HC Deb 06 May 1954 vol 527 cc586-645

3.41 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

We propose this afternoon that we should have a short discussion on the Metropolitan Police, lasting, I understand, until about 7 o'clock, and in opening the discussion I should like to welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary back to the home ground after the many away matches which he has played in Departments other than the one for which he is primarily responsible. At any rate, there can be no doubt, as far as the Metropolitan Police are concerned, that he is responsible, and, as the police authority for the Metropolis, he is responsible for every act of every police officer in that force.

That was laid down as long ago as 1829, and in fact it places the Minister in an almost unique position among the police authorities of the country, for certainly in the counties no question can be put to anybody about the actions of a member of a county police force by any public authority at all. These forces are under the control of the standing joint committees, which merely send to the county councils the bill for their expenses, and their request or precept cannot be questioned by anybody. In the boroughs, where the watch committee is the police authority, the exact position of the borough council itself is very often a matter of some difficulty, when the mayor has to give a ruling as to what can or cannot be said.

In the first place, on behalf of my hon. Friends representing the various constituencies in the Metropolitan area, I should like to congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the appointment which he made to the Commissionership of Police during the past year. For the first time, we have as Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis a man who has given his whole life to the police service, and who, from 1911, has been a serving police officer, for 22 years in India and since 1933 in the Metropolitan Police Force.

I hope that this means that in future the chief officers of police throughout the country will be people who have had a police training and are qualified for the position by their police service; and if that can be established, I am quite sure that it will do a very great deal to give confidence to all ranks in the police service that they are regarded as being capable of holding the highest position in this force, which is so closely associated with the civil liberty of every subject.

We very much welcome this appointment, because there were rumours going round that the position might have gone to someone else. We are very glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been able by this appointment to dispel the rumours and quieten the apprehensions that existed.

The Metropolitan Police Estimates now placed before us are about the most detailed of any estimates that we have. In fact, they are a closer approximation to the ordinary municipal estimates than I have ever been able to discover in the various Estimates that are submitted to the House. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who will turn to pages 32 and 33 of. the Estimates will see that there is there a very detailed statement with regard to the expenses and income of the Metropolitan Police Fund. May I ask one question with regard to the income? On page 25 of the Estimates, there is set out an item which reads: Contribution under Section 1 of the Police Act, 1909 (9 Edw. 7, c. 40), towards expenses of Metropolitan police in respect of imperial and national services … … £100,000. The Police Act, 1909, was a curious Act. It appears to have been mainly inspired by a desire to make better provision for the widows and children of constables who lost their lives in the execution of their duty, and included in that Act was a single Section which provided that the Secretary of State, with the approval of the Treasury, could determine a sum of money to be paid into the Metropolitan Police Fund in respect of services rendered by the Metropolitan Police for their imperial and national services.

Since that date, every Home Secretary has had the advantage of having provision made for his general protection by a police officer, or rather more than one police officer—I do not want to give the trade union away too much—who is responsible for his personal protection. There are various other Ministers of State who enjoy police protection; I think invariably the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, for obvious reasons, and, on occasions, when other Ministers appear to be in some physical jeopardy, they are also included, as, for instance, during the Palestine troubles, when we made provision for the protection of successive Colonial Secretaries who might have been the object of rather dangerous attentions from people who got excited in those matters.

I am quite sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will join with me when I pay tribute to the assiduity with which these officers discharge their duties. I recollect going with my late wife to the theatre. She said to me "Well, we have shaken him off at last." I looked round in the interval, and I said to her "Six seats back, in the corner, and you will see him." There was also the famous case of a Home Secretary, who shall be nameless, who had received a complaint about an actress who was appearing with too little clothing. He decided to make a private investigation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name."]—and went to the theatre. He thought he had eluded the officer, but no. Two days later, there turned up at the Home Office a statement from the lady herself to the effect that if he would revisit the theatre, she would arrange for him to meet not only herself but all the other ladies in the cast.

Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)

Which theatre was it?

Mr. Ede

I am not going to give anyone away on this. It turned out that the police officer, whom the Secretary of State thought he had evaded, had seen him enter the theatre, and had insisted, as his protector—apparently morally as well as physically—on being allowed to watch him while he was there.

Many other duties are discharged by the Metropolitan Police in this respect. For instance, when Marshall Tito visited this country recently, he was provided with a motor cycle escort that excited the wonder and admiration of every small boy in the metropolis.

There is a strong feeling, which as a ratepayer in the Metropolitan Police area I share, that £100,000, a figure which was fixed in 1909, is hardly adequate as a recompense to the Metropolitan Police Fund for the services which it performs today in this respect. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will seek the approval of the Treasury to increase the sum so that more adequate monetary recognition may be given.

One of the anxieties of the citizens in the Metropolitan Police district is the continuing shortage of personnel of the force, compared with the establishment. The problem has confronted every Home Secretary since the war, and efforts have been made to deal with it. Substantial increases in pay have been granted, none of which has been begrudged either by the House or by the citizens of the Metropolis. These successive increments of pay resulted in temporary spurts in recruitment, which died away after six or seven months, after which the force was very much what it was before. There might have been an increase of a few hundreds, but what are they when the shortage runs into a similar number of thousands?

I note that the Home Secretary, in submitting these Estimates, does not expect any very great increase in the number of policemen during the coming year. I notice that the estimated figure for 1953–54 was £8,385,000, and that for the coming year it is a mere £15,000 more. We cannot get very many police officers for £15,000. Anything that can be done to increase the membership of the Metropolitan Police force with suitable constables will receive the steady support of all Members of the House. We are faced with a most vicious circle. To improve the intake into the force there should be improved conditions, but we cannot improve the conditions until we get more men. We have been going round in that vicious circle for 10 or more years. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have to find some way inside the administration to deal with the matter.

I am certain that we have to make conditions in the police force such that women will be prepared to agree to their husbands remaining members of the force and a young woman will be prepared to marry a man who intends to remain in the police force. Almost worse than failure to recruit in adequate numbers is the wastage that occurs among men with four or five years' service, when they are just beginning to be really efficient constables and to understand the job. The large amount of night duty is one thing that makes the occupation unpopular with wives. Another is the fact that in a great part of the Metropolitan area the police have to be on duty when the rest of the community is enjoying itself. They have to see that the enjoyment is carried on within such reasonable limits as not to incommode others. When one reads of the number of vehicles that go out from London on high days and holidays, it is obvious that specially heavy duties fall on the police on days when the rest of us are inclined to think in terms of something other than work.

I am glad that it is hoped to increase the number of women in the force. I notice that their pay goes up from a total of £213,500 to £245,000. I hope that I may express what I know is a pretty general feeling that the presence of women police adds to the attractiveness of a good many otherwise dull streets in London, and that the way in which the women discharge their duties now earns for them the highest commendation. As to the duties, I need only mention the woman who tried a flying tackle on a fleeing bandit and brought him down. She succeeded in handing him over to a man while she made the proper arrangements with a police station for his removal.

That incident cuts across the statement made not long ago by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that we could not give equal pay to men and women in the police force because the duties were not equal. During the past few years there has been a greater approximation to equal work in this force than at one time would have been thought possible. That widening of the work has enabled a good many women who might have looked rather askance at the job, to regard it with some favour.

In the early days, the work of the women police was almost entirely confined to interviewing girls and women who complained of indecent assault and similar offences committed on them. We ought to pay a tribute to the women who carried on in those days with that sordid and disgusting work, and so laid the foundation of a force which now covers a much wider range of police activity. I sincerely hope that this increased figure means that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to bring more of these women into the force.

I hope also that the equality of the sexes will be recognised inside the force itself. I recollect interviewing a committee of the Police Federation which said that the women had no part in the Federation. I was so astonished at this that I sent for the Act. From the Act which established the Federation it is quite clear that every member of the force is a member of the Federation and is eligible for office within it. I stayed in office long enough to see a few women turn up at the Federation's annual meeting. I have no doubt that the Home Secretary, when he has attended that annual meeting, will also have had the advantage of seeing an appropriate—I would not say yet a large enough—number of women in attendance.

Nothing could be worse than to have the kind of sex war which for years distressed the teaching profession growing up inside the police force. In that force both sexes have their work to do and their part to play. I hope that they will always be regarded as members of a force of which each sex can be equally proud.

On the negotiating body which has been set up, I notice there is provision for one woman to be included. So far as I can see, she does not appear to count very much—she is regarded in some ways as a supernumerary and there is no provision for anyone of her own sex on the other side of that body—but I have no doubt that she will not only grace the proceedings but will bring to them a knowledge of the particular problems of the women members of the force. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to reassure those women who are occasionally met with the statement that they are not really members of the Federation but attend meetings and conferences only as an act of grace.

After recruitment comes housing. I see that the amount allocated for the purchase of land and the purchase and construction of buildings, remains the same this year as last. I am quite aware, of course, that that amount includes expenditure on things not concerned with housing. The stations, the garages and the other building requirements of the force have to be met, and they are included in that figure. I hope the work of providing houses for the force is steadily going on. I myself had a very considerable disappointment when, after persuading my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) when he was Minister of Health to give me what I regarded to be a decent share of the housing capital expenditure, I was met by some chief constables who said, "Well, housing is not really a problem at all."

My experience from talking with police officers has been that housing is a very considerable problem with them. I wish that local housing authorities would be prepared to help in this either by the sale of houses or by agreeing to erect a house for a police officer in a housing estate. I very much dislike housing 10 or a dozen policemen together in a terrace. That involves all the domestic problems that arise when, say, one of the men gets into some small disciplinary trouble. When his wife sees the other ladies talking, she is quite certain that they are talking about him and her. I came across that more than once in some parts of the country where an unfortunate incident of that kind had occurred.

We want to assure ourselves more and more that the police officer shall live the life of an ordinary citizen, that he shall be accepted by the rest of the community as an ordinary citizen and not as a person who dwells apart from and outside their problems. I hope that housing will continue to be regarded by the force as a matter of importance.

In the discharge of their duties the police live in the full glare of publicity. I am sure that during the past few years some of us have been rather shocked by the number of occasions on which, police officers have been charged in magistrates' courts with offences committed during their on-duty hours. We must view that in its true perspective. The number of men who offend is very small indeed compared with the total number, but when a sergeant is convicted in a magistrates' court of being concerned in some burglary committed while he was supposed to be on duty, no one can deny that that causes the very utmost concern to the general public.

I hope that any police officer who is tempted will bear in mind that in himself he carries the reputation of a force which is very highly esteemed, and that to let it down in such a way is a very great attack on the standing of the calling to which he has been prepared to give his life.

The Metropolitan Police force deals with the daily life of this Metropolis. It plays a very important part in maintaining the social conditions in which we all live. Having said what I have just said, I want to add that I share to the full the pride of all law-abiding citizens of the Metropolis in this force. We are anxious that it should continue to be representative of the ideal that we have in this country that among a free people it is possible to maintain law and order without any unnecessary display of physical force.

I recollect sitting with a great American divine in a drawing room window in London. An ordinary policeman went by. Knowing that I was Home Secretary, the American asked, "What do you arm him with?" I said, "I believe that he has a truncheon somewhere. If he draws it he will have to report it when he goes back to the station. And if he uses it he will have to find not merely an excuse but a very good reason for using it." The visitor said, "Do you think that it is safe to be in a capital city where the police have no other arms than that?" I said, "Just test it for yourself. Do you feel safer here than in Chicago?" He seemed to think an answer was unnecessary.

