HC Deb 06 March 1980 vol 980 cc719-45

Order for Second Reading read.

6.20 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Leon Brittan)

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

The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the recommendations of the Edmund-Davies report on the police negotiating machinery—Cmnd. 7283—which was presented to Parliament in July 1978. It is not a long Bill, and its effects will not be far-reaching. It is nevertheless an important Bill, since it will establish on a statutory basis the negotiating machinery that is essential to the long-term health of the police service.

Perhaps I might remind the House of the background to the Edmund-Davies report. For over 60 years—since 1919—police pay has been determined by the Secretary of State, who promulgates the rates of pay in police regulations. This is an essential feature of the Secretary of State's responsibility for ensuring the efficiency of the police service. Throughout this period there has been a national body, in one form or another, comprising representatives of the Secretary of State, police authorities and the police staff associations, set up for the purpose of considering the pay and conditions of service of members of the police service. Each successive body has borne the title of Police Council.

At first, there were separate Police Councils for England and Wales and for Scotland, and their role was to advise the Secretary of State in the exercise of his responsibilities. Under the Police Act 1964, a single Police Council for Great Britain was established to negotiate pay and conditions of service. At the same time another statutory body, the Police Advisory Board, was set up to advise the Secretary of State on consultative matters affecting the police service. In 1969, the Police Council was expanded to embrace Northern Ireland and became the Police Council for the United Kingdom.

Section 4 of the Police Act 1969 defined the task of the Police Council for the United Kingdom as the consideration … of questions relating to hours of duty, leave, pay and allowances, or the issue, use and return of police clothing, personal equipment and accoutrements. The Police Council accordingly dealt with all matters that were dealt with by negotiation affecting the police service, together with matters affecting police pensions. Under the 1969 Act the Secretary of State was required, before making regulations on pay or conditions of service, to take into account any recommendation made by the council. In practice, the procedure was normally for amending regulations to be produced to give effect to agreements reached by the council; changes in the regulations were rarely put forward by the Secretary of State.

In July 1976 a dispute over the pay settlement due under the pay policy prevailing at that time came to a head when the Police Federations for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland walked out of the Police Council and announced that in future they would negotiate only with the Secretary of State. At the same time, they declared that they would not be prepared to take part in the work of other national police bodies, such as the Police Advisory Board. They would be prepared to resume their former policy of co-operation only after more suitable negotiating machinery had been established. Since the Police Federations represent the vast majority of police officers—all those below the rank of superintendent—the Police Council ceased to be effective and the work of the other national police bodies was similarly affected.

For the next 12 months, morale in the police service was at a very low ebb. All ranks of the police service felt—with justification—that they were underpaid and undervalued. They considered it totally unjust that at a time when the police were assuming increased responsibilities, coping with increasing demands and being exposed to increasing stresses —including the risk of serious injury—many constables were finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Pay was at the root of the problem, but their sense of frustration was increased by the fact that they could see no redress for their grievances unless they were given new negotiating machinery which would command the full confidence of the police service. Like members of the Armed Forces, the police officer has no right to press for improved pay or conditions of service by withdrawing his labour. If he is dissatisfied with his conditions, he has just two options: to seek improvements through the statutory negotiating machinery or to resign.

In a situation where the negotiating machinery had broken down, increasing numbers of policemen felt that they were, in fact, left with only one option; they took it and resigned. At no other period in police history has there been such a severe wastage of experienced officers through resignation, and there were just two underlying causes—dissatisfaction with pay and dissatisfaction with the negotiating machinery. Others felt that the only way of achieving a fair rate of pay was by industrial action, and at the Police Federation's annual conference in May 1977 a resolution calling for the police to be given the right to strike was endorsed by an overwhelming majority. It was against this background that the Edmund-Davies committee was appointed in August 1977 to review the police negotiating machinery and make recommendations. Four months later, its terms of reference were extended to include the issue of police pay.

The debt that we owe to the committee has been widely acknowledged. It is difficult to think of any report that has been welcomed as unreservedly and with as great a degree of unanimity as the Edmund-Davies report on police pay. This was a well-earned tribute not only to the immense amount of work that the committee put into its demanding task but to the judgment that it displayed in formulating its recommendations. I think, too, that it reflected the esteem with which the police service is regarded very generally and served as an acknowledgment that the high standards that we rightly demand of our police officers must be reflected in adequate rates of pay.

The implementation of the committee's report on police pay completely reversed the trend during the two years preceding its publication. Between the end of 1976 and the publication of the committee's report in July 1978, the strength of the police service in England and Wales decreased by nearly 1,700. Most forces were under strength, some of them seriously so. Between July 1978 and the end of November 1979, the strength of the police service in England and Wales increased by about 5,500, to an all-time record of over 113,000. Recruitment is now running at 40 per cent. above the rates for the 12 months ended 30 September 1978, while wastage is now about 35 per cent. below the rate for that period.

