§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
A cardinal duty of all Governments is to preserve a right balance of liberty and order: to maintain both the freedom of the individual and the rule of law, without which in the end there can be no true freedom. The police are the instrument for the upholding of law, and of freedom, too, because if the law is not upheld, criminals can frolic, and there is no security for ordinary men and women in their own homes, or when they go about on their lawful occasions.
The duty of the police service is to preserve the Queen's peace, to detect and arrest suspected law-breakers, and to bring them to justice: a duty which is all the harder when crime here, as in most other industrialised countries, is more prevalent than it has ever been, and when the police forces in the big cities, though not in the rest of the country, are much below strength.
Since the big pay rise three years ago, police numbers in England and Wales show a net gain of over 7,000 and are continuing to rise, but in the cities we could do with 10,000 more: and the quality of recruits matters just as much as the quantity. I attach high importance to the new courses we have been developing at the Police College at Bramshill, for the pick of the police service from all over the country, so as to make the very best use of the men we have.
The organised police as we know them first began to be established 134 years ago, and much of the legislation under which the police are still operating dates back 100 years and more. I hope that this Bill, by repealing much of that legislation and presenting it in a new and up-to-date code in modern form, will become a landmark in police history.
In all our forthcoming debates on it here and in Committee I submit that we should keep in mind the interest of the 82 public as well as the interest of the police: and the public interest is, first, that the law should be clear and practical and fair, and secondly, that the morale of the police should ride high, for if the morale of the police is lowered and they doubt whether Parliament and the public are on their side, the gainers from that will be the criminals. Every unfounded allegation against the police causes rejoicing to the law-breakers who are plotting more violence against the public.
I took office as Home Secretary two months after the Report of the Royal Commission on the Police was published, and from then onwards I have been planning the presentation of a comprehensive Police Bill this Session, for I knew that all the consultations required could not possibly be completed in time to legislate last Session. The Bill has certain implications for Scotland, but I will, if I may, leave those to a Scottish Minister who hopes that he will have the chance to intervene in the debate later this evening.
We had a valuable debate here on 9th May, and since then, in the light of the debate, I have had more discussions with the local authority associations and with representatives of the police. I thank them all for their help, and I thank once again the Chairman and members of the Royal Commission, who, I hope, will feel that I have good reason for the relatively few divergencies between the Bill and their recommendations. We have gone farther than the Royal Commission in some respects. We have gone farther, for instance, in the extent to which we have got rid of old law.
I invite the attention of hon. Members to the mass of repeals. In the Ninth Schedule more than 20 Acts of Parliament are repealed outright, ranging from the Police Act of 1946 right back to the Constables Expenses Act of 1801, and a good many more partially repealed. That list shows the jungle of often obsolete law through which the constitutional lawyer—and sometimes the practical policeman—has had to find his way.
The new Bill embodies a succinct and comprehensive statement of the fundamental law relating to police organisation. In this, at any rate, I hope that 83 I may have the support of those who call for more straightforward and more easily understood laws.
Of course, the Bill does not only consolidate the law; it makes changes in it, too. I thought that the debate in May was notable not only because it was the first debate in this House for many years about the principles on which our police system should be based, but also because it showed a remarkably wide measure of agreement on both sides of the House about the direction which changes in the law should take. There was a clear expression of Parliamentary opinion in favour of greater central supervision of the police. If there were differences between us in that debate, they were only about how far we should go in that direction.
The Bill does not propose to nationalise the police; I gave the reasons for that in the May debate. It provides for the continuance of a system of local police forces. But the Government's proposals do carry us on a long distance beyond the old concept of separate and autonomous forces, by superimposing on the system a measure of firm central supervision. We are seeking to do this without derogating in any way from the local initiative and local interest which, in my view, and my experience, are of immense value in the working of the system.
In the Bill there are three main themes of reform. First, it proposes changes of a constitutional character designed to clarify the relationship of the Home Secretary, the police authorities and the chief constables, and to bring the police under more effective supervision. Secondly, the Bill proposes changes in organisation designed to promote police efficiency. Thirdly, it proposes changes in the arrangements for dealing with complaints against the police. Perhaps I can help the House best to see the main structure of the Bill by describing each of these principal changes. One of the lessons of modern times is that a police system, instituted to defend freedom and maintain law and order, must itself be under effective control. The Royal Commission very rightly said that the main bastions of freedom in this country are the rule of law and the supremacy of Parliament.
84 But because our police service outside London has always been composed of separate local forces, each administered by its own police authority, Parliament has had little opportunity hitherto to inform itself about police doings outside the Metropolitan Police District. One thing the debate made quite clear, and the Government entirely accept this, is that if the Home Secretary is to have more responsibility for the police he must be answerable to Parliament for police affairs to a greater extent than hitherto. I am sure that this is right. When the Bill is on the Statute Book, it will be possible for hon. Members to put more Questions to me about police matters outside London.
Before coming to the functions which the Bill proposes to give the Home Secretary, I want to explain precisely how the Bill provides for the police to be controlled—locally, as well as centrally. The Royal Commission thought—and so did a number of hon. Members who took part in the last debate—that chief constables are not at present adequately accountable.
I agree, and this is how the Bill deals with that. It explicitly lays down, in Clause 5, that a police officer shall be under the direction and control of the chief constable. The effect of this, taken together with the Police Discipline Regulations, is that all police officers of subordinate rank will be subject to the lawful orders of a superior officer. There will be a clear and indisputable chain of command straight down from the chief constable at the top.
The chain of command does not, under present law, go beyond the chief constable and the Bill does not propose to extend it. The chief constable, therefore, will not be subject to the orders or directions of higher authority in relation to the deployment of his men or the action to be taken in individual cases. This is right, for his primary duty is to see that order is effectively maintained and the law impartially enforced.
But even as we accept that the chief constable is not subject in these matters to orders or directions, we must make sure that he is fully accountable for what he does. He must not be allowed to get away with slackness or inefficiency, or worse. Therefore, the Bill provides arrangements by which the 85 chief constable can be called to account and he will be accountable not only locally to the police authority, but also, to the extent that it is necessary, centrally to the Home Secretary. Clause 4 (1) gives the police authority the duty…to secure the maintenance of an adequate and efficient police force for the area …and to appoint its chief constable.
Clause 5(4) gives the authority power to retire the chief constable on grounds of inefficiency. The effect of Clause 32(3) is to constitute it as the disciplinary authority over the chief constable. By Clause 11, the chief constable is to submit annual reports to the authority, and the authority may direct him to submit reports on specific matters subject, in certain circumstances, to the ultimate determination of the Home Secretary.
The effect of all this is to preserve largely intact the present functions of the police authority. I fully understand the anxiety of the local authorities that the law should not be changed in such a way as to diminish the importance of the police authority's functions or to weaken the sense of public responsibility which police authorities have shown in the past.
I do not believe that, in practice, the proposals in the Bill will make any significant difference to the working of police authorities or to their relationships with police constables. The Bill makes it the statutory function of the policy authority to secure the maintenance of not only an adequate, but also an efficient force and it will have the powers to ensure that it can fulfil its functions properly.
I have had some experience of local government and I ask my local authority friends to think twice before they accept the unfounded suggestion which has been made in some quarters that, under the Bill, they will cease to play any significant part in police administration. This is simply untrue.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
This is a very important point, crucial to the Bill. If hon. Members are to be able to ask questions, as the right hon. Gentleman has indicated, on a whole lot of police matters affecting their areas, how can this do other than diminish the 86 control of police authorities over their chief constables?
§ Mr. Brooke
I do not think that that will happen. Hon. Members will be able to ask Questions of me on matters within my responsibility. But that does not mean that they will be able to ask any Questions they like. That will depend or the interpretation by the Table and by you, Mr. Speaker. But it really is entirely untrue to suggest or allege that the part now played by the police authorities will be transferred under the Bill to the Home Secretary. But no doubt the hon. Member may have the opportunity to develop his views later on.
§ Sir Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)
Will my right hon. Friend allow me to pursue this point, as it is regarded its a disquieting part of the Bill? As I understand it, hon. Members would be in order, subject to the direction of the Chair, in putting down Questions, for example, about the use by a chief constable of mounted police to restore order in the event of trouble, but it would not be in order for members of the watch committee or police authority concerned to question their own chief constable about the same thing.
§ Mr. Brooke
My hon. Friend has it wrong. Unquestionably, the police authority could ask for a report from the chief constable on that and could discuss the report with him.
§ Mr. Brooke
If he did, the matter would be settled in the end by the Home Secretary. But in a case like that I can see no reason why the chief constable should not supply a report on request.
Should he decline, however, it will be for the Home Secretary to decide the matter, if the Bill goes through in this form, and he will be open to questions on, for instance, whether he will call for a report from the chief constable, whether he will insist that an inquiry shall be made by a senior officer of another force, and so forth.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
Would not the chief constable be 87 entitled to submit to the right hon. Gentleman that a report given to him should not be given also to the local police authority?
§ Mr. Brooke
He would be entitled to make that submission, but he would be overruled by me if I were Home Secretary. But no doubt the precise arrangements about the calling for reports is a matter that can be discussed in Committee in order to see whether we have got this exactly right.
The Bill does not give the police authority power to issue instructions to the chief constable, but it has not got that power now. Its general responsibility is to secure the maintenance of an efficient force, and it will have every right to discuss with its chief constable how the men and equipment with which it has provided him can be most effectively used in conducting police operations. I have no doubt that every chief constable who is up to his job welcomes discussion of this kind.
If, unhappily, the discussions resulted in such persistent disagreement between a police authority and its chief constable that the efficiency of the force seemed in question—this would obviously be most exceptional—then it would be the duty of the authority to set in motion machinery for requiring the chief constable to retire, subject to the Home Secretary's approval.
If any hon. Member finds difficult this concept of a person being accountable to a body of people who, nevertheless, cannot give him orders, there is something of a parallel in the relationship of all of us with our constituents. We are accountable to them and they can dismiss us, but they cannot give us orders or direct us how we are to speak or vote.
For the police, the Bill superimposes on these local arrangements a degree of central supervision.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what authority will be left to the local watch committee—or statutory authority, as he calls it—when dismissals, appointments, discipline and other things have been taken away from it by the Bill? What will be the use of 88 giving a report to the statutory authority when it will have no power to deal with the chief constable in terms of these things?
§ Mr. Brooke
In general, its power will be hardly changed because it has no power now to give orders on all matters of policing to the chief constable. I am coming shortly to the question of appointments, and so forth.
I was saying that the Bill superimposes a degree of central supervision. Clause 29 proposes that the Home Secretary, like the police authority, shall have power to call for reports from chief constables. It may be strange, but I have no such statutory power now. The Home Secretary will also have a reserve power under Clause 28 to require the police authority to retire its chief constable on grounds of inefficiency. A chief constable may be called to account not only to his police authority, but also to the Home Secretary and, through him, to Parliament.
That, in essentials, is the system of administration that the Bill proposes. It contemplates no radical change at all at the level of local government. But it does place a heavier responsibility on the Home Secretary, and through him, on Parliament, to see that our police service is properly conducted. I think that that is the kind of change that Parliament wants.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)
Will the Minister explain more fully the provisions in Clause 29, through which he asks for power to approach a chief constable directly and to ignore the local authority? What is the type of situation in which the Home Secretary may make a direct approach to a chief constable instead of to an authority?
§ Mr. Brooke
I can imagine a situation where an hon. Member has put down a Question to me asking whether I will call for a report from, say, the Chief Constable of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, or Leeds, or Manchester, or Berkshire, or where you will. It would not be seemly, in my view, that the Home Secretary, faced with a Parliamentary Question about a power which he possesses, should not be able to go straight to a chief constable and ask for a report. But this, again, is a matter which can 89 be examined further, though I think that the Bill is right.
I said that the Bill had three main themes. The second of these concerns the efficiency of the police. Here again, the proposals are drawn up in such a way as to increase the concern of the Home Secretary with efficiency without diminishing that of the local police authority. The Royal Commission recommended that the Home Secretary be made legally responsible for the efficiency of the police. For reasons which I explained in our earlier debate, the Bill does not go as far as this. To support such a specific responsibility as the Royal Commission recommended the Home Secretary would need powers of detailed direction which could not, in my view, live along with the continuance of a system of local forces.
I see the police service continuing to develop as a partnership between central and local government; not as a service in which local authorities or chief constables act as the agents of the Home Secretary. But the Bill firmly recognises that the Home Secretary has an essential part to play in promoting the efficiency of the police service, and, for the first time, this is laid upon him as a statutory duty. This is effected by Clause 27.
The Bill also gives him the minimum powers required to discharge this duty. Those powers are of two kinds. The first are concerned mainly with the efficiency of each particular force as a single unit in the system. As at present, before he pays police grant, the Home Secretary will need to be satisfied that a force is efficient. If he believes that an adequate and efficient police force is not being maintained, he will have to consider whether he should withhold the whole or part of the police grant.
Clause 30 re-enacts the power to pay police grant, and provides for a Statutory Instrument to be made which will govern the conditions under which grant is payable. This power of withholding grant is a weapon of last resort. It is a clumsy instrument to use in dealing with some particular and identifiable failure. The Bill therefore supplements it with more precise powers. Clause 29, which we were discussing, enables me to call for reports from chief constables. By Clauses 4 and 6 I shall 90 be empowered to approve the appointment of deputy and assistant chief constables as well as chief constables.
Clause 28enables me to require a police authority to retire its chief constable in the interests of efficiency, and by Clause 31 I shall, for the first time, have statutory power to set up an independent local inquiry into matters connected with the policing of an area.
Clause 37 re-enacts the provisions under which the inspectors of constabulary, including the chief inspector, are appointed. The duties of the inspectorate are broadened on lines recommended by the Royal Commission so that it will be available for any purpose concerned with the furthering of police efficiency. The inspectorate is further strengthened by arrangements in Clause 38 for the appointment of assistant inspectors and staff officers—which also follows a recommendation of the Royal Commission. With the aid of this reinforced inspectorate I am sure that the additional powers proposed in the Bill will be sufficient to enable the Home Secretary to satisfy himself that each police force is efficient.
§ Mr. Niall MacDermot (Derby, North)
Is the Home Secretary intending to explain further how he envisages power being used to appoint an inquiry? He dealt briefly with that Clause. May we have a further indication?
§ Mr. Brooke
I envisage that that, also, would be a weapon of last resort. I am going to say a little more about that.
The other powers that I am seeking in the Bill are directed not so much to the efficiency of an individual force, as to promoting the efficient policing of wider areas by developing co-operation between forces, and, where necessary, by amalgamating police areas to form larger units. Crime, unfortunately, continues to increase. The vast majority of crime is purely local, and local knowledge is needed to catch the offender. The more serious crime which hits the headlines is only quite a small percentage of the whole. But a good deal of the serious crime is planned and committed by criminals who operate over wide areas of the country with, of course, no regard whatever to police boundaries.
91 In the same way, although there are many local traffic problems, the development of trunk roads and motorways increasingly demands that if police plans to handle road traffic are to be sensible and effective, they must cover much wider areas than those served by many of our police forces today. A very great deal has already been done by way of operational co-ordination and I am certainly not disparaging what has been achieved. But, in my view, we have reached the stage at which the arrangements made need to be systematical and carried further. Who is to identify these wider problems and see that the limited resources available to the police—they can never be unlimited—are most effectively used to solve them? It is not part of the local police authority's duty to look beyond its boundaries at the complex and changing patterns of crime and traffic throughout a whole region.
The new fact which our police system must be adapted to face is that many of the problems of this kind are regional, and some of them even national in character. Therefore, the planning and organisation required to meet them must also be regional or national. The Bill recognises this. Clause 41 provides statutory backing for the new research and planning unit which I have set up at the Home Office and which has already made a vigorous start. We have a great deal still to learn about the methods of criminals and the pattern of crime, and these are now, as never before, the subjects of intensive central study. With the ready and, I know, the enthusiastic support of the whole police service, I intend to make life a great deal harder for the criminal.
With the help of scientific research we must apply every available modern technique to the prevention and detection of crime. The research branch has drawn up its programme of work. Top priority is being given to problems connected with serious and unsolved crime. An urgent inquiry is being conducted by the research unit into the question of regional crime squads. Among other things, this will help us to pinpoint just what lessons are to be learned from the mail train robbery and the investigation of it.
In the research unit study is also being made of the standardisation of 92 crime intelligence methods, and the automation of police records, including finger prints. It is carrying out a study of specific police traffic problems in connection with motorways and major through routes. A quite separate piece of research is in hand into the methods of assessing police establishments. It is no use employing an expert team of scientists and trained policemen to draw up plans unless the plans can be put into effect.
To do this, I shall rely in the first place on a stronger all-purpose inspectorate. But the inspectorate will have no powers of direction over chief constables and the crime situation is too serious to rely solely on their powers of persuasion, effective as these no doubt are.
§ Mr. Brooke
No, the inspectors do not cover the Metropolis because the Metropolis is responsible directly to me.
We cannot rely wholly on the powers of persuasion. Therefore, I am seeking a reserve power to make compulsory schemes for co-operation between police forces—that will be found in Clause 12—and a further power, in Clause 35, to make regulations laying down standards of equipment.
Those who favour the establishment of a national police force argue that separate local forces are too small to be fully efficient. The proposals I have just outlined will, in my view, go a long way to meet this argument, particularly by increasing the arrangements for cooperation between forces and by uniformly raising standards of equipment. Even so, as I said in the debate last May, I am sure that there are still too many small forces in this country; and my plan is to ask the inspectors of constabulary to review each area from the police standpoint after the Local Government Commission has announced its proposals for the reorganisation of the structure of local government in that area.
If, as a result, I come to the considered conclusion that some areas which are quite suitable to administer other major local government services are really too small to form effective police units, I 93 shall not hesitate to urge the authorities concerned to amalgamate their areas voluntarily for police purposes; and I will follow this up with compulsory action if necessary, though I hope that may not need to happen.
The Bill strengthens my reserve powers to compel amalgamations. It abolishes the present figure of 100,000 population as the limit above which an area may not be amalgamated for police purposes. But I want to emphasise again that I do not intend to work by any statutory yardstick or numerical formula. Geography enters into this as well as the size of forces. If necessary, I shall not hesitate to make use of the new powers I am seeking, but I regard it as essential that this should be done with relation to the new local government pattern as it emerges, and to the needs of each geographical area. Each case will be judged on its merits, not just on bare figures. The Second Schedule provides that a public inquiry must be held if a compulsory amalgamation is objected to.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I am quite sure that the words the right hon. Gentleman has just spoken will bring comfort to my authority in particular. Would he be kind enough to say whether, in taking into consideration the pattern as it will emerge as a result of recommendations of the Commission, he can go a little further and say that he will take into account not only the existing pattern but what is likely to develop over the next thirty or fifty years?
§ Mr. Brooke
None of us can foresee with certainty over thirty or fifty years, but the Local Government Commission, if I remember rightly—and I was responsible for it—is under an obligation to examine the situation not simply as it is now, but as it seems likely to develop. Certainly, I would not rule anything of the kind out of consideration when a question of police amalgamation arises.
I now come to the third of the main themes, that is, complaints about the police. This is a highly important matter and a very difficult one. I said in our last debate that I wanted to consider it in the light of the views expressed then; and this I have sought to do. The importance and the difficulty have been emphasised by recent events, and I want to stress its exceptional importance from 94 the point of view of the relationship of the police and the public.
Concern about this matter of dealing with complaints was one of the main reasons for the setting up of the Royal Commission, and it devoted a great deal of its time and attention to it. I would ask everyone who is interested in the subject to read again the excellent survey in Chapter IX of the Report, and the facts quoted there. It is a salutary correction to superficial views that are sometimes expressed.
The Commission put it exactly right when it said, in paragraph 433:Essentially [the problem] is to devise arrangements which are acceptable both to the police and to the public as fair and just, not favouring either at the expense of the other, and not weakening the morale of the police and their resolve to fight crime".That goes back to what I said at the beginning of my speech. I do not want to refer on this occasion to individual cases which have caused grave concern to us all—including the police service itself. All I would say is this: that I am fully satisfied, from my discussions with the representatives of the service, from chief constables downwards, that they are passionately concerned to see that proper action is taken to deal with black sheep and that there is no covering up.
The police service itself is more conscious than anyone outside it can be that its efficiency as well as its reputation depends on the confidence of the public. My view remains that to contemplate bringing an entirely outside person or functionary, whether a commissioner of rights or an ombudsman, or whatever he may be called, to investigate any complaint that a member of the public, however irresponsible, may see fit to make against the police, is to run serious risks with the morale of the service.
It also—and this is a serious objection—risks placing in jeopardy for a second time a police officer who has already been dealt with and perhaps exonerated under the discipline code. I think that few people outside the police know, as I do, how strict the police discipline code is. What we are proposing in the Bill is this. Clause 47 gives effect to the spirit of a proposal made by the Royal Commission although not quite in the way the Commission suggested.
95 It recommended that a police authority should be made vicariously liable for the tortious acts of a member of the force.
There are objections to placing this liability on the police authority, which is not in direct control of the constable; so the Clause instead provides for the liability to attach to the chief officer of police, rather than the police authority. It also ensures that money will be available from the police fund to meet costs and damages awarded as a result of an action or to meet a settlement. This achieves the purpose the Royal Commission had in mind. It is important that a litigant shall be able to sue, even though he cannot identify the particular police officer who he thinks has done wrong.
Clause 48 contains quite new proposals for dealing with complaints against the police. First, it lays a statutory duty on every chief officer to investigate a complaint from a member of the public immediately it is received. That cuts out any delay. Then it empowers him to call upon the chief officer of another force to provide a senior officer to investigate the complaint, and the Home Secretary, if he thinks fit, can direct that a member of another force must be brought in.
Unless the investigation then shows conclusively that no criminal offence has been committed, the report of the investigating officer must be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Under present practice it is open to a chief constable, at his own discretion, to decide whether or not to send papers to the Director of Public Prosecutions. He may decide himself not to prosecute one of his own men. The Bill alters that.
I believe that these arrangements will strike a fair balance between, on the one hand, the requirements of fairness to the complainant and the appearance as well as the reality of justice being done—which is important—and, on the other, the need to sustain the high morale of the police and protect them against malicious and irresponsible complainants. The chief constable will not be left unsupervised in the way in which he deals with complaints. The practical effect of Clause 49 is to make 96 this important part of his work one of the matters to be taken into account by both the police authority and the inspectors of constabulary in considering his fitness for his job.
The Clause lays on both the authority and the inspectors a duty to inform themselves as to the way in which complaints are dealt with. Of course, it will be open to both the police authority and the Home Secretary to call for reports about this, as about other aspects of the chief constables' duties.
Finally—I come to the point which the hon. Member raised, and this is most important for the really serious cases—the Home Secretary will for the first time have a specific power to set up a formal and independent inquiry—with teeth—into any matter connected with the policing of any area. That is Clause 31. As I have said, I contemplate that that would be used only in the most serious cases, but in future I shall be able to set up a more powerful independent inquiry than I have had any statutory power to set up until now. I trust that this will be a weapon of last resort, but if I am not satisfied that all the truth has come out, I shall not hesitate to use it.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain one point which many people regard as of some importance and which, to my mind, is not clear either in the Bill or in the Report? When a member of the public makes a complaint against a police officer, is it the Government's intention that in any inquiry which takes place, however the tribunal may be constituted, the person who makes the complaint shall be entitled to be present, and shall be entitled to be represented, and to call witnesses and to cross-examine any other witnesses who may be called?
Does he agree that if it is important that justice shall be clearly seen to be done by the public, the absence of any rights on the part of the complainant to attend the inquiry and to make his contribution to it is one of the most important factors?
§ Mr. Brooke
I think that the hon. Member will find that in my speech in May I said that complainants will have 97 the right to attend at a disciplinary inquiry. But we must keep that separate in our minds from the criminal proceedings which might follow or from the civil proceedings which equally might follow. A disciplinary inquiry held by the chief constable is not itself a court of law, but in my view the complainant should normally have the right to be present on such occasion and he should also receive—I am sorry to say that he has not always received in the past—a written report from the chief constable as to the outcome of the inquiry.
