HC Deb 07 April 1964 vol 692 cc855-76
Mr. Woodhouse

I beg to move, Amendment No. 66, in page 52, line 42, at the end to insert:

15 Vict. c. cx. The Tyne Improvement Act 1852. In section 28, the words from "and every such Police Constable" to "respecting the Constables to be appointed in pursuance of that Act" and the words from "shall, upon the said River" to "made, and".
This should be taken with the next Amendment. Both were discussed with Amendment No. 28.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 52, line 50, at end insert:

23 & 24 Vict. c 135. The Metropolitan police Act 1860 The whole Act except as applied by the Special Constables Act 1923.
In page 53, column 3, leave out lines 41 to 43.—[Mr. Woodhouse.]

Mr. Woodhouse

I beg to move Amendment No. 69, in page 53, line 45, column 3, at the beginning to insert: In section 3, in paragraph (iv) the words "lock-up houses" and "police stations", and paragraph (xiv). This is in part a drafting Amendment and, in part, consequential upon Amendments Nos. 62 and 63.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 53, line 53, column 3, at end insert "Section 93(2)".—[Mr. Woodhouse.]

Mr. Woodhouse

I beg to move Amendment No. 71, in page 56, line 3, at the end to insert:

4 & 5 Geo. 5. c. 44. The Metropolitan Police (Employment in Scotland) Act 1914. The whole Act except as applied by the Special Constables Act 1923.
This was discussed with Amendment No. 28.

Amendment agreed to.

Lady Tweedsmuir

I beg to move Amendment No. 72, in page 56, line 15, at the end to insert:

15 & 16 Geo 6 and 1 Eliz. 2. c. 61. The Prisons (Scotland) Act 1952. Section 13.
This was discussed with the Amendment on page 38, line 9.

Amendment agreed to.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Woodhouse

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

I move this Motion with some diffidence, in the absence of my right hon. Friend, who is unavoidably away from the House today, but also with confidence in the acknowledged merits of the Bill. I believe that the Bill will be looked upon as a landmark in the history of our police service. I am sure that everyone will readily agree that it is the most important police Measure which has come before the House in modern times. Now that we have exhaustively scrutinised it in all its detail, this is an appropriate time to stand back and to look at it in its historical setting.

When we look back on the history of police legislation we find a series of seemingly unrelated Measures, each dealing with one or another aspect of the country's changing problems of law and order. Peel's historic Bill of 1829 established a police force only in the Metropolitan area. Six years later, in 1835, the Municipal Corporations Act established the borough forces, and in 1839 the county borough forces were authorised by the County Police Act. Next, the interest of the central Government for seeing that the many local police forces were efficient led in 1856 to the enactment of the County and Borough Police Act, which provided for the first time for the appointment of inspectors of constabulary.

Thus, over 100 years ago the basis of our modern police system was laid down; and it is a well-deserved tribute to our ancestors that neither the recent Royal Commission nor the Government, nor, I think I can confidently say, the Opposition, have seen any need to demolish this edifice in order to build on entirely fresh foundations. But the most striking change during the last 100 years has been a steady reduction in the number of separate local forces. This has been accompanied by an increasing recognition that the police service is concerned with national as well as local problems and must now be adapted to assume the character of a nation-wide service. After the historic Desborough Committee, the Police Act, 1919, established the principle of uniform conditions of service and pay. It also consolidated the influence of the Home Secretary in maintaining proper standards of efficiency throughout the country.

Then came the Police Act, 1946, which radically reduced the number of separate police forces and paved the way for further amalgamations in the interests of efficiency. That Act was skilfully piloted through the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and all hon. Members will join with me in paying warm tribute to the wise and valuable contributions which he made to our debates in Committee upstairs. I regret that he is not in the House now to hear me pay this tribute to him.

In many respects, as the Royal Commission noted, in paragraph 41 of its Report, the law has failed to keep pace with the changes made in our police system in modern times. The Bill deals not with one nor even with a few of the many aspects of police administration which have been the subject of some of the earlier Measures to which I have referred. It is a comprehensive and compendious Measure to bring fully up to date the statutory framework within which the police service can work efficiently in the second half of the twentieth century. It is the first Bill of its kind to cover the whole constitutional structure of the police system, modernising as well as consolidating it.

