HL Deb 17 November 1966 vol 277 cc1378-87

4.43 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is not so far ranging as the one we have just finished discussing. In introducing this Bill, I do not think I need enlarge on the problems which face the police to-day, as we are all only too well aware of the disturbing growth in the incidence of crime. Ever increasing resources of money and ability are being devoted to the pursuit of crime, and the police must engage in a continuous process of improving their efficiency and of perfecting their organisation if they are not to lose ground in this battle. The motor car, in the hands of honest citizens and criminals alike, adds to the burdens of the police. Co-operation between police forces has increased greatly to take account of the breaking down of traditional boundaries which has been made possible by the use of the motor car and the greater mobility of the criminal classes, but there is a limit to what can be achieved by cooperation alone. In certain areas it is in the Government's opinion clearly necessary that the boundaries between police forces be swept away altogether. It is only by this means that individual police forces will be able to marshal the resources necessary to combat organised crime. As a first step in this process my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland made a Statement in another place which I repeated in your Lordships' House on July 6. In that Statement I announced a programme of amalgamations involving the disappearance of nine burgh forces and two county forces in Scotland, and I also announced the Government's intention to introduce a Bill to facilitate the process of amalgamation. This Bill is the one now before your Lordships.

It has long been recognised that some amalgamation of Scottish police forces is necessary. The Desborough Committee on the Police Service of England, Wales and Scotland recommended in 1919 that all separate police forces in burghs with less than 50,000 population should be merged in the county forces". The need for amalgamations was later recognised by the Local Expenditure (Scotland) Committee (commonly known as the Lovat Committee) which reported in 1932 and in the following year by the Police Consolidation (Scotland) Committee—the Ormidale Committee. Finally the Royal Commission on the Police reported in 1962 that Scotland is an extreme case of the multiplicity of small police forces and recommended that the numbers of separate forces should be reduced from the then figure of 33 to between 15 and 20. Since the Royal Commission reported, two voluntary amalgamations—Perth City with Perth and Kinross and Ross and Cromarty with Sutherland—have taken place. Attempts to persuade other police authorities to amalgamate voluntarily have not met with success.

Your Lordships will, I am sure, agree that, given the blessing of so many Committees over nearly half a century, the Government cannot be accused of acting in a rash or ill-considered manner in putting forward the present programme of amalgamations. My right honourable friend is firmly convinced that a reduction in the number of police forces in Scotland will be conducive to efficiency, and he has observed that there is strong support for this view in the police service, from public opinion and in Parliament. He hopes that the amalgamations which he considers to be necessary can be brought about voluntarily, and the police authorities concerned have been invited to submit proposals to this end. He recognises, however, that some authorities may not be willing to relinquish control of their own force. In such cases, if after full consideration and on the best advice available he remains convinced that amalgamation is necessary, my right honourable friend will himself make an amalgamation scheme in exercise of his powers under Section 18 of the Police (Scotland) Act 1956. If matters should take this course, the Government are of the opinion that in any public inquiry into a scheme made by the Secretary of State the onus should be on the objecting authority or authorities to show that their objections are valid rather than on my right honourable friend to show that each particular proposed scheme is in the interests of efficiency. He is fortified in this opinion by the recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Police that at any inquiry held into the proposed amalgamation scheme the sole issue should be the objection or objections lodged against it and not the scheme itself". The Bill now before your Lordships' House seeks to implement this recommendation, which I might add has already been implemented for England and Wales.

The Bill seeks to make two other changes of a minor nature in the procedure for making compulsory amalgamation schemes. The first of these gives to my right honourable friend the power to specify a time limit within which the police authorities concerned may object to a proposed amalgamation. The second change concerns the publicity to be given to a proposed amalgamation scheme. The Bill does not reproduce the requirement contained in the Police (Scotland) Act of 1956 that my right honourable friend should publish in one or more newspapers circulating in the areas of the authorities affected a notice of the general nature of the proposed scheme. This provision has been omitted from the Bill for the reason that the right of individual members of the public to object to an amalgamation scheme is excluded both under existing legislation and under the Bill.

This is a simple and, I hope, uncontroversial measure designed to facilitate the making of what my right honourable friend may consider from time to time to be necessary amalgamation schemes. The need for the amalgamations which I proposed in my Statement of July 6 is widely recognised, but it may not be possible to bring them into effect without the change in procedure which the Bill seeks to bring about. I hope that your Lordships will give to the Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for the clear explanation he has given of the background of this Bill. I think I can say at once that we all recognise the need for amalgamations and the need for what he described as the continuous process of improving the efficiency of the police forces and their organisation. There are one or two points on which I am not clear. I do not want to detain your Lordships for any length of time, and I will just outline them to-day and perhaps we can deal with them in more detail on the Committee stage.

