§ 3.41 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I beg to move,That this Hause takes note of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Police, 1962 (Command Paper No. 1728).I wish that we could have had this debate on the Royal Commission's Report earlier, but work in preparation for a Bill has been going on all this time. While no one can say what the legislative programme for next Session will comprise, I mean to do everything possible to make sure that we are ready to introduce the Bill whenever the opportunity may arise. It will not be before next Session at the earliest, and, therefore, I want to use this opportunity to tell the House the lines on which the Government are thinking.
I think that we can all make use of today's debate to gain the reactions of the House on several of these difficult and debatable questions, and that will all help towards the shaping of the Measure which the Government will in due time introduce. If time allows I hope that the Measure will be a comprehensive one.
I look on the Royal Commission's Report as opening a new chapter in the long and famous history of the police. My intention is to shape our whole police service to meet the needs of the future and in keeping with that idea and that purpose I suggest that we might repeal a good deal of out-of-date police legislation which hangs over from Victorian times.
I want to express the high appreciation and warm thanks of the Government to the Chairman and members of the Royal Commission for their report. In saying that I believe that I am speaking for the whole House, the House of which Sir Henry Willink was at one time a distinguished and ever-courteous Member.
The Commission had a great task to discharge. In a little over two years it held 95 meetings and visited no fewer than 50 police forces and establishments throughout Great Britain. Parliament and the country owe a great debt to the men and women who so freely give of their time, abilities, and energies to public service on bodies of inquiry such as this.
681 The police have grown up from small beginnings early in the last century to a force now nearly 90,000 strong, a force from which every citizen in the land has had help at one time or another, and to which everybody looks for safety and protection. The cost runs at £150 million a year. The modern policeman is carefully recruited, and he is properly paid. He goes through elaborate and expensive training. I was at one of the eight district training centres only last week. Many police officers specialise, in detection, in driving, in fingerprint work, and so on. The police forces of this country are well provided with fleets of modern vehicles. They are equipped with modern scientific aids for the prevention and detection of crime.
The fact that the majority of the Royal Commission did not recommend any fundamental changes in the system shows that they were impressed with the basic soundness of its structure and with the operational efficiency of the police generally, but they thought—and I must say I agree—that the time had come to effect some substantial changes to bring this structure up-to-date and in line with new needs.
The police service, as we all know, is constantly in the news, often glamourised, sometimes vilified, but it is a rather curious feature that it is very seldom the subject of debate in the House, and that is why I think that this debate matters a great deal to the public, to the police, and to the Government.
The Willink Commission has undertaken the first thorough and authoritative survey for a great many years of the principles which underline our police system. It is worth remembering that these principles were laid down at the time of Dickens. It really was high time that they were re-examined in the light of the very changed social and economic conditions of today.
Whatever view we take of any particular one of the 111 recommendations made by the Commission, there is no doubt about the historical importance and far-reaching nature of the Report that we are debating. This is, in fact, the second of two Reports presented by the Royal Commission. Its interim Report was presented in 1960 and dealt with the subject of police pay. The Government, with the agreement of the 682 police authorities, who met half the cost. lost no time in giving effect to the very substantial increases in pay proposed by the Commission. The direct result of the increases can be seen at once in the expansion of the police service since the Commission presented its first report. In the year just before the interim Report the service as a whole suffered a net loss of 500 men. In the two and a half years since there has been a net gain of over 7,000.
The Commission's final Report deals with the rest of its terms of reference, that is to say, with the status of the police, their organisation and control, the part played by the central Government and by local government and by chief constables in administering the service, relations between the police and the public, and arrangements for dealing with complaints against the police. This is a wide and impressive range of topics, and I shall try to say something about each of them.
First, I want to explain to the House what action I have taken on the Report. The Royal Commission recommended the strengthening of the inspectorate, the appointment of a Chief Inspector of Constabulary, and the creation in the Home Office of a police research and planning unit. I have acted on all those recommendations. The number of inspectors has been increased to seven, including the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, who has actually been in his post since December. As experience of the new arrangements is gained I shall consider the need for further expansion of the inspectorate.
The central feature of the inspectors' operations has been, and I think will remain, the formal annual inspection which may last from two days up to a week. This is the occasion for a full survey of the progress made by the force during the year. The work of the inspectors has never been limited to formal inspections. The inspectors are in constant contact with chief constables in the course of the year. Informal visits are paid as occasion arises, sometimes at the request of the chief constables and in order to look into specific problems. Officers of the rank of superintendent have now been appointed to each of the inspectors as staff officers. I am quite sure this is important to enable the inspectors to get through more work with 683 efficiency. All these arrangements, which I intend to keep under review, will provide a much stronger, more effective, more searching system of inspection than we have had hitherto.
A police research and planning branch is being set up in the Home Office, as I told the House the other day, on the lines recommended by the Royal Commission, and Scotland will be associated with its work. I intend to ask this new branch to give top priority to the grave problems of serious and unsolved crime. I think that the establishment of this new unit is a development of very great significance.
For the first time every police force in the country will have the full benefits of the most up-to-date research techniques. I am bringing together in the Home Office a team of first-rate senior police officers and scientists. They will be able to collect and evaluate the experience gained in the field by all police forces. They will have available to them the help of my expert Home Office advisers and others. I feel quite sure that they will take account of the techniques of operational research developed in connection with the armed Services and elsewhere. I feel sure that they themselves will open up fresh fields of research and study. Let me add that it would be unrealistic to expect early dramatic results from the appointment of this new unit, but I am certain that we have undertaken a far-reaching development and that it will bring increasing benefits in the war against crime as the years go on.
There are other recommendations of the Report which can be implemented by administrative action without legislation. Some of these I am discussing with the local authority associations and other interests concerned, but on a number of them I have already acted. We have just issued to police authorities and to chief officers of police a circular which commends to them 19 of the recommendations of the Commission, recommendations more of practical administrative detail than of broad principle, connected with such matters as the arrangements for dealing with complaints against the police, development of more contacts between the police and the public, the disclosure of the names of men on duty, the importance of allocating a sufficient number of men to beat duty, the housing 684 of policemen and the need for police officers to gain a thorough knowledge of the community they serve, the reporting of criticism of police evidence in court, uniformity in the enforcement of traffic laws, and relations between the police and the Press.
I very much hope that the actions that I have taken so far will be welcomed by all concerned with the efficiency of the police, and, as I say, they are in line with the recommendations made to me by the Commission.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether this circular to which he has just referred will be published?
§ Mr. Brooke
Yes, the circular has been published and copies are in the Vote Office. But, as I think I have made clear, it is dealing rather with detailed practical matters than with the broad issues which I thought should be the subject of this debate.
Other important changes are recommended by the Commission which cannot be implemented without legislation. As the House knows, our present police system outside London is based on a partnership between central and local government. The majority of the Commission proposed no fundamental disturbance of this system, but they took the view that the powers of the Secretary of State should be strengthened to enable him to see that local forces are fully efficient. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have taken some time since the Report was issued to consult representatives of the local authorities before reaching conclusions on these matters which so closely affect them.
We have taken full advantage of the interval since the Report was published to carry our consultations a considerable way, and we shall be ready to continue our talks with the local authority associations in the light of comments that may be expressed in the course of the debate today. The views that I shall express on the more important of the Royal Commission's recommendations are at this stage provisional ones. We have been anxious not to reach any final decisions until we have had this debate in Parliament. We want to hear the views of the House.
685 The biggest issue raised by the Royal Commission is that of the setting up of a national police force. The majority of the Commission grant that there is a case for nationalising the police. I quote from paragraph 128 of the Report:…there remains in the minds of a number of us a clear impression that a single centrally directed force would prove to be a mare effective instrument for fighting crime and for handling road traffic than the present large number of local forces, each possessing a greater degree of autonomy than we think should be preserved ".Taking all that into account, in the end all the Commissioners except one recognised as even more cogent the advantages of local administration, and they came down firmly against a national police service. I agree with them, and I reaffirm what my predecessor told the House on the 26th June last summer, that outside the Metropolitan Police District it is the Government's intention to maintain the local basis of police organisation.
I believe that the Commission is right in thinking that any advantages of a national police force, especially as regards operational co-ordination and planning, can be secured without losing the welt-tried advantages of existing local links. I also agree with the Commission that it is highly important to maintain morale in the police service, more especially in the present stage of the fight against crime, and that it would be of no service to the police or, indeed, to the public to make any radical changes in the existing organisation and loyalties unless the case for it was absolutely overwhelming, which it is not.
Therefore, my view is that the proper, healthy functioning of the police service should continue to depend upon the threefold partnership of the Secretary of State, the police authorities and the service itself. If this partnership failed to operate harmoniously, the efficiency of the service would be bound to suffer. The Commission proposed a readjustment of the balance of responsibility within the partnership so as to adapt it to modern requirements.
I am sure that it is right in saying that in future there should be a stronger initiative from the Home Office backed, as necessary, by new statutory powers. The strengthening of the inspectorate 686 and the creation of the research and planning branch are important and valuable steps in this direction, but any redefinition, any fresh demarcation of the functions of the Home Secretary and the police authorities must await legislation. In the meantime, I should like to tell the House of the kind of proposals I have in mind, and I hope that during the course of the debate these proposals will receive support, or, at any rate, constructive criticism.
I start from the fact that much of the legislation dealing with the administration of the police in England and Wales is vague and out of date. I regard it as essential, therefore, to make a fresh start, and to define as precisely as possible in modern legislation the powers and duties of the police authorities and of the Secretary of State. and the relations between them. Scottish police legislation was consolidated and clarified as recently as 1956—the Scots got ahead for once. Because of that, and also because of the differences in the legal and judicial systems north and south of the Border, much of what I shall have to say on this relates only to England and Wales.
Taking, first, the police authority, I see no need for any radical change in its present functions. Its functions are, first, to maintain and equip an adequate police force for its area; secondly, to determine the establishment of the force, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State; and, thirdly, to appoint a chief constable. To these functions, the Commission recommends adding two more, and I am inclined to agree with it. It recommends that police authorities should have a power to require a chief constable, or deputy chief constable or assistant chief constable to retire in the interests of efficiency, subject to the Secretary of State's agreement. That is recommendation No. 22. Recommendation No. 15 proposes bringing the position in England and Wales into line with that in Scotland by empowering police authorities to call for reports from chief constables and, if a chief constable refuses to provide a report, making provision for the matter to be settled by the Secretary of State.
I am also attracted by the Commission's recommendation that there should be recognised opportunities for members of councils to ask questions about matters of local policing. It seems right that people should be encouraged to interest 687 themselves in the maintenance of law and order in their areas; and that police activities, no doubt within certain limits, should be open to informed public discussion.
The Commission recommends that there should be withdrawn from police authorities their present statutory power of summary suspension and dismissal of police officers. This power is contained in nineteenth century statutes which, frankly, have been superseded by modern disciplinary regulations. I am disposed to agree with that recommendation, and with the Commission's further proposal that the functions of watch committees in county boroughs should be brought into line with the functions of county standing joint committees by transferring to borough chief constables powers relating to the appointment, promotion and discipline of subordinate ranks—powers that now rest with the watch committees. As a matter of fact, this change was recommended by the Desborough Committee as long ago as 1919, and again by the Oaksey Committee in 1948.
I am also disposed to agree with the Commission's recommendation that the composition of police authorities in England and Wales should be made uniform, and counties and county boroughs alike should consist as to two-thirds members of the council and one-third justices. I can find no ground for continuing into the latter part of the twentieth century an historical anomaly rooted in the nineteenth century. I propose, in addition, to accept the Commission's recommendation that county police authorities should be police committees of the county council, and should submit estimates of police expenditure for the approval of the council.
There is one other change affecting the responsibility of police authorities that I want to mention, and that is the proposal in Recommendation No. 28 that they should be made vicariously liable for the wrongful acts of police officers. I sympathise with the object of this recommendation, but as far as I can see it raises a number of very difficult questions. I am discussing those questions with the Law Officers.
I come now to the position of the Secretary of State. In general legislation of the kind I have in mind, I am sure that 688 it is important to define as precisely as possible the functions not only of the police authorities, but of the Secretary of State. That will establish clearly the relations between those who share the responsibility for administering the police service. On the basis of the Commission's recommendations, the principal functions of the Secretary of State would be to pay 50 per cent. grant towards the cost of the police force, provided it is efficient, and to make regulations as to the pay and conditions of service of members of police forces.
Those are the existing functions, but I think that the Secretary of State should have four more functions, which break new ground. He should have, first, the power to require a police authority to effect the, retirement of its chief constable; secondly, the power to approve the appointment of deputy and assistant chief constables as well as chief constables; thirdly, the power to call for reports from chief constables—which, incidentally, will then bring the position in England and Wales into line with that in Scotland; fourthly, the power to ensure that adequate arrangements are made for securing co-ordination of the work of police forces. I agree with the Commission that the specific new powers that it proposes for Ministers would enable my right hon. Friend and me, with the aid of the strengthened inspectorate and the new research and planning branch, to take a vigorous initiative in the promotion of high standards of police efficiency throughout Britain.
The additional powers that I have so far indicated would clearly extend my accountability to Parliament—[Hors. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought that this was a consequence of which the House might approve. I think that it is right.
The right to call for reports would also enable me to give Parliament information about police matters outside the Metropolis, though not to answer for matters which do not engage my statutory responsibility. It seems to me that we have to try to strike a balance between the natural desire of the House for reasonable information and reasonable opportunities for debate and the need to avoid a situation in which the police are constantly looking over their shoulder to 689 the Home Secretary and Parliament. I am sure that we will be able to work this out satisfactorily.
It follows from this approach that I am not disposed to accept the Commission's recommendation that I should assume a general statutory responsibility for the efficiency of the police. A Minister ought not to have responsibility without power. My responsibility would be determined, defined and limited by any specific powers that Parliament might confer. I think that that would accord with the constitutional position and with the practices of the House.
Up to now, I have described the framework of legislation that would be needed to give effect to this very important group of recommendations of the Commission by redefining the powers and duties of police authorities and of the Home Secretary. The House may well ask what effect these proposals will have on chief constables? Will they, as the Royal Commission contends, bring chief constables under more effective supervision? I do not accept the underlying assumption that chief constables are at present irresponsible However, effectiveness is relative, and I am in no doubt that under the arrangements that I am commending to the House the work of chief constables will come under closer scrutiny in Parliament and elsewhere than it does now
Besides that, it will be operating in a more closely co-ordinated structure. There will be a stronger and more effective team of inspectors of constabulary. Police authorities and the Home Secretary will both have power to get a chief constable retired on the ground of efficiency—
§ Mr. Brooke
Efficiency or inefficiency. One would want a chief constable to retire not because he was efficient but because he was inefficient. If there is a difference between the hon. Member and myself about the English language, I am sure that there is no difference between what we have in mind.
There will be a tighter co-ordination between separate forces, with a reserve power of the Home Secretary to make compulsory schemes, to compel co-operation if need be. Police authorities will be entitled to call for reports from chief 690 constables, and there will be more opportunities for questions and debates on police matters in Parliament than has hitherto been possible.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
A few sentences ago the right hon. Gentleman said that he did not think that chief constables were irresponsible. None of us does. Nevertheless, will the right hon. Gentleman draw the regulations sufficiently tightly to bring home to chief constables—in the sense that many of them do not now realise it—the fact that they are publicly accountable?
§ Mr. Brooke
I hope that the hon. Member will broadly approve of what I am going to say. These are my provisional conclusions. They cannot be implemented without legislation. There will be full opportunity for these matters to be debated when the Bill goes through the House, and it will be of great value to me if I can have the initial reactions of hon. Members and right hon. Members to what I am saying today.
§ Mr. W. T. Williams (Warrington)
At the moment, the right hon. Gentleman is dealing with the manner in which chief constables should be brought to responsibility where—as may sometimes be the case—they are irresponsible. But he raises a dilemma, in that chief constables are now in some sense responsible to their local watch committees. If these recommendations are carried out, they may then say, "We owe responsibility to nobody but the Home Secretary". The Home Secretary said earlier that he was not prepared to accept statutory responsibility without power. How will he resolve this dilemma, if this is the way in which he intends to proceed?
§ Mr. Brooke
I do not think that we shall find chief constables saying that they are responsible to nobody but the Home Secretary. I am not proposing to accept that kind of responsibility. We have to strike the right balance, and the most helpful thing will be for me to set out what I frankly describe as my provisional ideas, and then to have the views of hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House. There are still some months between now and the earliest date on which legislation could be presented to the House.
691 I hope that the House will approve of my speaking in this fashion, and not announcing a series of cut-and-dried decisions—because I want public opinion to play on these matters, and I want the benefit of public as well as parliamentary reaction before the time comes to put legislation into final form.
I now turn to the question of the size of police forces. So far, I have been dealing with the organisation of the police, with their constitutional position, and with the complex relationships between the Home Secretary, police authorities and chief constables. I come now to the Royal Commission's far-reaching proposals for reducing the number of separate police forces. The Commission suggests that forces numbering less than 200 are handicapped; that the retention of forces less than 350 strong is not normally justifiable, and that the best size of a force is upwards of 500.
The Commission proposes the appointment of an expert working party to review police areas and to determine what groupings of forces should be made in the interests of efficiency. It further recommends that to facilitate amalgamations the statutory limit of 100,000 population, above which I have no power to make compulsory amalgamation schemes, should be removed; that no new police force should be formed without my consent, and that at any inquiry into a proposed amalgamation scheme the sole issue should be the objections lodged against it.
I agree with the Commission that in this small, densely populated island, we have too many separate forces. It seems clear that the changing ways of life and patterns of criminal behaviour, along with the speed of communications and the technical advances in the means of fighting crime, make it increasingly necessary to review the arrangements for policing larger areas than those areas which can adequately support other major local government services.
I am not suggesting that small police forces are inefficient; a small force can attain a very high standard of esprit de corps, but I agree with the Royal Commission that small forces tend to be handicapped. They lack the flexibility of larger forces; they cannot always 692 make the best use of available manpower, and the efficient policing of wider areas is sometimes impaired by the preservation of what are often arbitrary and irksome police boundaries, from the point of view of crime and road traffic. Some areas are better policed by a large force than by a number of small forces, however efficient each of the small forces is.
My provisional view is that the time has come to take a further major step forward in the process which has gone on for the past eighty years, of reducing the number of separate police forces. But I would not set about this by appointing the expert review body which the Royal Commission had in mind. We are now in process of receiving the reports of the local government commissions for England and Wales; indeed, I imagine that the first of the orders to be made under the Local Government Act, 1958, for which I was responsible, will come before Parliament before long.
As the new pattern of local government becomes settled I propose to ask the Chief Inspector of Constabulary and his colleagues to advise me what police organisation is most likely to produce the greatest efficiency in each area. It would then be for me to decide, after consultation with the police authorities concerned, whether or not to propose amalgamations of forces or changes in the boundaries of police areas. In reaching my conclusions on that matter it is not my intention to apply any strict arithmetical criteria such as the Royal Commission suggests. There are other important factors to be taken into account besides the numerical strength of a force, and I attach importance to maintaining the link with a single unit of local government wherever I am satisfied that that link works in the interests of police efficiency.
I am inclined to agree with the Royal Commission that the present restriction on my powers to compel the amalgamation of forces is too severe and, subject to any views expressed in this debate, when the opportunity arises, I propose to seek to strengthen my powers on the lines proposed by the Royal Commission. This is another matter on which I should particularly like to hear the views of the House. In any event, 693 I intend to have further discussions with the representatives of local authorities.
I now come to the question of relations between the police and the public. The final chapters of the Commission's Report deal with this critical question, and with the arrangements for dealing with complaints against the police. The Commission had a good deal of evidence available to it, including a thorough survey of police and public opinion conducted by the Government Social Survey. It came to the conclusion that these relations are, on the whole, very good. I think it was right in that. The Commission went on to make a number of useful recommendations designed to foster and develop these relations. I am disposed to accept all those recommendations, some of which I have already commended to the attention of police authorities and chief constables by the circular which I mentioned.
The last chapter of the Commission's Report deals with the arrangements for handling complaints against the police. The Commission found—it is in paragraph 424—that, relatively, the volume of complaints is small and that most of the complaints relate to trivial incidents. The Commission expressed confidence in what it described as the… scrupulously fair and thorough wayin which chief constables investigate complaints. This is a very satisfactory picture so far as it goes. But whatever the measure of satisfaction with the present method of dealing with complaints the Commission recognised that the system itself is open to a serious objection of principle, that is, that arrangements under which the police are, in effect, judges in their own cause offend against the elementary principle of justice.
Accordingly, a minority of three Commissioners recommended the appointment of a Commissioner of Rights with the duty to review complaints in certain circumstances. In his dissenting Report Dr. Goodhart proposed that the duty of handling complaints should be assigned to the legal department of each of the four regional police forces which he advocated. With great respect to their authors, I do not think that either of these minority recommendations is right.
The majority of the Commission concluded that any theoretical advantage which might be gained from some form of 694 independent review of complaints would be more than offset by the damage that might be done to the morale of the police themselves. Leadership in a disciplined service such as the police can be fully effective only if the functions of command and discipline are firmly in the hands of the chief constable. If the chain of responsibility and command is weakened by the intervention of some outside body which may not fully understand police problems, morale is bound to be lowered and in the end it is the public who will pay the price by having a less efficient police service.
I think that these arguments must be given great weight, particularly at a time when the problems of crime and road traffic are constantly throwing heavier burdens on the police. However, the majority of the Commission did not leave it there. It made a series of recommendations with the general effect of tilting the balance rather more in favour of the complainant as against the police officer whose conduct is in question. The effect of other recommendations would be to make justice be seen more clearly to be done.
The Commission recommended that wherever the complaint was of conduct amounting to crime, the question of prosecution should be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and not be left to the decision of the chief constable. It recommended that inspectors of constabulary and police authorities should have an express duty laid on them to examine records of complaints. It recommended that an explanatory leaflet should be available to all complainants describing the arrangements for dealing with complaints so that a complainant would know how to proceed. It recommended that a complainant should be present at the hearing of any disciplinary charge before the chief constable, and so on. I think that these recommendations are important. T am prepared to accept them in principle. I have already commended some of them to police authorities and chief officers, although I should like to discuss some of the details of the proposed changes in disciplinary procedures with the representative associations concerned.
The point which, frankly, I am bound to put to the House is that all these changes, useful and acceptable though they are, do not meet the difficulty of 695 principle. They would still leave the police in the position of being judges in their own cause. The majority of the Royal Commission, for reasons which are set out fully and which I hope that I have fairly summarised to the House, accepted that the balance of public advantage required this situation to continue. I must say that my present inclination is to agree. But I am particularly anxious, before I reach any final decision on this very difficult question, to hear the views of the House, bearing in mind the need to avoid introducing any innovation which may undermine police efficiency.