My right hon. Friends and I are grateful for the constructive way in which the Bill has been examined during its progress through Parliament. As a result of Amendments made in Standing Committee and on Report, the Bill has been clarified and improved. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee upstairs contributed to this desirable result and I am glad to acknowledge their help. Perhaps I might, without being invidious, particularly pay tribute to the strong Yorkshire and Lancashire contingent on both sides of the Committee.

I want tonight to touch on only a few of the outstanding points which are in the minds of hon. Members who have devoted so much attention to the Bill. We are glad that the explanations which my right hon. Friend and I gave in Standing Committee have gone a long way towards dispelling the apprehension felt on behalf of police authorities when the Bill was introduced. My right hon. Friend sail on Second Reading that he did not believe that, in practice, the provisions of the Bill would make any significant difference to the working of police authorities or to their relationships with chief constables. I believe that this view has now come to be accepted by most people who have thoroughly studied the Bill.

Borough authorities will lose their present responsibility for the promotion and discipline of the less senior ranks, but police authorities will keep their present functions virtually intact and, what is more, their functions will be clearly set out in a modern Statute which defines their main tasks and gives them precise powers whereby they can ensure that the chief constable is accountable to them. Police authorities—and I say this emphatically—have a continuing and valuable rôle to play in police administration. They represent the localities which the police forces serve, and it is our intention that they should be able to do so effectively.

The Government look forward to a continuing and co-operative partnership with police authorities on all police matters. In this connection, a matter on which there has probably been the most discussion, particularly in Committee, has been that of the handling of complaints against the police. That is not surprising, because it is one of the four matters into which the Royal Commission was specifically requested to inquire and because it contains by common consent one of the most difficult problems which the Commission and, subsequently, Parliament, has had to consider.

It is especially true because, as a result of the peculiar constitutional position of the police and the nature of their duties, it is not possible to draw any fruitful guidance from any other sphere of public duty. Cumulatively, the changes in this respect made by the Bill are far-reaching and there can be no question that there will henceforth be an efficacious means of investigating and handling complaints.

It is common ground that what we needed to try to do was to strike a balance between the equally desirable objects which are clearly set out in paragraph 433 of the Royal Commission's Report. That posed a dilemma, with which we are all familiar, and I will not weary the House by quoting that paragraph again. Clearly, there will always be room for debate about that balance. The Government consider that the right balance is struck by the Bill, although I should remind the House that we have tilted the balance in the direction of protecting the public rather further than the Royal Commission recommended.

One feature of the new arrangements, which has been of particular interest to hon. Members, is the much increased opportunity for Questions to be put down by hon. Members asking for information about happenings in county and borough forces. I am confident that the new facilities for questioning will be exercised by the House with discretion in the traditional manner. Nothing would be worse for police efficiency and morale than the creation of the impression in the minds of the police that hon. Members will always be prepared to believe the worst of them and that allegations will be made without the backing of evidence.

As I have said, the police service will, under the Bill, continue to be based on local organisation. Some critics have suggested that the whole system of police organisation needs a fundamental revision. The Government do not agree with that view and I believe that the discussions we have had have shown that, in general, hon. Members do not agree with it either. This is the most unsuitable sphere of all for sweeping change and it is not the least of the debts we owe to the Royal Commission that its members recognised this so fully. It is appropriate, at this stage of our consideration of the Bill in this House, to pay a final tribute to the Royal Commission, which laid our groundwork for us. We are greatly indebted to its members for a great deal of what is now being embodied in legislation.

I would like to make my tribute to the Commission by quoting from the many admirable passages in its Report this characteristically balanced comment on the nature of the police problem which has never been far from our minds throughout our long deliberations. I am sure that this has been true of Members on both sides of the House and, earlier, of the Committee. The Royal Commission stated, in paragraph 24: …it is to the public good that the police should be strong and effective in preserving law and order and preventing crime; but it is equally to the public good that police power should be controlled and confined so as not to interfere arbitrarily with personal freedom. The result is compromise. The police should be powerful but not oppressive; they should be efficient but not officious; they should form an impartial force in the body politic, and yet be subject to a degree of control by persons who are not required to be impartial and who are themselves liable to police supervision". We, of course, agree with those words. We do not claim perfection but we do claim to have reached a result worthy of the traditions of the police service in this country; a result at least as good as human minds anywhere have so far been able to achieve.

6.29 p.m.

