HC Deb 20 May 1976 vol 911 cc1820-40

Mr. Taylor

After the long debate we had on New Clause 3 we now come to a frightening list of amendments and new clauses. I hope that it will not take too long to discuss them. It may be of some reassurance to those hon. Members who served on the Committee that someone who was not a member of the committee has read all the reports of their debates and was impressed by everything said.

The Bill is a preview of a Bill which will be introduced for Scotland in the next Session. I should declare other interests. I was the adviser to the Scottish Police Federation until the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) invited me to join his Government for a brief period in a junior capacity. When I did that I had to hand over to a Liberal Member who has looked after it very well since then. Possibly because of my good work with the federation, I have been appointed an adviser to the Port of London Police Federation.

The amendments and new clauses cover three specific points on which I hope the Government will be able to give me some assurance. The first point is covered by New Clause 4. The Minister will be aware that for some time those police forces which are set up under Private Acts of Parliament have been concerned about their status, particularly in view of comments made in public and, I am sorry to say, comments which were made during consideration of the Bill in Committee. Police forces such as the Port of London Police Federation were described sometimes as private forces, sometimes as semi-public forces, sometimes as special forces and sometimes as statutory forces. I was rather disappointed that in a letter which the Lord Harris sent to me following a letter I sent to the Minister he referred to the Port of London Police Federation as "an employers' police force"

I think the Minister will accept that the definition of "an employers' police force" is probably the most objectionable of all. The report of the Royal Commission on the Police in 1962 recorded a number of judgments in which it was stated quite clearly as a statement of law the relationship of a constable to the watch committee or other appointing body. By these judgments, there can be no master-servant relationship involving a constable, and the Port of London Police Federation would resent being regarded in law as employees.

Therefore, particularly in view of the number of security organisations which have been growing up and which are different from a body of constables, it would be helpful to have a new definition of bodies like the Port of London Police. In New Clause 4, I suggest the definition of what I call a non-Police Act force. That would be defined as a body of constables maintained by an authority or company under a Private or Public Act of Parliament within the Police Act 1964. That would automatically exclude groups like Securicor, which are entirely different. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that she will take steps by means of these proposals or other means to provide a definition in law appropriate to a body like the Port of London Police and similar bodies.

New Clause 5 would take a further step. Even if the Minister accepted the new clauses and the amendments, that would not ensure that the police in non-Police Act forces would be in the same position as other policemen. Clause 37 of the Police Act says: Subject to the provisions of this section, a member of a police authority who is dealt with for an offence against discipline may appeal to the Secretary of State. That safeguard is greatly appreciated by police forces generally. But even if the amendments were accepted, a Port of London constable would not be in the same position when it came to an appeal as someone in the "Met". For him, the appeal would be to the Port of London Authority, whereas a constable in the "Met" could appeal to the Secretary of State. The amendments would give the same right of appeal.

The Minister has said that the Bill as drafted enables non-Police Act forces to be brought within the scope of the Bill, subject to their agreement. In Amendment No. 34 I propose that a number of such authorities should be brought in automatically. I set them out as a new schedule in Amendment No. 42.

The forces that I have suggested are those which come under the Ministry of Defence, British Rail, the British Transport Docks Board, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, the Royal Parks, the Port of London, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and the Port of Bristol Authority. They would be brought in within 12 months. That is not a comprehensive list, but under Amendment No. 35 I suggest that other such forces could be brought in under similar arrangements to those in Clause 6.

I believe that these arrangements are reasonable. It would be wrong to drive a further wedge betwen the police forces under local authorities and the "Met" and those bodies like the Port of London Police, when the latter carry out the normal functions and responsibilities of the former.

I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to reassure me on the points that I have raised. If she cannot accept the new clauses and amendments, I hope that she will say that steps will be taken to accept them in principle.

9 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

One of the most unanimous views reached by the Committee, or the view nearest to total unanimity, was that the very kind of force which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) has described as non-Police Act forces, such as those maintained by the nationalised industries and some others, ought to be included in the same kind of complaints procedure as police forces maintained by local authorities, and by the Home Secretary in the case of the Metropolitan Police. There was wide acceptance of that view which in Committee led the Under-Secretary, quite rightly, to make a concession, the fulfilment of which we find in the Government's new clause.