I have already issued administrative guidance to chief officers on such matters as the terms in which correspondence with the public should be conducted; and about the keeping of detailed and comprehensive complaints books and their maintenance for inspection by the police authority and by Her Majesty's inspectors.
Now that I have described the major themes of the Bill, I will not go through every other Clause. I will simply draw attention to certain Clauses which contain other important features which I have not so far mentioned. Clause 2 proposes a change in the composition of all police authorities. At present, the watch committee, the police authority in a county borough, consists wholly of elected councillors, whereas the standing joint committee, the police authority in a county, consists as to half of elected councillors and half of magistrates.
The Royal Commission said that the composition of the two types of authority should be assimilated, and in paragraph 210 of its Report the Commission recommended that there should be a proportion of magistrates on all police authorities. They pointed out that magistrates have a close knowledge of police affairs and problems and that they represent a body of public-spirited people whose services and experience cannot always be enlisted through the normal machinery of local government. The Clause follows exactly the Commission's recommendation in proposing that one-third of all police authorities should consist of magistrates and two-thirds of councillors and aldermen.
§ Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)
Some members of local 98 authorities are magistrates. They may also be members of particular watch committees. Is it desirable that a number of appointed magistrates, who have to act as judges in particular cases, should be represented on a police authority which is to prosecute before their brothers and sisters who happen also to be magistrates? Is it not better to keep the two bodies independent where there are magistrates who are members of a local authority or a watch committee? To say, "We want a percentage of you, magistrates, to sit on the police authority" seems undesirable. I think that the independence of the judiciary ought to be maintained.
§ Mr. Brooke
The Royal Commission considered those arguments and rejected them. The Bill establishes for all police authorities a system not unlike that which has been working highly successfully for many years in the counties.
§ Mr. Brooke
No doubt the hon. Member will have an opportunity of putting that point, which is a legitimate point of view. All I said was that the Royal Commission had carefully considered arguments of that kind and had decided that they did not prevail.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
Does this mean that the county police force will be controlled by a body of which only one-third will be magistrates instead of one-half, because if that is so, it is a weakening of the present system.
§ Mr. Brooke
My hon. Friend is now arguing against the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever). These are matters to be thrashed out in the debate. On Second Reading all I am seeking to do, in the reasonably limited time available, is to explain to the House what the Bill does.
§ Mr. Wigg
Would the right hon. Gentleman look at the proposal in the light of the fact that his Department is at the same time sending out circulars to local authorities urging them to use 99 civilians and not policemen as officials in the magistrates' courts because they want to establish that these courts are independent of the police? Does not this seem in some way ambidextrous, and does it not suggest that the right hon. Gentleman does not know what he is up to?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The House might make better progress if there were fewer interruptions. I cannot help knowing that a much greater number of hon. Members wish to take part in the debate than will be able to do so.
§ Mr. Brooke
I should like to refer to a small point arising out of Clause 3, which deals with the constitution of combined police authorities. I know that there are certain aspects of the arrangements for administering a combined force about which the local authority associations—the Association of Municipal Corporations and the County Councils'Association—feel concerned. I am very ready to consider these further in the light of discussion and debate to see whether or not we can improve the arrangements set out in the Bill.
Clause 7 effects a change in the county boroughs, by transferring responsibility for appointments and promotions of subordinate ranks from the watch committee to the chief constable. That is already the casein the counties, where it has been working perfectly well. This change follows the recommendation of the Desborough Committee of 1919 and the Oaksey Committee of 1949, as well as the Royal Commission of 1962.
Clause 8 gives effect to another recommendation of the Royal Commission, that a county police authority should be financially dependent on its parent county council. This change assimilates the position the other way round—that in the counties to what is already the case in the county boroughs.
Part II of the Bill deals with the functions of the Home Secretary, and the provision of central police services. These are the important provisions I have dealt with already.
100 Part III of the Bill preserves the police federations as the representative associations for ranks in the police service below superintendent, and it gives statutory recognition to what has hitherto been a non-statutory body, the Police Council for Great Britain, as the negotiating body for the service.
Clause 44 lays down the subjects with which the Police Council will deal. With the exception of pensions, these are all subjects which, in the event of disagreement between the two sides of the Council, may be referred to arbitration. It is my intention that the arbitration machinery will continue to work as at present.
Clause 45 authorises the establishment of police advisory boards for England and Wales and for Scotland. These will replace the statutory police councils originally set up under the Police Act 1919. The advisory boards will contain representatives of the central departments, the police authorities and all ranks of the police service.
My right hon. Friend and I want to see them as effective and vigorous bodies, fully competent to offer advice on all matters of concern to the future development of the police service, other than those dealt with in the negotiating body. We both attach very great importance to these successors to the old statutory Police Councils.
Part IV of the Bill contains the provisions relating to complaints against the police, which I have already described.
Clauses 50 to 52 substantially re-enact existing provisions dealing with offences against the police, but increase some of the maximum penalties. The present maximum fines date mostly from the nineteenth century and are out of date.
Let me try to sum up by describing the effect of the main proposals in the Bill on those primarily concerned— Parliament, the police and the public. By enlarging the functions of the Home Secretary it clearly proposes an important constitutional change in the position of the provincial police. I do not think that this change will be irksome to the police; I believe that it will be welcome to the House, and. in any case, I am sure that it is right in 101 principle that the police throughout the country should be required to acknowledge the interest of Parliament. They have nothing to fear from the change.
On the contrary, an occasional debate on police affairs in this House surely ought to be in the interests of good relations between the police and the public, if only by reminding people who are apt to distrust the police that they are servants of the community who are accountable ultimately to its elected representatives at Westminster. By these means, and with the new arrangements for dealing with complaints against the police, I want the Bill to help to promote that mutual confidence between the police and the public upon which so much of the success of police operations depends.
I have made it my business to get about among the police, not only in London, since I have been Home Secretary, and from my contacts with the police service I have absolutely no doubt that the police are very conscious of their obligations to the public. They condemn the few black sheep, but they do not feel they need apologise for the work or the efficiency of the service as a whole. Indeed, I am sure that the whole House will give it the warmest praise, particularly in these days of increasing crime and, therefore, increasing pressure and sometimes increasing danger for the individual police officer, whether detective or uniformed.
The police unquestionably realise, as I do, that they must have the full confidence and support of the public if they are to succeed in their task of keeping the Queen's peace. The ultimate support of law and order is bound to be the determination of the community to maintain it; and unless the police, as the main instrument of public order, have the backing of the community, they cannot succeed. So there is a mutual interest in police and public to establish and sustain a relationship of reciprocal confidence and respect.
I hope that that mutual interest will be furthered by the provisions of the Bill, and by the considerable administrative action I have already taken in advance of the Bill. I hope that this confidence will be further strengthened as the pattern of police service of the 102 future begins to emerge: a service technically efficient, properly organised, well equipped, adequately paid and fully up to strength to meet the variety of problems which confront it today.
The Bill modernises the law. It strips away those remnants of a nineteenth century police system which impede progress in modern days. It preserves those features, notably the role of the local police authority, which are of proved value. It opens the way for the adaptation of the system, under firm central guidance, to meet the requirements of the second half of the twentieth century. I present it to the House as a businesslike, balanced, fearless, forward-looking Bill.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)
I am sure that, whatever views are held by hon. Members of the merits or demerits of the Bill, everybody will agree on one thing, namely, that the Bill is clear and intelligible. Anybody reading it is able to understand it without the need to be surrounded by dozens of previous Acts. This is because, as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, nearly all our past police legislation will be repealed by the Bill and there will be afresh start.
There is only one exception to that and it is the position of Scotland. I must put in a word on behalf of my Scottish hon. Friends and probably for Scottish hon. Members opposite. Scotland had a consolidation Police Act in 1956. To the surprise of the Scots, that Act is being changed in some ways by parts of the Bill. That seems to us to be a most unsatisfactory way to deal with Scottish police law.
I remember that when we were dealing with the Children and Young Persons Act, not so long ago, between the Second Reading and Committee stages, it was quite casually announced that the main provisions of the Bill were to apply to Scotland. I would be happy if even at this late hour some means could be found whereby this amendment of the Scottish law could be properly considered in the Scottish Grand Committee.
Because this is a completely fresh start, it is the pattern of police structure for the future. Because of that, 103 great care must be taken to see that it is the right structure for the future. While the Opposition do not propose to divide against the Second Reading, because the Bill contains many things for which we have pressed, we must subject it to the utmost detailed scrutiny. There are some things which we would like to be changed, but even when we agree in principle, we feel that the Bill must be examined very carefully.
It is worth remembering that the Bill is the direct result of a Question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger), about four years ago. He was able to ask the Question at that time because the incident took place in the Metropolitan area. His Question received a good deal of publicity. After that, we forced a debate on a Motion of censure. The debate led to the Royal Commission and the Royal Commission has led to the Bill. Let us not forget that if that incident had happened outside the Metropolitan area, indeed, if it had happened in my hon. Friend's own constituency, he could not have raised the matter in the House and there would have been no Question, no debate, no Royal Commission, and probably no Bill.
The debate today is being held against a background, on the one hand, of a disturbing incident relating to the police and, on the other, of organised armed banditry of a kind which we have never before experienced in this country. Police incidents have been a great shock to many who thought that such things could never happen in this country, but, like the right hon. Gentleman, I believe that it would be a mistake to turn this debate into an inquest on some of the happenings of the last few months, although they might have to be mentioned to illustrate the need for changes in procedure.
I know that it is natural for some people to ask how many other malpractices there are that never see the light of day, but I hope and believe that these incidents that we have seen over the past few months are the exception rather than the rule and are condemned by the overwhelming majority of policemen just as much as they are condemned by the public, and that we must see that 104 all possible action is taken so that there can be no repetition of them.
However shocked we are, it must not lead us to overlook the fact that a policeman's life is arduous and dangerous. Every week 30 policemen are laid off duty because they have been kicked, or punched, or hit with stiletto heels or iron bars, or shot, or knifed, and during the last few months we have had the case of a policeman who was blinded.
Police morale is low. This is not because of physical attacks by criminals and hooligans, but because the police believe that, somehow, they have lost the confidence of the public. This is bad for police morale. It is also bad for recruitment to the force. I am told that although 1,400 people entered the police force in London last year, 400 left. This is a wastage which we cannot afford. The most urgent need is for public confidence in the police force to be restored, but it is equally important for the confidence of the police in themselves to be restored and for their morale to be raised.
In the main, they are an excellent body of men and women. I hope that the House will notice that I have referred to men and women. We talk a great deal about policemen, but we sometimes forget the efficient, capable and courageous policewomen in the force. I have looked at both the interim and main Reports of the Royal Commission. I found only one reference in them to policewomen, and that was in the interim Report and not in the main one.
It says, in paragraph 190:It has not been suggested to us that there should be any alteration in the present practice of fixing the woman police constable's rate of pay at 90 per cent, of the rate for men. This appears to be satisfactory, and we accordingly recommend that it should be continued.That is the only reference to this grand body of women, although they have the same powers as the men, they undertake nearly all the same duties as the men, and, in fact, undertake some of the duties not undertaken by men.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
Is it not also the case that they take part in many extremely brave actions? For instance, there was a policewoman who deliberately allowed herself to be used as a decoy to trap a sex maniac.
§ Miss Bacon
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I referred to policewomen as being courageous as well as efficient.
The only way to combat crime is to get the police and the public to act together. There must be mutual confidence. At the weekend I read of the case where 150 people stood by while a policeman grappled with a desperate criminal. It is not just that petty crime is increasing. The fact is that to-day crime is organised on a grand scale, and I always feel a sense of shock when I see a heavily protected security van in which there are uniformed private guards. This is something quite new in Britain.
In the same street it is possible to see a policeman with a notebook, a pencil, and a watch taking car numbers and returning in half an hour to put a ticket on a car if it has been there too long. It is not the fault of the policeman that a highly and expensively trained, reasonably well-paid man should be doing such a job. It is not only a waste of the policeman's time, but one of the things which exacerbate the feelings of the law-abiding public against the police.
I would not support the idea which has been put forward in some quarters, and was discussed by the Royal Commission, that all traffic offences should be separated from others, with separate courts for dealing with them, and so on. After all, some traffic offences are killers and are as serious as armed robbery, but I believe that simple parking offences should be dealt with by traffic wardens. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use his influence to see that traffic wardens are appointed as quickly as possible in all areas, because at the moment we do not have them throughout the country.
The Bill deals with the organisation of the police and the powers and functions of the various people concerned in the administration of the police, the Home Secretary, the police authorities, the chief constables and the police, but it can only be a framework. It cannot in itself solve some of the human problems of confidence and morale though it can go a long way to help in these things.
We welcome many of the provisions in the Bill. We welcome the fact that 106 at last the functions and powers of the various authorities and people concerned are clearly defined. We welcome the fact that there is to be greater public accountability, which we hope will be real public accountability and not just paper accountability. We welcome the greater co-operation between groups of forces for specific purposes. We welcome the fact that a person will be able to sue a chief constable for any acts committed by the police under his command, and we also welcome the fact that the Director of Public Prosecutions will decide whether or not to prosecute in particular cases.
There ate some things which we do not like. The first is that magistrates should be members of all police authorities. Secondly, I do not think that the Bill contains the right organisation and procedure for dealing with complaints by the public. I shall deal with a few of these things in greater detail.
As the Home Secretary said this afternoon, he is made responsible for the efficiency of the police, and chief constables must submit to him annual reports and any other reports when he asks for them. This means, as the right hon. Gentleman explained, that at long last Members from the provinces will be able to raise on the Floor of the House matters affecting the police force in their areas. Our constituents never quite believe us when we tell them that we cannot raise in the House of Commons anything affecting police administration.
I want to get the position clear. Does this proposal mean that Members will be able to ask Questions on detailed matters as well as on matters of general policy? We do not want to be fobbed off by being told that the Question raised is a matter of detailed administration and not one of general policy for the Home Secretary, because in police matters it is the specific case which can raise important issues of liberty. After all, some of the things that we have seen recently at Sheffield might have been considered specific matters rather than matters of general policy.
We must not exaggerate the power of Questions in the House of Commons, because, when all is said and done, we ask Questions on many things of many 107 Ministers and they do not always make the Minister concerned, or the Ministry, completely efficient, but Questions in the House are a powerful public check.
There is another aspect to this matter. I have talked to chief constables, and they say that they very much welcome this proposal. Frequently, things are made public about various incidents, and the chief constable and the police concerned would welcome somebody in authority making quite clear just what has happened. I hope that we shall get the information for which we ask both on specific and general matters.
Hon. Members must have the details. I have a letter from the right hon. Gentleman which he sent me on the 28th August, and I think that it illustates the point I am making. I do not want to go over the whole of the Ward case, but I give one quotation. When the House rose for the Summer Recess, everyone will remember that allegations were being made that some of the girl witnesses at the Ward trial committed perjury because, it was alleged, they had been persuaded to do so by actions of the police. Some of the girl witnesses made public statements and statements to the Press to that effect.
I was asked my opinion about this, and I said that I thought that it was in the interest of everybody concerned that we should know the truth. If the police had not done this, it was essential that the good name of the police should be cleared. So I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman. Incidentally, on this matter I have had more letters than ever before on one particular issue.
Eventually, I had a reply from the right hon. Gentleman, which stated:On the information at present before me, I have no reason to think that there is any substance whatever in allegations that the police brought undue pressure to bear on witnesses in the Ward case, or that there is a need for any further inquiry than the Commissioner, whom I have already consulted, has already made.I do not know what is the result of the Commissioner's investigation—nobody knows. It may be that the police were maligned, and, if so, I think that the result of this investigation ought to be given. I stress again that I hope that when hon. Members can raise matters 108 concerning the police in the provinces, as well as in the Metropolitan area, we shall be given the fullest possible information, apart, of course, from questions of security and matters of that kind.
There are other powers which the Home Secretary is to take. He can require a local authority to retire a chief constable and he can order local inquiries. He said this afternoon that he would be prepared to listen to the local authorities' representations about the form of some amalgamations. I understand that on one specific point the County Councils' Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations are in agreement, and I am sure that he would do well to grant the point which they are asking. It is that when an amalgamation takes place, instead of having a joint board, the authority shall be the council of the biggest authority which is being amalgamated. They are asking for this, so they say, in order to retain public accountability to the local authority, but it may be that this is something which we can discuss in Committee.
I regard Clause 12 as of more importance than the right hon. Gentleman's powers in connection with amalgamations. It makes it possible to have agreements for joint action for specific purposes. This applies to regional crime squads and traffic squads because, as the right hon. Gentleman said, crime takes no account of city boundaries. I believe, therefore, that Clause 12, which makes provision for this joint action by various police forces, is of as much importance as amalgamations.
I come to the subject of police authorities. The Royal Commission discussed at great length whether we should have a national or local police forces. While there are powerful arguments both ways, I do not think that we shall be arguing this very much on Second Reading. I believe that the partnership between the central and the local authority is about right, with police authorities of the county councils or county boroughs, or amalgamations.
Some of my hon. Friends were questioning the right hon. Gentleman about the position of the watch committee vis-á-vis the chief constable. I should like to put another question to 109 him respecting the right of members of local authorities who are not members of the police authority. For instance, will a member of a council be able to question a chairman of a watch committee or a police authority in a full meeting of the council? The Royal Commission recommended that this should be possible. In some places this is the practice, in others it is not. There is nothing specific about this in the Bill. Does the fact that the police authority is a committee of the council mean that a member of the council will have the right to question a chairman of the watch committee, or the police committee, in a county council area, about matters relating to the police?
Then there is the composition of the police authority. This is where we disagree very much with what is contained in the Bill. In the cities the watch committees hitherto have been all members of the council, but in the counties they have been half magistrates and half elected representatives. Now it is suggested that in all police authorities two-thirds should be elected members of the council and one-third magistrates. I believe that we have to be consistent. I do not think that it would be right to have one kind of structure for the counties, as we have had in the past, and one kind of structure for the boroughs. I believe that in this matter it would have been better to have brought the counties into line with the cities rather than the other way round.
I know that there are old laws by which the police were subordinated to the magistrates, and that it can be argued that the magistrates see the policeman at work. Over and above this, there is the overriding argument that the administrative functions of the police should be kept entirely separate from judicial functions, and justice, I believe, would be better served if magistrates confined themselves to courts rather than took part in the administration of the police. I hope that we shall be able to persuade the right hon. Gentleman in Committee that it would be right to make such an amendment to the Bill.
Then there are the powers of the police authorities. The right hon. Gentleman outlined these powers whereby watch committees are to lose the power of appointment, promotion and discipline of 110 the police. I understand the feeling of some of my friends on watch committees and of my friends on the Leeds Watch Committee. But we have to realise one or two things. First, up to now these powers of appointment, promotion and discipline have been exercised only by the watch committees which administer only 30 per cent, of the police in the country. The other 70 per cent, of the police have been under the control of the county councils, or Scotland, or the Metropolitan area, where promotion, appointment or discipline is already in the hands of the senior police officer.
I believe that the decision to bring the 30 per cent, of the police, administered by the watch committees, into line with the 70 per cent., is right. It has been said by the A.M.C. that this will lead to a police State and that the chief constable will be a law unto himself. I shall be talking about chief constables, but one thing which the Royal Commission brought out is that, by and large, up till now, the chief constable has been a law unto himself.
This is a very difficult matter to deal with, but I have been greatly influenced by the views of the Police Federation, which, after all, is the policeman's trade union. That body is emphatically in favour of the proposed change, and its members have had experience of being subject to the powers of watch committees in the boroughs and chief constables in the county councils. We have probably all received copies of the memorandum submitted by the Federation, in which it says that its members support the proposals for standardising appointments, promotion and discipline, as stated in Clauses 7 and 32.
I want to say a word about the chief constable. His status has always been difficult to define, and it will still be difficult under the terms of the Bill. Many pages in the Report of the Royal Commission are devoted to the chief constable's powers and status. Experts have given contradictory opinions. The one thing that is clear from reading the Report is that hitherto the position has been far from clear. But now the chief constable will have some accountability both to the local authority and to the Home Secretary.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in believing that this will work 111 harmoniously. A watch committee or standing joint committee will be able to make suggestions to the chief constable, and if he does not put those suggestions into operation the committee will presumably be able to ask why. I have no reason to believe that there will not be as much co-operation in the future as there has been in the past.
I should like to know on what basis a chief constable will be able to refuse reports to police authorities. I know that in the last resort a police authority can go direct to the Home Secretary, but a little more definition is needed in this matter. It is vital that police authorities should not be able to be fobbed off by a chief constable who says that it is not in the public interest, or in the interests of anybody in particular, that a report should be provided.
The legal status of a chief constable is one thing; the position that he occupies in our society in unique. He is one of those persons who, for obvious reasons, must be subject to limitations in his social life. It is most important that we should have chief constables of the right calibre and character, and I believe that the overwhelming proportion are in this class. But there must be obvious limitations to a chief constable's social life. It is undesirable, for instance, that he should be a freemason. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Some hon. Members opposite seem to be a little startled about that, but I take the view that certain people must be very careful in respect of the organisations to which they belong.
I now come to the difficult question of complaints against the police. Recently, there have been some serious incidents. They have been few in number, but they have been gravely disturbing. In many respects the Bill will improve the present position. Each of these complaints will have to be immediately recorded, and there must be immediate investigation. In answer to a question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), we were told that the person who complains can be present. Like my hon. Friend, I hope that he can not only be present, but can be represented.
112 An advance on the present position is also represented in the provision that unless a chief constable is satisfied that no criminal offence has been committed the report shall be sent direct to the Director of Public Prosecutions. But I do not like the idea of bringing in somebody from another force to investigate. In my view, that is worse than the present position. Under certain circumstances a senior police officer will probably deal more leniently with men from another force than he would with men from his own force. Under the Bill a complaint can be made about one policeman, reported to another policeman, and investigated by a third policeman.
The Royal Commission thought that this was right, and I know that it had its reasons for saying so. The Home Secretary thinks that it is right, and the police agree. But the important thing is that the public should have confidence in the procedure, no matter what that procedure may be. I can appreciate the point of view of the police in this matter. They do not wish to be subject to two disciplinary hearings, one by the police and another by an outside body. Nevertheless, in Committee we must carefully consider the various alternatives to the proposal contained in the Bill. It might be that we can have a commissioner, or a tribunal, or machinery of some kind to provide that at these disciplinary hearings somebody other than merely members of the police should be present.
But it is not only the kind of machinery that we must get right; we must see that the powers given to a body are also right. In Committee, I think that between us we can evolve a system which will be acceptable both to the police and to the public.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of arbitration. It would have been better if there had been written into the Bill a right of arbitration for the police. I hope that we can put that right in Committee.
One question which is not dealt with in the Bill, and which probably could not be, because it has been precluded from the terms of reference to the Royal Commission, is the whole matter of the questioning of suspects in police stations, under what are known as the Judges' Rules. It was decided at the 113 beginning of the Royal Commission's proceedings that this subject was outside its terms of reference, but it was also said, in March, 1961, that the Lord Chief Justice had agreed that Her Majesty's judges should review the scope and operation of the Judges' Rules.
§ Mr. Hale
If the Royal Commission said that this was outside its terms of reference—and I do not think that it did—it certainly said something that was not true. What happened was that we were told that the judges had made the Judges' Rules and we were were not to interfere. The job was taken from us. It may have been mentioned tactfully in the Report, although I do not think that it was, but we were virtually told to "keep off the grass", and the most interesting of our duties was thereby taken away from us.
§ Miss Bacon
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) knows a good deal about this, because he was a member of the Royal Commission. Nevertheless, the matter is not dealt with in the Report, whether it was because the matter was outside its terms of reference or because the Royal Commission was told to "keep off the grass", as my hon. Friend has suggested.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (Billericay)
Is it not a fact that the Lord Chief Justice and a number of judges of the High Court are at present making up their minds—
§ Mr. Gardner
—have made up their minds about the Judges'Rules that govern the questioning of prisoners when they are taken in by the police?