The present state of police morale is high. We want to keep it that way, but if we are to do so we need to get the negotiating machinery right. That is why the Edmund-Davies report on the police negotiating machinery—which went largely unnoticed when it was published in the same volume as the committee's report on pay—is so important. In general, the committee endorsed the overall shape of the existing negotiating machinery. It recommended that the new negotiating body, like the Police Council, should comprise an official side and a staff side. It thought it right that representatives of the local authority associations should, with representatives of the Home Departments, form the official side, since police forces are maintained by the local police authorities. It did, however, recommend three important changes.

The first change was that the new negotiating body should have an independent chairman and one or more deputy chairmen, appointed by the Prime Minister. This genuinely independent voice would not only provide continuity but might serve to help in bringing the two sides to agreement.

The second change was that the new body should have an independent secretariat. This would serve to ensure that suitable research facilities were available to both sides and so would overcome the disparities between the experience and expertise available to the official side and the more limited resources at the disposal of the staff side.

The third change was that one-third of the local authority representatives on the official side should be magistrates. This would ensure that the new negotiating body reflected the composition of police authorities, which are composed of two-thirds elected members and one-third independent magistrates.

The Edmund-Davies report recommended that legislation should be introduced as soon as parliamentary time could be found to give statutory effect to the new body; meanwhile, it should operate on a non-statutory basis. The new body, known as the Police Negotiating Board, was established after wide-ranging consultations with all the interested parties in July 1979. The chairman is Lord Plowden, who was a most appropriate choice, not only because his qualities of judgment and impartiality made him acceptable to all parties but because he was a prominent member of the Edmund-Davies committee. The effect of the Bill will be to complete the committee's work on the negotiating machinery by implementing the recommendation that the new body should be established on a statutory basis.

I turn now to the Bill. Clause 1 provides for the establishment of the Police Negotiating Board. Subsection (1) provides that it is to be composed of representatives of the police authorities and the police staff associations and that it is to consider such matters as police pay, allowances, pensions and conditions of service. Subsections (2) and (3) leave the detailed arrangements for the establishment of the board—that is, the board's constitution—to be made after consultations between the Secretary of State and the bodies represented on the board but require the chairman and any deputy chairmen to be appointed by the Prime Minister. Subsection (4) gives the Secretary of State power to defray any expenses incurred by the board and to pay the chairman and deputy chairmen such fees as he may determine, with the approval of the Minister for the Civil Service. Subsection (5) provides that on the establishment of the board the Police Council for the United Kingdom shall cease to exist.

Clause 2 confers certain statutory functions on the board. Subsections (1) and (3) require the Secretary of State, before making regulations about matters with which the board is concerned, to have regard to any recommendation made by the board and to furnish the board with a draft of the regulations. As under existing legislation, this requirement does not apply to pensions matters, in respect of which the Secretary of State is merely required to consult the board before making regulations. Subsection (2) requires the board's constitution to include suitable arrangements for reaching agreement on recommendations to the Secretary of State and for the reference of any dispute to arbitration.

Clause 3 deals with repeals and the short title, commencement and extent of the Bill.

Perhaps I might comment briefly on two of the more important Edmund-Davies recommendations that are not reflected in the Bill itself. The first is the recommendation that the new negotiating body should have an independent secretariat. As the explanatory and financial memorandum indicates, the independent secretariat will be provided by the Office of Manpower Economics. This has been agreed by all the interested parties during the extensive consultations which have preceded the establishment of the Police Negotiating Board on a non-statutory basis. But it seems right that formally the arrangements for the independent secretariat should be set out in the constitution of the board, which is to be drawn up through the consultations required under Clause 1(3), rather than through specific provision on the face of the Bill itself. That is the reason why the independent secretariat is not mentioned in the Bill. I can assure the House that there is no disagreement about the Edmund-Davies recommendation for the independent secretariat.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend has said what he has. Of course, he is entirely right. The independent secretariat is running, is doing a good job and has already been taken care of by the consequential arrangements under the clause that now retrospectively acknowledges its existence.

Mr. Britton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, in view of his particular position, for confirming what I have said.

The recommendation that one-third of the local authority representatives on the official side of the new negotiating body should be magistrates is a matter that I should deal with. The local authority associations were initially opposed to this recommendation, but in the consultations preceding the setting up of the board on a non-statutory basis they agreed to implement it. As with the question of the independent secretariat, it is appropriate to leave the arrangements giving effect to this recommendation to the consultations required under clause 1(3).

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

The Minister has twice said that one-third of the official side—the representatives of the police authorities—would be magistrates. Just to get the record straight, would he qualify that by saying that that refers to the representatives of the police authorities in England and Wales and not in the whole of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Britian

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

As I said earlier, this is a short Bill and, I hope, a non-controversial one. It is, nevertheless, very important for the long-term health of the police service, and for this reason I commend it to the House.