The very strong feeling of the Committee that we should not allow one part of the police service in. the United Kingdom to be left out of such a procedure is reflected in many of the forces concerned. A great many police federations representing such forces have indicated their wish that their members should be part of this scheme. Some forces have made that clear. Others were more reluctant to do so, but they have now seen the Committee's determination in this respect.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Cathcart has moved his new clause and drawn attention to bodies like the Port of London Authority. I was in correspondence with it during the Committee proceedings and the federation representing members of that force made it absolutely clear that its members wished to be brought within the ambit of the Bill and to be subject to the same restraints, discipline and complaints procedure as any other kind of police force. It is a commendable view which seems to be general in such forces.

Since the Committee stage I have had correspondence with other forces and I recently had a letter from the River Tees Police Association, the chairman of which says clearly: We all wish you luck when you take up the subject of the Police Bill regarding our wish to be listed with other police forces for police discipline and complaints procedure. It is already clear that there is a wish among these forces to be brought within the procedure.

In Committee the hon. Lady, responding to the feeling which had been expressed, said: I now accept that it is the view of the Committee that they should be included in the Bill, and undertake to include some mandatory provisions to this effect."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A; 25th March 1976; c. 914.] Those provisions are to be found in Government Amendment No. 36, one of the group we are now discussing.

Perhaps this is an unusual use of a mandatory provision. It has both strengths and weaknesses. Its strength is that it is wider than the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Cathcart, because it can refer to any body of constables and thus cover a whole range of forces of this kind, including some I have mentioned that were not included in the hon. Member's list, although the British Airports Authority police were included in it.

The weakness of such a mandatory provision is that it is dependent on the decision of the Secretary of State after consulting the board. He has freedom to decide whether or not to impose the provisions of the Bill on a police force. The assumption is that within 12 months the force will be operating under the originally envisaged provisions of the Bill. If the force does not do so within that period, the Secretary of State may require it to do so. But discretion is left with him as to whether he does it at all or in any particular case. I must tell the hon. Lady—I hope that the Patronage Secretary's representative will not distract her as we are reaching such an important point—-that she needs to make the position a great deal clearer. I have no doubt that her intention is to give effect to what the Committee wished, but there would appear to be considerable doubt on the face of the Bill if we merely accept the Government amendment. That is why I have sought to impose upon the Secretary of State the duty of making these provisions.

There is really no advantage to the Government, to the board, to the police forces concerned or to the public in leaving any element of doubt about whether a force carrying out police duties under a properly constituted authority, with proper powers and in most cases wearing uniforms identical to those of regular police, is to come within the same complaints procedure. From everybody's point of view, it is desirable that the public should know that they can register complaints and have them investigated in the same way as they can act against any other police force.

We are bound to ask why the Government have not gone all the way and made clear in the Bill that all forces are to be included, how we can be sure that all such forces will be included, and whether the Secretary of State will use his powers in this way and to this extent, as was clearly the wish of the Committee.

There is a very unfortunate degree of dependence on the actions of a subsequent Secretary of State. Who are we to know who will be Secretary of State for the Home Department in years to come? There is the expiry of the 12 months during which the voluntary provision will apply before we even reach that stage, and then there will be a period during which any number of things could happen, and the same Government or a different Government could present us with a different Secretary of State. Any assurances that we are given must have that doubt hanging over them. However much we respect the good faith of the hon. Lady, the present provision is less than we had hoped for. It is for that reason that I ask the House to give some thought to an alternative amendment.

Mr. Aitken

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) and the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) on the way in which they have put forward these very important amendments.

The nub of the question is one of status and terminology. It is most regrettable that Lord Harris, in his letter, should have used, the phrase "an employers' police force" Nothing is more alien to the whole spirit of the police and the forces that we are now discussing than that they should be thought to be in the position of employed men. In fact, a large number of legal judgments—particularly in the case of Fisher v. Oldham Corporation—have made it clear that there is no question of a master-and-servant relationship as far as a constable is concerned. I regret that a Minister of State, Home Office, should not have been knowledgable about that important point.

As regards the status of the special police forces, it is important that we get that clearly labelled under one generic head. The new clause, which suggests that they should be labelled as "Non-Police Act forces", provides a sensible and wise label. It would be most unfortunate if there were to be any question of discrimination. One has only to cast one's mind back to the outrageous Cannon Street railway bombing and to remember the magnificent co-operation between the British Transport Police and the Metropolitan Police to realise that those two forces shared the dangers, and shared the glory of the success afterwards, by co-operating together absolutely fully and closely.