The first point arises out of what the noble Lord said about the four amalgamation schemes. Section 18(1) of the Police (Scotland) Act 1956 says: Subject to the provisions of this section, if it appears to the Secretary of State that the expediency in the interests of efficiency of making an amalgamation scheme for any police areas should be considered, and no scheme satisfactory to him has been submitted to him by the police authorities for those areas under the last preceding section before such date as he may fix, the Secretary of State may in accordance with the subsequent provisions of this section by order make such scheme as he considers expedient…". There are two points which arise here. The first is: can the noble Lord tell us what date he has fixed within which the local police authorities concerned can get together and make voluntary schemes for the amalgamations?

The second point is to draw attention to the words of the existing Act I have already quoted, that the expediency in the interests of efficiency of making an amalgamation scheme for any police areas should be considered. The noble Lord will be well aware of the litigation that took place as a result of the Ayrshire amalgamation which went to the Court of Session, and as a result of which, I think I am right in saying, an alteration was made in the 1956 Act. The then existing legislation, which was the 1946 Act, was altered, I think I am again right in saying, so that the orders which the Secretary of State may make can be made by Statutory Instrument and not be subject to annulment in either House. So the consideration that has to be given seems to be consideration only by the Secretary of State. For that purpose he can hold an inquiry if there are objections from a police authority.

Notice under this Bill is to be given only to the police authorities concerned and not as under the present legislation, which says: The Secretary of State shall give to the police authorities concerned notice of the general nature of the proposed scheme; and unless those authorities give notice to the Secretary of State that they assent thereto, the Secretary of State shall publish in one or more newspapers circulating in the areas of the authorities a notice of the general nature of the proposed scheme and shall cause a local inquiry to be held by a person to be appointed by him. As I understood the noble Lord, he said that at the present time objections can be made only by the police authorities. This is not plain from what has been said in another place. I would ask the noble Lord to confirm that this is so. At any rate, we get the position that objections under this Bill will be able to be made only by the police authorities; that notice will be given only to the police authorities, and that, as at present, the notice will be describing the general nature of the proposed scheme.

I should like to refer to one observation that was made by Lord Birnam in the case of Ayr Burgh v. The Lord Advocate in 1950. He said: While it is unnecessary to the decision of the present case, I think that all parties concerned should have an opportunity of putting before the Commissioner not only their views to as whether there should or should not be an amalgamation, but also their comments, if any, upon the details of the draft scheme". Considering that it is only the Secretary of State who is to consider whether the amalgamation should take place or not, it seems to be important that the local police authorities should have an opportunity of objecting to the draft scheme and the contents of the draft scheme, as well as just to the general nature of the proposed scheme.

This is something that we shall have to examine in Committee, and the purpose of our examination, I suggest to your Lordships, should be this: that if and when the Secretary of State decides that a scheme should go forward and he lays the scheme before both Houses of Parliament, which he has to do, together with a copy of the report by the person by whom the inquiry was held where a local inquiry has been held under this section, this may be meaningful to Parliament; that we shall not just have a draft scheme and a note of the objections, but that Parliament should be in a position to judge whether the Secretary of State is properly carrying out the functions that Parliament has laid upon him in this case. I say this subject to correction, but I think that under the English procedure there is power to annul an order laid by the Secretary of State, whereas, as I read the 1956 Act, that power no longer exists.

These are the points that I think arise mainly on the Bill. As I have said, we do not want to impede the process of amalgamation where this can lead to efficiency. We think it is a wise improvement to say that there shall be a time limit for objections to be laid. We think there should be a reduction in the number of police forces. But I, for my part, do not see that this process will be improved at all by a reduction in the right to make objections. I can quite see that there is a good deal to be said for limiting the power for objections to be made to local police authorities, but the scope of their objections ought not to be limited, in our view, to the general scheme; they should also be given full opportunity to examine the draft scheme and to make representations about it.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will not regard this measure as entirely un-controversial, as it is bound to cause a considerable amount of annoyance to some of the smaller police authorities that fall to be amalgamated. Nevertheless, this measure is absolutely necessary if, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, says, we are going to be able to reorganise the police forces so as to make them able even more efficiently to combat crime. Everyone knows that they are at the present time facing the most difficult period in their history. Quite apart from the recent lamentable and shocking series of police murders, even in to-day's paper we read an account of two policemen being stabbed and another shot at in England. It is more than time that a reorganisation was brought into effect which will improve the position, from the point of view both of the police seeking to prevent crime and of the population who will be victims.