6.35 pm
Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

The main lines of this Bill are uncontroversial both in content and in origin. The committee to which the Minister of State referred was established by my right hon. Friend the former Home Secretary and the present Government have inherited its recommendations and are implementing them, as the former Labour Government would have done.

From this side of the House, too, I want to pay tribute to the committee for its valuable work and above all to Lord Edmund-Davies, the chairman appointed by my right hon. Friend. Committees of inquiry can be good or bad, but they are rarely a rapid means of disposing of a problem. In this case the speed of the work was as much to be commended as its quality, for the police service was passing through a crisis at that time and rapid decisions were needed.

But another tribute is due, and perhaps as someone who was not a member of the Labour Administration I can be permitted to pay it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) had the bad luck to be Home Secretary at a time when the pay policy which was such a vital part of our campaign—our successful campaign—to get inflation down and keep it down made it difficult to do for the police what everyone would otherwise certainly have wanted to do. The problems with the police in 1966 and 1967 were caused by pay policy, but that pay policy worked. It got inflation down to levels that make today's level look quite South American by comparison.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South deserved understanding then, and deserves thanks now, for having been the man in the middle who could not escape causing resentment from that fact. He got more kicks than ha'pence for his trouble at the time, not least from the then Opposition. If that situation existed today, and if that negotiating machinery existed today, the local authority representatives on the negotiating machinery would find it a great deal more difficult to cope, with the rigid restrictions on local authority expenditure which the present Government have imposed.

The police service has emerged from that unhappy period. The recommendations on pay made by the Edmund-Davies committee set up by my right hon. Friend have had a dramatic effect on recruitment, as the Minister said. Wastage is down by 30 to 40 per cent. and recruitment is up by 30 to 40 per cent.

This Bill, on the surface, deals with rather technical and detailed arrangements for negotiating police pay, but behind it lies a more fundamental question of the status of the police in relation to local and national government. We should address ourselves to that fundamental issue in the course of this debate, at least to some extent. It was, after all, the feeling of some of the Police Federations that they should negotiate with the national Government, not with local government, which led to the walk-out about three years ago, and the new arrangements provided for in the Bill to some extent reflect that preference.

I want to deal first with the machinery proposed in the Bill. One problem that we have in doing so is that to a great extent this is an enabling measure. We cannot find in the clauses an account of just who will compose the official side of the board. The chairman and the deputy chairman will be persons appointed by the Prime Minister. We already know that Lord Plowden will be the chairman, as he is of the non-statutory board now, and we know the intentions as to the rough composition of the board as set out in the Edmund-Davies report, but we should have from the Minister tonight a better indication than we have had either at this stage or in the discussions in the House of Lords. After all, the board has been operating on a non-statutory basis since last July. The composition of that unofficial board is no secret. It is right that the Minister should give an account of it in the debate and say whether he intends to make changes when the board takes on statutory respectability with the passage of the Bill.

The Edmund-Davies report made three recommendations on the board: that there should be an independent chairman and deputy chairman or chairmen; that there should be an independent secretariat; and that one-third of the local authority representatives from England and Wales should be magistrates. When I intervened in the Ministers' speech, he acknowledged that I had intervened but did not confirm that my intervention stated the truth. I think that it does.

The first two of those recommendations about the chairman and the secretariat have commanded general assent. The old arrangement of alterating chairmen was unsatisfactory in two respects. It deprived the council of continuity of leadership, and it put the chairman of the day in the impossible position of representing one side in the council and having also to try to hold the ring between the two sides.

Then there is the innovation of an independent secretariat replacing the secretariat drawn from the Local Authorities Conditions of Service Advisory Board. This change was supported by the staff associations because they felt that the LACSAB people were too close to local authority interests and not close enough to the particular conditions and needs of police work. The new secretariat drawn from the Office of Manpower Economics will not only remove fears of partiality but bring to the deliberations of the board an expertise in areas more appropriate to police work.

The presence of magistrates on the board has been a more controversial issue and the local authorities have been brought round to it with greater reluctance. Lord Edmund—Davies's committee was emphatic in its recommendation on the point, however, and the Opposition accept it, although some of the reasons for it as stated in the report are a little odd.

I read from paragraph 53 of the report: While we appreciate the difficulties, we see as of overriding importance the need to create a clearly identifiable 'employer figure' for the police. Since the roles of central and local Government are perhaps rather vague, we consider it would be of benefit to have represented on the Official Side of the negotiating body all those with responsibility for the police service. The report goes on to talk about the magistrates in that context. I do not find anything vague about the roles of either central or local government. By contrast, the role of a magistrate when he is not on the bench but is on the committee exercising an administrative rather than judicial function is rather vague.

Councillors are answerable to their councils, whether or not their councils hold them to account for this kind of work, and central Government civil servants have a clear line of command and answerability. Magistrates, on the other hand, can speak only as individuals. I do not imagine that anyone supposes that the magistrates on the board will take instructions, or even discuss in their local benches the work of the board, and I do not suggest that they should do so. Indeed, I see the value of magistrates on the board as arising exactly from this difference between their position and that of elected representatives of local authorities.

