|Police and Criminal Evidence Bill|
|Order read for resuming adjourned debate on new clause proposed [3 May] on consideration of the Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee and on Recommittal).|
|New Clause 10|
|CONSTITUTION OF POLICE AUTHORITY|
|'1. The following section shall be substituted for section 2 of the Police Act 1964:|
|"2.—(1) The police authority for a police area consisting of a county, including the Greater London Council area, shall be a committee of the council of the county constituted in accordance with the provisions of this section, to be known as the police committee.|
|(2) The police committee for a police area shall consist of such number of members of the council or the county or Greater London Council as they may determine.|
|(3) The quorum of a police committee shall be such as may from time to time be determined by the council.|
|(4) Section 102(5) of the Local Government Act 1972 shall apply to a committee appointed under this section as it applies to a committee appointed under that section.|
|(5) Any proceedings by or against a committee appointed under this section shall be brought by or against the clerk of the council or town clerk as representing that committee".|
|2. The following section shall be substituted for section 4 of the Police Act 1946:|
|"4.—(1) The police force maintained for a police area under section 1 of this Act shall be under the direction and control of the police authority who shall secure the maintenance of an adequate and efficient police force for the area, and to exercise for that purpose the powers conferred on a police authority by this Act.|
|The police authority shall prepare and publish a law enforcement policy for its area which lays down the policing practices and methods to be adopted and the proposed allocation of resources.|
|(2) The police authority for every such police area shall, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State and to regulations made under Part II of this Act, appoint the chief constable of the police force maintained by that authority and all other officers of the level of inspector and above, and determine the number of persons in each rank in that force which is to constitute the establishment of the force.|
|(3) The police authority for any such police area may, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State, provide and maintain such buildings, structures and premises, and make such alterations in any buildings, structures or premises already provided as may be required for police purposes of the area.|
|(4) The police authority for any such police area may, subject to any regulation under Part II of this Act provide and maintain such vehicles, apparatus, clothing and other equipment as may be required for police purposes of the area.|
|(5) A combined police authority may, if so authorised by the combination scheme, make arrangements with any constituent authority for the use by the combined police authority of the services of officers of the constituent authority and the making of contracts and payments on behalf of the combined police authority by the constituent authority.".|
|3. Section 5(1) and 7(2) of the Police Act 1964 shall cease to have effect.|
|4. Section 12(3) of the Police Act 1964 shall be amended to leave out "ought not to be disclosed, or is not needed for the discharge of the function of the Police Authority" and substitute "cannot be disclosed or is sub judice".'.—[Mr. Dubs.]|
§ Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.
§ Mr. Speaker
I remind the House that we are also discussing the following: Amendment (a) to the proposed new clause 10, in line 5, at end insert'together with a number of magistrates equal to not less than one third of the total membership of that authority.'.
|New Clause 11|
|POLICE AUTHORITY SUPERVISION OF POWERS|
|'(1) It shall be the duty of the police authority constituted under the Police Act 1964 to monitor the exercise of powers given to the police under this Act.|
|(2) In the proper exercise of the duty under Clause 1 the authority shall call for regular reports from the chief constable about the use of the powers by the members of his force and the number of complaints arising from their actions.|
|(3) Where the committee consider it appropriate they shall refer any disputed use of the powers to a sub-committee to investigate.|
Amendment (b), in line 9, at end insert
'provided that one third of those present shall be magistrates.'.
§ Amendment (c), in line 20, leave out from beginning to end of line 22.
§ Amendment (d), in line 25, leave out from 'authority' to end of line 27.237
|(4) If the sub-committee are of the view that any officer has abused the powers granted under this Act, it shall refer the case to the chief constable to take disciplinary action against the officer.'.|
§ Amendment (b) to the proposed new clause 11, in line 4, leave out from 'constable' to end of line 5.
§ Amendment (c), in line 6, leave out subsections (3) and (4).
New clause 25—Accountability of the Metropolitan Police—
'(1) The Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police shall lay before Parliament an annual report on the activities of his force; and such a report shall be considered by a Select Committee of Members of Parliament representing constituencies within the Metropolitan Police District.
(2) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament proposals for a Metropolitan Police authority which shall include representatives of the Greater London Council, the London Borough Councils and such other local authorities as lie within the Metropolitan Police District; provided that such proposals shall not be laid until the local authorities mentioned above have been elected by a method of proportional representation.
(3) Such proposals shall include provisions to ensure that such an authority shall be responsible for the policing of the Metropolitan Police District and shall for that purpose:
(4) The Commissioner of the Police may object to or request the deferral of the discussion at a meeting of the Authority of particular police operations if he considers that such discussion would prejudice the effectiveness of his force and if the chairman of the Authority is not prepared to accede to such objection or request the Commissioner may appeal to the Home Secretary who shall have the power to reverse the decision of the chairman of the Authority.'.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
A little less than 10 hours ago, the Home Secretary told a less than crowded House why he could not accept the new clause, which seeks a radical alteration in the government of the police. I regret that his speech was not made at a more acceptable hour, for, while I disagreed fundamentally with many of the conclusions to which he came, I appreciated the thoughtful and, if I may say so without offence, moderate way in which he considered the issue and sought to rebut the points that my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr Lyon) and associated Members made. Not for him the strident slogans employed by the chairman of the Conservative party when he addressed his mind to the subject last Friday.
I believe that the Home Secretary accepts that the argument in which we are now engaged about police responsibility and powers is a genuine and honest disagreement about how to make the police more effective. From our exchanges across the Floor of the House, I know that he accepts that the mutual aim of all parties is the greater success of the police forces of the United Kingdom.
The Home Secretary believes that the radical plan embodied in my hon. Friend's new clause will not achieve that aim, and he argued that case with some force this morning. The alternative solution to the problems now facing the police has not worked in the way that the Home Secretary continues to insist that it will one day and in the way in which he insisted it would at the time of the general election. The philosophy of extra police with extra powers 238 at its best coincided with and at its worst produced the highest crime rate ever recorded and the worst clean-up rate that many police forces have been required to report.
I want to discuss the new clause in the light of the necessity to combat crime more successfully and in the light of our practical insistence that changing the way that the police are governed and controlled will make a material contribution to that.
As I have said before, I believe that the way to improve prevention and detection of crime is essentially a Labour party issue. The people who have suffered most over the past four years from the increase in crime have been the people I call, without embarrassment or apology, "our people". The muggings have taken place in the inner cities and the soulless housing estates. The break-ins which have caused the most distress, pain and anguish have been those to the houses of the poor and unemployed families, and the people whose gas meters have been broken and whose few savings stolen are the people whom it is the Opposition's duty to protect. It is our special duty to see how their protection can be improved and how the police can do a more effective job on their behalf.
I support the new clause, not least because I believe that the radical reorganisation of the police that it proposes will make their task of protecting those families in most need of protection more successful and more likely to achieve the aim that we all seek.
Describing that practical intention is in no way to minimise the issue of principle involved in the new clause. It seems axiomatic that the police forces of the United Kingdom, spending vast amounts of public money and influencing all our lives directly and crucially, should be subject to some control other than their own. At the moment they are, in effect, subject to no control. It is, in part, what defenders of the present system regard as the glory of the present law that the police are not under any control, are a power unto themselves, are not influenced by any political pressures and cannot be put under pressure from the electorate. That is often argued as the strength of their position.
I believe it to be their weakness and I put it in simple, mundane terms. Had the police been under the control of police authorities of elected men and women in the way that education, housing and public health are under the control of committees, I believe that the pressure each May on the councillors who eventually control the police would have been such that the police would have been required to perform in a way that was nearer to the wishes of the people and more likely to protect their interests.
I make no apology for wanting to see electors turning up at councillors' surgeries on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings to say, for example, "Unless you get more policemen back on the beat and unless we see policemen on our street corners instead of an occasional sudden arrrival in a fast motor car, do not expect us to vote for you next time." That is what they say about housing, education and health. It seems to me to be a practical necessity, as well as democratically healthy.
At the moment the police are under no control other than their own. They are subject to no statutory authority and chief constables will say openly and frankly that their 239 simple duty is to run the police forces under the law. Learned Members will tell me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that an obligation simply to run police foces under the law is no special obligation at all. We are all required to discharge our daily duties under the law. There should be an Act of Parliament which delineates exactly the responsibilities and duties of chief police officers and which of the policy decisions should not be properly left to them but should be given to the democratically elected representatives of the people. That does not flow from the Police Act 1964. That Act requires local authority police committees to be responsible for little more than the funding of the police within their area. It requires them to ensure the efficient organisation of a police force. In practice, that means obtaining the necessary precept from the rates to pay the bills that a police force requires. It does not give police committees any control over even the widest concept of policy.
I have learnt during my three years of Opposition responsibility for the subject, that the ingenious manipulation of the Police Act 1964 enables a determined police committee to exercise some influence over the performance of the police within its area. That ambiguous power exists only if the police committee finds the small print and manipulates its powers to raise money and provide the money necessary for the continued effective existence of the force. It is a wholly undesirable way for elected men and women to exercise their authority. It leads inevitably to every kind of controversy as it led to controversy in Liverpool one and a half years ago. The House will recall that at that time in Liverpool the chief constable refused the police committee information to which it thought it was rightfully entitled. The police committee said that until the information was provided it would not authorise payment for specific items of equipment. That was resolved by what, I suppose, amounts to a compromise. It was a most unhealthy compromise which reflected no credit on the chief constable and did a great disservice to the reputation of the police and the police committee in the area.
Police committees should be given specific powers over the general policy of the police within their area. They should be given those powers in the knowledge that, as things stand today, they have absolutely no authority over individual chief police officers unless those chief police officers are responsible for a direct and gross breach of their obligations. The idea that the average police committee as now constituted can deflect, let alone determine, police policy is a myth which some people are prepared to perpetuate but which the Conservative party, I assume, wishes to explode as it believes that the power should be left to chief police officers alone.
For the reasons that I have given, I believe that a major change is necessary. Such a change would be accomplished by the new clause.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman after missing the beginning of his speech. Does he agree that the police authority can and does hire the chief police officer and can also, with the consent of the Home Secretary, fire the chief police officer? Is not that considerable influence?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I forgive the hon. Gentleman for interrupting me and even for arriving late, but I cannot so 240 easily forgive him for ignoring one of my last sentences before he interrupted. I said that only when there is the grossest and most extreme breach of obligations can a police committee influence the policy of a chief police officer. If the chief officer commits a gross misdemeanour, the police authority or the police committee can recommend dismissal. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) and I are the only Members of the House to have been members of a watch committee when a chief police officer was actually dismissed for criminal offences. I make two points about that. First, it is such an unusual and traumatic event that the idea that that power could be used as a general lever for policy is sheer fantasy.
§ Mr. Hattersley
My hon. Friend is right. It is perhaps slightly different, in that the object of the hydrogen bomb is that it should never be used, whereas this power may be used but only in such extreme circumstances that the kind of influence that I wish to see could never be exercised through the knowledge that the police committee held that power over the chief officer's head. What is needed is not an ultimate deterrent but a general day-to-day right to influence and determine policy. That certainly does not exist at present. At present, as every chief officer in the country will freely admit—I exclude for the moment the Metropolitan police—the running of the police force is in the hands of the chief officer alone.
I do not understand a democratic theory or indeed any theory which suggests that it is right for each of the police forces of this country with their immense powers and spending patterns to be under the control of a single man, no matter how wise or virtuous he may be. I believe, as I suspect the Home Secretary believes, that the chief constables of this country are a mixed bag. As a general rule, those about whom we hear the least are probably the best. Whether they are the most or least wise or virtuous, however, I cannot construct a theory — I shall be interested to see whether anyone tries to construct one today—to the effect that a single individual should have the unchecked and unchallenged right to determine police policy in his area.
The British police force is the only institution in which we have gone back on democracy over the past 50 years. Before 1964, there were at least the watch committees. Their powers were certainly not so great as those that we propose or those that we wish to see, but they had some power over police policy until it was taken away from them nearly 20 years ago. That decision to remove powers from the elected representatives marked the beginning of the decline in police status in this country, the beginning of the feeling that the police no longer belonged to the people and the beginning of the fear that the police were a power unto themselves which the people could no longer influence.
That feeling was reinforced by the events of the following five years, with the mechanisation of the police force, the removal of constables from the beat and the introduction of complicated systems which kept the police in constant touch with headquarters but often cut them off from the people among whom they walked. The theoretical and constitutional breach between the police and the people, however, occurred when the elected police 241 committees were abandoned and replaced by the strange conglomerations of county council members and unelected justices of the peace.
In my view confidence in the police will not be restored until democratic control is restored. There are two reasons for that. First, the electors of this country are much wiser to principles than national politicians sometimes imagine. Labour voters realise that the police are not under their direct control. They also recognise the more direct and material fact that in many cases the police are not operating as the voters would wish. The electors make the connection between those two aspects. They make the point that they are not satisfied but that they have no way to express their dissatisfaction. Until there is a means of expressing that dissatisfaction, confidence will continue to deteriorate.
I have said before and I say again that the case for the new clause is a matter not just of practical application but of principle. The Home Secretary or the Minister of State may care to comment on the following hypothesis regarding the constitutional proprieties of the independence of action that the police now have in the hands and form of their chief officers. The House will recall all too well that a year and a half ago, after the Brixton riots, the Home Secretary allowed police forces which chose to do so to equip themselves with CS gas, baton rounds, armoured personnel carriers and water cannon. There can be no doubt that a force which chooses so to equip itself is either changing its character or risking such a change. Indeed, the chief officers of some forces which chose not to obtain such items have stated that they did not prepare themselves in that way because obtaining CS gas and baton rounds, training in their operation and the contemplation of their use would be to recreate or change the nature of the police force in the area.
If that is so, how can it possibly be justifiable for one man to decide whether a police force is to change its character?
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman again, but the facts are very different from the picture that he gives. A number of police authorities have refused to allow their chief officers to use funds to purchase certain equipment which the chief officers believe is necessary. That shows that the police authorities have significant powers and that the chief constable must discuss with the police authority what he wishes to do.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. I am not sure whether he had arrived when I said that the only way in which a police committee, which is not an authority, could influence police policy was by threatening to withhold finds for specific items. Nevertheless, he is quite wrong to suggest that decisions on the items that I have described lie in the hands of the police committees rather than the chief officers.
The Home Secretary was kind enough to answer a question from me some months ago. In his reply, he tabulated the forces that had taken advantage of the new equipment that he had permitted them to obtain. I discovered that in some cases the pattern of re-equipment was very strange and seemed to bear no relation to what might be regarded as the level of threat in the area. As I said in Committee, all the chief officers to whom I spoke stated that the decision whether to purchase was certainly 242 theirs. Certain wise and prudent chief constables—I constantly cite the example, perhaps to his embarrassment, of Sir Philip Knights, the admirable chief constable of the west Midlands—regard it as right to go to the police committee and to ask its advice on such items. Nevertheless, if Sir Philip were asked whether he was obliged to do that, his answer would certainly be that, although he regarded it as the sensible and courteous thing to do, he was well aware that the decision was his and his alone. I do not know of any argument that justifies an individual changing the character of a police force. No matter how wise or virtuous the individual is, it is wrong that such a power should reside in him rather than in the people as a whole.
The argument about the democratic control of the police is based on the fear that if the provisions that are incorporated in new clause 10 are brought into operation, the police committees would play a day-to-day part in the operational decisions of the police forces, but the new clause does not allow police committees to interfere in matters that are properly described as "operational". Sometimes the line between operational and strategic decisions is blurred. If a police committee decided to equip its area with CS gas—no one believes that the chairman of the operational sub-committee would be on the streets telling the police officers to fire canisters in one direction rather than another—the duty of the committee would be to leave the operation to the individual officers. The committee would have the duty to ensure that individual officers were discharging the policy properly and sensibly. There is no assurance that, at present, police committees can perform that task.
The second criticism against the Opposition's scheme is that the police committees, with their political prejudices and bias, would interfere in the decision to prosecute, which is the most sensitive of all police decisions. All hon. Members will have heard jokes in their youth — depending on where they lived — about gentlemen returning from golf clubs at lunch time in the home counties not being prosecuted for drunkenness as distinct from miners returning from clubs in Yorkshire and Derbyshire not being prosecuted in their areas. I have never considered either libel to be true. Furthermore, I have never considered that that was the position in the Saturday night mining areas, from which I come, or the counties from which the Home Secretary springs. I think that he is a county figure rather than a townie like me.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)
I agree with that.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I have no doubt that the Home Secretary accepts that description with pleasure and pride. From whichever social area we come, I have never considered that the allegations of bias were justified. If some members of the public and perhaps some hon. Members still harbour that fear, the proposal for the creation of an independent prosecution service, which removes prosecutions from the police and from the police committees, should put that fear wholly aside. In most areas, police committees would operate prudently, sensibly, wisely and moderately.
