HL Deb 21 March 1946 vol 140 cc302-17

4.7 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I do not think I need trouble your Lordships at any undue length having regard to the hour and to the business which is ahead of us, but I will, with your Lordships' permission, describe briefly the main purposes of this Bill. If I may, I will start by saying what we do not intend to do. We do not desire and we do not wish to have one great national police force, nor do we desire to have vast regional police forces. If we did really desire to introduce the Gestapo system, which some hot-headed politicians pretended at Election time to think was our intention, we should obviously wish to introduce a national police force. But I think that on all sides of the House your Lordships would feel that we should emphasize the civilian nature of the police, and that we should regard the police in the future, as in the past, as the creature of local government and under the authority of the various organs of local government in this country. Having said that, we should all equally agree that we must see that our police force is so organized as to enable it to deal, and deal effectively, with crime as crime takes place under modern conditions. That being so, we have to find a way of compromise which will enable us to get rid of a multiplicity of very small police organizations, and have some larger and more effective organization.

The position is this. Under the Defence (Amalgamation of Police Forces) Regulations there was a power given to the Secretary of State to amalgamate police forces, and in certain counties, generally known as the invasion counties, that power was used. To-day, therefore, we are looking at the situation in the light of experience. We have seen what happened when we amalgamated these police forces. By and large, I think everyone will agree that the experiment has proved a success, and that it would be a great mistake to go back to the old system. On the other hand, the time has arrived when these powers come to an end, and naturally we have to think of the future and of what we are going to do. That is why there is some little urgency about this measure. Let me tell your Lordships what was the position before the outbreak of this last war, and before these amalgamations took place. There was, of course, the Metropolitan Police; that is completely suigeneris and we do not want to repeat that anywhere else. The City of London had its police force, there were fifty-eight counties (counting Lincolnshire as one) with their police forces, there were seventy-two county boroughs which had their own police forces. There are eighty-three county boroughs in all. Eight of them decided not to have their own police forces but amalgamated with the counties, and three of them are in the Metropolitan Police area. There are forty-seven non-county borough forces. So in England and Wales there are no fewer than 179 different police forces. That was the result of historical development.

By the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835, boroughs were required to appoint a permanent police force, and under the County and Borough Police Act, 1856, counties were required to appoint a police force. By 1882, which is a long time ago, it was realized that there was a danger of too many and too small police forces, and the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, provided that no new force should be established for a borough with a population under 20,000. The Local Government Act, 1888, provided for the merging of existing borough police forces in the county forces where the boroughs had populations under 10,000, and since 1888 only eight new forces have been established. There was power under the County Police Act, 1840, and the County and Borough Police Act, 1856, to merge borough police forces into the area of the neighbouring counties. As I have said, during the war there was a Defence Regulation, which read in these terms: The Secretary of State may by order pro vide for the amalgamation of the police forces of two or more areas if he is satisfied that the amalgamation is necessary for facilitating naval, military or air operations. Although technically and legally we are all right because we have got that power under the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Act—about which I had to make some not wholly complimentary remarks—and the powers do not come to an end until 1947, the position obviously needs early consideration.

May I mention the county in which I live, Kent, and show you what happened there. The police forces of Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone, Gravesend, Maid-stone, Margate, Ramsgate, Rochester, and Tunbridge Wells were amalgamated. Of all those towns the only one which is a county borough is Canterbury, and with a population of 25,000 it is the smallest of them all. It has a police force of some forty men. There were six amalgamations in Sussex. In Hampshire, the Isle of Wight police and the Winchester police were amalgamated with the Hampshire police, and, speaking in another place, Sir George Jeffreys, who is the Member for the Petersfield Division, said that experience had taught that it had worked very well and they would not want to go back to separate police forces. In Surrey, Guildford and Reigate were amalgamated; in Wiltshire, Salisbury was amalgamated with the county force; and in Cornwall, Penzance, with an establishment of twenty-four men and a population of 20,000, was amalgamated with the police force of Cornwall. Do we want to go back to the pre-war system? Do we want to go back to this vast number of separate police forces?