Magistrates should, and, if carefully chosen—I stress those words—will, bring to the board a measure of permanence and continuity and—dare I say?—an absence of financial responsibility that might be of value to the board. I stress the point about the selection of the magistrates. The job of selection will lie technically with the Secretary of State, but in practice, I expect, with the local authority associations. I should like to feel that the Secretary of State will keep a tactful eye on the selection. If magistrates are to act as leaven to the elected element, there must be no question of "Buggins's turn" in choosing them.

As a London Member, I cannot forbear from injecting a comment about London. The Edmund-Davies report states that magistrates form one-third of the membership of police authorities in England and Wales. That is not true. In London the Home Secretary is the police authority, and he has no magisterial presence to leaven him. My understanding is that there will be seven magistrates on the official side, and I shall be grateful if the Minister will confirm that. In having seven magistrates in the England and Wales official side team of 21, we are giving the magistrates in England and Wales a slight preference over the local authority representatives.

I invite the Secretary of State to consider whether a London magistrate—lay rather than stipendiary—should be included even though that person could not be a member of a police authority, and the Edmund-Davies report recommended that the members of the board should be drawn from police authorities. As the Home Secretary is the only police authority for the metropolis, it is impossible to meet his endeavour to have both magistrates drawn from the various areas and people drawn from the police authorities.

Will the Minister also say whether there will be any representative of the Greater London Council or the London Boroughs Association on the board? If not, then not only London magistrates but London local authority representatives will be excluded from a body on which the rest of the country is represented. We all know the structural reasons for that, but it is for consideration whether those structural reasons should not be overcome in choosing the membership of the new body.

The Bill leaves to the Secretary of State enormous flexibility. It does not prescibe even the number of members of the negotiating board. Would it be possible, without disturbing any members who are on the provisional board, to add one or two to take account of my comment about London?

To tidy the record, perhaps the Minister will provide in the debate the answer to a question put in the House of Lords by Lord Ross of Kilmarnock at the end of the Third Reading debate which his colleague did not have time to answer. The question was: what was to be done about magistrates in Scotland? I think that I know what the answer is, but as the question was left unanswered it should be answered in this debate.

It should be useful if the Minister could give us a breakdown of the official side on the board as it is now and some indication of his intentions when the board is appointed under the Bill. I am thinking of the breakdown as between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the breakdown as between central Government Departments and the breakdown between magistrates and elected representatives within England and Wales.

The affairs of the police service occupy a good deal of attention in the press at present. There have been the individual cases of Mr. Blair Peach and Mr. Kelly. Much is happening in Whitehall and in this House. The Select Committee on home affairs is looking into the Public Order Act and into the issue of deaths in police custody. The Select Committee covering the Department of Employment is conducting an examination into picketing. More chief constables have been seen in the corridors of this building in the last few weeks than in the previous few years. That is all to the good.

The Home Office is conducting a review of public order, and the work of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure will be concerned largely with the activities of the police in questioning suspects, with whether the police in England and Wales should continue to be responsible for bringing prosecutions and with whether in England and Wales we should come into line with most of the world and the rest of the United Kingdom in creating a public prosecutor system.

My view is that the police will be better able to do the vital work that only they can do if they are relieved of the responsibility of the prosecuting task which can, and, as most countries believe, should, be done by professional lawyers. All this activity, particularly in the press, reflects, shall I say, some not inconsiderable concern about the police and their work.

What should our attitude be to the police? We should surely adopt a two-handed approach. On the one hand, the police are on our side. The criminal is the enemy. The police are our protection from burglars, vandals and muggers and from the moral degenerates who practise terrorism on the streets. In performing this role the police are to a greater extent than ever before on truly active service. Apart from the Army, the police are almost the only people who are required, by the nature of their job, to engage in physical fighting. A higher proportion of the force is subjected to physical attack than in the past, and we must declare out support for the police in their work.

On the other hand, we must insist that in the discharge of their work the police stick to the law that we lay down. We must insist that bending of the rules is not tolerated just because the police are the police. Civil liberties are no good unless they operate in the police interviewing room and the cell. Policemen who break or bend the rules must be punished and removed.

It is inevitable that the police will resent some of the rules and control that we and the courts decide to impose upon them. The good policemen will resent the rules because they do not think they need them. Bad policemen will resent the rules because they do not wish to obey them. Let no one pretend that there are not bad policemen. They are a minority, but they are there, in a job that confers even on the newest constable great power over the individual.

The worst temptation to which any of us could succumb—whether we are in Parliament, in the press or in campaigning bodies—would be that since others are unfairly attacking the police we should right the balance by only praising the police. On the other hand, we should not say that because some people only defend the police we should concentrate on things that are wrong with the police. Each of us needs to defend the police when they do their job according to the rules, but we should criticise them and take vigorous corrective action when the rules are broken or bent by the police.