Another recommendation of the Commission—
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I take it that the right hon. Gentleman has been talking about matters of serious crime and not non-indictable offences, most of which refer to traffic matters where there is considerable discontent among the public at the attitude of the police and the non-standardisation, as it were, of penalties from area to area. Had the right hon. Gentleman that point in mind?
§ Mr. Brooke
Penalties are matters for the courts and not for me.
As for lack of uniformity in the treatment of the motorist, such as the rules for the keeping on of car lights at night in one place and not elsewhere, I am recommending that these matters should be investigated, so that, if possible, we may achieve greater uniformity. This, I am sure, will be desirable.
I am speaking not about crime, but about complaints by members of the public against the police which may arise from a triviality or from a very much more serious matter. There has been considerable concern about this and I think that it is a part of the Commission's Report to which the House should give considerable attention. I have been indicating broadly my present approach to it, but I have, very candidly, said that I shall be most interested to have the help of hon. Members from both sides of the House in framing future procedure.
That brings me to another recommendation of the Commission, which is that the Home Secretary should be more ready in the future to set up inquiries into matters concerning police disci- 696 pline and administration. The Commission thought that it would be sufficient for such inquiries to be set up by administrative action. I must say that I doubt whether inquiries into police activities are likely to be effective unless they are backed by the powers already available to inquiries in other fields of local government, powers to compel the attendance of witnesses and to hear evidence on oath.
I do not disagree with this recommendation of the Commission, but it is important not to overlook the very proper concern of a police authority for the conduct of its force. It is important not to derogate in any way from a sense of public responsibility. It is one thing to consider an occasional inquiry into allegations of maladministration or misconduct, but to do so as a matter of course, as though inquiries were part of the ordinary machinery of police administration would, in my view, be quite wrong. The setting up of an inquiry must remain an exceptional step.
Now I come to the last matter which I wish to put before the House. It is that of recruitment and training of police officers, which was singled out in the leading article in The Times today as the most important subject of all. I suppose that it is a truism that the best means of avoiding complaints against the police is to recruit into the service only men of the right type and quality and train them, and, above all, to select the right leaders. The Royal Commission expressed concern about the quality of recruits. It suggested that the police service was failing to secure its fair share of the better educated section of the community.
As the House will remember, in August, 1961, I think it was, my predecessor presented a White Paper setting out proposals for new training arrangements. These have been, or axe being, put into effect. The problem is to select officers for higher training at the right stage of their careers and to give them the type of training which is likely to bring out their full potential. Granted proper opportunities for advancement, I think that we shall go a long way towards meeting the problem of recruiting young men of ability who will become future leaders of the service. But it means that we must offer 697 them and show them proper opportunities for promotion and advancement.
These are the reasons why I have embarked on an ambitious programme designed to select outstanding police officers for higher training. It is in two parts. First, there is a special course for constables. Once selected for that course they will be given a year's course at the Police College in Hampshire, with accelerated promotion if they complete it successfully. I visited the Police College not long after the first course had assembled and I was impressed with what I saw, but it is too early to reach final judgments. These men, I hope, will not only he better professional policemen as a result of this course, but they will also have a much wider outlook on their work generally.
Secondly, later this year, we are starting an entirely new type of senior staff course at the Police College. Here again, we are breaking new ground. These are the students who have already proved themselves to be outstanding policemen, but those who are to hold top posts in the police service have to be much more than outstanding policemen. They must be administrators in the widest sense. We have, therefore, set our sights on ambitious targets in selecting and training the men who will lead our police service in future years.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of recruitment and training, may I ask what is his attitude to the recruitment of coloured officers'?
§ Mr. Brooke
I think that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary will be dealing with a number of points which will be raised by hon. Members during the debate. I should prefer to leave these specific points for him to deal with. I am making a long speech and I am just bringing it to a conclusion.
I have touched on a great number of matters, some of them of far-reaching constitutional importance and all of concern to every man and woman in the country. I am quite sure that it is on the effectiveness and the conduct of our police service that many of our basic liberties depend. The present pattern of our police service, derived as it is from nineteenth century legislation, has evolved during the last one hundred years with little parliamentary intervention, strange 698 to say. The Report of the Royal Commission now gives us an opportunity, unique in our generation, to refashion the police service to meet the new and constantly more challenging conditions of today.
I believe that the substantial pay award, the development of new training arrangements, the strengthening of the inspectorate, the fresh thinking and new ideas and techniques which will follow from the development of central research and planning, will give the service a new status and fresh impetus. I believe that they will enhance the public regard for a service which is second to none in the world and that they will go a long way to give the police the right organisation and equipment to enable them to battle successfully against crime.
I believe that they will promote uniformity of standards and operational flexibility and a sense of common purpose, securing the gains which might be expected from a national force without sacrificing the proved advantages of local ties. We talk of organisation and of legislation. We must get these right, but in the end everything depends on the men and women on the job. Some of them, of course, are not as good as others, but the great mass of them are very very good. Every country in the world, envies us our police. When I landed in Bermuda from New York the other day, and saw the Bermuda police wearing British policemen's helmets, I knew that we were in good hands and that law and order was safe. I commend to the House the Royal Commission's Report. The Commissioners will not be angry with me if I commend British policemen and policewomen more highly still.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I think that the House will appreciate the spirit in which the Home Secretary has approached this subject. He has given us a great deal of information over a wide field and on a great many topics, some, as he said, of major and far-reaching importance and others being matters of detail. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that on a good many subjects he still has an open mind, that he has put forward only his provisional views, and that he is anxious to hear the views of hon. Members on both sides both as to the Royal Commission's Report and as to his own reactions to it.
699 This is a subject of great national importance which hardly, if at all, affects party politics. Therefore, I am sure that it will be most useful if everybody who takes part in the debate expresses his own provisional views on a subject in which a great deal must still be left for further examination. I should like to endorse what the right hon. Gentleman has said by way of tribute to Sir Henry Willink and his colleagues for preparing such an admirable and lucid Report and for giving us so much detail and the history of the subject and so many comprehensive recommendations. Obviously, the House will not expect me or anybody else to deal with anything like all the 111 recommendations in the Report, still less to comment on those which, I gather, the Home Secretary has already implemented in a document which is in the Vote Office.
I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman emphasised enough the circumstances in which this Royal Commission was set up. It was set up by his predecessor as a result of a number of rather unrelated incidents which had occurred throughout the country, some in the Metropolis and some outside, some connected with the conduct of chief constables and others connected with the conduct of police constables, but all of which cumulatively produced a sense of public concern about the relations between the public and the police. It is perfectly true, as the Home Secretary has pointed out, that the Commission, under its terms of reference, has devoted, as I think was proper, far more of its time to the present-day organisation of the police than to the question of the relations between the public and the police, but these are the two major subjects which are dealt with in the Report and I should like to speak about both of them.
I also wonder whether the Home Secretary emphasised sufficiently the background against which we are considering what steps should now be taken to improve the efficiency of the police. After all, the startling facts are, as the criminal statistics show, that from 1938 to 1960 serious offences, including larceny, breaking and entering, receiving, frauds and false pretences, serious sexual offences and violence against the person, increased from 283.000 to 743,000, an increase of 700 about 225 per cent. What is more significant is that, whereas in 1938 only 50 per cent. of reported crime was detected, in 1960 the proportion of reported crime detected had fallen to 44.4 per cent.
Obviously, the most effective way of reducing crime is to increase the certainty of detection and the best way of increasing the certainty of detection is to improve the efficiency of our police forces. If one wanted evidence to show how the present arrangements fall short of being adequate to modern conditions, one could do no better than turn to paragraph 41 of the Royal Commission's Report:The basic idea of local forces locally supervised, each composed of independent constables subordinate only to the judiciary, cannot at any time have been capable of easy adjustment. Today it results in a degree of vagueness in the relation between the central government, local government, the police and the judiciary which would probably be intolerable elsewhere and is tolerated, and even applauded, in this country only because it seems to work".But does it work? Having regard to the statistics of crime which I have just given, can anyone say that it really works? We are all agreed, I think, that some far-reaching reforms are required. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he had already taken some steps—I shall have occasion in a few moments to doubt whether they go far enough—to carry out some of the Royal Commission's proposals. We welcome the fact that he has appointed a Chief Inspector of Constabulary. We welcome the fact that there are more inspectors. We welcome that he has set up a research unit which, we hope, will help in dealing with some of the unsolved crimes.
However, as the Report emphasises in more than one passage, notwithstanding such improvements as have taken place in the last few years, the present organisation of our police forces has not kept pace with the improved techniques of the modern criminal classes with their highly mobile apparatus and equipment. Even with all the co-ordination which takes place at present, it still must be a handicap to the police that, whereas so much crime is nationally organised, the police are locally organised.
Only the other day, there was reported in the Guardian a case in which a criminal in the Manchester district was 701 able to cross, within one hour, six different police areas each with a separate wireless frequency. I heard of a case in which a gang of criminals, within a few hours, committed a crime in London, another in Oxford and yet another in Lancashire, all on the same day. Obviously, with this kind of thing happening, it must militate against the best efforts of the police in dealing with criminals if there is a strict, or, even if less than strict, territorial limit to the respective jurisdictions of each police force.
Only the other day, my motor car was stolen from my garage in London for the purposes of enabling the criminal to use it to commit an even more serious crime in Cornwall, and we had two different police forces trying to deal with that problem. It is notorious that many of those responsible for the burglaries and house breakings which take place in the London area find it convenient to live just outside the Metropolitan Police District and are, thereby, not subject to the same supervision as they would be if they were in the same area.
There is a serious problem for the House to tackle. The Royal Commission posed three questions to itself and to the House. How should the police force of this country be organised in future to deal with modern criminal techniques? Should it be organised on a national basis, on a regional basis, or should the existing local organisation be largely retained?
Listening to the Home Secretary, I was not quite sure how far he was prepared to adopt the major recommendations of the Royal Commission with regard to organisation. It is true that the Royal Commission, wisely, I think, refrained from adumbrating any precise ideas of its own as to the optimum number to which our police forces should be reduced. I do not know whether it should be 60, 50, 40 or 20. I gather that the Home Secretary has no fixed idea on the subject yet. In my view, he was right to say that the way in which the country' is eventually divided up should permit some flexibility and that there should not be any rigid arithmetical basis.
It may well be that, as the Royal Commission recognised, in the vast urban 702 areas, now generally called conurbations, there is a strong case for one unified police force. A conurbation of that kind, as in the metropolitan area, will require a larger police force than is required in rural areas, although, obviously, there is a case for much more amalgamation to take place than has occurred so far.
I gather that the Home Secretary rejected the suggestion that a working party should be set up. When I read the Re-port, I was in favour of the setting up of a working party as a matter of urgency, as the Royal Commission recommended. I hope that nothing said by the Home Secretary will be taken to indicate complacency rather than a sense of urgency in his mind. do not myself greatly care whether there is a working party or not provided that some action is taken quickly to produce the kind of solution which, sooner or later—and I hope sooner—will have to be embodied in legislation.
Clearly, there will have to be consultations with the local authorities. Anyone associated, as I am, with the Association of Municipal Corporations, or the County Councils Association, appreciates the natural susceptibilities of local authorities in this matter, but, as the Home Secretary implied, this factor must not allow him or any Home Secretary to delay the necessary task of carrying out amalgamations.
After amalgamations have been imposed and legislation reducing the number of police forces has been introduced, one will inevitably have largely destroyed or considerably impaired the principle of local responsibility on which the system is now based. Even with joint boards or amalgamations such as already exist, for example, in Westmorland and Cumberland, or as there will have to be in conurbations in Lancashire, with one police force, although one may still preserve the facade—it is really rather more than that—of local responsibility, one cannot help disturbing any real democratic responsibility of the locality for its police force.
Reading in the Report the arguments for or against a national police force, my first reaction was that the whole logic of the case led to the conclusion set out in the powerful memorandum of dissent by Dr. Goodhart in favour of a unified or national force. I recognise the feeling 703 against the conclusions of Dr. Goodhart, which is apparent if one reads not only between the lines but on the lines of the majority recommendations, but the arguments against them are really based more on sentiment and on prejudice than on logic.
The Home Secretary, after asking the question whether there should be a national police force, went on, to say, rightly, that one of the most important things to do is to improve the morale of the police. It is important in this context to bear in mind the views of the police themselves on this question. There is a fairly large volume of evidence to show that the police themselves feel that their status in the country would be raised if they were members not necessarily of a national force, but of larger units, if there were greater opportunity of moving from one area to another, greater opportunities for promotion, and so forth.
In this connection, will the Home Secretary be prepared to pay special attention to the observations of the Police Federation itself in its recently published Annual Report for 1962, in which, in a very balanced statement, it said:We have studied with interest the Memorandum of Dissent which advocates the formation of a single police force for England and Wales, administered on a regional basis. Although this may be the ultimate pattern of the Service at some point of time in the future, we believe it would be highly inadvisable at this juncture to make such an abrupt and radical break with tradition, and we accordingly reject the proposals. However, our evidence to the Commission indicated that the present system of local police forces was not conducive to efficiency and that larger units of administration should he formed. The proposals of the Royal Corn mission do not go as far as we suggested. although they will accelerate the pace at which the police service moves towards greater unity and we are happy to agree with themThus, in some respects, the morale, status and aspirations of the police themselves favour a much greater degree of unity, leading, eventually, though the Federation does not think the time is now ripe, to a police force organised on a national basis.
The next point on which it is necessary to comment is what I regard as the unfortunate rejection by the Home Secretary of what seemed to me to be the central recommendation of the Royal Commission on the subject of the control 704 of the police. I refer to the recommendation in paragraphs 159 and 230 that legal responsibility for the efficient policing of an area should be transferred from police authorities to the Secretaries of State. This is fundamental and central to all the other recommendations which are made, whether they affect the appointment of the chief constable, the dismissal of the chief constable, the size of the watch committee, whether the police authority should have a certain number of members, and, if so, how many, drawn from the local authority, and so forth.
It has long been a matter of complaint in the House by Members from outside the Metropolis that, whereas Members inside the Metropolis can, within certain limits, interrogate the Home Secretary about matters of police administration in London, if they go seriously wrong, if similar incidents, perhaps scandals, arise outside London, there is no parliamentary machinery whereby the Home Secretary can be brought to account and it is very doubtful whether there is any comparable machinery in local government whereby accountability can be exercised.
The position of chief constables is most unsatisfactory. The Home Secretary said something about this. He did the Report less than justice when he said that the position of chief constables did not call for much alteration. The Report stresses the fact that the present position of the chief constable in the law of the land is most unsatisfactory and confusing. Paragraph 89 says that the chief constableis accountable to no one".I have often heard it said that some chief constables act as if this were the case.
Therefore, I hope that, before the Home Secretary introduces the Bill which we are promised, he will reconsider the question of the Home Secretary's responsibility. I doubt whether these important recommendations can be fully implemented, unless we have a system in which the Home Secretary is answerable for what goes on in police forces throughout the country to at least the same degree as he is answerable for what goes on in the Metropolitan Police District. There is a substantial case for saying that his responsibility to Parliament for police 705 matters in London should be greater than it is. I do not suggest that he should be answerable for the day-to-day conduct of every policeman. I agree with Professor Goodhart that the recommendations of the Royal Commission with regard to the responsibilities of the Home Secretary are far from satisfactory.
The Home Secretary also referred to recommendation (28) with regard to vicarious liability. I was rather surprised that the Home Secretary rejected this. This seemed to me to be one of the most sensible, important and harmless of the recommendations.
§ Mr. Brooke
There may be a misunderstanding. I did not reject it. I said that it needed further consideration. I said that there were matters connected with this which I was discussing with the Law Officers.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I apologise. The Home Secretary is right. He said that he had not decided to accept it and was discussing it with the Law Officers.
To assist the right hon. Gentleman in those discussions, may I say that I feel very strongly that the present position should be corrected. I have no doubt about this. The Royal Commission pointed out that, if the police authority were made civilly responsible for the conduct of a police officer, it could not in any way affect his present status and independence as a constable, with all the historical connection behind it. It would not be open to any more objection than the present position under which, if a doctor or a surgeon in the Health Service is negligent, the local authority accepts public responsibility. In other words, the Commission reports that this proposal would merely put policemen in the same position as other public servants. It should be observed, in this connection, that the Police Authority does often in practice accept responsibility, sometimes with important or unfortunate Censequencies as in the Jarratt-Eastmond case and in the case of Meek v. Fleming.
Before leaving the question whether there should be a national police force, either now or at some future date, it is worth emphasising that the Royal Corn-mission reported with unanimity that there is no constitutional objection to a national police force and that it would 706 not be politically dangerous. In other words, it would merely be an extension from the Metropolis to the whole country of the Home Secretary's present sphere of responsibility.
I am anxious now to turn for a few moments to the other aspect of the Report, namely, the relationship between the public and the police. Speaking for myself, I found the recommendations disappointing and disturbing. I was sorry that the Home Secretary seemed rather complacent about it. However much we may regret it, we must face the fact that there has been some deterioration in the relations between the public and the police. It was precisely because of that widespread fear that the Royal Commission was appointed.
It is true that in paragraph 12 the Royal Commission comes to the conclusion, as a result of a social survey, which may or may not have been the best way of obtaining evidencethat relations between the police and the public are, in general, very good".The House must remember that there is much in the Report itself which is inconsistent with this conclusion. I am sorry to have to deal with this, but in fairness to the police and to the public, and in view of the reforms which I think are necessary, we must deal with this aspect of the Report rather more fully than the Home Secretary did.
I suppose the most startling passage in this part of the Report is paragraph 341, which says this:Any suggestions that the police ever took bribes, used unnecessary violence, employed unfair means of geo[...]ting evidence, or gave false evidence in court were repudiated by almost half of those interviewed…If that means anything, it means that over half of those interviewed thought that the police do sometimes take bribes, do use unnecessary violence, do employ unfair means of getting evidence, and do give false evidence in court. That is what these words must mean.
§ Mr. R. M. Bingham (Liverpool, Garston)
Is that quite fair? If the suggestions are repudiated by half of those interviewed, the other half might adopt them or might say, as I think was. probably the case, "I do not know, because I have no knowledge".
§ Mr. Fletcher
That is a perfectly fair comment. I do not want to stress this unduly, but I think the paragraph is an unfortunate way of expressing a conclusion.
§ Mr. W. T. Williams
There is more positive evidence than this. The Central Office of Information, for the purposes of this Royal Commission, carried out a public inquiry, a form of Gallup poll. The result of the poll showed this, which my hon. Friend may find of use to him: 42.4 per cent. of those interviewed thought that the police did take bribes; 34.7 per cent. thought that they did use unfair methods; 32 per cent. thought they might distort evidence; and 18 per cent. thought that they sometimes used too much force.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am obliged. I do not want to argue about the figures. Whatever the figures are, however one analyses the passage, and however one estimates the reliability of some witnesses or other, the fact remains—
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdonshire) rose—
§ Mr. Fletcher
No I did not. I used the wordswere repudiated by almost half of those interviewed"—that is, interviewed by the Royal Coin-mission. Whether a person interviewed by a Royal Commision is a witness I do not know.
There is the statement thatalmost half of those interviewed"—by the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. Renton
Yes, by social survey. These were members of the public selected at random, in rather the same way as a Gallup poll is taken. They were not people who themselves necessarily had 708 had any dealings with the police at any time in their lives. They were asked questions and asked to guess the answers.
§ Mr. Fletcher
That disturbs me even more. I am not saying that these were people who had precise knowledge of these allegations. This was an inquiry to find out what people thought, because what we are concerned with is the impact of public opinion on the police. We are not concerned merely with what the facts are; we are concerned with the relations between the public and the police, which are based on what people think.
There is no doubt, unfortunate though the fact is—I regret it as much as anybody in the House—that relations between the public and the police have deteriorated. They have deteriorated in part because a large number of people, rightly or wrongly, have formed the impression indicated in paragraph 341. I am as much concerned as anybody, and probably more concerned than most, to do all I can and to urge the House to do all it can to try to allay this suspicion, because I am convinced that, if we are to get a reduction in the amount of crime and the best out of the public co-operation with the police, then, important as are improvements in recruitment, promotion prospects, national organisation, and so on still more important is it to allay the suspicion in the minds of some of the public that the police are not everything they ought to be. This is one of the things to which the Royal Commission referred.
I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) will accept that in nothing I say on this part of the Report do I wish to take away from my admiration for our police force as a whole. I have the greatest respect for the police and I endorse everything that the Home Secretary said at the conclusion of his speech. I have a great many reasons for having this admiration, among them the fact that my grandfather and two of his brothers served with distinction in the Metropolitan Police Force. Although none of them ever rose to an exalted rank, they retired from the force after many years of honourable and useful service. Anything we can do to support the morale, competence and self confidence of the police is worth doing.
709 But the disturbing fact is that something must be done about public opinion. I am not satisfied with the recommendations that have been made and accepted by the Home Secretary. Unfortunately, incidents do occur. I suppose that they are bound to occur in any large body, for there must be some black sheep in every fold. In police stations there may be undue violence, intimidation, or pressure to plead guilty in which innocent members of the public sometimes have a legitimate complaint.
The criticism I make of the Report and the speech of the Home Secretary is that the right hon. Gentleman has done nothing to suggest that he intends to introduce what would be the quite simple reforms necessary to remove that injustice or feeling of injustice. Hitherto, complaints by a member of the public against the police have been dealt with—I suppose, up to a point, quite properly—as matters of discipline, and I agree that they should continue to be dealt with in that way.
To discipline a police officer who has committed a misdemeanour or who has exerted his authority unnecessarily is not enough because that fails to do justice to the individual member of the public who is affronted and has a complaint. Experience shows that there is a tendency—I regret to say that it may be a natural one—on the part of superior police officers when in doubt to cover up the mistakes of their subordinates. The police have an arduous duty to perform and it is not pleasant for the senior self-respecting members of the force when incidents of this kind come to light. They can sometimes be dealt with as matters of discipline, and that may be said to be good for the morale of the police forces, but it is not good for the relations between the public and the police.
I do not think that justice will ever be done, certainly it will never be seen to be done, unless where a member of the public has a complaint against the police there is an opportunity, in addition to any discipline procedure inside the police force, for some inquiry by an independent tribunal outside the police force. I beg the Home Secretary to recognise therefore, that there is a strong case for the proposal put forward by three members of the Royal Commission, including my hon. Friend the Member for Old- 710 ham, West (Mr. Hale), that there should be a commissioner of rights set up, an experienced Q.C., entirely free to decide whether or not a case submitted to him is worth investigating.
