HC Deb 26 November 1968 vol 774 cc437-60

10 20 p.m.

Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

I beg to move, That the Lancashire Police (Amalgamation) Order, dated 12th July 1968, a draft of which was laid before this House on 19th July, in the last Session of Parliament, be withdrawn. The terms of the Motion are determined by Parliamentary procedure. It is not possible under this procedure to amend a police amalgamation Order. The only way in which an Amendment to this Order can be carried is for the Order to be withdrawn and laid before the House again.

Many Members are concerned with many aspects of the Lancashire Police (Amalgamation) Order. I concern myself mainly with those aspects of it which affect the Furness peninsula in which my constituency is situated and will leave other hon. Members to express their points of view about other parts of the affected area. The Furness area is at present policed by two forces: the Barrow county borough police force, and the Lonsdale Division of the Lancashire Constabulary. The Furness area is a peninsula geographically divorced from the rest of Lancashire. In fact, in order to each Barrow or the area policed by the North Lonsdale Police Force from central Lancashire, one must travel through Westmorland. There is no geographical unity about these two areas.

Since the amalgamation of the Cumberland and Westmorland forces, the Furness peninsula has become an enclave within the area of the Cumbrian Police Force. Therefore, grave reflections are cast on the wisdom of the Home Secretary in proceeding with an amalgamation Order which leaves this geographical anomaly instead of first amending Section 21 of the Police Act, 1964, so that he could take the logical course of amalgamating this area with the area at present policed by the Cumbrian force. This would not only make for a geographic unity of the area covered by the Cumbrian force but give many advantages in administration.

However, since Section 21 of the Police Act. 1964, has not yet been amended, it is not legally possible to amalgamate the North Lonsdale division area with the Cumbrian police area. But this objection does not apply to the area covered by the Barrow force since this is the area of a separate county borough police force and it is legally possible to amalgamate this area with the Cumbria force should the Home Secretary wish to do so.

The situation which has arisen was clearly foreseeable and therefore we can only assume that the Home Secretary, in determining to proceed with this amalgamation before dealing with the anomaly created by Section 21 of the Police Act, has decided that in respect of the majority of the police areas covered by this Order there is some special urgency which overrides and outweighs considerations of geographic unity or ease of administration. Had Section 21 been amended, there is no doubt that the Order would not have been in this form, and instead we should have had an infinitely superior and logical amalgamation.

Special problems attach to the policing of many areas which are covered by amalgamation Orders, problems that will not he fully understood by the committee of 57 drawn from all over Lancashire, as proposed in the Order. It is debatable whether the committee proposed in the Order could understand as well as local watch committees the problems of which watch committees have intimate knowledge. It is extremely hard to imagine a chief constable responsible for the whole of Lancashire dealing effectively before the committee with a complaint about a policeman whom he probably does not know relating to an area which he has probably never seen. The difficult task of balancing police efficiency with safeguards against the abuse of police authority requires a much more sensitive and efficient instrument than is conceived within the terms of the Order.

The Home Secretary unquestionably has power to amalgamate police areas where it appears to him to be expedient to do so in the interests of police efficiency. Parliament in its wisdom, however, has provided that before the Home Secretary makes a compulsory amalgamation scheme, if there is an objection, a local inquiry must be held. The Home Secretary has power to appoint a person to conduct that inquiry, and he appointed such an inspector for the Lancashire police amalgamation inquiry. The Home Secretary exercised his right to be represented before such an inquiry, and was represented by Mr. Joseph Molony, Q.C., and by Mr. C. N. Glide-well. Barrow was represented by Mr. W. M. Robinson, the Deputy Town Clerk. I suggest that Barrow was so confident of the ability of its Deputy Town Clerk and so sure of the justice of its case that it did not feel it necessary to employ the services of an eminent Q.C. What transpired showed that Barrow was right in its judgment.

The conclusion of that inquiry was that Barrow should be omitted from the amalgamation scheme, with a view to amalgamation with Cumbria in two years' time. This was the decision of an independent inquiry which listened carefully to the Home Secretary's case, presented by extremely well qualified men, and the case presented by the Deputy Town Clerk, and decided that the case presented by the Deputy Town Clerk was the one for which it should opt.

A further conclusion of the independent inquiry was that until it was possible to amalgamate Barrow with Cumbria, Barrow should remain an independent force and that only if an amalgamation with Cumbria was not possible within two years should the Barrow police force be amalgamated with the Lancashire police force.

It is not surprising that an independent expert inquiry should come to this conclusion. Not only does it make geographical sense to amalgamate Barrow with Cumbria, as it would make geographical sense to amalgamate North Lonsdale with Cumbria, it also makes for greater administrative efficiency.

