HL Deb 25 March 1952 vol 175 cc919-23

3.6 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the purpose of this Bill is to empower the Receiver for the Metropolitan District to borrow an additional sum of £5,000,000 for police buildings. Such additional powers have been given from time to time to the Receiver. In 1935, borrowing powers were given up to £4,000,000, and of that sum £2,000,000 was spent before the war. The remaining £2,000,000 will, it is expected, be exhausted before the end of the financial year 1952–53. It is for that reason that this Bill is now brought forward, so that there will be no check to building operations for the Metropolitan Police.

Perhaps I may mention what the building programme is to include The object in the Metropolitan Police area is to provide housing accommodation for 4,000 police families. Of this number 1,200 were provided before the war, and since the war 1,600 have been provided or are under construction. Of the balance of 1,200, 300 tenders have been invited or received. Over and above this total, it is intended to provide quarters for 2,500 single men or women.

It is not necessary in this House to emphasise the importance of housing for the Metropolitan Police Force. Appeals have been made to local authorities, and whilst some have been helpful I am bound to say that the response, as a whole, has been disappointing. I should add that any houses built by moneys raised under this Bill by the Receiver will not count against the allocation given to the local housing authority in any one area. Then, of course, over and above houses, there is a good deal of building to be carried out in the way of district headquarters, divisional stations and other buildings. It is reckoned that this work will cost under the present programme about £17,500,000, but it is difficult to forecast when it is likely to be completed or how long it will take. My right honourable friend said in another place that it would not be "outrageously unrealistic" to base estimates on a period of twelve years. If that is so, then a further sum of £3,000,000 will require to be authorised by Parliament at some later date, so we are not asking here for the full amount.

Perhaps I may say a few words about the Bill, which is quite short. Clause 1 authorises borrowing powers up to £5,000,000, which is secured by revenues raised within the Metropolitan Police District by precepts issued for police expenses. The general rules under which these loans can be raised conform to those which apply to loans raised by local authorities. Clause 2 is intended to clarify the position with regard to unexhausted borrowing powers prior to 1935, to make sure that no further borrowing is carried out under these Acts. This is a small piece of machinery which I feel sure will be supported in all parts of the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(The Earl of Selkirk.)

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, we on this side of the House agree to the policy outlined in this Bill, and recognise the necessity for borrowing the £5,000,000. We all appreciate that in the Metropolitan Police District there is a shortage of police, and that one of the means of attracting recruits to the police force is to provide housing accommodation. That applies particularly to married men. Before this House approves the facilities for the grant of £5,000.000, I should like to ask your Lordships to consider for a moment what is going to be done with this money. I realise that other things besides the building of houses are involved, but I do not wish to say anything about those. In regard to housing accommodation, However, there is first the question of how the houses are to be provided. I understand that in the past they have been provided in groups for married men; we have had married police all living together in a sort of community. That, in my view, is not socially desirable, and it is certainly not a good thing for the police force, still less for tae wives of the police. I think it is unhealthy that people of one occupation should all be living together in one area. It is particularly important that the police should fee themselves to be ordinary members of the community, mixing freely with other members of the community and making people realise that there is nothing about a policeman very different from other types of citizens.

I understand that the Home Office themselves have always taken that view, but that they have been faced with the difficulty that the local authorities have been rather unwilling to assist in the provision of the necessary accommodation. That is understandable in a way, because they all have their long waiting lists. The pressure on the local authorities has been great and, in the main, the police force that it is desired to house have come from outside; they are not the ordinary citizens within the area of the housing authority. If they were, of course, there would be an obligation on the local authority to house them as they would house anybody else. It is understandable that these authorities are reluctant to house people from outside. Nevertheless, I believe that the number of house required for the married men is now something like 900. and there are in the Metropolitan Police area about 140 housing authorities—at any rate a very large number—and it would not require the authorities to provide many houses each to make up the number of houses required.

I understand that it would be a great convenience if the police force could be housed over the whole of the area rather than in certain centres. It would certainly be an administrative convenience. Therefore, I would urge the Government to make still further efforts to induce the local housing authorities to provide the limited amount of accommodation that is still required. I am not referring to the 2,500 single quarters, which I imagine must be provided in groups as planned. I am referring to the remainder of the programme for the married quarters. In some areas it would mean the provision of only two or three houses; in the larger areas, more. It might well be a good idea if the Government could make a provisional allocation and ask the local authorities to provide for this limited number of the police force.

When I was Chan man of the London County Council Housing Committee we had a similar problem. In order to make an effective community, we wanted to provide housing accommodation for certain people—midwives, doctors, teachers and so on—who were not, strictly, entitled to that accommodation. We had to face up to exactly the same problem and, by agreement with the local authority in whose area the housing was to be provided, it was possible to do it. May I make this suggestion? If there are financial questions involved, it is possible for the Receiver actually to purchase houses from the local authority. That would be a great convenience to him, because the houses would then be readily available for persons transferred to a district in place of other men. Moreover, it would involve no expense on the part of the local housing authority. I would also suggest that it may be possible for the Receiver to purchase houses that are available with vacant possession. Otherwise, I foresee considerable delay. If this programme is about to be embarked upon, it will be some two years, possibly, before the houses can be provided, and it is important to get the police force housed as quickly as possible. I would therefore suggest three courses: first, that a reasonable allocation of the 900 married quarters required should be worked out and the local authorities, with whom possibly some financial arrangements could be made, asked to cooperate in their provision; secondly, that houses should be purchased from the local authorities; and, thirdly, that other houses with vacant possession should be bought. I make those suggestions because of the two reasons I have given: first, the great desirability of distributing the police force and making them par: of the community; and, secondly, the urgency of the problem. I hope the noble Earl will give serious consideration to these suggestions. Subject to that, I support the Second Reading of this Bill.

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, very much for what he has said and for the welcome in general principle which he has given to this Bill. I am also glad that he has emphasised this point, which I can say is absolutely the policy of the Home Office, that the police should not be segregated together in one section but should live essentially as they are as a civilian force in the midst of the civilian population of this country. I entirely agree with the noble Lord on that matter. I know that that is also the view of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, but the bare fact is that the present situation is one which has been forced upon us.

I admit that there has been too much in the way of putting blocks of police houses together—I accept that. The reason for that is that the Receiver has been unable to get other sites and he has simply had to build on the sites -available. The noble Lord, who speaks with great authority on housing matters, has made three valuable suggestions. I would say only this: that, whilst it would seem a fairly simple matter to get houses out of the local authorities, the bare fact is that in the seven years since the war we have obtained only fifty-one. I can only say that all that the noble Lord has said, all his arguments, have already been tried upon local authorities, but without success. Perhaps what has been said to-day will give them further encouragement—I cannot say—but the bare fact is that the local authorities are so short of houses that they are reluctant to part with houses, even for sale at no cost to themselves, if it means taking them away from the civil population. The other point, about buying houses which already exist, is one upon which I cannot speak, but the suggestion will certainly receive the fullest consideration. I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said.

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