There would be no question of investigating frivolous and trivial cases, because I have no doubt that unless some protection was given there would be a large number of frivolous complaints. I have had to examine some matters and I know that from time to time serious cases arise which cannot be adequately dealt with by the discipline procedure. When I have raised these matters in the House I have been told by the Home Secretary, or his predecessor, "If any one has been beaten up in a police station all he has to do is to take civil proceedings against the policeman who beat him up." The trouble is that the poor fellow cannot identify the policeman responsible. The chances of being able to prove his case are loaded against him.
I do not say that these cases occur often; but they do from time to time. Nevertheless, since they do occur, some steps along the lines I have suggested should be taken. This was why the Royal Commission was set up. One of the most important things to consider on this aspect is the necessity to do something to allay public opinion. I am convinced that if a Commissioner of Rights were constituted, as proposed, it would establish an independent tribunal distinct from the police so that it could no longer be said that the police are judges in their own cause. There would be every protection to ensure that no officer would be placed in jeopardy twice. The Commissioner would not be obliged to mention the name of any individual officer, but there would be machinery whereby a certain amount of public fear would be allayed.
I have already spoken for too long. I have endeavoured to concentrate on those matters which seem to me to be important and I have made remarks by way of criticism of the Report and the Home Secretary because, like him, I am most anxious that we should all do everything we can to perfect the organisation of police forces in this country and to remove factors that disturb the best possible relations between the police and the general public.
§ Mr. David Renton (Hun Huntingdonshire)
The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) has dealt studiously with police matters for many years, and I am sure that the whole House listened with great interest to his speech. He disagreed with some of the major proposals which my right hon. Friend put forward tentatively and with an open mind, and I hope that in this debate no hon. Members and no party will build themselves into entrenched positions from which they refuse to move in future. If that is done the value of today's debate will be entirely lost.
There are two major matters which we will all have to consider later in detail; first, the degree of the Secretary of State's responsibility for provincial forces; and, secondly, the form of the local police authorities. But the differences of opinion that we may have on those two matters are insignificant compared with the over-riding need to ensure that we will have efficient police forces in future. That depends on our getting enough men of the right quality.
At present, we have good chief constables and other senior officers. Many of the chief constables were trained at Hendon, and they will see us into the 1970s and perhaps the 1980s, but we have nearly reached the bottom of the Hendon barrel for promotion to the higher ranks. After Hendon was closed, we had six years of war, when no young men entered the police force. Since then we have had thousands of young men joining and they are of excellent quality for filling at any rate the ranks of constable, sergeant and inspector. Some of them—but, as I shall show, not enough of them—will be suitable for promotion to the higher ranks.
To be a policeman these days a man must be fairly tall, physically fit, mentally alert, of good character, and trained in police duties—which year by year become more elaborate and which involve an ever-widening, if superficial, knowledge of the law. He must also be tactful, patient and discreet.
To be a chief constable, however, or to fill any senior rank—chief inspector and above—it is not enough for a man to have been a good policeman in the lower ranks, for in the higher ranks 712 he must be a leader of men, a good administrator and organiser and, I think, an unerring judge of character. He must have a somewhat deeper knowledge of criminal law to enable him to prepare difficult cases for trial, and he will be expected to co-operate with Government Departments, local authorities and the Armed Forces. In these tasks he must expect to deal on equal terms with people of high-standing in other walks of life.
For all these things high standards of education are necessary. But what is the position? Our police forces at present have an establishment of about 2,000 officers of the rank of chief inspector and above. They do not have that strength, but that is the establishment, and they are working up to it, I am glad to say. One would hope that eventually nearly all of those 2,000 officers would have at least A-levels and some of them university degrees and that, in the ranks below chief inspector, there should be enough men with A-levels and degrees to fill vacancies in the higher ranks as they arise, provided that they have passed through the courses at the Police College.
This would mean that, ideally, at least 250 men a year, or 10 per cent. of each annual intake, should have the G.C.E. with A-levels, some of them having university degrees. As the Royal Commission revealed in paragraph 308, we are not getting anything remotely like that. No university graduate had joined recently when they reported a year ago and only about 1 per cent.—nothing like the 10 per cent. I spoke of—had the G.C.E. at A-level.
When my right hon. Friend the previous Home Secretary approved of the big increases in pay following the interim Report of the Commission, we hoped that it would attract men of better education besides stopping the wastage, and that it would encourage recruitment generally. It stopped the wastage very fast. It led to an improvement in recruiting, but unfortunately it did not attract men with the higher education. The Police College, including the new courses which I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend mention, will undoubtedly do good work in making the best use of the men available, but on present form not enough men of good enough education will be available to take full advantage of the courses at the Police College.
713 The Royal Commission, although it was not within its terms of reference, gave a good deal of thought to this matter. It made two minor recommendations: first, that the period of promotion to sergeant should be reduced to three years; and, secondly, that the term "sub-inspector" would be better than sergeant". I do not find it a very inspiring designation.
The Commission said in paragraph 316—to my mind the most important paragraph in the Report, although I suppose that each hon. Member has his favourite paragraph—It is in our opinion vital that the concept of the police service as a career in which men of the highest ability can find their proper place should be maintained. We do not doubt that Your Majesty's Ministers are aware of the urgency of this requirement, and they ought not to shrink from bold and even controversial measures in order to secure it.In other words, the Commission "passed the buck" to the Government to do something drastic about this.
In considering what the Government should do, one must not ignore the well-reasoned views in the reservations of Lord Geddes of Epsom, Sir George Turner. and Mr. Hetherington. Incidentally, in my opinion all the reservations, and the minority Report of Dr. Goodhart, are outstanding contributions, whether or not we agree with them. They added greatly to the value of the Report. In their reservation, Lord Geddes and his two colleagues drew attention to the special qualities of mind and education required in the detective branch, on which so much depends in the fight against crime. On page 154 they said that up to one-half of the total detective establishment should be recruited from men with G.C.E. passes at A-level, and they made various suggestions for getting such men in as "special entrants".
I agree with that reservation, as far as it goes. I wish that it had gone a bit further. I think that it applies with equal force to the need to obtain men for the administrative work, of which there is now such an awful lot to be done at Scotland Yard and in the larger police headquarters throughout the country. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider the possibility of following this reservation and seeing whether it, or something like it, could be applied not only to the detective branch, but to 714 people who will be of value in administration. Whether or not my right hon. Friend does follow that proposal, there are further possibilities that I suggest he should consider.
One of them was mentioned in The Times today. It is that there should be an officer cadet training unit for the police. I do not think that that would be the right expression to use. After all, all policemen are officers and there should not be such a conception as an O.C.T.U. for the police. I hope that there will be no confusing this with the idea of the police cadets, which is something quite separate. I do not think that The Times did have them in mind, but rather something in addition to Bramshill, where one would train something like an officer class. We do not want that or need it in the police.
But I have two suggestions to make. The first is that substantial cash bonuses should be given to recruits with higher educational qualifications. I do not think that these should be paid to them at the time they join but some two or three years later, when they have shown that they are worth keeping and when they have passed their preliminary training and it looks as if they will stay on. I have a scale worked out, but I should hate to put it forward publicly. I am willing to discuss this with my right hon. Friend.
If the Treasury is reluctant to agree to this, I suggest that it should be pointed out to the Treasury that £20 million worth of property is stolen in this country each year and that only 25 per cent. of it is recovered. If the Treasury remains adamant, then I suggest that my right hon. Friend should go to the insurance companies and point out to them that it may be good business to help by providing cash bonuses in this way.
My second suggestion is that a place should always be found in the new early courses which my right hon. Friend announced today for every constable who has a university degree or an A level. But he should be put on these courses at a pretty early stage. I understand that at present an officer does not get on the new early course until he has been a policeman for four years. I suggest that the possibility of reducing that to two years in the case of those with university degrees or A-level should be considered. I know that my right hon. Friend is 715 anxious to do something to provide senior officers for the future. I wish him well in his efforts, and I hope that he will consider these suggestions.
In deciding on the future responsibility for our police forces and the composition and powers of police authorities, I think that both Ministers and Parliament could be greatly helped if the Press would be so kind as to dispel the popular misconception that authority is indivisible. There is a tendency to lump together Parliament, the Government, the police, the courts, the Civil Service, and even the nationalised industries, and to refer to them as "they". We do need to carry the public with us.
The hon. Member for Islington, East has talked about the relations between the police and the public. I think that one of the reasons for bad relations is the complete misunderstanding of the constitutional position of the police, and if the Press could help in this way I am sure that it would be to the good. I realise that this is difficult. The present misconception that authority is indivisible leads people to regard the police as "agents of the Government" instead of "officers of the law"—and in come countries that is what they are.
Some years ago I tried to explain our police system to a Minister from a foreign country. I gave as an example that if the Home Secretary left his car obstructing a London street the most junior constable in the metropolitan force could bring him before the courts. The reply was, "In my country the police do what we in the Government tell them—and anyway, Ministers can leave their cars where they like."
The confusion is, I think, also increased by references in the Press to "police" courts, especially when the police themselves act as court ushers. I was glad that the Royal Commission recommended that this practice should cease.
I think that there is also a tendency to assume that every police force, like the activities of central and local government, should be subject somehow to control by democratically-elected bodies. I thought that I detected that in the speech by the hon. Member for Islington, East. But I ask hon. Members to question that assumption. Would there not be a danger 716 of bringing politics into the affairs of the police? Nothing could be more harmful to democracy than that in the long run. We do not control our courts in that way, and I do not see that the police need to be controlled in that way, either—so long as there are other checks on possible abuses of power by the police.
My right hon. Friend said today that he does not want to be responsible for the efficiency of the provincial forces because he does not like the idea of responsibility without power. I should say at this point that he has apologised to me because he has to be out of the Chamber when I am speaking. I am, therefore, a little reluctant to say this, but he will understand.
I was a little surprised to hear him say it, because even with the Metropolitan Police, for which he is the police authority, he has responsibility without power. He is answerable in Parliament for the Metropolitan Police, but he has no power to direct them on how to do their policeman's job. He cannot tell the Commissioner how to run the police, yet he must answer Questions and debates in this House about what they do or fail to do.
I do not think that there has been much complaint about how this part of the system works. Under our constitution we are accustomed to Ministers having responsibility without power. The nationalised industries are one example, and the Postmaster-General's responsibility for the B.B.C. in another. Perhaps if we think in terms of answerability, which is what we are getting at, rather than of responsibility, we may understand the position better.
In mentioning the ways in which the Home Secretary will become answerable in Parliament for the provincial forces without accepting the Commission's main recommendation that he should become responsible for their operational efficiency, it may well be that he will overcome the difficulties with regard to the accountability of the provincial forces that the Commission was considering. But I hope that my right hon. Friend will keep an open mind on this because, in the light of the debate, we need to think about this a good deal more.
Dr. Goodhart, in dissenting, was worried because the Home Secretary 717 would have no power to give directions. That is the effect of what he said. But I do not share his concern about this, far the reasons I have given. It is significant that, although those Ministers who are answerable for the nationalised industries were given stautory power by the party opposite to issue general directions on matters affecting the national interest, no such general directions have ever been issued, so I understand.
Fortunately, in our public service, we find ways in which Ministers are made answerable to Parliament for various public activities carried on outside the central Government but without interfering with or controlling the people who are carrying on those activities. It does not stop a Minister and his Department using their influence where necessary or doing some useful co-ordination. It does, however—and this is the good thing about it—ensure that the country is not run from Whitehall and that local people have their say and share in responsibility.
That brings me to the controversial question of what should be the nature of the local police authorities. Speaking from the back benches, I say with some temerity that I do not think that the present standing joint committee scheme has worked too badly, but that I think that the constitution of watch committees is unsound in principle, because now that local government has become party political to such a great extent it is wrong for a police authority to be composed entirely of a political majority—as it could be—or even to have a political majority on it.
That is why I am a little doubtful about the recommendation that a police authority should have a two-thirds majority of the local council. But I do like the recommendation, which was rather tucked away, made a little tentatively and which would involve a little inquiry before it could be implemented, that justices of the Peace should be brought more into police affairs. Traditionally, justices were the people relied upon to ensure that the police did their job properly. They are very Road people and I would have thought that we could trust them to sharing—equally with local councillors, as on -the standing joint committees which have worked so well—the job of acting as a police authority.
718 Some amalgamations are obviously needed, but I think that the Commission made a mistake in suggesting 350 as a normal minimum size. I know of two small forces which might well be amalgamated. Each has a strength of 132 and the combined strength would probably be about 250. This would cover a very wide area, and I do not think that the combined force could conveniently be amalgamated yet further with another neighbouring rural force in order to bring it up to 350. We have to be flexible about this and accept that 350 may be too large in some cases.
Now I turn to the position of the chief constables. As the hon. Gentleman suggested, this is not an easy matter; but some of the recommendations, including those accepted by the Government and those about making reports on chief constables and the power of compulsory retirement, will, I think, give a sufficient check. It is very important that the chief constable should remain what he is, in effect—an independent officer of the law who has risen up through the ranks of the police force and backed by all the experience which he has gained over the years. It is better that he should remain a person trusted in that way and be subject to the checks which I have mentioned than have his independent authority taken away. Above all, I am sure that it would be quite wrong if a chief constable became either an officer of a local authority or the handmaiden of a political majority on a police authority. Whatever proposals we manage to put into legislation, I hope that we avoid those two errors.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton), with whom I have sometimes crossed swords on police matters, was always a most courteous and efficient Minister of State at the Home Office Whose departure from that Ministry we on this side regretted. He has made a characteristically thoughtful and constructive speech today. He warned us, I think rightly, against taking up too entrenched positions on some of the problems which are being discussed. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had in mind problems like the size of police forces, the training of officers and the method 719 of deciding the new police areas, I entirely agree that these are matters which will need a great deal of further consideration before we adopt too firm positions.
I have asked on a number of occasions for a debate on the Royal Commission's Report, and I ventured to raise it in the debate on the Queen's Speech at the beginning of the Session. On that occasion, I raised a number of issues of principle, and I wish today to confine myself to a number of specific points. I am not, therefore, specially concerned with the administrative aspects of the question beyond wishing to ensure that, as far as possible, control of the police forces remains in local hands, that practice is standard throughout the country, and that the police forces are equipped to fight crime effectively.
I am much more concerned with the reforms which can be introduced to improve relations between the public and the police. I thought that it was a pity that the leading article in The Times today and the leading article in the Guardian a week ago tended to concentrate much more on the administrative aspects of the problem than on the need to improve relations between the police and the public. I very much welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has told us that he is inclined to accept many of the Royal Commission's recommendations on this subject.
I should like to say how much I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) said about the police force in general. Like him, I have a great regard for the force and I have often seen, when sitting as a magistrate, with what fairness and compassion policemen state their case against an accused person. There are, of course, bad policemen, but I believe that they form a very small minority in the force as a whole. I therefore hope that the House will not misunderstand me if I begin by talking about the method of dealing with complaints aginst police behaviour.
The Royal Commission was under considerable pressure from bodies like the Magistrates' Association and the National Council for Civil Liberties, which argued that there had been a decline in relations between the police 720 and the public. Those organisations made three proposals, among others, relating to the consideration of complaints.
The first was that the Director of Public Prosecutions and not a superior officer should decide whether action against a police officer is necessary. The extremely regrettable incident concerning Sheffield recently reported in the newspapers indicates how right it is that decisions of this kind should not be left in the hands of the police, but should be taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Action should not be left to private prosecution, as it was in this case.
The second suggestion was that police authorities should be liable for the tortious acts of police officers. I am glad that the Home Secretary is discussing that proposition with the Law Officers of the Crown.
Thirdly, it was recommended that there should be a uniform method of recording complaints.
But much more important, I think, is the suggested reform of the practice by which complaints are heard by the police themselves, because I believe that the present method carries a little conviction with the public and is unfair to members of the police. I thought that the Magistrates' Association stated the case well in the memorandum it submitted to the Royal Commission. I should like to read paragraph 25 of that memorandum:At present, an aggrieved person may make a complaint to the local police authority or to the chief constable, as the case may be, and he will normally be informed that his complaint will be investigated. We have no doubt that most of these complaints are investigated, but the person who complains has no means of knowing whether there is in fact an adequate investigation, and in any event he can hardly be expected to feel that the chief constable or police authority is completely impartial in matters of police conduct or administration. It does happen that some persons who complain are satisfied with the reply that they receive, but a person who is not satisfied cannot appeal or secure an investigation by an independent person or body".The Association went on to suggest that the Home Secretary should be answerable in Parliament for all police forces—a point on which the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire and I agree—and that there should be an appropriate body to which a member of the public could complain with a lawyer 721 as chairman. The Association suggested that there should be resort to this only if there is a complaint to the chief constable or police authority, and that it should make its report to the Home Secretary.
Unlike the Home Secretary, if I read his mind correctly, I think that the suggestion of the Magistrates' Association strikes the right balance between safeguarding the morale of the police, on the one hand, and giving the public confidence that justice is done, on the other. I was sorry that the Royal Commission rejected the proposal. It made three very modest recommendations, all of which, I gather, the Home Secretary has now accepted and commended to police authorities.
The first was that the police should help in identifying an officer against whom a complaint was made. It seems to me remarkable that we should have had to wait until 1963 before that point of view had official endorsement by a Home Secretary. The second suggestion was that there should be a complaints book. I am glad that the Home Secretary has recommended police authorities to have such a book. The third suggestion was that police officers should be charged with recording complaints made in court against the police.
Again, I welcome the Home Secretary's decision, but I am a little surprised that if was not thought possible to publish his support for these recommendations until yesterday. I regret that there should be complaints against the police, because the record of the police is good, and those who perpetuate grounds for being cynical about police behaviour do the police a very poor service indeed.
I turn to the question of the Judges' Rules. One of the matters which, I believe, is causing anxiety is the method which many members of the public believe the police adopt in obtaining statements. There is a suspicion on the part of many people that occasionally inducements are held out to a suspected person to plead guilty in the hope, perhaps, that he will receive lighter punishment than would otherwise be the case. I understand that the Lord Chief Justice has appointed a committee on the Judges' Rules and that it is considering at least two of the grounds on which anxiety is felt. The first is the belief that the police 722 often persuade a person to sign a statement after prolonged questioning and at a time when the suspected person may be exhausted. Secondly, it is felt that suspects are sometimes discouraged from seeing solicitors. There is a strong case for saying that a suspect should always be told as standard form, at the moment that a caution is administered, that it would be proper for him to see a legal adviser. If the committee on the Judges' Rules is considering these points, as I understand to be the case, I am very happy, but I should like to suggest two other matters for its consideration.
First, I should like it to consider the propriety of allowing a suspect to take alcohol during the period of investigation. I know that this is a difficult problem to decide, but it is one to which further consideration should be given. The other point which I should like it to consider is illustrated by a comment made by a judge on 9th November, 1958. This is quoted in the National Council for Civil Liberties publication, "Civil Liberty and the Police". The judge said:Again and again one finds in these courts statements like this written in a fair hand, stage by stage, in strict chronological order, and the Jury is told that it was written down without any prompting.I commend to the House the recommendation of the National Council for Civil Liberties on that point. It said:We recommend that no statement "—I deduce that it means no statement to the police—whether oral or in writing, should be admissible as evidence in criminal proceedings against the person making it unless it has been made in the presence of his or her solicitor or of a magistrate.I hope that the Lord Chief Justice's committee will consider the desirability of a suspect always being allowed to make his statement in his own way and not in the sort of police language which all too often is found in statements of that kind.
I was disappointed at the answer which the Home Secretary gave to my question on the recruiting of coloured constables into the police force, and I hope that we shall not get a completely disappointing answer from the Under-Secretary when he replies to the debate. This is a problem of growing importance. The, social survey. which was commissioned by the 723 Royal Commission, elicited from police officers the view that coloured people were more resentful of the police than they had been ten years ago. The Royal Commission did not comment upon that observation, but it is a regrettable fact that there is still not one coloured policeman in this country, although we now have a substantial coloured population.
I think that the men in the police themselves would be glad to welcome coloured recruits to work alongside them in areas with a coloured population in order to emphasise that the practice of racial prejudice is deplored by everybody in this country.
I should now like to turn to a matter upon which the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire touched—the question of the presence of police in magistrates' courts. The Departmental Committee of Justices' Clerks, in 1944, said, in paragraph 205 of its Report:…the greatest effort must be made to see that police officers do not enjoy, or appear to enjoy, any special privileges in courts of summary jurisdiction.In "The Police and the Public," an inquiry by Mr. C. H. Rolph, there was a contribution from Mr. Colin MacInnes from which I should like to read a short extract because it is a very apt description of what one finds in a magistrates' court:…if the trial be at a magistrates' court, the prisoner's belief that this is really a 'police court' will soon be confirmed. The prosecutor, guardians and the ushers will all be coppers (including a sort of toastmaster with a roll-call who behaves like a sheep-drover), and the walls will be flanked by officers, male and female, waiting to appear in other cases, and by uniformed cadets clueing themselves up on how things go.Two years ago, the National Council for Civil Liberties and the Magistrates' Association suggested that civilian ushers should take the place of police officers in magistrates' courts. The Royal Commission accepted that and I am sure that it was right to do so. I have sometimes noticed large congregations of policemen in magistrates' courts and I think that police officers who are there as witnesses should take their place with other witnesses inside or outside the court. If they are there for purposes of training, they should be in mufti and not in uniform. I believe, too, that it is wrong that the usher in a court should be a police officer, because it is he who calls 724 the defendants and witnesses and may well give the impression to ignorant people that it is the police who run the court.
The last point with which I wish to deal is that of police behaviour in demonstrations. I want again to emphasise that I am not making a general complaint on this score. I think that in any demonstration there must be some anxiety, and there is always a danger of tempers rising. But, whatever the strain, in my experience it is only a small minority of the police who are guilty of misconduct.
I have criticised their attitude on some occasions, as on the occasion of 17th September, 1961, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman replied to me in the House, and I was critical of their handling of a disturbance outside the House in March. On the other hand, I wrote to congratulate the Commissioner of Police on the behaviour of the police when the railwaymen and miners visited Westminster in a demonstration earlier this year, and also on the way in which they handled the situation outside Claridges, only a few days ago, when there was a political demonstration on the occasion of Queen Frederika's visit.
I should like to make three suggestions to the Home Secretary. The first is that he should seek to establish that the police and the organisers of demonstrations should always discuss the methods of control and dispersal to be used by the police. The second is that the police should always be equipped with loudspeakers so that they can ensure that the public are fully informed of the intentions of the police and why certain action is being taken. If this advice had been followed, the trouble in St. Pancras two or three years ago, and outside the House of Commons only a few weeks ago, would have been avoided.