Miss Bacon

We all appreciate that the Home Secretary is not with us today because he is attending a happily family event in Brazil. Right hon. and hon. Members will not, however, have been surprised to learn that immediately the right hon. Gentleman arrived in Brazil, a Right-wing revolution broke out. We are much indebted to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the way in which he has moved the Third Reading of the Bill and for showing us the courtesy which he displayed throughout the whole of our proceedings in Committee.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shield (Mr. Ede) was not with us this evening for the Third Reading of the Bill, on which he played such a notable part in Committee. It so happens that this evening some of my right hon. and hon. Friends are honouring my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields at a dinner downstairs to mark his long and distinguished membership of the House of Commons.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Miss Bacon

To those of us who served in the Standing Committee on the Bill it seems a long time since its Second Reading on 26th November. At the 18 sittings of the Committee which we had, we inevitably discussed the most detailed proposals in the Bill. Although they were extremely detailed, they were important points. In discussing some of those details, it is sometimes easy to forget the main purpose of a Bill, and Third Reading affords us an opportunity to looking again at the Bill as a whole.

The Bill goes from here today a very much better Measure than it was in November. The persuasive powers of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends in moving Amendments in Committee so impressed the Home Secretary that many of those Amendments have now been incorporated on Report.

One of those improvements is that members of police forces will have all the powers and privileges of a constable in every area in England and Wales. We believe that this is important and much better that the original suggestion that they should have powers only in neighbouring areas. If, for any reason, an inquiry is ordered by the Home Secretary, and it has to be held in private, the conclusions and findings must be made public. We heard that this did not quite meet all the demands of my hon. Friends from Scotland and perhaps, when we accepted this proposal from the Home Secretary, it was considered that half a loaf was better than no bread. This is, however, of great importance.

Members of local authorities who are not members of the police authority will now have the right to ask questions concerning police matters in the full council. The practice has varied in different parts of the country. This will be a great change particularly in counties, where hitherto the police committee has not even been a committee of the council.

Two other improvements also affect the police and the chief constables. Arbitration provisions for the police are written into the Bill and the position of chief constables who are affected by amalgamations or local government re-organisation has been safeguarded. We also have an improvement that where police areas are amalgamated, there are provisions for the continued democratic control of these forces. These are all improvements to which both sides contributed in Committee and on Report.

There are one or two features of the Bill about which we are still doubtful. I do not want to go into them at length, because my speech will be short, but I should like once more to register our disappointment that the Bill still contains pro visions for a number of magistrates to be appointed to police authorities. This is not regarded with great favour, particularly in the boroughs As to complaints against the police, which are an important matter, the Bill contains many welcome improvements on the existing position. As it stands, however, there will still be dissatisfaction on the part of members of the public because there is at no stage any recommendation for an independent person to be present at disciplinary inquiries or investigations. Nevertheless, the position in the Bill is much better than formerly and we shall watch the operation of this new procedure with great interest.

On the whole, this is a good Bill. It is important in that it repeals many Acts and rewrites the whole of our police structure and defines, in a way never done before, the respective powers of the Home Secretary, the police authorities and the chief constable. It is true that the emphasis is being changed a little in the respective powers of the local authorities and the Home Secretary although, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, some of the fears that the watch committees entertained at the beginning have been lessened as the Bill has proceeded through its various stages.

The Home Secretary has more powers than before and I welcome his new powers. He has power to call for reports from chief constables. It is important that Members of Parliament who represent areas outside the Metropolitan area will at last be able to question the Home Secretary in Parliament about matters connected with the policing of their authorities. This we welcome. It means also that we shall be able to write to the Home Secretary about police matters and not have the usual reply, which we have had hitherto, that he has no power to call for reports from chief constables. We shall, however, watch carefully to see how the Home Secretary uses these new powers.

We welcome very much the fact that we have the right to question the Home Secretary, but it is not only the questions that we ask that are important: it is also the answers which we receive. We hope that we shall receive full answers to our questions and that we shall not be put off by being told that it is not in the public interest to disclose certain information.

It can at least be said that when a Question is asked in Parliament it is almost impossible for any local matter to be covered up because of the great Press publicity which it attracts. In addition, the fact that we shall be able to ask Questions of the Home Secretary here will mean that chief constables and police will be covered. I understand that very often chief constables and police constables would have welcomed an answer being given to questions which, perhaps, could not be asked in the House of Commons because it was against the law to do so.

