HC Deb 09 November 1966 vol 735 cc1469-75

10.29 p.m.

Mr. N. R. Wylie (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 17, after 'scheme' to insert: 'publish in one or more newspapers circulating in the areas of the authorities a notice of the general nature of the proposed scheme and the general nature of that objection and shall'.

This Amendment is substantially, although not wholly, in the same terms as the Amendment discussed upstairs, when this Bill was in Committee. What it seeks to do is to preserve one of the features of the existing legislation which we consider to be important. The Bill is a very short one, and it seeks to replace the provisions of subsection (2) of Clause 18 of the Police (Scotland) Act, 1956, which in turn is a re-enactment of the provisions of the 1946 Act.

I do not wish to go into the other provisions of Section 18(2) of the 1956 Act which are being repealed and to which we have no objection, but I wish to stress that the provisions in that legislation, with which we have been familiar for 20 years, with regard to the advertisement in local newspapers of schemes of amalgamation, are a feature of the existing legislation which ought to be retained.

10.30 p.m.

There is and always has been in Scotland a close link between local police authorities and the people in the locality, and we feel, rightly or wrongly, that, having regard to the very small amount of expense involved, it is appropriate that those provisions for advertisements should be retained. The only qualification to that is that we are seeking in this Amendment to include in the advertisements of the proposed amalgamations a statement not only of the general nature of the proposed amalgamation scheme but also of the general nature of the police objection, if there has been one, which has been taken to it.

Something was said in Committee about delay and expense. I do not think it is a valid point. I do not think any real delay would be occasioned, because if there is a police objection under the legislation there has got to be an inquiry. If there is an inquiry, then under the practice, although not strictly required by law, there will be an advertisement of the inquiry.

All that we seek in the Amendment is to see that that advertisement includes a general outline of the scheme and of the objection to the scheme, so that the people in the locality who are most directly affected by the proposed amalgamation will know what is afoot.

Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)

I do not see any real objection to the Amendment, but I hope that even this small Bill will not be too restrictive with regard to amalgamations in another respect than these amalgamations between town and country forces——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman may not raise this point at this stage. We are discussing an Amendment in specific terms. Mr. Willis.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. George Willis)

The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pent-lands (Mr. Wylie) has moved an Amendment very similar to the Amendment that he moved in Committee, the only difference being that he has put in the words "the general nature" in front of "of that objection". I do not know the reason for that, but it does not seem to me to make a great deal of difference.

The answer briefly is very much the same as in Committee, namely, that there is really, in our view, no need for this Amendment if, in fact, the object is that the public should be informed that the scheme is being made and there has been an objection to it. Under the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, Section 355(3), The person appointed to hold the inquiry shall cause notice of the time and place of the inquiry to be given to the bodies and persons appearing to him to be interested. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) challenged this in Committee and said that that did not mean that there would be an advertisement in the Press. But it is the only way by which the person appointed to hold the inquiry can inform the persons interested.

The burden of the argument of hon. Members opposite is that the public is interested. If that argument is sound, the only way in which the person holding the inquiry can inform them is through an advertisement in the Press. Like an Act of Parliament, it has to be interpreted, and in practice the precedent has supported the interpretation which I am placing upon it. Therefore, it seems to us that this Amendment is quite unnecessary.

The hon. and learned Member for Pentlands argued that all he was asking for was simply a statement in the Press of the general nature of the proposed scheme. Unfortunately, however, if he reads the proposed new subsection (2, a), he will see that the words the general nature of the proposed scheme govern what the Secretary of State must send to the local authority. That being so, it would mean that once again we would enter into long advertisements specifying what the Secretary of State told the local authority. We had long discussions of this in Committee, when I quoted a number of cases in which we thought that it was undesirable to give people the unnecessary job of doing this when it was not necessary.

I do not want to go into the details of the other objections to the Amendment. They were rehearsed fairly fully in Committee. The Amendment was voted upon in Committee and on that occasion the Committee supported the Government. I hope that the House will do the same on this occasion.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

I am very disappointed in the Minister of State—not, may I say, for the first time. In Committee, and even earlier, the hon. Gentleman gave us, despite a certain blustering, a reason to hope. He confessed in his happier moments of debate that the thought behind the Amendment had at one time appealed to him. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) and I hoped that in the week or two which has elapsed since Committee the hon. Gentleman would have thought a little more about this and seen that there is good reason for our proposal.

The hon. Gentleman has rightly said that there is no need to go over all the arguments—we covered them in Committee—but I question some of the points which he has just made. He says that there is no need for the advertisement described in our Amendment if its purpose is to inform the public. He went on to say that there was no need for this because the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, requires the person holding the inquiry to bring it to the notice of those concerned in it. He then said that, on our argument, those concerned in it would be the public. I listened to that argument with interest but it has no substance whatever.

By the very nature of the Bill, the persons interested in the objection at the inquiry are the members of the police authority. I say that because the inquiry is limited to the objection made by the police authority. It follows, therefore, that the person in charge of the inquiry could quite properly communicate with the members of the police authority only without any question of advertisement while keeping within the requirement of the Bill.