We must realise that our police forces, including the Metropolitan Police, depend for the maintenance of law and order upon the good relationships which have been built up over a century and a quarter between the ordinary citizen and the police officer. If we can maintain that spirit we shall remain the most law-abiding country in the world.

I share the anxiety of the right hon. and learned Gentleman about some of the modern manifestations of crime which were alluded to at Question time today. When I held his office, I asked for information about the proportion of crimes of that kind per hundred thousand of the population here and abroad. It would be very flattering to this country to publish the figures I was given, although it might cause some controversy in the other countries from which statistics were collected. Those figures show the high position we occupy in this respect. In 125 years our standard of civilisation has increased out of all proportion, under the care and with the encouragement of an unarmed police force, but that should not lessen our determination to support this force and to maintain in our people the same high regard for law and order which has steadily increased during those 125 years.

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to do what I admit I found it impossible to do—to-give these men such an increase in numbers as will enable them to discharge, in the spirit I have just indicated, the duties, that fall upon them. I am quite certain that if we can get that necessary increase in establishment, the prevention of crime —which, after all, is the first duty of a police officer—will be made much easier, and its detection, when it has been committed, capable of being more completely tackled. When we cannot prevent crime, it is essential, if we are to maintain our standard, that detection should be reasonably certain and that the temptation to the criminally-inclined to chance their arm should be very much lessened.

During the course of this discussion, I hope that those of my hon. Friends who represent various parts of the Metropolitan Police district will be able to bring other matters to the Home Secretary's attention. I assure him that we all recognise the position which the police force occupies in public esteem and that we desire to do all we can to increase that esteem and the usefulness of the force.

4.14 p.m.

Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)

It is with some diffidence and a great deal of respect that I venture to follow the speech of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), a former Home Secretary who possesses so much closer knowledge of the official workings of the Metropolitan Police force than any ordinary Member can possibly have. I assure him that if the tone which he has set is continued throughout, this debate can do nothing but good. Hon. Members on this side of the Committee welcome the choice of subject made by the Opposition for the first part of this Supply Day. My only regret is that the debate is taking place nearly 12 months after the latest available report on the Metropolitan Police was signed by the outgoing Commissioner. I hope the time may come when whichever party is in opposition will feel disposed to ask for a debate on this subject shortly after the annual report has appeared, so that we can follow up matters arising out of the report before they become out of date.

I am certain that. the general feeling of all London and Greater London Members of Parliament is one of respect for and deep pride in this dependable and magnificent force. We all have occasion to criticise individual decisions and actions; that is the part which Parliament should play. But the Metropolitan Police force, from the newest constable to the Commissioner himself, can feel that it has the House of Commons behind it, and a House of Commons which is anxious to improve the conditions under which its members are called upon to serve. I join with the right hon. Gentleman in expressing my satisfaction that a member of the force has been promoted to its highest office, and I wish the new Commissioner the very greatest success in discharging the heavy responsibilities which he has assumed.

Despite the fact that this report is so many months out of date, I want to pick out one or two points arising from it. I should like the Home Secretary to give us an up-to-date statement on recruitment and the present extent of the shortage. It must be of the greatest concern to the House of Commons that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police should report to Parliament that The position "— as to recruitment—" continues to be very grave. The Commissioner, giving the figures, which are startling to me, says that Whereas in 1932 87.6 per cent, of the men required for beat and patrol duty were available, the percentage available last year was only 44.6. Last year an advertising campaign was initiated in order to try to bring in recruits. May we hear what effects that campaign has had, whether it is intended to carry it on or repeat it at future intervals, and whether the special efforts of 1953 have taught us any lessons in the best methods of attracting recruits and avoiding wastage? I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the tragic effect of men who have become efficient police officers resigning prematurely because their wives do not want them to remain in the force.

I understand that the Commissioner's point concerning the inadequacy of the extra pay granted for serving in the London area has now been mitigated. Up to recently, strange as it may seem, the additional cost of living for a policeman in London, as compared with the rest of the country, was deemed to be only £10 per annum. As my London colleagues know, that is a small proportion of the additional London weighting granted to local government officers, teachers and others in recognition of the fact that it costs far more to live in London, as every woman knows, than in most other parts of the country. I understand that this has now been doubled and is now £20 per annum, but even so, I find myself asking whether that goes far enough to rectify the difference.

The report tells us that last year no fewer than 1,500 men in the force were on the waiting list for official quarters. I cannot speak with any knowledge of the rest of the country in this respect, but, so far as London is concerned, I am quite certain that housing prospects have a very great effect on the attractiveness and on the efficiency of the force. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the assistance that might be given here by local authorities. This is a matter in which I have interested myself, because I am a member of Hampstead Borough Council. That housing authority has from time to time in past years received appeals from the Commissioner to consider what, in company with other London borough councils, it might do towards helping the housing of the police.

The Committee will recognise that it is not easy for any housing authority in these continuing London conditions of acute housing shortage to earmark much-needed dwellings for policemen, when that means keeping out somebody who is high on the waiting list and actually in more acute housing need. Moreover, it is not possible to be so certain in a London borough as it is in a country district that the accommodation on a housing estate allotted to a policeman in the way the right hon. Gentleman described will go to a policeman whose duty lies in that area; and so long as London housing authorities have these immense waiting lists it is a matter which must be handled with tact and consideration by all concerned.

I see his point about not herding a large number of police families together where jealousies may arise. Nevertheless, I believe that one of the most valuable methods of assistance will be for borough councils to do what, indeed, Hampstead Borough Council has done, and that is to comb through the small sites available in the boroughs for housing purposes and, instead of seizing all of them for their own people, reach an agreement with the police authorities that some of them shall be set aside for the police to build a couple of houses or three or four flats— not a colony, but a small police group.

I should say from my experience that the jealousies that might otherwise arise among people on the housing list who felt that they had been put at a disadvantage might be avoided, and yet some practical assistance could be given to the police authorities. At the same time, of course, members of the police force should be able to put their names on councils' waiting lists for houses, and should have exactly the same right as everybody else to gain points and to get to the top of the list on their own housing needs.

There are one or two matters in this section of the report on which I should like more information. For instance, on page 9 it is pointed out that at the present time the Metropolitan Police have 53 section houses, but owing to the present shortage of men only 40 are in use. What is happening to the other 13? Is there a likelihood that they can be brought into beneficial use, or are the police authorities considering the possibility of turning them over for other purposes, whether police purposes or other public purposes of value?

I am quite sure we shall all thoroughly endorse what is said in the same section of the report: Many police buildings are well past their normal useful life and some are quite inadequate; the time has come when their continued maintenance is proving uneconomic, and efficiency is being impaired. Some of us have opportunities to visit police premises in different capacities, but, whatever the cause of our presence there, I think we are all concerned that in the London area there are many buildings occupied for police purposes that are utterly out of date and quite unsuited for a modern force that has to carry the heavy responsibility of the day-to-day bread-and-butter work of local traffic management and the like on top of the still heavier responsibilities of combating crime.

In other spheres I have been conscious of the intense dislike of the Treasury to sanction any expenditure on new construction. There is an idea that it is always wasteful to build afresh if the old can possibly be patched up. Indeed, it gives me real apprehension to learn from page 32 of the Estimates that the amount spent on alterations, improvements, special works and repairs is expected to go up from £245,000 last year to £350,000 this year. I am all for alterations and improvements, but I cannot help fearing that some of that money is being spent on buildings which ought to be replaced.

I think the Committee would be interested if the Home Secretary would be good enough to explain to us what is the method of planning and programming for the replacement of the older buildings. Has this to be done on a year-to-year basis with an annual tussle with the Treasury? Or is there a long-term programme of replacement worked out and provisionally agreed on all sides, so that the only question that has to be decided from year to year is just how much of that programme can be included in the next ensuing year? My own view is that unless this long-term programming is established one always gets waste, because so frequently there arise conditions in which, if one continues to patch and refuses to replace the building, one is pouring good money after bad and wasting public funds.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the women police. The estimated establishment for the women police has, I see, been raised from 388 to 458, but at the date of these last figures that are available to us the number actually in service was not more than 388. Has it been possible to fill the gap, to make good the full number of the new establishment, or have we not risen yet to that figure? My impression is that up to now it has been definitely harder to get into the women police than for a man to get into the force, and that the conditions for enrolment as women police in London have been very stringent. If there is any difficulty about recruitment, I hope it will be made quite certain that no well-qualified young woman will be excluded merely because of the lack of some intellectual attainment which it has been thought desirable to demand but which is not a real necessity in the duties that fall to the women police.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell us something up to date about the progress of enrolment of special constables? In London special constables are doing admirable work and most of those whom I know are extremely keen on it. But their numbers are relatively small. There are some 3,400 at present doing duty, whereas I understand the force would be willing to enrol far greater numbers. Would one means of relieving the pressure on the ordinary policemen be to have a fresh recruiting campaign to bring in additional numbers of special constables? I know that recruiting campaigns for Civil Defence in London are by no means uniformly successful, but I am inclined to think that the appeal of the special constabulary would get across to numbers of people who might not be attracted to Civil Defence.

I turn to a particular part of the work of the police; that is the very difficult and often embarrassing duties which fall to them in dealing with problems arising out of traffic congestion and traffic obstruction. I am not raising this matter because I regard it as more important than combating crime, but it falls into a category by itself. It is the one sphere of police duty where the police are not in conflict with criminals, or would-be criminals. They are in conflict largely with perfectly respectable citizens, whose only offence is failure to find a permitted parking place for their car. The question may arise how hard they have tried, but certainly they are an entirely different class of London citizen from those with whom the police force was created to deal.

At present there is a shortage of 12,000 permitted parking places in inner London alone for all the cars that need them. It would therefore be quite impossible for all these citizens to abide strictly by the law in present circumstances, until more parking places are available. In that respect their crime of leaving their cars in the street is less, although it is a very inconvenient one. Those who have studied the question of car congestion in inner London have all reached the conclusion that one must draw a distinction between long-term parking and short-term parking. If one could get cars which are parked all day, or for many hours, off the highway, that would provide space for the people who quite genuinely need short-term parking for their cars.

The failure of the traffic authorities to provide room for long-term parking seems to leave the police with the extraordinarily difficult and delicate, indeed impossible, task of carrying out their functions so as to punish the really guilty and not to interfere overmuch with those who are honestly trying to cause as little trouble as possible but who simply cannot find anywhere to park their car for an hour or so whilst shopping, or making a call at an office or elsewhere.

The real offences are, first, sheer obstruction of a busy highway and, secondly, long periods of parking in places which should be available for short periods only. The police come in for criticism, and I think justifiable criticism, when they drop on someone whose offence is that he has left a car in some street for 25 minutes between 11.30 and 12 in the morning, although, had that car been left in exactly the same position and causing no more and no less obstruction, between 11 and 11.30— traffic conditions in the street being entirely similar—no offence would have arisen. This is not the fault of the police. They have to enforce the regulations and carry out the law.