The Bill gives great powers and responsibility to chief constables. Its whole success depends upon the calibre, character and personality of the chief constables. They bear a great burden and have great powers and responsibilities. On Second Reading, I said something which caused eyebrows to be raised when I remarked that in the very nature of those responsibilities chief constables were among the people in the community who could not, perhaps, lead the same social life as many other citizens.

I do not see why eyebrows should have been raised when I said that, because I believe it to be true. To use a phrase which has become well known in the last few weeks, a chief constable must not sit in an ivory tower, but must always be in a position to stand back and survey the scene impartially.

As I have said, we have been dealing with a great many details, but we have to remember the chief purpose of the Bill. It contains a great deal of machinery, but we want it to provide us with an adequate and well-trained police force to combat crime, and reduce crime. There is a close connection between deterrence and detection of crime; when the detection rate is high, crime is low, and when the detection rate is low crime is on the increase. We want a police force in whose members the public have confidence and regard as their friends. I have noticed with very great interest some of the experiments being carried out, with policemen going to the schools, and talking to children, and becoming friendly with them. It is very important that the children of today should grow up thinking of the policeman as their friend, and not as an enemy.

We need many more recruits to the police force, and we want them to stay in the force. In spite of increases in pay, we are still short of an adequate force, and many constables leave after a very short period of service. That shows that not only is pay important, but conditions are very important. The work involves irregular hours. The policeman is subject to increased criticism. Frustrations are sometimes worked off on the police and the police themselves find that they are, in turn, frustrated. There are a great many clerical and traffic duties that ought to be done by people other than trained members of a police force.

During the last few months there has been some criticism of the police, but we must remember that for every occurrence such as we had in Sheffield there are hundreds of acts of heroism by members of the police force. During the Second Reading debate I pointed out that the Royal Commission did not mention policewomen; and that we ought to pay a tribute to the very great work they had been doing. We have since seen an act of remarkable heroism by a policewoman—Margaret Clelland, who went on a roof to rescue a baby. That probably brought home to us far more than anything else could the value and great heroism not only of our policemen, but of our policewomen. In wishing the Bill well, we on this side realise the great debt we owe to the police, and pay a very great tribute to the work of our police authorities.

6.42 p.m.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

I, too, welcome the Bill. It is the most important police Bill that has ever come before Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is to be congratulated on the way in which the Bill has been carried through all its stages, with the very great help and enormous ability and understanding of my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary.

There was never a time in our history when police and public needed each other's help more than they do today, and I like to think that Parliament has a part to play in acting as a bridge between police and public. It is, of course, a bridge that is greatly strengthened by the increased Parliamentary opportunities that this Measure provides.

If I may, I should like to say how reassuring I found the welcome given by the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds. South-East (Miss Bacon) to the complaints procedure as it has emerged from the Committee. Although there was disagreement on whether or not magistrates should be on the police authorities, I think that she and all hon. Members on both sides who had doubts will feel that it is a matter that should be given a fair trial and, perhaps, a fairly long trial. After all, Sir Robert Peel's legislation was given a run of well over 100 years, and this idea of having one-third magistrates on police authorities is something of which we shall not see the results very quickly.

No doubt, in different parts of the country the presence of one-third magistrates where before, on watch committees at any rate, there were only local councillors, will have varying results in terms of the relationships that are established; and I think that we need to give this procedure a run of a good many years before we can really take stock of the position.

I hope that it will not be considered amiss if I say that sometimes when I was arguing in favour of magistrates being on police authorities in future my remarks were misinterpreted as being somewhat critical of the existing watch committees. I have no wish to be critical of watch committees, because I realise what fine work they have done in the past, but I was very anxious that what we had seen of the failure of a very small minority of watch committees should not be repeated in the years to come. That is why I felt that a leavening of magistrates could do nothing but good. We had, of course, the example—I felt it to be a good example—of the standing joint committees to guide us.

I must mention a point of detail because it affects my constituency. The special provisions in Clause 25 apply to the Cities of Cambridge and Peterborough. The House will recollect that the City of Peterborough—and, indeed, the Soke of Peterborough and the County of Huntingdon—will form one county in future, and will, no doubt, have one police authority. The City and County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely will form another county, and will no doubt have one police authority. I hope that before any final decision as to the exact composition of the police authorities for those areas is made, the hon. Members representing the constituencies in those areas will be consulted. I know that we have no statutory right of consultation, but as Parliament is now to be seized to a greater extent in the future than it has been in the past of police matters, I think it desirable that those hon. Members should be informally consulted by the Home Secretary of the day.