My third suggestion is that the use of animals on these occasions should be avoided. Dogs should never be used to control crowds and I hope that we can get an assurance from the Home Office today that that is far from being the policy of the Department to use them; and mounted police should be used only in the last resort. Nothing is more calculated to rouse passions and produce violence than the presence of police on horseback on the occasion of a demonstration.
725 I hope that the Home Secretary will give very careful consideration to the suggestions which I have made, because I believe that their acceptance would help to achieve a most desirable end, which is the improvement of relations between Her Majesty's subjects and the police.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
During the course of my remarks, I shall be referring to at least one aspect of the speech of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood)—relations between the public and the police.
I begin by saying a few words about what is going on in Scotland, for the Royal Commission covered Scotland as well as England. The hon. Member for Islington. East (Mr. Fletcher) said that relations between the public and the police had deteriorated. That was true in England and Scotland in 1960 and 1961, but it is not so today. My impression is that in Scotland, at any rate, relations have greatly improved over the last two years.
It may be that the police themselves are happier than they were. The award arising out of the interim Report has done a lot to satisfy the police that they are engaged in a worth-while career. When a constable receives £1,000 a year, one can say that the pay is satisfactory, and the numbers coming forward are also satisfactory.
There are about 9,000 policemen in Scotland, and in 1961 there were 566 vacancies. I do not know the present establishment, but during the last two years the numbers have increased by 940, so although there has probably been some small increase in the establishment, it looks—and I should like my hon. Friend to confirm this—that the Scottish police are very nearly up to strength. If this is so, the position is indeed satisfactory and provides a good basis on which to begin to improve the set-up generally.
On the other hand, crime is also increasing. In 1961, the last year for which I have figures because the 1962 statistics have not yet been published by the Scottish Home Department, 297,217 crimes and offences were committed in Scotland, an increase of 14,562, or 5.1 per cent., on the previous year. It seems to me that the increase is continuing, so it may well be that although the numbers 726 of police are increasing, and the pay is satisfactory, there is still a case for an increased establishment to deal with the present crime wave. According to the police statistics 74…4 per cent. of the crimes and offences known to the police are cleared up by the end of the year, and as regards offences alone the figure is over 90 per cent.
I think that we can say that in Scotland the clearing up of crime is good, but I think that we have always to look forward to a higher quality of force. I am glad that my right hon. Friend has appointed more inspectors of constabulary in Scotland, because I believe that this is necessary to ensure that we have a greater oversight of what police forces are doing. I think I am right in saying that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has power, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wants, to call for reports. He is thus able to keep in close touch not only with pay and conditions, but with the quality of the force.
In Scotland, we have a police college, and as far as I can gather things there are going very well, but I should like my hon. Friend to tell us something about the quality of the cadets and the officers who go there. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) made a point about quality. He knows more about this than l do. The figures he gave were rather alarming. I was astonished to learn of the low educational level of those who are entering the police in England today, and I hope that the educational level of those going to the Scottish police college is higher than that of recruits in England.
Both on the criminal, and on the organisational, side life for the police, as for the rest of us, is getting more and more complicated as we get more and more civilised. The criminal is using scientific methods to carry out crimes, and we must have first-class brains, aided by first-class scientific equipment, to deal with the modern criminal. We have not got on top of the modern criminal in the way that we should have done.
I refer next to discipline. The police are an independent force, and each constable is an independent officer of law and order and must look primarily to his chief constable for discipline. I support the view put forward by my 727 right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that chief constables should be the main disciplinary body for the forces under their control. The need for this is brought out most clearly in complaints by the public against the police, and it seems to me that we have not quite resolved this problem, nor did my right hon. Friend in his speech today.
I have one or two suggestions to make arising out of the Commission's Report. First, I suggest that chief constables should go out of their way to see that complaints are investigated, and I think, too—and this was the point made by the hon. Member for Islington, East—that in as many cases as possible the complainant should be told the result of the inquiry and what disciplinary action, if any, has been taken.
In addition—and again this is a recommendation of the Royal Commission—whenever possible the complainant should be present and allowed to give evidence and cross-examine the constable when the complaint is being made. We have to do a little more than is being done at the moment, not to see that justice is done—because I believe that on the whole it is done—but to make the complainant realise that justice is done.
Secondly, I do not believe that the tribunals procedure, under the 1921 Act, is the right answer. In Scotland, we had the Thurso boy case. In my view, the inquiry did no good. It did not really clear up the situation. It exacerbated the feelings of people not only in Thurso, but throughout Scotland, and aroused suspicions that the police were doing things that ought not to be done. I believe that the inquiry not only did no good, but, rather, did a lot of harm. If we are to retain this Act, I believe that it should be used on a very few occasions indeed because I do not believe that a tribunal set up under this Act does any good in the kind of case to which I have just referred.
The Report also recommends that there should be administrative inquiries. I believe that my right hon. Friend is right in refusing this too, because if we say that the chief constable must be the man in charge of discipline, and then have somebody else from Whitehall or Edinburgh conducting an administrative 728 inquiry into the attitude of the chief constable to complaints that come before him, this will deal a blow to the discipline of the force.
I, too, am against the ombudsman idea that was put forward by three members of the Commission. It depends on what powers one gives the ombudsman. It is no good having such a person unless he has all the powers of the 1921 Act to take evidence on oath and call witnesses. If he has to conduct an inquiry merely on a sort of old boy basis, he will not be able to get the truth from people. He must have the powers provided by the Act, and once he is given those we come up against the same difficulty that we experience with the Act itself.
I am not sure what the answer is, and I echo the views which have been expressed on both sides of the House that we should not come down firmly, decisively one way or the other today, but I urge my right hon. Friend and the Scottish Office to think again about this. We have yet not found the solution to the problem, but I think that it should be based on the chief constable as the head of the force, and that any outside inquiry is to be deprecated because it will interfere with the morale, the discipline, and the esprit de corps of the force.
There is another aspect of the relationship between the public and the police that I should like to encourage. I should like the public to go to the aid of the police more often. I should also like there to be a much more friendly basis between the civilians and the police, and in this connection I have two suggestions to make. If a policeman gets injured in the course of his duty, he receives compensation—I am not saying whether the amount of compensation is right or wrong—but if a civilian goes to the aid of the police, and is injured, what happens? I should like to see some legislative form of aid for civilians who go to the aid of the police and are injured in doing so.
I saw in the Press the other day that the Binney Medal had been awarded to someone. I do not know whether any money goes with, but it is a very high honour for a civilian who goes to the aid of the police in the Metropolitan district. The Binney Medal is awarded to civilians for gallantry in aiding the police. Why should not we have a similar sort of medal in Scotland, or, indeed, in 729 other parts of England? Why should not we have something in the nature of the George Cross, to be awarded to civilians who help the police in the execution of their duty?
If we could build up this sort of good will between civilians and the police, and by good conduct by the police to the public, we should eventually get a first-class relationship in a democratic State between the police and ordinary citizens, than whom there are no better people in the world.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. W. T. Williams (Warrington)
The Home Secretary, in introducing the debate, invited us to think aloud with him on the problems and some of the suggestions for their solution that have been offered in the Royal Commission's Report. The debate so far—I think that the House is to be congratulated on it—has been completely on non-party lines. I hope that the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) will be encouraged when I say at the outset of my speech that I am now at the age when I tend to become increasingly conservative.
When I began to read the Report, I was entirely and absolutely on the side of the status quo. It seemed to me then, and, indeed, in some respects it seems to me now, that by and large our police forces have much to commend them and much for which they ought to be commended. I have, by some quirk of fortune, prosecuted a good deal in my native Wales, and have been invited to stand on the other side, whenever I practice here in London, so I have done both work with the police and, as it were, against them.
I am bound to say that whether one is dealing with a provincial force in Cheshire, or in Wales, or with the Metropolitan Police the general picture, from my years experience, is one of fairness and the attempt to do justice. The number of police officers who deliberately perjure themselves, or behave unkindly or unfairly, or try to prevent justice, is remarkably small—except perhaps when driven by emotion stronger than themselves. They are human beings, not the saints that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has pictured them to be ideally.
730 On the other hand, it is quite clear that in regard to the significant duties that the police have to perform, the time has come when the police system needs seriously to be considered. The ordinary policeman does his job fairly, kindly and with great ability and skill. That is my experience. When, however, we come to deal with the problems with which we are faced as a community, the increased crime, the increased lack of respect for order, then, clearly, we need a root and branch attack to be made upon the system.
I would not give the learned commissioners who made this inquiry very high marks for history. With the exception of Dr. Goodhart, whose history seemed to me to be impeccable, the commissioners who made the majority Report seem to me to be sadly faulty when it came to giving the historical picture into which to fit the framework of the present police system. If it were not that I fear that by the end of the speech my own logic might be held to be at fault, I do not think that I would give them very high marks for logic, either. They face the problems and they make recommendations but they approach—to use the phrase happily framed and used by James M. Hart, in his book "The British Police"—the present position of the police with a certain amount of sentimental historicity.
I cannot—and there was nothing in the majority Report which led me to any other conclusion—really understand what merit the commissioners eventually found in the maintenance of local police forces and local police authorities as they are now constituted. Indeed, the commissioners appear eventually themselves to give that case away because, at the end, they also abandon the present structure and go in for something that very remarkably approaches a regional system of police control.
Faced with the resolutions, or the irresolutions of the demands and conclusions found within the compass of the majority Report, the commissioners seem to me to make the worst of all possible worlds. They have set their faces against the small police forces that are really local, on the ground that they cannot be efficient. They say that the relationships between local authorities, police authorities and the police themselves can only 731 be efficient and effective and, at the same time, retain some local connection to justify the sentimental approach, if the forces are at least 500 strong, and are preferably very much stronger.
The challenge to bigness is unanswerable. If we are to tackle the problem of major crime—and major crime conducted, we must remember, by criminals who may live in one place and work in another—if "work" the right word—we cannot have the police unnecessarily bound, as I think they are, by the restrictions now put on their own movements by the differences that exist between police authorities.
I can give an example. A little time ago, I prosecuted in North Wales a gang of criminals who had come into North Wales and robbed a storehouse of about 3 million cigarettes. They came from Liverpool and got back there without being detected. They were eventually found, but to bring them to book in North Wales, where the crime had been committed, the Liverpool police had first to be consulted, they had to work on information given them by the Gwynedd constabulary and it took them a week or so to find some of the gang. By this time the others had taken flight.
It was a fortnight, or even more, before a third member of the gang was found. To get him into custody in Caernarvon, a Gwynedd police officer had to go all the way to Liverpool, and then go with a Liverpool officer, who alone had the power to arrest, because he had the necessary authority of a local J.P. Then the third member of the gang, having had three weeks' extra liberty over and above that of his accomplices, had to be brought all the way back to Caernarvon to be charged. That really is reductio ad absurdum, and it is the price that has to be paid for strict adherence to the local autonomy and authority of the police unless some way out can be found administratively.
In the light of that kind of experience, the time has surely been reached when a super-authority, over and above the local police authorities, should exercise control, and thereby increase the efficiency of the police force. The majority Report has run away from that problem. Dr. Goodhart, on the other 732 hand, comes down far more heavily than he need in favour of an absolute centralised authority. I like the phrase used by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire—I hope that he will not mind my modelling my speech around his phrases—that it really is time that we recognised the divisibility of authority. Even if it be held offensive to tradition to set up a completely centralised police authority straight away, there can be nothing intrinsically unwelcome in setting up an authority on lines similar to those followed by the Ministry of Education in its work.
It cannot be beyond the wit of the Home Secretary—whom we know to be a man of great wit—to devise a scheme whereby, from the seat of authority in the Home Office, he could exercise the same kind of right as exists under the Education Act in relation to education authorities. That authority can be delegated to county or regional authorities, and again delegated down the scale to local police authorities, so that they may act in the same way as local education authorities exercise their rights.
It would then be possible at town, county and rural level to have police authorities exercising their authority under the Home Secretary, but with the Home Secretary having the power to direct and control them if they behaved unreasonably. They might then be able to exercise over their chief constable and their police force the same kind of authority as a director of education has in the education service. In the last resort, the Home Secretary should have a central reserve of power, enabling him to exercise ultimate control and authority. I do not think that the relationship between the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan Police is a good example of the general exercise of authority that should be applied by the Home Secretary in relation to provincial forces. The Home Secretary's position is the reverse of that enjoyed by the harlot throughout history—he now has responsibility without power.
When I was Member for a London constituency, I sometimes sought assistance from the Home Secretary in relation to an abuse to which I drew his attention. It seemed then to be more difficult to get any kind of action out of him, or any kind of approach to the Commissioner of Police through him, than 733 it has been, since I have been the Member for Warrington, to go to the chief constable himself. If the Home Secretary is to improve the position of our police forces. he must take to himself, not only general guiding authority but real authority, real control, although I think it important that he should exercise that control only in the last instance.
My major criticism of the present police structure, apart from the inefficiency to which it gives rise, is the tremendous overlapping that exists between certain police forces. One has only to think of two police forces within Lancashire—the forces in Liverpool and Manchester. Both have enormous resources, but overlapping resources. The two forces lie within 12 or 15 miles of each other.
There is this overlapping, this duplication, this waste and inefficiency but, in addition, it appears to me that another real lacuna in the set-up of the police system is the irresponsible power of the chief constables. T have personal knowledge of only four chief constables—people with whom I have worked and with whom I have personal acquaintance. One of them is the chief constable of Warrington, who has just resigned, and who has for many years in that county borough done a splendid job, and has revealed himself, as have the others I know, as a man of great courage and wisdom.
It is nevertheless true that if, for any reason, a chief constable regards himself as responsible to no one but God and history, and does not give a damn about either, he can do more harm in his own person than can a hundred policemen on the beat. If we are to have a kind of loose tangent—someone who is out on a limb, who does not accept responsibility, and is accountable to no one—and break the chain of authority we shall he introducing a weak link which we could well do without in our police system. If we have a chain of authority from the Home Secretary, devolved and decentralised as much as may be necessary, but in the last resort having real authority exercised and real power carried out by the Home Secretary, it would be unnecessary to have instances where withdrawals of grants were threatened or resignations were demanded.
If a man behaves irresponsibly occasionally, or only once, it seems a grave 734 step to demand his resignation. If we decentralised the system, but nevertheless ensured that the Home Secretary has ultimate authority, and is responsible to Parliament, we would do a tremendous amount to increase the accountability of the chief officers to him and of the police to the public. Such accountability by itself would tremendously improve relationships between the man in the street and the man on the beat.
These are the things that seem to me to be matters of principle and importance worth bringing to the attention of the House. Although I offer them in the most tentative fashion, I hope that they will be of some assistance to the Home Secretary.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
I do not dissent from much of what the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Wililams) has said. It represents a considered and balanced view of a problem which we shall ultimately, if not at the moment, have to resolve. But I was not completely at one with the speech of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood). I think that the criticisms he made of the police in respect of their actions during demonstrations were a little unfortunate. I never admire the police more than when they are dealing with people who have lost their tempers. I find it very difficult to deal with such people, and I never cease to admire the great quality of our police in maintaining calm in the face of somebody who is blowing his top, to put it colloquially.
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
It would be fair to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) also made that point. He said that only in a minority of instances was it otherwise.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Yes, but I have never witnessed an occasion where the police, even in a minority, were to blame. I praise them without reservation for their conduct during times of disturbance.
I want to, start by dealing with the fundamental problem of the relationship between the police and the public. If we can get this right, the question of the forms of organisation is not so important, although I would not reduce it to a negative value.
It is exceedingly difficult to get into the minds of the police. The majority 735 of us know nothing about policemen. We may know a little more if we have seen "Dock Green" and Z Cars on television, although in my opinion neither provides a particularly good guide—certainly not "Z Cars". This is a basic problem. Members of the public have no real knowledge of the police. The gap between the two is bridged effectively only at the level of the village constable. He makes a large contribution in rural life, but this does not carry us very far in large conurbations.
To a large extent this is the fault of the police. I say that not as a harsh critic but as a friend of the police. It may be that something that my right hon. and learned Friend said about the nature of recruitment is the cause of this. I feel very strongly that the police have too closed a mind, and lead too monastic an existence, to get the right sort of relationship with the public. Policemen of great quality sometimes behave—because of the particular nature of their association with each other—in a way which I find it almost impossible to understand.
Let us remember that the real reason for this Royal Commission was the action of Police Constable Eastmond, who pushed through a hedge a man who sought to remonstrate with him. It was later discovered that, prior to this incident, the constable had a very bad record. On the advice of their counsel the police paid out the sum of £300 to the aggrieved individual before the case came to court. Any ordinary individual who has responsibility for other men would, when faced with that sort of situation, assume that this man ought to be sent before a disciplinary board because of the action that he had taken. Yet a man as distinguished and fine a policeman as the present Commissioner refused to do that. That put my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in an extremely embarrassing position. I understand that the reason why the Commissioner did not send this man before a board—and he was clearly a very suitable candidate—was that he felt that public opinion was already anti-police, and that this action would make it worse.
This feeling that under no circumstances must there be any attempt to 736 put a policeman on trial, and that the incident must be covered up if possible, demonstrates more than anything else of which I know the real difficulty of creating better relations between the police and the public. The police feel that this is the best way to preserve good relations with the public. In fact, it is the worst way.
On many occasions I have told policemen that in the House of Commons we have 600 Members, and that in the eighteen years that I have been here quite a few of them have gone to gaol—and quite a few more ought to have gone. I do not imagine that if we have 600 men we are going to have 600 angels. Certainly with 90,000 policemen we will not get 90,000 angels. The police must recognise that there will be people in their midst who are black sheep, and they should not be afraid of facing that fact. We must get the police to agree that some form of democratic control is not irksome or damaging to their prestige.
I was not sorry to hear my right hon. Friend talking in this vein, because this is the key to the problem. If one is doing a good job, with integrity and energy, one should not be afraid of any criticism. The police have no right to be afraid of any criticism launched in this House. As my right hon. Friend says, he has responsibility without power in respect of the Metropolitan Police, but no one can say that any Member of this House, either by way of a Question or a speech, has done or said anything that could seriously have impaired the efficiency or morale of the Metropolitan Police. I wish that the police would accept that they have an obligation to acknowledge some form of democratic control, in the same way as every other organisation has.
I realise the difficulty of democratic control as it affects the police. At the moment I believe that we have it in almost the worst possible forms. Even if we do not go as far as some hon. Members would like, we must certainly see that these bad forms of democratic control are eliminated as quickly as possible and replaced by forms that are helpful. In my view, it would not be a mistake if we had an entirely national police force. I will deal with that in a moment, but I wish to emphasise that if 737 the police would accept some degree of democratic control they could work within that framework without any difficulty or loss of morale, if they would only face the fact that it is 1963 and that we cannot act as we did fifty or sixty years ago.
May I turn to the question of what form of change ought there to be? I have no doubt that we ought to have a national police force. I have not met an intelligent policeman yet who does not believe that himself.
§ Mr. Shepherd
It may be that the hon. Gentleman has. But I have not met an intelligent policeman who does not believe that there should be a national force. have met a lot of unintelligent policemen who believe that we should not have a national force. The real difficulty of the police force is the level of recruitment. If we had men of integrity, a lot of the troubles we suffer from would never exist. If we could get men of integrity to fill every post of chief constable, men who would watch their policemen like hawks and set a standard beyond reproach, a lot of the troubles—even such as we have experienced in the last ten years—would never arise. And so I say that most of the policemen I have met, highly intelligent men, believe that we ought to have a national force.
I realise that my right hon. Friend is not prepared to accept the idea of a national police force. I know that a sloppy mixture of local amenities, of convenience, expediency and sentiment, even of history, makes it difficult at this moment to obtain a national police force. But what I want to see, most emphatically, is an effective control of the police. As I see it, my right hon. Friend is heading for precisely the thing which he said that he did not want—responsibility without power. The proposals which he has made today are, I think, dangerously near to having responsibility without power; and before he finally makes up his mind, I urge my right hon. Friend to try to take as much direct authority as he can. Frankly, the more one looks at the details of the difficulties—even as posed by the hon. Member for Warrington, about the devolving of responsibility down the line, or any of the many problems—the clean-cut solution is 738 seen time after time to be the creation of a national police force.
I wish to say something about complaints against the police and here I think that the position is unsatisfactory. A lot of the complaints against the police are frivolous and a lot are made by malicious persons. Therefore, some sifting process is essential. If we had chief constables dealing with complaints, and if the individual concerned, if he is not satisfied, had the right to go elsewhere, we should perhaps safeguard the position of the public as much as could be reasonably expected. In those cases concerning policemen where it is decided that no criminal action lies—those are the cases where it would probably be difficult to do so—things would be much happier if they could be heard in public. I know that if they could, there would be but a quarter of the cases that arise now. I realise the administrative problems; they are very real. But if, after the requisite sifting, some system could be devised whereby complaints against policemen could be heard in public, it would achieve two things. The public would feel that they had had a square deal and it would reduce to a small fraction the number of complaints which we now have.
I wish to turn for a moment to another matter—that of inspectors of constabulary. I feel a little doubtful about inspectors of constabulary because for many years I pressed my friend Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, as he then was, to increase the number of inspectors. He gave the usual Home Office answer, that there was no need to increase the number of inspectors from the present total of three. They are, of course, an essential link, almost the only link, between the Home Office and the local police forces. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take vigorous action and that he will see that these men have the right staff for their job. I am told that these wretched individuals even have had to send their reports to Black pool in order that they may be typed in the typing pool, because they have not even a secretary to look after their work.
These gentlemen are not necessarily young men and they have to travel considerable distances. They have very arduous duties and if they do not have what 739 is the normal commercial clerical assistance they are in a poor position to perform their duties. I hope that my right hon. Friend will see that these men do have adequate clerical assistance so that they may do their job properly, because it is a vital function.
I should like to see them paid more. I understand that the candidates for appointment are pretty regular, even though it may often mean a reduction of salary. I am not happy at the thought of an inspector of constabulary going up in prestige but down in terms of salary. I know that we in the House of Commons do this, but I do not see why other people should. I feel strongly that a man who is a chief constable and is made inspector of constabulary ought not to be called upon to take a reduction in his salary. Could not we apply the "Beeching Plan" to it? I mean in terms of pay. Could not we have a simple principle that if a chief constable is earning £5,000 a year and is made an inspector he gets the salary that he got as chief constable I do not think it is desirable that a man who takes on a job involving the work and responsibility of an inspector should be called on to make a financial sacrifice.