In addition to these considerations, as the inquiry has shown, there is no justification on grounds of police efficiency for amalgamating the Barrow police force with the Lancashire police force. I will give one of the criteria which was covered by the report of the inquiry about the relative efficiency of the police forces involved. The average detection rate of crime in Barrow over the last three years has been 64 to 68 per cent. In the Lancashire Constabulary area it was 40 to 45 per cent. I had better not make other comparisons of this kind. as I might be relying on the support of hon. Members from other Lancashire constituencies tonight, and I would not want them to think that Barrow's objection to its force being amalgamated with theirs rested on the ground that we thought their forces were inferior. The point is that it cannot be claimed that to include Barrow in this kind of amalgamation will produce a more efficient policing of Barrow. Such a conclusion would be a travesty and a distortion of the facts before the inquiry and, of course, would be completely at variance with its recommendations.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State might argue that this amalgamation should be allowed to go through and at some later date, when the Royal Commission on Local Government has reported, or when Section 21 of the Police Act, 1964, has been amended, transfer Barrow and North Lonsdale into the Cumbria division. If this is my hon. Friend's contention, I think that it would be bad for the morale of the police force to be chopped and changed between one area and another. It would certainly not help in maintaining the efficiency of the force, which should be a primary consideration in any amalgamation.

What is more, it would have certain immediate technical objections. For example. to amalgamate Barrow with the Lancashire Police Force and subsequently to transfer it to the Cumbria Police Foree would involve the Barrow force giving up its AM radio equipment, which is at present used by both Cumbria and Barrow, and turning over to FM radio equipment while it was part of Lancashire's force and transferring back to AM radio equipment when it was subsequently transferred to the Cumbria force.

There is no doubt that the Royal Commission on Local Government has thrown local government into the melting pot. The relevance of this to the Order is brought out in the report of the inquiry. Whatever we might conceive to be the final recommendations of the Royal Commission on Local Government, no one in his wildest moments would imagine that the Royal Commission will recommend that Lancashire's present county boundary provides an ideal administration area for modern police needs. It obviously does not. The boundary exists —no doubt for very good historic reasons—but it certainly does not relate in any way to the needs of police administration today.

The independent inquiry has pronounced what we regard as a fair and impartial judgment on this issue. In accordance with the Police Act, 1964, the matter has been fully investigated by an independent Inspector who has concluded that, from the point of view of police efficiency, the Barrow police area ought to be amalgamated with Cumbria, not with Lancashire.

It is wrong that the Government should shelter behind the technical difficulty of amending Section 21 of the Police Act, 1964. The Order should not be made in the terms of the draft, but a draft should be relaid before Parliament with the Barrow police area excluded.

Section 21 of the 1964 Act could be amended in the next two years by a short Bill and it would then be possible for the Barrow police area and the Lonsdale Division of the Lancashire police area to be transferred to Cumbria. To refuse to do this would be to ride roughshod over the judgment of men experienced in the police administration of the area, would be to flout the decision of an independent inquiry and would be to ignore the proper police requirements of the area.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give an undertaking to withdraw the Order and redraft it in a way which will reflect the views of those concerned, who desire to see that police administration is not only efficient in apprehending criminals but is sensitive to the need to protect the public against possible abuse of police power and to ensure that the police remain an instrument for social justice in the area.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

I support the conclusions to which the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) came, if in some respects for different reasons. As many hon. Members from Lancashire wish to speak in this debate. I will be brief, particularly since the points involved are well known to the Home Office.

One of the striking features of this whole question of the amalgamation of the Lancashire police forces has been that from the start anybody on the spot with practical knowledge of how the police forces in the area work has been against what is proposed.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn) indicated dissent.

Mr. Percival

I do not know why my hon. Friend dissents or what Cheshire knows about Lancashire.

We have in Lancashire many people who have spent a great deal of time in local government, who know the needs of the area and whose views, even if we do not always agree with them, are entitled to considerable respect. My complaint against the Home Office is that the Department in this matter, from start to finish, has not only not shown enough respect for local feelings, but has shown no respect at all. My information is that throughout this affair no advice was taken locally before the proposal for amalgamating the county forces was put forward.

