HC Deb 19 July 1968 vol 768 cc1874-7
Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 20, leave out 'special'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

With this Amendment we can discuss Amendment No. 2, in page 2. line 23, leave out 'special'.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

An interesting point of principle is involved. In 1949 a previous Administration got a bit sloppy in drafting their legislation. I suspect that this is all that happened. Section 37 of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949 at some stages uses the phrase "special constables" and at other stages refers to "constable". Subsection (1) reads: Any two justices of the peace may appoint such persons as may be nominated for the purpose by the Minister to be special constables on any premises for the time being vested in the Minister or under his control. Subsection (2) says: Every person so appointed shall be sworn in by the justices duly to execute the office of a constable on the premises aforesaid, and when so sworn in shall, on those premises, have the power and privileges and be liable to the duties and responsibilities of a constable. A point of principle is involved, because a special constable, as the expression is known to the public and, I hope, to us, is a member of the community who voluntarily gives his services to the community to assist the police in the office of special constable. It is an utter prostitution of the special constabulary that this term should also be applied to people who, by the nature of their employment —for instance, by an airport authority — are required by their employer to be sworn in with the powers of a constable. To confuse somebody, part of whose job is to exercise police powers, with somebody who voluntarily gives his services to the community is an abuse which we should not perpetuate. It crept into the 1949 Act. Fortunately, the phrase does not appear in Section 10 of the Airports Authority Act, 1965; only the word "constable" appears; there is no reference to special constabulary. It is apparent that by then this had been picked up. It is, therefore, a pity that it reappears in the Bill.

I have discussed this with a number of police officers from the rank of constable up to the rank of chief constable. Everyone with whom I have discussed it has taken the same view as I do, that it is thoroughly undesirable to apply the term "special constable" to somebody who is a form of constable other than a regular police constable, merely for the want of a better phrase. There are a number of other types of constable. There are the British Transport Police and Her Majesty's Dockyard Police, all of whom are constables, but they are not special constables. There are also the Airports Authority police, set up under Section 10 of the 1965 Act.

We are concerned now specifically with lines 20 and 23 on page 2. I am glad that the Minister of State signed our Amendment—that in page 2, line 23— after we had tabled it. For that reason, his name appears at the head of those sponsoring the Amendment on the Notice Paper. It is not the case, as somebody looking at the Notice Paper for the first time might think, that we have signed the Minister's Amendment. I understand that this is a not unusual practice when a Minister adds his name to an Opposition Amendment, but it is worth mentioning this for the record.

I can only presume that the reason why the hon. Gentleman did not add his name to Amendment No. 1 is that line 20 refers to Section 37 of the 1949 Act, which sometimes uses the expression, "special constables" and sometimes refers to "constable". Perhaps the Minister wants to have a final fling at the word "constable" by leaving it in there and quite properly deleting it later. If this is the reason why he added his name to Amendment No. 2 but not to Amendment No. 1, this is something which we can quite happily let pass, because line 20 refers to the provisions of the offending Act passed by a previous Administration of his own political complexion, whereas line 23 has more to do with future appointments where this error is not perpetrated.

With those introductory remarks, I commend these Amendments to the House. They should be agreed to so as to avoid unnecessary offence to the body of men and women who give their service voluntarily to the community.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. Burden

Under the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, it is clear that these constables are special only in that they are engaged in duties connected with airports. They have duties which extend far beyond those of the ordinary special constable and the privileges and powers pertaining to those of the ordinary constable. I ask the Minister of State to give this matter his favourable consideration.

In Committee, the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) said this: On the point about special constables, these are not special constables in the ordinary sense but are part of a regular force which the airport authorities are entitled to maintain." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G, 16th May, 1968; c. 9.] That puts it succinctly and explains why we wish to have "special constable" removed. It would be very desirable if a designation such as "airport police" could be applied so as to make it clear what their duties and terms of employment are.

Mr. William Rodgers

Just to get the facts correct, it was the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and his colleagues who added their names to my Amendment, but I do not think that we need to enter into any dispute about this matter. In Committee there was thorough discussion of this point and the point was well taken.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

When I received the Notice Paper the only Amendments on this subject were the two signed by my hon. Friends and I. Subsequently, the Minister's name appeared on our Amendment. I inquired at the Table Office as to how this had come about and was informed that the Minister of State had subsequently added his name to our Amendment and that it was customary when this happened for the Minister's name to appear at the top of the list of sponsors.

Mr. Rodgers

I do not think that this is a point worth disputing. I think that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. We can resolve this afterwards. The Amendment was tabled because of the discussion in Committee, to which my predecessor was anxious to respond. I have sought to follow this through. I do not think that there can be any dispute about that Amendment.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

It is a question of fact.

Mr. Rodgers

On Amendment No. 1, there is a difference which the hon. Gentleman understands. He says that the phrase "special constables" crept into the 1949 Act. I would not wish to dispute that. It might well be that, if we were passing that Act today, we would not include the phrase "special constables".

But as long as the term "special constables" is there in the Act we can do no more in this Bill than reproduce the phrase. While recognising the spirit of Amendment No. 1, I must therefore ask the House to reject it.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: No. 2 in page 2, line 23, leave out 'special'.—[Mr. Rodgers.]

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