Among the people whom I should like to see adopting this two-handed approach are the police themselves. I should like to see it in the pronouncements of chief constables and in police magazines, where the language sometimes borders on the paranoid. The police do themselves no good by responding in kind to unbalanced attacks upon them. Greater contact between elected representatives, the press and the police at police training sessions might assist, and I ask the Minister to look specifically at that possibility.

Some of the bad feeling generated in 1976 and 1977 centred on whether the police service was a national or a local one and which of the two it should be in the future. As usual, we have a situation of characteristic British untidiness. In London we have a national police force. Outside London we have local police forces. In practice there is little difference between the role of the Secretary of State in relation to the non-London police forces and his role in relation to the Metropolitan Police force.

The Secretary of State is so attuned to his semi-detached status outside London that he does not choose to exercise all the powers that he could in London. That reflects the position of successive Secretaries of State of all political parties. Police authorities outside London do not control their police forces even in the matter of general policy. The new enlarged police forces do not fit easily into the pattern of local government. Police committees appointed from different local authorities in one force area present problems. The chief constables of at least some of these large forces fear and resent control by elected representatives.

Today, police forces are too big a thing, and too powerful a thing, to be easily subjected to control at local level. If anyone is to exercise control over the police, it is likely to be the national Government only in the person of the Home Secretary and national elected representatives in the form of Members of Parliament. Nobody else has the clout to do it.

It can be argued that by our present arrangements we give ourselves the worst of all worlds. Provincial police authorities technically have the power to control the police, subject to the limitations of what anyone can direct a constable to do. Police chiefs outside London insist on keeping police committees at a distance. If police committees in the provinces had less legal right to control, they might find themselves able to exercise greater influence.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I am listening carefully to an important point, but I wish that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) would not use the word "control". The police are not controlled by police authorities. Nor are they controlled by the Home Secretary. They are the servants of the law and of the Queen. There is no question of their doing what they are told by police authorities.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. I, too, am listening very carefully to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), and I cannot really relate his remarks to the Police Negotiating Board, important though the hon. Member's remarks undoubtedly are.

Mr. Cunningham

I shall try to make it is easier for you to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by explaining that the origin of the Bill and the disagreement which gave rise to it lay in the view whether the police should negotiate on pay with local government or national Government. I realise that I must not go too far into that matter, but I do not intend to go much further before coming to a dead stop.

I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will allow me to complete the train of thought that I had begun, because I believe that my remarks are relevant to the origins of the Bill. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmonds (Mr. Griffiths) about the limitation on control over the police, and I hope that I have acknowledged that. I was using the word "control" as a shorthand description of the powers that are legally conferred upon police authorities by the Police Act 1976.

I was using the term "influence" for something much less than that. I acknowledge that the police are not subject to control by anyone with regard to whether they should bring a prosecution or upon what charge a prosecution should be brought. My argument is that if police committees had less legal right to control under the Police Act they might be able to exercise greater influence without giving rise to the same degree of resentment and opposition. In that case, someone else must have the right to control—and that must be the Home Secretary.

In London the problem is different. Because the Home Secretary is the police authority for the Metropolitan force, the local authorities in London have no say in police matters. There is no obligation to consult the borough councils or the GLC about station closures, for example. Successive Home Secretaries have claimed that they have ultimate control over the police service, if only because they control the purse strings. Only a few weeks ago the Minister of State assured my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) to that effect in an Adjournment debate.

The Chief Constable of Northampton-shire has flagrantly broken the guidelines on jury vetting which were issued to police chiefs by the Home Secretary. That chief constable was advised by his prosecuting solicitor that legally he was free to do that because the guidelines do not have the force of law. The lawyer is right. The law was not broken by the police breaking the guidelines. What does that suggest about the ultimate power of the Home Secretary, as described by the Minister of State in that Adjournment debate? It suggests that we should recognise the reality. We should put power where it belongs—at national level—and consultation where it belongs—at local level.

This is not the occasion to go into those aspects in depth, but it is legitimate to go into them to that extent because of the origins of the Bill. Those aspects are relevant. On another, more appropriate, occasion we must return to them because they are fundamental to the policy on police forces.

7.2 pm

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I shall try to stay closer to the Bill than did the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) in an admirable speech. I shall also try to be brief. I shall be blunt.

The Bill arose because we came close to a police strike two years ago. I was much involved. The House knows my interest. I never thought that I would see the day when the disciplined and dedicated officers of the British police would vote, as they did almost unanimously, to take the power to strike. Many police officers, particularly in the constable rank and in the great Northern forces, were willing to strike. If they had clone so, the country would have faced a civil catastrophe. The police service would have split—between ranks and between the different forces. As I said at the time, they would have lost their most valuable ally—the British public. It was a close-run thing.