We are fortunate in this House to have had an opportunity to play a part in advancing police affairs by supporting this important Measure.

6.48 p.m.

Mr. Brian O'Malley (Rotherham)

The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) has just expressed the hope that the arrangement by which one-third of the membership of watch committees and police authorities will be magistrates will be given a long run. We on this side regarded it as a point of constitutional principle. We spoke strongly against the arrangement but, since that decision has been taken, I, too, hope that the procedure will be given a good long run so that we can see from experience just what happens.

In the history of the police force one often sees the need for something involving a constitutional principle to be given a long run. I am reminded of the turmoil that was created in many areas when it was suggested that forces on the lines of our modern police forces should be established. When the possibility of creating such a police force in the Sheffield area was discussed after the town became a borough in 1843, there was a rush of pamphleteers, who talked about threats to democracy and of the evils that would befall the population when the armed bludgeon men came along. It was a number of years before public opinion veered as the result of the experience gained from having that kind of police force.

Although one might disagree with it on points of detail, it seems to me that this is an extremely important and significant Measure. One of the major things that it does is to codify the existing law on the subject. Anyone who did any work before the Committee stage, or had previous experience, knew that to look up the existing police law, which had ramifications in all kinds of local improvement Acts from the end of the eighteenth century, was an extremely difficult job. The Bill sweeps away much of the old legislation and puts in a handy and convenient form the law relating to the police forces.

The Bill arose largely as a result of the creation of a Royal Commission because it was widely thought that public confidence in the police force was not at the degree which it should be. I believe that the Bill will do something in the long run to improve public confidence in the police and therefore I would welcome it for that alone. I regard the Bill as useful and significant also because the powers of the central Government are in some ways increased usefully. It is important that Members of Parliament should be able to ask Questions of the Home Secretary in the House of Commons and that the right hon. Gentleman should have the power to call for reports from chief constables. I believe that this situation which has been created by the Bill will alone do a great deal to instil in the public mind a sense of confidence in the local police force.

I have raised the question of areas of administration in more detail already but it is important and worth while to raise it again. I would hope that whenever the size of areas of administration is being considered by Home Secretaries of the day they will be extremely reluctant to create areas which do not coincide with the areas of the existing multi-purpose authorities. We have decided in the Bill that police forces generally, apart from co-operation and co-ordination, should be based on the local government areas which one assumes will be created in the next few years as the Boundaries Commission reports.

There is a danger in the Bill that single-purpose joint boards will be set up. If we do this we shall tend to create the kind of administrative chaos that existed at the end of the last century when ad hoc single authorities of this kind were set up. I hope that in future, when questions of amalgamations are considered and boundaries and areas of police forces are dealt with, it will be only as a last resort that single-purpose police authorities will be set up under joint boards because I believe that there are serious constitutional and practical objections to that kind of local government administration.

We examined this important and significant Bill in considerable detail in Committee and I should like to thank the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Home Secretary for the kindness shown to me in the first Standing Committee of the House that I have attended. I was listened to with courtesy and was given competent answers. I enjoyed my experience in the Standing Committee and I believe that the long-term result of the Bill will be to improve continually the relations between the police and the public.

6.55 p.m.

Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)

Before I strike a note which dissents a little from the consensus of opinion expressed on Third Reading I should like to thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, my hon. Friends the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and also the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) and the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) for the way they dealt with this issue in Committee with great thoroughness and courtesy. So thorough were they that I did not realise that we had only 18 sittings. I thought that it was more like 20 or 21. This is some indication of the detail and care with which these matters were pursued.

This is a valuable Bill. Some of the changes it makes will be of considerable use to the public and the police but I must tell the House that I feel that it is a Bill of lost opportunity. I fear that the Home Secretary may well have taken responsibility without authority. We shall have to wait a while before we see whether this is true or not, but the more I think about this subject and the more contact I have with the police the more I am satisfied that a future Government will have to create a national police force.

There are only two real reasons against a national police force. One is the A.M.C. and the other the C.C.A. I do not regard either of these reasons as adequate and I feel certain that the time is not far removed when, for the purposes of dealing with crime, with traffic and morale, we must have a national police force.

Mr. Speaker

We cannot discuss that on the Third Reading of this Bill.