As far as the non-county boroughs are concerned, what this Bill proposes is to merge the non-county police forces into the counties in which they are situated. There are 47 of them, two with an establishment of 100, Cambridge and Luton, and we are making special provisions for Cambridge. Twenty-two have an establishment of under fifty, of which five have an establishment of under twenty-five. Then there are the 72 county boroughs with separate police forces. Birmingham has a police force of 2,000, and then you go down to others with a police force, like Canterbury for instance, of only forty men. We do not propose in this Bill to interfere with any county borough police force so long as it remains a county borough, but under the Local Government (Boundary Commission) Act; it is possible, of course, that some places which to-day are county boroughs may lose their status. If they lose their status they will lose their police force. Finally, there are the counties which range from Lancashire with an establishment of 2,500 down to the Soke of Peterborough with an establishment of ten men. The non-county borough of Peterborough has an establishment of fifty-five, so we are making a special exception in the cases of Cambridge and Peterborough. Rutland and Radnorshire have an establishment of twenty-two each. What we are proposing to do by this Bill is to merge the non-county borough police forces, and to encourage and in certain cases, subject to stringent safeguards, to enforce the amalgamation of adjoining county and county borough areas where they are too small to be efficient to-day.

This matter has been considered over a great many years. I can start with the Desborough Report, and those of us who remember Lord Desborough know with what care and thoroughness he went into any subject he undertook. In 1919 his Committee made a Report, and if I may trouble your Lordships I will read this extract from it: … Certain economies, particularly in buildings and expenses of administration, could no doubt be secured by merging the small borough forces, but the question of some slight financial saving is not, in our opinion, the principal consideration. In our view the question of whether the standard of police work and administration will be improved is much more important, and on this point we agree with the witnesses who urged the great advantages of larger units of administration. It is obvious that the existence of the numerous small forces to which we have drawn attention greatly complicates the police administration of the country in many ways: it increases the difficulty of securing the stand ardization of the conditions of service, training and working method; of the police, to which we attach the greatest possible importance; and, though there may be exceptions to the rule, there can be no doubt that on the whole the risk of undue influence and other abuses occurring is greater in the small forces than in the large city forces. For these reasons we strongly recommend that the small borough forces should be merged in the county forces and that with a view to the better carrying into effect of our other recommendations, the necessary measures should be taken at the earliest possible date. That was the Desborough Report of 1919. A good many years passed and in 1932 the matter was considered again by a Select Committee of the House of Commons. They made an ultra-cautious, in deed I might perhaps say an ultra-conservative report, which was perhaps not unnatural in 1932. Even so, they recommended this: As regards the police forces of the non-county boroughs your Committee recommend that legislation be introduced providing for the merger of the separate police forces of all non-county boroughs with a population of loss than 30,000 according to the census of 1931 (with the exception of the Royal Borough of Windsor) in the police forces of the counties in which they are respectively situated. Why they excepted the Royal Borough of Windsor I do not know, because the function of looking after the Castle is the concern of the Metropolitan Police and the function of looking after the Royal Park is the function of the Berkshire Police, and the police of the Royal Borough of Windsor merely look after what is left of Windsor.

I attach very great importance to the Report of the expert Committee which was appointed by Sir John Gilmour in 1932 and which was added to by his successor, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, in 1933, which reported at long intervals and finally to the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, who was Home Secretary in 1938. This was a Committee of all the experts on this; subject, and this is what they said after referring to the Desborough Report and saying they agreed with it: This question is sometimes referred to as though it turned primarily on the quality of the police work done within the limits of the forces themselves or on the possibility of securing savings in cost, but this is not the case. The principal consideration is the degree of disunity created by the existence of so many small units of administration. … It would not be within our terms of reference to discuss this problem in all its aspects, but from the point of view of the detection of crime there can be no doubt that, the existence of so many small forces introduces a serious element of difficulty and complication. This applies particularly to the record work (seeing that a large crime index covering a considerable area and range of criminals is a much more effective instrument than many small ones), to the organization of crime circulations and to the provision of technical equipment of various kinds; and there can be no doubt that the introduction of various measures which we recommend would be much more difficult than it would have been if only large county and city forces had to be provided for and the total number of forces were much smaller than it is. What we are doing is going back to the recommendations of the Desborough Report. In this Bill we are providing that the county boroughs are not interfered with but that the non-county boroughs shall lose their separate police forces and that these police forces shall be merged in the county in which that non-county borough is situated.

