HC Deb 08 February 1956 vol 548 cc1735-44

Order for Second Reading read.

6.45 p.m.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. William Grant)

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

I hope that I shall not take up very much of the time of the House. This is very largely a consolidation Measure, and it has already been considered by a Joint Select Committee of both Houses. That Committee reported that, in its view, there was nothing in the Bill as amended by it—and they were very minor Amendments—to which the attention of Parliament should be drawn.

The real parent of the Bill is the Scottish Local Government Law Consolidation Committee, which was reconstituted in 1948 by the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn). The Chairman of the Committee is Professor Fisher of Edinburgh, and the Committee includes hon. Members from both sides of this House. It also includes representatives of local authorities. In November, 1953, the Committee produced a unanimous Report about the law relating to the police in Scotland, and this Report, together with a draft Bill which was also prepared by the Committee, was discussed with the Scottish police and local authority associations. As a result, certain adjustments were made in this Bill in order to meet their points.

The Bill, in the form in which it was introduced in another place, was, generally speaking, agreed by all the interested parties and associations, and the Measure which is now before the House is, apart from a few minor drafting Amendments, practically identical with the Bill as introduced elsewhere. An Explanatory Memorandum has been published which draws attention to the main alterations proposed in the existing law and also to the main changes or differences between this Bill as it now stands and the draft Bill which was prepared by the Consolidation Committee. I have no doubt that hon. Members have studied these documents, and I do not want to go into them at this stage.

As I have said, the Bill is essentially a Consolidation Measure and really derives from three main codes. First of all, we have the Police (Scotland) Act, 1857, which governs the administration of county police forces; secondly, we have the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892, which deals in a similar fashion with most of the large burghs, and, thirdly, we have a series of local Acts which cover Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Greenock. Therefore, we have three main codes, with certain differences between them. The Fisher Committee tried to reproduce the best parts of the existing codes and to apply the results to the country as a whole, so that we could get a uniform code for the whole country, instead of having three separate codes as we have at the moment. That Committee tried—as, I think, does this Bill—to make the existing provisions rather more compact, up-to-date and less antiquated, and, I hope, rather more easy to understand.

I should perhaps explain why the Bill was not dealt with under the terms of the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act, 1949. The reason is simply that obtaining uniformity is not one of the purposes for which the usual procedure provided for in that Act can be applied. We are here obtaining uniformity and not merely consolidating, and we are also making various minor alterations. As a result, it was decided to refer the Bill to a Joint Select Committee, as was done, with the Bill which led up to the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947.

I do not want to deal in detail with the individual provisions of the Bill because they are covered in great detail in the Explanatory Memorandum, but there is one matter to which I should refer because it caused considerable discussion in the Joint Select Committee. It is a matter on which I think at one time or another all Scottish Members have received representations, the employment of special constables.

Under the existing law, special constables can be employed in most areas in Scotland—I will qualify that in a moment —only in an emergency or for the suppression and prevention of tumult and riot. There is no legal provision over most of Scotland for giving these special constables the practical training in the actual carrying out of police duties which they would need in the event of their services being required at some later stage.

I said that that was the position over most of Scotland, and perhaps I should explain that in Aberdeen and in Dundee, under local Acts, the employment of special constables is more or less untrammelled. The Fisher Committee recommended, in effect, that all the restrictions on the use of special constables should be removed. That meant that provided the constable was willing to be employed, he could be employed. That would have brought the position in Scotland into line with what it is in England and Wales.

But subsequent discussions with the Scottish Police Federation, which represents officers up to and including the rank of inspector, revealed that it was opposed to this plan. The grounds of its opposition were that it felt that the widespread employment of special constables would have three bad effects on the regular police. The first was that it might damage the reputation of the police force. The argument was, I think, that the special constable might not be as skilled as the regular man, and if he made a mistake, the onlooker would attribute it to the regular police as a whole. One can understand that fear.

The second objection was that it thought that the extension of employment of special constables would perhaps create friction and ill-feeling between the special constables and members of the regular forces. The third reason was that it felt that this recommendation of the Fisher Committee would enable police authorities to employ special constables in order to make up shortages in their regular police force establishment. In fact, it was afraid of dilution. I think that is putting it in a nutshell.

In order to meet these difficulties, it was suggested to the Federation that the draft Bill prepared by the Fisher Committee should be amended in two ways. First, it should provide that a police authority could not take account of its special constables in assessing the establishment of police it needed—that met the dilution fear—and, secondly, that a special constable should be employed outside an emergency only to the extent necessary to give him practical experience of police work.