This is not the time or place to throw blame around. I heard with interest the manner in which the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, speaking fairly, sought to defend the record of the Home Secretary who was then responsible. I had numerous discussions with the then Home Secretary and with the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street. Had it not been for the appointment of Lord Edmund-Davies, the wise conclusion that he reached, the acceptance in principle of his conclusions by the Labour Government and their immediate implementation by the present Home Secretary, the thin blue line would not now be intact.

Mr. George Cunningham

I am sure that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) does not wish to give the impression that implementation was not begun by the previous Government.

Mr. Griffiths

I was careful in my choice of words. The previous Home Secretary properly announced in advance that he would accept the conclusions of Lord Edmund-Davies and his committee. Of course, when the chips were down he was able to accept only half of the most important recommendation on pay. He insisted that the full implementation would be over two years, although Lord Edmund-Davies had said that that recommendation should be implemented at once. The difference between the two sides of the House was that the then Opposition agreed that the proposals should be implemented in full and at once.

The first action that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretry took when he assumed office was to fulfil that commitment and to pay the full Edmund-Davies award at once. That is the most important thing that the Home Secretary has done since he assumed office, because he now enjoys the almost unanimous support and admiration of the police service. He fulfilled his undertaking to the letter.

Many of the remainder of the recommendations are implemented in the Bill. The reason why we have a new Police Negotiating Board is that the Police Federation, in which I declare an interest, walked out of negotiations under the previous machinery. The House should know why. Partly it was a protest because the machinery had failed to allow the police to keep pace with many other occupations. More important was the conclusion by the Police Federation negotiators over many years that party politics had entered into the Police Council. Far too often, as we negotiated within that body, we found that those on the other side of the table representing local government were not making judgments on the merits of the police case but taking a party whip from their local authorities. That is not entirely wrong. Local authorities must have regard for the majorities which they reflect.

The Police Federation rightly came to the conclusion that decisions taken in the Police Council were based not on a fair judgment of police needs but upon the party political balances within the municipal and county authorities. The federation was not prepared to accept that. The most important feature of the new Police Negotiating Board is that it puts police pay and negotiations outside party politics, both at the national level and at the local level. Nationally, it puts pay negotiations outside the party political battle because Lord Edmund-Davies devised an inflation-proofed formula to which both sides of the House are now committed. There is a provision for overriding because of national necessity, but police pay is now not to be bandied about in line with particular Governments incomes policies. To that extent, the police have been removed from the political and economic battle.

To a great extent, the police have been freed from party politics at the local level, notably by the involvement of magistrates. I know, from considerable personal involvement, how difficult it was to get local authority associations to accept the inclusion of magistrates. They made the fair point that since magistrates were not always elected but would be able to make decisions about local ratepayers' money, it was a bad principle, in so far as one should not have the ability to dispose of funds without the obligation to be elected. I understood that view perfectly.

I believe that it was the resolution of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that persuaded and cajoled—I am almost inclined to say " pushed down the throats of "—the local authority associations to accept the Edmund-Davies recommendations on magistrates. He did that for one reason. It was impossible to say in advance that we would accept the Edmund-Davies recommendations and then, when they came forward, pick and choose which ones we would implement. The Home Secretary took the view that it was all or none, and he—wisely, in my view—took the recommendation on magistrates along with the rest. Consequently, I believe that the presence of the magistrates on this new Police Negotiating Board will remove a great deal of party political difficulty that has so annoyed, irritated and disillusioned the police staff associations.

I want only to say this about the two speeches that we have heard. This is not the time or the place for a wide-ranging debate about the police service. There remain, however, those parts of the Edmund-Davies recommendations that do not fall to be implemented by the House. Pay has been dealt with; that was part one. The negotiating machinery has been dealt with; that was part two. But, of course, Lord Edmund-Davies made a number of other recommendations. I can collect them together under one label. He proposed a measure of industrial democracy for the police service. He suggested that the time had come when responsible police officers, carrying a heavy load, should be no less able to take part in the decision making in the police service than anyone else.

Manifestly, in a disciplined service there must be command from the chief officer all the way down. No one would disagree with that. But in many other aspects of the police service, such as health and welfare, it is perfectly proper that the representative staff associations should be brought into the discussions and negotiations with police authorities and chief officers more than they have been in the past. I am sure that that is something on which the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury and I can agree.

Lord Edmund-Davies has made his recommendations and I am sure that the police authorities take them seriously. I hope that all chief officers will also take them seriously. But some are slower than others, and I can tell my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State that the Police Federation will be looking to the Government to encourage chief officers and police authorities to take fully into account the balance of the Edmund-Davies recommendations in respect of a measure of industrial democracy within the police service in the non-operational areas.

As the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, the police are always in the news. On the one hand, they must carry out their onerous duties, yet, on the other, they must always be accountable to the law and to this House.

What the police seek today can be summed up as follows. First, they want fairness—fairness from the media in their approach to police activities and fairness from this House. Naturally, that means that we should recognise that there are bad apples in the police service. But it also requires recognition that there are many good apples in that service, which is not always given.