§ Miss Bacon
This was said in 1961. Although it may be that they have made up their minds, we have not yet been told the results of their deliberations.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner) is right, and that the judges have been considering the matter and have made up their minds. None of 114 us has any source of information to indicate that. Are we to take it on the hon. and learned Member's ipse dixit?
§ Mr. MacDermot
May I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) whether it is not the fact, as is widely believed, that Her Majesty's judges reframed the Judges' Rules a long time ago, but that it is generally felt that something more is needed than merely those rules, which affect only what is evidence in court? What is needed is a proper code, defining what the police should and should not be allowed to do when persons are held in custody, which is quite a different matter. Is it not correct that it is this that is holding up the publication of the new Judges' Rules, and that it should be dealt with in the Bill?
§ Miss Bacon
Even though the judges may have made up their minds about this, we do not know about it. The problem of what can be asked by the police of a person taken in for questioning is extremely important. There is nothing about it in the Bill. If we can put it into the Bill, well and good; I should be in favour of doing so. It is a very important problem.
Recently, Lord Shawcross made some remarks about this very subject. At present, there is a great deal of undetected crime. There are some people who feel that all we have to do to make it possible for the police to catch more criminals is to increase the penalties. They ask for stiffer penalties, for birching, for flogging, and so on. The figures show that only one thing is relevant here—that is, the detection rate. When the detection rate is high, the crime rate is low. When the detection rate is low, the crime rate is high.
The point I was trying to make, before I had those interruptions, was that the important thing is that we should get the police force so well organised, doing a really worth-while job, that it will achieve the highest possible detection rate. I am convinced that that, and that alone, will lead to a decrease in crime.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, the Bill is merely the framework. It must be backed by great administrative efforts. We must have more police, with modern methods and 115 equipment, concentrating on essentials. The police must preserve law and order and solve crime, and, at the same time, uphold and preserve the liberty of the individual. There must be a recognition that the police and the public are not on opposite sides. The policeman is a civilian in uniform, doing a job of work on behalf of the public. The Bill defines the parts to be played by the Home Secretary and Parliament, by the local authorities, and by the police. It cannot define the part to be played by the public, but I believe that it is the public who will, in the long run, determine the kind of police force that this country has.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
Though I disagreed with a good deal of what the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) said about police authorities and will deal with that later in my speech, I should like to join her in the tribute she paid to the police. She described our police as an excellent body of men and women. She praised their bravery. I was particularly glad that at the end of her speech she also referred to the duty of the public to help the police. This is a common law duty which is very often overlooked. There was never a time when the police and the public needed each other's help as much as they do today. I was also glad that the hon. Lady referred to the possibility of greater use of traffic wardens to relieve the police of some of the minor duties relating to motoring offences.
I should like warmly to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the Bill. It is remarkably comprehensive, it is clearly drafted, it is sound in substance, and it is much needed. It is the culmination of the greatest spell of legislative innovation in the long history of the Home Office, a spell which has lasted over seven Sessions. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be the first to acknowledge the debt we owe to his predecessor for preparing the way for the Bill by getting the Royal Commission appointed by Her Majesty. Incidentally, I must correct the hon. Lady on one point. It was not merely because of efforts by the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) that the Royal Commission was 116 appointed. A Royal Commission was much needed so that we should get good advice about the place the police should occupy in our modern democracy.
My right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary also got the Interim Report of the Royal Commission implemented and established the Police College at Bramshill. Those were two steps from which further progress is now possible. For a long time I have thought it surprising that Sir Robert Peel's somewhat experimental legislation which provides the constitutional basis of local police forces should have lasted for well over a century, and we should be thankful that their position in our democracy is now to be clarified and modernised, as the Bill attempts to do.
This is the most important Police Bill ever to come before Parliament. In considering it there will obviously be controversy about three matters of principle—first, the status of police officers themselves, whether chief constables or other constables; secondly, the composition and function of police authorities; and, thirdly, the question of accountability for the acts, neglects or failures of the police. These three matters have a bearing on each other, in the sense that the decision we make on any one of them affects our decision on the other two.
First and foremost, I suggest that we should remember that every police officer is in his own right an officer of the law. We divide our Constitution between the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary. They can be put in any order of importance that one likes. Obviously we would put the Legislature first. We divide authority and power between those three bodies. But the police are not within any of those bodies. In a sense they are, being servants of the law, servants of the Legislature, and, to some extent, of the Judiciary. Some countries, indeed, have what they call the judicial police, who have a duty to assist the court in the investigation of cases. We should bear in mind that among the functions of the police in this country are some of the functions of the judicial police, as they are known elsewhere.
Surely above all else we should remember, because it is the key to the 117 whole of our discussions on the Bill, that the policeman is not an officer or an employee either of any local authority or of the central Government. Paragraph 97 of the Royal Commission's Report says this:We received no evidence favouring the conversion of chief constables into local authority servants, nor do we regard this as a desirable course. It would not, in our view, make for the preservation of the impartiality of the police in enforcing the law.The Royal Commission therefore rejected that alternative.
However, there are some who take the opposite view—I thought that the hon. Lady came very close to this—and argue that in a democracy the police should be subject to control by democratically elected local councillors. But this would increasingly mean the direct influence of party politicians upon the work of the police. In my opinion, that would be wrong. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is so already."] I think that under the present law relating to borough forces there has been a great deal of misunderstanding of the function of watch committees. Sometimes their members have tended to regard themselves as people who have a sort of power over the detailed operations of the police. Others have regarded the police as officers of the local authority. The watch committee is a committee of the local authority, but it derives its position as a police authority from the inherent position of its members. It does not exercise a function delegated to it by the local authority.
§ Miss Bacon
Has the right hon. and learned Member read paragraph 165 of the Royal Commission's Report, which stated:We are attracted by a suggestion of the Association of Municipal Corporations that the right should be recognised of a member of a council to ask questions of the chairman of a police authority, on the understanding that he would be under no obligation to reply if to do so would be contrary to law or the public interest. this is already the practice in some places, and it entirely accords with our view that local problems of law and order should be the concern of local people.
§ Mr. Renton
I am familiar with that paragraph. The hon. Lady referred to it in substance in her speech when she put the question to my right hon. Friend as to whether members of a local authority, apart from members of a 118 watch committee, should have the opportunity to enter into police matters. I disagree with the views expressed in that paragraph and I wish to make that abundantly plain. I hope that the hon. Lady will now listen to the remainder of my remarks and in them she may see why I take this view.
It is significant that in most cases in recent years where the police have failed or where a police authority has been in trouble it has happened in those boroughs which have their own police forces. The hon. Lady said that that accounted for about 30 per cent, of the strength of the police forces in this country. The trouble has happened in the boroughs while it has not happened in the counties. I was, therefore, rather uneasy about the Royal Commission's recommendation that all police authorities should consist of local councillors to the extent of two-thirds with only one-third being magistrates.
The Bill follows the recommendation of the Royal Commission on this two-third-one-third composition, and as my right hon. Friend knows—since I have mentioned this to him previously—it is the only doubt I have about the Bill. I realise that others, like the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East, believe that the mere presence of magistrates on a police authority identifies them too closely with the police. I do not share that view because I have never found evidence to support it.
Well, there are two conflicting opinions to be resolved between us, as I have shown. Some say that the police should not be under the direct influence of politicians—and I agree with that—white others say that the impartiality of magistrates should not be impaired by service on police authorities. If we are to decide this matter in the light of experience, we find the standing joint committees, with their fifty-fifty balance of half magistrates and half democratically elected councillors, have worked well.
I do not know of any evidence to suggest that those county magistrates who have served on standing joint committees in the past have failed in impartiality when in court. In the light of experience and bearing in mind some notorious cases about which we know, the present composition and powers of 119 watch committees cannot be thought to have worked as well as they should have done. Certainly watch committees have not worked as well as standing joint committees. It is a difficult question as to what should be the composition of these authorities, but we shall be able to explore this question more fully in Standing Committee.
Whichever way we decide, we must accept as a simple truth that detailed control of the day-to-day decisions and activities of the police by anybody else is out of the question. Such control would sometimes be wrong, because the decision to be taken often concerns the question of whether or not to prosecute, and no one else can take that decision for the police. There is a safeguard in our constitution which I have always regarded, I hope without exaggeration, as one of the fundamental liberties of an Englishman; that he has the right to prosecute even if the police refuse to do so. The sort of detailed control I have mentioned will nearly always be impossible, mainly because only the police are trained to be policemen.
We must also consider the time factor involved: the police must generally act quickly. However, after an event has occurred—and here I agree to some extent with the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East—and once it comes to a question of accountability, I would have thought that specific matters could be the subject of an inquiry and, sometimes of Questions in the House.
Once one accepts that one cannot control the day-to-day activities of the police and that, therefore, the police must be masters of their affairs, we come to the question of safeguards. Bearing in mind the extreme importance and independence of the police in our constitution, we must aim progressively at improving the educational standards of those entering police forces. There is nothing in the Bill about this, and I will not weary the House with remarks I made when we discussed the Royal Commission's Report. However, I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the importance of this factor.
§ Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Lady wood)
The right hon. and learned 120 Gentleman has spoken of the control of the day-to-day activities of the police. In Birmingham, for example, there has been the utmost co-operation between the police and the public authority. Members of both political parties have been unanimous in saying that they have been able to ask the chief constable from time to time to carry out improvements or to make changes when there has been an outbreak of vice in one area or traffic difficulties in another. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman believe that it is wrong for watch committees to continue to make such suggestions?
§ Mr. Renton
It is right for watch committees to advise and inform chief constables about certain things and to make whatever suggestions they like. It is utterly wrong, however, that a chief constable should have to take orders from a watch committee on policing matters. That sums up my view on this question.
As I was saying, once we accept the position of police officers which I have mentioned, it is important to see that the safeguards against failure or abuse by the police are adequate. On this question of accountability, I am sure that the Bill is about right. The duty of chief constables to make reports when required, either to the police authority or the Home Secretary, means that there will be accountability without interference. I am glad that my right hon. Friend did not take the power of direction as suggested by the Royal Commission.
There is also the power to hold an independent local inquiry which, despite what the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East said, is a wide and valuable power. It includes power to summon witnesses and examine them on oath, and I would have thought that that was almost as good as having an ombudsman, and less trouble. It is also right that a police authority should have the power to retire a chief constable, with the approval of the Secretary of State, and also that the Home Secretary should be able to take the initiative on this matter. From the point of view of achieving efficiency, it is important to note what Clause 37(3) states about inspectors:The inspectors of constabulary shall carry out such other duties for the purpose of furthering police efficiency as the Secretary of State may from time to time direct.121 It seems strange that in all these years since the police forces were established the inspectors of constabulary have merely had the power to report to the Home Secretary, although no doubt unofficially behind the scenes they help and advise chief constables. But here they have a statutory power given for them to use as they should for ensuring that policing is well done and that is an addition to the other safeguards.
The opportunities of this House will be greatly enlarged by the new powers, especially of my right hon. Friend. He will have responsibility to the House on many occasions, but I think one should remember and stress that it is a responsibility to answer, to explain, to excuse and even, I would have thought, if necessary, to condemn the police. But he will still be without power to control or direct day to day decisions or activities.
In considering the adequacy of all these safeguards we must not ignore those which already exist apart from the Bill. I have already mentioned one, the right to prosecute when the police refuse to do so. There is also the right to bring proceedings against a member of the police force in the ordinary courts, and that right, I am glad to see, is strengthened by Clause 47 of the Bill which makes the chief constable responsible for his officers' torts and enables damages and costs to be paid out of police funds.
I realise, however, that there has been doubt in the minds of a few members of the public about the Police Discipline Code. It is bound to raise doubts when proceedings are taken by the police against the police with the police acting as judges. But having myself had to consider many of those cases when they were on the way to the previous Home Secretary on appeal, I would say that some chief constables were, if anything, rather tough on their officers and sometimes even a bit rough in their procedure. I realise, however, that from the public's point of view the fact of the procedure itself being internal to the police forces does not always give the impression of justice.
I therefore welcome Clause 48 which provides that complaints can be investigated by an officer of another force, and I was very surprised that the hon. Lady 122 showed doubts about that. It must be a tremendous advance on the present position, because the. hon. Lady must realise surely that if an officer of another force is hearing the case, the case is being heard by someone who has no responsibility at all for the failure on the part of the policeman who is being tried and that is a very big improvement on the present situation.
All these things, including the greater opportunities for hon. Members to question the Home Secretary, add up to a formidable mass of safeguards against failure or abuse on the part of the police. Fortunately, the occasions when the safeguards have to be used are pretty rare. The bad cases get a lot of publicity, and rightly so. But the bad cases are infrequent because we still have the finest police in the world. I believe that the Bill will be welcomed by the police and will increase public confidence in them, and I wish my right hon. Friend well with it.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I have no doubt that the National Association for the Protection of Tollgate Keepers advanced on behalf of its members the argument that they kept undesirable people off the roads at night, that they limited the activities of highwaymen and had, perhaps, impeded Dick Turpin, or rather Swift Nick, on his famous ride to York.
I came into this matter by chance on a night I spent at the Peacock and Royal Hotel at Boston before the war. It was an unpremeditated visit and early next morning, a chambermaid came to me and said that a policeman was viewing my car with some hostility and was demanding my presence. I hurried down and was told by the policeman that one did not park in the street. I pleaded ignorance, and, while tying up my dressing gown, gave the officer the necessary particulars. I was told that if I popped in to see the Chief Constable of Boston all might be well. The chief constable's clerk rang up to say he had received the complaint and would I pop in and see the chief constable. I did. He said, "Is this a sinner come to repentance?" And I said, "I have erred and strayed like a lost sheep." He said, "Go thou and sin no more." And I went on my way rejoicing. It had a little of the 123 flavour of Fonteroy. I could see myself in plumed hat and flounced sleeves inviting the French Guard to fire first. The world has altered since then, and perhaps we have to take different views of tollgate keepers and police forces in view of the criminal activities with which we have to deal at the present time.
Let me for a moment give an example of our experience on the Royal Commission. We went down to visit the County of Kent, and Kent had six borough forces at one time, all of them with their own individuality and patriotism and all of them prepared to repel the claims of Napoleon. They lay between the Cinque Ports and the Barrtmore Brothers—I cannot give all the names—Gravesend, Maidstone and so on. But the war came and Kent became an extremely important area. It became the area where there might conceivably be an invasion and where immigrants were landing. Almost overnight these six police forces disappeared. Six chief constables disappeared and became deputy chief constables. Superintendents became deputy superintendents, but their salaries were preserved. It was an exceedingly important force. When the chief constables were asked, "Did it hurt your pride to become deputy chiefs?" they said, "No, we are doing a better and wider job. We are able to have a chief in North and South Kent. We are able in face of crime in Margate to have 50 miles to catch criminals before they disappear into the Metropolis, and we are able to organise our detective force and have our own educational and training services. We are a more efficient, happy and adaptable force now."
We said, "What about the local councils?" and they said, "It is a strange thing, but as far as we know no one has ever complained." No one has come dashing to the House to complain as they did on the Gregorian calendar "Give us back our thirty cops." The parish pump is there symbolically, but dry, and all complaints are done. That is why I am undismayed by a pamphlet of tendentious character issued by the A.M.C. which rarely strays into complete accuracy. As an example, in Clauses 24 and 26 they claim that the 124 borough force is better because the constables are cheaper, and in the next paragraph they claim that the borough force is better because there are more constables. Whoever tries to draw a balance sheet from those two statements finds it difficult to show on which side the balance lies.
I became a member of this Royal Commission having an open mind and perhaps an empty head on most of these subjects but having three preconceived biases. One was an antipathy to a national force, which was probably due to some Gladstonian geneticism, and another was a desire that Oldham should keep its own force, of which the borough is justly proud. It was in the agitation for its own police that Oldham achieved its incorporation over 100 years ago. The third was in favour of the Parliamentary Question.
The history of the Royal Commission is, perhaps, a little important. It was appointed in one of those gay, irresponsible but long premeditated afterthoughts for which the right hon. Gentleman, the then Home Secretary, was famous. We were to look into the whole of this question, and particularly into the Judges' Rules. This was the really effective topic of discussion, and it was very important because—it may be that my views on this are quite reactionary—I have some sympathy with those who say that the present Judges' Rules inhibit the police in securing the conviction of known criminals. I also have some sympathy with those who say that as the Judges' Rules are obeyed more in the breach than in the observance they do not have that effect quite so consistently. It promised to be an interesting discussion.
Then, in another gay moment, the right hon. Gentleman said we had to deal with pay, a matter of which we had no experience and for which no member had been specially selected. We found a state of things that reflected most severely on local government relations with the police force. The condition of the police was deplorably bad. They were almost unable to maintain people in the force, even those who had qualified for what most thought were the rather ridiculously early pensions for which the police were able to qualify. The police had shockingly bad pay but 125 premature pension rights, which cost the local authorities a great deal.
We examined this, and the most damaging evidence against local councils and borough councils was given by the Association of Municipal Corporations, which defended the position with some obstinacy. I will not say that it adapted the old trade unionist slogan by saying "Not a copper for the bobby and not a bob for the copper", but it did describe what would be the state of municipal corporations if we made a substantial increase to the police as something resembling the French Municipal Pawnships after Stavisky.
We thought it right to disregard that evidence, and made a unanimous recommendation for increases to secure longer service for a constable, graduated on a rather different basis. We gave £90 increase to a constable on joining the force, and an increase of £275 for a constable after 22 years' service. This was, perhaps, the largest rate of increase ever recommended by a tribunal to any substantial body of men. We sat back and waited for the howls of dismay. The proposals were virtually adopted at once without, as far as I recollect, any complaint by anybody. They were put into operation, and within twelve months the police got a further rise by the ordinary process of negotiation.
That was the history of that part of our labours. We spent twelve months on this arduous task, and achieved a rather surprising measure of unanimity. Perhaps I might now be allowed to say a personal word. It was a great privilege for me to serve with these very gifted and distinguished men. We worked in complete harmony together. There were differences on almost every subject, but they were differences of approach and differences of argument and, generally speaking, we found it possible to resolve them by argument.
As I have already indicated in an earlier and unpremeditated intervention in the very able speech of my hon. Friend, we were told that the Judges' Rules were out; that the judges had discussed the matter and had said that the Judges' Rules were made by judges—it is quite true that they made the last Judges' Rules, and made pretty well a hash of them—and insisted that it was part of their prerogative. We were asked 126 gracefully to give way, and we gave way as gracefully as we could—
§ Mr. Renton
And I thank the hon. Gentleman for so gracefully giving way to me. I have here the terms of reference of the Royal Commission—they appear at the beginning of its Report. There is nothing in those terms of reference to indicate that the Judges' Rules would be considered or, indeed, that police powers would be considered at all by the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. Hale
That is quite true, because the terms of reference were sufficiently wide to include virtually everything. But the whole thing finally culminated from a debate on an alleged assault by a policeman on two rather distinguished members of the bourgeoisie, in which the claims! of the bourgeoisie were advanced with considerable power, fervour and convincingness. No one seems to have heard the "copper's" story at all—I regret that we did not hear it. It arose largely out of that debate, and we had in mind that we would consider it. But, certainly, there was what might be called a détente—or it might be a démarche—on the part of the judiciary. We were invited to keep off the grass and, like loyal and dutiful subjects, we kept off the grass.
I want now to refer to the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Lady wood (Mr. V. Yates). Of course, what he says is true. If we have a sensible watch committee and if we have a sensible chief constable as we have in Oldham, it is not necessary to lay out the rules in detail. They work together sensibly, and the chief constable does not intervene, does not stand on his dignity, does not refuse sensible information, but realises that co-operation is the sensible way. I did not like the phrase used by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary about compulsory co-operation, but voluntary co-operation is, on the whole, the method.
That was the situation in Nottingham until a moment came when it ceased. I beg my hon. Friends to recall what happened there. Nottingham was not our pigeon—we obviously could not review individual decisions long past—but because of what gave rise to the situation in Nottingham, and its 127 result, we did, in private, hear evidence from both the former chief constable and the former town clerk. I shall not, of course, make any reference to what was said, or express any opinion on the matter, but will merely call attention to the facts, published at the time, which were canvassed in this House.
The relations between the Nottingham Corporation—a Labour Corporation—and the chief constable were so happy that when the chief constable applied for an extension of the time of his service so as to round off his pension rights, at a time when he was due to retire but could be granted an extra year's service, his request was granted most gracefully and happily. Then there came a moment when there was a political conflict about the building of police houses. The very able chief constable—
§ Mr. V. Yates
If the arrangements worked as well as my hon. Friend says they did, why change them and make it possible, as it seems to me the Bill does, for a chief constable to say to the watch committee, "That is not your business"?
§ Mr. Hale
This is the complete misunderstanding. The watch committee had no powers at all, and I will deal with that, but let us make it quite clear. The Association of Municipal Corporations does not seem ever to have taken the slightest interest in the matter. The watch committee had no powers.
The Nottingham Corporation turned down a proposal to build police houses, saying that it had a long waiting-list of tragic cases of people wanting houses. Shortly after that, the chief constable initiated an investigation into an allegation about two members of the corporation when journeying to purchase a planetarium—a wonderful idea. I am strongly in favour and remember campaigning with Sir Alan Herbert over planetaria in the days after the war. The allegation was that they had accepted a couple of cameras, and detectives came to Nottingham on the eve of a borough election.
They could not proceed with that, because there was no longer any proposal to build a planetarium, but the chief constable received an anonymous letter and, on the strength of it, commenced an 128 investigation into the question of payments made to members of the corporation. When that came to no result—and at that time the corporation was trying to dismiss the chief constable, and the Home Secretary was rather taking the view that it had no right to do so—further investigation resulted in the discovery that one councillor had received labour or goods at the public expense in the construction of his garage. There was either a prosecution or a resignation, but his guilt was not contested, and then the end of the chief constable's term arrived.
It is true, as my hon. Friend says, that we have to face it that nearly all the trouble was in connection with the corporations. I am always astounded when I raise any liberal issue in the House that I am opposed by the Liberals. What is wrong with the right to Parliamentary Questions? I do not want to say a discourteous word to the Home Secretary—not again anyhow. He made an admirable speech except for one aside. I hope that it is not discourteous if I say that I think of him as a sinner who has repented and if I refer to him as more valuable than the 99 righteous non-libertarians who remain.
What harm does it do to an education committee, which by the way co-opts educationists, if we ask Questions about education in the borough, or anybody else's borough for that matter, through the normal courtesies of the House? It is often the watch committee that wants one to ask Questions because of some difficulty that has arisen. Hon. Members should remember what happened in Brighton. The then hon. Member tried to raise the matter in the House. It was all sub judice during our operations, because the chief constable was maintaining what proved to be a successful action.
We went to one borough, a very important one, where we found that the former chief constable had been absent from duty almost continuously for years. Every time the pigeon-shooting season started on the Riviera he gave himself long sick leave and the corporation had never seen the report of the inspector of constabulary and nobody knew whether the corporation was entitled to see it. We said, "What about it?" Members of the corporation said, "We wanted it, but think what would happen if we reported the matter to the Home Office. 129 They would send him back." It's better to have him inactive than active.
This is the position. None of the borough corporations seem to know what powers they possess. My hon. Friend the Member for Lady wood says that there is no need to look at the rule book as long as everything works out all right. It is when the trouble comes that the rules are required.
It was a great privilege to serve upon the Commission. It was a very happy period of service, but at an early stage some of us began to feel that we were being taken for a ride. I recall briefly a famous story by O. Henry about the young lady who was living alone, exposed to the temptations of a great city, eating biscuits and drinking cold milk and watched by a picture of Lord Kitchener over the bed who with glass-eyes pointed an admonitory finger at her which seemed to point from every angle. I can only hope that she never heard what the modern detractors say about Lord Kitchener, but probably she would never have understood it if she had. There came the day when she turned the picture to the wall, and the rest is too distressing to relate. Coca-cola, hot dogs and, perhaps, even worse took the place of the cold milk and biscuits.