Then we provide in Clause 3 of the Bill that there may be voluntary amalgamations. For instance, some of these very small counties might very usefully amalgamate together if their geographical circumstances permit it. In many cases they have tried to do so in a rather ineffective way. For instance, Westmorland and Cumberland have each appointed the same Chief Constable and he is responsible to two different committees. The three divisions of Lincolnshire have each appointed the same Chief Constable. He in his turn is responsible to three committees. We therefore provide facilities for voluntary amalgamation. In matters of local government, as your Lordships know, local patriotism and pride is such that these voluntary amalgamations are very often not forthcoming. Consequently Clause 4 of the Bill provides that in certain cases, and subject to careful safeguards, the Home Secretary may promulgate a scheme of amalgamation after there has been an inquiry by an official who is to be agreed upon before hand between the Home Secretary and the association of the local government bodies, or rather drawn from a panel agreed by them. The Home Secretary will publish the report of the inquiry, and the draft scheme will be subject to the approval of the House, or rather the disapproval of the House by means of a Negative Resolution.

There are a number of small matters which are dealt with in this Bill. We take particular care of the position of the Chief Constable. It is obvious that if you are amalgamating two police forces one of two Chief Constables may have to go, but your Lordships will find that we make very careful provisions for dealing with such a case. A number of other matters are dealt with in the Bill, such as the acquisition of land for police purposes. I do not suggest that the Bill is one of the first importance. On the other hand, the prevention and the detection of crime, as your Lordships in all quarters of the House must agree, is a matter of the first importance. We must see that our police forces are organized in the best possible way so as to give them every opportunity of combating crime which, alas, to-day seems to be only too prevalent. I suggest to your Lordships that this is a useful measure which will enable us to reap the benefits of the experience which has been gathered during the war and to avoid returning to what I think was an unsatisfactory state of affairs in pre-war days, though equally avoiding the danger that would come from too large an organization or anything like a national police force. I commend this Bill to your Lordships. I perhaps ought to say this, that though the Bill met with some rather slender opposition on the Second Reading and in Committee in another place, not always on Party lines, owing to the sweet reasonableness of the Home Secretary, the Bill passed its Third Reading there without a Division.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, this is an important Bill and we are grateful to the Lord Chancellor for explaining its main features so clearly. It effects a reform which has long been in the minds of people at the Home Office, as I happen to know, and a reform which is particularly interesting to a former Home Secretary. I was very glad indeed to hear the firm statement by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack that he insists that there should not be a chain spread over the country of a central police system. Nothing I think would be more regretted and nothing would be more contrary to our essential feelings on the nature of the police force in this country. It is a civilian force. It is a force for which local authorities take responsibility, and it has attained wide appreciation and favour on the part of the inhabitants of this country and unceasing admiration on the part of foreigners who have come here from time to time.

The case of the Metropolitan Police was naturally a special case. When Sir Robert Peel in 1829 established the Metropolitan Police Force there was no other part of the country which was obliged to maintain a paid police force. We lived without any law which prescribed that there should be a paid force of police in every area. Sir Robert Peel's achievement is commemorated, as we all know, by the two affectionate words derived from his own name by which the Metropolitan policeman is not infrequently referred to, either as a "Peeler" or as a "Bobby." My noble and learned friend did not I think in terms refer to the clause of the Bill which deals with the Metropolitan Police district. Originally, the Metropolitan Police district was an area—excluding of course the City of London—which took in every parish, the whole or part of which was within twelve miles of Charing Cross. The phrase nowadays is "within fifteen miles of Charing Cross." That is because of a change made, I think, in the Act of 1839. There is a further change made by this Bill. It is in Clause 12, and as I follow it, it does not materially alter the size of the Metropolitan Police area but secures that its actual outline will conform to local government boundaries. It is obviously an inconvenient thing to have part of a parish or other small area inside the Metropolitan Police area and another part outside, and the line is now drawn so that the Metropolitan Police area, if I understand it rightly, will consist of a conglomeration of whole parishes, and there will not be therefore any bisection of any particular area of that sort.

Broadly speaking, the Metropolitan Police Force discharges its functions amazingly well, with Scotland Yard as its head and the Home Secretary of the day responsible definitely for its actions. The position of the Home Secretary as regards the rest of the police forces of this country is quite different. He has no direct responsibility. He is not in the full sense, I suppose, answerable for them, but he has the duty of inspection and the duty of offering advice, and I think in some cases may have to decide whether a particular police force is efficient. That is a matter which is of considerable importance to a local authority which expects to get a contribution from central funds in respect of the police force which it keeps. That is the sort of distinction there is.

