HC Deb 01 August 1961 vol 645 cc1351-76

2.19 a.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I think that I have every reason to congratulate myself in that I have been able to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, at about twenty minutes past two o'clock in the morning, because I am merely continuing to argue a case which I first raised on this very same occasion last year at five past three in the morning. If that is progress, then I hope I shall also make progress with the Secretary of State, because in his hands is not only my agony of waiting but also the meeting of the wishes of the Town Council of Kilmarnock, which constitutes the police authority, and also the people of Kilmarnock. The right hon. Gentleman could do that if he would move away from his arbitrary determination to show that he knows better who should be, or should not be, the chief constable of the area.

This matter is a result of the vacancy which arose in the earlier part of 1960—in May, to be exact—since when the town of Kilmarnock has been without an appointed chief constable. It gat to the point where Kilmarnock Town Council, as the police authority, thinking, as it did, that the Secretary of State for Scotland was acting ultra vires, outwith the regulations which he himself had spelled out and laid down about the qualifications for appointment as chief constable, decided that it should go to the court of session and ask for a declarator. I think it was about 21st June of this year that we got that declarator from Lord Cameron.

The decision was no great surprise to me, and I am sure it must have been a considerable comfort to the Secretary of State for Scotland, when Lord Cameron, after what can justly be called a very full and careful opinion, delivered his judgment and took the view that the issue in the case in substance is not one of law but of administration, and that the Secretary of State in the exercise of the discretion committed to him by Parliament by Section 6 (1) of the Police (Scotland) Act, 1956, was entitled to have regard to general administrative considerations.

The general administrative consideration, and the only one which has been put forward as a bar to approving a man who was selected by the police authority, was that he had spent all his days as a police officer within that police force. If the Secretary of State looks back at the speech which he delivered from that Box exactly a year ago he will find that he offered no other reason and went out of his way, as everyone else has gone out of the way, to state that he had nothing against the person appointed. His service, his ability, his qualifications, all justify his being accepted.

But one thing, and one thing only, was the barrier. The Secretary of State for Scotland had made a speech at the Police College at Tulliallan in 1958 in which he brought to the notice of police authorities the fact that he would have difficulty in appointing anyone from within a police force to become the chief constable of that force. I wonder, will the Secretary of State never learn? An old rule of politics is never explain and never apologise. It is an old rule for the occupant of your distinguished position, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, never to give reasons. Discretion is given to the Chair in the selection of Amendments, etc., and all that the occupants of the Chair say, if they are wise, is that it has not been selected. Whenever they start to give reasons they start to get into trouble, and the Secretary of State, whenever he makes a speech, gets into trouble. When that speech is a reason to justify something on which he is not called upon to give reasons then he gets into even greater trouble. The Secretary of State has been described as "Maclay in the hands of the potter." He should stand up to those people In his Department who want him to make speeches and pronouncements on this, that and the next thing, because in this case he got right into trouble.

If there is one thing clear from the opinion of Lord Cameron and from the whole course of this case, it is that the opinion and finding of Lord Cameron is based more on researches into and knowledge of the law of Lord Cameron than on the argument put forward by the Solicitor-General for Scotland.

It is not my intention to attack the Solicitor-General for Scotland. It so happens, that the Conservative Party has not been able to find a seat for him in Scotland. He is not in the House. I suppose that one day some of the more aged among the Scottish Tory Members will have reached the apex of political success and will have got their knighthoods and will leave the nightshift, as we now call the Tory side of the Scottish Grand Committee, and one of them will make way for the Solicitor-General for Scotland.

Lord Cameron took a great deal more time to write his findings that I have had to study them—I obtained a copy only yesterday—but he makes comments which leads one to wonder about the concern he showed about an attitude of the Solicitor-General for Scotland during the argument. … at one stage of the debate he says— it seemed as though a new and much wider issue was being opened as the Solicitor-General appeared to suggest that it would be open to the defender, having already made Regulations in statutory form prescribing the qualifications for office as chief constable, to add to them as he liked and to promulgate or publish these additions in any way he wished. Later the Solicitor-General for Scotland retracted from this extreme and exposed position, and frankly conceded that … it was necessary that the whole qualifications for office should be set out in the Regulations contained in the relative Statutory Instruments and made in accordance with the Act. I would remind the Secretary of State that this was the attitude which he and the Lord Advocate took up and which his advisers took up towards the Kilmarnock authority's point of view when, with me, representatives met him. If anyone has been proved a pretty bad lawyer in this affair it is the Lord Advocate. I did not demand that he should be here tonight but I am surprised that he is not.

Lord Cameron also said: It was at one stage however suggested by junior counsel for the defender"— that is the Secretary of State— that … the defender did not require to set out all or any of the qualifications for office in the Regulations made by him. But he quickly ran away from that too.