The objection to the creation of such police authorities has centred on the creation of a police authority for London. I wish to deal with that subject in detail. I have 243 fallen into the trap for the past 25 minutes—the Home Secretary fell into the same pothole during the latter stages of the Committee stage — of talking about police committees and police authorities as though they were interchangeable terms. Outside London, police committees exist but have no authority. London has a police authority in the shape of the Home Secretary who, theoretically, possesses the power to exercise some control. On the Government Benches there is an absolute determination that a Home Secretary shall remain the police authority for London. If the House is to discuss that topic, it should do so in terms of reality rather than fantasy.
Nobody who has watched the Home Secretary or previous Home Secretaries in the House can believe that they are in reality anything like a police authority for London or, conceivably, can be a police authority for London. I congratulate the Home Secretary on the courtesies that he has shown to the House in general, and especially to London Members of Parliament, in having constant discussions with them and in promoting a dialogue between them and the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis. However, that is not a substitute for a police authority.
A police authority is an individual institution that controls policy. The Home Secretary has never claimed to be that. He has constantly claimed to be something quite different. He has refused to answer questions on the organisation and performance of the Metropolitan Police. He has insisted that issue after issue is a matter for the Commissioner rather than for him. I have gladly reciprocated that view. I did not hold the Home Secretary responsible for the Brixton riots or the implications of operation Countryman.
After the incident of the intrusion into the palace—I have told the Home Secretary about this both privately and publicly—the Daily Express telephoned me on the hour every hour for about three days, inviting me to demand the Home Secretary's resignation. My answer was that such a demand would be absurd because the idea that the Home Secretary was responsible for that break-in was wholly preposterous. The idea that the Home Secretary, who is a busy Minister and someone approximate to the deputy Prime Minister, should control the Metropolitan police is preposterous. The idea that the House could influence the Metropolitan police because of his control is even more preposterous. I wish there to be a genuine democratic authority of Londoners who are responsible for the London police.
I now wish to make a political point. The weekend speeches, the handouts and the broadcasts of the Conservative party show that it does not want the London police to pass into the hands of the Greater London council. I concede that if the democratic system proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for York is introduced in other parts of the country, the control of the police will fall into the hands of county authorities. I have feelings on that subject very similar to those that the Home Secretary has about the GLC. In the home counties the police authorities will be Conservative-controlled and will do many things of which I disapprove. But that is called democracy. That is the price we pay for letting people vote about their future and destiny.
It is wrong and wholly demeaning for the chairman of the Conservative party to tour the country, as he did last 244 Thursday, saying that the real objection to democratically controlled police forces is that some would fall into the hands of the Labour party. I trust that the people who read that speech will recall that for 150 years the Conservative party has been saying that some issues are too important to be left to the ordinary people, are too sensitive and difficult to be subject to democracy, must be run by the wise, the detached, the educated and the exalted and must not be subject to the democratic process. The last refuges of the argument that some issues are too important for the people to control, are the police forces of this country. The Opposition consider that to be a wholly unhealthy principle and a wholly disastrous practice.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
Does my right hon. Friend think that Members of Parliament should have a part to play in the control of the police?
§ Mr. Hattersley
There are many models of how the police authority for London should be constructed. My hon. Friend asked a general question and I answer it in one particular because it is the area of most controversy, and he is a distinguished London Member.
The Greater London council has published a consultative document with some of the models included in it. I at least conceive of the possibility of Members of Parliament being involved. As I said in Committee, they must be invited to become involved in the consultative committees that the Home Secretary has set up. But my instinct is that they should consist of elected councillors of one sort or another. The police service should be integrated into the other duties performed by elected councillors. It is foolish of us to believe that the accelerating crime rate is not connected with the condition of housing, the level of amenities, the availability of education and all the other things that local authorities provide. Unless the police are integrated into that general swathe of local authority services, we shall not allow them to perform their task successfully.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
Does the right hon. Gentleman conceive the answerability of the Home Secretary to the House as a form of democracy, or does he reject that entirely?
§ Mr. Hattersley
That is not the case now, and I cannot see how it might be in future. I urge the hon. Gentleman to accept that the idea that there is democratic control of the Metropolitan police because we can occasionally ask the Home Secretary questions—some of which are ruled out of order, some of which he says he cannot answer, some of which he does not answer and a few of which he answers inadequately — is a flimsy definition of democracy. The Commissioner of police for the Metropolis, whom I regard as an extremely powerful and important man and, in many ways, a figure who will improve the performance of the Metropolitan police in every particular, will not pretend that he is under the control of the House. He will say that, as is the case with other police forces, the ultimate authority rests with him. That position has caused so many problems for the police during the past 20 years.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that he and I share the experience of having served, albeit some years ago, on the Sheffield watch committee? Having now moved to the lusher pastures of the Metropolis, I have about 1,000 times more 245 chance of enforcing some sort of accountability over the chief constable of Sheffield than I have over the Commissioner by my occasional right to stand up on Thursdays and ask questions of the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Hattersley
My hon. Friend should know me well enough to know that I would not miss the old man's opportunity to reminisce about past battles. I have already told the House that my hon. Friend and I served together in Sheffield 20 years ago, when a chief officer was dismissed. We were then working under the powers of the old watch committees, which had greater powers than the present police committees. I draw from that historical fact the extraordinary conclusion that it is only in the police force that democracy has been set back. It is the only institution in our national life where there is less democracy now than there was 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago.
I end on the practical point with which I tried to begin — that because of the theoretical failures of the constitution and governance of the police, there have been practical failures that have affected police performance and status. The police are now far more detached from the people they serve than they have ever been. That is partly the result of factors that cannot simply be put down to the constitution of police committees. It is partly the result of mechanisation, greater mobility and the improved methods of internal communication introduced to the police service in the middle and late 60s. It is partly because of the new demands on operational procedures and the desire to make the police what is crudely called more cost-effective — which means turning up at the scene of the crime quickly rather than being about on the streets giving confidence to law-abiding citizens, deterring those who wish to commit crime and obtaining criminal evidence to convict those who do so.
The absence of police in the community is directly attributable to the whole swathe of events typified by the abandonment of any democratic control whatsoever. I promise the House, and I assure the Home Secretary, that a new Labour Government will introduce such a scheme. It may be that we cannot carry the excellently drafted new clause of my hon. Friend the Member for York this afternoon, but the demand to make the police more a part of the community that they serve is irresistible. If that is not obtained in this Parliament, it will be obtained in the next. But if it is not obtained in the next, it will inevitably come about because that is what the people whom the police serve want, and that is what they will get.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
The Opposition have consistently argued that the real weakness of the Bill is that, although it provides greater powers for the police, there is no greater control over the way in which they exercise those powers. In Committee I argued on a number of occasions that a minority of police—I suggested that it might be a substantial minority—abuse their power from time to time. Since the Committee stage, Lord Salmon has ventured the guess that about one-third of the police force abuse their power. Coming from him, with all his experience of police activity, that is an interesting assessment of the position.
The issue to which we must address ourselves is whether the Government have actually built into the Bill proper controls to match the extra powers that they are giving to the police. We do not believe that they have. 246 Even the controls suggested by the Royal Commission have been watered down. The suggestions that it put forward were largely that, in the exercise of his power, a police officer should note in his notebook exactly why he used the power. As we know what happens to policemen's notebooks in relation to confessions, that does not appear to be a careful system of control.
The control advocated by the Opposition is threefold. First, the whole police force should be within the democratic control of local councillors and, therefore, much more accountable to the electorate whom they serve. Secondly, within that overall control there should be more minute control by a public prosecution system in which the prosecutor has overall control of the way in which officers go about their investigations. Thirdly, the judge at a trial should have an opportunity—indeed, a duty—to keep out any evidence obtained in violation of the rules under the legislation.
We cannot discuss the second and third systems of control because the amendments have not been selected. Our major area of discussion of control is the police authority. By the rather quixotic choice of the Home Secretary in beginning this debate in the early hours, we have already had the arguments against the case put by him, and also by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) on behalf of the Police Federation.
The most interesting aspect of those two speeches was how far we had come during the past five years. Five years ago, for a police authority to say to its chief constable that it had any control over his policy, let alone his operational activity, would have received the reply—from every chief constable in the country—that that was a matter for him. In many cases, the police authorities were not even allowed to ask questions.
When the Labour party began this campaign, every police authority in the country had that kind of story put to it by chief officers. It was only when some police authorities, such as Liverpool, began to explore what could be done within their existing powers that any kind of pressure began to be put upon chief officers. The argument now, as put by the Home Secretary this morning, is not that we are asking for political control—which is what chief officers have been arguing about for the last two years—because, as he rightly recognised, every power over the public is political. It is bound to be. It is exercised by politicians at national or local level. Indeed, as my right hon. friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, every kind of public authority is accountable to the politicians. Therefore, to say that this is political control is to say nothing at all. The issue, as the Home Secretary said, is whether we should control or simply consult.
I am in favour of greater consultation between the police and the community and between the police and the local authority. I welcome the changes that the Home Secretary has introduced in the Bill in relation to that matter. In the final analysis, however, consultation is not a means of accountability if the chief officer says, "I have listened to what you have said, but I do not intend to do what you ask."
The decision-making power of the chief officer is crucial to the way in which the police are organised in his area. As my right hon. Friend said, it is absurd that 44 men decide how we are policed when in this country, above all others, policing depends upon the consent of the community, and the consent of the community is best 247 evinced by the pressure that the local community can put upon its councillors through elections. It is for that reason that we believe that this is a way not of cutting down the exercise of power by the police, but of enabling the police to make more effective use of their power, so that the public get better, not worse, policing. It is because we believe that strongly that we are pressing this reform.
Why is it wrong for politicians at local level to exercise control? Some time ago I was in Lancashire talking to the then chief constable of that area, Mr. Albert Laugharne, who is now the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police. We were discussing the system of community policing that he had instituted at Skelmersdale. He told me about the kind of problems that he had to face in bringing about that change, which has immensely improved the policing of that area.
One of the things that he had to do was to decide the priorities for his men. He decided that far too many men in Lancashire were involved in traffic control and far too few in dealing with the problems of burglary and criminal damage. He therefore took a conscious decision to move more men from traffic control to the community policing role.
I thought that was an excellent decision, but it was a decision taken by him personally. It is impossible to believe that a decision such as that could not have been taken more appropriately by local authority councillors giving effect to their view of what the policy should be. That kind of decision has to be taken by somebody. The only issue is whether it should be taken by the chief officer alone or by locally elected councillors.
The virtue of the second method is that, if the community does not like the decision, it can get rid of the councillors; but it cannot get rid of the chief officer. It is for that reason that it has a pull on the kind of overall policy decision that is made for the region.
I would go further than my right hon. Friend. It is impossible to draw a line between overall and operational policy. If one pulls a number of men out of traffic control and puts them into community policing, one will affect the way in which traffic control is exercised in that area. Speeding will not be monitored in the same sort of way. In that sense, the day-to-day activity of the police relating to speeding will be affected. If one pulls people out of the control of pornography to deal with burglary, there will not be the same exercise of control over individual acts of pornography.
Therefore, one cannot make the distinction. One can say that, once the policy has been laid down by the local authority, it is up to the officers — as, indeed, with every other exercise of local power—to work out how to apply it in detail. No local authority councillor will get himself involved in that kind of detail once he has made the policy.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. If so, I apologise to him in advance. He seemed to imply that if there were this kind of control a locality would get the kind of police administration that it wanted. Carrying that argument to its logical conclusion, police administration would differ all over the country, according to what people wanted. — [HON. MEMBERS: "It already does."] It would differ even more, because the hon. Gentleman wanted it to be as the locality wanted. 248 Does he not think that that is undesirable and that, as far as possible, we should seek to achieve, within the broad law of this country, equality of police administration all over the country?
§ Mr. Lyon
No; and, as my hon. Friends have just indicated, that does not happen now. There is not the same kind of policing with an officer like Chief Constable Alderson as with an officer like Chief Constable Anderton. The reason is obvious. It is because they control their police and allocate their resources in different ways. Therefore, one does not get the same kind of policing throughout the country anyway, and one would not want to.
I think that in certain areas of this country tight control of pornography is wanted by the community and is desirable, whereas in other areas it is not so important. It is for the local community to decide how that should happen. I accept, however, that there must be some kind of overall general policy.
There are two ways in which that is exercisable. First, under any system, the Home Secretary will have some kind of reserve power. He does at the moment because there is always the right of appeal to him. I assume that when we implement this reform, that right will be made more obvious, in the sense that if there is a dispute between a chief officer and the local authority he will have access to the Home Secretary.
Secondly, the prosecution policy will not be implemented by the local authority police committee. The Royal Commission, in my view, made a serious mistake in recommending that the local authority police committee should control the public prosecutor. Almost everybody is agreed that that is a bad system, and we have rightly moved away from it. The public prosecutor should be under the control of the Attorney-General. Thus, the day-to-day prosecutions will be carried out by somebody outside the control of the local authority. In that sense the argument often used by chief officers against this reform, that local politicians would decide to prosecute some people and not to prosecute others, has gone for ever.
I do not think that there is any real danger in the proposed scheme. I agree that after an election political parties, which may be unacceptable to one side of the House or the other, will control the police authority. Some will place greater reliance on the policing in their area than others. It is manifestly clear that policing is more of a political issue in areas such as Manchester and Liverpool than in Norfolk or Sussex, for example, because the issue has not arisen in those latter areas, whereas it is a burning issue in Liverpool and Manchester.
The SDP's attitude is typical of its approach to keeping politics out of politics. When any issue of public service becomes controversial, it is inevitably political. When I speak to constituents on their doorsteps they sometimes say, "Mr. Lyon, I do wish that you could keep politics out of education. I wish that we could keep politics out of housing." We could keep politics out of housing or education as long as no one had any deep feelings about those issues. Where there are deep feelings and differences over policy, the issues are bound to be political. That is true of policing as it is of education.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Nantwich)
As a practising lawyer, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with 249 me that there is a distinction between the political element of a law which is passed by the House, which is a political law in some respects, and the way in which the law is enforced. It is vital that the way in which the laws of the land are enforced should not become a political issue. The House has always agreed on that in the past, and it would be a tragedy if we were to reverse that approach now.
§ Mr. Lyon
The issue of community policing is political. It may not be party political, but it is political. It is about the way in which the police do their job. Are they to do it in a way that is acceptable to the community or in a reactive way, which is now increasingly unacceptable to the community? That is political. If the parties were to join forces on that issue, it would become party political. The mere fact of saying that these issues will all be decided by the chief constable does not make them any less political or party political. In Manchester the overall issue is immensely party political, even though the decision-making is still with the chief officer.
§ Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Thornaby)
I accept the hon. Gentleman's general thesis, but will he acknowledge that the SDP is concerned about party political control with party objectives in mind, including the operation and control of the police?
§ Mr. Lyon
The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends have argued consistently since they came into existence that which is a mere obsession in their minds. We are in the present mess largely because their leader, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), took decisions when he was Home Secretary which greatly undermined the relationship between the police and the community. I could say that that was a party political decision. It was a political decision that was taken by a politician. I am sure that at the time the right hon. Gentleman thought that he was doing his best for the community, but he was wrong. As we all know, politicians can be wrong. The only difference between a politician and a chief constable being wrong is that the electorate can get rid of the politician.
The lot of the hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) came into existence to try to get rid of my lot. They will have the opportunity at the next election.
§ Mr. Lyon
However, the electorate cannot get rid of a chief constable in that way.
The argument that the hon. Member for Thornaby has advanced would be more effective if every police officer were a servant of the police authority. In its consultation document, the police committee of the Greater London Council has argued that the constable should be an agent or servant of the police committee. I disagree with that, and I do not think that that is inconsistent with my argument. It is possible for a social worker to say that his professional ethics mean that he cannot accept a decision made by the social work committee of the local authority and that he will exercise his right to apply his ethics in the proper way. I think that most social work committees would accept that that is desirable.
It is possible for the policy and control of the police to be in the hands of a police committee and still allow a constable the right, as a constable, to decide whether an offence has been committed and someone should be charged. It may be the policy of the police authority not 250 to spend too much time on pornography investigations and to spend more time on burglary inquiries. However, if an officer comes across evidence of an offence against the obscene publications legislation, he is entitled to take action in accordance with his duties as a constable, and he is not to be subject to the fiat of the police authority.
That is the safeguard that the hon. Member for Thornaby was talking about. If there is corruption in the police authority and if the authority says, "For our own party political interests we do not think that you should exercise any control over Mr. X because he is a friend of ours," any constable is entitled to say that his duty to the force means that he must enforce the law as it stands.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
Is the hon. Gentleman proposing that the authority should have responsibility for appointing officers much lower down the line than it has the power to do now? Is that not opening the door to putting pressure upon senior police officers—pressure of the very sort to which he is objecting now?
§ Mr. Lyon
Yes. I am suggesting that such a scheme would increase the control of the authority over the police, especially the senior police. This is nothing new. The old watch committees had this power and it was taken away from them. The county authorities did not have the power which was enjoyed by the old city authorities. By that means alone, the city authorities had greater control over their police forces than the county authorities. That power has caused some to say that the old watch committees comprised a better system than the present one.
§ Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)
Does my hon. Friend accept that local councillors appoint their chief education officers and deputy education officers and determine the general education policy and the resources that will be allocated to it? Does he further accept that the majority of councillors on any council appoint the headmasters, deputy headmasters and teachers for the schools for which their council has responsibility? Surely no one would suggest that in Britain overall—there may be problems in some areas—there is any semblance of political education controlled by one side of the House or the other.
§ Mr. Lyon
I agree with my hon. Friend, who has advanced the real argument for accepting the new clause. The fact remains that electorates can get rid of councillors if they do not like them. It is interesting that the 1962 Royal Commission was set up when the Labour council in Nottingham wanted to control its chief constable. The Labour council lost the election because of the dispute and the chief constable was vindicated by the electorate's decision. That can happen in an area where an issue becomes so important that it is regarded as crucial in the local area. I do not want to go back into recent history, but that has been seen in areas in central London.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
The hon. Gentleman is making the point clearly, but he is addressing himself to topics on which there can be an objective view. Will he turn his attention to occasions when there is discretion on politically sensitive matters, where, for example, a recommendation has to be made as to whether a demonstration should be banned on racist grounds? Surely in that area it will be difficult to give any sort of influence to politicians as opposed to the chief constable.
§ Mr. Lyon
The local authority will be better equipped than the chief constable to deal with such problems. In the final analysis, whether the National Front is allowed to march is decided by the Home Secretary. That is a wholly political decision. It is not within the power of the chief constable alone to decide that, whereas he may make decisions on other matters.
I think it was the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds who said that democracies are overturned by dictatorships when somebody gets control of the police. Surely, the control of the armed forces is more pertinent to the dictatorship of a minority. The reason why it is not dangerous to go down this road is that the Government control the armed forces.
When last year the commander of a submarine saw the General Belgrano in his sights, before he could fire a torpedo, he had to contact London so that the admiral of the fleet could consult the politicians who were having a drink at Chequers. The politicians took the decision. If national politicians can decide whether we go to war, surely local authority politicians can decide whether the police may use CS gas or plastic bullets. These decisions are within their competence. For that reason, we should pass the new clause.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
I support new clauses 10 and 11. The major element in new clause 10 is that magistrates will not be members of police authorities and police authorities will have effective power to take decisions about general policing. New clause 11 will ensure that police authorities have powers to monitor the working of the legislation. The House should pass both new clauses. I do not intend to refer to new clause 25 because it deals specifically with the problems of Greater London, which I do not feel entitled to discuss.
At the beginning of the debate, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) suggested that new clause 10 was an attack on the police. He suggested that the danger to democracy came from the possibility that police authorities might at some time be controlled by the extreme Right or the extreme Left. He ought to have included the extreme Centre. If we look back over the past 20 years, we see that it was the extreme Centre, in the form of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), who did more damage to the British police force than any other individual by his reorganisation in 1964, when he took away much of the democratic accountability of watch committees and made the police authorities responsible to the counties.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
The Police Act 1964 was not the responsibility of my right hon. Friend. He was not Home Secretary at the time.
§ Mr. Bennett
He was the one who took away the power of the police. When it came to the police complaints procedure, he was the one who pushed through the 1976 legislation, which was totally cosmetic and did nothing to solve the basic problems. It simply took away much of the credibility of the police. Because the legislation was so ineffectual, it has led to campaigning for more effective legislation. If we are trying to identify those who have done damage to police authorities, we should realise that they come from the Right, the Left and the extreme Centre.
The threat to democracy comes from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, and possibly the Police Federation, 252 when he says that general police policy is too important to allow democratic decisions to be made on it. We must have confidence that the people will not elect extremists. The people must have the opportunity to choose. If they elect those who make stupid decisions, that is too bad. We cannot have a body that is above democratic accountability and somehow represents the great and the good. That was the action of the despotic monarchs of the 16th and 17th centuries, who believed that they had the incarnation of wisdom and that other people should not share in decision-making.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman has debated police matters over many years, and I know that he would not want to misrepresent my views. May I make it clear to him and to the House that the police must be politically accountable? There must be political control of general policing policies. Where we stray into the area of what ultimately is the police state is if the politician gets his hands on the day-to-day operational decisions of the police, which must reflect the law and not the tide of politics.
§ Mr. Bennett
I accept the general outline of that. The difficulty arises when we come to decisions on day-to-day policing. I can give several instances where chief constables have behaved almost as little dictators, when they ought to have been accountable to the general public and when it might have been ideal for each individual to participate, at a public meeting, in decision-making. Because that is not practical, we must have representative democracy. There ought to be a public decision-making process, not just because the decision should be made by the people at large, but because the debate about the process might improve the system.
Much ill feeling was caused in Greater Manchester by a sudden change of policy on after-hours drinking. I do not approve of after-hours drinking, nor do many people in Greater Manchester. Over a long period it had been recognised that where there was no nuisance, violence or fighting because of after-hours drinking, the police devote few resources to it. It was fairly well known that because of the shift system operated by the police, quite a proportion of off-duty police officers were inclined to take a long time drinking up their beer. There were few problems about after-hours drinking.
Then there was a sudden decision by the chief constable that more time and resources should be allocated to enforcing the drinking laws. There were a series of raids by the police, which caused embarrassment to other police officers and much concern. I do not argue that that decision should not have been made, but it would have been better if it had been subject to public debate in the first instance. Everyone would have known what was happening. People would have decided whether they wanted more resources to be used to tighten up the enforcement of drinking laws or whether they preferred more to be done about combating violence and mugging. There should have been public debate about that decision.
Another instance was the fuss over Easter about whether Greater Manchester police should be armed. If a report had been prepared by the chief constable setting out the problems in Greater Manchester and explaining what he was hoping to achieve, the police authority would have had an opportunity to debate it, as would the general 253 public, and the result might have improved policing in Greater Manchester rather than making it the subject of much newspaper comment throughout the country, with little being done to improve the situation.
Clearly there was a problem, particularly in relation to the number of crimes involving firearms in the furtherance of robbery, and there was a strong argument for getting more public co-operation. A balanced report from the chief constable to a police authority which had genuine powers could have dealt with all the problems involved in that context, taking particularly into account the amount of cash that is still transferred in Greater Manchester. That occurs in a form that encourages people to commit holdups, using firearms. Much could have been done in the area by way of effective debate to reduce the opportunities for armed offences by reducing the amount of cash moved about in the city.
People should debate the consequences of what is occurring around them; for example, the amount of cash handled by post offices because of the number of people out of work and the increasing number of pensioners drawing benefits. People should debate, for example, whether it would be more effective to arm the police in an effort to catch the robbers, or whether, by paying people in other ways — for instance by cheque — we could reduce the amount of cash that is handled and so remove many of the opportunities for crime, and thereby remove the risk of people being shot at.
Equally, there should be more discussion about the availability of firearms. More could be done by declaring an amnesty to get firearms handed in. That again is an area where there should be public debate, with the opportunity for the police authority and the police to point out that too many firearms are held illegally and that using more resources to get them handed in might be a more effective way of dealing with the problem. Those are all instances where informed debate, with the decisions eventually being taken by the police authority, would improve policing rather than put the police at any additional risk.
In that context, if we pass the Bill, it must be monitored effectively, which brings to mind the earlier provisions about stop and search. It will be important to have the opportunity to debate locally the attitude of the police to their stop-and-search powers. There is much concern in Greater Manchester lest those powers are used in certain inner city areas, for example Moss Side, and not in many of the leafier suburbs, such as Hazel Grove. If a decision on that is taken by local people in such a way that the whole issue can be debated locally, so be it. But if it is a decision taken by the chief constable or police officers only, it will bring the police into disrepute. There are many other issues — such as the use, frequency and consequences of using road blocks—that need adequate debate.
I have outlined various areas in which the Greater Manchester police should be more accountable to the community. There has been developing, with less publicity, a system for police committees, lay visitors, to see what is going on in police stations. That is a worthwhile development which is happening with the full co-operation of the chief constable, but it is a sphere in which there should be more public debate. Indeed, it should not be permissive, with the approval of the chief constable. The police authority should itself have the power to encourage such visits. It seems odd that the authority should have responsibility for the fabric of the 254 police, and a theoretical responsibility for the policing of the area, yet only with the permission of the chief constable can it establish a system of visiting police stations.
Such visits can lay at rest the fears that many people have about what goes on in police stations. Lay visitors —and, through them, the community—can be assured that most of what goes on is wholly admirable, with police officers dealing with difficult circumstances, and that the stories one reads relate only to isolated incidents which are not typical of the activities of the police. It is important that we have a democratically accountable police force, that the Bill is supplemented with controls and that part of those controls include more accountability to police authorities. That is why I support the proposed new clause.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
I shall comment on some of the interesting points that have been made in the debate and in particular look at the consequences of the official Opposition proposals. Although we have heard from some Labour Members about the desirability of having more democratic control over police authorities, we have not heard much about what is happening at present and what the full consequences of their proposals might be.
In many parts of the country outside London—and outside in some, but not all, urban areas—there is no difficulty with the police and there is a harmonious relationship between them and the community, with little cause for complaint. That is the case in many urban areas, but particularly in rural areas. Speaking as a Member from a constituency many miles from London, I would suggest that the debate on the police is governed too much by what goes on in the Metropolitan police, where the record has been particularly bad and has tended to over-influence attitudes towards the police elsewhere. Those of us who come from the provinces do not see the corruption and other difficulties that obviously cause great concern in the metropolitan area.
§ Mr. John Tilley (Lambeth, Central)
As a Member for a north-eastern constituency, the hon. Gentleman must remember the fuss there was about Liddel Towers. That was not a London-oriented problem.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
That was an individual case. I am talking about the day-to-day relationship between the police and the community and I am making what I believe to be the valid point that in many areas that relationsip is harmonious and that the community and the police have little cause for complaint; I feel that as a provincial Member I should make that point.
My colleagues and I are not satisfied with the present position in relation to the control of the police and have made various proposals for increasing their accountability and for improving the relationship between the police and the community. We welcome the proposal, which the Government have included in the Bill, for the statutory provision of liaison committees. That is a Scarman recommendation which we fully support, although it is a pity that it has been included in the Bill in a way which does not lay down the responsibility of those liaison committees more clearly.
In addition, we should like to see police authorities using their existing powers to a greater extent than they tend to at present. Although the Police Act 1964 may not have such strong powers as the previous legislation, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. 255 Hattersley) and the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) pointed out, nevertheless, it gives police authorities the power to demand of chief constables various facts and information and gives them the right to discuss the strategy that a police force is pursuing. The police authorities, as presently constituted, do not sufficiently use those powers. I hope that the message will go out from the Home Office and from the House that the existing authorities should use those powers to a much greater extent.
We want reform of the police authorities to make them more representative. We are not satisfied with the present constitution of those authorities. The nub of our argument is that the control of many a police authority is not representative of the community of the area. Under the present system, authorities in various parts of the country are being run by minorities which are not representative of the community that they are supposed to serve. The turnout in local elections is small and under our present first-past-the-post voting system, a small minority of the electorate can decide who controls the local authority. Therefore, a police authority may be in the hands of people who represent only 10 per cent., 15 per cent. or 20 per cent. of a community. It is not good enough that 80 per cent. of the community whose views are not being represented by those people should have actions and policies foisted upon them which they do not support. We want more representative local authorities and therefore we want proportional representation introduced at local council level to stop some of the extreme developments in local council chambers, particularly in recent times, and to bring about more representative local authorities. We also wish to see the removal of a source of considerable concern in many areas — one-party control for decade after decade, which has led to corruption in local government in many parts of the country.
There is no doubt that in many parts of the country there has been—the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) just mentioned the Durham police force—what I can only describe as an unhealthy relationship between the police authority and the police force. There has been a great deal of publicity about the relationship between chief constables and police committees — for example, in Lancashire—and great controversy over that relationship. In response to earlier comments—I shall wish to deal with the relationship between elected representatives and members of the force and whether party political influence is important—I would point out that this issue extends also into other areas of local authority service. In many areas — the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) appeared to refute this — education authorities are partisan and are run in a party political way. Appointments are made in a party political way. Head teachers are appointed on a party political basis. Boards of governors in my constituency — local people who have been governors of local schools—were swept aside and party political appointments made irrespective of the wishes of the parents of the children at the schools and the communities in which they were situated. That is the party political control to which we are totally opposed and which we do not wish to see introduced for the police service. That is the type of party political control that we wish to stop.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
Is not Liverpool, where the Liberals are in control, one of the worst areas of the country for this type of dogmatic local government?
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
The Liberal party is not in control in Liverpool. It governs with the consent of other parties. It does not have an overall majority. The worst instances have been in those areas which have been under single-party control for a long time. That applies to both Conservative and Labour administrations.
London has been the cause of greatest concern with regard to the relationship between the police authority and the police and whether local authorities should have control over the police. London has been the cockpit for demands for greater accountability. On the one hand, there is the greatest evidence of corruption among the Metropolitan police which has led to a lack of trust in a wide section of the community—tremendous damage has been done to the standing of the police service by the minority of police officers who have caused such problems in the Metropolitan force and in one or two other forces over recent years — but on the other hand, London is where we have seen the most vicious and concerted attacks —mainly politically motivated—on the police. We are back to the old problem whereby the Conservative party concedes no fault in the police service while for some Members on the Labour Benches—not all Members—the police service can do no right. That is only too evident in the Labour party at present and has been the case over recent years.
When the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook describes the democratic control that he wishes to see over the police service in London, I wish he would address his mind to what has been happening in Labour-controlled authorities in London over recent years. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would stand up and tell us where he stands with regard to the activities of the GLC, of Lambeth and of other local authorities in London. The right hon. Gentleman is good at describing the broad brush position but does he support, for instance, the activities of the police monitoring committees in London? The monitoring committees in different parts of London are basically antipolice.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
Not all, but a large number of them are. Those committees are being funded by the Labour-controlled GLC which has given £500,000 to such organisations, many of which have been set up to attack the police, and £90,000 is going to virulently anti-police magazines which make the most vicious attacks on the police service. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has not said much to condemn that. Indeed, in his speech he semed to condone it by saying that it does not matter who controls these local authorities and that we should accept that that is the way it must be.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
If that is democracy, it is not the sort of democracy that the majority of people in London want. If we had a system of voting which allowed the opinions and the desires of the electorate to be truly represented in the council chamber, we would not have the likes of Mr. Livingstone. We saw what happened with the GLC. Mr. McIntosh was elected as leader of the GLC, but 257 he has now been kicked upstairs by the Labour party. He was elected as leader of the GLC but had not been there more than five minutes before Mr. Livingstone took over.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
I shall give way in a moment. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook should let us know where he stands with regard to the activities of these monitoring committees. Does he support the activities in which the GLC has been involved? Is that the type of police control and accountability which he wishes to see and which he is advocating at the moment?
§ Mr. Price
The hon. Gentleman told me that he was voting for me, but I am not absolutely certain. Perhaps he will confirm it in a moment.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about democracy. Is he really saying that his version of democracy is that when people he likes are elected, it is an acceptable form of democracy, but that when people he dislikes are elected, it is an unacceptable form of democracy? Is he further saying that the hung councils that we have seen, such as that for the city of Liverpool which has been run by this Jones character for the past 10 years, are an acceptable form of local government, and that a system that at least produces a stable form of local government is unacceptable?
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
If the hon. Gentleman is saying that he is satisfied with a situation in which a group of people who represent only a tiny majority of the electorate, can have—like the GLC and borough councillors—vast powers — [Interruption.] — and the Government —[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. The hon. Gentleman should be allowed to make his speech in his own way and should address the Chair, please.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
If the hon. Gentleman is happy that government—whether in Whitehall or in our town halls—should be representative of fewer than one third of the electorate and even as few as 15 per cent. of the electorate, he has a very funny view of democracy. The hon. Gentleman asked whether I voted for him. I got out not only of the Labour party but also of his constituency. He may like to ponder whether I was dissatisfied with him or with the Labour party.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with his own democratic credentials, as he was elected as a Member of Parliament for one party and now represents another?
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
If the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues had their way, the party Whip would be in control of everything. If the party label was taken away, the hon. Gentleman would give up his seat. If that is the sort of party democracy he wants, which is one step 258 towards eastern European democracy, he is welcome to it. If not, he had better support the sort of parliamentary democracy that Britain has had for many years.
The activities of Left-wing activists in the police voluntary committees and on local councils in the London area have done great damage to the campaign for greater police accountability. That is one of the most damaging aspects of the vicious attacks that they make on the police. Last night, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) illustrated the way in which such committees were unwilling to open a dialogue with the police, even though the police had been knocking on the door asking for it. It is deplorable that, when the police make great efforts to open a dialogue with the ethnic communities and with other groups within the community, they are attacked and find that their efforts to build up relationships, particularly with the ethnic communities, are undermined. I should like to know the official Labour party's view on the activities of such Labour party groups.