The point I am submitting is that at present we are imposing on them a duty which must be distasteful and which in fact is impossible for them to carry out with the discrimination that is called for. It is bound to bring them into conflict with large numbers of the public who wish to be law-abiding. That alone may affect regard for the law and regard for the police, and yet, as I say, it arises not through the fault of the police. It is partly this House which is at fault. I am speaking only for myself, but sometimes I come to think that the whole matter of no-waiting regulations could be more effectively and flexibly handled in London by the borough councils, under local byelaw powers, than by any Government Department. At present this House cannot give adequate attention to detailed no-waiting regulations for all the streets of London. I have a very great regard for the skill and care with which London borough councils attend to this sort of work which all depends on local knowledge.

Lieut-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Is it not within the recollection of the hon. Members that a well-qualified committee went into the whole question of traffic congestion in London, of car parking facilities, and so on? Some of us have been pressing this matter on the Home Secretary for some time, but nothing has been done. It is one of the main factors which add to the work which the Metropolitan Police are called upon to do.

Mr. Brooke

I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member and I have here a copy of the report to which he referred and the observations of various borough councils upon it. I hope that if the hon. and gallant Member speaks later in the debate he will support the point I am trying to make that at present it is the general administrative set-up in London which is to blame. I am inclined to think that our allocation of duties and responsibilities among the authorities is at fault and requires reconsideration and amendment if the police are to be given a feasible job. As it is, the task of the police strikes me as utterly thankless, and it is sometimes made more thankless still by magistrates who impose penalties which seem very difficult for some of us to understand.

Let me give an illustration not from car parking offences, but from street trading. There are certain streets which are barred to street traders, but which are very profitable to them if they can get into them. It is not a pleasant duty for the police to be constantly moving on barrow boys, and then to find when they do seek to get a conviction after many warnings that the fine imposed is negligible in relation to the profitability of continuing to trade in that street. Of course the barrow will be back there in a week or two. Magistrates also, therefore, have to play their part along with the House in rendering the task of the police in all their street control duties more manageable than at present.

In conclusion, I revert to a matter on which the right hon. Member touched. That is the actual police expenditure and the method by which it is met in London as to 50 per cent, by Parliament and 50 per cent, by the borough councils, on whom precepts are made. It would not be right for this debate to go by without someone saying that there is a widespread feeling among London borough councillors that they do not have as extensive an opportunity as they should to scrutinise the police Estimates, for which they have to raise half the money.

I am not suggesting that the police should be brought under local authority control or anything of that kind. Frankly, I do not believe that there can be any fundamental change in the present method of meeting the cost, but I submit that it is desirable that borough councils, which have to incur the odium of collecting the money—and the police rate in London now is over 2s. in the £—should have ample opportunity of informing themselves, asking questions and satisfying themselves about the items included in the police Estimates.

I agree that the Estimates presented to the House are detailed as compared with those of other Departments, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that there is seldom a year in which the House spends three and a half hours like this in considering them. Some further steps have recently been agreed upon, I understand, for bringing the borough councils more into the picture on this matter and giving them, at the appropriate time of the year, ampler opportunity of examining the figures. Maybe the Home Secretary could enlighten us on exactly what is being done, because I feel sure that any progress in that direction will be greatly appreciated by the borough councils.

The right hon. Gentleman anticipated a point which I was going to make when he spoke about the £100,000. I, too, as a Londoner, would dearly like to know whether that £100,000, which is voted by this House under the 1909 Act, is adequate in the year 1954 to cover the imperial and national duties which fall upon the Metropolitan Police. I should like, too, to have some explanation of the very substantial increase in the Vote for Civil Defence, which, I see, has risen this year from £21,000 to £151,000. The London local authorities have had such great difficulty in getting permission to proceed with the Civil Defence constructional work which they believe to be necessary that they might well feel a certain jealousy of the Vote for the police in this respect being increased sixfold. I instance that as the kind of question which it is right that the local authorities should have the chance of asking.

None of the questions which I have asked has been hostile in any way. Indeed, I could have made a shorter speech had I not felt that it was my duty to take this opportunity of putting some of the points which occur to borough councillors who have to raise half of the money for this force. I should like to assure the Home Secretary that we admire profoundly the close interest he takes in everything to do with the Metropolitan Police, and I believe that I speak for all London and Greater London Members when I say that, although we have our passing criticisms, we would like to put ourselves at the service of the local police in helping them in any way open to us in the very difficult, very pressing, never-ending duties which fall upon this too small force.

4.45 p.m.

Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

I must start by rebut ting the suggestion of my right hon. Frond the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that invariably the lot of a policeman's wife is not a happy one. There are many women married to men who have difficult hours of work and who have to work at night, such as engine drivers, postal workers, doctors and even Members of Parliament —

Sir Frederick Messer (Tottenham)

And burglars.

Mrs. Jeger

—without it apparently affecting the recruiting position for the job. I think that we have to look a little further than these rather un-chivalrous suggestions that have been put forward for the lack of recruitment.

There is one problem allied very closely to the wife in all this, and that is, of course, the housing problem, because it is not just a bad thing to have your man away all night, it is even worse to have him at home all day. The problem of family life in congested conditions, with father having to sleep during the daytime and mother trying to keep the children quiet, is the kind of situation which leads to very serious friction and the kind of problem which, I know, my right hon. Friend had quite seriously in mind.

I should like to pass on to the question of the women police and to associate myself with the tributes which have been paid on both sides of the Committee. It is really remarkable that we have now increased the recruitment to 470 women police in London, which is a small enough number, and yet it does seem to have made an impact on the public consciousness and on the consciousness of Members of Parliament quite out of proportion to the smallness of the number involved. I think that is a tribute to the quality of the women police. There are still just over 50 vacancies for the women police establishment, but I hope that the suggestion that I thought that I read into the speech of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) that the standard of entry might be re-examined will not be lightly followed.

I. think that it is remarkable that during the last two years for which figures are available there has not been one dismissal from the women's police force on the grounds of misconduct, ill-health or inefficiency. I think that is a tribute to the good sense of having a high standard of selectivity. Vacancies exist and will, I imagine, continue to exist while there is this high standard, but I think that the answer is in a greater public cognisance of the duties of the women police.

I think that hon. Members could do a great deal in their public capacity to help to dispel the picture which many headmistresses and other people who could be influential in this matter have painted of policewomen as great Boadiceas in blue, with size 12 shoes, doing very heavy-footed and heavy-handed work. On the contrary, there does not seem, in spite of all that has been said, enough public awareness, in the words of the Oaksey Report, of the fact that Policewomen are, and should be made to feel that they are an integral part of the police force and not merely employed for rather restricted and specialised duties. I wonder whether the Home Secretary could confer with the Minister of Education and the Minister of Labour to see if this point cannot be put across more strongly to various young people at a time in their lives when they are considering their careers.

I should like to refer to the accommodation of policewomen. Although we have been saying today that there is an increasing approximation of duty between the men and the women in the police force, it is a fact that the only equality of remuneration is the rent allowance which, I believe, is at present 17s. 6d. a week. As to actual pay, I understand that the women get 90 per cent, of the pay of men of equivalent rank. I am sure that those who live in London realise the inadequacy of a rent allowance of I7s. 6d. It means that about one-half of the women police who have to live in section houses have a rather special economic advantage in that the value of the accommodation and the amenities of the section house approximate to more than 17s. 6d. a week, and I think that it is unfortunate that there should be this disparity between those who live in and those who live out.

When the Home Secretary is examining the question of increasing accommodation, which I think he must do, will he consider that there may be a better use of money to help more women to live out than to spend money on building more section houses? This applies particularly to women police officers. Surely it is natural that the more mature professional women should have a home of their own. Especially as one gets older, it is difficult to enjoy communal hostel life. Evidence on this aspect was given before the Oaksey Committee, and I should be glad if the Home Secretary could consult representatives of the women police as to their wishes in the kind of accommodation which is provided for them.

To return to the question of pay, we all know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is examining the possibility of equal pay. I hope that the Home Secretary will ensure that the claims of the women police, whose responsibilities are increasing to such a great extent, wall be borne well in mind.

I should like particularly to dispose of one argument, which is often used, that women are more expensive and worth less than men because their rate of sick leave is so much higher. I have taken the trouble to get comparable figures, which show that the slick rate percentage among women police is only 1.08 per cent, higher than among men. This does not seem adequate justification for paying the women police 10 per cent. less than men.

We would all appreciate clarification on the question of representation. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, I know, feels that under the existing legislation, given enough gallantry by the men, women could have a fair share at the conference table. Women attend the branch boards and the central conference and committee of the Police Federation, but in an advisory, non-voting capacity. One of the recommendations of the Baker Report was that the constitution of the Federation should be modified to enable policewomen on these occasions to be represented by their own sex. It would be helpful if the Home Secretary would tell the Committee whether he has legislation in mind to clear this matter.

But the most important thing that we can do this afternoon is to ensure that every opportunity is taken throughout the country, and especially in London, to give the public a fairer and more correct picture of the work of the women police, with particular emphasis on their general duties—for example, that women now attend the Police College and undergo the same training as men, and that the number of arrests made by women is increasing every year. They make their arrests often with great courage and sometimes not without charm, which is not unimportant. If the Home Secretary is able to persuade his right hon. Friend the Minister of Education to help in the work of recruitment, I recommend that special steps be taken so that the best examples of the women's force go to talk to senior girls. They must invariably be handsome. That is most important in what we are trying to do.

There is one course which, I hope, the Home Secretary will not feel that he must pursue in the recruitment drive. It concerns the suggestion, which has been adopted by one local authority, of having women police cadets. At present the lowest age for entry is 20. That is quite young enough for a girl to take on these heavy responsibilities. It is much better that the years between leaving school and reaching the age of 20 should be spent in knocking around the world, in the widest possible sense, and having experience of the greatest number of people, things, circumstances and events, so that a girl has a few years of life behind her when she enters this very responsible profession.

I should not like it to be thought that because I have spoken particularly of women police, I am any less sincere in my appreciation, which we all share, of the work of the whole Metropolitan Police force. Like other hon. Members, I have had my own unhappy experiences. Judging from the tenor of his remarks, the hon. Member for Hampstead has also probably left his car here and there on occasion. But we take all these things in good spirit and join in the congratulations to the police force of the Metropolis.

4.56 p.m.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)

I join with the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) in saying what an excellent job we all feel the women police are doing. Obviously, from what the hon. Lady says, a burglar would rather be arrested by a woman police officer than by the other sex.

It is extremely refreshing that a subject of this kind can be discussed completely above party politics. At least, this is one subject which party politics do not spoil. We have been very fortunate in both our present Home Secretary and his predecessor, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), to whose speech this afternoon we listened so closely, in the great work they have done for our police forces generally. If we are lacking in recruits for the police, it is not because of any failure by our Home Secretaries during the last few years.

It strikes me as being rather strange how our present Home Secretary is so completely overworked. He is batting on a very different subject today compared with yesterday, and I am sure he must find today a great relief after his task yesterday in dealing with television.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

This is a better subject.

Mr. Harris

As the hon. and gallant Member says, this is a better subject.

There cannot be any hon. Member who does not wish to do all that he possibly can to improve the conditions of the police in so far as they affect in any way the question of recruitment and the present shortage of the Metropolitan Police. I suppose we must be something like 20 per cent, short in the number of recruits that we need for the Metropolitan Police. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) in asking for an early statement regarding recruitment so that we may know the position up to date.