It was this attitude, which is bureaucracy run riot, that led the Kilmarnock magistrates, town council and police authority to stand up for their own rights and their own choice. I can well understand what the Secretary of State is trying to do. I expressed myself on this at this time last year. But the right hon. Gentleman must realise his own limitations in the discretion which Parliament has given him. His sole power in connection with the appointment of a chief constable is the power to say "No" and he does not require to say why he says "No". But let us remember that in saying "No", the right hon. Gentleman is making no choice. He is saying "No" to one man.

There is another part of Lord Cameron's opinion, relating to a quoted attitude on the part of the Solicitor-General for Scotland which I could not quite understand, because it is not in accordance with fact. It is quoted by Lord Cameron and he seems to accept it: … the Solicitor-General argued that if therefore the Secretary of State has left himself and is free in any given case to exercise a choice between an appointee from within a force and one from outside each of whom possesses the requisite qualifications as laid down in the Regulations, how can it be said that in expressing a general intention to prefer candidates from outside he is legislating or prescribing a general disqualification for appointments? The Secretary of State is faced with no choice. He is faced only with the man who has been appointed by the police authority, and his only power is to say "No". On the basis of saying "No", one cannot build up a constructive general policy. A constructive general policy in relation to appointment of chief constables can be gained only through a Regulation or by the consent and co-operation of the police authorities; in other words, in consultation, in getting the co-operation of all the authorities he will require to consult—if he does not follow "a general policy", "general principle", "rule of practice", "normal course". This general policy of the Secretary of State of not wanting people from within the force has been called different things at different times. But he can do that only if he gets co-operation, only if he persuades the police authorities; and that he has signally failed to do.

I would ask the Secretary of State to think again about how he hopes to apply this. He had better face the very bitter facts, the facts of everything that has happened since he made the speech in 1958. This is what is at issue tonight, because although Lord Cameron said that in law he had no power to do what he did, Lord Cameron did not say that he was right to do what he did. The Secretary of State cannot be called in question anywhere else but in this House.

I remind the Secretary of State what Lord Cameron said: But of course a decision on this issue is not and cannot be a decision on the merits, either of the question of policy"— that is, in relation to not picking men from within their own force— to which parties refer or of the particular case. These are essentially matters of administration and I have neither the jurisdiction nor the material to express any opinion on such matters. Then he says this: I would venture to say only this; that they are obviously matters on which divergent views may be held by responsible persons and supported by substantial and respectable reasons. That being so, we find immediately the reasons for the tragic story of the Secretary of State's Tulliallan declaration and his failure to apply it. Look at what has happened.

We will skip 1957, when, in Coat-bridge, a local man was appointed. In 1958, the deputy chief constable of Lanarkshire was appointed chief constable. The man who had been chief constable had himself been appointed from that force. He could not have been so terrible, because the Secretary of State appointed him Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland. That in itself made nonsense of the general application of his principle.

Also in 1958 the Chief Constable of Roxburgh and Selkirk was appointed from within the force, and so was the Chief Constable of Greenock. In 1959, the City of Glasgow appointed a new chief constable. Was he a man from outside, possessed of all these qualifications the Secretary of State says are essential and without which the right hon. Gentleman would have found it difficult to approve the appointment? The new chief constable was a man from within the Glasgow force.

In 1960 there were only two vacancies. Kilmarnock's has still to be filled. In the other case, a man from outside was appointed. This year is not yet finished but we have had the case of Argyll. I see the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) gracing the Government Front Bench. He is Chief Whip of the Scottish Tories. I wonder if his influence had anything to do with the fact.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)

Certainly not.

Mr. Ross

I hope not, but the people of Kilmarnock see that when it came to accepting an appointment from within the force at Argyll, the Secretary of State shelved his general principle again. What kind of general principle is it? How can the people of Kilmarnock be expected to accept it? Apparently it need not be applied to Lanarkshire, Argyll, Glasgow, Greenock, Coatbridge, or to Roxburgh and Selkirk—but the Secretary of State needs to apply it to Kilmarnock.

Surely the nature of the comment by Lord Cameron is worthy of consideration—that substantial reasons can be put forward for the other side of the issue, and that they can be well held by reasonable people. I ask the Secretary of State to appreciate that, while we are all appealing again and again for raising the standards of local government in order to get more interest taken in it, and, as he himself has said, to give more authority to local authorities, he is undermining it by interfering to a point which is not worth it.

The Secretary of State should remember—and I argued with the Lord Advocate in private about what the Statute really meant—that it becomes clear from the indications of Lord Cameron what the rights of the Secretary of State are, and equally clear what the rights of the police authority are. The police authority has full rights to appoint, and to appoint within the qualifications laid down in the Regulations of the Secretary of State. It cannot do anything else. In appointing, it is carrying out its statutory obligation. That is just what the Kilmarnock authority did. It did nothing wrong. Indeed, it would have been wrong to do anything else.

As sincere men, the members of that authority believed that the man they picked out of the six before them was the best one for the job. But does all this reside, in the Secretary of State for Scotland? Does it reside in the Scottish Office?