If I had evidence to show that anybody on the spot had been consulted, I would feel differently about the matter. Indeed, that is all I would have asked. I could understand if the local people had been consulted and their views rejected for good reason. But I gather that nobody on the spot was consulted before a full scheme was put forward. Perhaps they have been consulted since then. Certainly their views have been listened to. The hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) and I have been members of at least three delegations. Our views were listened to afterwards, but always in an atmosphere of everything having been decided for us. "Yes, dear boys. We will certainly hear what you have to say, but you are wrong," is the feeling we have had. If that is what the Minister will say tonight is consultation, then by my book it is not. By consultation I mean discussion before something is decided. I said, and I shall try to stick to it, that as many hon. Members wish to speak in this debate I will put my points in a potted version. I put forward the principal objections which my watch committee has to this proposal. It has been running police forces in Lancashire for quite a time. I do not agree with everything it does, but it knows something about running police forces in the area and its views are entitled to considerable weight which they have not received as yet.

The first point it makes is one on which the hon. Member for Oldham, East and I happily find agreement. We have argued it time and again—neither whip or spur would force another pace out of it. What is the sense in doing this when the whole question of local government is in the melting pot and a report is due to be published on it either this year or next? When the whole of local government in the area may be changed in the comparative near future, why take a local government boundary as it exists as the basis for this amalgamation?

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

Am I to understand from the hon. Member's remarks that none of the watch committees was consulted about this proposed amalgamation?

Mr. Percival

That is my understanding.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan) indicated dissent.

Mr. Percival

The Under-Secretary shakes his head. If he can tell me of any consultations which took place with the watch committee before the proposal was put forward to have a police force for the whole county, I will take note of what he says and adjust what I have said accordingly. Certainly my watch committee was not consulted before the proposal was put forward. I do not think that in the discussion we have had with Ministers anyone has challenged this. My understanding is that the proposal was announced for Lancashire and then an opportunity was given for views to be expressed. This is the wrong way round. One should take the views first and throw them aside if one has good reasons for so doing, but here there was no consultation before the proposal.

This is not a technical matter or a mere matter of timing. In the view of my watch committee and in my view there is a very important principle involved. If the Minister wishes to inter- vene and tells me that I am wrong and that there were widespread consultations before the proposal was mooted, I will gladly give way to him.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

I will deal with the matter.

Mr. Percival

If the Minister is to deal with the matter it would be better to do so now, but I do not believe that he can.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

If the hon. Member seriously suggesting that, before these proposals for amalgamation were put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) in 1966, proposals for amalgamation had already emanated from any local authority in Lancashire?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that interventions will be brief. I have a queue of Lancashire Members of Parliament wishing to take part in a debate which is for only 45 minutes.

Mr. Percival

The Minister has entirely misunderstood the point. It is not a question of proposals emanating from Lancashire but from the Home Office and before they emanated from the Home Office someone in Lancashire should have been consulted. On my information they were not, or if so they were not the people who in my opinion ought to have been consulted.

My watch committee take the view —so do I—that the creation of a large authority like this will definitely sever local links and that is a bad thing. I am not standing for the principle that every little authority should have a local police force, although that is not something to treat with contempt—it is rather nice when an authority is proud of its police force and the police force is proud of its authority and wants to do a good job for it. I see nothing wrong in that. I do not go as far as that. We in Southport accept that there must be larger units. A long time ago it was accepted in our part of Lancashire that we could not keep the number of separate independent forces that we had. The advantages derived from local connections could have been preserved by having smaller amalgamations, but will be lost without any compensating advantage by having this enormous, elephantine amalgamation. The very size of this amalgamation will produce problems which could have been avoided if a little more thought had been given to the matter and if those on the spot, who know the problems because they have been dealing with them, had been consulted before anybody had this idea and then, having had it, resolved to support come what may.

I do not think anybody could advance any geographical argument in favour of this amalgamation. It follows the county boundary, which is a geographical accident. It has nothing to commend it in terms of police force efficiency. It is divided into at least three clearly discernible regions as regards geographical working. On that ground alone it is, looked at in gross, absurd.

Then there is its size, not only in terms of geography but in terms also of manpower. There has been much comment about the size of the Metropolitan Police Force, which is by far the largest in the whole country; it is said that the force is too big and that this brings disadvantages. It is now proposed to have another police force which is nearly twice as large as the next largest proposed amalgamation. The expert witnesses—Mr. Stalley Lawrence, Sir Charles Martin, who appeared for Southport and who is an ex-Inspector of Constabulary, and Sir Philip Allen on behalf of the Home Office—all said that once a force exceeds 4,000 problems of personnel are created which it is desirable not to have.

Thirdly, it brings this difficulty, to which I have never heard any answer. When the police authority is determined, either there must be so little representation on the authority that it might as well not be there, or there must be so enormous an authority that it is unmanageable. The result is that there wil be an authority of 57, which is about as big as any manageable committee can be. Southport is to have one representative on the authority. I have no doubt that other boroughs of equal size and importance will have equal represen:ation. This is paper representation in practice. If there is one representative out of 57, a borough might as well have no representation.