If in any force such as this we happen unhappily to be short in manpower, we should deploy that force to the best of our ability. One would not wish to say any word of criticism against the police, because we all know what an excellent job they do, but many of us feel very strongly when, after hearing of severe attacks of violence, particularly upon elderly people and others, we see police cars tucked away in turnings solely with the intention of trying to catch someone who is doing an extra five miles an hour on a road where there may be no trouble whatever.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead said that over the last 20 years, instead of 80 per cent, of the police force being kept on beat and patrol to safeguard the public from attacks and violence, which disturb and depress us all, the percentage has dropped today by over half.

Mr. H. Brooke

That was not exactly what I said. I said that, whereas in 1939 87 per cent, of the men required for beat and patrol duty were available, the percentage available for that duty has now fallen to 44.

Mr. Harris

I think this is merely an argument on the question of percentages; but I appreciate being put right. I still maintain the point that Parliament puts responsibility on the police force to carry out so many varied responsibilities that it is up to the local districts sometimes to get their priorities right.

I do not want to criticise the police force, because I join with other hon. Members in their great pride in it, but I wonder whether it is wise for our police to hang about so much in motor cars and at police points when our patrols could be stepped up so much more effectively to protect the public from those savage attacks which we unhappily experience from time to time. We should step up these patrols so that the police are in a position to waylay those who carry out these savage attacks. Then these villains, once they were waylaid, could be dealt with adequately for those attacks.

I share with other hon. Members a very great pride in the police force. I realise it is working under very difficult conditions. That is inevitable when it is so short staffed, and it is up to every hon. Member do his or her utmost to help where possible. I feel that the improved pension conditions have brought some satisfaction, because there is no doubt about it that when men consider joining the force they discuss the matter very fully with their wives or fiancees to determine whether they are taking any undue risk and should turn to a safer occupation.

As and when we can improve conditions in the police force, we should endeavor to do so. In my own district, housing, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead has mentioned, is ever improving. Housing is not so much a problem for the police force generally as it was. I agree that considerable improvements have been made in the last few years in the day-to-day conditions, but I feel that the more we can do to improve the lot of the police force the more it must help recruiting. It must be a matter of great concern to every hon. Member that there should be any real shortage of manpower in the force. There can be no doubt that there is a shortage, and in order to meet that situation we should endeavour to make the occupation as attractive as possible.

I should like to conclude by saying that I appreciate very much what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has done and is continuing to do for the police. I find, as I am sure every hon. Member does, that any proposal put forward to him for improving the lot of the policeman is very carefully considered, and one can gather from the tenor of this debate that there is a general feeling in the House that we must do everything that lies within our power to improve the lot of the Metropolitan policeman to whom we owe so much.

5.4 p.m.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

I join with the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. F. Harris) in welcoming this debate today as an entirely non-party one. The only thing I should like to add is this: that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary might in future years arrange some kind of consultation, private if necessary, between himself, the senior members of the Metropolitan Police and direct representatives of the Metropolitan boroughs.

I feel that the peculiar constitution of the Metropolitan Police, who are directly under the Home Secretary, leaves a certain gap in consultation which we ought to try to fill, and it might be filled properly by some sort of committee of the kind I am suggesting for the exchange of information, suggestions and so on. I should add here that the relationship on the working level between the boroughs and the police is excellent. Nothing needs to be said about that, but it is of interest sometimes to exchange views, particularly on long-term problems.

I suppose that the representatives of the Metropolitan boroughs would agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) about difficulties over various forms of street control, the inadequacy of some patrols, the erratic behaviour of magistrates and so on. That could be sorted out on a collective basis, particularly by collecting information from the whole area which is available to the police and which takes a lot of hard work to collect from other sources.

If a representative from Paddington attended such a consultation meeting, sooner or later would come up the particular street difficulty associated sometimes in the public mind with Padding-ton. That is the question of commercialised vice or street prostitution. Those who make a great outcry about a subject of that kind do not always help, and protests about it are not going to reduce the evil. Sometimes the actions of well-meaning people have had the opposite effect by calling attention to the fact that in certain areas certain things are taking place. It is quite a mistake to advertise one area as against the other, and it is also a mistake to ask the Home Secretary to try to move the trouble next door, because obviously that is no solution and does not bring any comfort to the next borough.

It is perfectly true that the police respond extremely well to invitations for increased activities, and again I should like to take this opportunity of saying what an excellent effect patrols of women police have in this respect. They are far more effective than men. Their appearance in a certain area is almost good enough to move on the trouble.

If, as I have suggested, a consultation debate were to take place with representatives of the boroughs, matters would be dealt with which would be quite out of order in a debate in this House. The question of the desirability of increased penalties would be one of the subjects, but I must not discuss that today, though I am not sure whether it is as important as it sounds, except in this respect, that it must be very depressing for the police themselves when, as a sort of dreary routine, they have to bring certain prosecutions for which they know only certain penalties can be imposed.

It would be a great encouragement to those who have to do this kind of work if they knew that the information they were collecting was helping to build up a pattern whereby a central examining body could see what is happening to the organisation behind this sort of thing. After all, the most that the right hon. and learned Gentleman can hope to do is to make the decision some time to go over the whole matter and effect a certain change in pattern, particularly in the financial background. A reform committee such as I have suggested cannot work as fast as the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself, because it does not get the information from all the different sources which show the direction in which these social evils are moving and how they are beginning to move, such as by a change of organisation, a change of area or something of that kind. I think it would be some encouragement to the man on the beat if he knew the report in his notebook and the report sent in at the end of the tour of duty was going to build up a mine of information which would enable high-level decisions on policy to be made.

It must be remembered that in Paddington there are several vast areas where the people are normal, ordinary, home-loving, hard-working people. That is not our problem. I will tell the House what our problem in Paddington is. It is Paddington Station, which was completed in 1854. I hope that nobody will be misguided enough to celebrate the fact this year. I hope the people will go into mourning instead. The erection of that station produced a series of architectural efforts based on 99-year leases which are now falling in. The falling in of these leases has produced a system of property ownership out of which emerged a series of problems. One problem, to which I have already drawn the attention of the Home Secretary, arises from the ownership of fag-ends of leases in these areas which are decaying.

Evils which develop there are not easily remedied by an intensification of penalties or by any simple formula, but they can be studied with the aid of the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan Police. The police are much better able to collect the necessary information than anybody else. They know what they are doing. They know what the problem is and to what end their reports are collected. They are able to observe what happens when old properties change hands and they know the temptations which are put in the way of the new owners to engage in an easy method of earning a living.

All this seems to me to reinforce my original argument that consultation between the police and the boroughs should be on a more regular and more free basis. It should be on a basis of exchange of information. I hope that, perhaps as a result of the debate, the right hon. and learned Gentleman may consider recommending some such development.

5.12 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

I should like to join in the tributes paid by hon. Members to the work of the Metropolitan Police, sometimes in most difficult circumstances. In that connection, I should like to return to some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke), who spoke of the difficulties the police experience in dealing with traffic problems. First, tribute should be paid to the police for the way in which they handle traffic on certain big occasions.

Last Saturday afternoon 100,000 people descended on my constituency from various parts of the country, chiefly the North and the Midlands, for the Cup Final. I must say that the way the traffic is shepherded into a very small area in Wembley in a matter of a few hours and out again in an even shorter time is to the credit of the planning of the police. It shows how they have worked out an excellent system for dealing with the traffic and getting it away as quickly as possible. The police deserve praise for the way in which they handle events of that kind. They deserve our sympathy also. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) spoke of the number of police who have to be on duty on occasions of that nature when other people are enjoying themselves while they are doing a job of work.

I agree with my hon. Friend on the question of parking troubles in Central London. This is a serious problem which is not the fault of the police. It is the fault of Parliament, the Government and the local authorities, or probably a combination of all three, for not having dealt with it earlier. I wish that the police would pay more attention to obstruction caused by many commercial vehicles the drivers of which cannot find room to park by the kerbside exactly opposite where they want to deliver their goods. Often these drivers park out in the stream of traffic even though sometimes there is plenty of space only a few feet further along the road. It is difficult for constables to be on duty at these places all the time. Is not this a case where mobile police on motor bicycles could help?

There is a lot of thoughtlessness on the part of commercial van drivers in this respect. If a furniture can has to unload a grand piano, clearly one cannot expect the driver to park more than a few yards away from the premises where it is to be delivered, but when the goods are very much smaller, the drivers should be more reasonable. They should not inconvenience the stream of traffic by taking away half the width of the road, which is the effect which one parked vehicle can bring about. Steps might be taken to persuade these drivers to be a little more reasonable in their attitude towards other road users.

I do not want to suggest that commercial vehicle drivers are the only offenders. This morning I was going down Baker Street, which is now a one-way street because of road repairs so that at the very narrowest part there is room for only two lines of traffic, when one motorist thoughtlessly stopped his cat outside a shop and held up the stream of vehicles behind him, the drivers of which had no idea he was going to pull up. That was an example of selfish parking which can be dealt with only by the drivers being chased by the police as much as possible.

Sometimes I wish that in certain narrow streets in the West End where for the moment there are either no no-waiting regulations at all or where they do not come into force before 11.30 a.m., some persuasion might be used to prevent a few cars waiting on each side of the street where usually there is plenty of room for all the vehicles to wait on one side. Thoughtless parking reduces the space available to other traffic. There are one or two streets in the Westminster area, such as Carlos Place and Mount Street, and the narrower part of Seymour Place in Marylebone where a little attention in that direction would prove most helpful.

I also support the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead about unilateral waiting restrictions being decentralised so that they come more under the borough councils than under the Ministry. We do not want to have different kinds of regulations in various parts of the Metropolis, but sometimes if the system was a little more decentralised the regulations might be introduced more speedily. There was a case in point at Wembley. Application was made in February, 1951— I speak from memory—for unilateral waiting restrictions which have not yet been brought into force. I do not know who is to blame. I do not even know, not having looked at the matter recently, whether the borough council still wants the regulations, but in a case like that the local authority probably knows better than anybody else, in consultation with the local police, whether the regulations would be helpful. The local authority ought to have the final say in the decision. I hope that that point will be considered.

Lastly I come to the question of recruitment. I should like to know whether my right hon. and learned Friend can tell us how the shortage of recruits to the Metropolitan Police compares with recruitment to the police forces in other big cities. I imagine that the problem is much greater in London. If it is, can anything be learned from the big cities about why it is more difficult to attract recruits to the Metropolitan Police?

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields suggested that night-work was a deterrent. I know that night-work is objectionable in some ways— I used to do a certain amount of newspaper work at night before the war—but it has compensations. If one does night duty from, say, 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., one can go bed for seven or eight hours and have an afternoon free to indulge in some amusement, such as, for instance, golf, when other people are at work. I should like to know what is the average proportion of time spent by police officers on night duty compared with other duties.

I am sure that we all support the efforts which are being made to stimulate recruiting to the Metropolitan Police. We hope that before long the force will be up to strength.

5.20 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

The hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) introduced a topical note when he referred to the Cup Final last Saturday. That enables me to express an opinion which I have felt for a long time, and which I believe must be shared by most hon. Members. The Metropolitan Police handle crowds better than any other police force in the world.

