HL Deb 07 May 1946 vol 141 cc3-5

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Scottish Bill to which I now invite your Lordships to give a Second Reading is, in substance, the same as the Police Act for England and Wales, which became law a few weeks ago. Its purpose is to provide proper machinery for the amalgamation of police forces. The need for such amalgamation is just as great in Scotland as in England and Wales; and the existing machinery is obsolete, unsatisfactory and inadequate. There is no need for me to repeat the arguments in favour of the amalgamation of the smaller police forces, to form units of sufficient size to ensure efficiency and economy of working. In Scotland, where the authorized regular police strength is about 7,000, there are at present forty-nine separate police forces, of which twenty have a strength of less than fifty and eleven have a strength of less than thirty.

The methods and the mobility of the modern criminal and the need for the effective enforcement of road traffic law make it essential that the unit of police administration should be reasonably large, that the force responsible for that unit should be highly organized and fully equipped with modern scientific means of detection, and that it should be fully mobile, with adequate transport and other facilities. If this result is to be achieved, some merging of existing forces is inevitable. This has been recognized by various impartial bodies and committees of inquiry over a long period of years—from the Desborough Committee, which sat over a quarter of a century ago, to the committee presided over by Lord Ormidale in 1933—and the case clearly has not weakened with the passage of time.

It is the desire of His Majesty's Government that this necessary merging of the smaller police forces should be effected so far as possible by voluntary agreement among the police authorities concerned. At present, there are various obstacles in the way of such agreement. Clause 1 of the Bill accordingly lays down a new procedure under which two or more police authorities may, with the approval of the Secretary of State, agree upon the amalgamation of the police forces for their areas into a single force under the command of one chief constable. This amalgamated force would be administered by the police authorities jointly, through a joint police committee, in accordance with the provisions of the amalgamation scheme.

There may, however, be cases where it is expedient, in the interests of efficiency, that police forces should be amalgamated and jointly administered but where the police authorities concerned have not found it possible to submit a satisfactory scheme. Clause 2 of the Bill enables the Secretary of State to require amalgamation in such a case and himself to make a scheme for the purpose. Very full safeguards are, however, laid down. The Secretary of State must give the police authorities concerned notice of the general nature of the proposed scheme of amalgamation and, unless they agree with his proposals, must cause a public local inquiry to be held by an independent person. If he decides to proceed, he must lay before Parliament a draft of the scheme and a copy of the report of the person by whom any inquiry has been held, and either House may reject the scheme within a period of forty days.

Clauses 3 to 9 are really supplemental and consequential. They include provisions safeguarding the position of chief constables affected by an amalgamation, and also the position of policemen who are serving in the Armed Forces or overseas. Clause 10 proposes to put the police grant on a proper statutory basis, and Clause 11 tidies up the law governing the provision of buildings and the acquisition of land for police purposes. An amendment will be proposed in Clause 11 applying the procedure of the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, which has become law since the introduction of this Bill, to cases of compulsory purchase of land for police purposes. The Bill is submitted as a valuable and long overdue contribution to the development of police efficiency in Scotland; and I confidently ask your Lordships to give it a second reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a(Lord Westwood.)

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

2.40 p.m.