This Bill is a very bold Bill. It is a much cleaner cut at the problem than some people have suggested, because, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said, it simply says that no non-county borough shall have a separate police force of its own. That is quite easy to understand. It takes in, maybe, the just and the unjust, without investigating the merits of any particular non-county borough force. It simply says that the police force of the county should be a county service—either the police of an ordinary county or the police of a county borough, which, for the most part, means a very large town. On the whole, that was a reasonable way to proceed, because it is a very remarkable fact that although we have a very large number of non-county boroughs in this island—this Bill refers only to England and Wales, and we have 273 non-county boroughs—many of them have no separate police force at all, and have never asked for one. Obviously, there is nothing in the nature of things which requires that because you have passed the boundaries of a non-county borough you should find yourself in a new police area. Of the larger non-county boroughs—and some of them of course are very large—quite a number have no separate police force at all. Historical reasons, or perhaps the attitude taken by those interested in local government, have determined that. The result is that there is a kind of patchwork so far as non-county boroughs are concerned, most of them not asking for and not using a separate police force at all, but a certain number maintaining a separate police force and no doubt being proud locally that it should be so.

I had the duty, when last I was Home Secretary, of attending a great review in Hyde Park at which there were representatives of all the different police forces in the country as well as large bodies from the Metropolitan Police This great re view took place in the presence of their Majesties, and really it was a very remark able demonstration of the smartness, the vigour and the discipline of this varied body of policemen. We have high authority for saying that When constabulary duty's to be done, A policeman's lot is not a happy one. I do not think that is the impression, however, that one would get from an inspection of that kind.

Of course, there is a point at which you cannot reasonably say that the non-county borough with a police force must give it up to the surrounding county, be cause there are one or two cases in which the surrounding county is minute and the non-county borough is larger in population than the whole of the rest of the county. This is so in the case of the non-county borough of Cambridge, which contains more than half the population that is included in the boundaries of Cambridgeshire. There is a still more curious case, that of Peterborough. If one was not specially instructed on the subject, one would suppose that Peterborough was in Northamptonshire, but there is a refinement. Peterborough is in the Soke of Peterborough, which is a portion—a comparatively small portion—of Northamptonshire. If you were to hand over the policemen of Peterborough City to the surrounding county unit, you would hand it over to the Soke of Peterborough, which has a smaller police force than Peterborough itself. Therefore, those cases are especially provided for. But there is the principle, and it is an important point in the history of the development of our police that henceforward there is to be no separate police force in the case of the non-county boroughs. The broad justification for it is really quite obvious to those who have had occasion to follow police work in recent times.

One of the privileges of the Home Secretary is that he can go from time to time to Scotland Yard—I do not mean compulsorily but voluntarily, as a visitor—and there he can see a most remarkable collection of gadgets, dodges and specialities of all sort, which have been worked out to the very highest pitch of skill by the specialist departments of the Metropolitan Police. He can see on the table an illuminated map showing all the main streets of London with little patches of light running about them, and he will be told that each one of those represents a police car which at that moment is in such and such a street and is in wireless communication with Scotland Yard. If there is a smash and grab raid, it is extraordinary how quickly—news of it having reached Scotland Yard—messages can be sent to all the police cars wandering about aimlessly in the district, to concentrate on or to surround a particular area.

You cannot have a system of that sort in a very small police force, and one of the principal reasons in modern days for saying that the police force must be of a reasonable size is that you need so many specialists. You need specialists in connexion with fingerprints, and specialists for quite a number of other purposes. Therefore it is right for an individual police force to be of a reasonable size. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor gave one or two illustrations, but I do not think he gave the most extreme ones. The non-county borough of Carnarvon has an establishment of seventeen all told; Clitheroe has fifteen; the Hartlepools have twenty-six; Winchester, with a population of some- thing like 23,000, has a police force of thirty-eight. I rather think that the Tiverton force beats the lot. It was smaller than any of those I have named, but there has recently been a voluntary arrangement which has disposed of it. In modern days police forces of that size cannot be organized to make really efficient forces. It is very much better, therefore, that you should have larger areas, and that is partly—perhaps mostly—due to the resources of the modern professional criminal.