I became conscious of a picture looking down on me. It had a touch of Machiavelli, and a touch of the Mona Lisa as described by Walter Pater, the vampire, who died many times, who knew the secrets of the grave and had lived in deep seas. Underneath it there was the simple legend, "R.A.B.". I do not want to be unjust to the right hon. Gentleman, because I think that he has had a great injustice done to him already. Now he is "throned beyond mortal thought far in the unapparent". But while that picture looked down it struck me that we had better have a unanimous report. It struck others of us, too, and we tried very hard. In the end, after much deliberation, always friendly and always debated earnestly on every side and bringing together some very distinguished minds, we decided to go away and consider the final report and see whether we could reconcile the differences. One of the main differences, which is made deliberately clear in the Report, was that having dis- 130 carded the possibility of a national or regional police force, the arguments for it came back on so many heads. There was evidence in favour of a national detective force. There was the patchwork business of forming flying squads which could go into certain territories. There was the question of the completely irresponsible chief constables, the difficulty about discipline, and the impossibility of the man who had become victimised in a small force receiving a measure of justice. We had all these problems and, sometimes, a national force seemed to be the answer. We decided, at the invitation of the Master of Magdalene, to go far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife and try to reconcile these differences and produce a unanimous report.
It was almost impossible for 15 people to be able to take three or four consecutive days to devote together to this task. We canvassed the membership, and fourteen were able to meet. Unhappily, Dr. Goodhart was unable to be present. It was no fault of his. He had told us long before that he could not come because he was attending an international event of the greatest importance which he clearly could not cancel. When he said, as he had a perfect right to say, that he had decided to write a minority report, we had come to agreement and we could not then undo the compromises which we had reached. I say that in justice to some of our colleagues, some of whom might have agreed with what Dr. Goodhart wished to say about a regional force. On mature reflection, I do not withdraw what I have had to say on the compromise we reached or the recommendations we made.
We met not only chiefs of police in their dotage but several who were in their ripe anecdotage. I think that the House should know one of the stories. I do not vouch for it in any detail, because it may have ripened in my own mind. It was said of a small county borough with an excellent but small local force that there were in the borough three or four gentlemen of amicable appearance and wide local interest. They took an interest in local occupations, in the plumber with his oxyacetylene blowlamp, the glazier with his diamond cutter and the men with the fast cars. They bought tickets and 131 attended police dances and subscribed to local charities and were members of local clubs. But every now and again they disappeared to distant places, one of which was the borough where the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) recently discovered the Prime Minister on the sands and where it is said one can pick up almost anything. No competent safe breaker could there expect to fail to find his due reward.
Having completed "a job" they went out of that borough, and then they passed through the long distances of the County of Lancashire. Lancashire, of course, has a superb force. I say that not only from my own knowledge, but because Colonel Johnston told me so himself on the Big Dipper at Blackpool. They had to go a long way before they returned like homing pigeons to this small borough where nothing was known against them, where they were held in high esteem, and where they were accepted and well-regarded. After each departure and return, the plumber got a new oxyacetylene blow-pipe, there was even talk of some stained-glass windows.
These matters are worth considering in a state of affairs in which we send £2 million worth of banknotes by rail from London because we are afraid that the Post Office might misdirect the parcel destined for the cancellation machine in Glasgow, Edinburgh, or wherever it may be. We have to consider these matters not in the light of just the local facts. I know that Oldham Corporation is disturbed about them. Lancashire county is disturbed about Oldham's proposals for the extension of boundaries. Having had thrown at me the Association of Municipal Corporations' pamphlet in defence of Oldham, I shall shortly be receiving propaganda from the County Councils' Association in defence of that large proportion of my constituency now in the County of Lancaster.
We cannot consider these things purely in terms of local boundaries. If Oldham gets its extension, it will have a force which comes near the optimum figure, and it will survive. But let us not forget the real problem. Anyone who looks at the map of Lancashire can see that its boundaries are distorted, that 132 they involve breaks and huge areas and conurbations, on the one hand, while we still have to police large and small rural areas round about. Anyone who has tried seriously and impartially to consider how best these question can be answered must look in the direction of regional organisation, the direction, if one likes, of the proposals of the Royal Commission.
I think that I have nothing to add and nothing to detract from what was said. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds (Miss Bacon) about the magistracy, although I have never regarded that as a proposal of wide importance. I disagree, for instance, remembering what happened in Sheffield or Brighton, because it is the magistrates who see these things first. They know whether a policeman is a liar or not. They can know it very early, they may now get in touch with the chief constable. This is really not a case of the judicature interfering with the police. It is a method of preventing it. If magistrates approach the chief constable direct, we produce a situation which leads to the effect which is disliked, but if the magistrates play their part in conveying information, as members of the local watch committee, to the elected councils, they can contribute something worth while.
I do not suggest that I had particular influence on the Commission, but I am not sure that I was not, in part, responsible for the proposal about using a police officer from another force. I had in mind the work done by the Scotland Yard detectives appointed by a previous Home Secretary, now Lord Tenby, and the wonderful investigation which they conducted, with great character and high ability, into a case of miscarriage of justice. I had in mind that an officer from another force would certainly give rather more confidence to the person complaining. We had in mind that this sort of investigation, in the first place, must be conducted by a police officer not by someone outside the force. If there is a case for going outside, that is all right, but those were the reasons for our conclusion.
I do not regard any of these proposals as the law of the Medes and Persians, but I am happy now to be the only 133 present Member of the House who had the privilege of serving on the Commission throughout. On behalf of the Commission, I am pleased to tell the House that we accept with gratitude the virtual adoption of all our recommendations—the adoption of our recommendations on pay in the Interim Report and the adoption of most of our important recommendations in the Final Report. It may well be that we were the first Royal Commission ever to have such a testimonial paid to its labours, and, on behalf of my more distinguished colleagues, I thank the House for its expression of confidence.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Sir Hamilton Kerr (Cambridge)
I hope that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) will forgive me if I do not follow him—I wish to speak for no more than four minutes—in his fascinating dissertation on Dick Turpin, O'Henry, vampires and Lord Kitchener, though I join him in his tribute to the Oldham police.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that the object of the Bill was to make life harder for criminals. I trust that it will not make life harder for certain local authorities, and I wish to draw attention to one hard case. Clause 24 is concerned with Cambridge and Peterborough. It confirms their special position. It confirms that they shall retain for police purposes the status of county boroughs. It confirms, therefore, the independence of their police forces.
Why is this special case so important? In the first place, the City of Cambridge, with a population, including undergraduates, of 95,000, forms by far the largest single part of the local area, surrounded by villages and small market towns, of which the nearest in size is Soham, with about 5,000 inhabitants. In the second place, it is a special case because of the presence of the university. We all know that the police in Cambridge are specially qualified to deal with the type of problem which arises there, the harmless and sometimes noisy rag of Guy Fawkes' Day, during May Week, or on Poppy Day. Other policemen, perhaps, on such occasions, might take more drastic action than the fatherly wagging of the finger of the Cambridge police.
134 This is all very well recognised, and is recognised by Clause 24, but, owing to the decision of the Boundary Commission, having reversed its first decision, not to give Cambridge county borough status, we shall find ourselves merged in a larger authority and lose the protection of the Clause, for the Clause states clearly that, if we cease to be less than 50 per cent, of the new authority, our police force shall, virtually, be dissolved.
At the same time, the university, rightly, I think, has its position guaranteed in the new authority, with five places, but the feeling is very deep in Cambridge, and very warmly expressed in the watch committee, that the city, with its special obligations and history from the past, should have an equal chance. The situation is distressing to me because, ever since the university franchise was abolished and, along with it, the representation so well carried out by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Sir K. Pickthorn), I have been proud to be Member for both the city and the university. I, for one, would like to see them permanently intertwined in a lovers' embrace. Why does every edict of Whitehall and every scratch of the bureaucrat's pen only serve to exacerbate old hostilities?
First, we have the question of college rating. Now we have this other question. I appeal, therefore, to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to try to give the City of Cambridge a fair deal in the new police authority. If I should find myself being burned alive in the market place of Cambridge before the doors of the Guildhall, under the eyes of the mayor and corporation, I hope that my right hon. Friend will, at least, throw a little pail of water on the flames. He will do a lot by ensuring us equal treatment in the new authority.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
It is refreshing to be able to speak after the speech of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir H. Kerr) and not have to apologise for not following him in his arguments. I am sure that the Home Secretary will take notice of what he has said. I have deep sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, because I know something of the county of Cambridge.
135 In view of the goodness which the Home Secretary showed in giving way to interrupters, I wondered whether there would be any necessity for hon. Members to raise anything else in the debate. The right hon. Gentleman was so generous in giving way that every point that I had made up my mind to talk about was raised in the form of an interruption either from his side or from my side of the House. However, in spite of that, I will take the risk of saying a few things which have been said before, even if I say them in a different way.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) in expressing appreciation for a brand new Bill. We shah have no worries in Committee about legislation by reference. In recent Bills with which we have been concerned upstairs we have had to go through a mass of previous legislation in order to get the right angle on what we were discussing. In this case we do not have that handicap. We can start anew and deal with what is, in effect, a revolutionary Bill for our police forces.
It has been pointed out—and I emphasise it—that all this began because of an anxiety about relations between the police and the public. Never mind how it began. There was a deep concern in the minds of many people, particularly Members of this House, about what they felt was a deterioration in those relations. Unfortunately, since the Royal Commission was formed—and I pay tribute to its members for their arduous labours—itseems that there has been a further deterioration in those relations. I merely express the hope that what is now being done by legislation will do something to make those relations better rather than worse. Like other hon. Members, however, I utter a note of caution that it is essential that we should preserve a sense of proportion in these matters.
We know that very recently there have been very serious accusations made against some members of police forces. But let us have it perfectly plain: they are few and far between. The majority of police officers are beyond reproach, and we have no right to assume that the police forces are bad because of isolated instances. I therefore feel that it is essential that we should have a Bill of this character in order to do 136 justice both to the police and to the public in general.
I wish to concentrate on two or three items about which I was privileged to give evidence before the Royal Commission on behalf of the Magistrates' Association. I say on behalf of that Association, for I want to make it clear that we received commendations from the Royal Commission because we were a rather strange group of people in giving evidence. We did not always agree among ourselves, and this seemed to be a new experience concerning groups of people giving evidence before a Departmental Committee or Royal Commission. However, we tried to show that there was real sincerity and honesty in the views which we expressed.
I wish to say a few words about Clause 2. I know that in what I am about to say I will create surprise among hon. Members who know my association with magisterial organisations. I refer to the constitution of police authorities. I hold the opinion as strongly as I can that justices should play no part whatever in police administration. In that, I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), with whom I agree on most things.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I presume that my hon. Friend is referring to non-elected justices?
§ Mr. Royle
I am not. I am referring to justices as a whole.
I go further and say that if a justice of the peace is a member of the watch committee he should take no part whatever in the administration of the police. I go even further than that and say that a justice of the peace should not be a member of a watch committee or a police authority of any kind. I feel that very strongly.
As a magistrate, I say that magistrates should be very jealous of their reputation for complete impartiality. I cannot for the life of me see how justices can honestly and sincerely administer the law when they have a part in the administration of the police.
I have said it in this House, and I think that I said it before the Royal Commission, that I have always been 137 concerned about petty sessional courts which still have police ushers, whom I hear calling "silence" in a loud voice. I see police ushers administering the oath to witnesses and going to the door calling in a loud voice for the next witness or defendant. The impression is created that the police are running the court. We must get away from that in every sense.
I am not concerned about some of the things on which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West was concerned. I am concerned that in the public mind there shall be a clear understanding that there is no association whatever between the police and the magistrates. I believe that that division is as important as anything. Equal weight and similar consideration should be given to the evidence for the prosecution and for the defence in any court. I feel that justices who an; members of police authorities may be presented with the danger of not being able to keep that balance. It should never be in the public mind that the magistrates are associated with the police.
The police are members of a great public service and they should be administered by publicly-elected bodies. That seems to me logical these days. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) expressed his concern about political matters, and political bias among watch committees in particular. I know all about the dangers which exist in that respect. But, as a magistrate, I ask: who can show that magistrates have no political bias?
§ Mr. Royle
As my hon. Friend says, how are they appointed?
The Lord Chancellor, in a recent public utterance, expressed his concern about a certain area where there was a deep political bias in the appointment of magistrates and of the chairman of the magisterial bench. I could give other illustrations. In all probability, the form of political bias which the Lord Chancellor had in mind and that which I have in mind are quite different. However, the fact remains that justices are appointed because of their political association and connections. Do not let us make any mistake about that. It 138 wipes out completely any argument that watch committees have a political bias which may, in some way, affect the administration of the police.
The Royal Commission describes in some very interesting paragraphs the history of our police forces and their association with magistrates. I know all about some success which has been attained in standing joint committees. The Royal Commission states, however, that that association has fallen into disuse, and I believe that in the changed circumstances over the centuries it should fall into disuse. Justices of the peace should be left to administer the law and not to administer the prosecution.
I pass quickly to Clause 20 of the Bill, which concerns amalgamations. I know that in what I have been saying I shall bring the blessings of the local authorities upon my head. In what I now say I shall bring upon myself their curses. I believe that the Bill is right. Whilst I have never been an enthusiast for a national police force, although there are, I know, strong arguments for it—and whether my objection is unfounded I do not know—it smells a bit of a police State. Whether that is right or wrong, I am not prepared to argue. I think, however, that the Royal Commission and the Bill reached the right compromise.
As to the smaller police forces, I know that Oldham is fine and that Salford is magnificent, but are all the others just as good as Oldham and Salford? The acid test is efficiency in fighting crime. Can separate forces be as good? Like my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West, I think obviously in terms of the great south Lancashire conurbation. If we look at the towns of Oldham, Bury, Bolton, Stockport, Rochdale and Salford, only the local people, and not all of them, know where the boundaries are. We cross from one place to another without the slightest indication that we have gone even to another county borough. Between these towns, in their separation from the great City of Manchester, are channels of land or authority within the area of the Lancashire County Council in the form of urban district councils.
Is not that ridiculous? In that conurbation, with the county boroughs and 139 the Lancashire County Council all contained together, there are at least eight police forces. Is it not ridiculous that if the Oldham police have seen a man whom they suspect of being drunk in charge of a car, and he is travelling towards Failsworth, they have in most cases to stop the police car at the boundary? I know that that is not always done, but under the existing situation that is what should be done. Let us, therefore, get large areas of that kind under one police authority. I am sure that that would bring greater efficiency.
Page 80 of the Royal Commission's Report sets out in detail the advantages of larger and regional police forces in the direction of forensic laboratories, wireless depots, central criminal records, provincial records, murder and fraud squads, crime squads, initial training colleges, driving schools, detective training schools and the like. It would be impossible for these smaller police forces to undertake tasks of that magnitude, which could be accomplished with much greater efficiency and economy by larger areas.
And so I come to Clause 27. We are all concerned about this. I am tagging this on to Clause 27, although I am not sure whether I am right. This gives rather an indication of what I have in mind concerning accountability to Parliament. I have looked carefully through the Bill, but I cannot find the word "accountability" anywhere. This is important. In spite of what appears in the Bill and of what the Home Secretary said in opening the debate, do we have the assurance that we can come to the House and ask Questions about the difficulties of police forces in our constituencies? I am not by any means satisfied that we can.
§ Mr. Royle
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the possibility of a Member of Parliament asking the Home Secretary whether he would set up an inquiry into something in a constituency, but he did not say that we could rise in the House and say, "I have an accusation here from one of my constituents. What is the answer to it? "I should like firmer assurances from the Home Secretary, or 140 whoever replies to the debate, that what is contained in the Bill provides the accountability for which we have been fighting year after year.
To give a short illustration, not long ago some constituents of mine, during the tenure of office of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, were working on a building site outside the City of Salford, in Cheshire. On one occasion. they felt it necessary to have a talk with a trade union official about the conditions of work. A bright man discovered this, telephoned the Altrincham police and told them that there would be trouble. The police arrived on the scene with three police dogs and walked round and round the peaceful trade union meeting.
Could I get a Question past the Table? Of course not. Fortunately, however, a few weeks later, there was C.N.D. trouble, I think, in Downing Street and the Metropolitan Police arrived on the scene with police dogs. So a Question was put down on it and I managed to get in my supplementary question about Cheshire—against the rules of order, of course. I want a clear indication that these matters can be accounted for from the Treasury Bench.
That ties up with Clause 48. Perhaps, by way of a reminder, I may be allowed to read subsection (I) to the House. It states:Where the chief officer of police for any police area receives a complaint from a member of the public against a member of the police force for that area he shall (unless the complaint alleges an offence with which the member of the police force has then been charged) forthwith cause the complaint to be investigated and for that purpose may, and shall if directed by the Secretary of State, request the chief officer of police for any other police area to provide an officer of the police force for that area to carry out the investigation.That is simply not good enough. I do not believe that there could be an unbiased approach from any police officer anywhere with regard to the police of any other district or his own. Obviously, he must have a bias towards the policeman, particularly if a member of the public, who may not be a very nice type, has accused a policeman of assaulting him. Invariably, people who make these accusations are not nice types. If that situation arose, I cannot imagine that even a responsible police 141 officer could possibly come down on the side of the member of the public against the police.
Therefore, I want to see something else done in the interest both of the police and of the complainant. In my view—and I had the nerve to say it to the Royal Commission—the only way is to establish a completely—well, perhaps not completely—independent investigation. I believe that the way is to establish in every area of the country, though I do not of necessity mean every police authority, even less than that if the right hon. Gentleman likes—perhaps a dozen, at the most 20—permanent tribunals consisting of three or maybe five people. If they were five, with a lawyer chairman. I would let a magistrate come in because he is used to weighing evidence. I would let a senior police officer be on it, and may be a businessman, and a trade union officer.
That is the kind of tribunal that I envisage. I believe that evidence should be given on oath. I believe that either side should be entitled to legal representation, and that reports should be given to the police authority, to the Secretary of State, and ultimately to the complainant himself, showing why such and such a decision has been taken. I go a little further. I recognise that trivialities may arise. There are occasions when some of these things are trivial indeed. I would cover that by giving the legal chairman power to decide whether it is very trivial and to decide not to bring it before his colleagues.
In the overwhelming number of cases, however, I would want this tribunal to have the right of examination, rather than what is envisaged in the Bill. I cannot see any impartiality at all in the present recommendations and suggestions in the Bill, and I suggest that a tribunal of an independent character such as I have tried to describe is the way out of this difficulty.
I have been speaking far too long, so, having dealt with the points which I feel are the important ones from the point of view of the man in the street, for these are the questions which the public are asking, I would conclude by saying that in the main I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East that this is a good Bill. It 142 is so good that it is worthy of improvement, and I hope that we shall have the opportunity, maybe in Standing Committee, of ventilating some of the things we ask about today, so that we may make it better. Meanwhile, I wish the right hon. Gentleman well with his Bill, but warn him of what is going to happen in Committee.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
I agree with some of the points just made by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle). I disagree rather sharply with some of the others. I hope that the various points of agreement and disagreement may emerge in the course of my remarks. I agree with him, at all events, in saying that this is an excellent Bill. It is a well drafted Bill. It is clear, and certainly most of its provisions are acceptable to most hon. Members on both sides of the House.
The Royal Commission and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary have referred to the conflict between securing, on the one hand, law and order and, on the other, personal freedom. It seems to me that this conflict is something which is inescapable and which cannot be ended. We cannot finally resolve it. The best we can do is to find a proper compromise between the powers of the police and the rights of the citizen, but the point of balance is not something permanent. It has to be found again and again in accordance with the circumstances of the times. I think that the Bill finds just about the satisfactory point at the present time, but it may well be that the matter will have to be looked at again, perhaps in the near future, perhaps in some distant year.
Certainly, the Bill clarifies the present law exceedingly well, and it makes a number of useful changes. I think that the need for change has arisen from two causes, and I believe that in stating them I shall find agreement on both sides of the House. The first and main cause has been the increase in crime which we have witnessed ever since the end of the war, and the other cause is the growing pressure of the motor on our civilisation. Before we make changes such as are proposed in the Bill we ought to consider: are these causes here to stay? I am bound to say that I think that they are. 143 I think that we must look forward to a time of high criminal activity and of the great difficulty of ever increasing pressure of motor cars and motorists upon us.
These causes have shifted the balance, which was built up in the nineteenth century and which is embodied in the present law, towards a need for greater centralisation and greater power for the police. I believe that these tendencies in the Bill are right and proper, but the test of the Bill will be the effect which it has on crime and the continuance of the crime wave, if that is the right expression, and also on the motoring community and the rest of the community as affected by the motor cars.
I am glad my right hon. Friend has not succumbed to the argument put forward by Dr. Goodhart, in his minority Report. I do not believe that a national police force is either necessary or desirable. I do not believe that a police force should be answerable to any Ministers. These views, which have not yet been expressed in this debate, are nevertheless very current.
I find in my own constituency, and, indeed, in some parts of the House, that I am asked: what about the Metropolitan Police? Here we have a police force of the size, roughy of one-quarter of the whole country and which is, in fact, subject to the jurisdiction of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I think that there are two answers to this objection.
First, in spite of its size and of its high degree of centralisation, the Metropolitan Police Force has not escaped the criticisms which have affected the police right through the country. Secondly, as long as chief constables have some genuine independence the fiction—and I call it a fiction, rightly, I hope—that the Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis is independent has some meaning and some sense. I hope very much that that fiction will be preserved and that he will still continue to be treated as if he were a chief constable operating, if that is the right term, for a force outside London.
My main objection to putting all the police under the Home Secretary is that the police are the principal prosecuting 144 authority. They are responsible for initiating prosecutions—the majority of them—and for conducting them. I do not believe that that fact can easily be altered. It would need an immense revolution in our law if it were to be fundamentally changed. I personally believe it to be a principle of the highest importance that the power and duty of prosecution should not become a political function in any way whatever.
There are exceptions, of course. The House will be well aware of certain responsibilities of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. There are in the parallel field of the judiciary the functions of the Lord Chancellor. But these are exceptions which, I think, prove the rule, and the rule certainly should not be abrogated altogether. If the police were made a national force, however much they were regionalised, it would be impossible to maintain that they were altogether independent of political influence in any of their functions, and I think that we should see great difficulty in preserving the complete freedom from political influence of the machinery of prosecutions.
Having said this, I say straight away that I think that there are at present far too many local forces. More amalgamations are desirable, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will use his powers under the Bill. I am not certain that the powers are very much greater than those he has at the present time, but I hope that he will use his powers. The difficulty here is that there is plenty of political pressure against the use of his powers in any particular case and virtually no political pressure upon him to use them except of a general kind. I do not see how that difficulty is to be got over, but I will put such pressure as I can on him by saying that I hope he will use his powers and that I will vote for him willingly every time he does.
I personally have no objection to combined police authorities. It is true that joint boards are generally a bad thing; joint boards as a rule make weak executive bodies. But I think that in the case of the police the position is different, because the joint board is not primarily an initiating and executive body. The initiative and the executive in the case of the police should rest, 145 and will rest under the Bill, with the chief constable. For that reason, I have no objection to joint boards in principle being embodied in the Bill, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be moved by certain arguments which have been advanced outside and inside this House.
I see no reason for limiting a constable's jurisdiction outside his own area as given to him by Clause 18(2). That subsection gives him jurisdiction in a contiguous area or, in some cases, in areas next to a contiguous area. It seems to me that, if a constable should have jurisdiction outside his own area at all, there is no reason whatever why he should not be given completely general jurisdiction if the case warrants it. I hope that this point, which is of some importance, may be looked at in Committee.
I want now to say something about the new arrangements for investigating complaints. I, too, welcome Clause 48. I am certain that this is a field of law which needed a good deal of amendment. I certainly like my right hon. Friend's general approach to the matter. But I am a little anxious lest the provisions of Clause 48 may not go too far; and if they do not go too far, then I am rather frightened that they may not go far enough.