Finally, my watch committee and I take, great exception to the argument which has been advanced so frequently to the effect that nothing could be done except by amendment of Section 21 of the Police Act. Our case is, not that we object to amalgamation, but that we object to this amalgamation. Accepting the principle of amalgamation, somebody should sit down with those who know what they are talking about and ask, "What amalgamation shall there be in Lancashire?"

There has been a consensus here that there could be three amalgamations and that Barrow, which is the odd man out, if the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness will forgive me for putting it in that way, can go to Cumbria in due time. On every practical argument that has been advanced, I believe this is accepted by all concerned. The hon. Member for Oldham, East will bear me out that in the delegations these practical arguments have never been contraverted. Nobody has ever suggested, even at the meetings with delegations, that the Government's scheme, viewed from the practical standpoint, was the best which could be devised. That is putting it mildly. I do not think that anyone has suggested even that it was a good one. What has been said was, "We cannot do anything else because Section 21 prevents us".

After the last delegation of which I was a member—I forget whether it was the second, third or fourth—I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to express my dismay. I shall not quote the letter, because of the time, but I remember it well. The Home Secretary seemed to be saying to us not, "Do not be silly. My scheme is better than yours". He almost agreed that it was not a very good scheme, but he said, "Because of an existing Statute, I cannot do for Lancashire what ought to be done".

I wrote to say that I was dismayed. I could not believe that the House of Commons could be defeated by one of its own Statutes from doing what everybody who knew anything about the matter was convinced was right. Nothing that happened before or since has caused me to alter that view. It was said that Section 21 of the Police Act could not be amended because of the pressure of legislation. I have heard some funny things in the House. but that was one of the funniest.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not think me discourteous if I remind him that there are at least 13 other constituencies involved in the Order, all the Members for which are here and wishing to speak. We have now just under 40 minutes left for debate, and I understand that the Minister wishes to take part.

Mr. Percival

With respect, Mr. Speaker, I have packed a good deal into 12 minutes. I have been watching the time closely, and, as you have probably appreciated, I am speaking rather faster than is, perhaps, usual for me. I have been diverted a little, but I am coming to the end. It is an important matter. On both sides, we have been fobbed off with the argument that what we propose cannot be done because it requires legislation. I regard that as a thoroughly spurious argument. It would not have taken much of the time of the House to put matters right. In any event, it would not have needed amending legislation; an enabling Act to enable what was proposed in respect of Lancashire could easily have been passed.

Having been a member of the all-party delegations, I know that those arguments have been put forward time and time again. I have run through them quickly. You did me the honour, Mr. Speaker, of calling me first after the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness, so that I had the opportunity to put them. But, in addition to all that, there is the point that this whole affair has been an appalling piece of public relations.

We have all accepted that some amalgamation was necessary. A great deal of the hard feeling could have been avoided if there had been consultation at an early date, and if there had been any sort of indication that the views of people on the spot were valued and that some weight was attached to them. This brings me to my last point, the name of the force. It is to be called the Lancashire Constabulary. There has been no consultation whatever about it. It is not a point of vital importance, but it is part of the public relations picture.

I am told by policemen in my constituency that representatives of the Federation said, in effect, "This is going to happen, boys. However hard we fight it, it will come", but, in order to try to create good feeling, they said, "It is an amalgamation, not a takeover". But now they find that there was no consultation about the name. The name of the Lancashire County Force has been adopted, and the troops, so to speak, whom the Federation were trying to ease along are now saying, "You see; it is just as we said after all. It is a simple take-over by the county force".

From start to finish, this has been an appalling exercise in public relations, and my chief complaint, apart from those made by my watch committee, is at the total lack of consultation, which has led to feelings which might so easily have been avoided.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)

In view of what you have said, Mr. Speaker, I shall be as brief as possible, but I was leader of a deputation of the county boroughs in Lancashire to the then Home Secretary, and I must say something, brutal as it will be to the side of the argument of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

First, I completely agree that the new force should not be called the Lancashire Constabulary. It should be the Lancashire Police Force. If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State says that the watch committees of Lancashire were consulted, he will be wrong. The Police Federation was consulted on the morning of the announcement, way back on 18th May, 1966. HANSARD of that date tells me that the national organisations of police constables and superintendents were consulted. But the fact that seven or eight county police forces in Lancashire and 11 in Yorkshire were largely excluded by Ministerial action was the consequence.

