HC Deb 06 July 1966 vol 731 cc430-5
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.

I promised on 23rd May that I would make a statement about the structure of the Scottish Police Service.

I have been considering for some time whether a number of Scottish police forces should be amalgamated in the interests of efficiency, as was recommended by the Royal Commission on the Police in 1962. I have now concluded that, as a first step, there should be a limited programme of amalgamation which will reduce the total number of Scottish forces to 20, a figure envisaged by the Royal Commission on the Police.

Specifically, the amalgamations which I now propose are the forces of: the County of Lanark and the Burghs of Airdrie, Coatbridge, Hamilton, and Motherwell and Wishaw, with a total establishment at present of 1,036; the Counties of Renfrew and Bute and the Burghs of Greenock and Paisley, with an establishment of 733; the County of Ayr and the Burghs of Ayr and Kilmarnock, with an establishment of 626; the County of Inverness and the Burgh of Inverness, with an establishment of 186; and the Counties of Caithness, Orkney and Shetland, with an establishment of 102.

I have written to the police authorities concerned asking them to consider voluntary amalgamations on these lines and offering discussion of the matter in detail if they wish it.

I hope that these amalgamations can be brought about by negotiation and agreement. The general principle of amalgamation is now widely accepted and I hope that the limited programme which I have announced will not give rise to any question of compulsory powers. But it is clear to me that, if there should be a case where I am convinced, after full consideration, that amalgamation is necessary, but the police authorities concerned are unable to agree, the procedural requirements for a public inquiry should be as recommended by the Royal Commission on the Police in 1962 in so far as the inquiry should be concerned only with the objections and not with the merits of the scheme itself.

I shall, therefore, introduce later today a Bill to amend Section 18(2) of the Police (Scotland) Act, 1956, which will apply in Scotland the provisions relating to procedure at inquiries which now apply in England and which were recommended for both countries by the Royal Commission on the Police.

Mr. Noble

I thank the Secretary of State for making this statement today, as he promised. I am certain that both sides of the House welcome anything which will lead to greater efficiency of the police. I should like to ask him two specific questions. Is he satisfied that the main problems facing the police in Scotland today—of numbers, staffing, equipment and pay—will be improved by this policy of amalgamation? Is it his intention—I understand that it is the intention in England—that the police forces should remain under local authorities? If that is so, is the timing of the changes proposed the most suitable one, in view of the fact that local government reorganisation will soon be with us?

Mr. Ross

Equipment and manning will be improved under larger forces. I do not think that what we are doing is inconsistent with the findings of the Royal Commission, which is what I think the right hon. Gentleman had in mind. An examination of what is proposed will convince anyone, I am sure, that it is desirable to make these changes now. The Police Federation itself, at its last annual meeting, suggested that there should be one police force in Scotland. I believe, however, that there is still scope for local participation in and control of our police forces.

Sir M. Galpern

I welcome the proposed amalgamations in principle. However, does my right hon. Friend not think that this would be the most convenient time to review the question of the distribution of cost between local authorities and the Exchequer of the police force?

Mr. Ross

No, Sir. Not at this time, or in relation to this statement.

Mr. Stodart

If these proposals are carried through, will they include one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, that the right of a burgh of over 50,000 inhabitants to have its own police force should go?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman will probably recollect that the recommendation of the Royal Commission was that police forces should not have an establishment of under 500. Of all the police forces which I have mentioned, only one, I think, has over 200. That is Paisley, with 209. We must consider this matter from the point of view of the efficiency of the police force, rather than that of the status of burghs.

Mr. Hannan

Does my right hon. Friend recall that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in his recent statement indicated that he was going a little further than the recommendations of the Commission about these amalgamations? Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that his proposals go far enough and are radical enough to meet the new circumstances?

Mr. Ross

I think that they go far enough at present, in view of what is happening over the Royal Commission. The recommendation of the Royal Commission was to reduce the number of police forces in Scotland to between 20 and 30, and we are meeting that point. As I have said, this is the first step. We must look at the matter in that light. This is by no means the last thing which we can do: even some of the suggestions which I have made might be improved by a recommendation from the local police authorities. I should be glad to go a little further, with their agreement.

Miss Harvie Anderson

While I welcome the statement, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will pay specific attention to the difficulties of housing, because the amalgamations will be greatly impeded by the general shortage of housing in Scotland and the long distances which some policemen, on transfer, may now be expected to travel?