The idea that one police force should be thought to be in one category and another in a different category is absolutely wrong. I entirely support my lion. Friend's suggestion that it is essential that a constable of the Port of London Police, the railway police or any other of the police forces should be in the same position as a Metropolitan Police constable or any other constable, with the same right of appeal. All the non-Police Act forces must be brought under the Bill as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed accurately represented the strong feelings of the Committee that the provision concerning non-Police Act police forces should be mandatory. However. as we look at the Bill as it has emerged and the Government amendments, we see that it is not a mandatory provision but a discretionary provision. As the hon. Member rightly said, to some extent the future of these police forces and their status is at the mercy and the whim of a future Secretary of State for the Home Department. We really need assurances from the Under-Secretary this evening that in spirit at least it will be a mandatory provision.

Finally, I should like to press the important question of special constables. The hon. Lady will remember that throughout our debates it was constantly drawn to her attention that special constables, who are playing a more and more important rôle in co-operation and work with regular police forces, should be treated in exactly the same way as ordinary police officers in regard to complaints made against them. As my hon. Friends will know, I speak from personal experience, having been a special constable. It is perfectly possible for there to be an arrest with a special constable holding one arm of the villain and a regular police officer holding his other arm. In any subsequent complaint it would be absurd if the regular police officer could be complained against but the special constable could not be complained against.

We raised that very illustration and others like it so often in Committee that it seems regrettable that the hon. Lady has ignored our representations on this point and that there is no Government amendment to cover the situation of special constables. On these important amendments and new clauses, we still need the hon. Lady to clarify matters considerably. I hope that she will now do so.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

During the debate on Clause 6 in Standing Committee I gave an undertaking that we should put down amendments designed to introduce some mandatory provisions into Clause 6. This we have now done, and our amendments will serve to achieve broadly the same purpose as this group of amendments put down by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). We agree that the larger police forces that we are discussing, including those listed in the proposed new schedule, should come within the new scheme introduced by the Bill—if not voluntarily, then compulsorily. I shall return to them in a moment.

I cannot agree with the proposal in the second of the new clauses in this group of proposals that the Home Secretary should in future act as the appellate authority for members of these police forces, maintained by authorities such as ports authorities. The appeals procedure set out in Section 37 and Schedule 5 of the Police Act 1964 is an integral part of the whole of the disciplinary arrangements for the regular police forces as set out in the Act or in regulations made under it. It would, therefore, be inappropriate to isolate this appeals procedure from the rest of the disciplinary provisions and graft it on to the various private discipline codes applying to employers' police forces for which the Home Secretary has no responsibility. The discipline code for these police forces, including any provision for appeals, must clearly remain a matter for the employing authority concerned.

I am aware that the general question of the status of these police forces is sometimes raised, but this is an issue far outside the scope of the present Bill, which is concerned only to provide an independent element in the existing complaints procedures. Nothing in the Bill affects the final responsibility of the authorities concerned for the internal management and discipline of their own body of constables. The amendment on appeals proposed by the hon. Member is therefore inappropriate, and I hope that he will be willing to withdraw it as well as his other amendments whose general purpose, as I have indicated, is reflected in the Government's own amendments to clause 6, to which I now turn.

Clause 6 of the Bill provides that the board may enter into arrangements with authorities maintaining forces. There was very strong pressure in Committee for these arrangements to be mandatory, and I undertook to consult again the Departments concerned and to table some form of mandatory provision. Consultations have accordingly taken place with the Departments responsible for the main forces concerned. These forces are the British Transport Police, the Royal Parks Constabulary, the Ministry of Defence Police, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Police and the police employed by various ports authorities answerable to the Department of the Environment. It is now agreed that these forces should all come within the scope of the new scheme, and arrangements will be made accordingly.

As to the nature of the mandatory provision which we undertook to provide, hon. Members will see from the amendment that we have chosen to take default powers. Its effect is that if, within 12 months after the coming into force of Clause 6, voluntary arrangements, as envisaged in subsection (1), have not been made between the board and an employing authority, the Secretary of State will have power to make the arrangements by order after consulting the parties concerned.

