HC Deb 27 March 1958 vol 585 cc569-71
15. Mr. Lagden

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will consider introducing legislation to extend to the Secretary of State for the Home Department such power over chief constables as would seem necessary in order to enable Members of Parliament to raise Questions in the House of Commons concerning the conduct of police officers in provincial forces.

Mr. R. A. Butler

No, Sir. An essential feature of our police service is that it is organised and controlled on a local basis.

Mr. Lagden

Does not the Secretary of State agree that to debar some Members of this House from the right of Questions which is enjoyed by other Members is a serious thing? Would he not look at this matter further, having regard to the matters concerning chief constables which have recently been before our notice?

Mr. Butler

It is an anomaly that in the case of the Metropolitan Police hon. Members have a greater power of questioning than in the case of a provincial police force, but there are many curious developments in our Constitution upon which our liberties largely depend, and I do not think it would be a good thing to have absolute uniformity in this matter.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

Is the Home Secretary aware that most of us are very happy to be denied the privilege of asking him questions about the police system as long as this avoids over-centralisation of the police forces of the country?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir, and I am just as relieved not to be asked the Questions.

Mr. H. Morrison

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there is no anomaly at all? In the case of the Metropolitan Police, he is responsible for them and runs them and, therefore, is responsible to this House, although London pays the same amount towards the cost of the force as the provinces do for theirs; but, in the case of the provinces, he does not run them, though he has a considerable influence. Therefore, there is no anomaly. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is the anomaly."] Then may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the logic of this argument would not be that the entire police forces of this country should become a national affair—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—a practice which would be foreign to British temperament and tradition?

Mr. Butler

I agree with the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. I think it would be wrong to have the police forces centralised. What is troubling my hon. Friend and other Members of this House is that they have not exactly the same right of questioning for each particular force, and that, I think, is not so important as the major principle to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Lagden

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.