Obviously, if a complaint is made to a chief constable, he must make some inquiries. He cannot know the answer in his own mind. Therefore, it does not need the provisions of this Clause to require a chief constable simply to inquire into a matter; he would have to do so in any event. If the Clause obliges a chief constable to institute something in the nature of a formal inquiry whenever a complaint is made to him, it seems to me that this may open the door to vexatious complaints in a very big way.
All hon. Members must have constituents who seem to make it their life work to pursue certain complaints which, whether or not they were well founded in the first place, certainly become otiose after they have been going for a long time. As I read the Clause, it might give such people a right to pursue a matter beyond what would be tolerable, and it could certainly open the door to serious interference with the work of the police.
146 My right hon. Friend was asked, in a slightly different way, whether a complainant is to have the right to attend any inquiry and cross-examine the policeman complained of. I think that my right hon. Friend indicated that the answer was in the affirmative. If that is so, it means that anyone who thought that he had been ill-treated by a traffic policeman or in another way with which we are ail familiar would be able as a matter of law and a matter of right to cross-examine the individual concerned no matter how poor the case was. I think that this creates real difficulty. It would produce the Star Chamber in reverse. It would mean that every citizen would haves a right which would be quite intolerable to the police. I hope that this matter also may be looked into in Committee, It goes to the very heart of this problem, and it is something for which we must try to find a solution.
I welcome the Bill. I hope that the speeches which have been made today do not portend too long a Committee stage, and I hope that when the Bill comes into effect it will do what the people of the country very much hope it will.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) said that the practice of immediately instituting inquiries exists now and that he sees no need to say in the Bill that it should be obligatory. In the case of the Sheffield Inquiry the report stated:… apart from the chief constable, no one really wanted to investigate the truth… Detective Chief Inspector Batty's attitude"—This was the officer instructed by the chief constable to carry out the investigation—was not merely, as he said, to call the five together and tell them to make statements (which would be a poor enough way of conducting an inquiry into the truth of the allegation—as he admitted to us), but to commiserate with them, to tell them that they must find an answer and to leave them to it.This is hardly a satisfactory kind of inquiry. Therefore I think that the hon. Member is on rather weak ground in suggesting that the present arrangements are satisfactory and adequate in this respect.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I did not wish to suggest that they were. I said that the chief constable would have to inquire in some way and that the Bill says only that he has to inquire.
§ Mr. Hynd
I agree, but surely it is to be the responsibility of the Home Secretary under the Bill to make sure that inquiries will be carried out adequately.
What has clearly emerged from the debate is that the Bill is necessary and timely and that the situation has been so unclear lately that no one has been very sure of the respective responsibilities of the Home Secretary, the Home Office, the chief constables and the watch committees. In fact, we have all been drifting along on a kind of ad hoc basis which has worked, by and large, reasonably well. But now we are faced with some of the results of that situation.
There is no doubt that there is very grave public concern over recent incidents and a very considerable need to restore the confidence not only of the public but—equally important—of the police. A big query overhangs the questions of how far public concern is justified, how far it is justified because of the wide publicity given to a number of individual cases and how far the police themselves will suffer from the tendency to regard these isolated instances as representative of the position generally.
I underline what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) and other hon. Members that what we are dealing with in this case is not just a normal occupation but one in which the men concerned are highly vulnerable to this kind of accusation, whether justified or not. Indeed, I have a suspicion that it is becoming part of the technique at least of the minor criminal to invoke an assault by the police in order to get his own back.
In the police, we are dealing with men and women whom we appoint to carry out a most dangerous and difficult duty, very often in the lonely hours of the night, against the most sordid, brutal and violent characters in the population, very often without witnesses to support them and subjected to all kinds of accusations, justified or otherwise.
148 The police are in a position somewhat similar to that of a doctor who is accused by a woman patient of making indecent advances to her in his surgery. Who is to prove who is telling the truth? I know from experience how often such accusations have been entirely malicious. One such case came to my notice recently, when I was discussing the awkward position of policemen with a member of a watch committee in one of our big cities.
He told me that he was walking home late one night when he heard the smashing of glass and saw three young louts running away. A policeman intercepted them. They "cheeked" him, one punched him and another kicked him. Then they all ran off, but he did not stop them. My friend told me that he asked the officer why he did not arrest the youths. His answer was, "I had no witnesses. I could only have arrested them by being rough with them. Having no witnesses, I preferred not to."
That is the sort of situation a police officer can find himself in. If we are not careful, if we go too far on the lines tending to be taken by some people recently, we will be putting the police officer in the position where he will be tempted not to interfere, for instance, in a rough house because he might damage someone in doing so and get into trouble. That sort of situation would be a complete negation of the purposes for which we have created the police and would be a tragedy for them as well as for us. I agree that there are officers who fall very short of the standards one would wish them to observe, but that applies to all professions. Former Members of this House and even Ministers have recently fallen very far short of the standards expected of their high office.
Now there is, currently, the case of a police officer in a West End police station against whom accusations are made. I do not know whether or not they are justified. It is submitted that this man has been suffering from mental illness. Police officers are subject to mental illness like any other people in the community. Let us remember also the conditions in which they are required to take certain actions which, in the warm light of our offices and to the sedentary worker, may look a little 149 rough and unjustified but to the policeman in the lonely post in the middle of the night appear the only course available to him.
We must be extremely careful. The Report of the Royal Commission, in paragraph 415, shows how few of these cases there are in relation to the size of the force and the situations in which police officers can find themselves. We have a tremendous responsibility to the police themselves in this matter as well as to the public. Nevertheless, there are these disquieting cases and something must be done about them. Above all we must be sure that we protect both public and the police.
I think that the main point of the Bill—and I believe there is unanimous approval of this aspect—is the degree of Parliamentary accountability to be provided. There must be few hon. Members who have not had experiences in which they have found themselves entirely frustrated, and finding it extremely difficult to convince their constituents that they are unable to do anything about what may have been a very blatant case indeed, or where the blatancy may have been in the obvious maliciousness of the charges made against the police. We have been unable to raise such cases here in order to protect and clear the police. This provision in the Bill is highly necessary.
I agree with the comment in the Royal Commission, in paragraph 117, on the evidence given by the Inns of Court Conservative and Unionist Society which drew attention to the fact that, in present circumstances, far from there being Parliamentary or even local government accountability, we are in the position where an anonymous Home Office official is in control and there is no one to question him. The proposal that the Home Secretary should receive regular reports from chief constables and that the local police authorities should also receive them, and that they should be entitled to call for other reports, will, I am sure, receive the unanimous agreement of the House.
It was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle) that a national police force would be getting pretty near to a police State, but, as the Royal Commission pointed out, if that were true, Belgium, Denmark 150 and Sweden, amongst others, would be police States. It is not the fact that the police are nationally organised and controlled which brings near the danger of a police state. But there is one point which the Royal Commission apparently did not appreciate. It certainly did not mention it. It is that once one has a national organised police force one must have a single individual at the top of it. That one individual is in close contact with the Home Secretary and other Ministers and is in a position, legally or illegally, within the fringe of the law or outside it, to issue instructions which would automatically be carried out by all police forces. That could lead to very dangerous situations with some kinds of Governments and some kinds of Ministers, as one could imagine.
So long as there is dispersion of responsibility, such a situation cannot arise, and it is inconceivable that all the chief constables of all the local police forces would simultaneously do such a thing. This is the danger with a nationally organised police force. It is vital—and I am glad that the Home Secretary emphasised it—that we should retain local control of police forces through the police authorities. A question which arises and about which there will be controversy is how this is to be done.
The Bill provides that the local police authority is to be responsible for the maintenance of an adequate and efficient police force. I find it difficult to understand how it is to maintain efficiency unless it is to be responsible, at least in some degree, for the appointment, promotion and discipline of members of the force. It can be argued both ways, but I should like further information about how the efficiency of the force in general is to be maintained unless the authority has some responsibility for the appointment, discipline and promotion of the lower ranks.
I understand that the present procedure is that new recruits are brought before the watch committee and passed by that committee then to become members of this force. This is an excellent democratic exercise. At the beginning of his career as a police officer it is very good for the young policeman to be brought into contact with the fact that he is a servant of the elected representatives of the people and not just of an 151 official chief constable. That aspect will have to be watched very carefully.
What possible reasons can the Home Secretary have for trying to force non-elected representatives, justices or otherwise, on the watch committees? We are a democratic country and our administration, nationally and locally, is supposed to be on a democratic basis. I cannot see that there is any danger in allowing local authorities themselves when appointing watch committees to decide whom to appoint to those watch committees. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) gave Sheffield as an example of where it would be desirable to have some justices with experience of the courts on the watch committees. In fact, out of 12 members of the Sheffield Watch Committee, seven are justices and also members of the local authority. No doubt this kind of proportion in one way or another is followed with other watch committees, but it is a matter for the local authority itself to judge. Our only subject for concern should be to ensure that the police force in any area is under the control of elected representatives and of no one else.
The Home Secretary suggested that the Royal Commission rejected the arguments against having non-elected magistrates on watch committees, but the Royal Commission did nothing of the kind. In paragraph 210 its words were these:… we regard locally elected persons as entirely fit and proper people to discharge the functions which we propose in future should be accorded to police authorities.That is a positive assertion and not a rejection of the arguments of some of my hon. Friends.
The Commission went on to say that it thought that local police authoritiescan be greatly assisted … by the inclusion in their number of a proportion of justiceswhoconstitute a body of public-spirited citizens.A quota of magistrates would widen the field of selection, said the Commission, but so would a quota from any other section of the population. The term "body of public-spirited citizens" could also be applied to other groups of citizens. The point is that as a demo- 152 cratic country we should rely on elected people to administer our affairs.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the function of the police is not wholly administrative, but is partly judicial, and that it is because of that judicial aspect that there should be a judicial element in the governing body?
§ Mr. Hynd
I was merely replying to the Home Secretary's argument. I do not want to go into the wider aspects now, but I do not agree with the hon. Member. The police are not a judicial body. They are responsible for prosecutions, but they do not decide the guilt or otherwise of any person.
Much has been made of the fact—and the proposal in the Bill is based upon it—that the county councils have 50 per cent, of their joint committees consisting of magistrates who are not elected. However, paragraph 46 of the Royal Commission's Report shows that it was not until 1888 that county councils were set up as democratic bodies to administer local government services in the counties, whereas elected borough authorities, in the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835, were given powers to appoint watch committees consisting of elected representatives. It was a considerable time later that county councils had locally elected representative bodies governing their own affairs. Until then, the administrative bodies had been magistrates in general quarter sessions.
What the Bill proposes is that the democratic procedure established in the boroughs more than 100 years ago should now give place to a situation created 30 or 40 years later when the county councils had not yet reached that democratic stage. When I turned to the debate on the Local Government (England and Wales) Bill in 1888, when this power was given, I found that the President of the Local Government Board said of the control of the police in the counties:It may be contended that, looking to the fact that the police in boroughs are maintained by the Councils of the boroughs, so also ought the police of the county to be maintained, controlled, and administered by the County Councils. But no one can fail to observe that the conditions of town and county are very different. The inhabitants of the borough have 153 been for many years accustomed to municipal government, and they have become educated in the science of government to a degree which it will take the counties some years to attain.This was an overspill of feudalism. It is the reason why the present position exists in the counties. What the Home Secretary is now proposing is that we should put the boroughs into the situation in which the counties now unfortunately find themselves and in which it was necessary, until they reached a sufficient state of democratic development, to have 50 per cent, of the membership of their joint committees consisting of magistrates. I therefore hope that the Home Secretary will drop this idea. I hope that there are sufficient hon. Gentlemen opposite concerned with the development and not the retrogression of our democracy to insist that he does.
I do not like the idea of compulsory amalgamations. Of course there is a case for modernising areas, and a case for joint action by neighbouring police forces for extending the administration of the force or its scope of operation; but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) asked, could not this be done more satisfactorily by joint arrangements between the neighbouring police forces? After all, to join one area with the area on its east side does not necessarily extend its scope on the west side. Joint arrangements can be made on the east and west sides according to the requirements of the situation, but what I do not like about the proposal is that there is no limit to the powers of the Home Secretary to enforce amalgamations.
The Bill refers to the amalgamation of two or more areas, and the Home Secretary can enforce this at any time. The right hon. Gentleman protested throughout his speech that hon. Members must not misunderstand his intentions in regard to the operation of this Bill when it becomes an Act, but we must point out, as has been pointed out thousands of times in this House, that we do not create legislation for a particular Home Secretary or other Minister. We create legislation for all the Home Secretaries to come until that legislation is amended by the House, and I hope that we shall be very careful about the way in which we give this blank cheque to the present Home Secretary to be extended to his 154 successors into the dim and distant future. This point will have to be considered very carefully in Committee.
Next I come to the question of inquiries to be conducted by an officer from another force. I believe that most of my hon. Friends disagree with this proposal, and so do I. I do not know whether I accept the minority Report of the Royal Commission about the appointment of a commissioner of rights, or whether it would be better to allow this matter to be dealt with in the first instance by the watch committee, with the cover that its report can be called for by the Home Secretary and the matter can be raised in Parliament. I do not propose to go into detail about this now. There are many alternatives that can be put forward, and this again is a point which will have to be considered carefully in Committee. It is essential that this aspect is covered adequately and as satisfactorily as possible in the interests not only of the public but of the police.
I agree with what has been said, that one cannot accept that a chief constable or a police officer from another force, whose instincts must be to try to protect and preserve the reputation of the police as such, is an adequate and satisfactory person to undertake such an inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have some objection to the idea of bringing in a lay person. I do not know who such a person should be, or what standard would be required, but I remind the right lion. Gentleman that this principle works very well, for instance, with the General Medical Council to which two lay members are appointed. The doctors on the General Medical Council appreciate: having lay members present, not for the purpose of keeping a watch on the doctors themselves, but to satisfy the public that they are represented on the disciplinary committee and that their interests are being watched, and to avoid any suggestion of a closed shop or a Star Chamber. I hope that the Home Secretary will bear this in mind when considering this question of having a lay representative present at these inquiries, and perhaps even being responsible for conducting the inquiry itself.
The great weakness of the Bill is that it makes no reference to the questioning of suspects by the police. I am very 155 much a layman in this, but I am uneasy about the situation which arises when a policeman arrests an innocent person—because everyone is innocent until he is proved guilty—and then has to prosecute that person and to do so must get sufficient evidence on which to base a prosecution. Far too much responsibility is laid on the police in this respect. I think that there is a lot to be said for someone else doing the questioning, in the presence of the police, or perhaps supervising questioning by the police, and the questions and answers being recorded so that they can be used in evidence. Unless and until this happens, I cannot see how there can be anything other than a continuation of the situation which often arises in a police station when a police officer knows that the man concerned is guilty and is determined that, in the interests of the public, he shall not get away with it, and goes to extreme lengths to get the evidence out of the man himself by whatever methods may be open to him.
The present position is entirely unsatisfactory, and whether we adopt the Scottish system of getting the Procurator Fiscal to intervene, or have the questioning done by an examining magistrate, or adopt some other means, I think that we must write into the Bill some provision to protect the police against the accusations that are made against them. The situation to which T have referred is the cause of most of the complaints made against the police, because the interrogation is carried out at the police station or in the police cells. I repeat that the police must be protected against false accusations.
I have emphasised throughout my speech, and I end on this note, that whilst I am very much concerned with the protection of the public, at this stage I am becoming even more concerned with the protection of the interests of the police whom we expect to carry out these difficult and dangerous tasks. They cannot be expected to carry out their duties unless they are assured of the fullest confidence and protection of the public in their attempts to safeguard our liberties. I think that this is our primary duty, and I hope that the Bill, 156 which is basically a good one, will emerge from the Committee an even better one, having met many of the points put forward by my hon. Friends and myself.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Sir Gerald Wills (Bridgwater)
I agree with many of the points made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd), but I cannot follow him in them all. In particular, I do not follow him in his strictures on the county organisations compared with the urban organisations; but I shall deal with this later.
I welcome this important Bill. My right hon. Friend introduced it clearly and very ably. It is a necessary and sound piece of legislation. It gives substantial effect to the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Some of its recommendations have already been put into effect by various forms of administrative action, and the Bill makes considerable alterations to the law; alterations which are, in fact, the essence of the Report.
Not the least useful part of the Bill is the bringing up to date and consolidation of much of the legislation on police affairs. Many people who deal with these affairs will find it a useful and valuable Bill. For many years they have had to deal with police legislation going back over 160 years. To bring that legislation into some order is no mean achievement and is of great assistance to all concerned.
The Bill is very wide-ranging. It lays new duties and onerous responsibilities on my right hon. Friend for the efficiency of the police force. It recognises, as it should, that the central Government are, and must be, concerned with the broad efficiency of the police force of the country. Matters such as higher pay, better recruiting and new training systems are all part of this central Government interest in the police force.
I refer, first, to one or two smaller points which might almost be Committee points. It is quite clear that a number of hon. and right hon. Members are not altogether keen on Clause 2. They do not like the idea that there should be two-thirds councillors and one-third magistrates on the police authority. I do not see any particular harm in this, 157 and I do not get nearly as het-up about it as a number of hon. Members seem to be. It seems a logical and reasonably fair compromise and it ought to work very well.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
Surely the most important point is that people who are concerned with the judiciary, even in a minor capacity as justices of the peace, ought to have nothing to do with the administration of a police force. They ought to be above the administration of the force itself and reserve themselves entirely for judicial functions.
§ Sir G. Wills
Speaking as one who is, in a humble way, linked with the judiciary as a justice of the peace, I think that the hon. Gentleman is making far too much of this. I do not see any cause for alarm in this proposal in the Bill.
I wonder whether Clause 18 goes far enough. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) mentioned this, too. I feel that the contiguous areas referred to in the Clause ought to be more widely extended. We have motorways in this country and we may have many more. If a policeman is chasing a felon, or someone who has done wrong, he cannot very well stop to think whether he has run from one contiguous area into a second contiguous area and whether he has jurisdiction—he is going far too fast and wants to catch the man who has done wrong. Therefore, I think that this Clause might well be looked at again.
In Clause 20, the provisions for the amalgamation of forces are completely reasonable. There must be amalgamation if we want greater efficiency in some of the forces. We all know that there are police forces which are too small to make use of all the modern methods of protection and police work which can be used, and I think that amalgamation is necessary for the more efficient working of the police forces.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
Does the hon. Member know that the smallest police force in the country has already access to the latest possible instruments and machines for detecting crime and that it can get the utmost possible assistance at any time it wants it? So the smallness of the police force is no argument at all.
§ Sir G. Wills
That may be the hon. Gentleman's view. Fortunately, there is room for two views in this House. I do not fall in with the minority Report. I do not think that a regional police force seems to fit in with this country. It does not seem to me the sort of police force that would suit our particular problems and fit in with the ways that we run our affairs.
Let me come to something rather more important. I think that there is no doubt that the Bill very greatly strengthens the powers of my right hon. Friend over the police throughout the country. By doing so it must greatly strengthen the power of Parliament generally to inquire into and scrutinise police matters. I quote from The Times of 16th November, when it stated:It is good for Parliament, good for the general public, and good for chief constables who, in the past, may occasionally have been compelled to fume silently when untrue charges have been made about their men. The result is likely to be a great increase in mutual confidence.It is that increased mutual confidence which, I believe, is of great importance to the country and the police and which will be brought about to a considerable extent by the provisions of the Bill.
It seems to me that a very small number of unfortunate happenings can build up to a very wide public uneasiness. Unless the clearest and fullest inquiries and actions are taken to make people realise that the facts have been looked into in the widest possible way, people are not satisfied that there is not something in it, that there is no smoke without fire. I believe that the citizens of this country, through their Members of Parliament, should ask about things that concern them and I hope that they will be able to do so to a considerable degree. I believe that in this way mutual confidence between the people and the police will be built up. I am quite sure that the Bill will improve the relationship between the public and the police—not that this, in general, is anything but good.
As the: survey by the Royal Commission made absolutely clear, by far the largest number of people, indeed, between 80 per cent, and 90 per cent., thought that there was nothing wrong with the relationship between the police and the public. I believe that that is true. Occasionally, matters have blown up to 159 undue importance, but I think that all of us who are Members of Parliament can testify to the value of the work, help and efficiency, of the police in the country at large and in our own constituencies in particular. We see them working and we know how much they do. For every misdemeanour that may be written up and made much of, there are hundreds of fine actions, completely unsung and taken for granted. This is true and we must not forget it.
We must also remember that the burdens and duties of the police nowadays are vastly greater than they were in the past. I think that such things as motoring offences must be a "bit of a bind" to many policemen. They are liable to cause irritation to the very people who used to be so keen in their support of the police. I feel, too, that we often get a few young "hoodlums" who have no respect for authority, who make the life of the police most difficult, and who are themselves very difficult to deal with kindly and firmly. We all know that this happens; we can think of examples whenever we like.
These things must be taken into account. Anything that makes for better relationships between the police and the public is all to be desired. We all have our own image of the police force. Some have the image of "Dixon of Dock Green" and some the image of "Z Cars." The thing that we all have in our own minds is that anything that can keep the image of our police force and those who work in it a straight and true image, as this Bill will help to do, deserves our support.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I have listened with great interest to the problems of Bradford and Oldham and I hope that the House will bear with me if I deal very briefly with some of the problems of Kilmarnock, Drumnadrochit and Echelfechan.We have our problems, too. I cannot share the view of hon. Members that this Bill is something to be welcomed because it wipes the slate clean. It does nothing of the kind as far as Scotland is concerned. I wish to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East, (Miss Bacon) in the criticism of the treatment meted out to Scotland in this Bill.
160 When we examine the Bill, we find that the Police (Scotland) Act, 1956, is dealt with under Schedule 6 by ten pages of Amendments, and when we examine the 1956 Bill and place these amendments alongside it we find that there is very little left of the 1956 Police (Scotland) Act. I say that this is a gross insult to Scotland, which has the most efficient and exemplary police forces, to be treated in this high-handed fashion. I hope that the Under-Secretary, even at this late hour, will try so far as possible to separate the Scottish Bill from the English Bill. I can assure hon. Members who are likely to serve on the Committee that when the Scottish Members get down to it the Committee may last until the next General Election, even if it is in October. I hope that even now it will be recognised that an injustice is being done to Scotland, and that a separate Bill should be introduced and dealt with upstairs by a Scottish Committee.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
I hope my hon. Friend will understand that when I said, "Hear, hear" I was sincerely commenting upon the advantages of the Scottish position as against the English position. The Scottish system is a much better one than the English system.
§ Sir M. Galpern
I welcome my hon. Friend's congratulatory remarks, and I am glad to hear that he was not speaking in a mood of self-preservation. I agree with him that the Scottish system is far better than the English one, and not only in this but in many other respects. The difficulty is that owing to financial restraints we cannot translate those advantages into practical effect. The fault lies in the meanness and frugality of the English Exchequer.
This evening various hon. Members have high-lighted the deterioration that has taken place in the relationships between the general public and the police. This is a very unwelcome aspect of the whole matter, and we ought to ask ourselves why this has happened. The Royal Commission addressed itself to a considerable examination of this important problem, but I do not think that it made any recommendation. In 161 my view, there has been a steady deterioration over the years in the relationships between the general public and the police forces.
What have been the causal factors? One factor has been the deterioration in regard for law and order by a number of people. This has been contributed to by a number of motorists, who regard as niggardly the action taken by police officers against them in respect of parking offences. They take the view that this is not the job of police officers. That has helped to bring about a worsening in relationships between public and the police.
In my view, one of the most important factors has been the over-mechanisation of our police forces. I believe that we should set the clock back and restore the position to what it was when we had our policemen on the beat. I know that would entail a considerable increase in the size of police forces, and I know that in Glasgow, for example, we are at present 118 policemen short of our total complement. But we should make every endeavour to try to restore the position to what it was when the policeman on the beat became known to the people living in his area and became to them a friend, confidant, guide and philosopher.
In the Report of the Royal Commission, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis went so far as to express the opinion that the policeman in a car or on a motor cycle, or absent from the beat, loses contact with the public, and that the greatest preventive measure against crime lies in making good deficiencies on the beat. To that point of view I wholeheartedly subscribe. I want to point out that there is a ready method whereby we could quickly restore the situation to one in which policemen carried out their tours of duty on foot so that they became known to the general public in their areas.