I can speak with some inside knowledge on this subject because I have experience of one of the amalgamations to which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, alluded; that is to say the one between the Perth County force and the City of Perth force. Not unnaturally the City of Perth were not at all pleased about the idea of losing control of their own force, but I am glad to say they were large-minded and public-spirited enough to realise that it was no longer really possible, and still less desirable, that there should be an enclave of a few square miles with 40,000 inhabitants of the City of Perth entirely surrounded by the force of the County. Also, relations between those two forces have happily always been very good. There was to some extent, of course, a certain lack of co-ordination when there were two separate headquarters. Now that these have been merged everything is going even more smoothly than before, and with our present admirable Chief Constable we have a highly efficient force.

Also I can speak with some knowledge on this subject having been the former chairman of the police committee of the Perth County Council and being now the chairman of the new joint authority. It may well be that further amalgamations will be necessary over the years, but I hope most fervently that nothing will be done to try to establish one police force. I think that would be a regrettable step, for a great many reasons, into which it would be foolish and out of place to go to-day.

There is just one point which is unfortunate, and that is that the amalgamation of forces reduces the number of top positions to which an able and ambitious policeman can attain. That, however, is unfortunately quite impossible to prevent and one only hopes that there will be other positions of a high administrative nature—although not that of Chief Constable—the creation of which will compensate to some extent for the loss of this position.

Of course, the former situation was quite absurd when, for example, the County of Kincardine had a Chief Constable with, I think, a force of fifteen men under him. It is now recognised that there should be a force of several hundred, if possible. At the same time, I trust that not too much attention will be paid to fixing an absolute minimum for the size of one of the amalgamated forces. To try to attain uniformity in that fashion may well mean that natural boundaries will not be paid attention to, and therefore administrative problems, instead of being eased, in some cases may be made more difficult than they were before. But, all in all, this is a measure which one can heartily recommend to your Lordships.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, I was right in my belief that this Bill would receivea friendly welcome from your Lordships, and I should just like to say briefly that before the next stage of the Bill I will consider all the points which have been made, particularly those made by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn. On some of them I can offer a comment at this stage. First of all, I would refer to the date which has been fixed for the submission of voluntary schemes. So far as concerns the schemes which were announced on July 6, the Secretary of State has not yet fixed any date. He hopes that if there are to be voluntary schemes they may be forthcoming by the end of the year. If in fact he is disappointed in that hope then he will consider the fixing of a date some time after that. I think a reasonable amount of time is being allowed to these authorities.

In this connection, I should like to say how much I welcome the remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, speaking as he does from an area where a most successful amalgamation took place, and if there are authorities where the Secretary of State now thinks an amalgamation would be equally in the interests of the police and the community in general we have only to look at it in the same way as we did then.


My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that for a long time I represented an area which was amalgamated very successfully.


Give the noble Lord an acid drop, too.


If there are any noble Lords who are in areas where amalgamations are wanted, these are two excellent examples to emulate.


My Lords, might I add the case of the police forces of the Lothians and Peebles as an amalgamation which has proved notably successful? I should like to add the point that it enables an outstanding Chief Constable to exercise his powers over a wider area than would otherwise be the case.


Hear, hear!


My Lords, with regard to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, about the existing law, I did say quite definitely that the provision about more widespread advertisement has been omitted from the Bill by reason of the fact that the right of individual members of the public to object to an amalgamation scheme is excluded both under existing legislation and under the Bill. That is the information which I have been given and if it is not right, it is a basket of raspberries for somebody!

On the question of the procedure about the Order, the position is that if a scheme is voluntary it is made by Order. The Order is laid before Parliament and is subject to Negative Resolution. If the Secretary of State makes a scheme under Section 18 of the 1956 Act the Order is still laid before Parliament and is subject to Negative Resolution. In this case the Order is accompanied by a copy of the report of the inquiry if objection is raised under the 1966 Bill, or assent is not received under the 1956 Act. The Order is also accompanied by a copy of the proposed scheme, and this would normally be in the form of a Schedule to the Order—that is, the whole scheme to which the Order applies.

Thus the role of Parliament in relation to the making of these Orders is the same in the 1956 Act and in the 1966 Bill. The report of the inquiry will, however, under the 1966 Bill relate to the validity of the objection and not to the merits of the scheme. Having said that, I must add that Parliament is in no way prevented from discussing the Government policy on amalgamations when they reject them in specific cases upon a Negative Resolution. So I think the noble Lord can be assured—and this is, I think, the point upon which he wished to be assured—that the authority of Parliament in these matters remains as strong as it is at the present time. I hope it will be possible as a result of further examination which I may make to satisfy noble Lords that this Bill may proceed without Amendment.

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