HL Deb 04 March 1954 vol 186 cc156-61

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, there are two sets of Police regulations of which I am about to seek your Lordships' approval. The Scottish regulations are in purpose, as is not unusual, identical with the English regulations, though they are not identical in form, because of various differences between the Police Act, 1946 and the Police (Scotland) Act, 1946. I will therefore, in just a few remarks, deal simultaneously with both sets of regulations, although I will move the two sets of regulations individually. The object of these regulations is a simple one. They are made under Section 2 of the Civil Defence Act, 1948, and they replace earlier regulations—the Civil Defence (Police) Regulations, 1952—with one small but significant amendment. It is to that point that I wish to address my observations. The earlier regulations conferred on police authorities the function of training and equipping the regular police and special constables under their control for the purposes of civil defence. If your Lordships will look at the original regulations, however, you will see that the police were empowered only to provide such civil defence equipment as might be required for training purposes. The only specific difference between the new regulations and the old regulations is that the new regulations no longer limit the function to the provision of equipment required only for training.

Here I should like to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, on this question of delay. My noble friend Lord Hawke has explained the general situation with regard to delay, but since the point has been made in regard to these regulations I should like to say that there is no question of delay, but only of natural evolution. In the first place the police needed to have training equipment in order to be trained. Now we are proposing to provide for an emergency. I will say a little more on that point later on. It is not a question of delay, it is a question of the normal evolution that takes place in any such scheme. First comes training and then comes the actual equipment for battle.

These new regulations provide new that the police authorities can supply operational equipment for police forces for the purpose of civil defence. This is a function which, as noble Lords will be aware, is already possessed by civil defence and fire authorities, and the organisations representing police authorities have been consulted and they agree—as I think is quite natural—that police authorities should also possess it. As my honourable friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department explained in moving these regulations in another place—and I reiterate it to-day—it is now desirable to confer this function upon the police authorities, because civil defence plans have developed to a stage where it is desirable that they should have the power to provide operational equipment. The sort of equipment we have in mind is, for example, that which should be provided in advance to ensure that police communications are adequate for the operational control of a force in war conditions. I do not think there is anything else I need say since that is the main point. It means that the police can begin to equip themselves for the task that would fall upon them in the event of the arising of an emergency. I hope that your Lordships will agree that these regulations are necessary and that you will give them your approval. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Civil Defence (Police) Regulations, 1954, reported from the Special Orders Committee on Wednesday. the 24th of February last. be approved.—(Lord Lloyd.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, we on this side of the House agree that these regulations are necessary. Our complaint, notwithstanding what Lord Lloyd has said, is that there has been considerable and regrettable delay in bringing them into force. I cannot really accept the explanation given by Lord Hawke that materials and so forth were not available. I think the Select Committee made it clear that the real difficulty was that the Government had not tackled the question of reimbursing local authorities in respect of some proportion of the expenditure which they incur. However, at long last some action has been taken. It is true that this particular regulation extends the functions which the police are expected to carry out. They are not restricted to the matter of training but have additional functions imposed upon them.

There. is one curious point. Paragraph 2 of the Order provides that: a police authority other than the police authority for the Metropolitan police district shall comply with any directions given from time to time by the Secretary of State. One has always understood that, whilst the Metropolitan police authorities were under the direction of the Secretary of State, the various provincial police authorities were not. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, can tell us how far a regulation can alter that long-established principle. On many occasions I have heard the defence raised by the Home Secretary that he was not in any, way responsible for the action taken and that he was in no position to give directions to the police other than those included in the Metropolitan police district. This regulation lays down that police authorities other than the police authority for the Metropolitan police district shall comply with directions given from time to time by the Minister. I assume that there must be some authority for that. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could tell us how this comes about, and by what authority a regulation can alter the relationship which normally exists between the Secretary of State and the provincial police. With those comments, and again regretting the undoubted delay which has taken place in bringing all these matters before Parliament, I say that we on this side of the House must, of course, necessarily support these regulations.


My Lords, I am sure that the Scottish Office will have been consulted about these regulations. and that they are moved with the approval of the Government as a whole. I rise to express assent to them, and to say that I am certain that the functions which are laid upon the police will be loyally and faithfully carried out. I would add that I hope and pray that they will never be required. to meet the sinister circumstances with which they are designed to deal.