There are two other matters to which I wish to refer. One is establishment and the other quality. I hope that I may be told what has been done to try to measure scientifically the real establishment needs of the police. The present basis of "think of a number" is not really very good. I served on the Select Committee on Estimates some years ago and we investigated the police. We could not discover any rational basis on which these establishments were decided. As I understand it, a chief constable would put in for an establishment of, say, 1,500 men, and the Home Office would say that he could have 1,450 or 1,400. The Home Office did not give any reason why the figure should be 1,400 or 1,500, because it did not know. It is about time that we got some critical assessment of the needs. because we may well find that we are wasting a lot of policemen.
I should like to see some outside body brought in to make an assessment of the efficiency of the police and the real labour demand. From my limited knowledge of recent activities I am not at all certain that all policemen are being used in the 740 most efficient manner possible, but I doubt it very much. I should like, therefore, to know whether an attempt is to be made internally to assess the real needs of the police in terms of establishment, and whether consideration will be given to employing some outside body to investigate the establishment. What the police need more than anything else is a breath of fresh air from outside. They are far too much "in-bred".
I said that the last point that I wished to make was about quality. I am convinced that from the existing basis of recruitment we are unlikely to get enough chief constables of the necessary quality and integrity, and I stress "integrity" because this is the most important quality in a chief constable. It does not matter how efficient he is and how much he knows of the law, as the Home Secretary has said, if he is not a man of the highest integrity he is a very bad chief constable. We are therefore facing a real difficulty in the existing circumstances of recruitment in finding enough men of this standard to give us the sort of police force we want.
I should be obliged, therefore, if my right hon. Friend would consider the possibility of some preferential recruitment. I know that this is a difficult problem, because the Police Federation thrives on mediocrity. It will thrust mediocrity down our throats with its last breath, but we have an obligation not to the Federation but to the police force as an institution and to the nation as a whole. I believe that getting a high standard of recruitment is absolutely essential to the future welfare of the force.
If my right hon. Friend cannot go all the way with that in the police force, I hope that he will be ruthless in cutting out the small police forces. I know that this arouses intense feeling, because people say that the local policemen knows the individuals. He does. He knows them too well, too often. The small police force is a great danger to the police force as a whole. if one has a small police force, where does one put the man one is not quite sure about? He is not a man that one can take before a board and get rid of, and therefore one is stuck with him. In the same way, if one has a man who is exceptionally good one 741 cannot promote him, because of the difficulty of promotions in a small force.
I support my right hon. Friend in the idea of changing the composition of watch committees. I hope that we shall do away with them altogether in a relatively short time. They are, to my mind, dangerous in many respects. In too many cases the chief constable is completely subservient to the watch committee. He may well find that he is on drinking terms with the chairman or, on the other hand, he may find himself at loggerheads with him. Neither of these circumstances is good for the well-being of the police and of the citizens in the districts concerned. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will be ruthless in eliminating the small police force. I hope that he will accept that 350 is a minimum optimum number and that he will see that the worst effects of political domination and friction in the police force are eliminated.
I have the greatest admiration for the police. I know a great many police officers. In the main they do an excellent job. They are not receiving enough support from the people. They deserve a better reputation than they have among a great number of our citizens. They have some part to play themselves in altering this reputation. If we make a sensible alteration in the organisation of the police we shall have done something to make the police of the future as good as they have been in the past.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
I do not think that I can follow in the debate the remarks of the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), for several good reasons. First, there is the point which I considered to have been properly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) about demonstrations. I believe that I am correct in saying that in his view it was only in a minority of instances that the police are to be faulted. This should be emphasised and the point should be made to the House and certainly to the hon. Member for Cheadle.
The power and the ability to demonstrate publicly is a very sacred right in this country, and should be cherished by us all. It is not surprising that in these public demonstrations there are many young people who are actuated by a sense of idealism—which, goodness 742 knows, is very necessary—and for that reason will often act with greater exuberance than discretion. My hon. Friend, therefore, was perfectly correct in asking the police to use discretion on such occasions, which, I am happy to say, they generally do.
I do not claim to possess any encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject of this debate, nor do I possess any knowledge of the workings of watch committees, but I have read the Report of the Royal Commission and I have been briefed by a local watch committee whose members have a great deal of experience. It is on this point that I hope to make a brief and, I trust, beneficial contribution to the debate.
It is my honest opinion that God and the police are appealed to only when someone is in trouble. The House should try to bring out very prominently that the police are frequently held under suspicion when they should be held in regard, and we should make plain how when people are in trouble it is to the police that they first turn. Indeed, if people turned to them more frequently it is possible that there would be a great deal more crime prevention.
I cannot agree with the criticism made by the hon. Member for Cheadle of the present set-up and his apparent desire to see a national police force. I think that the Royal Commission has not taken enough heed as it is of the effect of developments on local authorities and local police forces. I hope that the House will forgive me if I offer figures to prove that contention, but first I should like to recount some of my experiences with the police and with chief constables.
Constituents have complained to me about the police. On such occasions I have quickly realised that what they were complaining about was not so much the police as the administration of justice, which is a different matter. I took it upon myself to ask a chief constable if he would see my constituents and a meeting was arranged. I ask the House to believe that after a fairly large group had met him the chief constable, who is rather adept at public relations, left the people in no doubt that the police were their friends.
These people left the police headquarters with a vastly different impression of the police, and this has hap- 743 pened on repeated occasions. It is my hope that chief constables will practise this kind of public relations more and more, but I am certain that it may not be done so well if local responsibility and control of the police force is not in the hands of a chief constable who fully accepts his obligations in that way.
There is one passage in the Report of the Commission which, in my view, can properly be contested. The Commission concludes that legal responsibility for the efficient policing of an area should be transferred from the police authorities to the Secretaries of State. Although the Commission does not say so, this seems to be its answer to the question it posed at the beginning of its report: how can a police force be an impartial force in the body politic yet be subject to a degree of control by persons who are not required to be impartial?
I take that to be an oblique reference to watch committees. In my view, it is not a matter for criticism that watch committees are composed of politicians. It is wrong to introduce undue political influence in these matters, and I think that there is no such undue political influence because watch committees are composed of persons from all political parties. Although political, the watch committee is non-partisan.
What is the alternative? Is there any evidence which can lead to the view that political influence affects the conduct and administration of our police forces? Those who wish to change the present system must recognise the obligation upon them to answer this question.
I am putting to the House the points which have been put to me by people with far greater experience of these matters than I have. I speak of the watch committee of Burnley, which, I am sure the House will agree, should be congratulated for being sufficiently vigilant with regard to the happenings in this House to be prepared to advise its Member and play its part in advancing the considered opinions of people whose experience lends great weight to their views.
The Burnley watch committee says that the association of a police force with a particular area is of fundamental importance in the creation of a good relationship between police and public. 744 From my own limited experience, I know this to be true. In many aspects of police work, says my watch committee, local knowledge among the lower ranks is frequently a substantial advantage. This, I suggest, answers in part the point made by the hon. Member for Cheadle.
If I understood him correctly, the hon. Gentleman argued that local control and responsibility could be a disadvantage. I do not know whether he quite realised the implication of his words, but I felt that in them was an oblique reference to the honesty and integrity of the local police.
A few Saturdays ago, a young citizen of Burnley, a college student of about 21 years of age, apprehended two lads who were indulging in vandalism, pulling a public notice out of the ground. This young student asked them not to behave in that way, and he was very badly beaten up. I see that one hon. Member is finding this a source of merriment. I know not why. To be beaten up is a very salutary experience, and to be beaten up by thugs is even more so. But—and this is the point—within three hours those two thugs had been apprehended, and it was in substantial measure due to the local knowledge of our policemen, quickly put into effect, that their arrest was accomplished.
§ Mr. Jones
I agree, but I believe that the sense of local responsibility tends to diminish within the system advocated by the hon. Gentleman. However, this is a matter of opinion. I do not wish to ram my opinions down the hon. Gentleman's throat any more than he would wish to do the same to me.
Further, my watch committee says thatAlthough tyranny is unlikely to result from the creation of a national police force, the possibility of some abuse of power cannot easily be ignored.This, again, is an opinion put forward by a body of very responsible citizens who have considerable experience in this work, as, I am sure, the House will readily appreciate. They go on to say thatApart from isolated instances, the partnership system between central and local government has worked satisfactorily and should continue so to do.745 In my opinion, the main purpose of a police force is to apprehend criminals. If possible, its purpose is to prevent crime, but, failing that, its principal purpose is to do the first efficiently. Here are figures sent to me by my watch committee. They are figures which command my respect because, as I say, the end product of a policeman's work is the apprehension of criminals. In 1961, the percentage of crime detection in Burnley was 66.5, which is to be compared with the national average of 44.8 per cent. Such figures reveal a situation which should be changed only after the most careful thought.
I do not know whether it is a situation peculiar to Burnley. As I have said, I have not by any means encyclopedic knowledge of this subject. All I can do is put to the House the fruits of the experience of those who have close and constant contact with it, in the hope that the Home Secretary will be assisted thereby in making up his mind.
From what I know and have read, I believe the present system to be less costly and more efficient, and I am fortified in that view by the state of affairs in my own constituency. We should, therefore, hesitate long before changing the system.
The hon. Member for Cheadle was very critical of watch committees and seemed to be completed "sold" on the idea of a national police force. This is a serious subject. We should not take up too entrenched positions, but, on the evidence which I have, it seems to me that two possibilities emerge. First, the present system might be developed still further. Secondly, chief constables throughout the country should study to a greater extent the value of personal relationships with the public in order to bring the public really to believe that the police are what, in fact, they are, the only safeguard between them and a form of social anarchy. With these ideas widely, forthrightly and courageously applied, the extent of the criminal element in our country would, I believe, be reduced and the proportion of detections would be increased.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. R. M. Bingham (Liverpool, Garston)
As I proceed, I shall try to introduce some of the ideas of the hon. 746 Member for Burnley (Mr. D. Jones) at their proper point.
Most hon. Members who have spoken so far have emphasised the proper requirements called for in a police force. The principal requirements are, I believe, two, and both should be kept in view at the same time. First, we must have an efficient police force. Secondly, the police should have a good relationship with the public.
I do not believe that an efficient police force which is on bad terms with the public is any more a national advantage than one where those qualities are the other way round. The two must go together. Any proposals for change must be tested against both sides of the coin.
There are, I suppose, two other requirements for which we look in a police force, but these more closely affect the police in their own internal affairs. It is right that police officers should enjoy, and continue to enjoy, good conditions of service not only by way of pay, but also by way of reasonable off-duty time. They should have reasonable freedom from undue overtime. In addition, a good state of morale is essential, and this in its turn, of course, is based on an efficient police force having good relations with the public.
The general opinion expressed in the debate so far, in which I concur, is that, judged by those standards, our police forces are good. It is right that this should be said firmly. At his best, the British policeman is not only a source of affectionate pride to every citizen, but he is, and always has been, a model for the world to respect and imitate. At his best, he is the product of the system which has endured until now and for which changes are now in the air. Although the standard is undoubtedly good, and is something in which we can take legitimate pride, there must be weak links. The first weak link, I suggest, is a product of our changing times and of the mobility of modern planned crime.
We read in the Report of the Royal Commission of the many arrests made on the M.1 of people who were moving probably to or from the site of a crime in cars. But the police forces patrolling the M.1 are at an enormous disadvantage, since the boundaries of their areas of responsibility along the motorway or any main road are drawn, from 747 their point of view, arbitrarily, while the criminal, or suspect, is able to move in and out of police areas which have no relationship to real police needs.
The second weak link is the product of an apparently intractable problem, the rising tide of youthful crime. We have not yet coped with this, and it brings in its train a consequence to which the Royal Commission referred, that, when there are bad relationships, or there is talk of bad relationships, between police and public, it is often found that relationships between the police and youthful members of the community are all too often responsible for some of the criticism.
The next weak link or vulnerable point is the often canvassed one of friction between the police and motorists. This, again, is referred to in the Report. The last of the weak links is the equally canvassed question of complaints by the public about the conduct of the police. These matters obviously involve far too many factors for me to attempt to refer to them all in the course of one contribution. I will single out one or two factors which run like a golden thread through most of the points.
The first is clearly the size of police forces. With respect to my hon. Friends the Members for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), I view with horror the idea of a national police force. I just do not believe that the constitutional dangers are nonexistent. I think that they are very real. Be that as it may, and accepting that there are no constitutional dangers involved, I do not believe that the gains in efficiency, if any, would more than offset the many disadvantages which would flow from a national force.
One disadvantage would most certainly be an abrupt worsening of relations with the public. This would inevitably follow if for a local police force there were substituted an enormous national apparatus which would immediately be considered to be impersonal, although I agree that it would have branches in, say,. Oxford and indeed every town. It would still be considered to be impersonal because it would be run by "them" in a distant place rather than by "us" in the local community.
The Report rejected this conception. I am very glad that it did so. Equally, the 748 Royal Commission came down in favour of units larger than the majority of forces at the moment. The figures have already been given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. If the Royal Commission's figures are accepted, we appear to be working towards a figure of about 600 or 700 as the optimum for a police force. I am not sure that this is not too large.
It is said that a large police force will produce greater efficiency. By what test is efficiency judged? The first test is the crime detection rate, mentioned by the hon. Member for Burnley. The hon. Gentleman told the House that in Burnley the crime detection rate is about 50 per cent. higher than the national average. I stand to be corrected, but I believe that this is true in the case of every small police force. The crime detection rate is higher in such a force, partly because the problems are easier to solve in a small area but also because the local police know the local criminals.
With the best will in the world, the police in the Metropolitan Police District, or in Liverpool, or any very large police area, cannot be expected to have the same intimate knowledge of local matters and local criminals as the police in Burnley. To say that it would be more efficient to have a large police force. from the point of view of the crime detection rate, flies in the face of facts.
It is also said that greater efficiency might result because of the more economical use of manpower. I am by no means convinced of this argument. It rather runs in line with another argument I have heard in favour of larger police forces, namely, that there is more opportunity of promotion. It may be true that in large police forces there is more opportunity of promotion. However, if there is more opportunity of promotion it simply means that the larger police force is carrying proportionately more higher ranks and more overheads, in the shape of policemen who are office bound, more senior men, and probably a great deal more paper work. It seems to he a common complaint among police forces that the larger the force the greater the burden of paper work. It is not correct on these facts to say that such a situation improves the efficiency of the force.
749 It may be argued that there can be more specialised services. This is true to an extent. There can be tracker dogs. There can be radar and all the apparatus of science if the force is large enough. However, I am not particularly convinced by this argument. The Home Office's forensic laboratories are scattered throughout the country. They provide specialised services of a type for any police force which wants them. If it is desired to set up specialised services to be available to a larger area, I cannot see why the framework of those forensic laboratories—they would not necessarily be forensic laboratories—could not be used. It would be bad logic to argue that merely because there could be more specialised services if the force were bigger all the disadvantages flowing from larger forces should be accepted.
The last argument I have heard in favour of larger forces needs some consideration. It is said that, if there is a larger force, the members of the force, in particular the senior officers, will be more aloof from local pressures. Local pressures can operate in a number of different ways. It is highly desirable that police officers should be in touch with local opinion and be known to local people. But pressures can be applied in wrong ways. To that extent, the ability to remain aloof from local pressures would be an advantage, but it carries disadvantages with it.
If police areas are expanded simply to achieve that object, because we want the police to be more aloof from local pressures, we shall also make them more aloof from the public. The desirable object of removing policemen from undesirable local pressures can be achieved by the powers which the Home Secretary either has or proposes to take to control the appointment of chief constables, deputy chief constables and also perhaps, where a force has them, assistant chief constables. It is there that the pressures can be exercised most.
The one thing which those who argue the case for larger police never do is to claim that public relations will be improved thereby. I have never heard this suggested. It is not in the arguments of the Royal Commission. The trouble is that, if police forces are made larger. public relations will not be improved. The largest police force in 750 the country outside the Metropolis is the Lancashire Constabulary. It has excellent public relations and by common consent it is an excellent police force. I believe that it achieves its good relations with the public despite its size and not because of it. There are other forces whose very size—I do not include my own City of Liverpool in this—serves to promote relations with the public which are probably not as good as they might be.
I suggest to the House that we do not want to go for increased size as an end in itself. I suggest that the patterns of local government must be observed, if possible, unless there is an under-sized police force such as that in Chester was which could not stand on its own feet. Where the local government area coincides with an existing police force area and the police force is 200 or more strong, it would be a mistake to make a change. If change there be because of size, it may be that some of the larger police forces should be sub-divided for the sake of better relations.
I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle said about mediocrity. I appreciate, also, the point about the mobility of modern planned crime. How do we deal with this, because by keeping the present structure we shall not face up to that problem at all? Do we want to see some larger type of regional organisation which could possibly provide specialised services and which could compete with the mobility of modern planned crime?
The Royal Commission considered one suggestion which came from an organisation of which I might be suspected to be a member but am not—the Inns of Court Conservative Society. The Society suggested that there should be a national traffic police force or a corps of traffic police. The Commission rejected the proposal. I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary not to close his mind entirely to this point. I do not say that there should be a national traffic police force, but I think that in that idea may lie the germ of something which will bridge the gap between local police forces and a wider organisation which can deal with changing modern conditions.
The point which has been overlooked is this. It is said that we cannot have traffic police working side by side with 751 ordinary police. On Merseyside, there is the only traffic police force in the country. The Mersey Tunnel Police Force is purely a traffic police force. The remarkable thing about that force, which has been a very successful undertaking, is that it has an extraordinarily good record of relations with motorists.
This is because motorists know not only that the police force is out to see that motorists keep in order in the tunnel, but that it is there also to promote a safe flow of traffic and will, indeed, go to tremendous lengths to help motorists. It is wrong to suggest that the Mersey Tunnel Police Force is solely concerned with traffic in the tunnel. It co-operates very usefully with local police forces when mobile criminals are known to be on the move and heading for the tunnel.
If a traffic police force would remove the irritation that motorists sometimes feel with purely local police forces, could we not superimpose on the local police forces some form of regional traffic police, not based on geographical regions, but based on each of our six main roads—A.1, A.2, A.3, A.4 and A.5 and A.6 together? These forces, which need not be very large, would be responsible mainly for the safe flow of traffic in their area. In addition, they would have the duty of co-operating with other police forces to detect mobile crime and to watch for suspicious circumstances such as lorries which might have been stolen.
These forces could very easily use in their cars all the modem resources of science. Their cars could be so equipped because they would not be used for anything except the promotion of a safe flow of traffic, detecting motoring offences, and other matters which, to be carried out efficiently, need a certain amount of scientific apparatus. This, of course, is very much an embryo idea.
I want now to say a few words about the vexed question of complaints by the public about the police. This to me has been heightened by a recent case which occurred in my constituency. The facts are immaterial for the purposes of this debate, because the Home Secretary, after carefully considering the matter, has decided that there is no evidence which would justify an inquiry by him, with which decision after much consideration I agree. That is not 752 quite the point I am raising. There is to be a demand, I notice, by an organisation known as "Justice" for a similar inquiry into the recent incident involving some Sheffield police.
One has the feeling that when, for some reason or other, a complaint is made against a local policeman whose conduct has gone beyond that of the disciplinary or local police authority, the procedure available to a member of the public is vague, obscure and unsatisfactory. The only thing a member of the public can do now is to request an informal inquiry. One rules out the 1921 Act tribunal procedure for this purpose, because that would be like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. As I say, one can only make that sort of request and, having done so, one cannot be even then completely satisfied because such an inquiry then has no power to compel witnesses and produce documents.
It is known from experience that inquiries of this nature are apt to be entirely unsatisfactory. They have all the disadvantages of the Spanish Inquisition and none of the safeguards of a trial. Even witnesses who appear before them are apt to find themselves suddenly in the dock having to answer charges which have been formulated during the course of the inquiry. This shows that this method is capable of producing great unfairness but, despite this, it is the only course available at present to a member of the public.
The principles and procedures by which the Home Secretary may act are obscure and certainly not defined and I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend has acknowledged that police legislation on this subject is out of date and needs modernising. I am not convinced—and I mention this by way of throwing out an idea—that the Home Secretary is necessarily the right authority for this purpose. He is responsible in a sense for the efficiency of the police forces because dependence on grant enters into this. However, no one can say that he is responsible for the day-to-day administration of all that goes on in the police forces of Burnley, Liverpool and even London.
Practically all the complaints that come from members of the public involve incidents which are not even relevant to the day-to-day administration of the 753 police forces. They are often isolated incidents which have no relationship to system, organisation or methods. They are isolated and, if true, regrettable, but they represent no general reflection on the whole body of the police in the area concerned.
If the Home Secretary is the proper authority one thing emerges from what has been said in the debate today and as a result of the case in my constituency. If it is said that the right hon. Gentleman is the proper authority then some general code must be drawn up setting out clearly, so that members of the public may know, what procedures are open to them and what principles exist on which the Home Secretary might be prepared to act. The prerogative of mercy is exercised in accordance with precedent. If there are no precedents one must set out a code lest one be accused of arbitrary action according to fancy rather than according to some judicial yardstick.
As I have said, I am not convinced that the Home Secretary is the proper authority, particularly when purely isolated incidents are concerned. According to present law, when one wishes to appeal on a matter of licensing from the licensing justices one uses the appeal machinery under the present licensing law to appeal to one of the courts of quarter sessions, usually in the administrative county in which the place or borough is situated. I am not absolutely certain, but it would be interesting to consider whether that sort of place might be the tribunal to which members of the public might seek to take complaints about the police.
It would avoid the sort of inquiry I have spoken of and it would also avoid the danger of making a political issue out of an isolated case. It would make it clear that the Home Secretary is not responsible for everything that every policeman does throughout the country and it would link up with the traditional link that J.P.s have always had in connection with the maintenance of law and order, and so on.
If a form of appeal on these lines could be provided that might be one way over the difficulty. If the Home Secretary is to remain responsible then a code such as I have described should be established. If it is not to be the Home Secretary—and I am inclined to think that it should not be—the tribunal I ave suggested 754 might be the solution, though I am sure and certainly hope that it would be rarely used.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I am pleased to follow the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Bingham). He made an interesting speech and I was particularly interested in his remarks about local pressures, for this is something that has puzzled me.
In my time I have sat on county council standing joint committees in Kent, which, I thought, had an excellent police force, and now I represent one of the major cities in Britain. I wish to make some remarks on the question of larger police forces and also to comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), particularly his remarks about a national police force.
Although people speak quite a lot about local pressures, I would like to know just what they are. They should be more clearly defined. Local pressures fall on watch committees, through the elected element, and there is a tendency to deride the elected element. It has also been suggested that one third of the members of watch committees should be local justices and it is said that this might lower the value of watch committees.
When I see the partiality with which some local justices are selected I think that I would rather have the committee's members selected from the local council. I could quote whole areas where people have been selected as justices for all the wrong reasons. I do not intend to say that they are the creatures of the clerks of the court, but some of them are so inept that they would never have got beyond a selection conference of the Labour Party or the Conservative Party for local government service.