At the same time the Federation was told that although the Government did not think it practicable to put a specific limitation on the hours which could be worked by a special constable, it was the intention of the Government to hold discussions with the Federation and other interested organisations with a view to issuing advice to the police authorities on the extent to which special constables should be employed, that is to say, to try to get this limitation arranged on an administrative advice basis, if I may so call it.

These proposals were, I understand, accepted both orally and in writing by the Federation and by the other police and local authority associations. As hon. Members will see, the necessary Amendments to give effect to these proposals have been made. They will be found in Clause 3 (2) and in the proviso to Clause 4. The joint select Committee, when considering this question, examined the possibility of limiting the employment of special constables otherwise than in an emergency by statutory regulations rather than by administrative advice. But it did not recommend any specific amendment to the Bill, leaving it to this House to exercise its own judgment in the matter.

That point has been very carefully considered since the Committee reported, but no new Amendment has been put into the Bill for the following reasons. First, the Federation has agreed in principle that some training of special constables is necessary, which means that an amendment to the law is required. Of course that amendment is in the Bill. Secondly, as the proposals as they stand have been accepted by the Federation and by the other interested bodies, it was felt that it would be a pity to interfere with the provisions of the Bill which had been agreed in that way. Once we start altering something which has been agreed we are apt to run into trouble with one side or the other.

The third reason I have already referred to, that an undertaking has been given to discuss this question of the limiting of special constables outwith an emergency and to deal with it by means of administrative action. I can assure hon. Members that that undertaking will stand. If it should turn out in the end to be advisable or necessary to deal with the matter by statutory regulation, that could be done under the Bill as it stands. It could be done by regulation under Clause 11 (1), which is widely enough drawn to enable regulations to be made to cover this point without the matter being specifically stated in the Bill.

That question of the special constables was the only one with which the Select Committee was concerned at any length, and it is the only matter with which I think it right to deal at this stage. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the House will agree to give this Bill a Second Reading.

6.58 p.m.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

Of course we must welcome this Bill. It is part of the process I started in 1948 to get a great many of our laws consolidated. It is a pity that in Clause 4, in defining the duties of the constables, it would appear that their duties are almost entirely confined to crime. That was the case when constables first came into existence, and it remained so for many years. But the modern police force is an entirely different organisation; in many ways it has entirely different functions.

It is true that in the last resort the police protect us against crime as well as safeguard life and property. But the duties of the police force today are multifarious compared with the man on the beat whose only job was to watch for people attempting to break into houses. Today they look after children, control traffic, guide great concourses of people throughout the country and develop laboratories with scientists as part of their organisation. The police force is not simply a body of men watching other men; it is a great organisation; a great machine, extending right from the man on the beat to the scientist in the laboratory who uses all the power of science to assist those who try to detect crime.

The opportunities now offered to constables are quite different from what they were. Some constables now have university degrees; indeed, we heard of one a few days ago who had retired from the force and is now training to become a teacher. People do not always appreciate the kind of police force which exists today. It consists of people with skills of all types, and the opportunities it affords for developing a person's intelligence and capacity are no less than those in industrial or commercial life.

In some places it has been rather difficult to recruit men to the force, because of the onerous shifts of duty. We should aim to create such conditions in the police force that the best people are attracted to it. A policeman is a force in more than one sense. He has a great moral power in the community, and the very fact that he is there to be called upon for help is a great asset. I remember the first time I went through the House of Commons. I was in the company of the late George Lansbury, and he was also accompanied by about 30 school children. A policeman came along with us, and I was most astonished to see one little girl go up to him and say, "Will you please tie my lace?" The policeman bent down and tied her lace. When I was a youngster in Scotland no child would have approached within a mile of a policeman if he could avoid it; in fact, whenever he saw a policeman he would run for his life.

A tremendous change has taken place in the relationship between the policeman and the public. Instead of being the terror of the children and the public he is now their friend. They go to him for all kinds of assistance. The policeman is now regarded as a kind of legal aid, without any means test. People ask him for all sorts of advice, and in many cases he is able to give it.

That being so, I wish to take the opportunity which this debate offers to pay tribute to the splendid work of the Scottish police, and to put on record the improved relationship which exists between them and the rest of the public. We trust that they will receive recognition not only as protectors of property but as providers of various services which are of great value to the community. It might have been possible so to have clarified the duties of the police in Clause 4 as to afford some recognition of their services. When we think of them having a wireless broadcasting station at Blackford Hill, and think of the machinery which a policeman has to operate nowadays, as compared with the baton which was all he used to carry about, we realise that an evolution has taken place and that the police force has grown into a very complex organisation.