I must confess that the people concerned in Kilmarnock have detected an attitude of petulant arrogance and bureaucratic irritation because they have dared to disagree with the Scottish Office. I hope that the Secretary of State will remember his own past. It is time that we got it back on to the record. And I hope, too, that he remembers the past of his own party. "Centralisation of Power." This is taken from The Times of 16th October, 1950. Of course, we were on the eve of an election. This was the speech of the then Leader of the Conservative Party, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill): It is inherent in their conception of State control."— that is the Labour Government— But, as history shows, the division of ruling power has always been for more than 500 years the aim of the British people. It is the keynote of our Parliamentary system and of the constitutions we have spread all over the world. The division of power, the idea of checks and counter-checks, the resistance to the theory that one man or group of men can, by sweeping decisions and gestures, reduce all the rest of us to subservience, have always been the war cries of the British nation. I can well remember when we debated the Local Government (Scotland) Bill, 1947. I remember, too, that at this time last year Kilmarnock Town Council was receiving threatening letters from the Secretary of State saying that if it did not get about its business he was going to withdraw the Exchequer grant. But when the 1947 Bill was going through an Amendment was moved because the Conservative Opposition at that time thought that the way recalcitrant local authorities were dealt with was really shameful. I think it was Lord Reid who moved that Amendment. Notice the man who spoke next. He is now the Chairman of Glenfield and Kennedy of Kilmarnock. He probably takes a different view about it now. The speech that followed thereafter is, I think, worthy of quotation. This was a speech made by the present Secretary of State for Scotland during the Committee stage of the Bill. He said: If what I am going to say appears to bring a political element into our discussion, I must make it clear that I would take precisely the same view, whether this particular aspect of legislation came from a Government of the Right or the Left"— sane, balanced words— For the last two years we have seen, stage by stage, the centralisation of a number of things, particularly in regard to local government matters … I have been extremely worried about it. The person concerned instanced two Acts of Parliament—one was the Fire Services Act and the other the Police (Scotland) Act. Strangely enough, centralisation was his theme.

The right hon. Gentleman went on: The Secretary of State has been lurking in the background, with his fingers on the whole thing. In this Clause the Secretary of State is given the most complete powers to deal with any recalcitrant local authority. If the Secretary of State wanted to use his powers for political purposes, he could do so. I will give an illustration of what I mean by telling the Committee an interesting story I heard in the United States, which is strictly true. This is a very good example of the kind of thing that might happen. Senator Huey Long of the State of Louisiana then came into the speech. We were told: At one time he was rather concerned about how the vote was going in some of the districts. He did not think that his nominee for governorship was getting the support he should have. At that time he was engaged upon building a new road throughout the whole of the State.… When he came to a district which was not voting for him, he brought the road very nicely up to the border, and then crossed over to the other side and carried on with the job. That may seem very far-fetched, but it shows what happens when powers are put completely in the hands of one man. We know that it would not happen with the present Secretary of State, but we shall have other Secretaries of State in the future. These are most unwise and dangerous powers to give to any Secretary of State.… If we are to allow these powers to be centralised, we must have the maximum control against any unwise or wilfully naughty interference by the Secretary Of State."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee; 17th December, 1947, cc. 2304–5.] The man who made the speech is the present Secretary of State. He is the man who now seeks to lay down the law to the police authority of the Town Council of Kilmarnock.

This breakdown in co-operation between the central and the local government is a dangerous thing. It is a thing to be deplored. It is a thing to be regretted. It is even more to be regretted in Scotland than in England and Wales, because if a local authority in England and Wales falls out with the Home Department that does not affect it in its attitude to the Minister of Transport, to whom it goes in relation to roads, or to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, to whom it goes in relation to housing, or to the Minister of Health, to whom it goes in relation to health. But in Scotland the Minister of Health is the Secretary of State, the Minister of Housing and Local Government is the Secretary of State, and the Minister of Education is the Secretary of State. The police authority, the local authority, is the same authority which has to deal with the same Secretary of State on all these things. If there is a breakdown in confidence and co-operation in one, does it not affect the other things as well?

The Secretary of State is busy at the moment trying to persuade the town of Kilmarnock to enter into a joint scheme with the county for the development of water. Lord Craigton, the Minister of State, is anxious to persuade the town of Kilmarnock to do certain things in relation to overspill. Co-operation is a two-way trade. Men as sincere, honest and substantial as the members of the Town Council of Kilmarnock are entitled to ask for much more substantial reasons than have been given for the failure to get their nominee approved by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will remember telling us at the Dispatch Box within the last fortnight in a debate on housing what a progressive local authority Kilmarnock is. It is the same local authority to whom he denies the wisdom of making a choice of the right man. That is the implication. I have heard Kilmarnock praised at the Dispatch Box for its progressive attitude to health and the fluoridisation of water. I have heard Kilmarnock praised in relation to its police work. It has the finest record in relation to traffic accidents of any burgh in Scotland. We straddle one of the busiest roads in Scotland. The person who has been mainly responsible for the organisation of that happy state of affairs is the man whose appointment has not been approved.