In London, there is a newspaper called the Labour Herald, which is run by two leading members of the Labour party and their supporters in the London area. I have a copy with me, and it shows one of the most scandalous cartoons about the police that I have ever seen. It is entitled, "Presenting your community relations expert", and pictures two objectionable looking figures, who are supposed to be policemen, wearing big boots, swastikas, truncheons, visors and guns. The title is, "Hand-picked at Hendon". One of the policemen is supposed to be the raw recruit, and the other is the polished expert, with "SPG" over his head. Behind them there are slogans on the wall saying, 'Coons out. Wogs out. Whites rule, OK."
Those are the activities of Labour party members and of a Labour party organisation in London. I want to know where the official Labour party stands on the activities of Labour party members who make vicious attacks on the police. I should have thought it highly likely that the attack was illegal under the Race Relations Act. I am surprised that the Labour Front Bench has not spent more time deploring such activity, which will make it impossible to have good police—community relations. When that sort of thing has the official imprint of the Labour party on it, it makes it that much more difficult for people in the community to have confidence in the police.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I have not seen the cartoon, so I am not prepared to comment at this stage. However, this subject was extensively discussed in Committee and was voted on in the form outlined in the new clause, so ably spoken to by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon). When that vote was taken, the alliance was represented — as it usually was in Committee—by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt), but the hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth), who is now waxing so indignant, was not present and took no part in it. Surely after the Committee has spent four months debating such points, it is an abuse for the hon. Member for Thornaby to put such matters before the House at the last moment, when he failed to attend many of the Committee's sittings. If the hon. Gentleman wanted such matters to be debated properly, he should have emulated the example of his hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West and attended the Committee.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
It is staggering that, although the hon. Gentleman attended the Committee's sittings for three months, together with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and his colleagues, they did not take the opportunity — just as the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) has not done now—to refute the activities of the Labour-controlled GLC and of all those Labour-controlled councils in the London area That are behind demands for accountability, but for a very different sort of accountability from that pressed for by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, the hon. Member for York and others.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is not prepared to stand up to such people and he is giving those who wish to use the police for party political purposes an opportunity to get in and to take control of the police. I do not believe that the people of London want that, or that people in any other part of the country want it. The worst thing is that those of us who want more accountability and who want to reform police authorities find that our efforts to promote that campaign are being pushed back by the activities of such people. They do great damage to the cause of greater accountability.
The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) is also pretty good at re-writing history, judging by his comments about my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins). When he talked about the reforms that my right hon. Friend introduced, he seemed to forget that they were hard fought not only in the House but in the Home Office. Those reforms were the first step towards an independent system of investigating the police, to which we are committed. It seems to be forgotten that the then Home Secretary was so determined to push through those reforms that the Commissioner for the Metropolitan police resigned in protest. At that time, Labour Members were very happy to support that legislation in the Lobby—[Interruption.] It would not have got through if Labour Members had not supported it.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Does not the hon. Gentleman recall that, I believe, five Labour Back Benchers were on the Committee on that Bill and that they, with the Conservative Opposition, adjourned the Committee for three weeks to try to obtain a Bill that would meet the basic requirements of the police and of those who had complaints? Unfortunately, the then Home Secretary, in his usual arrogant way, was not even prepared to meet those Back Benchers. As he was thinking about his trip to Brussels, he preferred to push through a very ineffectual measure and we had a choice of supporting it or getting nothing at all.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We are digressing; hon. Members should now relate their remarks to the new clause.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but before I press on, I wonder whether the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East now that he has seen the cartoon, will refute it.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
Has the hon. Gentleman first to obtain his instructions from the political boss?
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
We look forward with great anticipation to what the hon. Gentleman will say.
Our new clause 25 makes several proposals that we believe will improve the policing of London and help to make the police in London more accountable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch has said, we propose a Select Committee drawn from London Members to which the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan police force would be accountable. I know that a number of London Members see the necessity for a role in police accountability and wish to make some contribution to the policing of London. We believe that a Select Committee would provide such an opportunity.
That Select Committee would provide a useful forum for debating police strategy. It would also be able to cross-examine the Home Secretary and the Commissioner on the activities of the Metropolitan police. It would provide a focus for debate in key issues of the day as well as some of the more controversial aspects of the policing of London that arise from time to time. Such a Select Committee would provide a powerful forum for public debate about the policing of London, and it would afford Members of Parliament a tremendous input.
The new clause also suggests that there should be a Metropolitan police authority—not the GLC, I hasten to add — drawn from local authority representatives in London, but with the caveat that at local authority level we wish to see the introduction of a system of proportional representation before such an authority is established.
The new clause also provides for a continuing interest and influence by the Home Secretary. In reality, there is dual control of the police throughout the country, because the Home Office, through its inspectors, circulars, money and so on has a considerable influence on the activities of our police forces. It is right that the Home Secretary should have a continuing role in the policing of London, which is so intertwined with national Government.
The role of the police in London is not just confined to the security of Buckingham palace or the Diplomatic Service. They must cope with all the consequences of having Government here in London. It is therefore right for the Home Secretary to have a continuing role, even though we suggest a Metropolitan police authority.
As hon. Members will realise, we want greater accountability, but there must be a radical reform of the whole system of local government before that comes about. It is essential that the police are seen to be administering their activities impartially. We do not believe that the Labour party's proposals would continue the impartiality that has existed in the vast majority of police forces, and, therefore, we shall not support new clause 10.
§ Mr. Tilley
Like the hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth), . I shall concentrate on the policing of 261 London, because that is an important aspect of the new clauses, and the change in London would be much more radical than in the provincial police authorities.
Labour Members believe that it is practical and feasible for a locally elected police authority in London to have ultimate control of police operations without having any say in actions involving arrest. That is an important distinction. We feel that such a change is needed because of the considerable decline in recent years in public confidence in the police in London.
Another reason for such a change is that of taxation without representation. Londoners paid well over £300 million last year for their police service, yet had no say at all through the local authority system in how the police were controlled. During that time Londoners experienced a high level of crime, a low clear-up rate and a bad police-community record. There have been some recent improvements, but in general there is still a great gap between local police and their communities. In our view, the police should be a public service and as such should be accountable to the community of which they are part and which they serve.
I reiterate the point already made about the role of the Home Secretary. It is not that the Home Secretary has been lax in his role as police authority for London, rather that the Home Secretary as police authority for London is a constitutional fiction, bearing in mind his other responsibilities. The job of Home Secretary is big enough for anyone. The present incumbent is also deputy Prime Minister and has many responsibilities outside those connected with the Home Office. Therefore, he cannot conceivably have enough time in a week, however many hours he works, effectively to oversee the Metropolitan police or to give a sufficient account of what is happening to hon. Members.
I give two examples. In clause 67, which sets up the consultative committees, the police authority in every other part of the country will rightly have the difficult political job of establishing local consultative structures that adequately represent the views of locally elected councillors and community groups and organisations, particularly from the ethnic minorities.
In London that job goes not to the police authority but to the Commissioner—effectively, the chief constable. To someone who has been involved in the delicate and protracted negotiations on consultative committees, that seems to be a major failing in the Bill which reflects the fact that the Home Secretary, in his alleged role of police authority for London, has insufficient time to carry out all the necessary detailed political negotiations. The evidence for what I am saying lies in the Bill.
Let me give a personal example as well. Hon. Members may remember that on the second day of the first Brixton riots in April 1981 there were photographs of alleged policemen in plain clothes carrying pick-axe handles. That photograph became the subject of a complaint which went through the normal procedures. It took until January of this year for that complaint to he dealt with by the Director of Public Prosecutions and then under the disciplinary powers of the police. When the results were made public in January, it was possible for hon. Members and anyone else who was interested to ask wider questions about that 262 incident. Because the matter had been sub judice when it was being considered by the complaints board, it had not been possible to ask such questions previously.
On 15 January I wrote to the Home Secretary asking some of those wider questions. How was it that pick-axe handles were available in Brixton police station? Are they still available? On what occasions are they issued? Are the officers involved who were reprimanded still working in the borough? They were all perfectly reasonable questions which I, as a Member of this House, was entitled to ask about something that happened in my constituency. I asked those questions on 15 January and I am still waling for an answer, although I have pressed the Home Office ever since.
That suggests to me that there is an insufficient system of accountability through the Home Secretary to hon. Members about such issues. I know that the Home Secretary would deal with any matter expeditiously if he could. I know how efficient his private office is. But, because of the system, relatively simple questions asked by an hon. Member on 15 January have still not been answered by the police authority for London nearly five months later.
Those are two examples of why we feel that the Home Secretary should not be the police authority for London. His is a fictional role and we want to change it into a real one with a locally elected police authority for London based on democratic control.
London is different, not because of the strange suggestions made by the hon. Member for Thornaby about the special nature of policing the capital city, but simply because of the historical accident that the London police force was created before any local authority was set up for London. Elsewhere in Britian, police forces were set up either at the same time as or after the local authority. When the politicians of those days were living for the first time round in a period of Victorian values, they came to the obvious conclusion that a local police force should be controlled by and accountable to the local authority.
London remains an anachronism because of an historical accident. The new clauses say that that anachronism must be put right quickly. There would, of course, still be national policing functions, but it is perfectly possible for there to be some sort of national police agency, perhaps controlled by the Home Office or by a consortium of police authorities, which would cover the whole of Britain, but which could be split, providing a police force for London.
At the moment we have another even older historical anachronism, in that there is a separate police force for the City of London. We want that to be amalgamated into one police force, which could then operate throughout the capital. We could also easily solve all the problems of boundaries.
There have been some welcome changes of attitude in the statements issued by Sir Kenneth Newman, the new Commissioner. Particularly welcome is his belief that the police should get closer to the community and that, given the low clear-up rate, there should be greater emphasis on prevention rather than detection. However, I and other hon. Members have had interviews with Sir Kenneth, and if one examines closely what he has done so far one sees that he may have had some major changes in attitude but there have been no major changes of organisation in the Metropolitan police. There has been no major 263 decentralisation from Scotland Yard, only a reshuffle of powers between deputy assistant commissioners and district commanders.
Just as the Home Secretary is not in effective control of the Metropolitan police, so there are grave doubts whether the central bureaucracy of Scotland Yard is in effective control of the 25,000-strong force in London. While the central bureaucracy at the yard can make policy, there are grave doubts whether it is able to monitor those policies or put them into practice on the ground. Therefore, decentralisation is an important aspect of our approach, which is enshrined in the clause.
There will have to be much greater local consultation. As hon. Members will know, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), I have been involved in the first tentative efforts to set up a consultative structure in Lambeth. We have made some progress, but one lesson that we have learnt is that while consultation at borough level is important, it is no substitute for accountability. It is complementary to accountability, but there must be, first, control of the London police force by those elected by Londoners, and, secondly, consultation at local level, involving local borough councillors and community leaders, in order to create a consultative group which can both influence the local commander in discussion and feed through the views, demands and needs of the local community into the formulation of London police policy.
There is a need for change because of the lack of public confidence in the police. We do not say that there is no confidence among the London public — that would be nonsense—but we are saying that there is nowhere near enough. That problem was highlighted during the riots, and it has been highlighted again since then by the media and this House, although many London Members were well aware of the problems before that. Even though there have been no riots on such a scale in the past 18 months, it would be wrong for those hon. Members who do not represent London constituencies to get the impression that all is right. There is still a grave doubt.
Hon. Members have mentioned the position in Hackney, which is representative of that in many inner London areas. Because a young black man was found shot in a police station, many hundreds, indeed thousands, of people were willing to assume that there may well have been foul play on the part of the police. That shows the suspicion, fear and distrust that still exists in the black and white communities in the inner city areas. It is no good saying that people should not mistrust the police, but should trust them. It is up to hon. Members to find out whether there are ways in which we can ensure, not merely that we do not have riots for a few months, but that we build on a much surer basis of public confidence in the police.
I acknowledge that the Metropolitan police have made efforts since 1981. They have learnt from what happened in the riots and from some of the comments. They are making some effort to win public support and to find new ways of preventing and detecting crime. To pick out one particular item, the extension of the length of training of police recruits, and the improvement in the quality of training are welcome. However, in welcoming that, we have to recognise that it is not enough. The fundamental constitutional relationship between the public and police 264 in London has to be based on something more permanent than the improvement of training and public relations. The people of London have to be made to feel that they are ultimately in control of the police in London. That change will transform public confidence and is at the centre of our new clauses.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Bermondsey)
I follow the hon. Member for Lambeth, South (Mr. Tilley) as a London Member who believes that all London Members, if they are honest, would tell the House that policing in London is not as it should be. The figures for the increase in crime over the past year alone, and particularly in the past three years, are considerable. In any aspect of recorded crime, any resident of any London borough will say if he is honest that the rates are alarming.
I began considering these new clauses with those who were brave enough to be here at 3 am this morning, went away at 6 am and have now come back at 3 pm to further consider—
§ Mr. Hughes
I gather that one does.
There are three options before us. The Government wish the Home Secretary to continue as the police authority for London. The official Opposition wish members of the GLC to be the police authority of London, and the alliance wishes to progress to a police authority elected from borough and GLC councils. A democratically elected police authority would take over the control and responsibility for London police when those councils are elected in a way that reflects the views of the electorate.
It is no good the established parties simply saying that it is only natural for the minority parties to complain: those elected on a minority vote are not representative. I remind hon. Members that I am happy that unlike many hon. Members, I have the support in the area that I represent of 58 per cent. of the electorate, whereas the borough council in my borough has only 44 per cent. support and is therefore a minority. The minority is seeking to take responsibility from the person who at the moment administers policing in the borough.
The Greater London council is also not a majority administration and is not likely to become so. The alliance therefore has a realistic and sensible approach. I have some experience of looking at opinion polls, and recent ones show that Londoners do not want the GLC to take over responsibility for the police. Therefore, let us proceed by two easy stages. Let us establish a Select Committee of London Members to whom the Home Secretary can be accountable—[Interruption.] It appears that those who have been here longer than I think that that would be a constitutional abnormality. The Home Secretary will report to the Select Committee, which would press him, and question him for the information that it is often difficult to discover. The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central gave us an example of how one can write to a busy Home Secretary who will do his best to reply as quickly as possible, but who often cannot. Because of the numerous and sometimes amazing responsibilities that his Department assumes, from hackney carriages to broadcasting, not surprisingly the Home Secretary is unable, through no fault of his own, to give London policing the time and responsibility that it deserves.
265 5.45 pm
There are thus three options—the GLC, the Home Secretary or a phased progression to representative, accountable local government. New clause 25 is a clear statement of the alliance position, and we would wish it to be passed by the House later on. It will bring about he government of the police and police responsibility that other local authorities already have. The senior officers and the commanders of those forces are quite happy with the arrangement. The changes would bring about an attitude that is different from that which we have today. It would be not an anti-police attitude or a pro-police attitude but one that will enable the authorities to tell the police off when they deserve to be told off and will support the police when they are doing a good job.
M division, the division looking after the borough of Southwark, deserves credit for the high clear-up rate of murders until recently. There have been three recent murders, which I understand have not yet been solved, but until then all murders were solved and the division is to be congratulated on working to make sure that is done. On the other hand, the same division is not to be congratulated for sending round, at 9 pm on the new year's eve before last, 20 officers to investigate a complaint about a youngster of 16. I was in the block of flats at the time, and the policemen came in as if they were about to arrest an armed gang of about 60 people, not one 16-year-old. The division deserves to be told off also because, when one tries to telephone Tower bridge police station one can wait 20 minutes without obtaining a reply.
We need a police authority that is willing to stick its neck out and criticise the police on occasions, but we also need a community police force that is effective, locally based and responsible to the community.
It is interesting—I shall no doubt be corrected if I am wrong—that the attitude of certain hon. Members, particularly those in the official Opposition, is not even to talk to the police.
§ Mr. Hughes
I said "certain" hon. Members. As far as I am aware, the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), once selected as a candidate and certainly until the by-election at which she was returned to the House, had not spoken once to the local district commander. How she could then take it upon herself to criticise the local police when she had not discussed matters with them, I cannot see. I do not know whether she has spoken to the commander since then, but I have not heard whether she has.
§ Mr. Tilley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not out of order for one hon. Member to attack another without having told her that he would make this attack? I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) had known that such a personal attack was to be made upon her, she would have made every effort to be here.
§ Mr. Hughes
I prefaced my speech by saying that I would no doubt be corrected if I were wrong, and I am happy to be so. If hon. Members feel that that is not sufficient, I shall upon leaving the Chamber leave a note for the hon. Member for Peckham, asking her to join the debate.
§ Mr. Tilley
I should like to help the hon. Member. This is not a point of order, but it is a convention that when one is about to attack a fellow Member in the Chamber, directly and personally, one informs them in advance, not afterwards, so that the hon. Member concerned can be here. My hon. Friend could then answer what I believe to be the unsubstantiated slur that the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is making against her.