Mr. Ross

That is a fair point. This is one of the things which I am sure that the Scottish Police Advisory Board are presently considering, with the difficulties of getting up to required establishments.

Mr. Small

Would my right hon. Friend give some idea of the time scale during which he expects voluntary agreement?

Mr. Ross

It would be wrong to lay down a time limit. The Ormidale Committee, in 1933, suggested that the number of police forces should be reduced to 13 and suggested that there should be a time limit, otherwise discussions would drag on for 20 or 30 years. Now, 33 years afterwards, we are just making what is virtually the first step. If we can get agreement, I am prepared to spare six months or so, but the time scale will be entirely related to the response of the police authorities.

Mr. MacArthur

Can the right hon. Gentleman give a rather better answer to the first question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble), about staffing and equipment? Is he aware that the number of crimes and offences made known to the police in Scotland went up sharply last year, that a crime is being committed there every three and a half minutes and that the rata of detection is falling? It is not enough simply to leave this to amalgamation. Will he take active and positive steps himself to improve staffing and equipment?

Mr. Ross

If the hon. Gentleman has been following these matters over a number of years, he will know that improvements have been made along these lines, but he will surely be the first to appreciate that the size of the force itself has some effect on the proper use of men, on their mobility and flexibility, on the ability of specialised forces, and on getting the best use of equipment and skilled manpower.

Mr. Russell Johnston

While associating myself with the general welcome that has been given to the right hon. Gentleman's statement, may I ask him three questions? First, since he did not give a clear answer to the question put by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small), does he not have a rough idea of the time scale? Secondly, is he considering any other amalgamations and, if so, would he agree that it would be better to postpone their announcement until such time as experience has shown the results of those already announced? Thirdly, will he say whether he is considering, in examining these amalgamations, questions like the overlapping of communications?

Mr. Ross

It is because we are considering the question of overlapping that we have made this the first step. When I used the words "first step" I really meant what I said.

As to the time scale, we will have a better idea of how quickly we will be able to proceed when I have received the responses of the police authorities, to whom I have already written and who, I think, will not waste time in responding. As to further progress, the Scottish Police Advisory Board is meeting fairly soon, and the question of amalgamations is one of the matters that it will be discussing.

Mr. Hector Hughes

What relations will exist between those areas which are amalgamated—those which my right hon. Friend specifically mentioned—and those which are not amalgamated? Will there be some kind of supervision or central control?

Mr. Ross

They are under the supervision of the Secretary of State, but the responsibility rests with the police authorities themselves. There is scope, within existing legislation, for cooperation. My hon. and learned Friend will appreciate, when considering the matter of co-operation, that crime squads are already co-operating. For example, one covers the West of Scotland from Glasgow to Galloway and Lanarkshire; in the East similarly there are such squads; and active consideration has been given to a scheme covering the Perth and Dundee area. There is full co-operation, but that is quite outwith, and additional to, what is being done here.

Mr. Wylie

How does the right hon. Gentleman propose to satisfy himself as to the merits of his proposed amalgamations if the merits of them are precluded from consideration at the public inquiry, as I understand will be the case?

Mr. Ross

I am quite satisfied that, in this instance, we are bringing Scottish law up to the demands of inquiries in the way incorporated in the legislation of 1964. I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman was a Member at that time, but he was Solicitor-General for Scotland and I am sure that he will be satisfied that what was being done by the Government of which he was a member was legal.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Would the right hon. Gentleman say why it was felt right to lay down a time scale in respect of police amalgamations in England and Wales, but it has not been felt right to do so for Scotland? Would he give the Scottish Police Federation an assurance that he will consult closely with its members in the procedure of these amalgamations and will bear in mind the need for a co-operative spirit when it comes to negotiating pay and conditions later in the year?

Mr. Ross

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to reply to the last part of that question. We are always duly co-operative on these matters. We always have close consultation in Scotland, and one reason why we do not need to lay down time scales is probably because of the close and, shall I say, harmonious nature of the contacts that exist between the various authorities in Scotland and the Secretary of State.

Mr. Noble

Is he aware that his answers will be as satisfactory as those of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary if he has carefully considered the problems of compensation for chief constables who may lose their jobs for no other reason than these amalgamations?

Mr. Ross

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman made that point. I have looked into it and I am satisfied that the 1956 Consolidation Act and the conditions covering compensation are quite adequate in this matter.