The main reason for proceeding in this way is to leave the Secretary of State some discretion on how best to deal with more than a dozen very small local bodies of constables which still exist and over which the Home Office has no departmental responsibility. Perhaps I may give some examples. They include the Manchester Docks Police, the Port of Bristol Authority Police, the Dover Harbour Board Police, Milford Docks Company Police, Falmouth Docks and Engineering Company Police, Felixstowe Docks and Railway Company Police, park constables, canal constables, and university constables. We are not sure that we have complete information about all these small groups, and it will take some time to acquire it.

A force may have as few as four members. I agree that, so far as a local resident is concerned, the size of the particular force is irrelevant to his complaint, but it seems to be necessary for the Secretary of State to have some discretion to decide whether it is justifiable to incur the administrative expense and effort involved in setting up formal arrangements between the board and each of these small forces.

There was some query in Committee about the provision in Clause 6(2) for financial arrangements to be made—

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Beith

Will the hon. Lady be kind enough to recognise the position of the one force that I quoted—there are others—the River Tees Police force? It may well be that members of such forces are left in considerable uncertainty and that the governing authorities may be in doubt whether they wish to take part in the scheme. It would be of the greatest assistance—it may be very necessary—if the Home Office were to come quickly to a view as to whether it is likely to use the compulsory powers in those instances. If that does not happen, a great deal of doubt will hang over some fairly large forces for quite a long time.

Dr. Summerskill

Ideally we should like to proceed by voluntary methods. That is what we shall be doing to a large extent. This will involve consultation on a wide scale with different forces. Compulsory methods will be used only as a last resort.

There was concern about the provision in Clause 6(2) for financial arrangements to be made so that the board could charge the authorities concerned for its services in the handling of complaints. Although that provision seemed to us correct when the participation of the employers' forces in the scheme was to be voluntary, it seems inappropriate when Parliament has decided that participation should be compulsory. The amounts in some cases would have been small and might not have justified the cost of collection. Therefore, we have proposed to delete the original subsection (2).

It may be argued, and it has been, that the default provision in the amendment is not mandatory as it would operate only at the Secretary of State's discretion. The Secretary of State would, however, be well aware—indeed, he is aware—that it was the wish of Parliament that the main forces we are talking about should be drawn within the new scheme. He has undertaken to act accordingly.

There are a number of important powers in the Police Act 1964 which in terms give the Secretary of State a discretion to act, but in practice they impose a duty upon him. It is unrealistic to think, for example, that the Secretary of State would not make disciplinary regulations for police forces under Section 33, or refuse to make an amalgamation order under Section 21 when requested by two police authorities to do so.

As I have explained, there are small bodies, often established under local legislation, where administrative difficulties would arise in bringing them within the proposed complaints procedure as well as disproportionate expense. I can assure the House that the Secretary of State will not exercise his discretion lightly He will consider the matter with the utmost care before reaching a decision on whether power to impose arrangements should be waived in certain cases.

I see that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is now in the Chamber. As I am on my feet, I shall take up the point which I presume he will make in the context of the amendment whose effect would be to allow only six months to the employing authorities instead of 12 to enter into voluntary agreement with the board for complaints against members of the private police forces concerned to be dealt with by the board. Thereafter, the Secretary of State, by virtue of the powers conferred by the new subsection (2), would be able to impose such arrangements by order.

The Government have every intention of bringing the main forces within the scope of the scheme set out in the Bill. Given that a number of employers chiefly concerned are either Government Departments or bodies answerable to a Government Department, there is no question but that the working out of the necessary arrangements will begin on a voluntary basis as soon as possible.

We expect this lead to be followed by authorities which may be less closely in touch with the Government, although it will take a little time to identify all the police forces concerned and to inform them of Parliament's wishes.

That apart, the board will obviously take a little time to get run in on its main task. There is obviously room for debate on what in the circumstances is a reasonable length of time. We believe that 12 months rather than six months is a reasonable and practical period to allow for the voluntary arrangements to be worked out between the board and the authorities concerned. There is no question of our asking for a mandate for a leisurely pace. I assure the House that the necessary arrangements will be worked out as soon as possible.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I apologise to the Under-Secretary of State and to my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) for having missed the open-parts of their speeches. However, I think that I can be extremely brief, because the hon. Lady has fulfilled in full the undertakings that she gave in Committee on this point.