The mobility of certain kinds of criminal people has greatly increased, and although they can be pursued and messages can be sent, it is a complication if they move quite rapidly into a different area. When I was responsible for that department, I remember being told by Scotland Yard that records proved that the setting up of new and better communications such as, for instance, a road running out of London or a new local railway line, had a direct effect on the number of burglaries. It appears that the professional burglar has a great dislike to walking off with what he has acquired; he is afraid of meeting a policeman, who will say, "What have you got in that black bag?" On the other hand, if a Green Line bus service is instituted which will run sufficiently late he feels it is provided so that gentlemen like him may get away from the scene of their crimes as quickly as possible. All these things support the view that we really ought to get rid of the small police forces.

I would venture to make one other remark. The citizens of this country who give their services to local government are, in many cases, very proud of their local police force, and with good reason. I think it is a very good proof of public spirit that while particular cases were considered and argued in another place in detail, in the end, as the Lord Chancellor said, this Bill received there general assent. I do not doubt that there are comments which may be made, but in these matters one has to determine by the method of balance which method is the better. I do not feel any doubt at all that it is a very considerable reform which is here being effected, and we may take it all the more cheerfully having heard the declaration of the noble and learned Lord Chancellor that he will have nothing to do with the idea of establishing some central force which, in the course of time, would undoubtedly turn this country into a police State.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, the Bill that has been presented to the House by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, with his accustomed clarity and cogency is one that undoubtedly should receive your Lordships' support. I am in the same category as the noble and learned Viscount who has just spoken, in that I have had experience of these matters at the Home Office over a certain number of years. I am well aware of the fact that the Home Office, with its expert advisers, has long been fully conscious of the drawbacks of the existing system. The reason why it was not changed a number of years ago was that historical associations and sentimental reasons raised so great a resistance to the scheme amongst smaller authorities that it was not pressed forward and carried through Parliament. Those historical causes arose partly from the conditions that previously prevailed, but if we were starting afresh to establish police forces in this country, no one would dream for a moment of having separate units in the small towns referred to by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, and by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon. In the days when they were established, communications were far more difficult and there had to be a certain concentration of area in order to get the most efficient police service, but with the advent of the motor-car, the telephone, and the radio, such conditions were entirely changed. A small police force is at a great disadvantage in obtaining a chief constable of the proper status and experience, and the same remark applies to superintendents and higher officers generally. In addition, the training of a small force is less likely to be efficient.

As the noble and learned Viscount has just said, the business of a policeman is now much more elaborate and highly specialized, so that the very small forces cannot maintain the same standard of efficiency as the larger ones. When this Bill is carried into effect there will still be a very large number of forces. Instead of the present 179 there will be, I gather, about 125, and that is ample to retain local government influence in the conduct of our police services, for our county councils and our county boroughs take an intense interest in them. They are very proud of them and it would have been, as has been said, a great mistake to take this matter out of their hands except so far as is necessary from the standpoint of efficiency. Policemen render very great services to this country and on the whole they command the confidence and gratitude of the whole nation. This Bill, by raising still further the efficiency of the police service, will raise its prestige and status and reaffirm the confidence of the people in it.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I hope I may be forgiven if I venture to intervene for a short while in this debate after your Lordships have heard such able speeches from those who know how to make them far better than I do. I promise not to keep your Lordships for very long. I am only entering into this debate because I believe I have one or two points which I can make. I have been able to study this subject to a certain extent as Chairman of a Standing Joint Committee. During the war we have seen a good deal of reorganization among the Armed Forces of the Crown, and more especially in the Army. We have seen the advent of paratroops and commandos, and we have seen combined operations which have enabled our Forces to keep pace with the modern trend of war and in the end to defeat the enemy. Crime and the criminal are enemies who are always with us and with whom we are constantly at war. As crime moves faster and further, so must the police. The main object of this Bill is a reorganization of the police in order to deal with the fast moving criminal. In another place one member ventured to suggest that there might be a police air force, and although that matter does not come within the scope of this Bill I do not see why I should not mention it. After all, the police have got faster cars and they have got wireless aids, so presumably in the future criminals will use aeroplanes, as possibly they have done in the past. Therefore it may be that in the future we shall see a police air force. I do not think it is entirely beyond the bounds of possibility. Such a scheme, of course, could only be organized on a national basis, and I am not suggesting for one moment that a single police force should have its own air force.