§ Mr. Hughes
I have heard it said that hon. Members who are to be referred to should be informed beforehand. I apologise, as this was a convention that I should not have broken. However, one is not told about these things, There are no clear rules whereby those who arrive here can make sure that they do not break any conventions.
I shall continue with the point that I was putting, because it is a point of substance. It is all too easy for people to attack the police without having discussed the issues with them. It is all too easy for minorities who are vociferous in their attacks on the police, while other minorities who have equally strong and important views are silent. Those minorities too should be represented , that is why we seek to make the police authority for the Greater London area a more accountable authority.
The other capital cities of this kingdom—Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Belfast—are in many ways no different from this capital city. Of course, in London there are national responsibilities, including diplomatic protection and protection of the royal family, which should remain a direct governmental responsibility. However, in parts of this city and Greater London there are people who are rarely affected by the matters of state that go on in our central city streets. People on the outskirts of London, whether in Croydon, Orpington or Tower Hamlets, or even out on the western fringes, often feel that they have little to do with national events. Therefore, they want their policing to be local and community-based.
We want accountability because people in ordinary associations of community interest want it. I had a letter only the other day, as did the Home Secretary, from a tenants association in Bermondsey, which complained that it had heard a rumour that Tower bridge police station was to be closed. It expressed its concern in this way:After all, we are the ratepayers and help to pay the salaries of the Metropolitan police, and local organisations should be consulted in this serious matter and their opinions voiced"'.As a result of its representations, I have managed to organise a meeting at which the police tonight will present their case for the closure of Tower bridge police station, and where the community will be able to express its view.
Let me take the case of a totally different part of the political spectrum, the Southwark Black People's Association, which is concerned that there is no accountability. It, too, deserves to have its voice heard, and it should be able to put issues to the local police force and police commanders.
It is always difficult to find out the facts and figures, because they are not always readily available. Let me give an example. When I went to speak to the local police only a week or two ago to seek figures to justify a proposal to close one of the three police stations in north Southwark, I was told that the figures could not be relied upon, because it depended on which station the officers who made arrests reported back to and into which station's record books those offences were logged, and that therefore the geography of the offences was not accurately 267 reflected in that part of the division. I was told that sometimes errors were made, for instance, in the logging of local police stations' code numbers on papers.
Although there is now a code of standard of statistics, and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has just produced the statistics over the past three years as a standard code, it is none the less clear that the figures and the reasons are difficult to obtain for the ordinary man and woman in the street. All that is happening in our borough, where we pay £6 million for our policing. As was said earlier, that surely entitles us to have a say in how policing is carried out in a borough where only 16 per cent. of crimes are cleared up. No one could persuade me that the present standard of policing should be allowed to continue, with a low clear-up rate—the lowest clear-up rate of any metropolitan authority in the land—with escalating crime, going up in double-figure increases every year, and with considerable concern and alarm among all groups.
I commend to the House a proposal that will make the police force in Greater London accountable to a responsible police authority—as police authorities are, by and large, in the rest of the country. That should be done as soon as possible. I urge the House to support the new clause in the interests of the Londoners who want local policing, community policing and accountable policing, and above all in the interests of Londoners who deserve better policing. It is not an anti-police measure. It is one that will allow the police and the public together to make sure that we have a safer and happier city.
§ Mr. Mikardo
Out of my almost infinite mercy and loving kindness, I shall refrain from commenting on the speech to which we have just listened. When the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) began, I thought that he was seeking a place in the "Guinness Book of Records" as the Member who could drop most clangers in a single speech. I refrain from commenting on what he said, because any honest comment on it would provide naught for his comfort.
Those of us who served on the Standing Committee received memorandums, letters, documents and research reports from large numbers of people and organisations of many kinds. I doubt whether any previous Bill has resulted in so much written matter being directed at members of the Standing Committee. In the early hours of this morning there was considerable reference to and quotation from some of those valuable documents, as most of them were. One becomes a little inured, a little case-hardened, to all the submissions that are made and the stuff that one has to read. However, I almost jumped out of my skin when I read one of the documents. It came from the Association of County Councils.
Hon. Members will be aware that the Association of County Councils is by no means the most rabid red revolutionary institution in British society. One could scarcely think of anything which is more representative of a pillar of the establishment. It sent us a memorandum advocating democratic control—some of us would call it political control—of police forces. It criticised and condemned the Government's resistance to that proposal in language that was far more vitriolic than I would dream of using about Her Majesty's Ministers. The language was rough and tough. It talked about the obsessive resistance of Ministers to any element of democratic control. It found 268 the Government's attitudes ignorant and incomprehensible. I would not be as rude as that about the Home Secretary. Imagine all this from the Association of County Councils! When I read it, I could hear ringing in my ears the voice of a rural dean uttering four-letter obscenities in a loud voice in his own cathedral. It was quite startling. With that—and it was not the only piece of evidence from "respectable" sources — it is nonsense for some people, including some Conservative Back Benchers, to pretend that the demand for democratic accountability of the police is a manifestation of political extremism and that only the extremists are interested in anything of that kind.
Democracy, like liberty, is a word in whose name many crimes are committed. People bandy it around in all sorts of strange ways. One hon. Member this afternoon lectured us about the meaning of democracy. He was elected for one party and decided to join another. He did not democratically ask his constituents who had elected him on one ticket whether they still wanted him on a different ticket. He stayed on and drew his money under false pretences. If the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) does not agree with that, I will refer to Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann who had the honesty to return to his electors and ask them if they still wanted him on a different ticket. That hon. Gentleman purports to get up and lecture the rest of us about democracy. If that is not brass neck, I do not know what is.
Another theory about democracy that was put forward was that no institution that is elected by anything other than a majority of the electors has any right to exercise power or to make any decisions. The remedy for that put forward by two hon. Members was that we should have proportional representation at local level. Anyone who knows anything about the arithmetic of elections knows that the inevitable effect of proportional representation is to ensure that the incidence of minority government is greater than under the present electoral system. Those hon. Members do not tell us who should take the decisions. However, they say that to deal with this intractable problem we should change the electoral system to ensure that all local authorities are elected on minority votes. Did anyone ever hear such rubbish? It is nonsense.
The other way in which the word "democracy" is abused, especially in the subject that we are now discussing, is by attaching the word "political" as a pejorative label. When people approve of a democratic measure, they call it "democratic control" of so-and-so. When they do not want it, they call it "political control". They use the word "political" as a slur.
I understand music-hall comedians sneering, making cracks and seeking cheap laughs about politicians. I understand it even more clearly when it is done in Fleet street by newspaper proprietors and editors. One of the standard tools of their trade is to decry politicians. I am not worried about the fact that most of our newspapers are anti-Labour. It is a cross that we must bear. I am worried that most of them are anti-Parliament. The reason for that is simple. They decry hon. Members as party politicians and party hacks because they want their readers to take their political views not from politicians but from newspapermen.
It is merely an extension of the doctrine preached by Beaverbrook — that a newspaper is an instrument of political power. The idea is to get millions of readers for 269 a newspaper and con them into believing that there is something wrong with Parliament and politicians. It is then thought that the bemused reader will say, "Where do we go for salvation? We read leading articles in the daily papers." I understand the word "political" being used as a smear by music-hall comedians and Fleet street editors, but I cannot understand it being used as a smear by professional politicians.
Why are all those Conservative Members, who say that it is wrong to have political influence and political control of this, that and the other, offering themselves as candidates at the next general election? Why do they want to be here? What do they come here for, except to exercise political influence? There is nothing wrong with party political influence on decisions that affect our lives. I find it staggering that there should be a general denigration of politics by politicians when it suits them and is concentrated on particular issues.
I suppose that it is arguable that the one institution—it is hard to be dogmatic about this, as I could be wrong and people could have different views — that most directly affects the material welfare of the citizen is Her Majesty's Treasury. No one ever objects to it being controlled by a party politician. We are all affected more by decisions about tax, economic planning or lack of planning than by decisions about policing. No one objects to a party politician — I certainly do not — being in charge of that activity that controls so much of our life. No one objects much to the members of local authorities who have been elected as politicians on party tickets being in charge of the other activities that affect the welfare of the citizen—the house in which he lives, the rent he pays, the road on which he travels to work, the bus in which he rides to work, the school to which his kids go and the park in which they play. No one objects to all those elements in his welfare being controlled by party politicians, but suddenly there is something different about the police.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), who talks a great deal of sense and produces many original ideas but who occasionally slips into a piece of arrant nonsense, argued that the police were different when someone was talking about the other elements of local government. I mentioned the borough surveyor. He said that the police are different. They are. It is self-evident. It is what Mr. Punch would call a glimpse of the obvious. A chief constable is different from a borough surveyor, but a borough surveyor is also different from a chief constable and a chief education officer. A chief education officer is different from a community health physician. The police are different from others because others are different from the police.
The only thing that gives the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds the inestimable advantage of being different from me is the fact that I am different from him. So what is all this nonsense about the police being different? A chief constable is a specialist — a technologist in a particular branch of knowledge and experience. I cannot be a chief constable because it involves knowing a great many things that I do not know. The same applies to a borough surveyor, a chief education officer or a community health physician. If those other experts and possessors of specialist expertise can be supervised by committees of laymen, just as in the last resort we laymen in this place supervise the specialists in the Civil Service and in the armed forces, because we believe that ultimately 270 their activities should be geared to the needs and desires of the community, which only laymen can interpret, why should not the same apply to chief constables?
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman asks the question, so I will try to answer it. The difference is this. Every executive, whether he be an educator, a borough engineer or whatever, has a specific sectoral responsibility covered by statutes from this House or from his local authority. A police constable, however, is the ultimate generalist. He has responsibility not for any specific area of the law, but for the total fabric of the law, and the constitution on which our democracy is based. It is that broad responsibility for the framework of the law that distinguishes the constable from any other officer of the state.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I do not accept that argument for one moment. In making it, however, the hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the real difference between us. I wish the police to be of the community. The hon. Gentleman wants them to be separate from the community. That is what the new clause is about. Should a policeman feel himself to be part of the community in the same way as the bod in the house next door who may be a carpenter, a bricklayer or a doctor and certainly in the same way as any other servant of the community, or should he feel that he is suigeneris, as the hon. Gentleman wishes? That is what the argument is all about. The hon. Gentleman's answer is no answer at all. He says that the difference is that the constable is responsible for maintaining the law, but every citizen is responsible for that. The police have a special responsibility for seeking to prevent breaches of the law and bringing those who break the law to account for their actions. That is fair enough, but they are not different from the rest of us in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests.
This brings us back yet again to the central point, that the incidence of crime will be reduced and the proportion of criminals brought to book will be increased only through a partnership between the police and the community. All our energies should be directed towards creating that partnership. Two things, above all, would contribute to that. The first is the accountability that we are now discussing. The second I mention only in passing as we shall deal with it later in our proceedings— a system of accountability by the police for their occasional misdeeds that is governed by people other than policemen.
The accountability of the police and an independent system of investigating allegations of abuse by the police, taken together, would recreate the partnership that existed between the people and the police of this country in my boyhood, but which in the past half century—not just in the past few years—has been lost. Those two measures would go a very long way towards achieving the necessary partnership. People feel that they are distant and different from the police because the police insist on being different from them. A bridge must be built. There is a real problem, although the severity of the problem varies from police force to police force.
The hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) was right to say that there is more dissatisfaction with the police in London than in any other part of the country. I wonder whether it is mere coincidence that London, the only area in which the democratically elected local representatives have no say at all about policing, has the 271 worst and least successful policing and the police force with the lowest reputation among the community as a whole?
I believe that the proposal in the new clause is bound to come. I suspect that if I could catch the Minister of State one night in that moment between waking and sleeping when a man is closest to his conscience and his eternal soul I would discover that he is personally not very enthusiastic about resisting our proposal. Notwithstanding those who resist it, whether unenthusiastically like the hon. and learned Gentleman or more enthusiastically like some of his hon. and unlearned Friends, this measure will eventually be introduced. The extension and dispersion of our democratic concepts and processes are in the stream of history and are bound to come. I hope that will be sooner rather than later, because the sooner it comes the more effective our policing will be and the happier the relationship between the police and the public, making this country an even nicer place than it now is.
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) was quite right to say that the proposal in the new clause in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) would, in spirit if not in detail, inevitably become a feature of our law. Less than 10 years ago, the police were not an issue. Few people were concerned to debate these matters and few were anxious about police powers and accountability or about democratic control over police forces. Those subjects were rarely, if ever, discussed. If they were discussed, it was at fringe meetings of half-a-dozen people, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow will know.
The police have become an extremely controversial political issue. Their powers and the control that public authorities exercise over them, or should exercise over them, have followed from several changes that have taken place in the way in which the police relate to the public following the reorganisation of police forces, the reduction in their number, leading to an increase in their size, their resources and the power of individual police forces and of their chief constables. This gives them a higher profile and makes the public more aware of them.
Other incidents have brought the police to the public's attention, such as the well-publicised cases of alleged abuse of police powers or where the public have been unable to obtain a satisfactory account of what the police were supposed to have done. It does not matter whether we are talking about the Liddel Towers case in the northeast, the Jimmy Kelly case on Merseyside or the Blair Peach case in London. It does not matter who was right or who was wrong on those occasions. It does not matter whether the police were culpable of those deaths and other injuries. What mattered at the time to the parents, the relatives and those involved was the seeming impossibility of making the police publicly and openly accountable for their actions.
I know the deep effect that the Jimmy Kelly case had on Merseyside. People who were unthinkingly and, quite properly, blindly loyal to the police and never believed ill of them, who always believed that whatever the police said was right and whatever they did was appropriate, suddenly became extremely worried about aspects of that case. More importantly, they were worried about how the case 272 demonstrated their inability as individual citizens to exercise any type of control, still less any political or public accountability, over the actions of their police force.
The demand for public accountability arises in part from the greater profile of many police forces vis-a-vis members of the public. The public are anxious about the new tactical forces, the special patrol groups, the tactical response units and the greater degree of policing of public marches and demonstrations. Whatever the origins and causes for complaint, I do not in any way subscribe to the belief that the police are to blame. Nevertheless, the police inevitably have been brought into greater and, indeed, sometimes physical contact with otherwise law-abiding, decent and hardworking members of the community who, having complaints, have not been able to process them or be confident that they have been properly processed, independently monitored and checked.
Some of our more vociferous chief constables have high profiles. The chief constables who have caught the media's attention—whether it be the chief constable of Greater Manchester or, to a lesser degree, the chief constable of my own county of Merseyside—are the least articulate, thoughtful and informed of our chief constables. There is no doubt that the high profile of some chief constables adopted by the media and some of their more provocative remarks—most notably those by the chief constable of the Greater Manchester force—have led to a greater demand for more public accountability and control over those forces. That demand, which has grown dramatically and enormously in the past decade, has been fuelled by the more blatantly unreasonable decisions, dictatorial attitudes and dogmatic statements of some chief constables.
There is now a substantial body of moderate and informed opinion among many decent and sensible people — not political extremists or Left-wing revolutionaries or subversives—who believe that it is necessary and appropriate to exercise greater democratic accountability and public control over police forces. They recognise that individual chief officers—there are 44 in England and Wales — hold enormous powers. They have the responsibility for disbursing enormous amounts of money, controlling much highly expensive, if not well-trained, manpower, and other physical public assets and resources. The individuals who possess that power are out on their own. No other public individual or public authority possesses such enormous power over policy and resources without, at the same time, being subject to some accountability to other organisations or individuals.
Enormous variations in the policing of different parts of the country arise from the powers possessed by chief constables. Figures from certain areas show different cautioning rates of juveniles who are alleged to have committed offences. In some areas it is a matter of policy, determined by the chief constable, that juveniles who are alleged to have committed one, two or three offences, are automatically cautioned for their offence if they admit guilt and their parents agree. In other force areas there is no cautioning system and a juvenile of the same age who has committed the same type of offence may be dragged through a juvenile court and the entire criminal justice system.
Similar variations exist in some areas in the attitude taken under the old Vagrancy Act 1824 to the offence of sus. In some metropolitan areas a great attempt is made 273 to enforce the provisions of that legislation. The same predilection is not in evidence in Merseyside. There is an enormous proclivity by the chief constable of Manchester to harass drinking clubs—I do not argue whether that is right or wrong — and homosexual men. The same predilections are not exhibited by chief constables in other parts of the country. Other variations have been cited by my hon. Friends of some chief constables deciding to use public funds to purchase CS gas or plastic bullets. Other chief constables make just as considered, deliberate and conscious decisions not to obtain those weapons.
