HC Deb 10 March 1961 vol 636 cc914-22

Order for Second Reading read.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. T. W. Jones (Merioneth)

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

After sailing on a very boisterous sea of controversy for the last three weeks or so, I am very pleased to bring back this ship of State to the calm waters of a non-controversial harbour. I am confident that the Bill which I am now presenting to Parliament will have the sympathy and support of all Members on both sides of the House and that the Minister who is watching on behalf of the Government will give his blessing to my Bill before the end of the debate.

When I first decided to present the Bill it was my intention, and, indeed, my primary intention, to amend the law to allow the women police to become members of the Police Federation. I have learned in the meantime that for technical reasons the Long Title of my Bill precludes me from including the women within its scope and that I must limit its provisions to the chief inspectors of the Metropolitan Police. I am pleased to be assured, however, through the usual channels, that when the Bill reaches another place arrangements will there be made to amend its Short Title to include the women police within its scope.

Officers of the Police Federation have told me that they have on several occasions made representations to the Home Office to amend the law to allow the Metropolitan Police chief inspectors and also the women police of England and Wales to become members of the Federation. The Home Office has at all times given a sympathetic hearing to all the representations made, but has pointed out the difficulty of finding the necessary Parliamentary time to introduce an amending Bill. It is because of this that I feel so confident, as I said earlier, that the Minister's blessing will be given to my efforts today.

Perhaps I should tell the House briefly how the Police Federation functions and how it came about that the chief inspectors of the Metropolitan Police are not allowed to be members of it. As the House knows, the police are not allowed to be members of trade unions as such, and their negotiating body is the Police Federation. The Federation was established by the Police Act, 1919, for the purpose of enabling the members of the police forces of England and Wales to consider and bring to the notice of the police authorities and the Secretary of State all the matters affecting their welfare and efficiency, other than questions of discipline and promotion affecting individuals. The constitution of the Police Federation is set out in the Schedule to the 1919 Act, which provides that the Federation is to consist of members of police forces below the rank of superintendent. They are the ranks which are generally known as the "federated ranks". The Schedule to the 1919 Act provides that the members of the federated ranks in each force shall form a branch of the Federation and that in each force there shall be branch boards for the constables, the sergeants and the inspectors.

The boards are elected by members of the several ranks and they choose delegates to attend the central conference for these three ranks, and also the members of the central committees each consisting of six members representing constables, sergeants and inspectors.

When the Metropolitan Police College was established at Hendon the view was taken that officers who were at, or who had passed through, that college ought not to be members of the Police Federation. These officers passed out at Hendon as junior station inspectors. Thereafter, they might be promoted to station inspectors, sub-divisional inspectors and chief inspectors before ceasing to become members of the Federation on promotion to the rank of superintendent.

Accordingly, Section 3 of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1933, provided that junior station inspectors, station inspectors, sub-divisional inspectors and chief inspectors of the Metropolitan Police should no longer be members of the Police Federation. When the Metropolitan Police College closed down, the rank of junior station inspector became obsolete and in recent years the ranks of station inspector and sub-divisional inspector have also been abolished. It follows that of the ranks of inspector excluded from membership of the Federation by the Act of 1933 only that of chief inspector now remains.

It should be noted by the House that in 1949 the Oaksey Committee recommended that the Metropolitan chief inspectors should be restored to membership of the Police Federation, and arrangements have since been made for the chief inspectors to take part in the affairs of the Federation on a non-statutory basis, as advisers to the Inspectors' Branch Board. It has been generally understood that legislative effect would, when opportunity offered, be given to the restoration of the chief inspectors to membership of the Police Federation, and this will be acceptable to the chief inspectors themselves and to the Police Federation.

It is in keeping with the tradition of the House that when any seeming injustice or grievance in relation to any of our public servants is brought to its notice the House it at all times anxious to rectify the situation which causes such an injustice or grievance. The non-controversial character of my Bill is emphasised by the list of my supporters.

It will be noted that the first name is that of the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel). The list naturally, includes the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). One may ask why, because of his close and active association with the Federation, the latter's name does not appear first, but my reply is that I am the victim of both the Welsh and the English alphabets. After the letter "C" the two alphabets part company and the Welsh "C" is followed by that pitfall which, for some inexplicable reason to me, presents so much difficulty to our English friends, the letter "ch".

It is a beautiful letter, as will be revealed if I only give the House the name of my own town of Rhosllanerchrugog. If the House would like a bigger mouthful than that I will name that famous village in Anglesey, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

2.38 p.m.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

It gives me very great pleasure to support my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) and to congratulate him on his good fortune in the Ballot and also upon the clear way in which he introduced his Bill. He and I represent constituencies within the area of the Gwynedd Constabulary, an authority which was set up, I believe, by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). There is no more efficient police authority than the Gwynedd Constabulary. I hasten to add that its work is made relatively easy because we are a law-abiding community. This view, however, has not always been held, especially by learned judges.

The story is told of the late Mr. Justice Lush, who held an assize court at Beaumaris in the latter years of the last century. After a very disappointing assize, from his point of view, he was being taken by pony and trap to the station at Menai Bridge. On his way he met the Beaumaris hunt in full cry after a hare. Mr. Justice Lush turned to his driver, saying, "Poor devil, only a Welsh jury can save it now". I must emphasise, however, that I have great confidence in Welsh juries.