I hope that the Secretary of State even now will put aside any false pride about the stand he has adopted. He would gain immeasurably by recognising the limitations of his general principle, which is the need for cross-fertilisation within the police force. I accept the need for this, but the general principle in relation to any particular appointment must be justified in relation to that appointment. This is the one thing which the right hon. Gentleman has never been prepared to do.

When one says that for a long time the chief constables of Kilmarnock have been men with only local experience, whether that has been detrimental to the progress of Kilmarnock's police force can easily be checked. The Secretary of State has general powers of surveillance in relation to the police in Scotland. He has a Chief Inspector of Constabulary who visits every police force.

The present incumbent is a well respected man. He goes there every year. He checks up on all aspects of police activity. Never once in seven years has there been an adverse report on Kilmarnock. Indeed, far from adverse reports, there has been praise, and the last chief constable of Kilmarnock was awarded the O.B.E. just before he retired.

The last annual visit to Kilmarnock of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary was on 10th or 20th February, 1960. Eighteen months have passed since he was last there. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will say that the Chief Inspector needs to go there only once a year, and that 1961 is not over, but that will not wash. The established tradition is that the Chief Inspector visits Ayr one day, and Kilmarnock the next. He has been to Ayr, but not to Kilmarnock.

Why has there been this sudden change of routine? I would have thought that if Kilmarnock was without a chief constable, and the man in charge was the deputy chief constable in whom the Secretary of State had no confidence, that would be all the more reason for Her Majesty's Chief Inspector going to Kilmarnock. It is a pity that he did not. He would have been able to check on whether the deputy chief constable was doing a good job.

This is one of the things which the people of Kilmarnock would have liked to have discussed with the Secretary of State, but the right hon. Gentleman refused to see a delegation from there, even though it was accompanied by a Member of Parliament. I thought that that was a little discourteous. The right hon. Gentleman had nothing to lose. He would have learnt about the changes in training and administration, and about the raising of the general level of activity of the police in Kilmarnock which had been of such benefit to the police force there.

This is a capable man. Even Lord Cameron had this to say about him, and it cannot be said too often: I would also at this stage again emphasise that there is nothing in the pleadings which in any way reflects on the personal capacity of the officer whose appointment to the post of chief constable has given rise to this litigation". Inspector Scott, the Deputy-Chief Constable of Kilmarnock, has shown a degree of detachment, dignity and loyalty to all the traditions of the police force in the way he has acted during these difficult months and he has applied himself to the task ahead of him, which itself demonstrates that he has all the qualities necessary for a good chief constable.

If the Chief Inspector had made his usual visit, he too would have been impressed by what has happened. This is one of the most outstanding things about the position. Since last year this man has carried out his duties well. He has taken no part in this dispute. He has carried on his job with a devoted detachment which has shown his inner dignity and his qualifications for the faith which Kilmarnock was prepared to put in him.

I regret very much that the Secretary of State has allowed himself to get into this position, particularly in this case. He knows that until this time last year I did not intervene personally. That was not because I did not feel strongly about the matter. I feel very strongly about what really is when, as it must, it comes down to an examination of the facts, a question of the standing of the police force in Kilmarnock and the ability of the man selected. Whether we like it or not we are casting a reflection on the people of Kilmarnock.

The town of Kilmarnock is a very proud town. It has a progressive municipal record. Its town council, which appointed this man unanimously, is not a Labour council. The right hon. Gentleman will recollect this from the meeting it had with him. Some of the members of the council who are most irritated about this are Conservatives. These are the people who are responsible and they are as active in the national political field as in local politics. They are equally interested in the well-being of the whole of Ayrshire and anxious to raise the standards of the police all over the country. They are not people who would deliberately appoint a man knowing that the appointment would not be in the best interests of Kilmarnock, of Ayrshire and of Scotland.

I think that the Secretary of State has been terribly wrong in not talking this over with Kilmarnock at a very much earlier stage. As is the case with every other authority, the police authority has its rights which are circumscribed by Regulations laid down by the Secretary of State. He has accepted the discretionary power to employ a constructive policy which cannot be applied by regulation and which without regulation cannot be done without the co-operation of the local authority, and he has not got it. There is a clash of opinion. How is this to be resolved? Only by a very much earlier meeting. That is why I am distressed that the right hon. Gentleman refused to meet Kilmarnock. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that there is nothing in the Statute which says that Kilmarnock shall meet him.

Does he want Kilmarnock to go on and appoint a chief constable without meeting the Scottish Office and without discussing the procedure, and the rest of it, about how it should be done and the kind of traditional things which have gone on and the procedure which Kilmarnock has followed in the past? I am sure that he does not and I am sure that Kilmarnock would not want to do that. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the question of the meeting.

I wish to remind the Secretary of State of what happened last year when this impasse happened. At this time the whole of Kilmarnock is on holiday except the unfortunate—well, not unfortunate—the loyal servant of the police force who has been unable to take a holiday for all these months. According to the latest extension of time which the Secretary of State has given the deputy chief constable, the last date is 15th August.