Secondly, what the police need, and, I believe, deserve, is backing. They have had backing all the way from the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State and they are immensely grateful for that. They have not always enjoyed that backing—I accept that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was not involved—from the Opposition. At the time when members of the Cabinet were on the picket line at Grunwick and many hon. Members who are now in Opposition were condemning the actions of the police who were trying to maintain law, there was a deep sense of disillusionment in the police service about the lack of backing they were receiving from the House. I hope that that will never happen again. It is right that we should condemn and examine all those police officers who step out of line, but we should never, as a House that depends above all else on the maintenance of the Queen's peace, fail to give the police support when they are in need of it.

Finally, what the police require is support through legislation. This is not the time or the place to pick and choose what the police require as regards laws on picketing, law and order or many of the other aspects mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. The Bill, technical as it is, is one element of the increasing demonstration of support for the police service that has been given by the present Government. I can assure my hon. and learned Friend —and I hope that he will pass this on to the Home Secretary—that the Police Federation is grateful to the Government and will give them all the support of which it is capable so long as the Government continue on their present course.

7.16 pm
Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

Most of what I wanted to say has been said much better than I would be able to say it, but I assure the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) that I was pleased to hear what he had to say about the police force. I thought that what he said was sane and sensible, and I agreed with most of it. However, the exoneration of his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) for holding down the pay of the police did not, to many people, seem sane and sensible at a time when the whole country depended so much upon maintaining the police force to ensure the safety of citizens and to prevent people being mugged.

I think that it was in 1967 or 1968 when, as Home Secretary, the Leader of the Opposition ceased recruiting for a year. He then tried to turn the tap on. It is almost impossible to do that. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will bear in mind that we cannot suddenly boost the police, or any service, and then try to stop them dead in their tracks. The police must be supported all the time, because the basis of our life in this country depends on maintaining a police force that everyone can respect and that is properly able to hold up its head in the community.

I am glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) say that the negotiating machinery is welcomed by the Police Federation and by all police officers and constables. It has stopped the appalling lowering of police morale. I do not want to harp on that, but many people have died, been injured or lost their possessions simply because there was not a large enough police force to do the job. We must be frank about this. While morale was low, the police sometimes did not try to do as much as their strength would have permitted them to do. I hope that the police force will receive the backing not only of the Government but of the whole House.

I am pleased that this small and technical Bill is before the House. It should be a major step towards preventing the events that my hon. and learned Friend outlined so graphically. I refer to the situation in which the police force found itself and the state that it reached.

In my locality many long-serving police officers who could have continued for another five to 10 years—for example, the sergeants and those who comprise the real backbone of the force—were leaving. We now have an extremely young police force. As we get older, policemen seem to look younger and younger. We must recognise that we have lost many who comprised the solid centre of the police force. The force must be encouraged for many years to come. We must not let it down again.

I support the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who said that we must back up the force. I was appalled when I read a newspaper report of an incident that had taken place in one of the small market towns in my constituency. A gang of youths had set upon a policeman. He was knocked or tripped to the ground and the youths started kicking him. About 20 or 30 members of the public stood by, none of whom lent a hand to help him. As I have said, that is appalling.

We can help in many ways to assist the police—for example, by providing information and by keeping in touch with them as Members of Parliament keep in touch with the police forces in their areas. As members of the public we can help the police an immense amount. I wish the Bill god-speed. I hope that it will be an important measure for the police force.

7.22 pm
Mr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)

We have had a wide-ranging debate. I shall not venture to make it more wide-ranging. My comments will be directed to the Edmund-Davies report. As I was waiting to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I reflected that 14 members of my family served in the police force. For many years I served in the police force. At this moment my son is serving in the police force. It is against that background that I applaud the arrival of the Edmund-Davies report. I am glad that the House does so with once voice.

Many things are said about the police service. When we reflect upon them, we realise that some of them are not true. It is so easy to say "Our wonderful police service has never been on strike." It has. Those who speak about striking to the ageing population who were in the police service in Liverpool will see tears come to their eyes. In 1919 they went on strike and they lost everything. We must thank God that the tragic position of the police service in 1976–77 was relieved and that the service was saved from the brink of disaster at the eleventh hour. It was recognised that it is one of the finest bodies of brave men and women.

It is true that there is a river of kindness flowing through every member of the police service, but the Edmund-Davies report arrived not one second too soon. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) said that we lost part of the backbone of the police force, but some members of that backbone hung on out of a sense of loyalty and dedication to the task, because they saw in the Edmund-Davies report the means of restoring themselves to their rightful position.

There was criticism because the pay issue was dealt with not immediately but over two years. Action was taken on the negotiating procedures. In effect, the Bill came from the secretariat, which is not embodied in this measure.

The decision was taken that the Edmund-Davies report would be accepted as the basis for building a sound police service or it would be rejected. However, the arrival of the report meant that there could be selectivity. We were able to be selective about what we would accept and what we would allow to fall by default. I shall listen intently to my hon. and learned Friend's reply because I am anxious to know whether Her Majesty's Government accept the findings of the report without question, without qualification and without condition.