§ Mr. Bingham
I did not want to create the impression that I have got any point to ventilate about local pressures. A common fear is sometimes expressed that in some area the chief constable might be persuaded to stretch a point by not prosecuting in favour of someone locally whom he knows.
§ Mr. Pannell
I hope that this will not sound too much like heresy but I think that, on occasions, that happens now. We should, therefore, spend a few moments trying to define what local 755 pressures can exist and what they are. Local pressures can be the pressures of a watch committee; people meeting in the public interest perhaps casting a kindly eye upon the mayor's guests when questions of car parking are involved.
If one had a national police force the policemen concerned—the chief officers and so on—would have to live somewhere and, presumably, they would have a social circle. When one does not get a political party one gets a social clique, Presumably the chief constable would belong to the Freemasons or something like that. He would, therefore, be far more a suspect in view of his social clique than would be the watch committee.
In Leeds there is enough of the establishment of both Labour and Conservative to make them fairly responsible pressures. Consider a great city like Leeds and I am fairly certain—and I say this with respect to the Leeds justices—that one will not want to fill the watch committee by removing one-third of the council representatives and replacing them by representatives from the justices. Because we have got ourselves into a muddle over this question of local pressures we need to define what we mean more specifically. The last thing we want is something like some sort of Praetorian Guard of the ruling classes formed of people who have never known what an election is all about.
I remember one chief constable whom I telephoned on one occasion because one of his constables suggested to one of my canvassers that ten o'clock at night was too late for him to be out canvassing. "You had better go home," the canvasser was told. I phoned the chief constable who asked, "I should like to know the name of your informant." One of the great difficulties about chief constables is their lack of public accountability. They seem to be purist, hybrid sort of people upon whom there is no check.
A case recently in court went to the House of Lords. It is no longer sub judice so I can refer to it. It concerned the Chief Constable of Brighton and I considered it one of the great scandals of all time. The judge in summing up said that he was a worthless 756 tool and had corrupted his force. We had all the investigations in the court and the judge in the High Court said that because the Brighton Watch Committee rested on the opinion of the judges of the High Court, presumably, after all these years, it is somehow suggested that he was hard done by. I do not know how thoughts of that sort are arrived at.
§ Mr. Bingham
As I understand it, the House of Lords decision was on the basis that the Brighton Watch Committee condemned the chief constable on a charge which was not communicated to him and he was given no opportunity to explain his side. When he later had an opportunity to explain three members of the watch committee changed their mind in view of his explanation and said, "We will not dismiss you. We will require you to resign."
§ Mr. Pannell
To quote the words of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), "There are certain things up with which the public are not prepared to put." All that emanated as a result of the Brighton case, with men going to prison, indicated the wrongness of the police force over which be had control. He was fortunate to get away without a gaol sentence. Nothing less than public accountability must be demanded. We should not forget that the case went to the House of Lords only after the Brighton Corporation had been supported up to the top by every legal judgment. The fact that that judgment is likely to be wrong makes the whole thing look absolutely ridiculous. As I say, it is all concerned with a lack of public accountability.
There is a lack of public accountability in Nottingham over Captain Popkess. The way that man could have got going on the previous year's mayor and brought about a heresy hunt and a campaign of victimisation and jumped into the electoral arena on election day to blacken one political party is something quite beyond me. It was the nearest thing in this country I have seen to fascism in public life. This has happened and we have this position in Sheffield. Unfortunately, the Home Secretary is not in his place and I hope that the Under-Secretary will accept from me that what happened in Sheffield demands a thorough investigation. In fact, unless the Home 757 Secretary grants such an investigation he will appear to be conniving at what has taken place there.
These things are very difficult and it brings me to the question of complaints about the police. On the one or two occasions when people have come to me I have advised them, as a layman, that from my experience they should always as soon as possible get into court because that is the only place where they can hold a policeman really responsible. If one goes through the normal channels, of writing to the Home Secretary and so on, one gets a very dusty deal indeed. There is a sort of general cover-up all along the line, and justice is certainly not seen to be done. I have never seen an hon. Member satisfied with what has taken place as a result of going through the normal channels. Even a man as eminent as my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), who took a case which he documented to the hilt, ran into a complete cover-up right through the lower levels.
When the Home Secretary suggests that the complainant should be present when the complaint is made, then I reply that it would be far more effective if the complainant could have with him a man of legal standing. I have seen this sort of thing before. The people concerned are not, like us, used to public life. They are brave enough in bringing a complaint apart from having to repeat it before an authority which takes the view, "What? One of my men? If a man has enough spirit and enough courage to say that authority has been usurped, then he should be protected.
I have had some experience of this sort of thing, particularly in the 1930s over the right of public assembly. The thing is so old that I do not want to go into it today. But it took Sir Stafford Cripps on one occasion to get simple justice out of a local police inspector who usurped his authority.
Let us make no mistake about it. There is a great deal of feeling in the country about the public accountability of the police. I have as good an opinion of the police as any hon. Member. But, after all, we see them in our day-to-day affairs and under the best conditions. Let us not deceive ourselves. One's 758 opinion of the police is largely conditioned by the sort of person one is. If one goes to Armley jail in my constituency one finds there a very different view from ours.
The difficulty is that the police have been brought up against the middle-class, who are the motoring class. Before, when they were dealing with crooks and thugs on Saturday night, they were the best body of men in the world. Now they have been brought up against the motoring public and we all know what has been happening. What happened quite recently until the Minister of Transport announced changes? Juries would not convict even on culpable offences of driving under the influence of drink. The fact is that the police are facing the middle-class, who do not take such a good view of the police. This is a bad thing altogether. But having equated the arguments as fairly as I can, I tend to come down in favour of a wider measure of local autonomy.
I have with me a book issued by the Association of Municipal Corporations, of which I am a vice-president. It is well worth reacting, for it has all sorts of points of detail which the Press does not hear. I do not want to go through it but they are points of substance.
One of the criticisms of the Royal Commission was its attempt to degrade the elected element, although in this context we must bear in mind its personnel. But this attitude runs right throughout the Report. More and more, we are tending to take things away from local authorities in order to give them to appointed bodies, as if by appointing a man one secures a person of higher calibre and as if the process of election somehow contaminates people. I wonder sometimes why we are here at all.
I was arrested by one thing which the Home Secretary said. I do not think he meant it this way but he seemed to imply that if we allowed too much latitude in complaints against the police we would be in danger of upsetting their morale. Tomorrow he should read in HANSARD what the hon. Member for Cheadle said.
I have been in this House for fourteen years now. Mercifully, few of our people here have been in deep trouble, and we 759 were very sad about them. I do not suppose that the percentage of defaulters in the police has been higher than the percentage of Members of this House who turned out to be less than they should be. But this is not something which one should cover up. It is something one should frankly admit. I think that the police forces are better for it.
A more open form of tribunal has been suggested to hear complaints. I do not know whether the quarter sessions would be the best machinery, but certainly I think that the matter should be taken away from the Home Secretary. Some court should be given the job. The hon. Member for Cheadle thought that the proceedings should always be in public, but I am not so sure. We should remember that the police are very much at the mercy of the most reprehensible characters in society and that they are entitled to the sort of protection by which a man, especially in a small force, could go back to his beat with his record untarnished, and without the odium of people saying, "There's no smoke without fire".
§ Mr. Bingham
I suggest that anyone who wanted to have a matter heard at quarter sessions would have to apply to the chairman for a certificate. This would protect against frivolity. At the same time, the chairman would give directions as to whether the matter was to be heard in private or in public.
§ Mr. Pannell
I do not much object to that, but what worries me is that I would not want policemen subjected to forms of victimisation which might make it imperative for them to resign from the force even though completely innocent.
This is a difficult subject. One can read the whole of the Report and realise that the whole system is very patchy. I can think of some rather small forces which can be quoted with approval against some of the big forces. But I suppose that the pattern of local government also happens to go that way. There are good town clerks and bad ones, good councillors and bad ones. I do not know whether the final argument is that of size, but I am sure that, at the end of the day, we could not stand a national force. We would run into all sorts of difficulties in trying to make it publicly accountable, Therefore, I come down in favour of local forces.
760 We must remember, when considering control, that in the main people enter public life not for the worst of reasons but for the best. I do not deride the public spirit which takes people to serve on local councils. In the main, they tend to be people with more sense of public responsibility than some of those the chief constables might get in other circumstances.
I am not entirely sold on the idea that the chief constable should have the last word on promotion. I think that he should have the controlling word but that there should be a veto in order to stop any unnecessary favouritism. I do not think that we shall ever be completely satisfied with our police forces. We shall always get local complaints. I am glad that I have reached the time of life, and have seen so much over many years in all sorts of vicissitudes, such as strikes, that I can take a rather more benign view than I did in my younger days.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. William Roots) (Kensington, South
One of the most striking facts which were announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was the very remarkable increase in recruitment to the police which has occurred in recent years. I join with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Bingham) in saying that the size of a police force is no criterion of efficiency. But surely our aim must be to get as near as we can, at any rate, to a state where there is a policeman on the spot immediately before a crime is to be committed. Alternatively, let us have him there either at the same time or as soon as possible afterwards. It is only with an adequate force that we can hope to achieve that. It is a fact which very often escapes the public in this respect.
A few months ago I had a letter from a constituent who had suffered a very unpleasant burglary. He suggested that the penalties for burglars should be increased, in effect to dipping in boiling oil or something of that sort, which was an attitude one could appreciate at the time. But it only transpired at the end of the letter that no one had so far been caught. Dipping in boiling oil would have been quite ineffective.
761 There seems to be an extraordinary confusion of thought among the public—and it may have escaped my right hon. Friend-—about the severity of sentences, the apprehension of the criminal and, better still, the prevention of crime at all. For my part, I welcome the present increase in recruitment and, provided that the forces can be kept efficient, I think that there is much to be said for a considerable further increase.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the cost as being about £150 million. He did not mention—and I do not blame him for it but it is something that we must bear in mind—that the cost in terms of cash value of articles stolen must be in excess of that in a year, added to which are the immense sums spent on traffic control and motor accidents. Therefore, when one sets the total cost of the police against the losses in various forms which might be prevented, one realises that even compared with other forms of social services we are spending a comparatively small amount on the police.
The troubles which they seek to prevent are certainly ones which cause many people a great deal of distress and trouble. It is also fair to say that it is perhaps a measure of the degree of security in which we find ourselves that it is astonishing the extent to which members of the public entirely fail to look after themselves: and really place themselves and their belongings in circumstances which positively invite crime.
I want to draw attention to one other aspect not mentioned so far in the debate. Anyone who has spent time at quarter sessions must have heard prisoners' records produced. Time and again one hears of sentences of six months, nine months, two years and then of a succession of sentences of two years or three years, going on almost indefinitely. One knows perfectly well that, whatever sentence is imposed, however severe it is, it will not stop that man, I am sorry to say, from committing another crime.
If such a man sees something he can steal, be will steal it. If he wants cigarettes he will break into a shop to get them. The apprehension of these criminals and the attempts to prevent these crimes take the police from other, more important jobs. These crimes are serious to those who suffer them, of course, but each is not individually so bad in itself.
762 It has made me feel very strongly that we need some system of segregation for habitual criminals who commit not really severe crimes in themselves. Merely to make prison severe will not put them off, but it is most unfortunate that we have not evolved a system by which they can be segregated and prevented from injuring other members of the public for comparatively lengthy periods.
I know that my right hon. Friend has abolished, or is considering abolishing, the system of preventive detention and that there are quite separate reasons for that, but I am thinking of a different system from the preventive detention system, perhaps something halfway between prison and a mental institution, because many of these men have reached the stage when their trouble is a form of mental weakness.
The second matter to which reference has been made, and which undoubtedly is very important, is the relationship between the police and the public. I often wonder whether the police realise how high a regard the public has for the police force as a whole. Obviously, this must be a matter of concern to chief constables. One cannot help feeling that they could not do better than to impress on young constables how much is to be lost and how little gained by rudeness. All hon. Members must have had cases brought to their attention in which members of the public have become irritated out of all measure simply by quite unnecessary rudeness by a police officer who has harmed the whole force and confidence in the force by his action.
I suppose that most of us have had some personal complaint about the attitude of the police. It is striking how many people in this House have suffered. Some years ago, I was absolutely convinced that a member of the police force was seeking to provoke me. I mentioned the matter casually to various people in the House afterwards and was surprised to find how many of them had had a rather similar experience. Plainly, it harms the confidence which people have in the police when this sort of thing happens.
As I have said, this matter must, in my view, rest largely on the example and regulation of the force by the chief constable. Many hon. Members have referred 763 to the importance which his post should hold. I agree with that. It must follow that, if we give him strong and wide powers, there must be, to put it shortly, a method of getting rid of him if he fails to carry out his duties—to require his retirement, or to take whatever similar course is appropriate.
The third aspect on which I wish to comment is organisation. I entirely agree that it would be inappropriate to have a central police force. I believe that the link with local government is important. When people, either members of local authorities, or, to use a broad term, local personages, cease to be sufficiently responsible to run the police force and to maintain a proper standard of law and order, we shall have reached a very serious position. I do not believe for a moment that we have reached or will reach that position. The fact that local people have to take the responsibility of ensuring that law and order is kept is of prime importance and is even more important than having a theoretically more efficient police force.
I welcome the suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston that there should be some form of appeal to a limited committee of quarter sessions in connection with complaints by the public. Provided it were limited to serious cases, as it could be, that would be most helpful to the police as well as to the public because a number of complaints would be publicly declared to be without foundation. That would create a great deal of confidence in the police force. It is much more effective if a complaint is shown to be groundless by an independent person than if it is merely dismissed by someone who the public, rightly or wrongly, thinks has an interest.
I was interested to hear the Home Secretary, who has an almost unrivalled knowledge of local government, refer to the fact that our local government system, if one views it over the ages, is at the half-way stage. We have left the old historic pattern and are now working on a late nineteenth century pattern. In my view, that pattern should and will change. I think that it is strikingly out of date in one particular, namely, the completely autonomous county borough. I do not believe that it is necessary, wise 764 or good that a county borough should be very nearly all-purpose. The idea that it should be autonomous is outdated and, in many respects, is working to the ill of the country and of its organisation.
When my right hon. Friend is considering reorganisation of the police, I hope that he will bear in mind that the present local government structure is by no means a final structure. May I put forward my own view? Leaving aside the big conurbations and certain special cases, I cannot help feeling that the present geographical county, which is an existing structure and quite small enough to be called thoroughly local, is, in fact, the right basis on which to organise what I might call the lowest police unit.
There might be inspectorate conferences and consultations above that. If we make the main unit the county force running into the boroughs, there is no reason why the boroughs should not retain their special features. Many are very proud of special bits of uniform and badges which are, rightly, worn. I do not believe that any of the pride in a local force would be lost if it became wholly a county force and operated in the boroughs as well as in the counties.
There has taken place under the last Criminal Justice Act a very important reorganisation or rearrangement of petty sessions and, particularly, quarter sessions which has largely eliminated the barriers which existed between borough sessions and county sessions and which had created unnecessary complications. Many of the barriers have been broken down. I have not heard any complaints that boroughs have lost face by the fact that prisoners from outside their areas can now be tried in the boroughs, or that offences committed in their areas can be tried at the county quarter sessions.
When my right hon. Friend is considering the organisation, I hope that he will consider whether some of these barriers which prevent an improvement in the structure could not perfectly well be removed without creating any hardship or cutting down worthwhile local pride and historical connections.
One is left with the best piece of information which has come to us this afternoon from the Home Secretary's figures—the remarkable improvement in recruitment which has resulted in recent years.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
We have had a very useful day's discussion, all the more useful because it has proceeded on the basis which the Home Secretary suggested in opening—that we should not dig ourselves into entrenched positions, but should have a broad and general discussion in which hon. Members from their diverse experiences would be able frankly to state their views about the problems which the right hon. Gentleman submitted to us.
Much has been said about the inspectors. I would welcome an extension of the inspectorate, but I hope that the basis upon which a person can qualify for an inspectorship can be altered from what it was when I was actively associated with making the appointments. The amount which the Treasury allowed for the salary of an inspector was such that the only way in which to get a suitable man was to spot him and then go to his local police authority and ask it to retire him on pension. He could then join the inspectorate, drawing his pension as a retired chief constable and receiving the salary thought suitable for an inspector.
That is the wrong way to deal with so important a position, and if it has not yet been altered, I hope that the Home Secretary will take steps to see that the scale of salaries for inspectors will be such that a man can regard it as being a worthy termination of his career in the police force without having to rely on his pension as an ex-chief constable to have sufficient to keep up his more exalted position.
It is one of the anomalies in these matters that one comes across all kinds of snags when one tries to improve conditions in the service. I have been interested in what has been said today about recruitment, about recruiting into the service people with sufficient broad and general education to give one some confidence about trying to train them for some of the higher positions in the Force. I am sure that we have to avoid creating the difficulty which severely distressed police forces for many years—that of getting a new sort of Hendon arrangement which would produce the utmost dissatisfaction among police forces.
We should hope to get from the grammar and public schools and from the universities people with a sufficiently wide 766 range of mind to be able to envisage the problems which would confront them as chief constables, and to get them to enter the Force so that we would have many people who could be expected to train to become worthy candidates when chief constableships were vacant. Let us be quite sure that they have to be policemen rather than scholars for a start. They would have to prove their ability as policemen, but they would have also to show the size of their educational qualifications needed to fit them for their heavy responsibilities as chief constables.
I am in the unfortunate position that I like neither watch committees not standing joint committees. I served on a standing joint committee for more than twenty years and I have some knowledge of the difficulties. I object to a standing joint committee, because I do not think that justices of the peace should in any way appear to be connected with the police system. Until comparatively recent times, the last one hundred years or so, justices were responsible for the whole police system. Anyone who attends quarter sessions on the day when the learned clerk rises in his place and reads the commission will know that. It used to happen in my own county at one time at every opening day of quarter sessions—it has now been reduced to once a year. When one heard the great commission read and the duties assigned to the justices assembled in quarter sessions, it became clear that down to Victorian times justices were the governing body of the police system.
In these days we try to avoid talking about police courts. In the circles where justices meet, it is very impolite to allude to their courts as police courts. It is impressed upon everyone that they must always be called magistrates' courts. Several comments have been made today to show that on occasion there is still a great display of minor members of police forces in court, making those who attend feel that after all it is still a police show. I hope that the matters which have been raised today will receive the Home Secretary's attention when he lays down the new arrangements.
It is quite wrong that the disciplinary authority in a county borough should be the watch committee and not a chief constable. I have had experiences—the right hon. Gentleman will find them if 767 he goes through the files of my time—of grave difficulties because of the way in which a police officer was sufficiently on drinking terms with members of the watch committee to make it very difficult to feel that in appropriate circumstances discipline would be applied to him if necessary.
I know of another case. A sergeant in a city police force was brought before the watch committee. Nearly 100 accusations were made against him of the way in which he had dealt with certain aliens who, towards the end of the war, had been very much under his care. The watch committee found that 92 of the accusations were proved. They then turned to the town clerk who was in attendance and asked what punishments could be inflicted on the sergeant. The town clerk started with dismissal from the force and wound up with a reprimand. The sergeant was reprimanded.
I went to the city and saw the lord mayor, the chairman of the watch committee, and the town clerk. I asked the chairman of the watch committee, "Were you not very surprised at this?". "No", he said, "I was not surprised". I asked, "Did you think it necessary to give a lead?". "No", he said, I cannot give a lead. I am the chairman, and when I am chairman I must observe strict impartiality ". I asked the lord mayor whether he had been present, and whether he thought that he ought to have given a lead. "No", he said, "because it might be said at the city council that as I had given a lead to the watch committee I could not be impartial in the chair of the city council."
I then said to the lord mayor and the chairman of the committee, "If a man commits 92 breaches of discipline and he is reprimanded, how many breaches have to be proved before he is promoted?" The town clerk was the only man who laughed. As a result of further inquiries, I discovered that the serjeant in question was the son of a former serjeant. The case had not been judged on its merits at all.
I could recount three or four other cases, not quite as bad as that one, but along the same lines, and I am certain that the proper person to exercise disciplinary powers in any police force is 768 the chief constable. The lower ranks of the force have the protection, of which they are not slow to avail themselves, of being able to appeal to the Secretary of State if they think there has been a miscarriage of justice in the way the chief constable has handled the case.
We are all perturbed by the fact that a number of good citizens view the police with considerable suspicion, and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), as usual, applied his acute mind to the problem and produced the reason for this. There is no doubt that the internal combustion engine, and the laws and rules that are being made to protect us from the greater slaughter that would occur from this lethal weapon unless severe police regulations and enforcements were made, are responsible for this state of affairs.
After all, we have even had to adapt the law to the middle class circumstances that are being created. In the old days, when one occasionally came across a carter who had been charged with being in charge of a horse and vehicle while under the influence of drink, one found that no doctor had any hesitation in saying, if he was convinced it was the truth, that the man was drunk.
I recollect the first time that a doctor created trouble about this at a meeting of the Surrey sessions. A man was charged with being drunk in charge of a motor car. When the doctor was asked whether the man was drunk, he said, "I do not know what you mean by 'drunk'. That is a colloquial term. If you were to tell me what his symptoms were I could tell you whether he ought to drive a car or not, but I could not say whether he was drunk".
Those of us who served in the First World War know that the Army definition of being drunk was that if a man could take his boots off before he got into bed, he was not drunk, but that, if he could not manage that, he was drunk, and the appropriate penalties were meted out to him. We have had so to amend the law as to get what the doctor to whom I alluded in the case I heard, asked for.
Police officers and other witnesses detail the symptoms that they see, and if the defendant has a good barrister, when he comes to address the jury, he warns them to be very careful. He says, "If 769 you put your hand on your car when you get out of it after a slight accident because you are feeling a sense of responsibility and shock, P.C. Jones will say, 'You are drunk: you are unsteady'. If, in the glare of the lights, the pupils of your eyes are dilated, Constable Jones will say, 'You are drunk'"—and so he goes through the six or seven symptoms.
It is a very strong jury, even after it has received the appropriate warning from the chairman, which, in those circumstances, will find the man guilty. When it was just a case of the carter going home from market, who had imbibed a little too much, there was no difficulty in getting a conviction, but once it came to be middle-class patients very different circumstances occurred.
We all know from conversations with friends who are motorists that there is this feeling that the police are unduly harsh on this very large section of the community. I once took part in a discussion in which it was suggested that only motorists should serve on juries, and I could not help thinking that was getting on to very dangerous ground, because why should there not be, at petty sessions, only drunkards to try the ordinary charge of being drunk? No one would suggest that that should happen.