I do not suggest or pretend that there is not a case for different policing policies in different areas. Of course there is. The policing methods appropriate to Greater Manchester, to Merseyside or to London are entirely different from those appropriate to the Thames valley or to Devon and Cornwall. The policing policy must fit the community in which the police officers operate. The point is that those decisions are presently made by one man, but they should be made by the elected representatives of the community in which the police work, and of whom nominally they are the servants. I do not dispute that there may be need for, and good reasons for, variations in cautioning practice or attitudes towards drinking clubs, pornography, homosexuality or Left-wing street-corner books and newspaper sellers, but I dispute that those decisions should be taken, indefensibly, by one individual who is not accountable for his actions.
For those reasons, among others, there is a demand that a chief constable should be subject to the control of the democratically elected representatives of his county on policing policy.
I accept that a fine line can be drawn between what is policy and what is operational. A local authority should have the right to lay down general policy, to allocate resources and to decide on community-type policing rather than panda-type policing. Such matters of principle and policy should be decided by locally elected representatives. A fine line can be drawn between that and some day-to-day operational decisions that are, quite properly, the province of the chief constable.
The same fine line and the same need to arrive at a balance exist in all our public affairs. They exist between the Home Secretary and his officials. The Home Secretary determines the broad lines of policy, but does not sign every letter written by a clerk in his Department. Currently, a locally elected council determines the priority that it gives to education as opposed to, perhaps, social services. It determines the structure — the theological input—that the educational system will have, subject to national legislation and constraints. But that does not mean that it interferes, or that it would be proper for it to do so, in the day-to-day syllabus or running of the schools.
If we manage throughout our whole democratic structure, both nationally and locally, to straddle that fine balance between setting the policy, determining the priorities and allocating the resources, without at the same time doing the professionals' jobs—we do it in housing, education, social services, health services and in Government — we can do that equally well and successfully with the police.
It is anomalous that such a highly contentious area of our community as policing, which directly affects the livelihoods of all our constituents, has for so long not been 274 subject to proper democratic control and accountability. Chief constables determine the kind of policing that they will have in their areas, and, in effect, it was the atmosphere and the ethos of the policing that largely led to the problems in Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side. I do not subscribe to the view that the riots were caused by unemployment. That was a contributory factor, but the major factor in my area was the distance that had developed between the police and the local community because of the type and tenor of the policing imposed.
I, like my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), want the police to be effective. As I said last night, I want the police to be successful in creating a society that is law abiding. I want them to protect my constituents from burglars and rapists. The belief that has been expressed time and again in the various contributions of Opposition Members is that our police force will be effective only if it possesses and maintains the confidence of the public whom it is policing. The best way to obtain and sustain such confidence is for the police to be seen to be the servant rather than the master of the public—and to be seen to be under proper democratic control and accountability.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I go further down that road than the hon. Gentleman might suppose, but will he accept one central dilemma? If the police become the servant of the political majority, they can put at risk their other duty of upholding the fabric of the law that maintains the rights of the minority. The police have to maintain that crucial balance.
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
I understand the hon. Gentleman's fear, but it is wholly misplaced. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow said, when Conservative Members use the word "political" they do so in a derogatory sense. What we mean by politics in this country is a description of the way in which we take decisions. That is politics. It is synonymous with democracy—it is democracy. If some hon. Members say that they want to take education, housing and the police out of politics, they are in effect saying that they should be subject, not to democratic decision-making, but to some authoritative decision-making individual. Politics is democracy, and that is the way we make our decisions in Britain. It is not for the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds or anyone else to say that there is something dirty and disreputable in political decision or political control.
If we are to restore the confidence that the public once had in their police force, we must take steps to prevent the police becoming distant from, separate from and regarded as alien to the public whom they serve. I do not suggest that that has already happened, but we are in danger of that happening in certain areas. Those areas may not be in the majority, but they do exist — some not far from my constituency — where there is a danger of the police being perceived to be a separate, distant and alien force. Once that happens, as we have already seen in isolated incidents, we will be in serious difficulties. I do not want that to happen. We cannot afford to let it happen. One way to fight it is to try to ensure that the police are properly seen to be part of, integrated into and subject to the control of the people whom they are policing.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
Is it not: a curious attitude that it is all right for the armed forces to 275 be subject to party political control—the control of the Government of the day, a party Government—but quite wrong for the police to be subject to it?
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
It is even worse than that. People taking the opposite view to us would prefer the enormous resources and manpower of the Merseyside constabulary to be subject to the single control of Mr. Ken Oxford, or in Greater Manchester to the single control Of Mr. Anderton, yet the latter does not give a good account of himself in the public arena. He does not give me a great deal of confidence in his intellectual capacity, his analytical ability or his powers of judgment, yet I am being asked to allow that man, and others like him, to exercise independently the enormous power in his possession. I regret that I cannot agree to that request. I do not agree to it in principle, because it is wrong to give any individual in such an important and sensitive position that sort of power. I cannot agree to it given the personalities and incompetence of some of the chief officers in charge of our police forces.
For those and the other reasons that I have adduced in support of the new clause, I believe that if we do not now take the decision to put our police forces under proper democratic accountability we shall miss an important opportunity to restore the credibility of our police forces and the confidence of the public in them. We want to look forward to a period of greater co-operation between the police and the public and, through that co-operation, a greater success rate in detecting crime and dealing with criminal offences.
What worries me more is that if we do not take this opportunity, we are storing up even more trouble for the future. This demand for greater public political accountability of police forces to democratically elected representatives, be they national or local, county or district council, will not go away. The head of steam that is behind it now is irresistible and will gather momentum. There will be more controversies and disputes and our police forces will become more isolated and separated from the people they are serving. Down that road lies calamity. We can avoid at least some of it by accepting the new clause.
§ Mr. John Fraser
My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) was speaking about the differences in prosecution and cautioning policy as between one police authority and another. That brings to mind the campaign which some of us led in London against the use of the sus law by the Metropolitan police. I think that a democratically accountable authority might have influenced two things while we still had the sus law. One was the decision to use that law, because in London that certainly alienated a large part of the population. It was not the only cause, but it helped to deepen the rift between the black community, in particular, and the police force. The good sense, advice and wisdom of a democratically accountable authority might have persuaded the Metropolitan police that the use of that law was an unwise form of prosecution.
Secondly, the Metropolitan police employed a policy whereby, whenever somebody was suspected or was about to be charged under the sus law, that person would be charged forthwith and not be cautioned. There were very few examples of juveniles being cautioned for an offence under the Vagrancy Act 1824. Normally they were 276 prosecuted. That led to criminalisation and was a contributory factor in the development of the gulf between the black community, in particular, and the police force.
That is just one example of ways in which an elected authority might have used its wisdom and common sense to influence the policy of the Metropolitan police to good effect. There are dozens of examples of the way in which the police allowed a gulf to develop between themselves and the community.
In my constituency the explosion took place in April 1981. That was the most traumatic shock that any constituency or borough could experience, with places being burnt down and people behaving in a most extraordinary way—looting, assaulting, burning and so on. I found that one of the most distressing experiences of my life.
At the same time, however, there was a sense—I did not share it—of elation and exhilaration in the middle of that riot. One of the causes was frustration about the way in which the police behaved and about the control which the community had over it. The exhilaration, the elation and the burning were a substitute for democratic control. People were taking to the streets because they were unable to assert their point of view in a democratically elected forum.
The relations between the police and the public and the build-up of frustration over many years meant that police-community relations were the cause of a rupture instead of the preservation of tranquillity. I recognise that there were other causes, such as the lack of adequate training, institutional attitudes—which are very difficult to change—misjudgments, and a degree of arrogance. I am sure, however, that one of the causes of the breakdown of relations which took place in 1981—not just in my constituency but throughout much of the country—was frustration at the inability to get things changed by argument and persuasion and through a powerful body being democratically accountable.
There has certainly been a dramatic change in the attitude of the police since those events of 1981 and the Scarman inquiry.
I believe that one of the greatest obstacles to democratic accountability in these clauses is the Home Secretary. The present Home Secretary has shown a greater willingness to talk to Members of Parliament, listen to public bodies and put his weight behind change than almost any Home Secretary within my experience. In that sense I am praising him. However, in another sense he has been an obstacle. Despite his attitude and the co-operation that he has afforded, I do not believe that it is right that the single person of this or any Home Secretary should be the police authority for London, in particular.
There have been vast improvements. I think that they have come about because of the weight that the Home Secretary has put behind them. For example, in my constituency, there has been greater responsiveness and a change of attitude, not least because the Home Secretary would not permit otherwise. There has been successful consultation.
I recall a recent occasion when the local authority was engaged in evictions from a number of squatted houses which were well known to be selling drugs in the constituency. A very large force of police was in attendance at the invitation not of the local authority but 277 of the Sheriff of London. There was an outbreak of violence. It was inevitable with such a large number of police in the very place where a riot had started only a year earlier.
As a result of the existence of a police-community consultative committee, the frustration and anger were taken into a council chamber, not on to the streets. It was remarkable that people were able to argue across a table. In some cases there were the most outrageous accusations against the leader of the Lambeth council and the local commander, but they were made across a table, not on the streets. The police were willing to be held accountable for that operation, but in fact they had very little to answer for. It was an excellent example of the way in which democratising the process of explaining one's actions took tension off the streets and into a committee room at the town hall, thereby avoiding another catastrophe.
I do not believe that consultation is a substitute for accountability. I know some local authorities democratically control institutions but do not necessarily consult all the people that they represent. The fact that a body is democratically elected does not mean that it is always willing to consult. It gets possessive about its province and is not always prepared to listen to others. Democratic bodies can be as arrogant as undemocratic bodies. Therefore, the fact that there is democratic control does not remove the need for consultation, particularly the informal, open consultation that we have in Lambeth with the police-community consultative committee.
Consultation has worked well in Lambeth and was established with such ease partly because of the efforts that were put into it by elected representatives—I include my fellow Members of Parliament in Lambeth, and local councillors—and the support of the police authority. The consultation committee in Lambeth is aware that it has the police authority behind it.
If the enthusiasm of the Home Secretary were to diminish, or if there were to be a Home Secretary less keen on these matters than the present incumbent, the consultation process could break down. I do not believe for one moment, however, that that extremely important consultation is a substitute for accountability.
Many hon. Members have spoken about the absolute power of 44 chief constables throughout the country as if that were the only problem. The truth is that chief constables or the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis have very little control over the lower echelons of their forces, and it is not in the nature of things that they should have such control.
I found it refreshing to see the community ranged on one side with representatives from the Revolutionary Communist Tendency to Rastafarians and, on the other side, not only the commander but ordinary beat officers of the ranks of constable and sergeant. Those officers were making themselves accountable to the community. Consultation is vital, but I do not think that it transcends accountability. The two approaches are complementary and each succeeds best with the other.
I shall give a constituency example that shows the need for full accountablity and why I believe that it is not sufficient to have the police authority in London residing in the Home Secretary alone. I described the Brixton riots in April 1981 as a traumatic experience. Yet, in July 1981, the police mounted a raiding operation—at the time it appeared to be a demolition operation—on 11 houses and shops in my constituency. They were using—I do 278 not think that there is any doubt about this now—warrants which had been issued injudiciously by local magistrates.
As a result, there was a row in Parliament. Questions were put to the Home Secretary. I must say that the right hon. Gentleman extended to me every courtesy in listening to my point of view. Indeed, I was commuting between the Home Secretary and Railton road to stop another riot breaking out. I took assurances back from the police authority that there would be an investigation.
There were two investigations. One was conducted by Mr. Dear at the instigation of the Home Secretary. In addition, two or three complaints were investigated under the Police Acts. The press recently reported that comments had been made about the complaints by the Police Complaints Board, which submitted a special and unprecedented report to the Home Secretary on the events of July 1981.
Perhaps I should acquaint the House with the comments of the board. First, in a letter in January it drew the right hon. Gentleman's attention to its powers under the Police Act 1976 to report on matters ofgravity or other exceptional circumstances.The board stated:The Board's interest in this operation"—the events of July 1981—arises from its examination of the investigation into a number of complaints made by members of the public which were recorded and investigated in accordance with section 49 of the Police Act 1964. These matters were specifically (and properly) excluded from Mr. Dear's report.The board explained that it wasconcerned to discover that the investigation revealed serious lapses from the professional standards which it expects to find in the capital's police force: and that these lapses were by no means confined to the conduct of one or two officers only.The board added:Mr. Kavanagh, the Deputy Commissioner, replied on 26 August … The Board take the view that the letter accepts the validity of their criticism, but they are disappointed that it was not more specific"—"it" is Mr. Kavanagh's letter—about the remedial steps which have been taken to prevent further abuses of a similar nature. The Board realise that the lessons to be learnt from the Railton Road operation go far beyond the individual lapses and abuses of authority which have been identified".Part of the next paragraph states:The Board's concern, however, is directed both at the Railton Road operation itself and at the implication that the unprofessional conduct of officers engaged on that operation could be a reflection of their conduct on less sensitive occasions.We are talking about a raid that took place at the very centre of the storm. It was immediately investigated by myself and no less a person than Lord Scarman. We are talking about abuses in an enormously sensitive area which were bound to come under the scrutiny of the nation's press, of local Members of Parliament, and of Lord Scarman who had been presiding over the inquiry that was taking place only a few hundred yards away. The board was saying that if there could be grave abuses of police authority in the use of warrants and search powers and the giving out of hammers and crowbars, for example, on such a sensitive occasion, consider what might happen on less sensitive occasions which come under less scrutiny.
I shall not weary the House with the correspondence that passed between the board and Scotland Yard. However, it seems clear that, even after the Scarman inquiry, Geoffrey Dear's investigation, all the upheavals that took place throughout the nation and the divisions 279 between the police and the community, Scotland Yard did not appear to be taking seriously enough the grave shortcomings that were illustrated by the Police Complaints Board in its special report.
The serious and unprecedented report to which I have referred was sent to the Home Secretary—the the police authority—in January. For the past four months during which a Standing Committee, a Committee of the whole House and the House of Commons considered the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, none of the contents of the special report was revealed to the House or to the general public. Following an answer that I received on 28 April, it was clear that the contents of the report had not even been revealed to the press. They were tucked away in the Library and not made available to the press. The contents of the report were not put into the hands of the press until I contacted its representatives between 6 and 7 o'clock on the evening of 28 April. I assumed that the Home Office would supply the information to the press as matter of course, but it did not.
There is always the danger of matters being covered up or of investigations not being as thorough as they might be while we have such a limited police authority for the metropolis. If there were a wider degree of accountability to elected representatives, the risk of scandals occurring would be not obliterated, but certainly diminished. I draw that conclusion from the unhappy events which took place and which I hope will never be repeated.
I understand that earlier events will not be repeated because there have been changes in procedures and training in the Metropolitan police. However, we have been told that time and again. Whenever something goes wrong, we are told that there will be changes in procedures and training. A bulwark against abuse and the vesting of greater confidence in the public will come from a more broadly-based democratic police authority. That will be a breadth of fresh air for the police force itself.
My experience in Lambeth from serving on a consultative committee is that many awkward questions are asked by those who can be vituperative in their language. However, the police come out of these consultations with great credit. The police no longer talk down to people; they are prepared now to talk to them. It has been a refreshing experience to serve on the consultative committee. I am sure that that experience will be shared by others if there is greater accountability.
I have only one reservation about the new clause. I do not believe that Members of Parliament, certainly in the metropolis, should be excluded from an ability to make the police accountable. There are councils throughout Britain—I do not know whether this happens in Conservative councils but it certainly takes place in Labour councils—where it is necessary to go to the Labour group to ask permission to submit a question in open council. County councillors and borough councillors might be less robust, less rebellious and less disrespectful than Members of Parliament. I do not disagree with the general thesis that the police authority for London should be based on the Greater London council. However, I believe that Members of Parliament have a part to play as well.
My experience in Norwood, where I have tried hard to repair the poor relations which have existed between the police and the public, leads me to believe that accountability is one of the secrets of getting an 280 improvement. There have been improvements. Only today I read in the local newspaper that some serious crime in Brixton had gone down by 33.5 per cent. in the first three months of this year because of new policies. That is incredible. There have been dramatic drops in crimes such as fraud. That has happened because of the improvement in relationships. Consultation is not enough. Accountability will lead to a greater improvement in relationships and in the performance of the Metropolitan police.
For those reasons, with one slight reservation, I strongly support the new clause.
§ 7 pm
§ Miss Richardson
I admire the way my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) have shown such sensitivity and common sense in a situation which none of us as Members of Parliament would have wished to face. It was unique. I listened fascinated as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood told us about the work that has gone on in the meantime towards greater understanding between the community and the police. That is not to say that things are perfect now.
I want to follow two streams of thought put forward by my hon. Friends the Members for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo). My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow said that something along the lines of the new clause will eventually be put on the statute book. It would be nonsensical of the House not to recognise that this is bound to happen. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk pointed out, as I intended to, that there has been so much discussion during the past few years that democratic police authorities must be set up.
This is so not just because of the riots in Brixton and elsewhere, the death of Blair Peach or the more recent death of Colin Roach. We also go back to the memories of the over-heavy policing at Grunwick. Then there was the recent shooting of Stephen Waldorf; it shocked many people who are not politically motivated to find that someone could be shot in the street like that. Those who used to view the Starsky and Hutch kind of police operation with some admiration are beginning to think that perhaps we have gone too far and that there must be a return to the system of the policeman on the beat.