Mr. Willis

The past practice in connection with the Local Government Act is that there has always been an advertisement. We are now putting before the House the present position in England.

Mr. MacArthur

I appreciate that. The Minister has throughout made the point that even if our Amendment were not accepted, an advertisement would appear because it is the administratively convenient way of bringing the inquiry to people's notice. There is, however, no statutory requirement for an advertisement.

I repeat the point which I made in Committee that the law on this matter, as on other matters, must be precise. My hon. Friends will, I am sure, agree that it is not sufficient to leave the question of an advertisement simply to administrative convenience or even to administrative whim. There should be a statutory requirement. That is the view not only of hon. Members on this side of the House. It is supported outside the House. However, there is no need to go into that argument any more.

In Committee, the Minister of State made great play with the length of the advertisement. He produced an advertisement, published under the existing legislation, in one of the Ayrshire papers. He waved a piece of paper at us and said that it was a long and complicated advertisement. I was able to see, however, that the advertisement was stuck on that piece of paper and I calculate the advertisement as being 8 inches of a single column. I have made inquiries and I find that there are two newspapers circulating in the local area. One is the Ayrshire Post and the other is the Ayr Advertiser. If the advertisement was in fact 8 inches long its cost in the Ayrshire Post would have been £6; its cost in the Ayr Advertiser would have been £4 8s.

I think that that disposes of the argument which was advanced by at least one hon. Member opposite that this process would involve undue cost. The only addition to existing practice our Amendment would require would be a statement about the general nature of the objection to the scheme. This might require another inch or two, and an inch or two would cost 11s. in one paper and 15s. in the other, per inch. I do not think this question of cost has much substance.

The basic reasons for our Amendment are that if an objection is made to a proposed scheme it is important that the public should know of the dispute, if only because they will be closely affected by its outcome. Further, I believe that acceptance of this Amendment would assist the maintenance of good relations between the police and the public. Finally, the law must be precise and, whatever the form of advertisement, the question of its publication should not be left as a matter of administrative convenience.

Amendment negatived.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Willis

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

In view of the hour I do not wish to speak at any great length, but I should like to express my thanks to hon. Members on both sides of the House for the manner in which they have assisted us to get this Bill through quickly. I think it will be a useful piece of legislation. I think, too, that it will be of value to us in helping us with the scheme of amalgamations which the Secretary of State announced a short time ago. I would again thank the House.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

On the Second Reading we on this side welcomed the Bill, and we want to do so again on Third Reading, and just to ask one or two questions which the Minister has not yet replied to and which are very important in relation to these amalgamations which the Secretary of State announced on 6th July.

The first question was about the position of the chief constable who is displaced by an amalgamation. The Minister said in August that he was considering representations and hoped to give more generous treatment. I wonder if he can now give details of that. Secondly, there was the position of the chief constable, who after an amalgamation becomes deputy chief constable doing perhaps a superintendent's work. Can he now give the assurance that the deputy chief constable will receive pay as if he were promoted and till he retires? This is most important. At least 10 chief constables will lose their positions, and we want to make sure that their financial future is secure.

I have asked questions about senior officers. There is one in relation to the policemen themselves. Under the burgh amalgamations, covered by Regulation 60 under the Police (Scotland) Act, 1956, compulsory transfer from one house to another is dealt with. I wonder if this is to be extended to deal with county forces——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. I do not think the hon. Member can go into this on Third Reading of the Bill, which relates only to Section 18 of that Act.

Mr. Monro

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. One feels that the consequences of these amalgamations will be very important, but I shall leave that, if that is your Ruling.

In general we warmly welcome the intentions, and I hope that the police authorities will go forward in a spirit of co-operation, and in a constructive atmosphere, because that is most important to amalgamations. In general, I warmly applaud this Bill.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)

On behalf of the Liberal Party, may I welcome the Bill? We welcomed it on Second Reading, not the least for its brevity. I hope that it is one of the first steps in the whole scheme of regionalisation, and I commend it for its contribution to the greater efficiency of our police forces and greater opportunities for promotion to police officers serving in small forces.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)

While I agree with the main purpose of the Bill, the amalgamation of police forces is a process which has been going on for a number of years in Scotland. I hope that the Bill will not be restrictive in its nature and that the Secretary of State will think that it is the be all and end all of the reorganisation of our police forces.

Notwithstanding that amalgamations have been taking place and have given a degree of efficiency, they have also brought a degree of dissatisfaction, not the least because of ordinary police officers being moved considerable distances away from their original bases. I suggest that that is a matter which must be looked at carefully when amalgamations take place.

As I say, we have to go further than the reorganisation of police forces in Scotland, and I should like to think that the Bill gives the Secretary of State power to look at the possibility of a central police force for the whole of Scotland.

It may be that that is outwith the ambit of the Bill, but regard must be had to the individual policeman in not moving him 30 or 40 miles away, as a result of an amalgamation, from a position which he took up believing that he would be within that area when he joined the police force originally.

Mr. Willis

Mr. Deputy Speaker, it would be out of order for me to attempt to reply to the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) now. I will send him a letter about the points which he raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.