The Home Secretary has explained the lines on which he intends to apply the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I gave evidence before the Commission. On the whole, I think that its Report and recommendations are sound. I hope that an early occasion will be taken to promote legislation so that we can get the advantages which have been mentioned.
I want to say a word on the question of the size of police authorities in the areas they maintain. I am against a national police force. What we have seen in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century should warn us all against concentrating police power too much in the hands of one Department and one Minister. We have had some wonderful examples recently of the way in which Ministers will elevate things into matters of principle. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government actually said that the size of a local council was a matter of principle. I do not believe that at all. 770 The size should be determined by the requirements of the area and the population to be served.
Some smaller authorities might well disappear. In 1946, I abolished the non-county borough police authority and the non-county borough police force. The most terrible things were prophesied by members of the Tory Party, who then adorned the Opposition Front Bench, of what the results would be. I hear no complaints now that forces are those for counties and county boroughs. I do not go quite as far as did the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots), when he suggested that geographical counties should form the basis of the police forces of the future. One has to have regard to local government areas.
Chester was combined with Cheshire for a joint committee when I was Home Secretary, and there are one or two other cathedral cities that ought to be dealt with similarly in regard to the police force of the county in which the cathedral city is situated, and I commend them to the right hon. Gentleman far attention. Not that I have any animosity towards cathedral cities; I generally visit the cathedral when I visit its city—taking great care not to interfere with the ordinary business of the cathedral. There are two or three cases where there is a small county borough police force right in the middle of a county with a considerable force, and they could generally be amalgamated with advantage. The Home Secretary is wise also to get away from the 100,000 population figure of safety for an existing force and so be able to bring the 100,000 population into any suitable area that may be going.
I am (mite certain that even at the present rate of recruitment of suitable candidates there will be great difficulty as the years go by in getting chief constables for all the forces. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to get from grammar schools, public schools and universities recruits who are willing to become policemen, to train as policemen, and then hope that their general education will justify the employing authorities promoting them to the higher ranks of the force. At the same time, I hope that he will be very careful not to make it appear that 771 if a man has had a grammar school, public school or university education he is wasting his time in the police force unless he gets high promotion. There should be room for men of that capacity to serve in the junior ranks and, where they show the requisite police abilities, to graduate to become deputy chief constables or chief constables.
One of the things that gave me the greatest trouble in my first years at the Home Office was the continued resentment of the ordinary policeman at the preference which had been shown, in days prior to my arrival, to the Hendon entrant, who had believed that he had somehow or other been given a favoured position inside the police force, simply because he had been to Hendon.
A police force must be a unity. I am a little perturbed at the continued use of the word "co-ordination", when reference is made to neighbouring police forces. Just before the war we had considerable trouble over a Department formed for the co-ordination of defence. It never appeared to make any great contribution towards the improvement of relationships between the Departments concerned with defence. I would far sooner talk about co-operation than co-ordination between neighbouring forces.
There may be a case for some form of regional organisation eventually. I do not dispute that. But we have not yet reached that stage. We could move towards it now with greater cooperation between adjoining forces, and I hope that in bringing the recommendations of the Royal Commission into force the right hon. Gentleman will endeavour to ensure that police forces axe unified rather than made uniform, and that we shall get co-operation between forces so as to enable the very skilful and scientific direction of criminal forces by master criminals to be countered by a similar arrangement for the detection and prevention of crime.
I join with what my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) said earlier: the failure to detect crime is the worst of all the features that confront the Home Secretary and law-abiding citizens. The percentage of cases that go unsolved is a serious 772 menace to the country, and the chief test of the efficiency of a police force founded on British tradition is its ability to prevent and detect the crimes that unworthy members of society inflict upon the rest of us.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I have a prejudice to declare. The minority Report of the Royal Commission was written by Professor Goodhart, and Professor Goodhart is my father. I have known him for about thirty-seven years, and although he has been wrong on occasions he has not often been wrong, and I do not think that he has been wrong on this occasion.
I have been rather more impressed by some of the speeches made by hon. Members opposite—notably the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams) and the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher)—than by the speech of the Home Secretary. I was cheered by the recruitment figures that he gave at the beginning of his speech, but I found the rest of it very depressing indeed. Naturally enough, I regard the main recommendations of the Royal Commission as being a springboard for advance to the recommendations contained in the minority Report.
In this instance it seems that the Home Secretary did not accept some of the most important recommendations. I find it a little hard to understand his feeling—if I understood him correctly—that the morale in a police force is dependent to a large extent on a statutory connection with a local authority. After all, in the Army. which is a national service, there are strong connections between local regiments, although there is no statutory connection with the local authority. Here there is a local pride and a high state of morale. Similarly, perhaps the most famous police force in the Commonwealth, if one excepts the Metropolitan Police, is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police which is a national institution.
I was disturbed by the remarks of my right hon. Friend about the responsibility of the Home Secretary which has been gone into at length during the debate. If we are interested in the democratic control of the police, I do not think that we can look on the present rule about putting down Questions to the Home Secretary regarding the conduct 773 of the police as being at all satisfactory. To me it seems illogical that, as a Member of Parliament, I should be able to put down a Question about any member of the Armed Forces but, although I represent a constituency within the Metropolitan Police area, if I wish to put down a Question about the activities of the police in my constituency, I have to show a sort of procedural ingenuity which would strain the greatest Parliamentary contortionist.
I was also disturbed by the remarks of the Home Secretary about amalgamation because it seems to me that the proposals advanced by the Royal Commission are minimum rather than maximum proposals as the Home Secretary seemed to view them. At this hour I do not propose to explore all the arguments in favour of amalgamation, but clearly there are strong grounds from the point of view of efficiency. Mention has been made of the Mi. Five police forces are responsible for the maintenance of good order and traffic control on the M.1 at the present time, and before extensions to this highway have been made. In the evidence presented to the Royal Commission it was stated that a criminal driving a car in the Manchester area could, in one hour., enter six different police districts and each district would be operating a different wireless wavelength. Clearly this cannot be right from the point of view of efficiency.
The motor car and the internal combustion engine has made necessary sweeping reforms in our police system, just as the industrial revolution at the beginning of the nineteenth century required a reformation in the old parish constable system. It is the motor car that is spreading police problems, first from the capital to the conurbations and then from the conurbations through the countryside as a whole. It seems to me that at the very least the Home Secretary should look favourably on the unanimous recommendation of the Royal Commission that he should consider carefully the question of making the conurbations into single police districts.
Like many other hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), I have been much impressed by paragraph 308 of the Report which deals with the educational 774 attainments of the recent recruits to the police force. It says:We have come across no recent instance of a university graduate entering the service; only about 1 per cent. of recruits have two or more G.C.E. passes at advanced level; a further 10 per cent. have five or more G.C.E. subjects at ordinary level…Therefore, we are faced with the position at the moment that far more university graduates are becoming criminals each year than are becoming policemen. In our society that seems to me to be shocking and deplorable.
I do not think that tinkering about with the requirements for promotion from constable to sergeant, and changing the qualification period from five years to three years, will affect the position in the least. The recommendations put forward by Mr. Hetherington, Lord Geddes and their colleague about special recruitment for detectives may be of some assistance. However, one wants men of fairly high educational attainments not only concentrated in the C.I.D. but throughout the whole administration of our police force.
The inhibiting factor is the lack of a decent career structure in a great many of our police forces. I have a young son who, like many boys, hopes at one time or another to become a policeman. If he wished to become a member of the Metropolitan Police Force I should welcome it, because it seems to me that here is a unit which offers a good career prospect to a sensible and intelligent young man. but if he proposed to enter one of the smaller police forces I would do almost everything I could to dissuade him. One of the advantages of regionalisation and of pressing amalgamations far further than the Home Secretary seems willing to go, is that it offers the prospect of a decent career structure which I think is the only way in which we shall recruit people of sufficient educational attainment.
There is another factor, which has not been mentioned in the debate, which will also push us towards the regionalisation in the future. I refer to the financing of the police. In 1951–52, the cost of the police service was about £56 million. In 1961–62 it is over £120 million. Clearly, this figure should increase and will increase in the years to come.
775 We all know of the growing pressure of protest against increases in the rates. Already, in my constituency I have found a considerable body of opinion which takes the view that the financial responsibility far the police should be pushed on to the national Exchequer. If this sentiment grows, as I think it will, expressing the wish of local inhabitants to loosen the local financial ties of the police, there will, I believe, be a considerable danger that pressure on the rates will lead to unwise economies.
I have been reading the most recent annual report issued by the chief constable of the City of Oxford, a city with which my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State is well acquainted. In this report, the chief constable draws attention to the fact that all policemen in his force have to work more overtime than is desirable, and he says that it is important to recruit more men to the force. Recently, he went on record as saying that another 100 men were needed.
What has happened during the last two years? The minimum height requirement for the City Police has been raised from 5 ft. 8 ins. to 5 ft. 10 ins. In 1961–62, about 70 potential recruits were rejected because they did not come up to the physical standard, the main cause for their rejection being, as is said in the report, the raising of the height requirement.
It seems to me that the only possible ground for changing the minimum height requirement from 5 ft. 8 ins. to 5 ft. 10 ins. is a desire on the part of the local authority to restrict recruiting. Apart from the wish not to have a further charge on the rates, there seems to be no other ground. I am certain that there is a danger here that, so long as so much of the burden of police finance remains on the rates, there will be pressure leading to unwise economies. Pressure of this kind and the influence of the way our society is developing will, I believe, push perhaps not the present Home Secretary but future Home Secretaries of any political party in the direction of more regionalisation.
It seems to me that, in his approach to the Royal Commission's Report, my right hon. Friend was rather looking 776 back to the 1940s. The Report itself presents what would, perhaps, have been quite good answers to the problems of the 1950s. In my view, the answer to the problems of the 1960s and the 1970s is contained in the Memorandum of Dissent.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I cannot follow my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) by saying that Dr. Goodhart is my father—that would be a gross exaggeration—but I can follow him in saying that I agree with his views, and I do so without any taint, if that be the right word, of filial piety.
I represent 67,000 electors in the Borough of Ilford who have fairly clear and crude views about the police. They are interested in police efficiency because they are deeply concerned at the rising tide of crime. They are deeply concerned at the unsatisfactory relationship between public and police. The House has already been reminded that the Royal Commission was set up because of the Garratt and Eastmond case. They are concerned also about the rates which they have to pay, a considerable portion of which is required by the police precept.
When I consider the Royal Commission's Report from these electors' point of view, I find that the majority Report strikes a less responsive chord that does Dr. Goodhart's lucid and powerful Memorandum of Dissent. Dr. Goodhart recommended a nationally administered police force under the direction of the Home Secretary who would be answerable to Parliament for general policy and for day-to-day administration. In my view, this must come sooner or later, and I regret the Government's view that it is right to hasten so very slowly that progress in that direction should be almost imperceptible.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I ask the hon. Gentleman to be good enough to allow me to continue. I want to sit down before five past nine.
I am sorry that the Government take the view they do. It is very interesting to see, in paragraph 128 of the Royal 777 Commission's Report, how near a thing it was that the Royal Commission came down on the side it did. Paragraph 128 contains a remarkable sentence. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) said that he had his favourite paragraph. This is mine. It says:there remains in the minds of a number of us a clear impression that a single centrally directed force would prove to be a more effective instrument for fighting crime and for handling road traffic than the present large number of local forces".It is interesting that that should be in the majority Report. Dr. Goodhart made a very penetrating observation when he remarked in paragraphs 66 and 67 of his Memorandum that the evidence the Royal Commission received came largely from those who would naturally have a bias in favour of the status quo, but that there was very strong evidence from the Inns of Court Conservative and Unionist Society, the Law Society and the Police Federation in the opposite sense.
What does the Memorandum of Dissent say about the majority Report recommendations? It says, I think rightly, on the subject of efficiency, that the Home Secretary has responsibility without power. And that is, indeed, what he would have under its recommendations. The hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams) made the penetrating comment that the Home Secretary would be a kind of harlot in reverse. I cannot see that my right hon. Friend's proposals are any better than the Commission's recommendations.
With reference to police relations with the public, there will be no Parliamentary accountability. My right hon. Friend would not be responsible for day-to-day administration and, as far as I can see, there would be no possibility of Questions being asked in the House. I was puzzled to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire say that one can now raise matters in the House arising out of the administration of the police in the metropolitan area. I have found the very reverse. I believe that the situation would be the same under my right hon. Friend's proposal as under the recommendations.
In the matter of dealing with complaints against the police, the majority recommendations would still make the police authority judge in its own case. I 778 believe that the Government's view does not go far enough in the direction of changing the principle. On several occasions I have had complaints made to me by constituents about the police. I have been totally unable to help them. At the end of the day, after courteous correspondence between myself and the police authorities and my right hon. Friend, my constituents were left with the impression that this was all being covered up. They were utterly unconvinced that the complaint had been properly investigated. I could not feel that I was able to answer to them for the health of the institution. This causes me great misgivings and I do not see any prospect, in the Government's proposals, of the situation being improved.
What are the objections to a nationally administered police force? They are, first, a fear of central control, and, secondly, an enthusiasm for local control. I do not think that the fear of central control can any longer be maintained. I was surprised to hear the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) make this point about the danger of a strong central police force, although the House always listens to the right hon. Gentleman with profound respect, as he is a distinguished former Home Secretary.
I was surprised because I thought that the Commission itself in its majority Report absolutely demolished the argument that it was dangerous to have a centrally controlled police force. In brief, it said that if ever there were in this country the kind of Government which would abuse its power over a centrally directed police force it would have come in on a tide of popular support which would enable it to take such powers, even if they were not already there. Therefore, one is not avoiding a situation which would arise if there were a Fascist or Communist Government. Professor Goodhart, in his Memorandum of Dissent, makes an extra powerful point by saying that there is historically seen to be a far greater danger from weak local police than from a strong central police force. I want to examine the enthusiasm for local control. One must distinguish between enthusiasm for what one might call local-ness and enthusiasm for local control. It is the local "bobby" that people like, not the local chief constable. I am certain that we could keep 779 the local "bobby", who is a local man, in the local police and yet still have the force as a whole centrally directed.
I think that the present idea that we have local control of the police is a constitutional sham. All that can be said for the present system is that it is not centrally controlled. It is certainly not locally controlled. It is by way of being a partnership between local government, central government and the "police service", as my right hon. Friend said, although I do not think that the "police service" comes into it at all. I do not think that the central Government comes into it at all, either. And I am sure that local government does not. If one tries to get at the police force through either of them, one soon finds that they do not come into it. The reality is that the control is in the hands of the chief constable.
I say nothing against the chief constable, but one must observe that he is a man who is virtually a law unto himself, virtually unremovable and "uncontrolled", as Professor Goodhart says. To imagine that, just because there is a rather complicated set-up of a relationship with a local authority, there is local control, is an illusion which does not fool anybody but those who have a sentimental interest in retaining it. Do not let us imagine, either, that the Royal Commission's recommendations will retain the sacrosanct principle of local control, because they will not. The amalgamation into the larger-sized force will break just as many bones as the change to a completely centralised system would.
I want, finally, to revert to the third of the things about which my constituents are worried, the question of rates. It is absurd that one should put on to this regressive form of taxation by way of local rates a service which is not local, when there is here the perfect source from which about £65 million could be got to put on to the progressive form of taxation, Income Tax, and relieve the ratepayers accordingly. I am sure, therefore, that constitutionally, financially and logically it would have been much better had the Government seized this opportunity to make a radical change—"a notable constitutional change", as the Royal Commission called it.
780 I am sorry to say that there has been a fumbling failure to grasp this momentous opportunity and I regret that my right hon. Friend, for whom I have the greatest possible respect, has not seen fit to follow the example of his notable Conservative predecessor, Sir Robert Peel, but has, instead, followed the Duke of Wellington.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)
Although not before a thronging audience, this has been a useful debate on one of the most admirably drafted Reports it has been our good fortune to consider for some time. It raises a wide variety of issues. There are Ill recommendations and it would be quite impossible, within the scope of the 25 minutes allotted to me, to deal with many of them. I will, therefore, pick out what seem to me to be the principal points of principle.
I suppose that a lot of us when we consider our experiences in our own constituenciec are sometimes apt to be rather like Voltaire when writing Candide, thinking that everything is best in this best possible of all worlds. I have sat for four constituencies and in each one there were chief constables who seemed to be grand personalities in whom I had every confidence. I am sure that my present chief constable, Mr. Smeed, is among the very excellent ones who work up and down the country. When one listens to a speech such as that made from his rich experience by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) one receives a jolt and must seriously consider whether the time has not come for a radical change.
If one approaches this problem from the point of view of principle, this conclusion from the outset is surely inescapable. Crime is now organised on a national scale. We are no longer in the era when the most formidable criminal was a middle-aged gentleman who, if he stole into a house, would pinch some lead piping or something like that. We are told that there are shadowy figures lingering in the background and we do not know the full scope of their operations. We are told that vast rings of crime, led by mythical figures, have tremendous powers of organisation at their disposal. We are told that when someone goes "inside" his family is at once provided 781 for and that when he comes out his "cut" is waiting for him. We are told stories of escape over the walls of prisons which previously seemed to defy any attempt at escape by a prisoner. We are told that if such a prisoner escapes a motor car is waiting for him, along with a change of clothing and papers to establish a new identity.
One must be generally uneasy about the task with which the police have now to compete. It is vastly different in its dimensions, complications and dangers than those with which police forces have had to contend in our previous history. It seems, therefore, that change is inevitable. It is not a question of whether we can still retain a system dating back to the middle ages, amended and remodelled by Victorian legislation. That is no longer the question. That system cannot any longer cope with the growing volume of crime which, unfortunately, besets our native land in modern times. The real question, therefore, is what should be the nature of the change. There cannot be any doubt that there must be a change from local and independent administration towards more centralised control.
§ Mr. McBride
Would my hon. Friend consider paragraph 24 of the booklet published by the Association of Municipal Corporations regarding the higher efficiency in certain areas? Would he also consider page 46 of the Commission's Report, in which it is stated:Nevertheless, we were much impressed by the wide concurrence of view among witnesses representing the Central Government, the local authority associations and the police themselves that a system "—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman gave way, but the hon. Member's intervention is becoming a speech within a speech and that is an abuse of the procedure of the House.
§ Sir F. Soskice
I take my hon. Friend's point. I had given consideration to the material to which he referred. One gets different views. One gets a somewhat differing view from the Report of the Police Federation for 1962, particularly that portion of it which was quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) in his full analysis earlier this afternoon.
782 It is all a question of balance. There are the most admirable local police forces which perform their tasks most efficiently. But as the years progress the police are faced with an ever heavier burden. It is for this reason that I have said that, accepting the premise on which the reasoning of the Royal Commission is based and accepting the kind of view formulated in the Annual Report of the Police Federation, I find it difficult to resist the conclusion that, little by little, control must be more centralised. It is a question of tempo and it would be a great pity if, by sweeping changes from local administration to central control, we did, by one stroke of the pen, annihilate or liquidate the whole massive system of local administration which has functioned so well. It is, as I say, a question of tempo.
Starting from that primary assumption, is the Home Secretary in his conclusions on the Report, advancing, as he must, at the right pace? He has accepted some change as being necessary and I do not believe that any hon. Member has said that no change at all is necessary. I have some reservations about his point of view and I put my thoughts this way: what, after all, is essential now? It is essential that some Minister with the status of a Secretary of State should be responsible to the community for seeing to it that we have an efficient police force. If that is a right conclusion, and if, as a corollary, we should be able to take him to task if he does not discharge that responsibility in our view adequately, it seems to me that one must, at the outset, accept the general conclusion at any rate of the majority of the Royal Commission that the right hon. Gentleman and his successors should be put under a constitutional duty to see that an adequate police force is provided.
That immediately brings one face to face with the very brilliant reasoning of the father of the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). As I read the stirring passages in which the history of this institution of the police was analysed, I felt, as I am sure every hon. Member felt, a warm feeling and thought in what a perfect form this evolution over a thousand years had presented these institutions to us. I continued in that mood until I read the blistering analysis by Professor Goodhart. I was particularly jolted by a passage on page 162 in 783 which he said of what by then had become a cherished illusion of mine,To say that a constable is a citizen in uniform is no more accurate than it would be to say that all citizens are constables in plain clothes.That is the limit of reductio ad absurdum
Nevertheless, I think that Professor Goodhart will concede that there is some element of truth in the concept on which we have based our appreciation of the institution of the constable which nevertheless remains and should be preserved. That concept is that the constable is one of us, that he is just a citizen—and should remain so, as far as we can so bring it about—who has certain extra powers and that in the provincial communities one probably actually knows him as an individual.
It is, perhaps, unrealistic to say that in a conurbation the local police officer is known to us as well as he is when we are living in a charming old village, say, in Devonshire. But nevertheless there is value in the concept that he is an ordinary citizen who has special responsibilities and a person to whom we owe a personal duty to help in the discharge by him of his extremely difficult and often dangerous duties. That is worth preserving.
Equally, the principle is worth preserving that men of good will locally should have the opportunity, and be required by our social system, to take part in the administration of a whole variety of services, including this particularly important service, the organisation of the police.
It seems to me then that these two things can be preserved—the former more easily perhaps than the latter. These are the independent status of the constable and local participation in local watch committees and standing joint committees. They can be preserved even although we are accomplishing change which the tide of events seems to prescribe as inevitable at the present time.
If I am right in that, I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is not making a serious mistake when he rejects the majority recommendation that he should be personally responsible as Secretary of State for seeing that there is an efficient police force. Professor Goodhart, with very admirable reasoning, would have had one go much further. I confess that when 784 I read the powers which the Royal Commission wishes to reside in the Secretary of State and I read the much clearer formulation of the position of the Secretary of State in the dissenting view of Professor Goodhart, and when I compare them with the attitude of the Home Secretary, I feel a slight confusion.
I understand clearly what Professor Goodhart proposes. I am not so clear as to what the Royal Commission's majority Report means by saying that the Secretary of State should have overall responsibility, because I am not sure that the powers that it would attribute to him would enable him to meet that responsibility.
§ Sir F. Soskice
I see that the right hon Gentleman nods his head. No doubt that is the difficulty that he himself has considered and why he has adopted the point of view he indicated today. But I feel still more uncertain about that when I consider the terms used by the right hon. Gentleman when he said that he does not accept responsibility.
