HL Deb 18 May 1966 vol 274 cc999-1005

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to repeat a Statement on the organisation of police forces in England and Wales which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has made in another place to-day. I will use his own words:

"With the expert advice of H.M. Inspectors of Constabulary, I have carried out a review of police areas throughout the country. I have taken full account of the recommendations made in 1962 by the Royal Commission on the Police; but I am satisfied that the continuing increase in crime and its changing pattern, as well as growing traffic problems, justify a more far-reaching reorganisation than was contemplated by the Commission. I have not thought it sensible to adopt any rigid formula for determining the right size of police forces, but I have examined each area and have sought to establish police forces of a size most likely to achieve full efficiency in the prevention and detection of crime and the control of traffic. I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list of the police authorities to whom letters have been sent on my behalf suggesting amalgamations on these grounds. Copies of the list are now available in the Vote Office for the convenience of honourable Members. As examples of the scale of the suggested reorganisation, I am proposing the amalgamation of twelve county borough police areas with Lancashire; of seven police areas with the West Riding; of five authorities in the Thames Valley (Oxford City, Oxfordshire, Reading, Berkshire and Bucks.); and of Devon, Plymouth and Cornwall. The proposals for Wales involve reducing the number of separate forces there from 12 to 4.

"These amalgamations would reduce the number of police forces in England and Wales from 117 to 49, and another four forces would be combined into one if the proposals of my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government for Tyneside are carried into effect.

"I greatly hope that the local authorities concerned will recognise the need for these proposals and enter into voluntary schemes. But if they do not I must use my powers under the Police Act 1964 to promote compulsory amalgamations, for I am satisfied that these amalgamations are essential to a determined attack on crime. The proposals involve a major reorganisation of the police service, but I am confident that all concerned will approach them with the single object of securing the efficiency and well-being of the police service."

That, my Lords, concludes the Statement made by my right honourable friend. Copies of the list of the police authorities to whom letters have been sent have been placed in the Printed Paper Office for the convenience of noble Lords.

Following is the list referred to in the Statement:

1 Lancashire (6,723)
St. Helens
2 Manchester (2,626)
3 Bootle (2,547)
4 Cheshire (2,453)
5 Cumberland (663) (Amalgamation proposals have already been made to the authorities in this area)


1. At present there are 105 separate police forces in England and 12 in Wales; the amalgamation schemes will reduce these figures to 45 and four respectively; and the proposed reorganisation on Tyneside would reduce the figure for England by a further three to 42.

2. The establishment of each combined force is given in brackets.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for repeating the Home Secretary's Statement? In view of the fact that the Police Act, under which these amalgamations are made, was brought into force by the last Conservative Administration, and in view of the fact that at the General Election our proposals went, I think, in some respects, even further than what the Home Secretary is doing now, we welcome this Statement. Not only will it, I am sure, help in the fight against crime, but, speaking generally, it will give better opportunities for promotions in the police force.

I am, however, a little concerned about the effect on existing chief constables and assistant chief constables. This step which the Home Secretary has taken is perhaps rather larger than some people at one time expected. Personally, I agree with it, but it is bound to create problems for certain chief constables and assistant chief constables, who either will not be able to find a satisfactory job in the new, enlarged forces, and will therefore want to leave the police force, or, perhaps because of age, will have to retire early. There will be certain difficulties. All I am asking the noble Lord is whether he will represent to his right honourable friend that, perhaps in the circumstances of this large amalgamation, he will be slightly more generous than was originally envisaged to those chief constables and assistant chief constables who will have to leave their forces.


My Lords, the noble Lord has said very little about the constitution of these new police authorities. May I ask whether he is able to make any statement about that aspect of this matter?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, for the support which he has given from the Opposition Front Bench to the proposals put forward by my right honourable friend. With regard to the particular point about the chief constables and assistant chief constables, it is our hope that these amalgamations will lead to even greater opportunities for such officers. As the noble Lord is aware, responsibility for all appointments in the new forces will rest with the new authorities, and it is very much our hope that they will be able to offer them suitable posts in the new forces; although naturally there will be fewer chief police officers. The noble Lord will also be aware that provision is made in Section 58 of the 1964 Act for the payment of a pension and compensation to any chief constable who wishes to retire or who cannot be absorbed in a new force. With regard to higher payments than those provided for in the 1964 Act, I will submit the noble Lord's point to my right honourable friend; but I should have thought that that could not have been done without legislation.

With regard to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, the constitution of the new forces will be in accordance with the Police Acts. As I pointed out, we are hoping that there will be voluntary amalgamation—as has been the case recently, when there were four or five voluntary amalgamations—but if that is not the case the Home Secretary will have to use his compulsory powers. Of course there will then be public inquiries if necessary.


My Lords, we on these Benches welcome this Statement very much. We have been pressing for this sort of reform for some considerable time—since well before the last General Election and during it. Looking at the list the Government have provided, it seems, as a general principle, that it has a sensible basis, although we cannot at this stage be tied down to details. There is one question I should like to ask the noble Lord. It appears to me that on the whole what is being done is to make the borough constabularies combine with the county constabularies so as to get a new force on a one-county basis, or perhaps on a basis of two, three or four counties. The only point is that there may be some difficulty in deciding where the new headquarters of the new force is going to be. If in these circumstances there is undue delay in the parties being able to arrive at a decision on this point, would the Government step in and hurry them up?


Yes, my Lords. My right honourable friend has asked all the police authorities affected by the changes to reply by June 27 whether they are willing to take part in voluntary amalgamations; and he very much hopes that all these changes, voluntary or otherwise, can be made by April next year. With regard to the question of the different sizes of the new forces and whether they are based on one or more than one county, there has not been any precise formula. We have considered every case on its merits, as will be seen by the fact that for the new forces the minimum size will be some 700, and the maximum size of provincial forces will be 6,700. As to the particular site for headquarters, in most cases there will be a natural headquarters and it will be selected by common agreement. But the fact that amalgamations will cover a number of present headquarters, will leave us with the possibility of retaining and using many of them for the diversification of the service.


My Lords, in view of the fact that we shall have larger units—and I welcome this—and that we shall presumably also have the tendency to rely rather more and more on the specialised services of the forces and on new techniques, would this not be a good moment to reconsider the physical standards required for the special services, the ancillary services, and so on?


My Lords, this is a matter which is under continuous review; and, as the noble Lord will be aware, only last week the Norfolk Constabulary decided on an alteration of the height standard. But again I must emphasise that the Home Secretary, through the chief inspectors and the inspectors of constabulary, can and does give advice on these matters, but the decision on these questions will be a matter for the new police forces when they are constituted.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the Secretary of State for Wales was consulted on these proposals so far as Wales is concerned, and whether he is in agreement with them?


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales was, of course, consulted on these matters.