I wish to comment briefly on three matters. First, if in the next six months to 12 months there were an occasion when two police officers—one of them working for the British Transport Police and the other for, say, the Leicestershire police—were supervising football hooligans on a train and a complaint were made against them of having assaulted those football hooligans and the regular Leicestershire police officer were to be put through the whole rigour of the Police Complaints Board and the British Transport policeman were not, the federated ranks of the police certainly would not put up with it. It cannot be right that when two officers, though perhaps working for somewhat different forces, are doing the same job and are subject to the same accusation by the same people, the constable of the regular police service should be put through one procedure and the British Transport policeman should be put through another. I beg the hon. Lady, who has given all the undertakings needed, to move expeditiously. I can promise her that, if disparate arrangements are made for policemen in British Transport, the docks, or the various bodies referred to by my hon. Friend, they will be seen by the police service to be unjust and unacceptable.

My suspicion—this is my second point—arises largely from the abrasive way in which the Atomic Energy Authority (Special Constables) Bill was brought forward. That was a major new departure, because it provided for a particular set of statutory policemen to be armed and, for the first time, to be given the powers and duties of hot pursuit on suspicion into the homes, if need be, of citizens. Yet the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Police did not even deign to consult the Police Federation before that legislation was brought before this House.

I think that was wholly wrong. Indeed, when the Minister who replied to that particular debate was charged by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and myself on this matter—I do not quote his words exactly, but I think I sum up his meaning accurately—he said that the Atomic Energy Authority was not keen on having its chaps subject to the same complaints procedure. Hon. Members on both sides put it to the Energy Minister that it was a question not of whether the authority was keen, but of what Parliament decided. The matter was not dealt with in that Bill. We were promised that it would be dealt with in this.

I think that the hon. Lady has fulfilled her undertaking. We are told that she will fulfil the undertaking by voluntary arrangements. From what I have been told by the relevant Ministers, there is nothing voluntary about it at all. The Atomic Energy Authority, for example, was not very keen. Parliament must tell the authority that it must come in, and that it should be included in the Bill now if the rest of the police service is to be included.

The hon. Lady tells us that the Home Office has to go through a year of negotiations and consultations to find out what police forces we have. This should have been done before this Bill was brought anywhere near Parliament. To be told at this stage, after years of consultation and preparation have gone into the Bill, that there are a number of police forces which the Home Office does not even know about, is an extraordinary way of proceeding. I hope the hon. Lady will tell her officials that this is one more example of their coming to Parliament without having done their homework.

There can be no question of the various statutory police forces in the amendments being asked: they must be told. They should be included in the Bill in the same way as the regular police. The hon. Lady has said that if they do not come in voluntarily, they will be made to come in. That is fine. Unfortunately, as the amendment indicates, the Home Secretary can revoke that. He can make them come in, but by Order he can let them out as well. Parliament should decide that they must come in and stay in and that there should be no revocation.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

What does my hon. Friend mean by "regular police"? We have had references tonight to "statutory police", "private police", and now we have "regular" and "irregular police". Would it not solve the problem if the Government accepted by my splendid new clause?

Mr. Griffiths

I understand my hon. Friend's new clause and of course I support him. But I believe that the Government have achieved the main purpose in their amendment and I have already thanked them for it.

But I do not like this power of the Secretary of State—which means his officials—to revoke it if they wish. This is a matter for Parliament to decide, not for the police forces which think that they should be excluded from the Bill.

Once there have been consultations between the chairmen of the nationalised industries concerned and the Government, there should be no way in which these police forces can be let out. There should be no escape clause. Once in, always in—that is the best rule.

Sir Bernard Braine

The Minister told us that the Home Office was not really aware of all these forces. This is a most extraordinary revelation and shows a lack of grip and control of the situation. Until we know how many forces are involved, it is impossible to come to a decision. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is absolutely right to hammer home the fact that this is a question for Parliament, and it should not be left to the arbitrary decisions of Ministers who do not even know how many police forces exist.

Mr. Griffiths

I agree with my hon. Friend and I underline his view.

It is essential that the special constables be included in the Bill as well. This matter was referred to in Committee. In a society where violence is becoming normal, it will be more and more necessary to call upon special constables to supplement the activities of what I must call the regular police.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Rubbish. Withdraw that term.

Mr. Griffiths

All right—I will call them the police as most people understand them.