Mr. Shepherd

I was proposing to go only that far and to end my extremely brief remarks by saying that my present anxiety, which I am sure must be the anxiety of everyone who has the interest of the police at heart, is the awful gap in the supply of men of the highest level which now faces the police. They are now going out of the police force month after month and it seems to me that we have not the material to replace them. The consequence of this, which I urge upon my right hon. Friends, is that we must have as few police authorities as possible under the Bill.

At the present level of intake we cannot provide large numbers of men to exercise an authority almost without equal in the country. I hope, therefore, that under the new provisions the Home Office will do all it can to see that the quality of intake is improved so that we can provide what I fear we cannot provide at the moment, an adequate supply of men able to take on the almost unique responsibility which a chief constable exercises.

6.59 p.m.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) said that he was a new Member of Parliament. I am even newer. When I first joined the Standing Committee on this Bill, in my early days in the House, I was busy reading biographies of illustrious former Members of Parliament. As a Welshman, albeit representing a Yorkshire constituency, I learned from the biography of David Lloyd George that when he first came to the House, in the early 1890's, he went to a Standing Committee and afterwards vowed that he would never do so again. He stuck to his vow.

I think that he was wrong to do so, because I found myself on the Standing Committee at a time when I was a little bemused as to what Parliament was really about and I think that in that Committee I found Parliament at its best as we discussed this very long and difficult Bill.

With my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon), I think it right that the Bill should be given general approval after its passage through its various stages, but, representing a county borough, I still think that it is a matter of regret that the police committees in the boroughs will have to admit members of the judiciary, members of the bench, on to the police committees. With the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) I hope that it will be given a fair trial, because it would be possible to some degree when elections take place to sidetrack what is the intention of the relevant Clause.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East has given a word of praise to the police. I should like to add my word to that, and to say just one other thing. There is a tendency to concentrate on the problem of the police in the realm of complaints, so I would just briefly say that there is a real problem, too, in the field of recruitment. That will not be covered just by putting up the pay of policemen. In these days, when the Sunday newspapers' back pages are covered with all sorts of advertisements attracting the young into jobs which offer not only large salaries, but also good opportunities, it will be increasingly difficult for the police to recruit young men and also young women.

I therefore hope that great attention is being given to this, particularly to attract young men and young women who can hope to receive out of the police service educational advantage in training, such as that offered by the National Coal Board, and offered also by the oil companies and other great commercial firms.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East mentioned that it was a coincidence that when the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary arrived in Brazil, or shortly afterwards, there was a Right-wing revolution. May I say that I hope the opportunity will be taken to deny the rumour which is going around that he is, in fact, not visiting Brazil, but is in exile for having written three unsigned articles in The Times.

7.2 p.m.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

In winding up this debate on Third Reading I would say only a very few words. We have, I think—and we can pride ourselves upon it—very carefully examined the provisions of this extremely important Bill. We started with a great advantage in that we had to assist us a very valuable Report from the Royal Commission, and I am very glad to say it in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), who is the only hon. Member in the House at the moment who was a member of that Commission. So we started with a great advantage in addressing ourselves to the extremely difficult task of trying to consider the position of the police force in relation to the community.

The Bill which has emerged as the result of our deliberations makes very important changes. It does, I think, get about right the respective sphere of local and central administration of the police force. That may or may not turn out, with experience, to be mistaken on my part. We shall have to see how the responsibility which the Secretary of State has assumed under the terms of the Bill, in fact, functions, whether it is too limited or whether it is not. If it should be too limited, perhaps changes will seem to be necessary in the course of years. A number of other changes of great importance which have been reconsidered in the course of this debate have been made. It would not serve any useful purpose for me again to refer to them in any detail.

I sometimes think, when, in this rapidly changing world, we are trying to measure the pace of advance of what we sometimes call backward nations—and I say this in the presence of the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon)—that we are apt to say and to think to ourselves; quite rightly, that backward nations advance as and when, and in proportion to the pace at which, they convert the women in their communities from inferiors to men to their complete and absolute equals. I hope that that is not irrelevant, but the attempted relevance of it is this, that by a not wholly diverse process of reasoning I think that we can say to ourselves that the health and strength and soundness of heart of a great modern democracy can also be measured by seeing what sort of a police force it has evolved.

We are a community, I suppose, of 50 million people who are as independent-minded as any people in the world; we are extremely jealous for the preservation of what is loosely included in the phrase "civil rights". The pushing of people around is not a popular practice in this country. It is a great tribute to our police force that it has succeeded in winning and maintaining the confidence of a public of that sort. In some countries in the world, if there are sinister rumours as to what the police in those countries are doing, the public conscience in those countries may remain comparatively quiescent and not be disturbed by the sort of things that it is said their police are doing.