I ask three things. First, will not the right hon. Gentleman meet—as he will have to meet sooner or later—a deputation from the Kilmarnock Town Council and their Member of Parliament; secondly, will he extend the time for a month so that full consideration may be given to the next stage by the police authority; and thirdly, will he cast aside his pride and accept the good advice which is always given by the hon. Member far Kilmarnock and agree that in this case the deputy chief constable would make an excellent chief constable for Kilmarnock?

3.2 a.m.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

I should like to join forces with my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) who, in his typically lucid fashion, has stated an excellent case why the Secretary of State should review his decision. I believe, as does my hon. Friend, that when the Secretary of State reviews it he should look at the history of the appointments of chief constables in Scotland, because the main reason that he has taken this decision does not arise from the police forces in Scotland; that is not a reason but merely an excuse. He has been put in a panic because of a certain incident in the south of England which caused the Home Secretary to take panic steps. Being a dutiful servant of the Home Secretary of England, the Secretary of State has followed suit in Scotland. In doing so he has created the situation which exists in Kilmarnock.

The issue goes further than Kilmarnock; it is a serious issue confronting Scotland as a whole. I heard the right hon. Gentleman at Tulliallan, but he proceeds much further when he says that, generally speaking, it is not advisable to appoint a serving officer to become chief constable of his own force. He practically stakes his reputation on that statement without one iota of proof. He is unable to give a single example of an appointment of a chief constable from his own force over the past ten years which he can regard as an undesirable appointment. Yet he makes such a statement, which was taken into consideration at the hearing in the Court of Session.

In fact, the very reverse has happened in Scotland. If he examines the history he will see that the only incidents which have given us any trouble among Scottish chief constables have occurred with people who were appointed outwith the force. Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary is well versed in the history of these incidents and he can confirm what I have said. We have had no trouble with officers appointed from within our force. Our trouble has arisen from officers who were appointed chief constables from outwith the force over which they became chief constables.

It is very unfair and almost libellous for the right hon. Gentleman to say that generally speaking it is undesirable to make such appointments when he is unable to substantiate the inference contained in the statement by producing evidence concerning any individuals who were appointed chief constables of the forces in which they were serving at the time of their appointment in Scotland. The reverse is true. My hon. Friend referred to several police authorities which in the past few years have been given permission to appoint serving officers as chief constables. I could add to the list because, for the past fifteen years, I have been attached to the police in Scotland. I have had a fairly wide experience of its general operation. To my knowledge, this is the only case where permission has been refused by the Secretary of State to an appointment determined by the local police authority.

I was very pleased when my hon. Friend drew attention to the fact that Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland today was appointed from the force in which he was serving at the time of his appointment. The Secretary of State felt that he was such an excellent officer—indeed, he is, as I know very well, since he has been an acquaintance of mine for many years—that he wrote to Lanarkshire and asked Lanarkshire to release the man that authority had appointed so that he could become the Inspector of Constabulary throughout Scotland. That shows that that local authority knew what it was doing when it appointed him as chief constable.

If the right hon. Gentleman examines all the appointments, he will find that they have all been very capable officers. I have known all the Lanarkshire officers, some of the West of Scotland officers and the Glasgow officers, and others, too. They are all first-class officers. If an officer has served his force, his community and his local authority faithfully for a lifetime and a plum like this comes along, it is criminal to debar him just because he is a member of that force.

The Secretary of State has been ill advised, or he is making a very big mistake. So far from showing that it is generally undesirable to make an appointment from the same force, the records prove that it is, in fact, justifiable and in the best interests of Scotland to do so. I reject the maxim that the man in Whitehall knows better than the man in the town hail. That is nonsense. No one knows better than the people working with the officers at local level in law enforcement. They are the best judges, able to determine the qualifications of the men and of the women serving in the police forces. The man in Whitehall is detached and segregated from the day-to-day running of a police authority, which is the responsibility of the elected representatives.

The Secretary of State has "boobed" in this case. He still has time to recant. There is still time for him to review his decision and rescind it. There are certain statutory appointments in local authorities over which the Secretary of State for Scotland has a prerogative. Why should he discriminate against chief constables? Why does he not discriminate in the other appointments in local authorities over which he has a prerogative?

I cannot understand the Secretary of State's reasoning in adopting such an attitude. There is no validity in his approach to a matter of this nature. That is another valid reason why he should reverse this regrettable decision which he has reached. When a person is elected to serve a local authority and gives up his time voluntarily to do so for the good management of the community and one of his duties is to elect a chief officer of police, it is wounding and irritating, to say the least, for the likes of the Secretary of State for Scotland to intervene with the working of that democratically elected body through an officer of the Government who has no connection with the authority and no knowledge of its work and operations and who is not in a position to judge the quality or capacity of its officers for appointment.