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ard-wick)

Except for the Manchester police.

Lieut-Colonel Lipton

It is possible to make that claim without overstating the case at all. It is one further reason why the people of London are grateful to the Metropolitan Police for their services, because London is the centre attraction to people from all over the country and, indeed, from all over the world. For that reason, the inadequate contribution of £100,000 from the Exchequer under the 1909 Act now demands urgent reconsideration. If it was considered sufficient in 1909, it is lamentably inadequate now.

The matter boils down to this. The ratepayers of London are having to subsidise various activities and responsibilities of the Government—because this is the centre of government—and the money at present allocated for this purpose is quite inadequate. I hope the Home Secretary will be able to say something on that point, because it does not need legislation. So long as he gets the consent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it is possible for him by administrative action to increase the amount now being allocated for this purpose.

I shall not dwell on that point because that was dealt with by me in a speech which I delivered on 29th January, 1952, and the Home Secretary was present on that occasion. I referred to the 1909 grant of £100,000. I also referred to the need for some form of consultation with the local authorities in connection with the precept. The Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth, for example, has to find this year something like £220,000 towards the cost of the Metropolitan Police. That local authority has no say whatsoever in that matter, and this applies to the other Metropolitan boroughs and local authorities within the Metropolitan Police area. They have no say whatsoever in the fixing of that precept. The conditions in this respect which prevails here in the metropolis are quite different from the conditions which prevail outside the metropolis where there are watch committees and standing joint committees consisting of democratically elected persons who fix the police rate.

Mr. Ede

Could my hon. and gallant Friend explain how a standing joint committee is democratically elected? I served on one for 28 years, and I always felt that I was among the autocracy and not the democracy.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Standing joint committees are nominated by the local authorities and consist of persons nominated by the local authorities in their areas.

Sir F. Messer

Not the justices.

Lieut-Colonel Lipton

Part of a standing joint committee consists of persons nominated by the local authorities in the area, which enables me to say that it is only in the Metropolitan area where not even that vestige of democratic control exists. As has already been pointed out, the democratic control exercised by a standing joint committee is not very democratic, but at least it is more democratic than the system which prevails in the Metropolitan area.

I hope that the Home Secretary will have something to say about the relationship between the Metropolitan Police and the local authorities in whose area they operate, particularly in view of the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman said on 29th January, 1952, in relation to remarks that I made on that occasion: The more detailed points which the hon. and gallant Member propounded are, as he said, not points to be answered on the spur of the moment. They are matters for inquiry, and that inquiry I shall make."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1952; Vol. 495, c. 127. I hope that the Home Secretary has now completed his inquiry into the points that I then raised, and that the Committee may have the benefit of his deliberations on the subject.

Having made that speech in 1952 enables me to make my speech today very much shorter, because the question of the relationship with local authorities and of the £100,000 grant may, so far as I am concerned, be taken as read. There is also the point, which was mentioned by preceding speakers, about housing provision made by local authorities for police officers. It is a difficult problem, as the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) has pointed out.

I should like to remind the Committee that local authorities also have the problem of finding accommodation for police officers who are either dismissed the service or whose services are terminated because they have reached pensionable age. Local authorities also have the problem of finding accommodation for the widows and dependants of police officers who die, because in cases of that kind the police flat has to be vacated by the family in question.

In Brixton I have two or three very large blocks of police flats where this kind of case crops up from time to time. It ought not to be assumed that merely because a local authority is not providing as much accommodation as is necessary for serving policemen, the local authority is not discharging its obligation in respect of retired policemen or the families of policemen who died in the course of service.

I hope also that in connection with any building programme on which the Metropolitan Police authorities may be engaged or may be contemplating, they will get away from this idea of herding together large numbers of police officers and their families in these very large blocks of flats. They are segregated from the rest of the community, and I do not think the average person realises how much a policeman's life differs from that of other people. But how greater the differentiation becomes when we have a few hundred policemen living in a block of flats in the heart of an area like Brixton. It is not a good thing, either for the police themselves or for the surrounding population, because the whole strength of the British police force lies in the close, friendly and intimate relations that we like to think have always existed and will continue to exist between the police and the general population.

We have to remember that policemen are, in every sense of the word civilians in uniform. As a matter of fact, we as ordinary citizens, although we are not in uniform, can be called upon if the need arises to carry out many of the policeman's duties. If we see something wrong going on, our duty as ordinary citizens is to do what the police would do in those circumstances.

Now I come to a point which has not been raised so far in this debate. It is provided for in the Metropolitan Police Fund Estimates, and it relates to the Metropolitan police courts. If hon. Members will refer to page 33 of the Estimates, they will see there a series of items showing that the estimated cost of the Metropolitan police courts for the present financial year is about £209,000. The money is obtained partly by precept, partly by Exchequer grant, and also by a small item, miscellaneous receipts.

That is the amount allocated for the expenses of the Metropolitan police courts, of which £172,000 is required for salaries and pensions. The magistrates courts in the Metropolitan area are in a most deplorable and unsatisfactory condition. The Home Secretary will recall that as long ago as 1937 there was a report of the Departmental Committee on Courts of Summary Jurisdiction in the Metropolitan Area. It was presided over by Sir Alexander Maxwell, who was then Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office. So, as long ago as 1937, there was a need for modernising and extending the Metropolitan magistrates court buildings, and the cost of improving them then would have been much less than it would be now. That has not yet been done.

It is important that even our magistrates courts should be reasonably dignified, because a certain prestige ought to be maintained, and it is therefore a pity that not more is being done to improve those courts in London. People are apt to overlook the fact that about 98 per cent, of all the cases heard in the courts of this country are heard in magistrates courts. It is therefore most desirable that they should provide elementary convenience and comfort.

This inadequacy of the court buildings in London has another adverse consequential effect. It is a matter about which I have complained previously. It means that the services of the lay magistrates in the Metropolitan area cannot be used as effectively as they should be. We know that the magistrates courts in the Metropolitan area are, for the most part, used by stipendiary magistrates, but there are 800 lay justices in the L.C.C. area and their staffs who, because of the inadequate accommodation, cannot be fully utilised to relieve the congestion and delay that is going on in the stipendiary courts, and which has not lessened in the 17 years that have elapsed since the Maxwell Committee reported on the matter.

So far from increasing the duties of the lay magistrates, they have been reduced, because the County of London Justices Jurisdiction Order, 1953, with which the Home Secretary is no doubt familiar, has decreased the class of cases that lay justices in many of the petty sessional divisions have been accustomed to consider. That links up with a general observation with which I wish to conclude my remarks.

In the Metropolis the central Government now, through the Home Office, appoints, controls and pays the police and the stipendiary court staffs and, through the Lord Chancellor, the Government appoint the stipendiary magistrates who, it is true, are not paid out of these Estimates but out of the Consolidated Fund. In those circumstances, we are faced with this unsatisfactory state of affairs.

In London there is a close association between the Executive Government, on the one hand and the courts of justice on the other, which are most directly concerned with the general public. In the rest of the country the problem is different, because there is not the same control there over the police forces as the Home Office in London exercises over the Metropolitan Police. As has been pointed out, these come under the watch committees, and the court staffs are subject to the control of the magistrates courts. It is a point of some substance, on which I hope the Home Secretary will meditate, that there is an unduly close association between the Executive and the judiciary here in London so far as the police and the magistrates are concerned.

The 98 per cent, of all the court cases which I mentioned earlier as coming before the courts of summary jurisdiction represents a high proportion of the cases which have to be heard. This is a ques- tion of high policy which cannot be decided easily and quickly. It links up with the relationship between local authorities in the Metropolitan area and the Metropolitan Police, and it has these other effects upon the use of lay magistrates in the London County Council area.

These are all matters which I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will consider in due course in view of the announcement which we are all hoping he will be able to make on other matters of which he has been given prior notice because they have been raised previously. I admit, however, that this point has not been raised previously in any detail, but I hope that it will meet with the consideration and the careful attention which I honestly and seriously think it deserves.

5.39 p.m.

Commander C. E. M. Donaldson (Roxburgh and Selkirk)

This debate is not one of a party nature, and it is perhaps slightly restricted by a geographical boundary, since the Estimates we are discussing are for England and Wales. I trust, therefore, that the Committee will not feel that this is an intrusion on my part, as a Scottish Member, to contribute a few words. It is not my intention to follow in any detail the argument put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton), who speaks from a fund of knowledge. As a Scottish Member, I want to pay a tribute to the police force in the Metropolitan area and in the other parts of England and Wales. I should like to do that also for my own area, but it would be out of order on these Estimates.

It so happens that before I came to the House of Commons my work was associated with the tourist industry. It is quite certain that in this great London Metropolitan area, and indeed throughout Britain, the impact of the police on tourists is very great. People of many nationalities, whose customs are different from ours and whose knowledge of this country is scant, ask millions of questions in the course of the year, particularly in the London area. I found that the impression on overseas tourists was one of amazement at the understanding and fund of knowledge which was available to them from the police forces of this country.

The police, particularly constables on the beat, in their daily contacts are helping the greatest dollar-earning invisible import that we have. If people come in their hundreds of thousands from America and Canada and other countries and go away impressed by the answers they receive to questions and the polite way in which those who drive high-powered motor cars through our narrow streets and park them in the wrong places are treated, the value of all that cannot be computed in pounds or dollars.

This Estimate of nearly £34½ million appears to me to be a good investment for that reason alone, apart from the need to protect life and property and to enforce the law. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is well aware of the difficulties of recruitment. It was said only yesterday, in answer to a Question relating to a police force elsewhere, that the educational standard required of entrants into the police force in that part of the country was the educational standard at 15 years of age. That seems to me a low requirement. It would be interesting if we had some indication from the Home Secretary of the educational requirements for the Metropolitan Police.

It was said that The policeman's lot is not a happy one. Certainly it has been a slightly happier one in the past 12 months from the financial aspect. But what is most important is the esprit de corps, not only in the Metropolitan Police, but in the county police forces and forces in other great areas in the country. That esprit de corps can only be achieved by good leadership, good guidance and understanding from those at the head of the force. We in this country are very blessed in the leadership given to the force and in the understanding that those who hold the higher posts have for those who serve under them.

The net increase in the Estimate that is before us is £1,622,000 and, considering increased salaries and higher costs generally, that seems to me a modest increase. There is, of course, no indication of any division of opinion in this Committee, but it is well that we should recognise and seize this opportunity to pay a tribute to our police forces. Perhaps nowhere in Britain are we in closer contact with the good work done by the police than here in the surroundings of the Palace of Westminster. People from all nations and from every rank, people in authority in other countries, and often people who cannot speak our language, come to the Palace of Westminster. They receive nothing but courtesy, understanding and guidance from our force.

This country in general should be grateful to the police who, until the last few months, have given their time and energy for perhaps a slight reward. I trust that the time will come when we shall be able to concede further increases of pay for this force, if that is necessary for recruitment and for the sake of the morale of those who are already in the force. I hope that there will be no hard feelings in this Committee about a Scottish Member intruding into this debate, but what I have said I have said with sincerity. I am sure that the effect of our police forces on visitors from overseas is one that we cannot compute in pounds and dollars.

5.45 p.m.