I shall be quite unpersuaded if the Minister tries to argue that there was genuine consultation. What happened was that my right hon. Friend was rushed into legislation because of the then increasing crime rate. We from the Lancashire county boroughs were prepared to accept that some of the geography of those old county boroughs could be brought up to date. There was a willing disposition to do so, and a large measure of progress was made.

The Home Secretary met a delegation including 12 Members of Parliament, and representing all the county boroughs in Lancashire. We are talking about 1¼million people in Oldham, Barrow-in-Furness, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Blackpool, Preston, Rochdale, St. Helens, Southport, Warrington and Wigan. Is that an insignificant area of Lancashire? Those 11 million people were arbitrarily deprived of their democratic processes to deal with the criminal element, when their county boroughs were prepared to work out a much better police distribution for the county. My right hon. Friend the previous Home Secretary was arbitrary and very decisive. He did not wish to consult Members or the watch committees across Lancashire. Meeting them as I do, I know that a good deal of personal good will has been lost.

The other argument my right hon. Fr end used when the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) and others were with us was that he had no Parliamentary time to make a simple alteration in the 1963 Act, which, in principle, was an Act that said that the Home Secretary could amalgamate police forces. All it needed was—

Mr. Speaker

Order. On this Order we cannot amend the parent Act.

Mr. Mapp

I accept that Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I leave to hon. Members how far they believe the statement that there was no Parliamentary time.

The county boroughs were disappointed with that arbitrary action and the decisive nature of the refusal. If the Home Secretary believes that he has filed for good the democratic feelings in some of the major county boroughs of Lancashire by putting together the second largest police force in the country, he is suffering from a great misunderstanding.

When the Royal Commission on Local Government makes its recommendations known, many of us believe that the right recommendations will be the natural environmental boundaries, which the large county boroughs have. We want to know whether at this stage the Minister is prepared to be open-minded about unscrambling the largely undemocratic Lancashire police force, so that it can be reconstructed to meet the needs of conurbations, probably in most cases beyond 250,000 in population, and in some cases 500,000, in the enlarged county boroughs of Lancashire.

If the Home Secretary feels that Lancashire will be satisfied with having one major force in Liverpool, another in Manchester and another in Preston, he is deluding himself about the geography of the county. He must recognise that that is a quite unnatural division which does not provide for efficiency within the police force. Certainly, it cannot be democratic.

If his argument is that this is a step forward to a national police force, then let him say so frankly. But the Lancashire county boroughs do not want that policy introduced by the side door. As they become bigger, they want an opportunity to have a bigger police force. It may be said that the force must be at least one of 500 men, and I concede that immediately.

Having been with hon. Members of both sides of the House on that deputation, I have been pressed by some of them to take more vigorous action with the Home Secretary. I say this with some care: on reflection, it seems that I made a mistake in expressing good will towards the comment that there was pressure on Parliamentary time and that there was a need to deal with the increasing crime rate. It seems that I should have taken a longer point of view and should have been more obstinate.

The Home Secretary is most sensitive about police relationships. He must at least hold out the prospect that as and when county boroughs are delineated in the near future he will not resist the normal democratic processes by which the enlarged county boroughs would have their own police forces again, provided that they were large enough to be efficient to do the job required. He must not imagine that the county boroughs are prepared permanently to accept a Lancashire police force situated at Preston. If he thinks that they are prepared to accept such a situation, then at some time I shall find myself in the opposite Lobby to him and to my Government. The case put by Barrow is a complete illustration of the contradictions across the county arising from the new compromise. The Home Secretary more or less agreed at the time that it was nothing more than a compromise.

Hon. Members were able to show the Home Secretary that there was good will among local authorities. We dragged them away from the parish pump point of view. They were prepared to consider worthwhile police areas. If the Home Secretary continues in 1968 to resist our request, much stronger demands will be made upon him. The matter will be raised again when the local government boundaries are delineated, for the people of Lancashire will want their police forces back again.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)

There is widespread sympathy on both sides of the House for the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), for the recommendations for his constituency were totally disregarded by the Government. As was said by the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), that is a simple illustration of what has been happening in Lancashire.

The Minister must be sensible to the opposition being voiced on both sides of the House. Blackpool opposed this amalgamation—and it opposed it rightly and in my view for good reasons. Blackpool was not alone. Barrow, Southport, Warrington and Wigan all opposed it openly, while Bolton, Burnley, Preston and Rochdale said that they would have done so had not the Home Secretary made it clear that compulsion would be used. There are great interests in Lancashire, and they all feel that the scheme was not in Lancashire's interests.