It is very different in this country. Any excess or abuse of power on the part of the police in this country, rare as I believe it to be, provokes an immediate reaction, and, as in the case of any great force from whom the highest standards are expected, any backsliding by individual members of the force casts a baleful light upon the rectitude, and solid and devoted and honest endeavour of the other members of that force. It is hard that it should be so for them, but it is also a measure of the respect in which they are held that it should be so. If anything goes wrong, the public is acutely conscious of it.

If I would have one criticism of the Bill it is that which has been voiced on a number of occasions during the course of our debates upon it, that its provisions are not so formulated as to include Measures necessary entirely to reassure the public on all occasions. I entirely agree that the procedure for the investigation of complaints is very greatly improved. I believe that it will work well, and I greatly hope that it does. The one regret I would feel is that the public are in no sense brought into the investigations or the hearings of any incident arising out of an investigation. I do not think that that in any sense involves that investigations or hearings are not or will not be properly conducted, but I think that it is a pity, as the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) said, that we did not take the opportunity to examine more closely some of the suggestions made to enable the public to be made certain that when there is a matter of complaint it is, in fact, properly dealt with, as, I believe, it is now.

The Bill makes great changes: complaints have to be recorded; they have to be investigated; if there is any suggestion of a criminal offence disclosed when the investigating officer reports the Director of Public Prosecutions is put in charge of it; local inquiries can be held; a chief constable, upon whose personality and character, as my hon. Friend said, so much depends, can, should it be unfortunately necessary in an individual case, be required to retire by the police authority at the request of the Home Secretary. All these are great advances, and I think that they will work out well in the future, so it is, as I say, with some regret that I feel that there is still this slight lacuna in the Bill.

I would simply say this, in conclusion. I believe that we may say that we have done our work well. As the hon. Member for Cheadle very kindly paid tribute to some hon. Members on my side of the House I think that tribute should go to all those who took part in shaping the Bill. I feel that our work upon it will inure to the good of the community in the years to come.

7.10 p.m.

Mr. Woodhouse

May 1, very briefly, address the House in reply to the debate? I think that it would be churlish at this stage to dwell on disagreements that have arisen between us. I shall, therefore, not comment on the supposed reasons for the Home Secretary's going to Brazil, although I would remind the House that the revolution started before he left this country and ended as soon as he arrived there; nor shall I dwell on the motives that may have taken the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) to the vaults of the Houses of Parliament this afternoon.

I would rather dwell on matters on which we have found common agreement. With my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton), the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley), and the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon), I entirely agree that it is desirable that the new arrangement for police authorities should be given a fair trial. I would not, at this stage, reopen the argument with the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) on complaints about the police, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) about a national police force, but I would most heartily agree with the hon. Lady in her remarks about the importance of educating children, of promoting recruitment in the police, and of enhancing the status of the policewomen to whom she very eloquently and properly paid tribute.

On local matters arising, I shall gladly take note of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire said about procedure in amalgamations, and the similar points raised by the hon. Member for Rotherham about the size of the police areas to be achieved. It would, perhaps, be insulting to refer to Scotland as a local matter, but I think that it is right to add a few words on the subject of the debates that took place in the Scottish Standing Committee, which took five full Committee days, and which gave great care and attention to the Bill, as well as on the debate this evening.

As Scottish Members well know, the framework of the 1956 Act is basically unchanged, although it will be necessary before long to consolidate it. If I had to define the fundamental purpose of the Bill in one word—and this is in application to both England and Wales and Scotland—I think that word would be "accountability", and I mean accountability at all levels from Parliament to the local authorities and the police authorities.

The Royal Commission commented that a chief constable is accountable to no one and subject to no one's orders, and argued that it was difficult to justify such a situation. I do not think that anyone has claimed that the system has worked badly in the past. Although there have been a few unhappy exceptions, it is remarkable how few those have been. However, whether it worked well or badly, it was clearly impossible to perpetuate such a situation once public attention had been drawn to it by the Royal Commission.

The Bill has found what we believe to be an acceptable solution. It is a Bill with which those of us who have been associated, in however subsidiary a role, will, I think, always remember, and by which we shall not be ashamed to be remembered.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.