Sir Frederick Messer (Tottenham)

My own impression of the administration of the police is that it is a weird and wonderful thing. I remember when I first entered public life, having been elected to the august body of the Middlesex County Council, being given to understand that I was a free agent to challenge anything that went on there. When the finance committee in its report submitted the requisition of the joint standing committee, I immediately opposed it, only to be told by the chairman that I was out of order. I was amazed and, as one who had always claimed to be constitutional, I wanted to know how it was possible to be out of order in challenging the right of the finance committee of a county council to ask for money, which apparently I could not oppose. That resulted in some measure of research on my part.

It led me to realise that this London of ours is a thing that is not easily understood. There are three Londons They are the London over which the London County Council exercises a measure of administrative control, the London of the postal region, over which nobody exercises control, and the Metropolitan Police area. The Metropolitan Police area controls two complete counties, that is, the administrative County of London and the County of Middlesex —

Mr. Ede

The administrative County of London less the City of London.

Sir F. Messer

Plus parts of Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire.

Mr. Ede

And parts of Surrey.

Sir F. Messer

Yes, that has a measure of importance.

When one considers all that, it is really a tribute to realise that the administration was worked so efficiently. That, of course, is concerned with the Home Secretary's Department. If we get it clearly into our minds that the only part that the local authorities play in this business is to provide part of the money, we shall understand that what the Home Secretary does as the administrator-in-chief is to manage the whole and say, "You have to pay a part of the cost."

I wonder how he could easily do other than he does. Requests have been made that before precepts are asked for consultations should take place, but everybody knows that a precepting authority never consults. The Metropolitan Water Board, for example, is a precepting authority but it does not ask the body from which it draws money for a consultation about how the precept should be drawn up before it asks for the money. We have to put up with those things, but there is no reason why there should not be a closer connection between the Home Office and the local authorities not merely in money matters but with regard to other things.

I have said that I was surprised to find that this precept could not be challenged. I found that there was this joint standing committee which was the responsible body and which was composed in part of county councillors and in part of magistrates. County councillors have a responsibility to the electorate, but magistrates are not elected; they are appointed. They have never to go before the public and justify such palatial premises as those of the Tottenham magistrates. In Tottenham there is a wonderful police court. It is a pleasure to be sent to prison from it. I have been in that police court as a witness and as a defendant and I have sat in it as a magistrate.

Commander Donaldson

Which is the safest?

Sir F. Messer

I was summoned for exceeding the speed limit in the old police trap days. I was going at more than 20 miles an hour. When I heard the policeman who was presenting the summons tell the bench the speed at which I was travelling, I was only too pleased to plead guilty, for I never knew that my old motor-cycle could travel at that speed.

It is a remarkable comment on the police force that, although the police constable did his best to have me found guilty, at the end of the case he gave me a splendid character and said that I had complete control of the motor-cycle, that there was no obstruction on the road and that it was early on a Sunday morning. He did his best to get me off as lightly as possible after he had done his best to get me found guilty. But that is the police force. I have sat as a magistrate and have been surprised when, after a constable has given his evidence, he has done his best to put the other side of the picture and to give us a very fair view of the case.

Perhaps I may return to the point about local authority association with the Home Office. Let us consider the vexed question of car parking. In it we see many anomalies. There is a parking place right down the middle of Portland Place—one of the widest thoroughfares in London—where it is possible to leave a car for two hours. What happens? Those people who use the offices in Portland Place put their cars by the kerb and leave them there all day.

Parking is a serious problem, because there are few facilities in this part of London. I stopped driving my car into London when I found that driving itself was bad enough but not half as bad as finding somewhere to put the car after I had stopped. This is where local authorities can play a very important part, and I support the views of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) in this connection.

I remember an occasion on which the borough, a part of which I represent in the House, objected to a Home Office decision that a street was to be used as a parking place without lights—that is, cars could be parked there without having their lights on. As one who knew the street very well, I was amazed at the decision and I could not understand how the Traffic Advisory Committee to the Home Secretary had agreed to it. The road had a sharp bend and cars would be parked outside a busy sorting office. At the corner was a busy railway station.

I suggested, as an alternative, a quiet road which was little used, but I was told that it was not suitable because it was a cul-de-sac. In fact, there was a turning so that the cars which had been parked could have been driven out quite easily. Nevertheless, the local authority could not have their way because it was assumed that the Home Office knew best.

In such cases it is said, "The local police are of the opinion that this road is suitable." On the other hand, our local police change very rapidly. Naturally, a place like Tottenham attracts the best. Consequently, they readily earn promotion and are moved elsewhere. Whatever may be the reason for the present situation, I think local authorities should bear a major responsibility for parking. If they cannot find sites for properly organised parking places, then they ought to have an opportunity of deciding which are the best streets in which cars can be parked.

I want to say a few words on recruitment. When we are faced with the problem which arises because enough material is not available, surely we must see that we make the best use of the material which is available. I am not in a position to offer any criticism here, but I ask whether there are duties now being performed by the police which could as easily be performed by people who are not in the police force. I can imagine all sorts of circumstances in which the police are doing duties which perhaps could be performed by others, without the power of arrest—performed by people who need not act in an official capacity as policemen. I imagine that there is some ground for an inquiry into this field.

We must face the fact that unless we are prepared to pay the police tremendously high salaries, they are bound to be attracted into work where they can earn more under better conditions than in the police force. Where we have only an available labour force of x dimensions, where we cannot improve upon it and cannot prevent the police from leaving the force and obtaining better jobs in other directions, it seems to me that we should examine whether the best use is being made of the men we have.

I fear that I am exceeding what may be a reasonable length for a speech on such a subject as this, about which everybody is agreed. There is more justification for speaking at length on a controversial subject. I want to add my word of praise, however, to the personnel of the Metropolitan Police force. I have travelled pretty widely in the country and I have met with courtesy wherever I have been, but never, perhaps, with quite as much help as I have had from the Metropolitan Police.

5.59 p.m.

Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)

I shall not detain the Committee for very long, but I want to stress a point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton)—that in the Metropolitan area we are all paying a large sum of money with apparently no possibility of an examination of how the money is spent until it is too late to affect the Estimates. I see that £20,700,000 is being spent on the Metropolitan Police altogether and that the precept for 1954–55 is no less than £9,500,000.

I am sure that millions of Londoners will agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)—except the night prowlers—that London's police give us a first-class service. I have seen some of it, not only as an ordinary citizen but as a member of one of the Scotland Yard committees which looks after street-to-street collections. We do not meet very often, but that is because the department has worked out a first-class method of judging whether an application to solicit sums in that way is reasonable.

I am also a member of the Standing Joint Committee of the London County Council and the justices. That body only manages the police courts—it looks after them, sees that they are kept in good condition and sees to the staff and their salaries—plus an annual visit to the tote to see that the electrical tote machines are working properly. It spends a fair amount of money. It presents its estimates to the London County Council every year, and if it is felt that there is need for the criticism that is given.

When we turn to the cost of the police —the normal police force—although we have to find £9½ million, there is no apparent possibility for any of the authorities which receive the precept and have to levy the rate to know beforehand whether the estimates are fair and reasonable, and whether they are getting a really full return for the money spent. It seems to me that, although the police have been managed in this way for a long time, thought should now be given to the possibility of allowing the authorities which have to raise the rate to see the estimates before they are presented as precepts on the local authority.

I admit there would be difficulties, and I do not want, nor do I suggest there should be, a watch committee in London, although apparently watch committees, while having very little power over the expenditure, are able to make some examination and criticism. I believe that some consideration should be given to the possibility of the authorities which have to raise this sum of nearly £10 million a year in respect of London's police having a look at the estimates, which must be prepared many months in advance. Some sort of joint representative committee of all the local authorities in the London area might reasonably be given the opportunity of looking at the estimates which Scotland Yard prepares, and perhaps pass on its criticisms to the Home Secretary when his Department is also looking at the estimates. I understand that those estimates are looked at inside the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Department by a very efficient section.

I must confess that it gets under my skin a little that such a heavy expenditure should be put on the backs of the London ratepayers without there being any kind of representation at all as to how it should be spent. I hope that the Home Secretary will give consideration to this criticism, which has arisen very strongly in London in the last couple of years, at all events in the political circles in which I move, with a view to finding some opportunity of examination of and observations on, the police estimates before the precepts are passed on to the collecting authorities.

I wish to refer also to the housing question, to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) referred. It may seem strange. but a lot of people in London are perturbed and worried about it. The police force has been building blocks of flats, and on 28th February, 1952, the Home Secretary told me, as reported in col. 191 of Written Answers in the OFFICIAL REPORT, that a block of police flats in the Peckham Rye area was being built, and that the tender figure was a certain amount. I worked out the total all-in cost of those flats, on the basis of the tender figures, at about £2,300. I should like to know how the cost actually worked out.

I have a letter here from a constituent, who is apparently also very interested in this question. In it he says: The flats were completed last summer, and I am assuming that the total cost can now be compared with the estimated cost My correspondent would like to know what the figure is. There are many other people who would like to know, too. It seems to me, on the figures so far as I have been able to ascertain them, that the cost of building these police flats is very much higher than the cost of building ordinary local government flats.

If that is so, it seems to me that there must be something wrong, that perhaps sufficient attention has not been given to seeing that the cost of building these dwellings for the police represents good value. I do not complain about the building of this police accommodation, which I admit is necessary and ought to be undertaken. I say that as one who for a good number of years was chairman of the L.C.C. housing committee and had the distasteful job of saying that, because of the tragic circumstances in which tens of thousands of London families were living, we could not put policemen at the top of the list for any housing accommodation which the police force might be needing.

I repeat that I am not complaining about the building of police accommodation, but I am asking that some thought might be given to seeing that we get good value, as we on local authorities have to do, and that the final costs when worked out are not too far removed from the original estimate. As things are at the moment, it is impossible to find out, except by putting a Question on every case to the Home Secretary, and that should not be necessary. I should be glad to know whether the Home Secretary is satisfied that the final cost of building the huge blocks of flats around London for policemen, and the cost of building houses in the more rural areas of the Metropolitan area, is working out at a figure close to the kind of figure which the Minister of Housing and Local Government insists that local authorities must be kept to. I do not think there is much justification for anything very much more expensive.

The only other point I wish to make is that, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton, I have always been amazed that the Treasury contribution to the costs of the Metropolitan Police under the Police Act, 1909, is still at the figure of £100,000. I am told that that was the figure fixed when the Act was passed, and that it was a more or less reasonable amount in those days. The carrying out of duties by the police on what are termed national and imperial occasions, such as, for example, the time when we had an enormous number of motor cycles following the President of Yugoslavia around London—which always seemed to me to be quite unnecessary—ought in these days to be fairly a charge on the national Exchequer.

I should like to strengthen the hands of the Home Secretary in his discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The figure under the 1909 Act ought to be revised to one much nearer £500,000 than the £100,000 which is apparently still being contributed by the Exchequer towards the cost of the London rate. It seems completely unfair to expect London ratepayers to bear, as they do at the moment, this very much heavier cost compared with 1909, and for the whole of that extra cost to be paid out of the London, Middlesex and other rates in and around the Metropolitan area. It would be fair, would tend to reduce the rate precept for police purposes, and would be just in every way for the Treasury now to pay for national and imperial services by the Metropolitan Police a sum a good deal nearer the real cost of the services in these days than is being paid by the Treasury.