Allied to that aspect I believe that there has been a wrong conception of local authorities in respect of the method of housing their police forces. The idea of erecting blocks of flats for policemen, so that they are all kept together, is wrong. This idea ought to be abandoned. The policemen should be housed in various parts of their areas, especially in those parts where there is 162 a need for policemen owing to a high incidence of vandalism. If this idea were carried into effect it would help to recreate or recapture the very happy relationship which existed between the police and general public.
Scotland labours under a particular difficulty in respect of special constables. I do not know what the answer is to the need for sufficient numbers in our police forces, but it is clear that we do not use our special constables efficiently in Scotland. Indeed, we labour under a severe statutory restriction in this respect. It is laid down that no special constable can do more than 12 hours outdoor duty in a year—and I see nothing in the Bill to redress the position—whereas in England chief constables can utilise their special constables for all sorts of duties, including traffic direction at weekends. The position in Scotland militates against the recruitment of sufficient men who are willing to help the ordinary policemen by carrying out certain duties in their spare time. The existence in every area of a reasonably-sized police force, composed in this manner, would help to re-establish former good relations. I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us why this statutory restriction upon the employment of special constables in Scotland should continue.
Another Scottish difficulty concerns the appointment of chief constables. On several occasions in our debates my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) has intervened to question the Secretary of State for Scotland on the appointment of the Chief Constable for Kilmarnock. There may be some argument for the power of appointment being vested in the Secretary of State, but my complaint is that he ought not to leave the making of his decision until the local authority makes its recommendation. He should be in on the ground floor. When a vacancy arises in a police force he or his representative should at once discuss with the police committee of that area the question of filling the vacancy. He should not wait until the local authority makes a recommendation and then have the sort of head-on clash with the local authority that occurred in Kilmarnock by virtue of the fact that he did not consider the individual selected to be suitable to hold that office.
163 I would like to know why the Secretary of State proposes to take wider powers now. The Royal Commission Report recommends that, in seven years from now, no chief constable shall be eligible for appointment to the police force in which he is serving unless he has had recent service in some other police force. I do not know how this provision will operate in England—that is a much bigger country, with many more police forces—but if the recommendations contained in the White Paper on the Modernisation of Local Government are ultimately carried out the number of local authorities with police forces in Scotland will be substantially reduced. It would be impossible for a policeman in Scotland to spend some time in another police force if he was anxious ultimately to return to his original force and to become chief constable. It will create serious difficulties. I ask the Under-Secretary to reconsider this position. It would mean that a policeman serving in the Glasgow force or in the Edinburgh force would have to leave that force early in his career to get the requisite experience in another force if he aspired eventually to become chief constable of either of those forces.
The question is: at what stage should he leave? We shall need a full definition of "recent service". Has it to be within the previous year or the previous two years? It will mean that it will be a very senior police officer who will move if he has to have such recent experience. In view of the size of the Glasgow force, he will suffer a substantial drop in salary if he moves to another force. Therefore, he will not do so. I have had talks about this with chief constables, and from the practical point of view I urge the Government not to proceed with the requirement of recent service in another force for Scotland.
I should like to see provision in the Bill for the compulsory retirement of all chief constables at 65. It should not be permissible for a local authority to extend the period of service up to 70, as one Scottish local authority has done at present. It would be in the interests of the force if the chief constable were compulsorily retired at 65. People joining the force would have a better view 164 of their prospects. I hope to hear the Under-Secretary say that provision to this effect will be incorporated in the Bill, because it would be welcomed by Scottish chief constables.
The Home Secretary referred to the need for strengthening the Inspectorate. I agree entirely. In 1858 the Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland recommended that there should be two inspectors in Scotland. I regret to say that nothing has been done since 1858. We had one inspector then. We still have one. The present inspector is grossly over-worked. It is impossible for him to discharge the duties in relation to the efficiency of the force which are placed upon him statutorily. Instead of the Clause dealing with the Secretary of State's power to appoint an assistant to the present Inspector of Constabulary, I suggest that it should be obligatory upon the Secretary of State for Scotland to appoint an additional Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, where there are ample duties, both administrative and inspectorial, to be discharged in view of the amount of work which the present occupant has to do.
Another important question is our attitude to the too often recurring complaints against police forces. This is a phase we are going through. We all know that one complaint begets another. I fear that the next few months, perhaps the next year, will be a time in which many people will try something against policemen in the hope of besmirching them or getting their own back for some police action. This will be unfortunate, but I believe that it will happen.
I must confess that I am not greatly enamoured of the proposal to set up machinery for calling in an outside policeman to inquire into a matter arising in a neighbouring force, nor am I satisfied that the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East that local tribunals should be set up would meet the case. I was in local government work for many years. I have experience of the machinery invoked to carry out disciplinary action against the police force and to bring criminal charges against the police. I was happy about that machinery. I cannot honestly say that we found anything that did not work fairly, either 165 on the police or on the general public. When a criminal charge is laid against a member of a Scottish force, the charge is not even investigated by his chief constable or by an investigating officer. It goes automatically to a Procurator Fiscal, If the Procurator Fiscal thinks that there is something to be prosecuted further, he passes the case to the Crown Solicitor. It is left to the Crown Solicitor to decide whether there should be a prosecution.
In disciplinary cases, the complainant makes his complaint to the chief constable. The chief constable holds an investigation, at which the complainant is entitled to be present and ask questions. The complainant is notified of the result. I am not of the opinion that it is possible greatly to improve on the Scottish practice. It is true that there has been a recent case of which hon. Members will be aware. Perhaps it is fair to say that on the whole we could do with some improvement, but I would not say that at this stage it is absolutely essential.
I do not like the proposed Amendment to the Police (Scotland) Act, 1956. Clause 49 says:Every police authority …shall keep themselves informed as to the manner in which complaints from members of the public against members of the force are dealt with lay the chief officer of police.This is wrong. There should be a Scottish national policy for dealing with complaints against the police. The procedure should not vary from local authority to local authority. Above all else, there should be a standard form for lodging complaints. A form should be available such as the form the National Assistance Board has available for people to lodge appeals. There should be a standard form to be completed by the complainant himself or with the aid of a policeman in the police station where he makes a complaint. This form should be adopted by every local authority. This would help considerably to reduce the number of fanciful complaints and allegations made by the general public that an officer noted down a complaint but nothing was done about it.
Clause 11(3) provides that if a chief constable thinks that a report required by the police authority would contain information which should not be dis- 166 closed he may request the authority to refer the requirement to the Secretary of State. I am not certain at the moment whether such a report would be disclosed if a Question were asked in Parliament. This is an important matter. The Home Secretary gave a hint early this afternoon when he said that if the information was suitable for transmission to the House it would be disclosed. This provision will not be of any value unless we are able to ask Questions of appropriate Ministers on all reports. It is therefore essential that we have an unequivocal reply as to whether we shall be able to ask questions on every report made by every chief constable at the request of a local authority.
Clause 13 deals with the aid of one police force by another. It refers to the power of the Secretary of State to give directions or instructions to a police force to send policemen to a neighbouring or another police force. I refer to this Clause because in the West of Scotland we have the Regional Crime Squad, which is doing some useful work. This squad is frequently asked to co-operate with other police authorities. It is a compact group, and this type of organisation might assist if the Government decided to establish a Scotland Yard in Scotland. I hope the Government are aware that any directions or instructions given by the Secretary of State, perhaps against the wishes of an authority, may not lead to the best possible relationship between police forces.
Instead of bothering about these sort of powers, the Secretary of State should go a step further and create a central police force comprised of a small number of policemen equipped with the latest scientific apparatus. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to direct local police authorities. It is important that he should also see that the police are suitably equipped. To do so might lead to a duplication of costly scientific instruments and the people necessary to use them. If the latest equipment were placed in the charge of a Scottish C.I.D.—based on the organisation that already exists in the West of Scotland—it would become the duty of such a compact corps to assist other police forces solve certain types of crime and, on occasions, to take complete control of investigations.
167 Time does not permit me to deal with many of the other important facets of the Bill. However, I again appeal to the Secretary of State—and in this I have the support of a great number of Scottish hon. Members—to introduce a separate Bill for Scotland and to discuss the new Bill in the Scottish Committee upstairs. It requires a lot of time to do justice when debating a Measure of this sort. To do so in a Committee room filled with English hon. Members is difficult for Scottish hon. Members, even though much of the legislation in the Measure appertains to Scotland.
Much can be done to improve the Bill. Scotland can make a positive contribution to what is already an efficient system of policing. If we examine the Clauses in detail and allow Scottish hon. Members to debate the Scottish facets of the Measure, I am sure that they, being prepared to give great care to their deliberations will give it the benefit of their undoubted knowledge of these matters.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. A. Stodart)
The nervousness I experience on advancing to the Dispatch Box for the first time is fortified only by the fact that I have acted as a special constable for the last 20 years. This is not, therefore, perhaps an inappropriate subject for me on which to make my debut. For the benefit of hon. Members generally, I will begin by saying how the Bill applies to Scotland. I want, in particular, to comment on one or two of the provisions in which rather a different line is taken in Scotland from that being taken in England and Wales.
I absolutely agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) about the restriction that is imposed on the operation of special constables in Scotland. He said that the matter should be examined. I can inform him that the Scottish Police Council has recently appointed a working party to do just that.
We have taken careful note of the points which were made by some hon. Members opposite on Thursday and by the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) when they said, in effect, that the proposals 168 included in the Bill should be contained in a separate piece of legislation for Scotland. I will do my best today to try to convince hon. Members who hold that view that the method which the Government have adopted is the best one.
When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred in the debate on 9th May to much of the legislation dealing with the administration of the police in England and Wales as being "vague and out of date", he added that Scottish police legislation had been consolidated and clarified as recently as 1956. My right hon. Friend said:… the Scots got ahead for once."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th May, 1963; Vol. 677, c. 686.]The generosity of my right hon. Friend's tribute is obvious, yet it is as plain as any pikestaff that when it came to the last two words of that remark his tongue slipped and he possibly should have said "as usual".
One thing has been cheering to Scottish hon. Members on both sides so far in the debate—the rather wistful references by hon. Members who represent English constituencies about the state of affairs which they would like to see exist—be it regarding Clause 11 or Clause 48—while that state of affairs happens to exist in Scotland and has done so for quite a time. This largely explains why the Bill is, to a large extent, a consolidation and modernising of English police law. In that, Scotland has no part. However, Scotland is affected by the Bill in three ways.
The first is that we want to take this opportunity of gaining for Scotland some of the improvements that were suggested by the Royal Commission or which arose in some of the discussions which followed it. Being ahead, it is a good thing that we should stay ahead.
Secondly, we must take account of some of the consequential effects of English consolidation. For example, the law on police appeals is in a Statute that applies to both countries. Its application south of the Border is being consolidated in the Bill and obviously we cannot leave the Scottish position in what I might describe as a state of suspended animation.
Thirdly, we have taken advantage to propose two comparatively minor but 169 quite useful and desirable amendments to the Scottish code. I use the words "Scottish code" deliberately because I want to make it clear that we want to preserve the separate and highly convenient framework of the Scottish Act of 1956. For that reason, the Scottish provisions have been set out together in Schedule 6. I think that this will be a convenience to the police themselves and the legal profession in Scotland who have to use the code—
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will look at the Schedule. Is it intelligible? Does what is written there make sense? It can only make sense once it is translated—and look at that tartan muddle to just two pages of amendments to what was an up-to-date and intelligent consolidation Measure. The Government have made a hopeless mess of one intelligible Measure.
§ Mr. Stodart
I am very sorry, but this is not the first time, and it will not be the last time, that I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on this matter.
§ Mr. Stodart
No, there are many hon. Members who wish to speak, and it would be much better if I were—
§ Mr. Stodart
We could, of course, have done things differently, and it would be absurd to deny it. For example, we could have added subsections where necessary throughout the Bill at the end of each appropriate English Clause, saying whether it applied to Scotland and, if so, with what variations. I do not think that anyone would have approved of that method, because the result would have been to destroy the whole framework of the 1956 Act, and future consolidation would have been much less easy.
Alternatively, we could have done what I have already said hon. Members opposite would like us to do—initiate separate Scottish legislation. That would have been perfectly possible, but I still believe that as more than half of 170 the 41 Sections of the 1956 Act are left completely untouched, and as the untouched Sections contain the main provisions, such as the matters to do with the police authorities and the Secretary of State's new responsibilities, and also the provision to do with chief constables—
§ Mr. Stodart
I should point out that the whole of Part III, which deals with the representative institutions, is applied to Scotland as well as to England. This is appropriate, as the provisions for the Police Council and the two advisory boards form a common pattern in the two countries, and the Police Council itself is a Great Britain body.
Referring to the Scottish proposals in detail, almost the whole of Schedule 6 consists of changes that were suggested by the Royal Commission, and feature in the main part of the Bill to be applied to England and Wales. Perhaps I might first indicate where these differ in their application because of the ways in which Scottish law and practice differ from those of England and Wales.
There are a couple of small amendments which are applied to Scotland only in order to bring the 1956 Act up-to-date. That in paragraph 13 of the Schedule makes a comparatively minor change in the Section dealing with common police services. Experience has shown this to be, at the moment, drawn too narrowly to allow for Scottish police officers being trained either at English police colleges or attending conferences organised by Interpol. As conferences such as these can clearly be of tremendous advantage, and as these powers already exist in the South, we think it right that they should be extended to Scotland.
More important, perhaps, is the change appearing in paragraph 1, which will abolish the existing right of any Scots burgh with a population of 50,000 to get an independent police force. This 171 right was directly—and, I think, rightly—criticised by the Royal Commission, and it is quite inconsistent with the present trend towards larger forces.
I come now to three provisions which it is intended to apply south of the Border but not in Scotland. The trend towards larger forces will be fostered in England by provisions for amalgamation in the main part of the Bill. These do not apply to Scotland, where corresponding provisions for amalgamation are already available in the 1956 Act, and where a basic reorganisation of local government is already being discussed with local authorities. The reorganisation, when it comes about, should automatically secure a modern and better pattern of police areas, and this small amendment is entirely in line with that policy.
Another Clause in the main part of the Bill which does not extend to Scotland is Clause 27. This Clause gives the Home Secretary a specific duty to promote the efficiency of the police. The 1956 Act in Scotland clearly established my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's position in relation to the police, and gave him sufficiently wide and specific powers.
Another Clause that is quite different—and this has been much commented on by hon. Members—is Clause 48, which lays down what a chief constable in England or Wales must do with a complaint about a policeman which could imply criminal conduct. Here, of course, we have an excellent example of the quite different criminal procedures in the two countries. What this Clause sets out to do is, in effect, already in force in Scotland, where the chief constable reports any alleged criminal matter to the procurator fiscal. It is, therefore, not necessary to apply the Clause to Scotland, but it is proposed that Clause 49 should apply, and that police authorities and inspectors of constabulary should be enjoined to watch how complaints are dealt with.
The other major English provision which does not immediately extend to Scotland is in Clause 47, which makes the chief constable vicariously liable for the wrongful acts of his men. We do not propose to apply this to Scotland at 172 this stage, because the present administrative system in Scotland already secures that the police authority pays any damages and costs that a court may award against a constable who has acted in good faith. This practice is extremely well-established in Scotland. It works satisfactorily, and neither the Scottish local authorities nor the Scottish police associations, whom my right hon. Friend consulted, wish to see it altered.
My right hon. Friend did not, therefore, think it right to propose this change now, but if experience were to show it to be desirable then, quite clearly, we should follow suit, and paragraph 12 of Schedule 6 provides that it can come into force in Scotland if the Secretary of State makes an Order to that effect. But, at the moment, none of the troubles that have beset the authorities in England has been experienced in the North—
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
The Under-Secretary said that Clause 48 would not apply to Scotland. In Bills of this character, it is usual at the end of a Clause to say that it shall not apply to Scotland. Is this point covered in some of the Schedules?
§ Mr. Stodart
I have been talking about Clause 47. I am sorry if I said Clause 48—it was a slip of the tongue.
§ Mr. Stodart
I am, in fact, talking about Clause 47 of this Bill. At present, of course, it is not possible.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
Order, I think that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) knows that if an hon. Gentleman who has the Floor does not give way he must not persist. There are a great many people who still wish to speak.
§ Mr. Stodart
I am sorry, but in view of the fact that other hon. Members wish to speak I cannot give way now.
At present it is not possible for a person who considers himself wronged to sue unless he is able to identify the constable concerned. The incidence of such cases would be a strong argument for bringing this provision into effect and it is for this reason that the Bill has been introduced as far as England and Wales are concerned. But these cases have not arisen so far on any occasion in Scotland, and Scottish chief constables will do their utmost, as they do at present, to identify any constable who is involved in an incident. I do not think, therefore, that this provision will be needed, but if it is called for it will be on the Statute Book and the Secretary of State will be able to bring it into effect, retrospectively if need be, to ensure that any particular incident is covered by it.
Most of the provisions in the Bill will extend also to Scotland where they are appropriate and they will be moulded to fit Scottish conditions. They include those dealing with compulsory retirement of chief constables and deputy and assistant chief constables and also with the approval of the Secretary of State of the appointment of deputies and assistants.
At this stage perhaps I should comment upon the point made by the hon. Member for Shettleston about the undesirability, as he put it, of seeing that appointments to the rank of chief constable are made from outside the force in question. This is a matter which has won the complete approval of the Scottish police associations, namely, that any appointment of chief constable must be one of a person who has already the rank of inspector or higher outside the force in question.
There will be also statutory recognition of police cadets. There will be the right of appeals to the Secretary of State against any disciplinary punishment, whereas hitherto this has been restricted to cases where serious penalties are involved. This fulfils a promise made to the Police Federation quite a time ago. There will be powers for the Secretary of State to institute local inquiries and research into matters affecting the efficiency of the police.
§ Mr. Stodart
I am most surprised that the hon. Member, who is usually so far ahead of anyone else, has not taken the trouble to read the Bill.
§ Mr. Willis
I asked because I detected certain confusion when the Under-Secretary was dealing with Clause 47 and the new Clause to the 1956 Act. Clause 23A.
§ Mr. Stodart
I assure the hon. Member that his idea of confusion is just a figment of his imagination.
As I have said, the Secretary of State will be empowered to institute local inquiries and will have power to institute research into matters affecting the efficiency of the police.
§ Mr. Stodart
This is a matter which will almost certainly be more adequately debated in Committee upstairs.
§ Mr. Stodart
That is rather different from saying that there will be none.
I should like to deal with another question which has been raised. It is whether or not the report which can be asked for from the chief constable would be regarded as confidential and whether Questions could be asked on the report in the House. The answer is that probably Questions could be asked, but the subject matter in them would almost certainly be regarded as confidential, possibly because of a matter being the subject of police examination or being sub judice.
There are some other minor matters which I have mentioned at this stage, but I hope—
§ Mr. Stodart
—although judging from the reaction of the hon. Member it is a 175 case of hope springing eternal—I hope that I have given an explanation of how the Bill applies to Scotland and why in different cases we have taken somewhat different lines from what has been done south of the Border.
There is no extensive reshaping of police administration in Scotland, because that is not necessary. We have had regard to the separate legal and judicial position in Scotland and to existing Scottish practice. Where the present arrangements are working well and are likely to continue to work well we have not sought to change them, but we have introduced some important changes which, although they are not of great magnitude are not—although I agree that this sounds like an Irishism—unimportant. They are few in number but are useful. I think that they will be welcomed by the public in Scotland and by the police, and from what has been said generally in the House I have the impression that the House will welcome them too.
§ Mr. Stodart
I do not intend to detain the House further. I have already detained it longer than I intended.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
The Under-Secretary's speech seems to me to be a clear argument for having two Bills, one for England and the other for Scotland. If anyone wanted any further evidence why it would be an excellent thing to have both a Parliament and a Government in Edinburgh, we have had it just now.
I should like to join issue with the Government on what I consider to be the main issue of the Bill as it affects England. I should like to discuss it against the proper background. I have been most relieved to hear other hon. Members also discuss it against the background which I want to stress, and that is crime. I think that the police have felt recently that Members of Parliament particularly and people on the television and in the press were becoming quite unreasonably critical of 176 faults which have occurred in the police, as we all recognise, while forgetting the real problem of crime. A discussion of the Bill against any background other than that which is most important of all, the background of a large increase in crime in recent years, would be quite unreal.
I totally reject the idea, which is popular in some quarters, that it is the police and their activities which ought to be examined. It is the criminal and his activities which call for examination and action. The Sheffield case, of course, is quite inexcusable. Violence used to extort confessions is utterly wrong and cannot be countenanced. But we must keep the problem in proper perspective. The House has, in fact, been doing this, and I think that I can cut out some of what I had in mind to say, in the interests of the time of other hon. Members.
One hon. Member opposite spoke about "Dixon of Dock Green" and "Z Cars". The popularity of programmes such as those, I think, is not an indication that people cannot stand the sight of the police at any price or that they have not a bond of sympathy with them. The real complaint, I suspect, is that, when they want a policeman, he is not in sight and they would like to see more police officers about. The important thing is to deal with the crime wave. Almost daily in the newspapers people read about violent crime, and many are aware of housebreaking going on in their own neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, people experience it themselves to a far greater degree than in the past.
I do not wish to weary the House, but I think it important to put on record the figures which indicate the extent of crime nowadays. In 1938 there were 283,000 indictable offences. In 1955—the crime wave had actually receded a bit—there were 438,000. In 1962, the total had risen to 896,000, three times what is was in 1938 and twice what it was in 1955, only eight years ago. For crimes of violence against the person, the figures were 2,721 in 1938, 7,884 in 1955 and 17,948 in 1962, a more than six fold increase over 1938.
It is interesting to note in this context that the establishment of the police forces in the period since 1938 has 177 risen by only one-third. The percentage of cleared up cases has gone down slightly from an average over the country as a whole of 50 per cent, to 44 per cent. It is noteworthy also, in the light of the argument we hear for giving the Home Secretary more power and for the adoption of large forces, that the Metropolitan Police Force is right at the bottom of the list on every count. It is the force which has had the smallest increase in establishment. As far as I can ascertain from H.M.I, reports in the Library, it seems to have had an increase in establishment of less than 1,000 since 1938. I hope that I shall be corrected if I am wrong. Its percentage of cleared up cases last year—24 per cent.—was half the national average. Yet this is the police force which is held up as a great example.
I do not for a moment deny that the police in the Metropolitan area have many problems which we do not have in Bolton, but it is argued both by the Royal Commission and by other people that it is this kind of force which, if multiplied in different parts of the country, could provide us with a much more efficient police force generally. I suggest that that case is not made out at all. The experience of the Metropolitan Police Force points rather the other way.
§ Mr. C. Royle
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Lancashire is the most law-abiding place in Britain?
§ Mr. Holt
It may well be, but in loyalty to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) I should point out that the Huddersfield police force, a quite small force of only 214 men, is at the top of the league table, with 75 per cent, of its indictable cases cleared up.
During this period the work of the police in other respects has greatly increased. The number of all types of vehicle has gone up from 3 million to 10½million. Sixty-two per cent, of the total number of people found guilty of crimes were charged with traffic offences. This is an extra burden which the police, with an establishment which has increased only slightly, must carry.
What does the Bill do about all this? The main effect of the Bill, I suggest, is to increase the powers of the Home 178 Secretary. I know that it does one or two other things in Part I, such as clarifying certain points about local authorities, but I think that the main and most important aspect of the Bill is to increase the powers of the Home Secretary, particularly in Clauses 13(2), 20(2), 28(1), 29(1) and 30(1). These proposals follow the recommendations of the Royal Commission, which accepted the overwhelming amount of evidence which it received indicating that the present structure of the police force was not a cause of trouble and rejected proposals for a national police force under the Home Secretary. But. nevertheless, in its recommendations—this is where the Commission was schizophrenic—it put forward proposals which I seriously suggest are more appropriate to a movement in the direction of a national police force.