Blackpool's opposition was not parochial. We were prepared to accept a larger scheme. Indeed, if Blackpool had wished to make parochial objections, it need have looked no further than its own force. The inspector who heard the inquiry said that both Blackpool and Southport had highly efficient forces with good morale and esprit de corps. He said that Blackpool in particular had unique problems through its position as England's largest holiday resort and that, if there were ever small county borough forces which deserved to survive, those of Blackpool and Southport would make two of them.

Both I and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) have been sensitive to Blackpool's unique claim to a force of its own. But, as I say, that claim was not made on Blackpool's behalf. It was prepared to accept a wider amalgamation. But what happened? All opposition was turned down and we are forced to accept now an amalgamation involving 7,000 policemen.

There are three lessons to be drawn from what happened at the inquiry and subsequently. First, I believe that Section 21 of the Police Act, 1964, should never have stood in the way of smaller amalgamations. Some way should have been found round what was nothing more than a procedural difficulty. Secondly, we should not be anticipating the Royal Commission on Local Government. We are to have a major local government reorganisation, yet, by 18 months or two years, the Government are anticipating the Royal Commission's proposals in the case of one of the most important functions in local government —the police service.

The Government say that they are prepared to anticipate, but I wonder what their argument will be when we come to the question of redistribution. We may see the other side of the penny when that matter comes to be discussed in the House next year.

Thirdly, this is another important example of the way in which the regions are being flouted by London, and those of us from Lancashire and other regions are aware of the growing feeling there that London does not know best. Once again, we have seen what is undoubtedly a London central Government scheme forced upon a region. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides will ignore the protests from the regions against this type of policy at their peril.

11.8 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan)

The Motion was eloquently moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) and is supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. No one doubts the strength of their feeling against this proposal or the sincerity of their desire to see that the police service in that large and complex area of North-West England shall be efficient. My right hon. Friend is, however, satisfied that it is necessary for the efficient policing of the area that this scheme should proceed and that it should proceed now. I shall, therefore, advise the House to reject the Motion.

The proposition that the County of Lancashire and 13 county boroughs within the geographical county should be combined for police purposes was made in May, 1966, by the then Home Secretary as part of a wider programme of amalgamations covering the whole of England and Wales. This programme was widely welcomed at the time on both sides of the House, by the Press and by the organisations representing the various ranks in the police service. It will be within the knowledge of hon. Members that great progress has been made in various parts of the country with implementation of the programme, subject to some modifications made in the course of working through it.

In many areas the schemes were implemented by voluntary action. In others, as in Lancashire, voluntary negotiations were unsuccessful and compulsory schemes were introduced and local inquiries held. Apart from Lancashire—the largest scheme—South Wales, where a local inquiry has recently been held—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not stray outside the bounds of order. We are debating the Lancashire amalgamation.

Mr. Morgan

I was trying to set the matter in its context, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman was trying to set it in its context, but he must speak about the Order itself.

Mr. Morgan

Certainly, Mr. Speaker.

I should further like to stress that when the announcement of the nation-wide programme was made, it soon became apparent in Lancashire that the county boroughs wished to urge the Home Secretary either to delay the amalgamation until after the Royal Commission on Local Government had reported or to amend the Police Act, 1964 to enable parts of areas to be combined with others in order to make alternative schemes possible for Lancashire.

In July, 1966 deputations were received from various bodies, including the North-Western County Boroughs' Association, following which the county boroughs were told of the Home Secretary's decision not to seek to amend the Police Act and not to defer the scheme until the Royal Commission had reported. They were urged to negotiate towards a voluntary scheme. In the debate in this House on crime, on 8th August, 1966, the then Home Secretary referred to the deputations and said: …I must make it finally clear that there can be no question of waiting for the Royal Commission, and I do not think it right, either to seek a prior amendment of the Police Act…".—[Official Report, 8th August, 1966; Vol. 733, c. 1047.] Another deputation consisting of Members of Parliament and representatives of the North Western County Boroughs' Association was led by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) in December, 1966. Again, the Home Secretary's decision to proceed with the amalgamation was reiterated.

During the first half of 1967 there was progress in local negotiations towards a voluntary scheme. This is the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival). But Blackpool Watch Committee decided in June, 1967 that it was still fundamentally opposed to the proposal. Since it was clear from Blackpool's decision that no further progress could be expected, a notice of compulsory amalgamation was issued in July, 1967. It is very difficult to see how a comprehensive amalgamation for Lancashire could have proceeded once Blackpool had taken up that most intractable position.

The formal objections lodged are conveniently summarised in paragraph 33 of the Report of the local inquiry held in November and December last year, by Mr. D. P. Croom-Johnson, Q.C. I would quote from page 15 of the Report. The first line of paragraph 33 states: No police authority was against all amalgamation in principle. I put it to hon. Members that it does not appear from a fair and balanced reading of that Report that there was a feeling of outrage about the principle of amalgamation.

