HC Deb 12 March 1964 vol 691 cc791-6
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lady Tweedsmuir)

I beg to move, in page 17, line 17, to leave out subsection (4) and to insert: (4) The costs incurred by a chief constable or deputy or assistant chief constable in respect of an inquiry under this section, taxed in such manner as the Secretary of State may direct, shall be defrayed out of the police fund. It might be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Speaker, if, with this Amendment, we took that in page 39, line 12, leave out from beginning to "but" in line 15 and insert: (4) Where the Secretary of State is satisfied that the whole or any part of the expenses of a chief constable or deputy or assistant chief constable in respect of an inquiry under this section were not reasonably incurred, he may direct the constable to pay those expenses or that part of those expenses, as the case may be, or such proportion of the whole or of that part as he may think fit.

Mr. Speaker

Yes, if the House so wishes.

Lady Tweedsmuir

These two Amendments concern the liability for costs when inquiries are held in connection with the retirement of senior officers in the interests of efficiency. This question of costs was not raised when Standing Committee D discussed the Clause but it was discussed in the Scottish Standing Committee, and I promised to see whether we could make it clear that the officers affected should be reimbursed those expenses that they had incurred reasonably. The difference made by the Amendments is that the Secretaries of State will no longer have complete discretion to compel the officer to pay the whole of his costs; instead, they will be able to make him pay only to the extent that the costs have been incurred unreasonably.

This type of inquiry is something quite new, and it must be distinct from an inquiry in a disciplinary appeal since the power to require the retirement of a senior officer is not intended to be used in place of disciplinary action. The Government wish to make sure that the senior officer whose compulsory retirement has been suggested should not be prevented from exercising every right of appeal from fear of incurring a financial loss. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to give him a blank cheque, so to speak, and to provide that all his costs, even if they were extravagant, should be paid by the police authority. There must be some limit, and this is set in the two Amendments in slightly different ways.

The English Amendment provides that the costs shall be taxed. The Scottish Amendment provides that the Secretary of State must first satisfy himself that the costs "were not reasonably incurred" before directing the officer to pay. This difference reflects standard practice in the two countries. I understand that in England and Wales taxation is the long-established method of examining detailed claims for costs in this sort of situation, but the normal Scottish practice is to leave the decision to the Secretary of State. As for expenses which fall on the police authority, I reaffirm to the House that these will rank for police grant, and half will be reimbursed by the Government.

Sir F. Soskice

The Under-Secretary's speech brings a blush to those of us who formed part of Standing Committee D for not having raised this point. I thank the noble Lady for having proposed this change in the Bill. It obviously does a measure of justice to chief constables who are at risk of being retired which should have been done at an earlier stage. Both Government and Opposition are at fault in not having spotted the difficulty before. It is not the first time that wisdom has come from beyond the Border, and we are glad to profit by it down here. I am grateful that the noble Lady referred to the provision for taxation. It would be unfortunate if the impression got about that a chief constable, having had costs allowed, is charged 7s. 6d. in the £. It does not mean that at all. It means subsequent examination as to their quantum.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

Since I was the first to raise this matter in the Scottish Grand Committee I should like to express my thanks to the noble Lady. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) says that this is not the first time that wisdom has come from beyond the Border, but when it comes to this kind of legislation the wisdom is usually initiated by the Opposition and not by the Government. Fortunately, because we had the noble Lady and not the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Home Secretary in charge of our Bill, the wisdom was listened to.

I should like to ask the noble Lady whether or not she has refreshed herself about what would be reasonable or unreasonable. We had some rather strange definitions and the noble Lady, for once, spoke without that due regard for the tempers of the Opposition when she said that she thought that if a chief constable engaged far too good or too expensive a counsel that would be unreasonable. I hope that we can take it that he will be entitled to employ whatever counse he thinks adequate for the case.

Mr. S. Silverman

We realise that the House has much more important Amendments to consider than the one now before us, but I cannot refrain from asking a question about it. Under the Clause as originally in the Bill the chief constable or deputy chief constable would get his taxed costs unless the Home Secretary exercised the power of direction to prevent him from getting all of them, or some of them. I should like to know why the Home Secretary wishes to abandon that power. One conceives that it would be exercised very rarely and that in most cases it would be reasonable and right that the chief constable's costs should be paid. But one can imagine cases—they might not happen very often—in which it would be wholly improper that the chief constable concerned should get the whole of his costs—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That the Proceedings on the Police Bill may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. Hughes-Young.]

Question again proposed, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Silverman

I was saying that, although they might be rare, it was not difficult to imagine cases in which it would be wholly improper that the chief constable's total costs or any part of his costs should be borne at the public expense.

If the original Clause had required the Home Secretary to make such a direction, it would obviously have had to be amended, but I cannot understand—and I do not approve—the Home Secretary abandoning a power to deprive a chief constable in a suitable case of the whole or part of his costs. I should like to know what the explanation is.

Mr. Paget

I, too, am a little interested in this wisdom from beyond the Border. When a chief constable is required, upon orders from the Home Secretary, to retire in the interests of efficiency, this means that he is being "sacked" either for incompetence or for some other reason. Is there any precedent for the unsuccessful litigant, as he would be in the inquiry if, as a result of it, he were retired or "sacked", being paid his costs by the successful litigant? I cannot think of any other case in which this happens.

I am interested from the point of view of the Armed Services. If any officer in the service of Her Majesty is forcibly retired for inefficiency as the result of a decision of a court-martial, are his expenses to be paid by the State? If a civil servant is forcibly retired for incompetence, inefficiency or some other reason, are his expenses at the inquiry which results in his dismissal to be paid by the State? If not, why are chief constables selected for this privilege?

Mr. Ross

Has my hon. and learned Friend read the Scottish Clause which deals with this matter? He will find that the inquiry takes place before the exercise of the power, and it does not necessarily follow that the person is unsuccessful.

Mr. Paget

It may be that the Scottish Clause is not appropriate to the situation in England, but I was considering the English Clause. It may well be that, when a chief constable is successful and is not compulsorily retired, it is entirely just that he should receive his costs. But the Clause seems to provide for a situation in which, even when he is unsuccessful, he is treated in a manner which is denied to an officer in the Armed Services even when he is successful. An officer in Her Majesty's Forces, even when he is acquitted, does not get his costs, whereas, apparently, a chief constable, when he is convicted, does. I am inquiring about it. There may be a perfectly good reason, but I should like to hear it.

Mr. S. Silverman rose

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I must remind the hon. Member that this is the Report stage. He cannot speak more than once.

Mr. Silverman

I realise that. I was hoping that the Home Secretary would say something to satisfy our doubts——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The hon. Member cannot speak twice on Report.

Lady Tweedsmuir

The main difference on this question of inquiry is that we are dealing not with a disciplinary matter but with a matter of efficiency. In both Clauses of the Bill under discussion, the Scottish one and the English one, the senior officer was possibly made to pay a large part of his expenses. Under the new provisions, it will be the other way round. But it must be clear that he has unreasonably incurred expenses. I therefore feel that in an inquiry devoted to a matter of efficiency and not discipline this is fair.

Mr. Paget

Before the noble Lady sits down——

Lady Tweedsmuir

I have sat down.

Mr. S. Silverman

I hope that this is only a temporary cessation of the noble Lady's speech. She has said that this arises only when efficiency is involved. But this is clearly and absolutely not so. It is true that this can be done when nothing more than efficiency is involved. But suppose that there was a chief constable who was, heaven forbid, fraudulent. Would the Minister require him to resign in the interests of efficiency and would he pay his costs in any event?

Amendment agreed to.