The members of the local authority are responsible to the electors, who will fudge the local authority representatives if they mismanage the authority's affairs. The Secretary of State should realise that when the local authorities meet him from time to time in that connection concerning financial assistance, he is always advising them—

Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)

If the hon. Member pursues his proposition to its full extent, is there any point in having a Secretary of State?

Mr. Ross

It depends upon who is the Secretary of State.

Mr. Dempsey

Of course there is. I am saying that the Secretary of State has ample to do if he would apply his mind to the affairs of Scotland and keep his nose out of local authority business. Scotland needs schools and is looking for jobs. There is ample for the Secretary of State to do without meddling in the affairs of a local police committee appointing its own chief officer of police.

In the same way as Members of this august assembly are elected, representatives of local authorities are elected by the public to do those very duties. Let us have confidence in those who serve local government to do their duty, and to do it thoroughly and carefully. The least one can expect is that they should have the co-operation of the Secretary of State when appointing the chief constable of a town the size of Kilmarnock. It is not asking too much to ask him to leave that matter in the hands of the local authority and to have confidence in the local authority to carry out its mandate from the electors.

The Secretary of State for Scotland should pay great attention to the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock. He should realise that when a local authority sets about making an appointment, that authority is the best judge of the capacity of the individuals concerned. It makes the choice, and as a former member of a town council I personally believe that the choice is made in the best interests of the authority, the town, and the community. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock is right.

It would seem to me that there is something radically wrong if the Secretary of State, out of all the appointments made in the last five years, is going to pick and choose and suddenly decide that he is going to do this without giving any reason. I think that my hon. Friend and the deputation of which he speaks is entitled to some consideration. It savours of totalitarianism for the Secretary of State to take this action without being answerable to the authority responsible for the appointment, and I hope that he will see the deputation.

Arguments have been put tonight which are based on practical experience. I hope that the Secretary of State will reverse his regrettable decision to withhold approval of the appointment of the chief constable.

3.16 a.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John Maclay)

I have had some interesting and conflicting advice on this matter, which is a very grave one and I have noticed that we have almost reached precisely the same point in time as last year. In fact, if another four minutes pass, I think we shall have done so. I do not know whether that is progress or regression. I would refer to the fact that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) asked me to remember the multiplicity of my functions and the desirability of my maintaining the best possible relations with local authorities because, he said, I should hope for their co-operation over a full range of matters.

I certainly agree with him, and regret that, in this particular matter, I am not in agreement with Kilmarnock Town Council. But the hon. Gentleman should not argue from the general thesis that, in order to maintain good relations all the time, I should take a line of action on a specific item which I honestly think is wrong. It is at times tempting to give way on one thing because one is anxious to maintain good relations, but anybody holding my job must resist this temptation and apply to the best of his ability his judgment and sense of what is right and what is wrong in giving attention to the details of a particular case. If anybody holding my appointment once worries about the effect of his action on his relationship with hon. Members of this House or with local authorities in Scotland in coming to a decision which he clearly sees as his duty, then political honesty will go and he will find himself in the most serious trouble.

This, of course, is one of the problems arising from the multiplicity of duties which I hold.

Mr. Ross

I was not enunciating any principle. I was giving the right hon. Gentleman warning that if confidence breaks down on one thing, that may well affect other matters, and on that score he should be careful not to leave anyone with a sense of justified grievance. There is a sense of justified grievance in Kilmarnock Town Council at the present time.

Mr. Maclay

There must, on occasions, be differences of opinion. It is one of the difficulties of the job to see that one minimises them as much as is humanly possible without departing from principle.

There was another point which the hon. Member made and which is of great substance. It was: never explain and never apologise and never regret. The logical conclusion to be drawn from that is, I think, that he was hinting to me that I should never make any speeches at all. That might be of very great satisfaction to me and of great satisfaction to the House of Commons, but it would hardly be a way to carry on democratic Government. I am afraid that speeches are an unavoidable part of our political system.

Seriously though, in this particular case and on this particular application of the general principle on which my decision was based, it might have been better not to have explained anything at all, but there was this dilemma, that if one had not given some kind of explanation there would apparently have been a direct reflection either on the force or on the individual concerned; which, as I made clear last year and will repeat again tonight, is not the point at issue at all. This is a difficulty, that where an administrative decision is involved it may be better to say nothing and just give one's decision, but I can well imagine the remarks which would then be made to me by hon. Members opposite, above all by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, and perhaps his remarks about my "Huey Long" speech to which he refers from time to time would be really justified—

Mr. Ross

They are justified.

Mr. Maclay

They would be justified if I just point blank refused, in a particular case where an individual is concerned, to give any reasons at all.

The hon. Member did, in quoting that speech, quote that section of it in full and quoted my words "unwise and wilfully naughty". One thing I am quite satisfied about is that in this case my decision cannot be described as wilfully naughty. I accept that whether or not it was unwise is an arguable point. I do not consider it unwise. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and many people in Kilmarnock, I know, consider it unwise, but it is an arguable point.