I well understand the feelings of hon. Members whose small police forces are threatened with amalgamation, but nevertheless that point was not pleaded with such force and fury at the inquiry itself.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

Is my hon. Friend aware that great concern is felt by the watch committees? What is he prepared to do about this?

Mr. Morgan

My hon. Friend does not say what type of concern is felt.

Mr. Spriggs

Watch committee representation.

Mr. Morgan

I would prefer, if time allows, to deal with it separately; but if not, I am prepared to discuss it with my hon. Friend and any other hon. Members. It is a highly technical and complicated matter which involves an examination of the draft Order and also recommendations of the inquiry. I would prefer to deal with it separately.

No police authority was against amalgamation in principle, but Blackpool and Southport thought that this was not the right scheme.

Mr. Mapp rose

Mr. Morgan

I prefer not to give way; I am racing against time.

They thought that it would create too big a force and that until fresh legislation made it possible to combine parts of police areas and so draw police boundaries independently of existing local government boundaries, the existing forces should remain as they are.

Barrow-in-Furness, in a particular application of that view, thought, as their Member has described, that they and the Furness area of Lancashire which surrounds the borough should be combined with the Cumbria police force. The inquiry lasted for three weeks and Mr. Croom-Johnson reported in favour of the amalgamation as a whole. His conclusion, subject to a qualification as regards Barrow, which I shall deal with separately, was that the interests of police efficiency required that Blackpool and Southport police areas should be amalgamated with the Lancashire Constabulary area and that the scheme should be confirmed and should come into operation on 1st April, 1969.

In the announcement of the Home Secretary's decision to proceed with the amalgamation, including Barrow, authorities were told that he saw no prospect of legislation being introduced within the next two years to allow the amalgamation of parts of police areas.

Another deputation was received from the North-Western County Boroughs' Association in April, 1968. Arguments were again raised against the whole scheme. This is the view expressed in the recent letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East.

My hon. Friend the Home Secretary is firmly of the view that it would be quite wrong to prolong any further the situation in which a geographical county less than 80 miles long and less than 50 mile wide is policed by 13 separate police forces, most of them around 200 strong and scattered throughout the highly urban area.

Mr. Percival rose

Mr. Morgan

I prefer not to give way. Most county boroughs concerned are surrounded either entirely by the county area or partly by the county and partly by the sea. The largest of the county borough forces is Blackpool, but this is less than 350 strong. Six of the forces have less than 200 men. Barrow is the smallest with an establishment of only 158 and, I believe, a strength of 135.

By modern police standards, all those county borough forces are far too small, even by the standard of the Royal Commission on the Police in 1962.

Mr. Peter Mahon (Preston, South)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. On the basis which he has just mentioned of there being far too many police forces which are small in number, will not the amalgamation of so many police forces make the number far too great?

Mr. Morgan

I will try to deal with that argument in its proper context.

The standard of the Royal Commission was that the optimum size of a police force was probably 500 or upwards, and since then changes of circumstances have led the Home Secretary to amalgamate forces which have been a deal stronger than 500 men.

All the professional advantages of amalgamation—greater operational efficiency, a more rational communications system, better promotion prospects, a more economical and flexible use of manpower, and many other benefits—were fully discussed at the local inquiry held by Mr. Croom-Johnson. He faced there the three main arguments against this proposed scheme which have been maintained by its opponents throughout.

The first is that the scheme should be delayed pending the outcome of the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government, an argument which has been propounded by several hon. Members tonight. The second is that if there is not to be delay, Section 21 of the Police Act, 1964 should be amended to enable parts of police areas to be amalgamated, thus permitting a different pattern of mergers for the Lancashire area. The third is that the force proposed by the scheme would be too big for efficient operation. I will deal with each of those arguments.

I understand that the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government is expected to be published early in 1969. I do not know what it is to recommend, but one thing is certain—its recommendations, whatever they may be, will not be immediately and unanimously accepted by all the interests concerned, passed into legislation and put into operation all within the short span of a year or so. The whole long and controversial history of the attempts at local government reform cannot lead one who is not excessively naïve into optimistic hopes that any such speedy outcome is to be expected. First, time will have to be allowed for consideration of the Report.

Mr. Speaker

Order. On this Order we cannot discuss the prospects of the amalgamation or reform of local government. We are discussing the amalgamatioi of certain police forces in Lancashire.