My Lords, I must return to the charge of the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, on the question that, so far as these particular regulations are concerned, there has been delay. The noble Lord bases the whole of his case about delay on the ground that no proper financial authority was available. But he really cannot say that in this case, because if he looks at the previous regulations he will see that there was such authority so far as these regulations are concerned.


Will the noble Lord tell us who was responsible for the delay which clearly has taken place since the Civil Defence Act, 1948, came into force?


I am keeping myself in order and dealing with these particular regulations. On these regulations—and in this connection "my head is bloody but unbowed"—I have not in any way altered my opinion as the result of the noble Lord's arguments. As I have said, this has been a normal evolution. In the first place, we had the training and now we are getting operational equipment. That is a normal evolution in a military or para-military organisation.

The next point with which I should like to deal is the interesting constitustional point raised by the noble Lord about the control of police authorities by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The noble Lord said—perfectly rightly; I am the last person to deny it because I used that particular argument as a defence the day before yesterday—that my right honourable friend cannot give orders to a police authority in the provinces; that he has no direct control over provincial police. That is true. Direct control of the police is exercised by the chief constables. I think the difference here is contained in the Civil Defence Act, 1948. If the noble Lord will look at Section 2 (2) (a) of that Act he will see that: as respects the exercise of any functions conferred upon them under this section, any local or police authority shall be bound to comply with any directions given them by the designated Minister. I think it is clear that this is not a normal police function. This is an emergency function, and my right honourable friend may direct the police authorities what their function may be. Of course, he would not give them day-to-day operational instructions, but he may certainly direct them as to their function. That is the situation. As I read it, these regulations are certainly in accordance with Section 2 (2) (a) of the Act. I think that covers the noble Lord's point. The Home Secretary does have power to direct the police authorities as regards their functions and generally to indicate what they are expected to do.

4.40 p.m.


With great respect to the noble Lord, may I point out, with regard to this matter of carrying out functions, that Paragraph 2 of these regulations says: In carrying out the functions conferred on them by these 'Regulations a police authority …shall comply with any directions given from time to time …". Under this wording the Minister will have power to give what he considers to be an operational direction. Where is the authority for that?


My Lords, civil defence is not a normal police function, and I do not think the noble Viscount would expect that the necessary procedure here should be treated on all fours with normal functions of the police. This procedure is necessary to deal with the situation which arises in an emergency. If the noble Lord will look at the parent Act he will see that, though I agree the words here might imply that the Minister could give actual operational instructions, that is not the intention under the Act. Obviously, since my right honourable friend is responsible to Parliament for civil defence, he must have some power to give directions to the police and local authorities. I am sure that the noble Viscount will regard that as reasonable.


My Lords, I do not think the Government are doing anything wrong, but I want to get clarity on the matter. I agree with the noble Lord that in these matters he will have to rely a great deal on the parent Act. But when it comes to actual civil defence operations there are bound to be in the consideration of the authorities operations of the police in conjunction with the military, of the use of mobile columns and ancillary operations arising out of that. I have no objection to the words being included in this Order but, if it is necessary to have such powers, it ought to be made clear at the same time what are to be military functions and what are not. Of course, if in a state of emergency we are going to put the whole of the operations under military command and control, that may be the proper answer: but so far we have not had a proper answer.


I have referred to the original Act, and I will refer to it again. This was an Act of the noble Viscount's own Government and I presume that he will not run away from that. The easiest way to deal with this seems to be to read the whole of paragraph (a). Clause 2 (2) of the Civil. Defence Act, 1948, says: Regulations made under this Section …

  1. (a) may require that, as respects the exercise of any functions conferred on them under this section, any local or police authority shall be bound to comply with any directions given to them by the designated Minister."
That is broad enough. The noble Viscount questions the authority for these regulations. I say that the wording of these regulations is amply covered by the provisions of the original Act. Further (and I think this is the point the noble Lord had in mind), this is clearly an administrative measure under the Act. I do not think my right honourable friend would wish, even in an emergency of this kind, to break down beyond what was absolutely essential the traditional relationship that has grown up between himself and the police authorities. Obviously, one cannot deal with this subject entirely on all fours with normal police procedure, but within that framework of the powers given here, I do not think my right honourable friend, or any other Home Secretary, would wish to go further in directing a police authority than was absolutely necessary. I am sure they would be ill-advised to do so, and I do not think they would.

On Question, Motion agreed to.