I strongly support new clauses 10 and 11. It will be a fine day when the police and other people who carry out policy are accountable to ordinary people. My hon. Friend the member for Norwood and other hon. Members have referred to consultative committees. I was interested to hear what was happening in Lambeth. In my area the proposal to have a consultative committee has been on the cards for a long time but it has not got off the ground. I hope that it will do so soon. It may be a useful body, although I would not see it as by itself a substitute for a police authority; I think other hon. Members share that view.
One must remember that it is difficult to get the opinion of the public. Most other hon. Members will have had the same experience as I in regard to crime in their constituencies. Sometimes it is exaggerated by public opinion. If there is one mugging, immediately most of the people in that street will swear that almost everyone who lives there has been mugged. One has to keep a sense of balance.
281 Only yesterday I had a meeting with a home beat policeman from Barking; it was quite by chance that the meeting was arranged for yesterday. The policeman is using a questionnaire to get the opinions of councillors, leaders of ethnic minorities and Members of Parliament about how they see the work of the local police. My discussion with the policeman, whom I know as an excellent officer, was interesting and useful. This exercise, which is being carried out under the aegis of the Commissioner, should not be a substitute for a police authority or a proper consultation procedure.
In the questionnaire I was asked to give my views about parking problems, about how the police responded or failed to respond to traffic problems and about drugs and glue sniffing problems. I was also asked if there was much car theft, burglary, mugging and assault; also, whether neighbourhood disputes figured largely in what I knew about crime or in difficulties for the police.
I found it relatively easy to answer some of the questions because there are statistics, but some were very difficult to answer because they were purely subjective. They were based on what I knew from my experience of constituents who had come to me, for example, about children sniffing glue and other things which do not show up in statistics. I defy anyone to give proper statistics on parking offences or how many cars are towed away by the police.
I was also asked to comment in little boxes about whether the problems had decreased or increased in the past few months; I found that extremely difficult. I appreciate that Sir Kenneth Newman is trying to get a picture of how leaders in the community see the police force, but this is doing no more than scratching the surface. I hope he will learn from that that it would be helpful if he were to put his weight behind the establishment of police authorities.
We must have police authorities. I take the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) who wants people to come to the surgeries of Members of Parliament and councillors, demanding to know what the police are doing. In other words, he wants genuine accountability. People come to us now, but we cannot always get a proper answer because we have no control. People in the community must have control and the police must be accountable to the public. The police should come from and be of the community, not just responsible to it. If they are themselves members of the community they will understand what the community really wants.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I oppose new clause 10 and strongly support new clause 25. It is disgraceful that in a debate launched by the Labour Opposition with great steam on the accountability of the police, there should not be one Labour party shadow Home Office spokesman listening to the closing stages of the debate. It is typical of many of the campaigns that are launched today by the Labour party—full of fury and phoney appeal to the electorate but not supported by Labour Members in the House.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am sure that as my speech progresses I shall be faced with more significant interventions.
282 New clause 25, standing in the name of a number of Liberal and SDP Members, puts forwards some sensible and carefully thought out proposals which would go far towards meeting some of the genuine apprehensions that exist in London about the control of the Metropolitan police. For example, it proposes that the Metropolitan police Commissioner should lay, as he already does, an annual report before Parliament, but that that report should then be referred to a Select Committee of Members representing constituencies in the Metropolitan police area. That would be a significant step forward in bringing about the greater involvement of Parliament and the accountability, through the Home Secretary, of the Metropolitan police. It would be a better way of proceeding, with caution and common sense.
We go on to suggest that the Home Secretary—the Minister responsible for the Metropolitan police—should also lay before Parliament proposals for establishing a Metropolitan police authority which would include representatives of the GLC. Be they Left, Right or sensible Social Democrats and Liberals, they too are entitled to have representatives on a police authority for London. The new clause goes on to say that London borough councils should also have representative on the police authority for the metropolis and it leaves it open for other authorities to be included at the discretion of the Home Secretary.
Our proposal contains the proviso that such a sensible move forward for the involvement of local authorities on a police authority must rest on the firm foundations of the democratic reform of local government by the introduction of proportional representation. In that way we should be sure that the GLC and the London borough councils were more truly representative of the people of London and would, when members of the police authority, act in a way which would represent the views of all the people of London rather than that one section who happen from time to time to have gained political control.
Although, as I said, new clause 25 would be a significant step forward, I am realistic enough to know that the chances of it being approved are remote. I therefore come to new clause 10, which I oppose. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who I am glad to see in his place, made a speech notable for what he omitted to say. Using typical old class war language, he referred to "our people" in a cynical attempt to align the Labour party with the fears and apprehensions that are felt in many parts of the country over the escalation of crime and violence.
I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that the people have rumbled him. As I go about my constituency and other areas and discuss crime, violence and policing, I hear few demands for accountability. The people of Erith and Crayford and elsewhere tell me when I am on platforms talking about this subject, "We want more policemen acting more effectively to bring peace and security to our old people and our homes, to ensure that our property and lives are not at risk." The people are not all steamed up about police accountability, although I recognise that significant sections of the community want more accountability, and I share their view. But the bulk of the people want more policemen on the streets combating crime.
At times in my constituency, only one police constable is on duty for the whole area. As a result, crime is 283 increasing dramatically in Erith and Crayford. I assure the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that one reason why often there is only one PC on duty is that the rest of them are in central London trying to control street demonstrations sometimes organised, and invariably supported, by the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party. If the Labour Opposition really wanted to make a serious and immediate contribution to better policing in London, they should reduce their support for street demonstrations. Then the police could do their real job of policing the community. By that means the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues could make a contribution to the well-being of "our people," as he cynically referred to them.
Our people in Erith and Crayford would sooner have policemen patrolling the local high street than in London protecting the right hon. Gentleman at a demonstration in Trafalgar square. Thus, the right hon. Gentleman could do no more for peace and security by using what little influence he has nowadays in the Labour party to lessen street demonstrations, reduce tension and, above all, call a halt to the Labour party's campaign to undermine the police and destroy public confidence in the police.
Who should control the police? The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and other Opposition Members have said that no one man, and certainly not the chief constable, should control the police. I wish to say as clearly and as strongly as I can that no one party should control the police. One has only to study the position in London and the agitation of the Greater London council to become the police authority to realise that. The Greater London council is elected on a minority vote of a low poll. Decisions of the GLC are taken not so much by committees as by a party caucus meeting in private in a room in County Hall. The decision is then imposed on the council and the committee. If there were a police committee for London under the present administration it would not be the Greater London council meeting and discussing rationally and sensibly the real problems of policing in London; it would be that party caucus under Red Ken meeting and deciding that it would impose its political control on the Metropolitan police.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The issue is not one of accountability to a political group or a political party. True democracy would ensure not a dictatorship of the activist but the involvement of all members elected to public office by proportional representation so that all the people are indeed represented on that authority.
Londoners would not sleep more safely in their beds if Red Ken was in control of the Metropolitan police. How would this one-party system of decisions taken by the caucus behind closed doors and then ratified with the stamp of legality deal with demonstrations in London? How would Councillor Ken Livingstone deal with the problems of IRA bombers in London? I would repose little faith and confidence in his ability to act with impartiality and decisiveness to protect the lives of the people of London against the terrorists who from time to time unleash their horrors on the streets of London. How would a Greater London council under Red Ken deal with street demonstrations such as those in Tottenham yesterday, during the by-election campaign? How would he deal with 284 the black Fascists and the red Fascists? Whose side would he take? Again, we would have no confidence in that source of control over the Metropolitan police.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) was right when he said—new clause 25 says it clearly—that before we can have accountability of the police to elected public authorities in London and indeed elsewhere in the country we must first have the political reform that ensures that true democracy operates in local government by having a really representative council elected on the basis of proportional representation. That would ensure that all political opinions were elected and that all political opinions would share the responsibility of control rather than that caucus behind closed doors.
Confidence in the police and confidence in local government will not be restored until the Labour party ends its deliberate campaign to undermine respect for the forces of law and order and supports the true democratic reform of proportional representation. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred in his speech to CS gas, baton rounds and water cannon. He failed to say whether he would support those weapons being acquired by police authorities so that they have them in reserve as weapons of last resort if public order breaks down. The right hon. Gentleman says nothing, no doubt to placate those who sniff around his ankles and threaten his political existence.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The hon. Member talks about the gutter level. My experience tells me that the hon. Gentleman is an expert in judging what is and what is not a gutter level.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook failed to say whether he supports the acquisition and holding of such weapons and equipment by police forces. I hope that, when the Opposition reply, we will have a clear statement on behalf of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition whether they support the police having these weapons of last resort so that the Queen's peace may be maintained on the streets and in the homes of this country.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will no doubt take the same view as the Socialist party in France. In opposition, it is against having those weapons, but in government, as we saw only a few days ago, it will use CS gas, the water cannon and the baton rounds with the utmost ferocity when it is attacked on the streets by opponents of its regime.
I hope that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) will have something to say about the scurrilous cartoon which appeared in the Labour Herald of Friday 3 December, which is reminiscent of the worst publications issued under Hitler's Third Reich in its vendetta against the Jews. I have that cartoon before me — a symbol of shame for the right hon. Gentleman unless he is prepared to denounce it and those who allowed it to be published in a magazine sponsored and organised by influential members of the Labour party.
We heard a great deal about democracy earlier in the debate. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) referred to those SDP Members who no longer wear the label under which they were elected, and asked whether that was not slightly undemocratic. I have refreshed my memory on the statements on law and order 285 which were contained in the manifesto on which I was elected to the House and on which other hon. Members were elected. On page 26 of the section that deals with law and order, there is no mention of police accountability or of making the GLC the responsible authority for the Metropolitan police. I shall tell the House the three firm pledges of that manifesto which I still carry close to my heart, because I still support almost the whole of that manifesto. Those who should have resigned, perhaps two or three years ago, are those who have repudiated the aims and cast aside every solemn pledge contained in the manifesto on which they were elected.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Despite the interruptions from outside the House, I will not seek to deal with the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) because I am confident that the electors of his constituency will do that shortly.
On page 26 of the manifesto on which I and some of my hon. Friends were elected three pledges are given.
First:We will fight against crime and violence".Secondly:We will continue to back the police".Thirdly: We willprovide further help for the victims of crime.Has a single amendment or new clause during the discussion of the Bill in Committee and in the House referred to those three solemn pledges?
On the contrary, every effort has been put into the campaign to undermine public confidence in the police and to bring into disrepute the steps being taken to grapple with the appalling crime wave. It is disgraceful that those solemn pledges of support for the police should have been scrapped so readily and easily by the Labour party.
I am opposed to new clause 10 and to the new-found policy that the Labour party has embraced without having tested it with the electorate. It would transfer control of the police in London from a police commissioner to a political commissar. We want none of that. We want the sensible and modest steps outlined in new clause 25, which would begin to involve the community in influencing and controlling the police — [Interruption.] It would be better if the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East—who I believe is to conclude the debate on behalf of the Opposition—had been in the Chamber for the debate, instead of standing at the Bar of the House making noises. However, we are used to such things and I suppose that we must put up with them.
The way forward is to combat the mounting wave of crime and violence, which has created so much fear in so many homes. I listened with interest to the speech made by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). As always, he made a courageous contribution to the debate, given the political complexion of his area. He spoke in support of the consultative liaison committees that are being set up. I wholeheartedly endorse what he said about the value of those committees. I hope that the Labour party will tell us what advice it gives Labour local authorities such as Greenwich about their attitude to membership of the police consultative liaison committees in their areas. If we want some community involvement, we must support the development of such committees. It should be made clear to those Labour-controlled authorities that refuse to co-operate and that will not serve, that it is their 286 duty as elected bodies to display their responsibility and genuine concern for policing by fully participating in those committees. I hope that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook or his spokesman will make the Labour party's position clear at the end of the debate, so that the message can go out and so that we can get some of these people involved in trying to do something about crime and violence in London.
That is the first step forward. The second step is reform of the political system. I refer to proportional representation and the enhancement of true democracy, which will lead to effective accountability. The third step forward is represented by new clause 25, which I fear has little chance of success because of the composition of the House. However, it will come before the House again, perhaps in another Parliament, and it will then have a greater chance of making a modest and responsible step forward towards involvement and accountability.
The fourth way forward is for all politicians, of whatever party and whatever view, to support the forces of law and order. We do not want uncritical support, because there are things that are wrong, and it is our duty to criticise where criticism is justified. However, it is not our duty, and it is not responsible for a political party, to be part of a campaign designed to undermine confidence in and support for the police.
It would be a significant contribution if, for once, a Labour party spokesman could declare, without equivocation, his support for law and order. Policing rests on consent, and consent rests on the reasonable exercise of power by the police. Let us move towards that with common sense and responsibility and with the full cooperation of the public. It is vital to bring peace and security to the lives and homes of our people. By "our people" I mean all the people of Britain, whether they vote Labour, Conservative, Social Democrat, National Front or whatever, because they are our people. In order to bring peace and security to their homes, some modest adjustments must be made in the control of the police. Above all we must support the police and re-establish confidence, by restoring the confidence of this House and of politicians in upholding law and order.
§ Mr. Hooley
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) said that he was a passionate upholder of the manifesto on which he was elected. Offhand, I do not recall that the manifesto said anything about proportional representation, but that was just one of the many inconsistencies and illogicalities in the hon. Gentleman's rather peculiar speech.
I think that it is common ground among all parties that if we are to have good policing it is essential that the police should hold the public's confidence. That confidence between the public and the police is fundamental to good policing. Most chief constables and experienced policemen would accept that their job is, if not impossible, at least extremely difficult, unless they can count on the public's wholehearted support. Clearly, that wholehearted support must derive from confidence between the police and the public. If we are to establish that confidence as strongly as possible, three important reforms are necessary. The first reform involves having a totally independent police complaints system. I shall not go into that now, because it is a topic for separate debate, but it 287 is fundamental to trust and confidence in the police that the public should believe that if something goes wrong it will be properly and independently investigated.
Secondly, we need a completely independent prosecution system. England and Wales — but not Scotland—are almost unique in Europe beause they do not have a prosecution system that is independent of the police. Scotland has such a system. Until we introduce such a system, the public will have all sorts of doubts and uncertainties about whether we are moving in the right direction.
The third reform involves the matter under debate—or at least it was under debate until the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford spoke—democratic control. One of the most interesting recent developments has been the acceptance by police forces up and down the country of the need for confidence, mutual support and help between policemen and those whom they serve. We have returned to accepting the importance of the policeman on the beat and of creating an understanding with the local people. Sheffield and, I believe, other areas support the concept of the community constable and of the policeman who has a small path to deal with. The idea is that the local people should come to know him personally, should know his name and should feel able to call upon him if they are in trouble or want to raise matters with him. The aim is to establish a rapport between the people and the police constable. That rapport may sometimes have been lacking, but police officers accept that it is extremely important if effective and efficient policing is to be carried out. That is now the policy in Sheffield, and I believe that it is becoming the policy in other parts of the country, including London.
Another experiment taking place in Sheffield and elsewhere is the setting up of police liaison committees. I have been invited to serve on one in Sheffield. That is a good idea, as it will bring together policemen involved in the day-to-day policing of Sheffield, social workers, councillors, Members of Parliament and people with wide contacts among the folk of Sheffield. Such a committee can discuss on an informal basis, not with grim and formalised agendas or lengthy minutes, some of the problems that have arisen — for example, problems within the ethnic minorities, among young people and in certain areas of the city. That permits a flow of information between the police and those concerned with these matters from day to day. Both sides can highlight problems and difficulties, and in turn the police can explain what they are trying to do. As a result, each side can learn from the other.
The building of confidence between the police and people has taken hold in Sheffield. Serious efforts have been made by the city council and others on the one side and the police on the other to make sure that policing is based on public confidence and the personal knowledge of police officers. As a result, the policing is made more effective and efficient, and we defuse the possibility of a repetition of the terrible eruptions that took place in Brixton, Birmingham and Manchester, but not in Sheffield. Of course, Sheffield has been under Labour control for the past 57 years.
It is surely a logical extension of those experiments to bring democratic control — the interweaving of city councillors and others—in at the top as well as at the 288 bottom. I see no illogicality at all in suggesting that the controlling body should comprise the freely elected councillors of Sheffield, Birmingham, London or wherever. Therefore, let there be no talk of political commissars.
Such a democratic body, responsible to the electorate, can be changed from time to time. Different personalities can emerge, even if there is a long tradition of political rule. At the top, such people will have the ultimate authority for the policy and general overall direction of the police.