Mr. Morgan

I appreciate that I am inhibited in that respect, Mr. Speaker, but I am sure that you will allow me to say that it is a fallacy to suppose that any important changes in the local government pattern in the North-West into which the police can be fitted will come into force in the near future.

It has been made clear all along that the Home Secretary will look again at the police organisation in the light of the pattern of local government which emerges after consideration of the Royal Commission's report. That is the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East. The amalgamation shortly to be effected does not anticipate and does not prejudice the Royal Commission's findings in any way. We are creating no new boundaries by these proposals which will have to be undone. What we are doing is overriding some which are now there and which are operating against overall police efficiency and enabling members of all the small county borough forces to benefit from being part of a larger unit with its considerably greater resources.

To have sought powers to amend Section 21 of the Police Act to enable parts of police areas to be amalgamated would, however, have been a different matter.

Mr. Speaker

Order. On this Order we may not discuss whether we should amend Section 21 of the Police Act.

Mr. Morgan

I mentioned the matter only because it is mentioned in the Report as being one of the factors most materially affecting the decision of Mr. CroomJohnson to recommend the amalgamation.

Mr. Speaker

The Order is made under the parent Act, but the hon. Gentleman may not discuss the parent Act, as he should know.

Mr. Morgan

I accept your strictures, Mr. Speaker.

The arguments against the isolation of the North-West peninsula are not strictly relevant in the present context. It is being policed already by the county constabulary and all we are doing, in effect, is removing the boundary of a borough within it for police purposes. At the moment, there are three units, the Cumbria unit, the Lancashire Constabulary unit and the Barrow-in-Furness unit. We are reducing those from three to two.

The argument was put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow that the efficiency of this force would suffer greatly from amalgamation, and a factor which he adduced in evidence to support that claim was the very high detection rate enjoyed by the Barrow force. Yet, he was at the same time arguing that that should be amalgamated—this small force of 168 men—with the Cumbria force.

Mr. Booth

My hon. Friend is misrepresenting my argument. I do not say that the Barrow force should not be amalgamated, because this would cause efficiency to fall. What I said was that the high efficiency of Barrow meant that it was not necessary to amalgamate on that ground.

Mr. Morgan

No charge of inefficiency has been brought. Indeed, the whole argument is about efficiency in the longer term. It is a very artificial argument to quote detection rates by themselves; for one cannot talk of an area far removed from centres of dense population in terms of the very large conurbations with their dense populations. It is misleading to suggest that Mr. Croom-Johnson recommended simply that Barrow should be excluded from the scheme. He was prepared to give much weight to the professional arguments which he heard in evidence about the urgent need to amalgamate these small forces, because he recommended that Barrow should be included if the law could not be amended to enable it to be amalgamated in another way within two years.

The Home Secretary is not, in fact, going against Mr. Croom-Johnson's recommendation. Mr. Croom-Johnson recognised, and recognised properly, that this question of seeking an amendment of the law was not a matter for him, but for the Home Secretary to decide. The Home Secretary saw no prospect of legislation within two years. The argument against legislation for Barrow alone is precisely the argument against it in general terms which I have just given, namely, that local government reorganisation should be carried out as a whole, and not piecemeal.

So far as size is concerned, the new force will have an establishment of just over 7,000. The new West Yorkshire force—which came into operation on 1st October on a voluntary basis—has an establishment of over 4,500 and, apart from the Metropolitan Police, with their establishment of more than 20,000, these will be the biggest forces in England or Wales. Mr. Croom-Johnson heard a lot of argument at the public inquiry about size and, of course, this may not be the ideal size, but professional opinion is that it will be perfectly practicable and manageable. The Chief Constable will perhaps have more difficulty in keeping direct contact with his men, but that does not mean that a good leader would not make his presence felt. The Home Secretary does accept Mr. CroomJohnson's conclusion that the proposed size is not, to quote his own words, "in itself a reason for refusing to confirm an amalgamation which is otherwise necessary".

If this draft Order is not made, the progress we have had, admittedly slowly, over the past two and a half years towards police reorganisation in the North-West, better able to meet the growing challenge of the mid-twentieth century, will be lost. The area will continue to be policed for many years by no fewer than 13 different forces and, in the face of overwhelming support by an independent inspector, following a public inquiry, the morale of the men in all the forces concerned will suffer a considerable blow. Above all, the professional police advantages which the scheme offers in the struggle against crime will, within a matter of months, be thrown away.

I would remind hon. Members that in 1964 the House charged the then Home Secretary with the duty of exercising the powers in the Police Act of that year, "in such a manner and to such extent as appears to him to be best calculated to promote the efficiency of the police"—

It being One and a half hours after Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.