It is obvious that if, in 1909, £100,000 met the case, it is a quite fantastically silly figure now and should be increased. I hope that one result of today's discussion on the Metropolitan Police will be to strengthen the hands of the Home Secretary in squeezing from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a very much larger grant towards the cost of the Metropolitan Police than is at present paid under the 1909 Act. In that way we may relieve to some extent the charge borne by London ratepayers.

My view of the police in London has changed compared with what it was some years ago. I remember the hard things I said to them during the unemployed demonstrations immediately after the First World War, but I have since learned that there were probably faults on both sides on that occasion. It is true that the police in London do a very good job of work. Recently there have been some unfortunate incidents in my constituency as a result of which there were police count cases and trials. The trouble was not so much with the police, but arose because Clapham Common was not being accepted by the authorities as a responsibility after dark. They did their best to clear up some of the trouble from what were known as the "cosh boys," and the fears of a lot of people about walking over Clapham Common have gone—although, of course, they can come back.

It is right and proper to pay tribute to the way in which the police generally carry out their duties in London. As a Londoner, I think the hackneyed statement, "Your London police are wonderful" contains a good deal of truth. I hope that one of the results of this debate will be to assure them that they are being supported by Londoners as a whole.

I wish to stress that it is important that the charge on London ratepayers should be cut as far as possible and that the additional burden of services under the 1909 Act ought to be met by the Treasury. I ask that some scheme be worked out to make it possible for the authorities which receive the precept to have a look at the estimates for the Metropolitan Police before the precept is delivered.

6.13 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham, East)

I am sorry that I was not able to be present in the Chamber during the early part of the debate. I have a particular interest in this matter, which is of general interest to Londoners, in that where I live now I appear to be surrounded by the administration of justice and law and order. Immediately opposite to my home is a probation officer; further down the street is a juvenile court, and opposite to that is a large administrative headquarters belonging to the Metropolitan Police. So as I look round I have every reason to hope that justice and law and order are being preserved.

There are two particular items to which I wish to refer. One is the parking of cars, which was touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Sir F. Messer). I hope that on this matter the right hon. and learned Gentleman will consult his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, as I gather that there is a division of responsibility here. To the ordinary public the situation appears to be absurd and anomalous. A considerable number of Londoners make a regular habit of parking their cars for the whole of the night in authorised parking places. They do so because it is prohibitively expensive to garage them.

In doing that they are causing no harm to anyone. The cars remain quietly where they are and do not cause any annoyance. But technically the owners are breaking the law, unless they rise from their beds every two or four hours to move the vehicles for 20 yards or so. The police try to behave as reasonably as possible, and where no vexation is caused they quietly ignore the fact that the law is being broken. However, that cannot go on indefinitely, and periodically someone who has been parking his car without incident for some long period is suddenly hauled before the court. That is not the proper way to administer justice. I do not know what is the solution, and I do not suggest that the Metropolitan Police are in any way at fault in this matter. It is something requiring the close consideration of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport.

Near the borders of my constituency are Olympia and the Empress Hall, which periodically attract a great deal of motor traffic. The result is that on certain nights quiet residential streets normally regarded as suitable for parking places, are filled with vehicles, and when the spectators come out of Olympia or the Empress Hall there are prolonged noises of all descriptions. Again, it is easier to describe the problem and the vexation it causes to the residents in that area than to suggest a remedy. The remedy may well be the complete replanning of parking facilities in London. That is a matter which concerns both the Home Office and the Ministry of Transport and I hope that it will be given consideration.

May I say a word on the question of police finances and the London local authorities? It is true to say that the situation in London is quite unique. The Metropolitan Police precept on the Metropolitan boroughs. It is true that other bodies, such as the London County Council, precept on the Metropolitan boroughs. But, after all, the London County Council is responsible for the precept and when it collects the rate the boroughs can say, in effect, to the ratepayers, "Look here, part of this rate is the London County Council's responsibility and elected councillors have to answer for it." Even the Metropolitan Water Board has among its members people who are members of elected authorities. It is true, if I understand provincial procedure, that a standing joint committee precepts on local authorities, but such a committee has at least some members who are elected. London is unique in that a precept can be imposed on London boroughs by a body which is not elected at all and not legally controlled.

I understand that at present the finances of the police are discussed after the event. After the precept has been made, there are periodical consultations between the Metropolitan Police authorities and the Standing Joint Committee of the Metropolitan boroughs. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman may be able to tell us some of the matters which have been raised in those consultations; but at best, they are only consultations after the event. Is it not possible to have consultations before the precept is made?

There may be constitutional difficulties about that. Since, in effect, these are estimates for Parliament, it may be that they cannot be shown to or discussed by anyone before they are presented to the House. I do not know whether that is an insuperable difficulty; perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman may be able to tell us. I think it true to say that, although it would be incorrect to suppose that the people of London are in any way complaining about their police force, there is a growing feeling about this rather unsatisfactory financial arrangement.

6.20 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)

I am sorry to have to intervene at this point before two hon. Members opposite have spoken —

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

I have been here all the afternoon.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

—but we have an understanding to occupy the time until 7 o'clock only and a great number of questions have been put to me which I wish to answer. I am sorry that these two things mean that this is the time when I must ask to have the chance of being called.

I am glad that this debate has taken place and taken the course which it has. I do not wish to appear fulsome, and I know that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will not suspect me of that when I say that the speech with which he introduced this debate has given me more pleasure than almost any other speech I have heard in the House. Of course, it was the study and exposition of a subject which is very near to the heart of the right hon. Gentleman and to mine, by one who knows a great deal about it and who can express both the good points and the difficulties with a vigour which all his colleagues, where-ever they sit in the House, very much appreciate.

I think it would be convenient if I ran through the subjects which have been raised in the debate, and I shall try to group them. I hope that the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), who was unable to take part in the debate, will not hesitate to interrupt me if I come to a point on which he had a question, when I will do my best to answer it.

I will deal, first, with the financial subjects, because the £100,000 was the first subject with which the right hon. Member for South Shields dealt. Of course, he gave us the date of the Act and referred to its contents with complete accuracy. However, there is one general point in that regard, which is that in 1909 the overall 50 per cent, grant had not been introduced. At that time, the Government contribution was only in regard to certain elements in that expenditure, and related, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember, to the 4d. rate at that time. The Government grant now covers all expenditure, and that is something from which the local authorities have benefited.

At that time, the £100,000 was designed to deal with two categories. The first can be described as services which arise from the fact that London is the capital city and the capital of what was at that time called the Empire. It is, let us hope, the central city of the Commonwealth and Empire today. These services are varied, and include such things as looking after this House which are familiar to us all. The other class of services were those rendered to other forces. Of course, there is still a great service rendered to other forces in the existence of the Criminal Record Office, which is available to them today.

In fairness to other forces, although we are not discussing them this evening, I wish to say that the extent of other forms of assistance to them has decreased with the development of the criminal investigation departments in these other forces. The provincial police, if I may so call them, do not, in fact, call in Scotland Yard today with the unanimity which writers of detective stories always depict. In 1953, they asked for help in seven cases, and there was the same modest total in 1952, so that on that side there has been a decrease in what one may call the general service which the Metropolitan Police force has -given to other forces.

On the general point, the views of the London authorities have been very carefully considered on a number of occasions. When the right hon. Member for South Shields was Secretary of State for the Home Department, he received a deputation on the subject. I can only say that I shall, of course, consider what has been said in this debate. I am equally ready to receive a deputation, and to discuss the matter further should my colleagues in the House so desire.

I now come to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) some two years ago—he gave us the date—and which he mentioned again today. It is the other financial problem, the relationship with the local authorities and between the local authorities and the central Govern- ment. That point was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) and by other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), who has courteously told me that he has had to leave the Committee, and the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart), who wound up the debate for the other side.

One has, of course, to take a balance on this matter. I should like to divide my remarks into two parts—the question of the powers and the answerability of the Metropolitan Police force, and the question of finance, on which I will deal with the point raised especially by the hon. Member for Fulham, East. The consequence of the present method of administration is that responsibility rests on the Secretary of State, who is answerable to Parliament and to no one else; but, as a consequence of that Parliamentary responsibility, the details of the administration and operation of the Metropolitan Police can be the subject of Question and debate in the House of Commons, as can those of no other force.

If any Home Secretary is asked about another force, he has to say, "That is another matter. I am not responsible for the administration. I am only responsible to the House of Commons that an efficient force should exist in that county borough" But here one is answerable, and that is tremendously important. Many of us have had long years in the House—many longer than myself—but the fact that that can happen, and that an incident can be inquired into at once, is a remarkable and very valuable factor.

The other point is—and this is a sort of connecting link—that the accounts of the Metropolitan Police Fund are scrutinised by the Public Accounts Committee. I wish to say only a word or two on the reason for that. The hon. Member for Tottenham (Sir F. Messer) really put his finger on it when he described to us the extent and composition of the Metropolitan Police area. It is a large, composite area, and, of course, the force is one of enormous size. No one has suggested even toying with the idea of separate forces. Therefore, there is a great deal to be said from that point of view, especially as London is a capital city and unique among capital cities, for this special form of control. I think that, after a century and a quarter, on balance we should agree that Sir Robert Peel was right and that the control ought to be in a Minister who is responsible to Parliament and who can be questioned there.

I now come to the financial side. I have been asked by a number of hon. Gentlemen, including the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton, what the new suggestions were which I was considering at the time to which the hon. and gallant Member referred. The arrangements which have been made are these. First, the Estimates used for the purpose of determining the amount of the precept are those prepared in October and published in the Civil Estimates in late February or early March. This arrangement has been adopted for the first time this year. Hitherto the precept has been based on the revised Estimates prepared in January, which, since they were not submitted to Parliament, could not be made available to the local authorities.

The second point is that the Receiver meets the financial officers representing the inner and outer London authorities in May and discusses the figures in the Estimates with them. At this meeting they will this year and in future be given the material figures of income and expenditure for the previous year.

Again, I should like to follow what my predecessor and other Secretaries of State have announced, namely, that I am willing, as they were, to receive representatives of the Inner and Outer London Standing Joint Committees if, as a result of the Receiver's meeting with the financial officers, the authorities want to raise points of policy with me. No such meeting has taken place since 1952.

There are, therefore, these three points of alteration. If hon. Members, after having had a chance to look at them, care to have a word with me about the matter, I shall be very pleased to discuss it with them.

I now come to the question of recruiting. It was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman and almost every other speaker. There is one thing which I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether, strictly speaking, the Home Office comes out of it well or badly, but it is a fact that our estimate for last year of £8,385,000—the right hon. Gentleman will remember that it has been increased to £8,400,000 for the present year—was to cover 800 recruits which we hoped to have but did not get. Therefore, the estimate will still cover 800 recruits, and we are going out to try to get those recruits. I think that that reassures the right hon. Gentleman, although I must admit that I failed to get the recruits last year. However, we are still in the market for recruits; we are not sitting down under the present position.

Might I say what that position is with complete frankness to the Committee, because it is most important that we should know it, and I want all the help I can get? The authorised male establishment of the Metropolitan Police on 31st March, 1953, just over a year ago, was 19,647, and the actual male strength was 15,979. On 31st March this year the authorised establishment had risen to 19,698—that was as a result of certain adjustments in the higher ranks—and the actual male strength had fallen by 80 to 15,899.