It will be inevitable in the future that more and more specials will be called in to supplement the police, whether it is in order to contain football hooliganism, supervise demonstrations, industrial and political, or help fight the rising tide of neighbourhood crime.

In those circumstances there are bound to be occasions when a police constable, accompanied by a special constable, will come into friction with members of the public. From time to time the public will complain about the way in which they have been treated by these officers. The complaint may centre on assault or irregularities of any kind.

We could not tolerate a situation in which the constable is put through the wringer of the complaints board while the special constable is not. It makes no sense to the public that there should be different arrangements for two officers. It is exceedingly damaging to the morale of one policeman for him to be subject to a set of procedures while the other is not. In any case, it is inequitable and Parliament should not allow it.

9.30 p.m.

I hope that the Under Secretary will not allow the debate to conclude without dealing with my point about specials. I realise that the point cannot be met in this Bill and I do not ask her to do that. But there must be some indication about how the specials should be treated when complaints are made.

Sir Bernard Braine

I intervene briefly to amplify the intervention I made a few moments ago. The House has been given the most extraordinary information, namely, that the Home Office does not know the total number of non-Police Act forces in the country. These are forces as small as four men, but many substantially larger, whose members wear a uniform and who are charged with police duties, albeit of a limited kind within a limited area.

Any man who wears a uniform and appears to act as a policeman is judged by the general public to be a policeman. If he behaves in a way which gives rise to a complaint, the general public or the complainant will not distinguish between a non-Police Act policeman and a regular officer. Unwittingly we have uncovered a most unsatisfactory situation, and thank God we have.

The Minister must give the House an assurance that the Government take this matter most seriously and that no exceptions will be made. Anybody charged with police duties must be brought within the ambit of the Bill, and Parliament must insist upon that. I hope that we shall have that assurance.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

I thank the Minister for what she said and for her amendment. I accept that the subject of the status of non-Police Act forces probably goes wider than the Bill. I hope that when the Bill is out of the way and the hon. Lady has completed the negotiations under Clause 6 she will be able to meet myself and representatives of the Port of London Police Federation to discuss this issue, which, I accept, probably does not come within the Bill.

I turn now to the disciplinary procedures. As long as there is no closer link between the Home Office and the non-Police Act forces, it will be difficult to have disciplinary proceedings for Police Act and non-Police Act forces which are comparable to each other or are directly related. Therefore, I accept the point made by the Under-Secretary. If she can assure me that she will arrange for the discussion I have sought, I shall be glad to seek to withdraw the motion after she has spoken.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

I am increasingly concerned about this because recent experience has shown that some private police forces have shortcomings. Within recent memory there was the British Airports Authority Police. but the manner in which it discharged its task, particularly at London Airport, did not meet with universal approbation, to such an extent that it was swept away and, after considerable debate in the House, was replaced by the regular police force.

Mr. Teddy Taylor


Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) is entitled to think it a shame that the British Airports Authority Police was replaced by the regular police force, but I do not agree with him.

We do not know whether the list in Amendment No. 42 is exhaustive. Good heavens, I found that the Port of Bristol Authority and the Royal parks have their own police forces. I knew that the Royal parks had a sort of commissionaire with a uniform of his own, but I did not think that these people constituted a police force. It would be interesting to learn how different are their functions from those the people who wear yellow bands and control traffic. We should not leave this issue to a private conversation between my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart, the Minister and the Port of London Police Authority after the Bill has been enacted. That will be too late. The argument should be thrashed out thoroughly here and now.

The Under-Secretary has had plenty of time to send her minions to find out how many private police forces there are. They have had ample time to send out for that information. The hon. Lady has no excuse for not finding this out by now. If she has not done that, she is in no position to reply to the debate.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is wrong to talk of private police forces and the regular force? Is it not better to have bodies of sworn constables having a definition of their own? That is what I want to discuss with the Minister.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

No. A private police force is a police force which is not public in the normal sense of the word. By that, I mean that it is not publicly accountable. The Port of Bristol Authority is not publicly accountable in the same way as the regular police. The regular police forces, except the Metropolitan Police, are accountable to their police authorities. The Metropolitan Police are accountable to the Home Secretary.

The Royal parks police force is in the nature of a private police force because the control over it and its chain of command are private and relate to the structure of the Royal parks rather than to rules laid down by the Police Acts.