I think that it would be useful if I recapitulated from my point of view what has happened in this period of just a year since we last debated this matter. As things stood a year ago, as the hon. Member made clear, a vacancy for chief constable of the Kilmarnock force had arisen through the retirement of the previous holder of the office a month or two earlier. After advertising the vacancy and interviewing selected applicants the Town Council chose the serving deputy chief constable of the force and submitted his name to me for approval. This approval I felt unable to give: not, as I explained to the House last year and again tonight, for reasons which would imply any reflection on the Kilmarnock force or upon the officer personally concerned, but for reasons of general principle.

The principle is one which is generally accepted as being of considerable importance. I think that the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) rather denied that just now. I would point out to him that after I made the speech at Tulliallan, which he heard, copies of that speech were, of course, circulated to police authorities all over the country. I am not aware of any criticism coming to me of that general principle, which I announced at that time, although in this specific case the issue has arisen. I would ask the hon. Member to realise that many people believe in this general principle.

The difficulty, of course, is that one cannot invariably apply it. It would be easier if one could make it an absolute rule, but one cannot, for reasons which the hon. Member, with his knowledge of police forces, will understand and appreciate.

Mr. Ross

Why make a general principle of it then?

Mr. Maclay

One needs a general principle, but it cannot always be applied.

Mr. Dempsey

Was that decision for this general principle its first introduction, and, if so, why?

Mr. Maclay

I cannot say whether it was the first time that it was introduced. It was the first time that I as Secretary of State had pronounced on it. I do not think another Secretary of State had made the issue so clear before. I have not had the chance of checking on this, but I believe that the general idea of this was constantly discussed by previous Secretaries of State. But it was felt wise at that time that I should say it in public and I specifically drew the attention of police authorities to it.

In October, 1958—and I repeat this to make clear what happened—I asked police authorities to consider very carefully whether the appointment to the office of chief constable of an officer who had spent all or most of his service in the force concerned was in general desirable. In that speech I pointed out that chief constables should be men with both width of experience and an open and fresh approach and that in the normal course these qualities were more likely to be found in candidates from outside the force. This made it clear to police authorities that unless exceptional circumstances existed I considered that appointments should be made from outside the force.

When Kilmarnock Town Council proposed to appoint the deputy chief constable to the vacancy, the council was aware of my views and had been warned by my hon. Friend the then Joint Under-Secretary of State that I would find difficulty in approving the appointment of the deputy chief constable, who had had all his service in the burgh force, and whose predecessor had also spent all his service in that force. Nevertheless, the council submitted his name. After very careful consideration—I did not enter into the matter lightly—I decided that there were no exceptional reasons in this case for departing from the views that I had formed and that I must accordingly withhold my approval.

The Town Council has had ample opportunity to put its views to me. Deputations from the council met me personally on two occasions, once soon after I had first intimated my decision not to approve the deputy's appointment and again after the debate last year. I considered fully the points put forward at these meetings and in correspondence, but I remained, and remain, of the view that in the general interest an appointment from outside the force is desirable in this case.

In October of last year, after I had reaffirmed my decision, the council informed me that it intended to raise an action in the Court of Session to test the legality of the situation which had arisen. This it did and the case was heard in the Court of Session in May of this year. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock has explained certain things about that case, but I should like to get the basis of it clear. The main ground of the action was the claim that I was bound, in exercising my power of approval to these appointments, to have regard only to those qualifications for appointment of chief constable which are laid down in police regulations, that is age, length of police service, health and so on, and that I was not entitled to withhold approval of an appointment by the authority in conformity with these regulations on the general ground that immediately before his appointment the candidate was serving in the local police force. Judgment was given at the beginning of June and was against the council.

After the Court's decision was given I was asked to meet a further deputation so that I might reconsider my decision. That was the deputation to which the hon. Member for Kilmarnock referred. It is true that it was suggested that he should accompany the deputation. I hope that the hon. Member will concede that normally, if it is possible, I meet deputations especially when hon. Members are involved. But on this occasion I did not feel able to do so, for reasons which I will give in a moment. I was subsequently told that the deputation wished to draw my attention to the improvements which the deputy had introduced in the force. This did not seem to me to be relevant, since the question which I had all along to consider was not only whether the deputy chief constable was capable of running the force well and properly but also, among a variety of considerations, whether in all the circumstances of the case it was desirable to appoint someone with experience outside the force.

I decided therefore that as the council had already had ample opportunity of making its views known at earlier meetings and in correspondence, no useful purpose from anybody's point of view would be served in my receiving a deputation. I have listened carefully to all that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock has said but I must say frankly that, as far as a deputation for the purpose for which I understood it was intended is concerned, I can find no ground for altering that decision.

During all this time I have agreed to extensions of the period of office of the deputy chief constable. The current approval, as the hon. Gentleman said, is due to lapse on 15th August, but I shall be prepared to consent to a further extension provided that effective steps are being taken to find another candidate for the vacant post. I hope very much indeed that the council will now take these steps.