During the calendar year 1953, 1,033 men were recruited and 1,172 left the force, a net loss of 139. That was—this is really the point that the right hon. Gentleman made demonstrated in results—the result of a steady fall in recruiting which had begun in the autumn of 1952 and carried on well into the summer of 1953. It was from February, 1953, onwards that wastage exceeded intake.

The recent picture is somewhat more encouraging. During the first three months of 1954 the intake was 350 and the wastage 278, a net gain of 72. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, that was after the new rise in remuneration had come into effect. The right hon. Gentleman was quite right in his picture. We got the increase after the rise in remuneration came into effect; that continued for some time and then the figures proceeded to decline.

I want the Committee to understand that this is not for want of action on our part. Everyone who has spoken has agreed that there is no easy solution to the problem. I should like to point out what we have done about improving the conditions of service. It is essential to improve the conditions of service, to instil a pride of service, and to ensure further facilities for welfare and recreation.

What have we done? At the beginning of this year there was an increase in the starting pay of constables to bring them up to the scale of £445 per year to £550 per year, and an increase in the London allowance for constables and sergeants from £10 to £20 per year. That was the result of agreement in the new negotiating body, the Police Council for Great Britain, which is now charged with the duty of considering questions of pay and other conditions of service. I emphasise that it was the result of agreement.

Since the war a number of other measures have been taken which have cumulatively improved the conditions of service. During the right hon. Gentleman's time there were two pay increases. In addition to that, these other improvements have taken place. Overtime detective duty, boot allowances and rent allowances have been increased; the discipline regulations have been overhauled to ensure that they command the confidence of all ranks; annual leave has been increased; the uniform has been improved; and the setting up of the Police College, to which the right hon. Gentleman and I both attach great importance, has provided for the higher training of those likely to qualify for appointment to inspector and higher posts.

I will deal with housing separately, but these are general matters which really do implement the further recommendations of the Oaksey Report. A matter to which some reference was made by the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger), concerns the police cadets, whose establishment has recently been increased to 500. It is hoped that a great many of them will return to the force when they have done their military service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead asked me about publicity arrangements. Special recruiting publicity arrangements were introduced in 1953, costing £40,000 a year. Advertising in daily and weekly newspapers has been intensified, and large posters are displayed at railway stations. These arrangements came into force in the middle of 1953, and it is difficult to estimate whether they have contributed, or how far they have contributed, to the improvement, but we are doing everything that we can.

I want to tell the Committee two things. The first is that I could not agree more strongly that, if we want to make a further and more substantial reduction in the figures relating to crime, an increase in the police forces in London and the other large cities is a vital factor. Without the knowledge of the police and without good detection officers, we are enormously handicapped in the war against crime. The second thing is that I would ask, as I have done before—and I am sure I shall not ask in vain—that all my colleagues in the House, wherever they sit, will do their utmost to help in this recruiting campaign for the police, because in that way they will be doing a real service to their country. I shall be very glad if any of them can make any suggestions, however sharp the prod to myself, in dealing with this task.

I have kept housing separate because it is such an important matter. The position is that, up to 31st March of this year, 3,380 married quarters were available in the Metropolitan Police district. A further 575 were under construction, and another 750 in the planning stage. Since the war, 2,180 married quarters, which is virtually twice as many again as were available pre-war, have been provided, and this is a notable achievement. I have given the figures for the period for which the right hon. Gentleman opposite was responsible as well as for that relating to myself, because he and I will never fight about our individual contributions but are glad to think that something is being done about the problem.

I think this achievement is notable, considering the difficulties that exist in London in finding sites available for development for police housing purposes. It is fair to say—and this should be known, because it is important—that it represents something little short of a revolution in the conditions of Metropolitan Police officers. The hon. Member for Clapham put in a word of warning, but I should have said that the standard of accommodation was good without being lavish. I have been over blocks of these married quarters myself and have seen the people living there, and I think that it is a case of so far, so good.

Plans are going forward to raise the total to 5,000, which will represent about one-third of the strength of the force, and the Receiver hopes they will be completed by March, 1956. To put it in another way, 840 police officers moved into new married quarters in the 12 months ended 30th April. There is still a considerable waiting list, but an effort commensurate with the size of the problem is being put forth. Consideration will be given this summer to the question whether 5,000 is still the appropriate figure at which to aim.

With regard to section houses for unmarried officers, eight major works, costing over £20,000, have been carried out since the war, and these were schemes for buildings which were either begun before the war and have been completed since or which suffered damage during the war and have been repaired. Six further major works are now under construction, and two more will be started during this year. There has also been a steady programme of alterations and improvements.

I must now say something about the 11 section houses mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead. The difficulty with regard to the 11 section houses that are not being used is that, while it is true that they are being kept as being available and in reserve, it is virtually impossible to put them to any other use. They are of the cubicle type, and most of them were regarded as below standard as far back as 1932. We are holding them as a reserve, but I do not think we can be blamed for not using them unless it is absolutely essential. We have considered converting them to married quarters, but the cost would be too great.

Again, I do not want anyone to think that I am complacent. No one responsible for housing will ever be complacent while there is a considerable waiting list. On the other hand, I think that we have made notable progress, compared with the position which obtained at the end of the war, and we are determined that this progress shall go on. In this matter, I speak for the whole of the Committee, irrespective of party.

I was asked about the future programme. I should like to say that a long-term programme for the replacement of buildings was worked out before the war. It has been taken up and looked at again since the war, and a programme of priorities has been drawn up in agreement with the Commissioner. How far one can go will always depend on the amount of capital investment which is authorised at the time.

I was asked about special constables, and I should like to inform the Committee that we have at present 3,428 men and 85 women, which represents a small increase of 32 during the year. We find that the best method of getting people to volunteer for this important work is by personal contact, but I am willing to bear in mind what was suggested on this point during the debate.

I am glad that the position concerning women police was mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South, who spoke so eloquently on this subject. I hope she will allow me, as one of her constituents in Holborn, to pay a tribute to her speech. I should like to tell the Committee what is the position. First of all, the strength has increased from 335 on 31st March, 1951, to 468 on 31st March, 1954. We set our target in May, 1951, at an establishment of 338, which was put up by September, 1953, to 524. We are still aiming at an increase. Policewomen are now attached to 106 stations, one in each sub-division and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, there has been a remarkable increase in the variety and coverage of their work. I agree with him that we are grateful to those who were prepared to do the original work of the policewomen. There are 48 women on the C.I.D. establishment and 36 at present in post. Women on the beat are allowed, like the men, to carry through inquiries into the cases that have come their way.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the legal opinion he gave as to the entitlement of women to membership of the Federation. Perhaps the Committee will forgive me if I mention a fact which will give great pleasure to the right hon. Gentleman, as it does to myself. He mentioned the new non-statutory body which is operating at the moment, the Police Council. There will be a woman on the police side. I should like to inform the right hon. Gentleman, without mentioning the name, that the lady who was his private secretary, and afterwards was my private secretary, has now, by promotion, got into a position on the other side of the Council, so that the fair sex will be represented on both sides in the future.

I was asked about legislation. We thought it would be better to have the non-statutory body established by agreement. Everyone agreed, so that it can operate and we can see how it works. Legislation can therefore be produced on the firm basis of something which has actually been working and is in operation.

Several interesting speeches were made about parking. The hon. Member for Fulham, East, rightly and frankly said that parking was a joint responsibility of the Minister of Transport and myself. That Minister prescribes, and I have the duty of carrying out his wishes. I assure the Committee that my right hon. Friend and myself have been consulting, are consulting, and will go on consulting on the general problem.

It is only fair to the police to bring out my next point. A number of police is naturally engaged on this work. During 1953, the Metropolitan Police dealt with offences of obstruction and breaches of parking regulations by oral warning and written caution before they came to summonsing. I think the Committee will be glad to hear that the police on foot issued 181,093 oral warnings and 21,535 written cautions, and issued only 24,000 summonses. The traffic patrols gave 48,760 oral warnings and 842 written cautions, and took out only 1,082 summonses. Despite the memory of the hon. Member for Fulham, East and the hon. Lady who referred to this subject, those are the facts.

I am anxious not to infringe on the other part of today's work. I would tell the hon. Member for Tottenham that we are very much alive to not using the police for office and other work that can be done by somebody else. Had I more time I would no doubt be able to interest him in telling him of replacements and releases of police officers to do the work which, as he suggested, is more properly theirs. That has been going on, and since the working party that we recently had on this matter further progress has been made.

I welcome the debate and it was an excellent thing to have it. I have justified the present constitutional set-up by the fact that a Minister is answerable here. It is very good that at reasonable intervals we should have a day when hon. Members can express their doubts and the Minister can answer them as best he may. I welcome the debate also as throwing light on the difficulties of the police and drawing attention again to its great achievements.

The problems of recruitment remain troublesome and will continue to call for much attention and the help of all men and women of good will. There can be no dispute that the force, which is admittedly seriously under strength, is doing extremely well a most difficult task, at a time when legislation constantly adds to the duties and responsibilities of the police, when traffic problems grow more serious month by month, and when the crowds that gather from time to time to watch great occasions of State in the Metropolis call for the greatest powers of tact, patience and forbearance on the part of the police who are there to keep order.

The police are criticised from time to time in individual cases. It is absolutely right that in a democratic society it should be possible to criticise the police. Only a fool would maintain that out of a Metropolitan force of 16,000 and of more than 70,000 in the country there never will be men who go wrong. Of course there will be, occasionally. It can be fairly claimed that the police have in recent years continued to foster a good relationship with their fellow-citizens. When I have been addressing gatherings of policemen, whether in the Federation, or at a recruit passing-out course, or when opening new quarters, I have tried to say that the idea that police duties are primarily or exclusively related to the prevention and detection of crime is now a thing of the past. They are the friends and helpers of the citizen in a tremendous number of the aspects of his life.

What is their position? Looking at it dispassionately, I think that the right hon. Gentleman and I can say without complacency that a good deal has been done in recent years to improve their pay and conditions of service. The police service now offers to a young man a career in which he knows that he will give good service to the community. The financial rewards are not inconsiderable and by his work and merits he can earn promotion to the highest posts in the service. I hope that that will become realised.

Among all the police forces in this country, I am sure that the Metropolitan Police has built up a reputation second to none. New Scotland Yard, its headquarters, has a world-wide reputation. If I may put it this way, the London "bobby" himself is known throughout the world as the symbol of British democracy. Long may that continue.

Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)

Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman sits down, may I ask two questions? First, why is it necessary that the Metropolitan Police should have a carryforward balance of £3½million? Secondly, having regard to the increasing number of policemen who have been relieved of traffic responsibilities by the adoption of traffic lights, has there at any time been a review of the strength of the force?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Dealing with the second point first, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman need be under any fear except that the establishment now fixed is considerably below that which could be justified by the needs of London.

On his first point, I would have to look up the figures. It sounds to me like the remnants of our old friend—one of the police housing Acts. I would not like to tie myself. I will look into that and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Pargiter

The amount on capital account is just over £¼million.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I will look into it and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Whereupon Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again." —[Mr. R. Thompson]—put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.