Anyone who suggests that the British Rail police are publicly accountable has had no experience of British Rail. They are not publicly accountable, as the House knows to its cost. Its police force is accountable to British Rail, not to a Minister, a police authority or to any elected body. That is why it is properly called a private police force. Moreover, if my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart finds himself walking along a railway line he might be prosecuted for trespassing on private, not public, property. Therefore, it is legitimate to refer to the regular police forces as such and to describe as private police forces those whicsh are controlled by, and answerable only to, bodies which are not public bodies.

Sir Bernard Braine

My hon. Friend is making a powerful and convincing argument. He could add that the regular police forces are subject to inspection by Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary. I believe that the other forces to which he referred may invite Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary to inspect them, but it is only by invitation. There is an important distinction. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue to press his argument.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I have every intention of doing so, because the existing complaints procedure in the regular police, which many people consider adequate for their needs, does not exist for the private police forces. How members of the public are protected against ill-discipline in private police forces, I do not know. What is more important is that members of the public do not know.

That is the first necessity, long before we apply our minds to any alterations in the complaints procedure against the regular police forces. After all, they are

under the control of elected bodies, which can inquire into alleged abuses. But what defence does any member of the public have against a private police force, except by grace of its employer? That is why it is so important, when we are purporting to legislate to have an acceptable complaints procedure, that we should not allow to be excluded from it areas in which a change is most urgently needed, if indeed a change is necessary.

Dr. Summerskill

I am listening carefully to the many arguments advanced on these six amendments and two new clauses.

I am sympathetic to the amendment of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), Amendment (a) to Amendment No. 36. We believe that 12 months is a reasonable and practical period to allow for the voluntary arrangements to be worked out, but we want to get on with the matters as quickly as possible. and therefore we shall accept the hon. Gentleman's amendment to make the period six months, if that is the wish of the House.

I shall continue to keep in touch with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) and receive written or oral representations from him on any matter that he would like to raise. One matter that he raised was the question of definition. The definition is in the Bill. We are talking about any authority maintaining a body of constables, not being a police authority". Some concern was expressed about my saying that we had no precise knowledge of the small forces of constables. I did not want to weary the House with all the small forces that we know about. Park constables can be appointed by local authorities to enforce provisions as to parks made under the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1907. They have no jurisdiction in relation to the enforcement of the general law. Canal constables can be appointed by any two justices of the peace on the application of the proprietors of a canal or navigable river. University constables can he appointed by Oxford and Cambridge universities. Their number may fluctuate, with perhaps six in one term and two in another. This illustrates the variety which can exist under that definition.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths rose

9.45 p.m.

Dr. Summerskill

I am trying to deal with two new clauses and six amendments. I believe in equality of opportunity, and if I give way to one hon. Member, I shall have to give way to all of them. Perhaps I may be allowed to try to retain my sequence of thought.

Criticism was made of the Government amendment, which gives the power to the Secretary of State to revoke an order. This is a very important power under Clause 6. An order tailored to the disciplinary system of the constabulary in question would contain detailed provisions, and changes in the system might call for changes in the order. It would be quite unsatisfactory, in the event of the order having to be verbally amended, if the appropriate way to proceed were to revoke the existing order and make a new one. This is obviously the most practical way to proceed, and that is why that part of the Government amendment has been included.

I was questioned yet again about the special constable, whose importance I am the first to recognise. But, as most people here will know, the special constable came up again and again in the Committee stage of the Bill, and again and again I pointed out that the scope of the present Bill—I have said it again in my first speech on these amendments today—is concerned only to provide an independent element in the existing complaints procedures.

The Bill as it stands does not cover such complaints against special constables, because Section 49 of the 1964 Act, which is the starting point for the new machinery, does not apply to special constables. However, the chief constable of a force has discretion to dismiss a special constable under Section 16 of the Police Act 1964, or to reprimand him.

Obviously, we shall reinforce this point with special advice which will also make it clear to chief officers that where the investigation of a complaint against a special constable is relevant to a parallel complaint against a regular officer, the chief officer should make the relevant material available to the board to ensure that the board is in full possession of the facts. If a complaint against a special constable is substantiated, it will still be open to the chief officers, as it is now, either to reprimand him or to dismiss him.

I have noted the points made about special constables, but I can only repeat that—as I think the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds appreciated—it is not possible to include special constables.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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