I agree that initially this depends to what extent the Home Secretary uses his new powers, and I hope that we will hear more about this at the end of the debate. In the end, this matter turns on Parliamentary Questions. I know that many hon. Members wish to ask quite a lot of Questions about the activities of the police in their own constituencies. Personally, this is not something that I want. However, this is a difference of view. If hon. Members are to be able to ask the kind of Questions which they have in mind now, this will take place only if the Home Secretary is not using these new powers in any reserve sense as a last resort but is actively and frequently receiving reports from different chief constables about incidents which take place about which questions are asked in the House.
I think that before it gives a Second Reading to the Bill the House is entitled to a clear answer from the Home Secretary about this. Will he use these new and greater powers only as a last resort and therefore not answer in detail Questions such as what happened when a policeman was involved in a scuffle outside the Nag's Head in Salford last Saturday night? Will he answer Questions of this; sort or not, because it makes a world of difference to what will happen later in the structure of the police force?
If this House becomes a place in which the most searching Questions are asked and answered about the police forces 179 in the country, I do not believe that the Home Secretary can pretend that it will not denigrate the standing and position of the local police authority. It is inherent in the Bill that the chief constable has two masters: the police authority and the Home Secretary. This is an inevitable compromise. When, however, the Home Secretary said that he was taking more power for himself—and he said words to that effect today—he suggested that it was without diminution of the power of the local police authority. That is not mathematically possible.
If there are two masters and the power of one is increased, the power of the other must be diminished. This is important, because I am firmly against a national police force or a trend in that direction. This has nothing to do with any ideas that it might let in Fascism, but is for different reasons.
§ Mr. William Wells (Walsall, North)
Does the logic of the hon. Member's argument follow about the two masters when previously over the chief constable there has been no master at all?
§ Mr. Holt
The position of the police authority at home may not be clear in law or in statute, but in those county boroughs, for example, where there has been a happy relationship between the police constable and the watch committee, there have, in fact, been two masters. That position will now be changed by one of those masters, the Home Secretary, getting more power. This, no doubt, will suit Professor Good-hart, who is a keen advocate of strong central guidance.
It is interesting that people who talk about centralisation and about wanting central guidance always put in the word "strong". That is the great thing that wins people over, but how often is it true in practice? More often, is not the central guidance not only bureaucratic, but complacent and stifling to local initiative?
The Home Secretary may be determined to take power into his hands. If so, the Bill affords him the means of doing it. Taking power, however, is quite different from exercising drive, originality and efficiency over the police 180 units out in the country. This whole centralised conception is purely a paper scheme and will be quite unworkable by one of the most overworked Secretaries of State in the Government—the Home Secretary. If he had nothing else to do but look after the police, it might be possible, but we know, as he does, that he has many other things to do. It is a dream of people who insist upon being tidy-minded, but it is not the vision of practical men.
I should like to say a word about boundaries and size. I am ready to accept that the present boundaries or the size of forces are not necessarily the best, but I am a little alarmed at the sweeping powers that the Home Secretary is taking to force amalgamations, apparently, upon anyone. Previously, the right hon. Gentleman was limited to police forces covering a population of 100,000. I should be happier if he were limited now to police forces covering a population of, say, 250,000 or, perhaps, 300,000. In the absence of limitation, perhaps not the present Home Secretary but a successor might start on countyisation or regionalisation with the House of Commons having little opportunity to do much about it.
If the problem of boundaries is said to be one of co-operation, I recall the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle) talking about a police car chasing somebody and stopping at the boundary. I am assured that that kind of thing is far away from the facts of modern police co-operation and that nobody would stop at a boundary if tracking a criminal. I understand that there is no known recent example of refusal by a chief constable to cooperate in a scheme of mutual working where it was reasonable for him so to do. I want co-operation between chief constables, and I am perfectly prepared to see it written in the Bill that it shall be a duty of chief constables to cooperate in all reasonable manner having regard to their responsibilities in their own areas. No doubt, some barrister could draft this out for me, for I am no lawyer.
As we know, there are special cooperative efforts already taking place in these new crime squads, and I understand that by the end of this year the whole 181 of our part of the country, Lancashire, will be covered, that the two crime squads in Manchester and Liverpool will be supplemented by three others covering the northern part of the county, to deal primarily with major crime.
The basic reason why I do not like and am highly suspicious of the inherent powers which lie in this Bill is that I believe the whole basis of successful police work lies in co-operation between the police and the public, in the public's participation with the police. The police depend completely on the participation of the public, and the police should have participating with them the legally elected representatives of the public, the local magistrates, and, indeed, the whole community. Parliament ought to make it clear that that is where responsibility lies; we should make it clear in our legislation, and not leave any doubt that responsibility perhaps lies here. The detailed matters affecting that I would prefer to discuss in Committee on the Bill.
It is interesting, and I should like to point it out to the Home Secretary, for I wonder whether anybody has told the Home Office, which often does hear things a little late, that we had got the idea recently that the Government, in other Departments, were now embarking, on a policy of decentralisation. The new Minister at the Board of Trade is to co-ordinate in the regions questions of housing, trade and the like. Yet the Home Office takes this opportunity to take more powers to centralise the police forces.
I think it was unfortunate that by its terms of reference the Royal Commission, as it said itself, was not invitedto enquire into detailed questions concerning the day-to-day operations of the police".I think that if it had been we should have had far more stress on what I think are the important things affecting the police in dealing with crime, and they are such things as pay and conditions. The interim Report dealt with pay, but a lot has to be done about conditions and hours of work.
It is interesting to note, even with regard to pay, that most of the police forces in the South of the country show vacancies around 10 per cent. Gloucestershire, Berkshire, Essex all 182 have 10 per cent. vacancies, whereas in the North, in counties such as Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, and in boroughs like Bolton and Preston, vacancies in the police force amount to only 1 per cent. In Lincolnshire the number is nil. I suggest that this reflects the greater competition and higher wages with which the police have to compete in the South, and this has got to be taken into account. In the Metropolitan area, for instance, where many things are unsatisfactory, as I have pointed out before, the vacancies are in fact 10 per cent. and the establishment ought to be a great deal larger. The establishment in all these forces needs increasing.
I will not weary the House at this stage by reading extracts from the minutes of evidence given to the Royal Commission by the Police Federation, but I want to refer to certain paragraphs for the record, paragraphs 111–117, and recall a case in Birmingham and an example across the Atlantic of the value of having an adequate number of constables on the beat. This need was accepted and recognised by the Royal Commission in paragraph 201 of its interim Report where it said:There an; not enough police … the strength of the force has been declining during the time of our inquiry".And also, of course, crime is going up.… it is the uniformed man on the beat who provides the most effective deterrent to crime; there are not enough men available for beat duty.The Home Secretary ought to be giving his attention to this kind of thing and prodding the police authorities.
The third thing that we need to do—it is a proper exercise for the Home Secretary—is to try to induce some of the police authorities to be a little less conservative in their approach to recruiting. I have in mind those who have had higher education, and particularly university graduates. I very much agree with the recommendations of Lord Geddes, Sir George Turner and Mr. Hetherington in their addition to the end of the Report on this subject. In discussing this with policemen, I have noticed that they feel that a very special ability is required in detecting crime. I have had instances given to me of persons who are marvellous at 183 detecting crime but whose education has been very moderate.
The police authorities seem to look upon those who have been to a university as rather "cissy" and not having toughness and courage, which are undoubtedly required in police work. I suggest that they might pay a visit shortly to Twickenham and interview some of the Oxford and Cambridge university teams after the match and see whether they cannot recruit some of them into the police force.
§ Mr. Holt
If this is not done, standards will drop. Many boys nowadays, including the sons of many of the able men at present in the police force, have the opportunity, which their fathers did not have, of going to university, and they go there. To put it another way, if the older men now in the force had had the opportunity 30 years ago to go to university, they would never have been able to get into the force if the present policy with regard to university graduates had been in operation. Those concerned must recognise that here is valuable material which must be brought into the force as soon as possible.
The Home Secretary should be concerning himself with things of this kind and not with taking more direct power over local police forces. I hope that before the debate ends the Joint Under-Secretary of State will make a clear statement about how the Home Secretary intends to use his power and what scope will be allowed in Parliamentary Questions about police matters.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) has said in his diagnosis of crime. He quoted a great number of figures which I had intended to use. Crime is very rampant. I have just received a telephone message, "Please ring your flat at once, as it appears to have been ransacked. "That is exactly the sort of thing that we are complaining about in this debate.
I am sorry if the hon. Member believes that the Bill will not make the police more efficient, or will weaken the force. 184 If I believed that I would not vote for the Bill. There are occasional instances of poor police behaviour, but the Bill proposes means of correcting them.
The fact is that at the moment the force is an overworked, over-stretched body of men trying to plug up holes made by a swarming criminal community. Indeed, we seem to be approaching conditions in the United States. I read that there nearly 10 per cent, of the national income is absorbed by criminal activities, by police activities trying to stop crime, by sending criminals to prison and by all the ancillary services necessary to trying to keep down crime.
The crime rate in this country is very high and our efforts at detection are so unsuccessful because each C.I.D. officer is handling about 250 to 300 cases a year. This, I am told, is double the number that any officer can handle efficiently. Recently, there were very interesting articles in the Observer about this. One of them quoted the example of a sergeant handling a simple case of larceny of a bicycle. His file included statements from four witnesses and one from the accused, a précis of the circumstances of the case against the man and a short biography of him which involved writing to several former employers and to the War Office for his Army record.
The article added that in this division the C.I.D., of 25 detectives, had only one typist to help them. It went on:On the two days which the sergeant had spent on the larceny case he had also had to fit in three requests from other forces to interview people in his division and take statements; deal with correspondence from insurance companies wanting confirmation of lost property; and go to court to get a prisoner remanded on another charge.That is the state of the police at the present time and that is why the detection rate is so low, as the hon. Member for Bolton, West said. I had my attention drawn to these matters by the wage snatches of anything up to £250,000 this summer and by the great train robbery. Incidentally, I cannot understand why the banks do not cancel notes before sending them back to the central bank. A constituent of mine who is a bank manager says that it would be quite simple to do so.
One does not have to prove that crime is a bad thing for the country. It 185 suffices to say that if a man snatches £20,000 successfully he has, at one moment, obtained as much money as a highly paid manual worker earns in twenty years of honest toil—and it is free of tax. One need only think of the South-Eastern news on the radio in the morning—perhaps news of my flat will be included tomorrow—to realise how much crime is going on every night. I am sure that the same thing is true of other regional news bulletins.
Before the war, it was said that if we could only reduce poverty and have a Welfare State, crime would go down; but the exact opposite has happened and felonious indictable crime has gone up by three times since before the war. My solution in this dangerous situation is for the public to do more to help the police. There is a common law duty to stop crime and a common law duty to arrest criminals caught in the act, but that seems to be forgotten. We want more of the old spirit of hue and cry and a greater spirit of moral disapproval of crime. The Royal Commission made the interesting suggestion that police duties should be explained to school children.
During the Recess, I happened to make a few remarks about the great train robbery and I was taken to task in the Press. I pointed out that when the criminals were hidden at Leatherslade Farm, over the weekend after the crime, the herdsman of the village of Oakley had his suspicions aroused because the farm was blacked out and because mysterious lorries were appearing in the farmyard. He took the trouble to telephone the police that Monday morning, which was excellent of him. However, we know that the police were so overwhelmed with telephone calls that they could not take any notice. The other extraordinary thing was, I understand, that he told his employer, but that between them they did not take any further action. They did not tell the local policeman, or local special constable, or even any of their friends.
It may be that the local policeman was too far away, and that is a criticism of not having enough local policemen on the beat; but the fact remains that if they had been able to take immediate action of a more positive nature than just ringing up the police, a great coup 186 I might have been brought off in the village and the train robbers caught and several thousand of hours of police work saved.
My few remarks on the subject might have touched public conscience, because as a result of it I was given a surprising number of examples of incidents in which the public had not assisted the police or each other as should have been the case. For example, I was told of a young man who had been the chief witness in a serious motor accident involving a criminal charge. He asked his employer for time off, perhaps a day or half a day, to appear at the police court. The employer asked, "Why get mixed up in things like that? Why bother to go?" That is an attitude which is to be found too frequently.
The brother of an official of the House had a valuable parcel under his arm as he walked down the Bayswater Road. It was snatched from him. He ran after the man shouting, "Stop thief, stop thief." But all the members of the public in the road averted their eyes and no one helped him.
In Draycott Avenue, a man came from his flat about midday to find a man taking a radio out of his car. He struggled with the man, but no member of the public helped and the man got away. A young cousin of mine, who is an energetic young fellow, happened along and ran after the man, who went across the King's Road and into Wellington Place. He captured the man and brought him back.
The extraordinary thing is that the motorist and my cousin between them held the man down on the pavement for a long time while they tried to get help, or to get someone to telephone the police. Nobody did. Eventually, a solicitor came along and said, "Hold the man down, but not quite so roughly or you may be taken in yourself for assault." The solicitor did the right thing and rang the police. But there was no sense of public relations which the police, because the young man did not get any credit from the police or the court for his action.
My last example was given to me by an hon. Member, who told me that his mother was walking down Victoria Street, on a Saturday afternoon, when it might be thought the people were not 187 too busy, when an old woman collapsed in front of her. The hon. Member's mother was not young, but she knelt on the pavement and put her coat under the old woman, who shortly afterwards died in her arms. She tried to attract the attention of passers by to get some help, but about ten minutes elapsed before anybody came along to help her.
Too much of that sort of thing is going on. It may be said that relations between the police and the public are bad. Some of this bad relationship is due to the peculiar state of the parking regulations. In a metered area one knows that where one can park, and where one cannot, but in unmetered areas the action of the police is capricious and they come round once a month to pick up people who park in the street, with the result that the relationship between the public and the police becomes bad. This is perhaps an argument for more metering and more traffic warden control.
I am attracted by the idea put forward by Lord Shawcross, and mentioned by one or two hon. Members today, that there should be an examining justice in this country, as is continental practice. There is a danger in meting out kid glove justice to dangerous criminals in this country. Too often intelligent criminals know that they need not answer any questions asked by the police, and they ring up their solicitors and get away with it. The task is difficult enough for the police, in all conscience, and in those circumstances the police, or some of them, are tempted to adopt improper subterfuges. They are tempted to slip in a word or two of confession in a man's statement, and so on. If we are entitled to do so under the rules of order, I think we should examine the idea of having examining justices to examine criminals, rather than let the police do it.
Although we do not want a national police force, I think that there is a case for a national C.I.D. because it seems rather ridiculous that if a crime is committed in, say, Aylesbury, the police from Aylesbury have to go to, say. Bournemouth to pick up suspects in that area. I should not have thought that it was beyond the wit of Parliament to see that we have a national C.I.D., without the need for a national police force, 188 which could be used for some of the purposes mentioned today.
In short, I say that crime has increased, is increasing, and that crime does pay for the majority of criminals, because in the London area three-quarters of the crimes that are committed are undetected.
§ Mr. Hale
We had a distinguished member, the Dean of the Faculty, with us, on the Royal Commission, and we tried to look at the Scottish system, which has something in common with the procedure adopted in France. Actually, in France, in the Third, Fourth and Fifth Republics, the Juge d' Instruction was not quite the independent judicial inquirer that we thought he was, and in Italy, where the Guidice D'Isstruzzione is reputed to be an independent magistrate, as in the Montesi and subsequent cases he has often been appointed by the Government as an independent inquirer.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I am interested in what the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) said. I assume that the idea was turned down.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
If it is in order to do so in Committee, perhaps we might look at it again.
What we are seeing now is more than a crime wave. It is a surge of criminality and I think that the public should take more strenuous and active steps to defend themselves. I think, too, that they should co-operate with the police and assist one another in every way. In this way we would increase the efficiency of the police and get on top of the criminal underworld.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Wells (Walsall, North)
I should like to make shortly three points. First, I associate myself most heartily with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle) and others about the desirability of separating magistrates from all control over the police. When summing up cases to juries at quarter sessions, I find it a constant embarrassment to strike the right balance about police evidence. I am all the time inhibited 189 by the thought: does the jury realise that I, by virtue of being a magistrate, am part of the employing authority?
I regard this as an embarrassment, and it should be removed. It has, of course, deep historic origins, but one need say no more about it than that the administration of justice in the twentieth century is something which is very different in many ways from what it was in the fourteenth century.
Secondly, I feel that, with all respect, the majority of the members of the Royal Commission and the Government have a wrong solution about the very important question of complaints. I can concede the logic of saying that it is so important to emphasise that a chief constable is responsible for the discipline of his force, that whatever safeguards are made about procedure, he must maintain control. If we once depart from that position, it seems to me that there is a case for having a tribunal which will not only be just—I am sure that in the majority of cases the chief constable is perfectly just—but will also be seen to be just by the people who complain.
I would have thought that in that case, unless we take the strict view that the chief constable must remain responsible for the discipline of the men under his control, the alternative must prevail. Whether we have a commissioner of rights, as the three members of the Royal Commission suggested, or a tribunal of the kind that my hon. Friend the Member of Salford, West suggested, is a very difficult question. I am convinced that a solution must be found in the direction of bringing an outside element into this inquiry, so that, in the last resort, it will be seen that the police are not the sole judges of complaints against them.
Thirdly, all our efforts must be directed towards rebuilding a happier relationship between the police and the public. We have great confidence in the majority of police, but it is also most important for the administration of justice that people outside have the same confidence, and have causes for the same confidence. Therefore, any question of accountability to this House is not a weakening of the position of the police; it is a strengthening of the position of the police.
190 The chief constable who does his job fairly will have nothing to fear from Questions in this House. I hope that when the Bill is passed—there are many difficulties in the wording as to what this new accountability will mean—there will be no Home Office mystique as, quite frankly, there has been in the past about protecting the police from public inquiry, but that the approach to Questions put by hon. Members in the House shall not be, "Can we find a reason for not giving an answer?", but "Is there any reason," and there may be good reason, "for not giving a full and frank reply?".
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Soskice(Newport)
The speeches made by hon. Members in the course of this debate are in general accord that this is a good Bill. Hon. Members on this side of the House welcome it in general terms. We are dealing with a very human problem. We are dealing with a large body of police officers, and quite often we are a little unreasonable in our approach to them. We expect every one of them to be a Hercules. We expect that the less sleep they have the more amiable they will become. They have a difficult task. They are constantly in active contact with the most disagreeable members of our community, and when they have to deal with the more agreeable members it is generally upon very disagreeable occasions and when those usually agreeable members are in their most disagreeable moods.
For years we have overworked them, and we habitually over-criticise them. I wish that we could persuade them that the kind of criticism that we direct against them should really be taken by them as a compliment, because it indicates—and I say this sincerely—the very high standards that we expect from them, and which, in general—so far as it is possible for any great body of men and women—they live up to. Every large body of persons has its own backsliders, and I am sure that the police force is as anxious to root out those who degrade the reputation of the police—and there are not many—as is any other section of our community.
Their task is difficult—the kind of task that they have to encounter when they meet the sort of pompous ass who knows 191 a little law, and who, when a police officer asks him to move his car, thinks that some tremendous principle of constitutional propriety is involved because that police officer does not call him "Sir". Not only is their work difficult; it is dangerous. I was very glad when my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon), in her admirable reply to the Home Secretary's speech—which was also very clear and comprehensive, and of great help to the House—reminded us all that no fewer than 30 police officers are wounded each week in the Metropolitan area. Until I heard her speech I never realised how important it was to keep well out of the range of the stiletto heel. I do not generally find myself within its range, but police officers do.
One hon. Member mentioned the case of the unfortunate young constable who lost his sight carrying out his duty. His name should be honourably remembered. It is Constable Rowlands, who is now employed, I think, as a telephone operator. In devotion to duty he was blinded, and he must now pass the rest of his days in darkness. In approaching this problem let us not forget that side of it. When we are angered, as we are justifiably angered—as no doubt members of the police are angered—by the sort of happenings that we have read about in Sheffield, let us weigh in the balance the tremendous service rendered to us by the police, and the tremendous debt we owe them. Let us pride ourselves that our great democracy—the pioneer democracy in the world—has, as one of its admirable techniques, learnt the great principle that no democracy can really flourish unless there is confidence between the public and the police. After all, a police officer is just one of us. He has some, but a very few, extra powers beyond those possessed by the ordinary citizen. He should not either be apart or feel apart or in any sense be ostracised. He should be welcomed as one of our society, as he most truly is.
I take this opporunity of saying that, because not only does the Royal Commission point it out but I think that general conversation and experience tell us that one of the depressing features of the present situation is that the police themselves feel that they are not as trusted 192 as they used to be trusted. I personally believe, as the Royal Commission Report says, that public confidence in the police is as high as it ever was, Sheffield inquiries or no Sheffield inquiries. After all numerically, in view of the vast number of what I might describe as police occasions, hours of police work done by officers all over the country, Sheffield scandals are few and far between.
In the face of that human problem, I think that the Home Secretary has struck a very fair balance between moving from purely local police administration outside the Metropolis and the City of London and the kind of recommendation made by Professor Goodhart in favour of a national police force. The right hon. Gentleman has accepted responsibility to answer in the House for the police force, but he has preserved at the same time what in my humble judgment is of inestimable value in our constitutional and democratic arrangements—that is, active local responsibility for the administration in the broad sense of this very vital service to the community.
The Home Secretary has, I think, rightly struck the balance. As he has pointed out, although in some respects, a few respects, local authority participation has been reduced—for example, in the matter of appointments, promotions and discipline in the case of officers below the rank of chief constable—broadly speaking local authorities have nevertheless retained the powers which they enjoy at present. Those powers, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, never included a power to give directions to a chief constable. The chief constable is the prime officer, but the Home Secretary has taken upon himself what we have all for many years in the House hoped and expected that he would, namely, the responsibility of being questioned in the House on the police force.
I want to put one or two questions to the Minister who is to reply as to the real extent of the responsibility which the Home Secretary has assumed. He can be questioned but questioned only, subject to the rulings of the Chair, upon such matters as are fully within the sphere of his responsibility. Those matters are these. As we know, the Home Secretary can call upon a police authority to retire a chief constable on the ground of inefficiency. He can call 193 for a report from a chief constable. He can initiate an inquiry into happenings in a particular area. He has the advice and assistance of the inspectors who go round the country.
I should like to know whether we have any guarantee, or whether the Minister can give us any assurance, first, that if we ask the Home Secretary whether he has called for a report and he says that he has he will disclose it to the House. If all that the Home Secretary assumes is the responsibility of saying whether or not he will call for a report and if he is not under any obligation to disclose the contents of the report to the House, we are not very much forrader. I cannot conceive that the Home Secretary, or the Minister who will answer the debate, would be unwilling to give us an assurance that, except in cases where there was some very special reason for withholding either the whole or part of the report, the House would be told of the contents of the report. Even if we know the content of the report, what next? Can we ask the Home Secretary what he proposes to do in the event of the report disclosing some unsatisfactory behaviour on the part of a police officer? Will we not be met by what I suspect will be the inevitable answer; that there is nothing the Home Secretary can do?
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman can ask for an inquiry or, as I have said, that the chief constable be retired on the grounds of inefficiency, but in his speech today he naturally pointed out that those were only weapons to be used in the last resort and in serious and grave cases. Are we, therefore, in this situation; that abuses may go on, that while we may ask the Home Secretary certain questions and while we may hope to see the contents of the report, there the power of intervention by this House through questioning the Minister responsible ends?
Something highly undesirable may have gone on, but if it is not of such a character by itself or not part of such sustained and continued conduct as to merit the retirement of the chief constable concerned, our power of questioning and the influence we can exert by questions comes to an end at that point. That is a matter of grave importance. I see the Under-Secretary reaching for his pen and 194 I hope that he will be able to reassure us on this point.
As the Home Secretary pointed out, the police authority neither has now nor will have in the future any right to give directions to the chief constable. The police authority cannot say to him, "This is not to occur again." Equally, the Home Secretary cannot say, "This is not to occur again" to the chief constable and therefore in Questions in the House of Commons we can carry the matter no further than giving ourselves the satisfaction subject to the good graces of the Home Secretary of reading a description of the undesirable conduct in a report. That is how the right hon. Gentleman has left the matter and I hope that in Committee we will look at this point carefully so that we may give the House the degree of control which is necessary.