I have already said that the position that I have taken up throughout the matter has been based on general principle and that it is not based on criticism of the Kilmarnock force or the present deputy chief constable as an individual. In the debate last year I mentioned some of the considerations which lie behind this general principle and which make some degree of cross-fertilisation of forces at the top very desirable. This is the point which the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie was completely ignoring. He was implying that I am libelling police forces in Scotland by applying this general principle. That is nonsense. There is the whole question of cross-fertilisation.

I do not propose to go through the whole argument as I detailed it at Tulliallan or last year. If the hon. Gentleman will study my speech last year or the Tulliallan speech again, he will realise that there are quite wide grounds for endeavouring to apply this general principle whenever it is practicable. I do not think that anybody had claimed that the principle is unsound until the hon. Member did so this evening. I have never heard anybody else say it. I know that he will agree that in any question of administrative principle there is room for argument and disagreement as to how the general principle should be applied in individual cases.

The hon. Gentleman referred to a number of cases in recent years in which my approval was given to the appointment as chief constable of an officer already serving in the force concerned, I have never claimed that the principle that chief constables should be appointed from outside must or should be applied universally. I have always acknowledged that there will be cases where an exception should be made. It may be argued that recent figures do not suggest that statistically appointments from inside the force concerned have in the event proved to be exceptional. That I admit, but I would emphasise that this is a matter which cannot be judged on a purely statistical basis—particularly over a relatively short period. In any case which comes forward it is necessary to weigh up a whole series of considerations in deciding whether an exception is justified. One of these obviously is the period of service in the force concerned of the particular candidate; but also relevant are such questions as the period of service of the retiring chief constable and the size and nature of the force concerned, and a fair number of other considerations. But I do not think that it would be right or appropriate for me to attempt to analyse the extent to which the different considerations have carried weight in the various cases to which hon. Members have referred—

Mr. Ross

Surely the Secretary of State appreciates the gravity of what he is saying? He is referring to considerations where an exception is justified.

Mr. Dempsey

This is the exception.

Mr. Ross

The right hon. Gentleman is doing what Lord Cameron said he should not do. He is making this a new qualification. It should be the other way round—whether the principle is justified in relation to a particular case, not the exception.

Mr. Maclay

It depends on the precise words that one uses.

Mr. Ross

It is what the Secretary of State is thinking.

Mr. Maclay

I do not think that is so. I think I have expressed fairly and accurately this general principle and the method of trying to decide how it is to be applied. However, the hon. Member has had the opportunity to put his point.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman clear up a very simple matter? Reference has been made to cases before the Kilmarnock position and after the Kilmarnock position when deputy chief constables were appointed. Has there been any other single case in which the right hon. Gentleman has refused to approve the appointment of a deputy chief constable other than at Kilmarnock?

Mr. Maclay

At this moment there has not, but I cannot tell whether some of the chief constables who have been appointed in this period and who were not from within the same force would have been appointed if the principle had not been enunciated. This policy does not only work when cases come to me. It works before they come near me. It must, I agree, work by agreement as far as we can get it. We cannot judge by specific cases in a matter like this. I do not want to repeat too often what one of the difficulties is, but, as I said last year, we have to be clear in the case of Kilmarnock that both the present deputy and the retired chief constable have spent all their service in that force, and that the previous chief constable, who was appointed in 1921, had only a few years' service in a junior rank with another force before joining Kilmarnock's in 1906.

That is a long period without the introduction of new blood in the senior post. It has been almost forty years. It would be wrong to lose the opportunity of introducing new blood now.

I do not think that I can add in detail to what I have said. I feel strongly that it is in nobody's interest that the present state of uncertainty inside and outside the force should continue, and, while I understand the police authority's desire to obtain approval for the course of action it considered to be right, and while I have sympathy with its loyalty to an officer who has served it well, I hope that it will now feel able to accept the decision I have taken as final and in the interests of the force, will take steps to re-advertise the vacancy and make a new appointment.

Of course I will be prepared to meet the police authority again, but not on the narrow point of reconsideration of my decision, because I do not think any circumstance has arisen to justify my doing that. I am anxious to establish and maintain the best possible relations with the local authority, and will watch very carefully for the chance of discussing with it the details of this matter but not of re-opening the whole subject. I am prepared to extend the time of the temporary appointment of the deputy chief constable, providing steps are taken to move towards the position we want.

Mr. Ross

The Secretary of State makes a proviso, and we have to be very careful of his provisos in view of what has happened. What exactly is his proviso in this case?

Mr. Maclay

I do not want to go on extending the period unless there is some sign that the police authority will take steps to put the matter right and to appoint a new chief constable. But I will certainly give an extension in order to make that possible.

Finally, the hon. Member said that I should get rid of my pride and change my mind. I have given reasons why I feel that I cannot change my mind, and I assure him that there is no question of pride. It is very tempting, as I have said, to make concessions on matters like this when strong feelings are held by many people, but I should be completely failing in my duty if I did.