It is of considerable interest that among the many bodies that appeared before the committee led by Lord Edmund-Davies was the National Association of Retired Police Officers. The association has about 55,000 members. The evidence that was presented by that body received commendation. There are two sections in the report that recommend that the association should have the opportunity to discuss its problems on, for example, two occasions a year with Home Office officials.

I ask my hon. and learned Friend to confirm that the Government will hold fast to the Edmund-Davies report. Secondly, I ask him to confirm that the Government will accept the recommendation of the report and that the National Association of Retired Police Officers will have the opportunity to make representations to Home Office officials.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) said that it had been a wide-ranging debate. Perhaps it has been rather too wide-ranging. I am sure that the Minister of State will confine himself to the contents of the Bill and will not respond to some of the questions put to him that do not relate directly to the Bill.

7.29 pm
Mr. Britian

I shall deal first with general points that have been raised during the debate. I am delighted that the Bill has received universal support. I am even more pleased—without wishing to trespass further on your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that everyone who spoke felt it right to include warm commendations and support for the work of the police. That will be appreciated.

It gave me particular satisfaction to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). From his words it was clear that the Government's actions and the measures proposed in the Bill command the support of the Police Federation. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) asked about the composition of the Police Negotiating Board. The board has 62 members, and no changes are planned when the board is put on a statutory basis. Of those members, 33 are on the official side and 29 on the staff side.

The official side comprises seven representatives of the Home Department and 26 representatives of associations representing the interests of the police authorities. Of those, 14 are from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, four from the Scottish local authorities and one from the Police Authority in Northern Ireland. Of the representatives of the police authorities and the 21 local authority associations in England and Wales, one-third—that is, seven—are magistrates, five emanate from the Association of County Councils and two are from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities.

The staff side comprises representatives of the police staff associations, including six representing the interests of the chief officers, six representing superintendents and 17 representing the federated ranks—that is, officers below the rank of superintendent.

The board is a purely formal body. Its business is conducted by five autonomous standing committees. Magistrates from London are not included or represented, nor are London county councillors, for the simple reason that it was thought right that representatives on the official side should be representatives of the police authorities. The Home Secretary, and not members of the GLC or magistrates, constitutes the police authority for London.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury raised the question of control of the police. I cannot discuss that at any length because that would go beyond the scope of the Bill. However, if the hon. Gentleman proposes to pursue that line of thought more widely he will have to ask himself some difficult questions. If there is to be genuine operational control at a national level, a Minister or politician will have to be given operational control of a national police force, however that is divided. In terms of civil liberties and of our other traditions, the consequences will be great. Alternatively, if we are to have a national force without democratic national control, the consequences will be even greater.

At present there is a division of responsibilities between the police authorities in terms of administration and other matters. The Home Secretary exercises a degree of control by means of checks and balances. The responsibility of the police force to the law and the operational responsibilities of the chief officers of police are probably the best way of securing efficiency. Although remarks may be thrown out about the lack of responsibility and the need for control, the consequences of putting control on a national basis may lead to far less satisfactory results than are provided by our present arrangements.

Other issues were raised in relation to the board and the operation of the Edmund-Davies proposals. I am unable to give the assurance that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) requested, although I do not disagree fundamentally with anything that he said. However, some of the other proposals in the Edmund-Davies report, particularly those contained in part III, are still being considered by the various bodies. They have received a warm welcome. I note that, and I do not wish to say anything that might give a contrary impression. I have no doubt that part II will play an important role in the future life of the police service.

Finally, I shall take up the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk. South-West (Mr. Hawkins). It is not sufficient for us to enact legislation that supports the police and gives effect to the new arrangements. It is necessary to give support on a continuous basis, both through legislation and through the support that we give elsewhere. I wholly concur with that view.

I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will forgive me if I make one final point. I return to the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. The debate has not been contentious or controversial. However, I could not allow the debate to conclude with a bland acceptance of the hon. Member's gloss over the events of 1976–77. I do not wish to rub new salt into old wounds. However, it will not do for the hon. Gentleman to say that that was an unfortunate episode in the course of a successful campaign against inflation. The success of the previous Labour Government's campaign against inflation can be gauged by the fact that their incomes policy collapsed in total disaster last winter. It did so not as a result of overwhelming Conservative opposition but because it was utterly rejected by the trade union movement and by the Labour Party. The incomes policy, its collapse and the way in which it collapsed fuelled the flames of expectation that will always arise at the end of a prolonged period of incomes restraint.

I do not accept, therefore, that the cause of the police was rightly sacrificed to the more general interests of the economy. The previous Labour Government got the economy badly wrong, almost disastrously so for the police. That is a truer view of the picture. I commend the Bill to the House and I am grateful for the warm reception that it has received.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Le Marchant.]

Further proceedings stood postponed, pursuant to Order this day.