HC Deb 16 December 1959 vol 615 cc1452-5
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

I will, with permission, make a statement about an inquiry into police matters.

The Queen has been pleased to approve the setting up of a Royal Commission on Police with the following terms of reference: To review the constitutional position of the police throughout Great Britain, the arrangements for their control and administration and, in particular, to consider:

  1. (1) the constitution and functions of local police authorities;
  2. (2) the status and accountability of members of police forces, including chief officers of police;
  3. (3) the relationship of the police with the public and the means of ensuring that complaints by the public against the police are effectively dealt with; and
  4. (4) the broad principles which should govern the remuneration of the constable, having regard to the nature and extent of police duties and responsibilities and the need to attract and retain an adequate number of recruits with the proper qualifications.
I am glad to be able to announce that Her Majesty has also approved the appointment of the Right Hon. Sir Henry Willink, to act as chairman of the Royal Commission. I hope shortly to be able to announce the names of the members of the Commission.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Is the Prime Minister aware that we on this side of the House welcome the setting up of this Royal Commission and that we are very glad that Sir Henry Willink has been able to accept the chairmanship of the Commission? We hope that its work will lead to consolidation of good relations between the public and the police.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions about the scope of the terms of reference? First, do the terms of reference cover specifically the question of the right of Parliament to raise matters concerning provincial police forces? Secondly, would they cover consideration of the taking of statements by the police from people who are detained but not charged? Finally, would the Royal Commission be able to make an interim report on the question of the broad principles of the pay of the police, so that the Commission should not be held up while it is considering all the other great matters which it has to consider?

The Prime Minister

On the first question, I think that the phrase, the status and accountability, covers what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.

As to the second, I do not think that the terms of reference, although they are wide, actually cover what one might call police powers and procedure. These, of course, were the subject of the Royal Commission on Police Powers and Procedure, which reported in 1929. They are rather specialised subjects which I think these terms of reference, broad as they are, could hardly be expected to cover.

On the third question, I will certainly take note of the right hon. Gentleman's point. It will rest, perhaps, with the chairman of the Commission, but I think that it is a valuable suggestion and it may well be that the Commission would think it possible to divide its work in that way.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Since a good deal of the not so good relations between the police and the public is concerned with the charges made from time to time about the taking of statements, if the Royal Commission is to look into the relationship of the police and the public, should the right hon. Gentleman not look at this matter again? The Commission really would not be able to deal with one of the most important elements in this extremely difficult problem.

The Prime Minister

I think that what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind in the broad sense could be brought in under the relationship with the public, or public disquiet, but what I think, perhaps wrongly, that the right hon. Gentleman had in mind was the whole matter of the principles of evidence and all those rather technical matters which are more specialised. Where it affects what one might call the broad confidence of the public in the police, what the right hen. Gentleman has in mind will come within the scope of the Commission.

Mr. Royle

On the terms of reference, would the Prime Minister say something on two quite different points? Will the terms of reference cover, in particular, the relationship between the police and coloured immigrants? I am thinking, obviously, of Notting Hill. Secondly, will the terms of reference cover the question of the part which the police play in the conduct of magistrates' courts?

The Prime Minister

I think that in general terms, certainly the first would be covered, because coloured immigrants from our Commonwealth are, of course, members of the public when they are here and in that sense seem to me to be covered by the terms of reference. The other question is a little more specialised and I should not like to pronounce upon it at the moment; but the hon. Member will see that the terms of reference are very wide and I would hope that everything he would wish could be dealt with by the Commission.

Mr. Grimond

Can the Prime Minister say whether the Commission will be entitled to examine the general scope of police duties and, in particular, if the proposals for traffic wardens are brought into being, how this will affect the police and how far they can be relieved of their burden on traffic matters?

The Prime Minister

I think that the words "the functions" of the police cover what the hon. Member has in mind, unless the matter has already been tackled.

Mr. J. Hynd

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the reference to the remuneration of the police force in the terms of reference will enable the Commission to examine and to make recommendations in regard to suitable and adequate statutory provisions for police officers who may be injured, maimed, or worse in the course of their duties and their dependants?

The Prime Minister

Again, I would have thought that the phrase" the broad principles which should govern the remuneration … having regard to the nature and extent of police duties and responsibilities" was about as broad a phrase as we could find. I have no doubt that all these matters will be considered by the Commission.

Mr. Popplewell

Is the Prime Minister aware that representations have been made to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that the scope of this inquiry should extend to police activities in Northern Ireland? If this is not possible, will be explain why not, because there is considerable feeling in Northern Ireland that the inquiry should extend to that part of the United Kingdom, too?

The Prime Minister

I said specifically that it will cover Great Britain. The position of the police in Northern Ireland is rather separate, under a separate system, and I think that it would complicate the already very heavy work of the Commission if it were to involve itself in that matter, as well as other reasons why this may not be suitable to be dealt with in the same way.

Mr. Lagden

Can the Prime Minister give an assurance that no hon. Member will be debarred from giving evidence before this inquiry?

The Prime Minister

I think that it is a matter for the Commission to seek what evidence it wishes. I have no doubt that, if it felt that valuable evidence could be given by Members of the House of Commons, the Commission would be very ready and anxious to hear it.

Mr. Spriggs

May I ask the Prime Minister how long he expects the Commission to take to produce its report and whether the House will be given an opportunity to debate the report?

The Prime Minister

I cannot tell exactly how long it will take. We are very indebted to Sir Henry Willink for undertaking this task, which is not easy. The inquiry will, of course, require some time. Knowing Sir Henry and his methods, I do not think that he will take an undue time over it, but when the Commission's report is published I have no doubt that the House will wish to debate it. That can be arranged in the ordinary way.