I greatly hope that it will be possible to extend the provisions of the Bill to policewomen and that the Minister will take the appropriate steps to that end. Broadly, policewomen are on the same footing as their male colleagues in respect of powers, pay and promotion. They render excellent service to the community. Their work in connection with women and children is of exceptional value. The Joint Under-Secretary of State will remember that Sir Harold Scott paid them a special tribute in his book on Scotland Yard, in which he said: It is the duty of policewomen always to he on the look-out for girls and young women in moral danger, and by their wise and sympathetic action they are the means every year of saving many from a life of prostitution and restoring them to their parents or to a decent life. For these reasons, I strongly urge that policewomen should be given rights equal to those of policemen. I warmly support my hon. Friend's Bill.

2.42 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

Judging by the names of the sponsors of the Bill, nearly all of whom represent Welsh constituencies or appear to be of Welsh origin, one would assume that federation makes a special appeal to the Welsh mind. At any rate, the Bill finds favour in the minds of everyone who has considered it, including, I need not hesitate to say, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) on his good fortune in the Ballot, on his initiative and on the picturesque way in which he introduced a Measure which deals with what is fundamentally an important subject affecting important people. The proposal is one which has long been acceptable to all concerned, and we are glad that the hon. Member has taken this opportunity to suggest this useful little reform.

The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) referred to the position of policewomen. It might be helpful, if only to prepare the way for future action on the Bill, if I said a word about their position. Policewomen have been full members of the Police Federation ever since it was established in 1919, but their numbers are still relatively small. Even to this day there are 2,000 women policemen compared with 70,000 policemen. Few women are ever elected as members of the branch boards. Probably they have never been elected as delegates to the central conferences or as members of the central committees.

The Oaksey Committee considered the question of the representation of women policemen on the Police Federation and recommended that special measures were necessary if the special point of view of women police officers was to be put forward by women within the Federation. The Oaksey Committee recommended that the women officers of the several ranks in each force should elect one additional member to each of the branch boards and that these additional members should be women. It also recommended that women delegates should meet in the eight districts and that one woman constable, one sergeant and one woman inspector should be elected from each of the districts as delegates to the central conferences. It suggested that policewomen in the Metropolitan Police should be represented by delegates at the central conferences.

The recommendations of the Oaksey Committee were accepted by all concerned when they were first considered. These recommendations were introduced on a non-statutory basis in 1953, the women necessarily being non-voting advisers attached to the branch boards, central conferences and central committees, and not having a proper status as members of them. Some departures have been made from the recommendations of the Oaksey Committee. They are in the method of choosing the metropolitan delegates for the central conferences, and in the fact that there is now one woman adviser for each of the three Central Committees and not merely for one of them.

The metropolitan delegates at the central conferences are directly elected by the women police officers on the basis of one constable, one sergeant and one inspector for each of the districts of the Metropolitan Police. District elections for all the other forces in the country are attended by the women advisers to the branch boards, who are the electors. Arrangements for special representation of policewomen have now been in existence for eight years. It has been accepted by all that they should be put on a statutory basis when convenient. I have no doubt that either in this House or in another place the somewhat trifling technical difficulty which has frustrated the hon. Member's intention can be overcome, and I am glad to offer my services to help him to overcome it.

May I comment briefly on the Bill itself, which deals with the chief inspectors of the Metropolitan Police. As I understand it, they were originally represented on the Police Federation, but when the Hendon Police College was established in the early 'thirties and a specially trained officer type was brought in to the Metropolitan Police from the College, it was felt that that type of officer was not suitable for representation on the Police Federation. That accounts for the provisions in the Metropolitan Police Act, 1933, which excluded some of the inspectors and chief inspectors in the Metropolitan Police from membership of the Federation.

The days of Hendon are beginning to be days of long ago, and the arrangements, whether right or wrong, which were made as a result of the establishment of Hendon and of its special relationship with the Metropolitan Police have ceased to be valid with the passing of time. It is therefore right that we should legislate in the manner proposed by the hon. Gentleman. I wish him well with his simple Bill and hope that he will have no difficulty in its further stages.

2.49 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I am sure that the whole House will welcome the approval which the Joint Under-Secretary of State has given to the Bill. I should merely like to say how glad I am that my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) has introduced it. We are all looking forward to its receiving a Second Reading and to its final passage into law.

2.50 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I welcome the Bill and I am glad that the Joint Under-Secretary made it quite plain that from 1919 policewomen—not "women policemen," I do not know what kind of people they are—were members of the Federation.

I recollect that in my early days as Home Secretary I had to mention to a deputation from the Federation that I was disappointed that it never included any women in delegations it sent to me. The then secretary of the Federation said, "We have nothing to do with women. The Act"—generally known as the Desborough Act of 1919—"relates to policemen" I turned to the Deputy Permanent Under-Secretary of the Home Office, and said, "Bring in the Act, will you?" To his astonishment, it appeared that the word "policeman" is unknown to the law. They are either officers or constables, and since an Act that was passed during the First World War those two words appear to be of common gender.

From that time arrangements were made for women to attend, although they did so on a non-statutory basis. I rejoice that at last a statutory position is to be found for them. It is a fitting revenge for women that it should be the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones), who brings in this Bill, for Merioneth was the last police authority in the country to employ a policewoman. I am glad to know that the expansion of that police force has so impressed the locality that its representative in Parliament should be the one to bring this useful Bill forward.

May I express the hope that this will be the end of the unfortunate differences that appeared in the Metropolitan Police Force owing to the establishment of the Hendon College? It is a very great thing that this last result of that unfortunate episode is now being corrected by this Bill. I wish it every success.

Mr. Renton

I wonder whether the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) can explain what strange irony of fate it was which caused the Long Title of the Bill to be drawn in such a way as to exclude women police officers?

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).