Quite obviously the best part of this amalgamation, as the noble and learned Viscount has emphasized, is the reduction of the number of police forces through which the criminal can pass, because however well co-operation and indeed integration between two neighbouring forces may be developed, there must inevitably be a loss of time when the criminal is passing the boundaries. Obviously, the criminal knows this, and I understand that in the old days the highwayman used to operate very close to the county boundary so that he could slip over to a more friendly or more inefficient county authority if the need arose. Perhaps the modern criminal follows that same tendency. Whatever is gained financially through the amalgamation and administration of units, I would question whether there may not be lost a certain amount of the efficiency and esprit de corps that you would find in a smaller unit. After all, there is a very high standard of efficiency in all the police units all over the country, even in the very smallest where they only have ten members.

I am not for a moment saying that those very small units should continue to exist. No one denies their efficiency, and I would suggest that amalgamation is no slur on the smaller units but is merely administrative expediency. In fact there is universal admiration of our police forces, and I would here and now pay tribute to that very fine body of men. I am very glad to see that in this Bill compensation of the police is safeguarded. It is for the very reason that they are efficient that their loss of identity is resented. They feel they have been doing a good job and, in their own eyes, they have been doing it better than the force next door which is going to take over. I hope that voluntary amalgamation will take place in a friendly spirit and that compulsion by the Secretary of State will not be required. I feel that different types of authority, that is to say, the Watch Committees and the Standing Joint Committees, might have been dealt with in this Bill. I understand that the Secretary of State, in another place, did suggest that reform was required, and if that is so I feel that there should be reform before setting up combined authorities, and not after setting up new authorities under the old system, if the combined police authorities are to have either the constitution of a Watch Committee or that of a Standing Joint Committee.

There is next the question of the Boundary Commission. It seems to me that amalgamations, which are made before the Commission's Report is known, may mean further re-adjustment or even a return to the status quo ante after the Commission's Report has been made. No doubt there will be changes, and in this connexion I would like to ask the noble and learned Viscount a question. Clause 17 (1) says: Where, on the thirtieth day of June, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, the population of a non-county borough, as estimated by the Registrar General, exceeded one half of the population of the administrative county comprising the borough, as so estimated, the provisions of this Act shall apply to the borough as if it were a county borough … Under the findings of the Boundary Commission presumably there will be certain towns which will become county boroughs instead of non-county boroughs, and I am wondering why the date of 1939 was taken for the population. Surely it would be better for the purposes of this Bill to have the populations as found when the Boundary Commission has settled its boundaries. I am very glad that the upper limit for schemes has been fixed at 100,000.

The noble and learned Viscount emphasized that this was not a nationalization Bill, and I am very glad to know that. I dare say there was some temptation towards it, but the upper limit of 100,000 obviates such a course. I am wondering whether it is not possible to make a lower limit for the non-county boroughs. I believe that at one time the figure of 30,000 was quoted. I have a great deal of sympathy with borough councils who are being shorn of their powers and activities and consequently of prestige in many directions. They have lost their education and they are going to lose their police. This is all on the score of efficiency and economy. Economy, of course, you can prove very quickly, but efficiency not so quickly. On the other side there is the loss of local government interest and pride in that very efficiency. Of course I know that efficiency and local pride are intangible assets that do not appear on the balance sheet, but I do suggest that they count as quite invaluable and should not be lost sight of. Local interest needs encouragement and not discouragement.

I would end with a plea for a generous and not hidebound attitude on the part of the Secretary of State not only towards applications for exclusions from schemes, but also towards schemes when they are put forward, and I would also ask that as much credit as possible be given to the wisdom of local authorities who should know, and indeed still do know, their own areas and needs better than Whitehall. We hear a good deal today about the national interest. There is also the local interest, and I suggest that the sum total of local interests make the national interest.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, in reply to the question I was asked, the date 1939 was taken as the last available date before the war. During the war, of course, there were very considerable movements of population, which may prove to be temporary, and it is quite impossible to wait until the Boundary Commission has reported upon it because it may be a very long time before the Boundary Commission reports. These wartime populations have got to be dealt with and may have to be dealt with before the Boundary Commission has reported. That is why we took the last available date. I entirely agree about the importance of preserving the local pride and the basis of local government. It has been a worry to me, and indeed I was asked in the days of the Coalition Government to write a report on this matter. I wrote a very good report, but it was never published. I think we take too much away from local government and leave too little, and we may not attract the right sort of people into local government. But we have got to balance it in this case with the consideration of efficiency in the detection of crime. After all, we are not taking this duty away from local government as a whole, but transferring it to another section of local government. I very much hope that in the future people all over the country will take a greater interest in the county council elections than they have been wont to take in the past.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.