As I understand it, the Government have deliberately brought about that situation because, from my reading of Clause 27 which defines the Home Secretary's responsibilities with regard to the maintenance of the police force, I see that that Clause is so defined in terms as to fall short of anything—and the right hon. Gentleman said this in his speech—which could amount to a real responsibility for maintaining an efficient police force;. Clause 27 states that all that the Secretary of State has to do is to…exercise his powers…in such manner and to such extent as appears to him to be best calculated to promote the efficiency of the police.Beyond that, his responsibility does not go.
That is the first point of substance I offer by way of criticism of the Bill and I pass on to deal with some minor controversial issues about which hon. Members have expressed differing opinions. I wish to offer my views on these matters. The first point concerns the one-third membership of magistrates on police authorities My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle) made a moving speech on this subject and it convinced me, although I think that the arguments are somewhat balanced. It can be said that, on the other side, magistrates are in a particularly good position to observe the conduct of police officers in court and in that way to derive information which might be useful to them as members of a police authority.
195 However important that may be, the overriding consideration, I think, is that it should be perfectly apparent to members of the public who go to the courts and who are aware of the general machinery for the administration of the police that there is a flat divorce between those who are under a duty to exercise judicial functions as magistrates sitting on the bench and those who are under the duty of exercising those functions which devolve on a police authority.
The second controversial point on which, I know, opinions differ is whether police authorities should still have the power to institute and control appointments of officers below the rank of chief constable, and their promotion and discipline. The Bill takes away those powers from police authorities and transfers them to the chief constable. Personally, I think that the Home Secretary is absolutely right there. If one is envisaging a really efficient police force locally, it must be for the chief police officer in the district to say which man of the men under his command is suitable for promotion, what disciplinary steps he feels should be enforced, and generally to deal with the matter of appointments. Therefore, I offer as my opinion that the Home Secretary in that particular is perfectly right in the way in which he has formulated his Bill.
On another matter my view is not quite so favourable. I cannot quite understand why the right hon. Gentleman has thought it right not to give to police officers that degree of assurance they would undoubtedly have liked, and which I know they want—the Police Federation, as representing them, wants it—of seeing written into the Bill a provision relating to arbitration with regard to their conditions. This was conceded as a system as far back as 1954. There is a panel of three persons appointed, I think, by the Prime Minister, which now functions, and the Home Secretary today said he approved that system and hoped that it would continue.
In a number of other Measures which deal with workers who are not uniformed officers, as police officers are. and who are not under the disability of being unable to strike to enforce their rights, as police officers cannot 196 strike, there are embodied provisions setting up appropriate arbitration machinery. In the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, there is such a provision. In the Transport Act, 1947, there is, I believe, such a provision. In the Gas Act, 1948, there is such a provision. Employees of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. have, in the constituent Acts relating to their particular organisations, the advantages and protection of statutory provision for arbitration machinery to which they can resort in case of difference.
Why does the Home Secretary not accord the same measure of protection and assurance to police officers, who really deserve it most because they are less protected, in that they are officers under command who cannot, as I have said, resort to any kind of strike action? I regret that the Home Secretary has left out that provision. I cannot understand why he has done so, but I really hope that if an Amendment to introduce such machinery is put down in the Standing Committee, he will see his way to adopting it.
One of the most important topics of the Bill relates to complaints against the police. As I have said earlier, police morale is now, so we are told—and I believe it—low. The police are uncertain and unhappy about the way in which the public regard them. They believe, though I think that they wrongly believe, that the public do not completely trust them, and there is a great temptation on a police officer if in a street some incident is taking place in which he should intervene, perhaps to turn a blind eye and keep away from trouble.
It is really expecting a great deal of an unfortunate officer voluntarily and deliberately, in the discharge of his duty, to expose himself to a situation which he knows will probably result in his being violently criticised, perhaps subjected to disciplinary proceedings and, possibly, even losing rank, and worse. Officers are under a great temptation to do as I have said, and the fact that they still discharge their duties faithfully and loyally is greatly to their credit. A case was reported in the newspaper only yesterday of a police officer who threw himself on to a pedestrian crossing in order to save a blind woman, and was injured as 197 a result. The fact that the police do such things as that is a great tribute to them. We ought to support them.
I recognise at once that the Bill has made big changes. I have had some reservations about the provisions to call in the services of an officer from another force in the event of a disciplinary complaint, but the Home Secretary has intimated that he has given directives with regard to the keeping of complaints books and the Bill positively enacts that any matter of complaint must immediately be investigated. There is what I think a far-reaching provision that unless the report makes perfectly clear that no criminal offence has been committed it must go direct to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This is a very drastic provision. It is in some way hard on the police officer, because of the nature of his task and because from time to time he cannot avoid in making an arrest using violence. It is easy for any disaffected person to accuse him of using excessive violence, and the people he has to deal with generally would not scruple to make untrue allegations of that kind.
The real defect of the provisions which the Home Secretary has introduced in the Bill is not that they are inadequate. Chief constables in my experience, such as it is, are extremely severe. I know at least one who told me of an incident of which, had I been chief constable, I would have pretended I had not heard. It seemed to be rather trifling but he took a very strict view. No doubt he was right and I was wrong.
I should like to find in the Bill adequate provision to make sure that the public are satisfied that when complaints are made against police officers they are properly dealt with, as no doubt they are, but I do not believe that the machinery exists for convincing the public that it is so. It is vital that the public should believe it, if we are to restore and constantly improve the mutual relationship between police officers and the public with whom they have to deal.
This is a wide subject. Various suggestions have been made. The minority Report to the Commission's Report is to the effect that there should be a commissioner of rights. I hope that we shall examine that sort of suggestion in Committee and that the Home Secretary will be receptive to proposals 198 made in regard to it. I would very much oppose any remedy which would simply be regarded by the police as an extra stick with which to beat them. I hope that any remedy which we adopt in that regard will be one so fashioned as to be calculated not merely to reassure the public but also to protect the police.
By that token, I suppose that a constant complaint against the police is by persons; arrested and questioned who can easily say that the police have maltreated them. No doubt it happens occasionally. Sometimes the police are provoked beyond endurance. Sometimes they act without justification. No doubt this happens sometimes, but I think not nearly as often as people say it happens. I hope that we might consider the various suggestions made.
One suggestion which has been canvassed and which so far has found little favour is some kind of recording instrument which would show what took place. This would not merely protect the police in many cases but it would be more likely to result in conviction where the judge and jury can hear what actually took place than when a mere statement is made by a police officer who swears on oath that he took that statement.
One of the sometimes regrettable sights we see in the courts is a police officer who is questioned for two or three hours and counsel puts to him that he has planted evidence, that he has put damning evidence in people's pockets, that he has manufactured evidence, or that he has conspired to commit perjury. The unfortunate officer has to keep on repeating, "No, I did not, no, I did not" and counsel has to put the point because he has to act on instructions. Counsel has no alternative. I think that any device by which it could be made certain before any tribunal trying the matter exactly what was said on both sides would be a protection for both the prisoner and the police.
I hope that that kind of consideration will be carefully weighed by the Home Secretary at a later stage of the Bill. No doubt, there are difficulties in it. Perhaps there are mechanical difficulties. One difficulty suggested sometimes, that there is the possibility of a record being tampered with, I do not believe really exists. It could be locked 199 away and the key could be given to the chief constable only. However, there may be difficulties which I have not foreseen. I simply pose the suggestion now as something which we should probe further in Committee.
Having made those general observations on the Bill, which covers a wide range of matters and which will be subject to prolonged discussion later, I say that, for myself, I welcome the Bill and I greatly hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ 9.31 p.m.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. C. M.Woodhouse)
The debate has shown the sense of gravity felt by the House, as it is by the whole country, about the problem of efficient and properly controlled policing. It is a sense of gravity which is shared by the Government, as, we know, it is shared by the local authorities and by the police themselves. The course of the debate obliges me to spend some time dwelling on anxieties, because anxieties have been expressed. In doing so, and in hoping to dispel some of them, I hope also that I shall not be guilty of obscuring the constructive purpose of the Bill, or of failing to give credit, as so many speakers have done, to the respect in which the police are generally and rightly held.
A few recent events have been a blot on that esteem and a legitimate source of anxiety, and this is true not least of the overwhelming majority of the police force. These occurrences might have had the consequence that the debate would be conducted in an atmosphere critical on one side and defensive on the other. I am very glad that it has not been so conducted. I have been very pleased to note the emphasis by virtually every speaker who has addressed the House—and also by the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. L1. Williams) in his very notable speech on the Address—that such occurrences, as the Royal Commission itself argued, are wholly uncharacteristic and exceptional, and that the onus lies rather on the public to do more to help the police.
Some hon. Members have pointed to omissions from the Bill, on the personal side or on the day-to-day operational 200 role, of provisions which might help to make the police officer's lot—I speak of both policemen and policewomen—more attractive and easier. In part, they are right, because the Bill is primarily concerned with the constitution and organisation of the police, not with the entire range of the Royal Commission's Report.
The Bill covers roughly one-third of the 111 paragraphs in the summary of the Royal Commission's Report. But this is not all. Of the remainder, more than 20 have already been implemented by circulars, about 12 have been implemented either administratively or by regulations, about half a dozen, though some have been accepted in principle, are still either under examination or discussion with the representative bodies, and only eight, some of them quite insignificant and three of them falling together, have been rejected out of the whole body of recommendations. The remaining two dozen paragraphs were either negative recommendations which we have accepted, or paragraphs of factual summary which did not call for any action.
Some of the points raised by hon. Members have already been, or are being, dealt with under one or other of the heads I have mentioned. I shall refer to them briefly for that reason. First, as to the desirability of an increase in the number of traffic wardens—this was referred to by the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton)—this is already in train and effective increases are coming along.
Secondly, I refer to the desirability of enabling members of the council to question the chairman of the police authority, to which the hon. Lady also referred. That has been dealt with by the circular, a copy of which is in the Library. The desirability of substituting civilian ushers for police ushers in magistrates' courts, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle), has been dealt with similarly. The questions of training and attracting higher quality recruits which were referred to by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire and the hon. Member for Bolton, West 201 (Mr. Holt) have also been dealt with administratively. So have suggestions on taking steps to improve the understanding of young people of the problems of the police, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) referred.
Other points have been raised which we will gladly look at again, such as constables' powers in contiguous areas, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) referred, and the related subject of the policing of motorways, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Sir G. Wills), although I remind him that there is no limit on the extent of collaboration agreements, which will, to some extent, take care of that problem.
I should refer to the very important point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) about arbitration. I certainly do not preclude looking at that point again. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary emphasised that no change of procedure is intended, although, of course, the last word must rest with him. We are not entirely sure that it would be advantageous to the police. In any case it is not the Bill's intention to go into details of Police Council procedure. However, we will look at that point again.
The subjects falling under the head of personnel matters are not generally dealt with in the Bill; they will be dealt with in regulations. However, Part III deals comprehensively with the representative bodies, fully defining their function and, in the main, confirming existing practice with the exception of some reallocation between the Police Council and the advisory boards in Clauses 44 and 45. Although, as I say, personnel matters are not generally part of the Bill, I emphasise the very great importance which we attach to such matters as recruitment, training and conditions of service. Our intention is that in no avoidable respect should any police officer become worse off through the Bill's provisions.
I believe that, indirectly, the changes in the Bill will help to make the police service an increasingly attractive and worth while career and will, with the 202 other measures already in progress—for instance, new training and higher training programmes, improvements in pay and the amenities of the service and the current advertising campaign—contribute to attract to the police more and higher quality recruits in continuation of the present relatively more encouraging trend.
I turn to the more controversial parts of the debate and first to the question which was asked in one form or another by several hon. Members, namely, where the ultimate responsibility for the police lies, with the implication that the responsibility of the police authorities has been seriously undermined and that of the Secretary of State overwhelmingly increased. This, of course, is not so. The answer to the question is quite simple. The ultimate responsibility lies where it has always lain since the nineteenth century—in a partnership between central government, local government and chief constables. The allocation of shares in this responsibility is made clear in the Bill—in Clause 4 for the police authority, Clause 5 for the chief constable and Clause 30 for the Secretary of State, expanded by the rest of Part II.
I should like to answer the question which has been put several times about Questions in the House. Obviously, I cannot give a categorical and final answer because I do not possess the wisdom of hindsight ten years' hence. I wish that I did. However, a Minister is always answerable to the House to the extent that legislation confers powers and duties on him. As the right hon. and learned Member for Newport pointed out, Part II confers a number of explicit powers and duties on the Secretary of State, and, in general, those would define the scope of possible Questions.
Obviously, to some extent we must be guided by trial and error after the Bill becomes law, but, subject to considerations of security and the public interest, I can assure the House that the Home Secretary will certainly give the House information obtained by way of a report from a chief constable. If, however, we are to stop short of a complete nationalisation of the police, the House: cannot expect to interfere in every detail. I believe that, in practice, by trial and error hon. Members 203 will find that a satisfactory procedure works out on that basis.
The changes in the constitution are largely clarifications of definition, but the Royal Commission recommended a shift of the balance within the partnership towards the central Government, and it expressed no fear of the consequences so long as the police, like all of us, are subject to the rule of law. This is the answer to the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Bolton, West. We have accepted this in principle, but we have pushed the shift of the balance in some respects less far than the Royal Commission proposed and much less far than Dr. Good-hart proposed.
To sum up, the matter of responsibility can be put like this. The police authority will be responsible for providing an efficient instrument and supervising its use. The chief constable will be responsible for using that instrument efficiently. The Secretary of State will be responsible for ensuring that both of them are enabled to do so and, in fact, do so.
It has been suggested that, in readjusting the balance in this way, we might have done two damaging things: we might have failed in solving the problem which the Royal Commission called the problem of controlling chief constables, and we might have gravely diminished the standing of watch committees. As to chief constables, it is untrue that a chief constable will be either more powerful or less accountable than in the past. He will certainly not be a law unto himself. This is clear from the summary given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary of the fairly formidable provisions and sanctions in the Bill relating to chief constables. Indeed, looking at that list of controls and sanctions to which the chief constable will be subject under the Bill, I wonder that the question which hon. Members are asking themselves is not whether chief constables are insufficiently controlled, but whether they are unduly hampered in their fight against crime. We do not think that they are, nor, I believe, do the chief constables think so.
In the first place, no good chief constable has anything to fear from the formidable powers that can now be used 204 against an inefficient chief constable. In the second place, as against the increases in the accountability of a chief constable, it is now made clear for the first time that a chief constable has sole direction and control of his force, including special constables and cadets, and the sole right of appointment, promotion and discipline below the rank of assistant chief constable. Finally, many new provisions are being made, either administratively or statutorily, to ensure that every chief constable has under his control an efficient force, for the efficient use of which he can effectively be held accountable.
The other anxiety to which I want briefly to turn concerns the diminution of power of police authorities. To some extent, some diminution might be expected to be a natural consequence of the Royal Commission's proposal to shift more power to the centre. But the Secretary of State is not assuming all the powers which the Royal Commission proposed that he should. In any event—this answers the point made by the hon. Member for Bolton, West which was well put by the hon. and learned Member for Walsall, North (Mr. W. Wells) in his intervention—it does not follow that fresh powers can be taken by the Secretary of State only at the expense of police authorities. Some of the new powers of the Secretary of State are at the expense of chief constables. In some cases, we are not so much conferring new powers on the Secretary of State or taking powers away from anybody else. Rather we are seeking to remedy the formal defect to which the Royal Commission referred, in paragraphs 114 and 115, in the words—a wide gap between the legislative basis of control. and the present reality".In other words, we are, in fact, seeking to reinforce the statutory basis for what is already being done. In other cases, again, we are not, in fact, taking powers away from the police authority but rather dealing with powers which, as my right hon. Friend argued in presenting the Bill, the local authority associations are, in our view, mistaken in believing the police authorities ever had, in particular, the power to give particular directions to a chief constable.
We agree, necessarily, that to some extent the law is in dispute, because 205 the local authority associations dispute it, but we think they are mistaken, and in any case, we are taking the opportunity of reconsidering the legislative basis on its merits, but we do not and we cannot believe that in this respect the police authority is losing any existing power. In making clear in the Bill that the police authority does not have this power, we are simply following the judgment of the Royal Commission, and we are not in any of these respects diminishing the status of police authorities, but redefining their functions more exactly.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I was coming on to deal with that later in my speech, if the hon. Gentleman would wait for it.
The police authority, to summarise its powers, will have the duty of securing the maintenance of an adequate and efficient force, which does not mean simply fixing the establishment and acting as quartermaster. It also means seeing that the men and equipment are efficiently used. To do this it will have power to call for reports. I have been asked on what basis chief constables might be called upon for reports. I can give a brief but obviously not complete summary: the reports will be on the state of crime, the extent of police protection in a particular district, how the force is disposed between crime and traffic and other duties, and, of course, on particular incidents which have given rise to complaints. In addition, the police authority will have a duty to inform itself that complaints are properly dealt with, and it will have its duties in relation to senior officers to appoint and remove them and, if they lose the authority's confidence, to retire them in the interests of efficiency. All these powers, unlike the powers which the Association of Municipal Corporations thinks the police authorities now have, will be definite, unambiguous and statutory.
Apart from those points, the significant changes, again following the Royal Commission, are of course the assimila- 206 tion of watch committees in some respects in standing joint committees and in some respects vice versa, but these do not give in themselves diminished powers of either such body. Again they closely follow the Royal Commission, as we also do in all the other matters in which the local authority associations have complained of a diminution of the standing of police authorities—for instance, the powers to appoint below the rank of assistant chief constable and the powers of compulsory amalgamation.
So far as amalgamations are concerned, I must emphasise that we have not gone the whole way along the lines indicated by the Royal Commission because we have not adopted the strict arithmetical criterion which it proposed, and we have not adopted the proposal to establish a working party to review the size of forces and make recommendations. What we are preferring to do is to adopt the empirical method, following particularly upon local government reorganisation with the help of the inspectors. Perhaps I may refer here briefly to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir H. Kerr), with whom I have the utmost sympathy, for reasons which will be obvious to the House, in his problem, but I would point out that this problem does not arise from the Bill, which confirms the existing status of Cambridge. It arises from the local government reorganisation. In the circumstances for which we are legislating I could not undertake to interfere in all the consequences of local government organisation.
What I want to stress in concluding this part of my argument is that we do not on any a priori ground regard small forces as inefficient, nor did the Royal Commission. The word used by the Royal Commission was "handicapped." That is quite different. Secondly, I would emphasise that all these changes, although significant, do not in themselves diminish the power, status or importance of police authorities, and, once again, they follow closely the Royal Commission.
Before turning to the final question about complaints, I should like to deal briefly with two related questions of fact which, have been raised. The first is about the Judges' Rules. As the House 207 has already been told, a revision of the rules is proceeding, and the revised rules will be communicated to the police as soon as possible in the same way as the existing rules. The Secretary of State is aware that substantial progress has been made with the review, and all concerned, including ourselves and the judges, are aware of the acute interest taken in this matter by the public. However, it is strictly a matter for the judges, and the way in which it was decided to handle it arose from no pressure but was readily agreed by the Chairman of the Royal Commission with the Lord Chief Justice.
As to the date of introduction of the new rules, I cannot add now to the previous statement that I made in the earlier debate, to the effect that we hope to have the review completed by the end of this year.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
The hon. Gentleman said that this is a matter for the judges. It may be that it is primarily a matter for the judges, but ultimately it is a matter for Parliament, and it is a matter in which the House is greatly interested. It has been said during the debate that the judges, under the chairmanship of the Lord Chief Justice, have reached conclusions about the new Judges' Rules. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether that is so? If it is so, why cannot the House be informed in advance of any information being given to the police, because this House may well wish to have an opportunity to debate it?
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I am sorry, but I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question about what is going on within the councils of the judges. If I could, I would, but I cannot at present add anything to what I have just said.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me, I have only a very short time left and I have to answer another important question, in which I know the hon. and learned Gentleman is interested, about the rights of complainants at inquiries.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I must ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to allow me to continue. I have very little time in which to complete this part of my speech.
About the presence of complainants at inquiries, a subject raised by several hon. Members, I must distinguish between the different sorts of inquiries which can be referred to. There is, first, an investigation of a complaint under Clause 48. This is not a formal hearing but a series of inquiries such as is made into any allegation of crime, and a statement would be taken from the complainant as from any other witness. But there is, in fact, no formal inquiry at which the complainant could be present.
At a disciplinary hearing it is different. Here, the Secretary of State accepts the principle proposed by the Royal Commission that a complainant should be given the opportunity to be present and to put questions through the presiding officer to the defendant. This right will be for inclusion in police discipline regulations after discussion with the representative bodies when the disciplinary code is next amended. The complainant will be a witness and not a party to the proceedings, and so it would not be appropriate to allow him legal representation.
There are, finally, inquiries under Clause 31, where it will be for the person holding the inquiry to decide which of those attending could be legally represented. The role of the complainant will vary from one case to another, and it is, therefore, appropriate for the person conducting the inquiry to decide whether he may put questions, as well as on other points of procedure which are not explicitly laid down in the Bill.
I must turn in the short time left to the gravest anxiety of all—the one concerning dealing with complaints. The cases which have given rise to it are few and rare and, as the Royal Commission said, a policeman might expect, on the available statistics, to be complained against no more than once or twice in his career. That, of course, is not to minimise the gravity and culpability of such cases.
But I think that the questions to which hon. Members should address themselves are not about details of the past but about the future, and, in particular, 209 these questions: first, will the chance of such malpractices being prevented in future be better under the new provisions? Secondly, will the requirement that when they occur they should be quickly and justly dealt with be better? Thirdly, will the police enjoy sufficient protection when they are guiltless? I must remind the House, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) did, of the inescapable fact, repeatedly pointed out by the Royal Commission, that these requirements are to some extent in conflict, but I believe that the new provisions, taken all together, constitute a substantial safeguard both for public and police.
Still some critics have urged us to go further, and they base themselves particularly on recent cases. Their representations are not identical, but they have one principle in common—that the ultimate arbitrament of complaints should be taken out of the hands of the police. I am sure that all hon. Members will recognise that there is a real dilemma here which was very well stated in paragraph 433 of the Report, which my right hon. Friend read to the House.
I believe that the measures we have proposed will meet the dual need exposed in that dilemma satisfactorily. I do not say that they will do so perfectly but that they will hold the balance right. Critics want recourse for a dissatisfied complainant to some external arbiter, but any such arrangement is bound to be open to the grave objections either of weakening morale or discipline, or of putting some officer in jeopardy twice. Despite the arguments of the minority of three in the annex to the Report, I cannot see how that could be avoided. But I ask those who have cited these recent cases of anxiety, or cases they sincerely believe to be scandals, to consider whether the new measures, taken collectively, with reinforcement provi- 210 ded by the Secretary of State's powers to order an inquiry, will not give what we all desire without exposing the police to the detrimental consequences which the Royal Commission foresaw.
I give a similar answer to those who want the other extreme solution—a national police force. For reasons well argued by several hon. Members as well as the Royal Commission, we have not accepted the minority proposal to nationalise the police. But again, without accepting that particular proposal, we have gone a little way beyond the Royal Commission. The extreme step, however, which some have urged is one which in all probability—I ask them seriously to consider this—would be irreversible, so that it would become for ever impossible to judge whether a more limited basis of amalgamations such as we have adopted would give us in the end all we wanted.
In all these matters, as in all the other matters with which the Royal Commission had to deal and with which the House is now dealing, we are considering what the Royal Commission called…the interplay of conflicting principles of great constitutional importance which human minds have always found and still find the utmost difficulty in reconciling.I am sure hon. Members would agree that that is true, and that, as those words imply, there is no final or perfect solution. We do not claim to have found any final or perfect solution, but we believe that the Bill strikes the right balance for the time in which we live, and I commend it to the House for Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).