There may be points about the Bill which we shall want to discuss in detail in Committee. This is not the time to do that. We shall certainly support this consolidation Measure, with the improvements which it makes, because we regard it as desirable that the law in connection with the administration of the police force should be clear to all those who work in it or have anything to do with its work.

7.5 p.m.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)

As my right hon. Friend has said, the Bill is primarily a consolidation Measure, but it will have a useful effect in bringing about uniformity in police administration. The Bill was prepared by a Scottish Committee dealing with the consolidation of local government law, and when my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) appointed the Committee he chose very wisely. We should take this opportunity of congratulating the Chairman of the Committee—Professor Fisher—who presided over it so ably. Most of us know him, as we serve on the panel which deals with Provisional Orders. He is our able guide. He will probably be leaving that job soon, and I would point out to right hon. and hon. Members opposite that my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members on this side of the House will watch with great care the selection of the successor to Professor Fisher's job.

As the Solicitor-General said, the one contentious point raised before the Joint Select Committee was in relation to the employment of special constables. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) raised this matter because the police had certain fears about the employment of special constables. They did not begrudge the service given by those constables. We all know the great part that they play in a voluntary capacity, along with the regular police force. But the Police Federation felt that a stage might come when special constables were used not to supplement the police force but in place of it. It felt that this was a very great threat to the livelihood of the regular police. My right hon. Friend has mentioned the case of a policeman resigning from the force and training to become a teacher. We cannot believe that, even with the Teachers (Superannuation) Bill, teachers will be driven out of their profession to train as policemen. The police felt that there was a threat, and they wanted certain safeguards.

During the meetings of the Select Committee the representatives of the Scottish Office gave specific assurances to the Federation about this aspect of the Bill, and I am certain that those who spoke on behalf of the Scottish Office will carry out their pledges. Nevertheless, we were glad to hear from the Solicitor-General that even if the position cannot be safeguarded purely administratively, power is included in the Bill to do all the things that have been promised. We willingly accept that assurance and hope that the Bill will prove to be a benefit in operation. We shall certainly watch future appointments with a great deal of care.

7.8 p.m.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

There is not much that I can add to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy). I was a Member of the Select Committee and, prior to its first meeting, representations were received from the Police Federation making it quite clear that it saw some danger in the increased use of special constables. The Federation thought that the employment conditions of the regular police might be jeopardised. It seems that the Federation had approached the Secretary of State on the matter on many occasions, and had pointed to the fact that the law was already being broken in that special constables were being employed for purposes in respect of which they were not legally entitled to be employed.

The Federation's fear was that, under the guise of providing facilities for their training for the suppression of riot and tumult, special constables might be used in an ever-increasing capacity to supplement the regular constables. It was this point which caused so much discussion in the Select Committee. I have discussed the matter in other quarters, and it seems that the fear is now not quite so great as it was.

Can we be given adequate assurances that there is no intention of using special constables in any way which would injure the conditions of or supplant the regular constables, and that there is no intention of reducing the size of the regular police force on the basis that there already exists a special constabulary that can be used for such duties as regulating crowds at football matches? If ample assurances can be given that there is no such intention, my own feeling is that the Bill contains nothing to which we can object. I understand that such assurances will be forthcoming, and I rest quite happy.

7.11 p.m.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

I am very grateful that the Solicitor-General for Scotland has given us so much detail on the question of the employment of special constables. We on this side of the House, and possibly hon. Members opposite, are worried because we fear that what has been represented to us by the Police Federation may have some basis.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland has told us that under Clause 3 (2), in assessing the establishment of any police force, the number of special constables would not be taken into account. I think that is important, but I do not know if that is sufficient for the police force in Scotland. The Federation may agree when the assessment of the establishment is made no account will be taken of the 'number of special constables, but it may be afraid that if there is an adequate supply of special constables the police authorities will not make the same efforts to get regular constables. I am putting that forward as one of the fears which have been expressed by the police constables.

Clause 4 deals with the duties of special constables. One of the complaints of the Police Federation was that special constables were being used illegally in Scotland. From the word "Provided" to the end of paragraph (c) the Clause now makes legal what was previously illegal. The Solicitor-General for Scotland has said that an undertaking had been given to the Police Federation that this matter could be discussed, and I hope that administrative action will be taken to ensure that there will not be an abuse of this Clause. The hon. and learned Gentleman has also given an undertaking that if this is not possible, statutory regulations will be made under Clause 11. We are very grateful for those assurances. I hope that these consultations will take place very soon with the Police Federation, and that there will be no hesitation on the part of the Government, if they find that administrative action is not successful, in using the statutory regulations under Clause 11.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]

Committee Tomorrow.