an injustice, and this might be an opportunity to remedy it.

Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)

We have had no kind of adequate answer from the Government Front Bench to the last two Amendments with which we have dealt. I hope the Minister of Health will give some kind of assurance, because we have had no adequate reply from the Front Bench so far. Knowing the great interest which the right hon. Gentleman has in this Amendment, I would like to have an assurance from him that we shall have a fuller statement on the Report stage.

Mr. Binns (Gillingham)

I was very sorry to see this Amendment on the Order Paper. As hon. Members may know, I have some slight connection with local government in London, particularly in the county area, and I would be the last to say that there is not an anomaly in this matter. On the contrary, I would say that there are probably hundreds of anomalies concerning the police and the judiciary of London.

I protest, however, against this Amendment being brought forward at this stage, because it is impossible for proper consideration to be given to it by the Minister or by people like myself who might wish to support it, but who have not had time to acquaint themselves with the necessary facts. All that I know, with regard to the police courts, for example, as with many other facilities that we have in the Metropolis, is that in London we probably get more out of the police courts in terms of fines than they actually cost; but in certain other aspects of the work, such as probation officers and work of that sort, undoubtedly there are very considerable sums of money involved. This Amendment does not really belong to this Bill. There should be some other means whereby the anomaly in this respect, and scores of other anomalies, can be dealt with.

I would remind the Minister that conversations are proceeding among all local authorities in the Metropolitan Police area with a view to getting the whole position with regard to the London police clarified. Even if my right hon. Friend says that he will consider this matter, I hope he will not do so in the belief that he has the full support of us all on the Amendment.

Mr. Pargiter

My courage has been slowly evaporating. I appear to have so many friends on the opposite benches that I find it embarrassing. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Binns) will appreciate that he has some interest in Kent as well as in London, and he might be able to regard the matter from that point of view. I appreciate that the words in the proposed Amendment may not be satisfactory, but I am so convinced that if this injustice is properly examined it will result in some Amendment, that I am happy to leave it in the hands of the Committee. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. C. Williams

I do not agree to this Amendment being withdrawn. If it is not accepted, I think it ought to be negatived. I do not wish to embarrass the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Pargiter), but I think the Government ought to be able to make up their minds to a greater degree than they have done. For that reason, I do not agree that the Amendment should be withdrawn.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.