People accept as a matter of course that the armed forces should be subject to the authority of whichever political party gains power, but they would not dream of suggesting that enormous power should be given to the commander-in-chief to operate as he thought fit. He must operate under the authority of whichever party is elected to Government. No one would dream of suggesting that the armed forces should be outside democratic control, but it is considered outrageous that a group of elected politicians should have responsibility for the direction, control and policy of a local police force.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)
There is much sense in the hon. Gentleman's argument, but will he define what he means by control? Is he talking about general policy, or about operational control? In normal circumstances, in the middle of a conflict, the armed services are not subject to day-to-day operational control by politicians.
§ Mr. Hooley
I do not want to stray off the subject but the hon. Gentleman should read some of the accounts of what happened in the Falklands war to see how far the politicians intervened in those operations. It is a matter of common sense that the police authority would not direct where individual constables should go and whether by car or on foot. Nevertheless, there is a blurred area between policy and operation.
We cannot take a hard line and say that this is policy and that is operation. Operation may derive from policy, and policy may be amended in the light of operation. Decisions about plastic bullets, water cannon, CS gas, plastic shields and even defensive clothing are obvious examples of where the area is blurred. It is important that an elected authority should determine where policy and operation are likely to blur, and I have sufficient faith in the common sense of our democratic institutions to believe that for at least 95 per cent. of the time a sensible distinction will be drawn between general policy, where directives must be given to the chief constable, and day-to-day operations, where his judgment must stand.
It is academic to argue that if we grant democratic control, a group of city councillors will direct police operations in the tiniest detail. No one seriously argues that a city council should be deprived of control of education lest councillors trot around and inspect the exercise books of every boy and girl in a school. That is absolute nonsense. No one seriously suggests that an elected housing authority will take on the job of architect. One of the most sensitive areas of government is the education of our children, and we accept that as a matter of policy that should be run and directed by an elected city council, working through an education committee. In principle, there is no difference between that and an elected authority to control and direct the police.
289 Confidence in the police is affected by the three major issues of independent complaints, independent prosecution and democratic control. Major reforms in those areas would go a long way towards improving relationships between the public and the police, and they would certainly go a long way towards reversing the disastrous failure in law and order that has occurred at various times during the past four years under this Government.
§ Mr. Snape
The debate that we are now concluding started at about 5 o'clock this morning. Although we have had a half-time interval—considerably longer than halftime intervals normally are—it has still been a long-drawn-out debate and I hope that the House will forgive me if my reply is brief.
The debate has rested on the accountabiliy of Britain's police forces. We have heard from both Labour and Conservative Members that the proposals in the two new clauses, particularly in new clause 10, are a challenge to Britain's democracy and the sort of proposals that would lead the country down the path of anarchy. More sensible hon. Members will acknowledge that, while the proposals are controversial — it is the purpose of this place to engender argument and disagreement—to say that the proposals in new clause 10 are remotely dangerous is to abuse the English language.
I want to talk about accountability in a parochial sense, dealing with the west midlands in general and my constituency in particular. My constituents, like ordinary people anywhere, express much anxiety about law and order. They are never reluctant to express their views and fears on the topic. One of the problems of law and order that most people in Britain see affecting them is the danger of having their homes broken into and their property damaged or stolen.
A generalised criticism that my constituents make about their police force is that it is difficult to get hold of a policeman. One rarely sees a policeman on the beat. There is some romantic attachment to the principle of bobbies on the beat. Most hon. Members would agree that probably the greatest deterrent to crime is the likelihood of being caught in the act and the deterrent effect of the bobby on the beat is recognised by all. It would be nonsense, as hon. Members frequently try to explain, for all policemen to be on the beat when all the villians are in fast cars, but the feeling is prevalent that the police force, particularly since the 1960s, has become too mobile or too mechanised, and most hon. Members would be inclined to agree.
My constituency includes the football ground of a good first division team called West Bromwich Albion. It has had a somewhat difficult time of late, but it is a good team. I am glad to say that I can frequently see it play. Behind the football ground is an estate from which I receive many complaints about damage caused by hooliganism, particularly on match days or match nights. When I write to my chief superintendent I invariably receive a prompt and courteous reply. I try to point out to him that a police presence on that estate would be a valuable deterrent against football hooliganism. He does his best to oblige, but he says that, the demands and exigencies of the service being what they are, it is not always possible to have police officers standing around.
§ Mr. Snape
I shall give way in a moment.
290 On the other side of the football ground is a four-lane road that is a source of complaint from my constituents because it seems to be a habit of the K division of the west midlands police frequently to set up a radar trap there, normally on a Sunday morning. That road has a 30 mph speed limit. No hon. Member would dream of exceeding a 30 mph speed limit in a built-up area, but that is the temptation for those who use that road. My constituents, and others passing through, frequently succumb to that temptation, particularly on a Sunday morning when there is little traffic.
The point that I tried to put to the chief superintendent on behalf of my constituents was that there always seems to be sufficient manpower, on overtime rates, to mount a radar speed trap on that road and I wondered why there was insufficient manpower to protect my constituents from the real danger of football hooliganism on the estate opposite. Inevitably, I received the reply that the radar trap was the responsibility of the traffic department, which is a semiautonomous organisation and that there was little to be done to prevent the department from doing as it liked to enforce the law.
New clause 10 suggests that a police authority should have more to say in the deployment of police officers and the conduct of their duties. I do not think that the House would view that as a particularly dangerous or drastic concept, but at the moment it is largely denied to elected members of police authorities.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, we are fortunate in the west midlands to have a chief constable who is ready and willing to consult his police authority. But it is perhaps the fault of those who drew up the Police Act 1964 that it is difficult to decide to what extent chief constables are responsible for consultation under it. We suggest that the ambivalence inherent in the 1964 Act could be swept away if the Government could be persuaded to accept new clause 10. It would give a police authority, consisting entirely of elected local authority members — I repeat my right hon. Friend's point that they could be members of any political party; that is surely what local democracy is all about —the duty to prepare a law enforcement policy for its area. The duty will be upon the authority, in consultation with its chief police officer, to decide how that law enforcement policy shall be carried out. Even the Conservative party, which is somewhat touchy about these matters, cannot disagree with that eminently reasonable new clause.
In the discussions on new clause 10, the song and dance act by the SDP Members is worthy of comment. There was something particularly sad about the contribution of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). His speech reminded me of the conversation that took place on that mythical, runaway train between the driver and fireman before the train hit the buffers and disappeared down the embankment into oblivion, because there is no doubt that that is where the hon. Gentleman is going. To stave off that inevitable result of his defection from a party which, if it did not cherish him, certainly succoured him for a good few years, he is anxious to snatch his customary headlines by attacking the members of that party and accuse them of all sorts of sins, both real and imaginary.
The contribution of the hon. Member's hon. Friend the Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) was also 291 interesting. He, too, was a member of the Labour party for many years. I always felt that the hon. Member's membership of the Labour party owed more to his personal ambitions than to any political commitment. The actions that the two of them have taken over the past few years surprise us a little and disgust us a lot. The hon. Member for Thornaby asked me to comment about a cartoon in the Labour Herald that I had not seen. I have never read the Labour Herald. I thought that the cartoon was deplorable, neither satirical nor humorous, and one or the other or both is the purpose of a cartoon. It was as deplorable in its way as many of the cartoons that appear in newspapers that are widely read, such as The Standard, cartoons that I also find neither humorous nor satirical. The cartoon was deplorable, and I would not defend it.
However, the Labour Herald, despite its name, has no official connection with the Labour party, although I understand that it is produced by members of the Labour party. I also understand that Mr. Rupert Murdoch was once a member of the Labour party—and look what he is up to these days in the newspapers that he produces. Thus, we cannot be held responsible for some of the things that are produced, given away or sold privately by those who happen to be members of the same political party. Both the SDP Members are on their way to their own pathetic swansong. If that is the best way that they can get their newspaper headlines, I feel more pity than anger.
The new clause is concerned with the crucial problem of a police authority for London. I point out, partly in answer to the hon. Member for Thornaby, that if it comes to a direct choice between Mr. Paul Boateng and the Home Secretary as chairman of the police authority for London, my money and sentiments are on Mr. Boateng. I am not joining in the chorus of criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman. He has enough problems as it is from such publications as Crossbow, which I have always regarded as the organ of the Left wing of the Conservative party. When it says the things about the right hon. Gentleman that it has recently said, it is not for me to comment on the private grief of the right hon. Gentleman or on the internal rows of the Conservative party. However, given the multiplicity of functions and the wide range of duties that any Home Secretary must carry out, one should not be surprised that he is not a particularly effective police authority for London.
Our belief, ably expressed during the debate by my hon. Friends the Members for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) and for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), is that the difficulties and disagreements, the arguments and some of the punch-ups that have taken place in London would not have taken place had there been a properly elected police authority for London. The criticism levelled at some of the monitoring committees from some parts of the House leads me to say that such a police authority, on the lines laid down in new clause 10, would make such monitoring committees superfluous. Because power, such as it is, resides entirely with the Home Secretary at Queen Anne's gate, there has been difficulty and unrest.
There is nothing particularly harmful about the provisions of the new clause. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to support it if it is necessary to vote upon it. It would be difficult to imagine the circumstances in Greater London, under any authority, where the morale of the 292 police force, the detection rate for serious crimes and the general discontent could be any worse regardless of the constitution of any police authority that might be set up under the terms of the new clause. The present system is manifestly unsatisfactory, and it is in the hope of changing that for the better that I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the new clause.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
It is very rare that a new clause is debated for 14½ hours. It is over 14 hours since I gave the reasons why I believed that the House should reject the new clauses. I set out my reasons clearly earlier today, and it would not be right to add further to what I said then because I made the position of the Government and myself clear. However, I owe it to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and one or two other hon. Members to say some words in conclusion.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said that this had been a good debate on an important issue, and I agree with him. There is a fundamental difference between the views of both sides of the House on how we should proceed. There are two views, and one can hold either. I believe that the Government's view is right, but I understand the Opposition's view, and I made that clear throughout the debate.
I do not wish to do other than point out why I believe that the Opposition's view is wrong. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook made a point about the purchase of CS gas and batons. I should make clear to him the technical and legal position, because it supports something else that I believe to be important. The technical, legal position is that the purchase of the equipment must be approved by the police authority unless it has delegated authority to the chief constable.
It is relatively common for authority to purchase firearms, under which these weapons would come, to be delegated to the chief constable. However, and this is the important point, the police authority has the absolute right to withdraw its delegated authority at any time. If police authorities wish to use their influence and powers, they can do a great deal more within the powers that they already have. Therefore, they have the power to keep the approval of such weapons in their own hands, if that is what they want to do. I believe that that adds weight to my argument.
Perhaps I might explain briefly why I believe that new clause 10, which proposes a fundamental change and would bring the police under political control, would make a grave difference. The law in this country must be enforced impartially. We have been round this course before, but I say again that the law must be enforced impartially. If a police authority, with all the appointments that it can make—inevitably, a political police authority of any political party — is to appoint police officers down to the rank of inspector, is there not a grave danger, to put it no higher, that it will seek to make political efforts to control enforcement of the law? There is a grave risk of that happening, and in my view it is not a risk that the country should take.
It has been said by some Opposition Members that everything would be all right if there were an independent prosecuting system. They advocate that that should come in now, and we agree in principle and would wish to bring it in, but that of itself would not solve the problem that I have posed. After all, the public prosecutor would be acting on information and advice provided by the police in the area. If that advice and information were provided 293 by the police in the area, and if they were subject to the party political control of any party—whether in large cities or in country districts does not matter; it could happen in either, and I suspect that it has often happened in both—there is a real danger that political control of the police would not be avoided by an independent prosecuting system. That danger is very real, and that is why I believe that new clause 10 is wrong and should be opposed.
I should say a word to those hon. Members who tabled new clause 25. The hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) said that in much of the country there was a harmonious and good relationship between police authorities and their chief constables. That is undoubtedly true, and I am sure that it is accepted by many people in the country and here in the House. He advocated the acceptance of new clause 25, as did the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). Far be it from me to enter into the controversy that subsequently broke out between the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford. I can only put it as a happy thought to the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East that he brought me nearer to getting angry—something that is frequently possible, part of the time at least—than I have been during the past 14½ hours when he suggested that he would rather have Mr. Boateng than me as the police authority. I would rather be criticised by the Bow group, or indeed by anyone else, than have that said about me. However, I have to take all these things in my stride, and I take that in my stride, too.
I do not believe that it is right to change the position of the Home Secretary as the police authority for the Metropolis, because of the particular problems of policing the capital city and because of the size of the Metropolitan police. I noted what the Social Democratic party said about its proposal in this connection. I understand the point, but it does not stand up, and I ask the House to reject it, in that it is related to proportional representation. I cannot anticipate what a future Parliament might say on that electoral matter, it would be wrong for me to support the SDP clause. I have said why I am against the clause. Moreover, I believe that it is right for the Home Secretary to remain the police authority for the Metropolis.
Finally, as I admitted that I was stirred to some anger, I must tell the House that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State reminded me that the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser)—in my absence, for which I apologise to him—made some kind remarks about me. Who am Ito deny the pleasure of a few kind remarks about me? I thank the hon. Gentleman, although I must admit, because I do not want to embarrass him, that he was critical of me shortly afterwards on another matter, which I also accept and understand. In all, he had what one might call a 15-all effect, and I thank him for it.
§ Mr. John Fraser
On the critical side of the balance, will the Home Secretary tell us why he suppressed or covered up the special report from the Police Complaints Board about the Railton road raid, at a time when it would have been of great interest to the Committee considering the Bill?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I did not cover it up. It was reported by the Police Complaints Board, and I published when 294 asked to immediately after the report had been published. The board could have published it itself, but in no way did I suppress it.
I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, which has been valuable. However, it would be wrong for the House to accept either of the new clauses. I therefore ask the House decisively to reject them.
§ Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 57, Noes 166.295
|Division No. 142]||[8.17 pm|
|Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N)||Field, Frank|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Ford, Ben|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Foulkes, George|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J.||Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)||Harman, Harriet (Peckham)|
|Cook, Robin F.||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Cryer, Bob||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Davidson, Arthur||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)|
|Dewar, Donald||Home Robertson, John|
|Dixon, Donald||Hooley, Frank|
|Dormand, Jack||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Kerr, Russell|
|Eadie, Alex||kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Lamond, James||Skinner, Dennis|
|Lyon, Alexander (York)||Snape, Peter|
|McCartney, Hugh||Soley, Clive|
|McElhone, Mrs Helen||Spearing, Nigel|
|Marshall, D.(G'gow S'ton)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Maxton, John||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Mikardo, Ian||Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Watkins, David|
|Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)||Welsh, Michael|
|Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Morton, George||Winnick, David|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Price, C. (Lewisham W)||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Richardson, Jo||Mr. Ron. Leighton.|
|Adley, Robert||Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)|
|Alexander, Richard||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Ancram, Michael||Cope, John|
|Arnold, Tom||Costain, Sir Albert|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne)||Critchley, Julian|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Dover, Denshore|
|Beith, A. J.||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward|
|Benyon, Thomas (A'don)||Dunn, Robert (Dartford)|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Best, Keith||Elliott, Sir William|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)|
|Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Bright, Graham||Fraser, Peter (South Angus)|
|Brinton, Tim||Freud, Clement|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Fry, Peter|
|Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n)||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'yS)||Goodhew, Sir Victor|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Gow, Ian|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Greenway, Harry|
|Budgen, Nick||Griffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Burden, Sir Frederick||Grylls, Michael|
|Butcher, John||Gummer, John Selwyn|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Cartwright, John||Hawkins, Sir Paul|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hawksley, Warren|
|Churchill, W. S.||Heddle, John|
|Hill, James||Penhaligon, David|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Percival, Sir Ian|
|Hooson, Tom||Pitt, William Henry|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Pollock, Alexander|
|Howells, Geraint||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Irvine, Rt Hon Bryant Godman||Rathbone, Tim|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Renton, Tim|
|Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Jessel, Toby||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Roper, John|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Rossi, Hugh|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Rost, Peter|
|Lamont, Norman||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Lang, Ian||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Sandelson, Neville|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Rutland)||Silvester, Fred|
|Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)||Sims, Roger|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Speed, Keith|
|Loveridge, John||Speller, Tony|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Sproat, Iain|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|MacKay, John (Argyll)||Stevens, Martin|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Stewart, A. (E Renfrewshire)|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Major, John||Thompson, Donald|
|Mates, Michael||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Mather, Carol||Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)|
|Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Mayhew, Patrick||Viggers, Peter|
|Mellor, David||Waddington, David|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Wainwright, H.(Colne V)|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Wakeham, John|
|Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.|
|Moate, Roger||Waller, Gary|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Ward, John|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton S)||Watson, John|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Murphy, Christopher||Wells, Bowen|
|Neale, Gerrard||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Needham, Richard||Wheeler, John|
|Newton, Tony||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Normanton, Tom||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Onslow, Cranley||Wolfson, Mark|
|Osborn, John||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Parris, Matthew||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Mr. Archie Hamilton and|
|Pawsey, James||Mr. David Hunt.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.