The right hon. Gentleman goes back to the position as it is now. He has a responsibility, which I have never been able to define very clearly, with regard to the Metropolitan Police. But we in this House would surely still be very limited in requiring him to answer questions and to assume responsibility for police forces outside the metropolitan district. He has said that he will be able to call for reports. No doubt if he does that we will be able to ask him at Question Time what is in those reports. If there is something in them which does not commend itself to us, there our influence and authority must end. We cannot then say to him that, as Secretary of State, he should take the necessary steps to correct what is shown to be wrong. Surely I am right in putting to him that his responsibility at Question Time will be extremely narrowly circumscribed. He will not be assuming as a senior Minister that degree of responsibility to the State which he ought to assume and which the changed situation of the times should impose on him.
I would say that that is the first major point which I would put when considering the terms of the proposal. It is absolutely essential to what we are considering to know what the Secretary of State is to 785 undertake. We must as a minimum be able 10 require him to be responsible either in the form which Professor Good-hart recommends or in the somewhat more nebulous form which the majority proposals of the Royal Commission recommend and to call on his responsibility as Secretary of State to ensure that the police force throughout the country is properly maintained in an efficient state. If he does not do that—and here I do not criticise him personally—he will not be constitutionally measuring up to the changes necessary for the proper conduct of our affairs in 1963 and onwards.
We are not considering this matter only in terms of 1963 or 1964. We must look forward to a vista of possibly deteriorating criminal situations as the years come and go. It is essential, as hon. Members have said, that crime should be certain of detection. This will be a more baffling problem and not a less baffling one. I should have thought that as the years go by, the need for some central responsibility for a proper police force must supplant the present situation in which, broadly speaking, we in this House are left without any control over the police forces of this country except in relation to the Metropolitan Police District.
I turn to what seems to me the second major point of principle which relates to the position of the police vis-è-vis the public. I was a little puzzled by what seemed to me to be two rather inconsistent passages in the Report about the present condition of relationships between the police and the public. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East quoted paragraph 341, which seemed to him to connote something less than one would hope for. In contrast to that, I should like to draw attention to paragraph 340, which begins by saying:No less than 83 per cent. of those interviewed professed great respect for the police …Comparing that with what is said in paragraph 341, I should simply like to put this question: how can one profess great respect for people whotook bribes, used unnecessary violence, employed unfair means of getting evidence, or gave false evidence …"?I prefer to look at paragraph 340.
My own general opinion, garnered from the experience which one has in 786 everyday conversation, is that relations with the police are good, as paragraph 340 would seem to say. However. I am somewhat distressed to read in paragraph 345 that it is the police themselves who feel that relationships with the public have deteriorated. I feel that they are too pessimistic. It is the nature of the people of this country to grumble. As the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) said, it would be quite ridiculous and unrealistic to suppose that in a force of 90,000 people, any more than in a membership of Parliament of 600, there were not some individuals who let down the general body of their colleagues. I should have thought that it was obviously the case that there are abuses from time to time. However, I feel very regretful when I hear those cases projected into general allegations that there is widespread corruption in the police. I do not believe it
I have had some experience of the police in my professional life and as a Member of Parliament and as a citizen. Naturally, I like to talk to members of the police. I have found no more severe critics of the black sheep in the police than the police themselves. I think that no one resents more being let down by some members of their force than members of the police. I think that it does no useful service to picture the police as declining in morale and standards. I do not think that that is true.
Nevertheless, I think, and I would put it to the right hon. Gentleman, that there is a case for a Commissioner of Rights as recommended by three members of the Commission. I would say that there was a case for that not merely because it would afford reassurance to members of the public who from time to time come into contact with something which has gone wrong, perhaps badly wrong, but it would be a protection for the police themselves.
Looking to see how the proposals in the minority Report would work, if understand them correctly they would work in the following way. The Commissioner is not some sort of second tribunal. It is not as if a police officer who had been exonerated by his chief constable would then again have to run the risk. The need is to assure the public and also to assure the police that 787 there is someone who will see to it that justice is not only done, but, as it is sometimes said, patently seen to be done.
§ Sir F. Soskice
I was coming to that.
I conceive of him as being a highly placed official with a staff, as he is described, whose function it would be to consider complaints, not to re-try. It is clearly said in the minority Report that he is not to re-try police officers. When a case has been dealt with by the chief constable, in case of need in the event of complaints being made to him, the Commissioner could then call for the papers to see whether it had been properly dealt with. The name of the police officer if he had been acquitted is not to be mentioned. The Commissioner is to be the watchdog for the public who might feel aggrieved. This is a very effective way of providing for the public interest, and it seems to be a very good idea and I ask the Home Secretary to consider it.
I do not reflect upon the administration of disciplinary powers by chief eon-stables. In my conversations with chief constables and particularly with one of them, I have thought, "My goodness! You really are a bit hot on your force. If I had been in your place, I would have pretended to forget some of the things you were told. Some of them seemed to be of only a very slight seriousness ". I gather that this is the view of the Police Federation, and so I do not reflect on the administration of discipline which is sometimes rather severe.
Supplemented by the presence of this Commission, especially if possible crimes had to go to the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration, and especially as the right hon. Gentleman might agree after consultation with the Law Officers should be the case, if police authorities are to be liable for damages in respect of civil torts by the police, and given the requirement that the responsible officer shall disclose the name of a policeman involved in an incident, anything that had gone wrong, if so found by the Commissioner would be embodied in his report, and this report would be placed before the House 788 and I hope that we would be able to question the right hon. Gentleman if it were thought necessary to do so.
The public would be greatly reassured and it would be in the interests of the police. They have a very hard task and they might well sometimes say to themselves, "The public expect us to do dangerous things and to be at their beck and call always, and at the same time they tell us that they do not trust us." No police officer can maintain his morale if that is what he thinks. I think that many of these complaints would be winnowed out and put to sleep and the officer's reputation and his own personal feelings of self-confidence would be considerably improved.
I have spoken for my allotted half-hour. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to deal with the first issue of principle which I have raised—the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman for the presence of an efficient police force throughout the country. Secondly, I ask him to deal with the question of complaints against the police and at least to say that he will give careful consideration to the arguments in the minority Report which suggest that a Commissioner of Rights should be appointed as the watchdog of the police to winnow out complaints and to assure the public that they will be further gone into if they should be, and at the same time to put an end to complaints which should not be brought against police officers if their lot is to be made more comfortable and if their feelings are to be made easier.
I am told that often when a police officer effects an arrest in some parts of London it is almost automatic that the arrested person issues a summons against the police officer for assault. This is an intolerable position for the police. They cannot carry on their work if they are constantly subjected to the threat of criminal proceedings which anybody has the right to bring against them. I think that a Commissioner of Rights could look into this kind of thing, and besides protecting the public could afford considerable protection to police officers who stand in need of it.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. C. M. Woodhouse)
My right hon. Friend the Home 789 Secretary said at the beginning of this very constructive and valuable debate that on the more important recommendations of the Royal Commission the views that he would express were provisional and that it was his intention to take note of everything that hon. Members had to say before considering proposals for legislation.
I am sure that the House will not expect me, in winding-up, to be more dogmatic than my right hon. Friend was in opening the debate, and that hon. Members will recognise that in replying to the debate I am not seeking to rebut arguments. I am seeking only to register again our intention to give them all careful consideration, and in some cases perhaps indicating that there are other considerations to give attention to as well.
I emphasise again the provisional nature of the views expressed by us as well as by other hon. Members. The House would rightly resent it if we came to the debate with hard and fast conclusions embodied, or nearly embodied, in a Bill, and would resent it still more if it were thought that we had reached hard and fast conclusions which we were keeping under cover. On the other hand, we should be equally open to criticism if it could be said that we had done nothing in the time of preparation, and my right hon. Friend has shown that we have done a great deal on matters not calling for legislation.
My right hon. Friend referred to the administrative decisions which have been announced, and to the circular addressed to the police authorities and to chief constables, which I hope hon. Members have received during the course of the afternoon. These, I think, everyone will agree are broadly non-contentious matters, and they have been the subject of the fullest consukation with other parties interested.
For the sake of completeness, I should recapitulate the extremely small number of recommendations on which my right hon. Friend has either taken a decision to reject them, or is so inclined. There was first and foremost Recommendation No. 40, with which is linked No. 12, which would make my right hon. Friend statutorily responsible for the efficiency of the police and I shall, if I may, decline the invitation of the right 790 hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) to elaborate on that point. We shall, of course, give very careful consideration to the point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman before coming forward with further views.
With Recommendation No. 40 falls No. 42, which would modify the terms on which Exchequer grants would be paid, because they were to be adjusted to the proposed Recommendation No. 40. There are also the arithmetical criteria for the size of forces and the proposal that the question of amalgamation should be examined by a working party. This is not to say that it will not be examined, but it will be examined by my right hon. Friend in consultation with the inspectors and perhaps the research unit.
Finally, a small, curious, but quite significant item, the only other one which at present we are inclined to reject, is that the title of sergeant should be changed, for the reasons given by the Commission. We have taken a number of soundings among both police sources and the public, and have found very little support far fits change.
What I have found during the course of making soundings among the police—and I have spoken to many policemen about this, including, Mr. Speaker, the very dependable source located at the back of your Chair—is that there is a reluctance to accept, or seek promotion to, the rank of sergeant. This is regrettable, but it is not something that would be cured by the suggestion to change the title.
Between the extremes of acceptance and rejection, there remains this very wide and important range of recommendations on which we have listened to the views of the House. I would hesitate to single out any particular speakers, because I cannot put my finger on anyone who was not constructive, but we owe special respect to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for his very wise contribution, and I should like to say the same of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton), who was so nearly my colleague in the Home Office, and whom I missed by 24 hours.
Those who criticise the delay in bringing on this debate might very well reflect 791 on the range of consultations that we have had to undertake, which have occupied the past year and which are still, continuing, since the effect of the Report is not simply to present us with solutions for our consideration, but, in many cases, to present us with quite new problems to take into account as well as the solutions.
We have, of course, consulted the local authority associations and the police representative bodies on every item, I assure the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) that we shall certainly pay close attention to the annual report of the Police Federation to which he referred. On particular matters, we have also been in consultation with the Metropolitan local authorities and the Scottish Office. As only one Scottish speaker spoke in the debate, I would like to answer his question about recruiting in Scotland. I am glad to say that we find that it is keeping fully up with the increases of the establishment. It is, indeed, doing very well.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's correction, but, by and large, recruiting is very good indeed.
We have also consulted other Ministries on particular problems—education, transport and housing—the Law Officers, the Lord Chief Justice, and others. This is a formidable list. I shall try to deal with as many of the topics as possible. though, on points raised in the debate, I hope that the House will excuse me from dealing in detail again with the matters which my right hon. Friend dealt with in his opening speech.
I might well take as the starting point the comprehensive representations we had, as many hon. Members will have seen, from the local authority associations. As the hon. Members for Burnley (Mr. D. Jones) and for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) pointed out, those representations contained points of real substance, though I was interested to find 792 that the speakers tonight who referred to those points did not, in the main, express support for them, especially on the balance in the partnership between the local and the central power; either on whether the balance now is what my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) called a constitutional shambles—
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I beg my hon. Friend's pardon—sham—or on what it should be.
There was constant reference, by the A.M.C. in particular, to the police as part of the machinery of local government. It is true that the police have a local basis, but that is only part of the truth. The legal authorities, and we agree with them, stressed the national functions of the police, and we certainly would not accept the view that the status of the constable as an officer of the Crown is what the A.M.C. called a hallowed piece of mumbo-jumbo. Like the Royal Commission and many hon. Members, we agree that the legal situation is indefinite and unsatisfactory, and we share the view that legislation is necessary to clarify it.
On the question of accountability to Parliament, the argument of the local authority representatives, and particularly of the A.M.C., was that local control ought to be strengthened rather than weakened. This would inevitably be at the expense of the powers of the Secretary of State, for which he is answerable to Parliament, but I think that the trend of opinion in Parliament—with which my right hon. Friend has today shown himself to be not unsympathetic—is to argue that hon. Members should have more opportunity to seek information about provincial forces, and that would be hard to reconcile with the view of the A.M.C. in particular on the recommendation that the Secretary of State should be formally empowered to call for reports from chief constables.
I next refer to the A.M.C.'s rebuttal of the Royal Commission's argument that small forces tend to be severely handicapped; it did not say that they tended to be inefficient but that they tended to be handicapped. A number of points were raised on that aspect in the debate and, on the whole, I am inclined to the 793 view of those hon. Members who thought that the A.M.Cs. case against the Commission was not fully made out.
That brings me to the question of amalgamations and the size of forces, about which my right hon. Friend has indicated the lines of his thinking for the future. In the interim, it should be remembered that there are still powers available under the 1946 Act, and the Home Office takes any suitable opportunity to bring about amalgamations or closer co-operation by persuasion.
For instance, when a chief constable retires, in certain cases—such as, at present, Cumberland, Westmorland and Carlisle—we initiate discussions with a view to the possibility of appointing a joint chief constable for two or more small forces; or when the Local Government Boundary Commission redraws the boundaries, as it is likely to do in certain cases in advance of fresh legislation about the police, as will happen next year in the case of what is known as the West Midlands conurbation.
In that context, it would be right to refer especially to the position of these police officers affected by amalgamation. Amalgamation is primarily a matter for the Secretary of State and the police authorities, but I can give an assurance—indeed, we have given an assurance—that the police officers themselves and their representatives will be kept informed as soon as information can be given, and that the safeguards already contained in the 1946 Act will apply to changes in the police areas arising either from local government reorganisation or a strengthening of the Secretary of State's powers.
The same applies to the provision in the police regulations that, when a borough force is amalgamated, a member of it cannot, without his consent, be employed on duties that would require him to move his home outside the borough. There are other relevant points that the Police Federation wish to discuss with us, and we are very ready to do this, and to continue those discussions.
That brings me to the question of the police themselves as distinct from policing and organisation. I listened with the greatest interest to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire and other hon. Members on questions of recruitment, training and promotion. We have, of course, most 794 carefully studied the Commission's proposals. As my right hon. Friend showed, many of those proposals have now been adopted some, indeed, were already anticipated at our own training establishments, especially the Police College at Bramshill. We would welcome visits from Members of Parliament to that college, where they may be surprised, and I am quite certain that they will be impressed, as I was, by the intellectual level of the courses and of the officers on the courses. We recognise, as does the Report, that it is difficult to be dogmatic about improvements in this field, when it takes some years before any significant results can be shown.
There are very few of the proposals that we have been disposed to question. I have mentioned the change of title of sergeant, and another proposal that needs careful examination in the light of this debate is the recommendation on the reduction of the qualifying period for promotion to sergeant. Another arises from the minority Report of three commissioners which was supported by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire, who even wanted to go further, suggesting that there should be direct entry into the C.I.D. for recruits with G.E.C. passes at A level or university degrees.
There is no doubt that this is in many ways an attractive proposition, which we shall consider carefully in the light of the remarks made, although it is only fair to indicate—I have not the time to go into the matter in detail—that there may be some objections to it, or, at any rate, some disadvantages of a personal kind.
The question that will certainly play the biggest part in attracting good recruits to the police service is that of establishing and maintaining its reputation as an absolutely first-class service, in which first-class men and women want to serve. With this aim in mind we shall lay particular stress on the new or refurbished instruments available to us—the strengthened inspectorate and the research unit. I shall carefully note the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) about the inspectorate, and also those made by the right hon. Member for South Shields. I can say categorically that the clerical arrangements to which the right hon. 795 Gentleman referred have been vastly improved since he had occasion to look at them.
I now turn particularly to the question of the research unit, on which I have a word to say which will probably answer a number of points that have been raised.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I had intended to do that. I can assure the bon. Member that there is no bar on the recruitment of coloured policemen provided that they are in other ways qualified.
I will not attempt any further general description of the research unit. It will be under the general direction of a chief inspector, and will probably have an establishment of approximately an assistant chief constable, four chief superintendents, two scientists, and other specialist advisers and executive and clerical staff, and officers on secondment from other police forces. It will be a formidable unit, administered by the Home Office and financed by the Exchequer, and in the current year its budget is a little over £43,000.
It will concentrate initially, as my right hon. Friend said, on the problems of crime, and especially on the efficacy of particular techniques, such as regional crime squads. It will also have important jobs high up on its agenda, such as the question of uniformity in the enforcement of traffic laws and the study of special methods and techniques evolved by particular forces, such as that referred to in Liverpool by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Bingham) and also on the question of the size and establishment of forces, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle referred.
As time is passing rapidly I must turn to the topic of relations with the public, and the problem of dealing with complaints, although on the way I want to refer briefly to two legal points that have been raised. First, there is the question of the Judges' Rules, to which the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) referred. These are being re-examined by the Lord Chief Justice and his colleagues, and I am informed that they have made substantial pro- 796 gress. I have no doubt that all the points raised by the hon. Member will come within their purview, but he will appreciate that it is not for me to interrogate the Lord Chief Justice on exactly what he is doing.
§ Mr. Fletcher
It was as long ago as March, 1961, that the Lord Chief Justice and his colleagues undertook to review the operation of the Judges' Rules. May we press the hope that the Lord Chief Justice and his colleagues will shortly be able to complete their report and have it laid before the House?
§ Mr. Woodhouse
Certainly the hon. Member may, and I will do my best to transmit that pressure.
On the question of tortious acts of police officers, hon. Members who have referred to this will be aware that it involves quite delicate considerations. It is not a matter of being obstructive on the part of the Home Office. We will reconsider this with the Law Officers. I would point out that we have tried to meet the Royal Commission's point, that the failure to identify a certain police constable may at present preclude action, by accepting in principle Recommendation No. 29, which is embodied in the circular to which reference has been made.
I should have been extremely sorry if the debate had appeared to concentrate on misdemeanours of the police and on ways of dealing with them, and I am glad that it has not. I do not propose to refer in detail to any particular cases which have been raised. After all, it was not the business of the Royal Commission to examine particular cases, but general principles.
Turning to the general aspect, and particularly to the speech of the hon. Member for Rossendale, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman needs no assurance from me that the views of the National Council for Civil Liberties and its pamphlet, "Civil Liberties and the Police", have been carefully studied. I am sorry that, so far, the hon. Gentleman has not taken advantage of the invitation extended to him and his friends to come to discuss some of these points with me. I can assure him that the invitation still stands. I have also studied the evidence given by the Council to the Royal Commission. But I must remind the House that the Royal 797 Commission received much other evidence. It also examined the results of the Social Survey, to which some reference has been made.
Merely to set the record straight, and without attempting any statistical analysis, I should like to place on record that the figures show that 46.9 per cent. of those questioned in the Social Survey said that they did not think bribery occurred; 10.7 per cent. said they did not know; 32.7 per cent. said hardly ever; 5 per cent. said fairly often; 1.2 per cent. said very often. The number claiming personal knowldege of bribery was 2.1 per cent. and only half of the people in that figure had been involved themselves. About half the incidents in that 2.1 per cent. happened over ten years ago. I do not want to elaborate on that, but those are the figures.
I would remind the House that the Royal Commission, despite the strong expression of the National Council's views, concluded that relations between the police and the public are, on the whole, very good and it had no reason to think that they had ever in recent times been otherwise.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Has the hon. Member any comparable figures about other allegations, such as violence in police stations?
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I have not with me, but I will try to get them for the hon. Gentleman.
I have no reason to dissent from any of this. I should like to make one remark from my own experience. It is easy for Members of Parliament, and especially for Home Office Ministers, to get a false impression of the extent of dissatisfaction. Few people write to Members of Parliament to say that they are pleased. By far the most frequent reply they get is that a case has been investigated and that no grounds have been found. But here I must emphasise that those cases in which there are grounds for complaint are likely to have been dealt with at an earlier stage and do not get to a Member of Parliament at all.
I have a table of figures which I am sorry I cannot read out because of the shortage of time. It shows in a quite remarkable way that in the Metropolitan Police about 10 per cent. of complaints in the last three years have been found to be substantiated and a rather smaller 798 number have resulted in action; but this is either because, in most cases, a word of advice was sufficient, or because the complainant did not wish to pursue the matter any further.
We shall, of course, give the most careful attention to the suggestions made about more far-reaching changes in procedure regarding complaints than those recommended by the Royal Commission. My right hon. Friend has referred to his readiness to establish inquiries by administrative action, though he has emphasised—and I repeat it—that this must be an exceptional step. It cannot be part of the regular machinery.
I do not think that I can say much on the question of a Commissioner of Rights, without repeating what has already been said by the Royal Commission, or by my right hon. Friend, or by the statement of general principles made on behalf of the Government on 8th November last year which covered the general attitude of the Government to all occasions of alleged maladministration. But in the particular context of the police I think it true to say that there is a danger that intervention in police discipline by an external body would tend to undermine morale and to work against the public interest.
My right hon. Friend was taken to task for saying that by the hon. Member for Leeds, West, but I should like to emphasise that this is virtually a quotation of the conclusions of the Royal Commission itself on this subject, in its very careful study of the problem in paragraphs 430 to 432. I hope that I can appease the indignation of hon. Members opposite by assuring them that this is one of the matters which we are very willing to re-examine in the light of the debate.
I should like to give one reason, in particular, why the Government have welcomed the debate. Governments are often criticised for appointing Royal Commissions and then doing nothing about their reports. We have already done a good deal about this Report and we have set about consultation on the rest of it. But in the case of this Report we could not simply accept it in toto and write its recommendations into the Statute Book because we have, in addition to the Report, three minority reservations and one directly contrary minority Report.
799 I have had the opportunity to discuss the minority Report with the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), who happens to be my constituent. When I asked him how it came about that he reached diametrically opposite conclusions on the same evidence he replied by telling me the story of a Lord of Appeal who was in disagreement with his two colleagues and who, when asked to give judgment, did so by saying, "I dissent from my learned colleagues for the reasons they have given".
I quote these striking and cogent remarks because exactly the same reasoning could be turned against Dr. Goodhart. Here is a case, where the same facts, evidence and considerations led people of equal good sense and sincerity to widely differing and indeed diametrically opposite conclusions. It was because of the dilemma that this presented to us that we wanted to hear the views of the House before we took final decisions on matters which will affect the public and the police and their relations for probably generations to come.
The Royal Commission itself said:It is not to be expected that a body composed of fourteen members would achieve an absolute identity of view on each of these matters, or that each of us would subscribe in equal measure to every opinion expressed.If that is true of a body of 14 which had 95 meetings over two years, it is even more true of a body of 630 Members debating this for six hours on one afternoon. One thing which has struck me about the debate is that I seemed to find more supporters of nationalisation sitting behind me than in front of me.
I assure the House that nothing said today will pass unscrutinised and unweighed so that we can fulfil the unanimously agreed object of ensuring that we have a police force which will not only satisfy the criteria laid down by the Royal Commission, but will also be a service in which men and women will continue to enrol, as they now do, to serve their fellow members of the community.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Police, 1962 (Command Paper No. 1728).