HL Deb 18 March 1975 vol 358 cc695-735


Lord BOURNE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will promote legislation to form specialised sections of the special constabulary for electric power, gas, sewage and docks, in order to ensure essential supplies to the public and that the law is enforced in the ordinary way without the help of the Armed Forces. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the defence debate which we had on 17th December 1974 it was suggested that, as well as a threat from overseas, there would also be a threat from within. In the debate on the 26th February 1975 on subversion and extremism, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and many other speakers spelt out that threat in some detail. My Question to Her Majesty's Government stems straight from those debates. If there is a possible threat from within, it is the duty of the Government to meet it, and to my mind it should be in the form of a deterrent as well as being deployed if events justify it. Let us hope that the obvious readiness of the Government will act as an effective deterrent and that the means will never have to be used.

I suggest that the planned order of meeting this threat—which will probably take an unexpected form, in the same way as a future war is unlikely to be like the last —should be in three stages. There will be no harm, by the way, in the general public knowing what these stages are; in fact, I see advantage in bringing the subject into the open.

The essence of these three stages is that use of the Armed Forces is left to the last, and if the Government reach Stage 3 they will almost certainly have to win—either that or give up democracy, and there can be no question about that. The stages I suggest are as follows: first, the Special Branch. This is a long-range look out and a short-range look out, and the other Whitehall agencies are MI5 and MI6. I have probably got the titles wrong because I am a little out of date, but your Lordships will know what I mean.

The second stage is action by the police and the special constabulary. The third stage—probably after the declaration of an emergency—is the regular Armed Forces—the Navy, Army and the Air Force, and the TAVR and their equivalents—the Royal Naval Volunteers and the RAF Volunteer Reserve. It would be very serious if the emergency had to be declared: far better, obviously, if the police force, in the second stage, kept law and order. Just before I go on to the next part of the argument there is the question of Government control. The various organisations involved should be under Government control and the control of no one else. We are a democracy and must use the power of Parliament and the Government.

With regard to the possible tools for the various jobs, we are fortunate in this country in having an efficient Special Branch. I could tell your Lordships a story about Malaya and Singapore, but I shall not burden you with it. They felt the same in the end. The Special Branch can watch subversions of all kinds—Communist, terrorist, hijackers, IRA, and so on, and we can leave it to them.

We now come to the police. Unfortunately, from the emergency point of view the force is divided into small county and borough forces, but this cannot be helped and we have to deal with it as it exists. The Government can immediately use a police force and a Special Constabulary, which is a great advantage. In most cases, the police can deal with subversion, particularly if specialised sections of special constabulary are formed as I propose. Our best defence against subversion is a general awareness, and outvoting the subversives so that rightminded people, including the leaders of the trade unions, have control. But if they resort to force and violence the Government must have control of the forces to deal with them. Unfortunately, the police are under strength at the present moment and are also badly strained in dealing with crime and demonstrations. I am told that the average working week in the police force is 60 hours. It is too much.

With regard to the special constabulary as it exists today, it is difficult to get figures, but at present they are badly under strength. In 1969, according to the Report of the Police Advisory Board to the Home Secretary, their establishment was about 114,000. Their strength in 1973 according to the Report of the Chief Inspector was approximately 23,000, plus 1,800 women. The importance of the "Specials" was evidenced by the fact that there was only one paragraph in the Inspector's Report referring to them, and that was only seven lines long. They are called out by the chief constables and are trained in basic duties. About 12,000 of them turn out regularly, but they have the powers of a constable when they are on duty, and incidentally they are unpaid. I fail to see why they should not be paid level with the TAVR, who are paid for drills and weekend training. In fact they are treated—this will be challenged—as a "poor relation" and they ought not to be.

There is then civil defence. Unfortunately, this organisation was destroyed about five or six years ago and in my opinion that was a false economy. It is now only a rump and the liaison officers at local authorities have beautiful map rooms but nobody to man them. Incidentally, we cannot bring the force back into being again. I come now to the Armed Forces. They will do their duty, however unpleasant, and they will not strike; nor will the police. It is a pity that the technicians of electric power, gas and sewage are not subject to the same regulations about not going on strike, as I believe they were before the war. After all, they provide essential services to the public.

However, we have to deal with a situation as we find it. The Services are not so effective as they were 50 years ago at the time of the General Strike. The power stations have become so technical that they cannot be run so efficiently by the Services. I very much doubt whether the Services would get more than 80 per cent. of power from the power stations. The Armed Forces are also very badly stretched. The TAVR, the equivalent Naval Volunteer Reserve and the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve no longer have internal security as one of their roles, except possibly for a few. Their main duty is to reinforce BAOR. They are not like the old Territorial Army which, whatever its faults, was in close touch with, and good friends of, the people. It was also a very good intelligence organisation. I am told that the TAVR are probably not to be called out until the Regulars have been called out. Their role should be examined. Whatever they do, the Armed Forces are likely to be called strike-breakers, but all they will be doing if they are so employed is maintaining essential services to the public.

My Lords, turning to the volunteers, we all understand their value. This country has been practically built on the volunteer system, so we are quite accustomed to it, especially if the volunteers have been carefully selected and have among them people with specialised skills. But they suffer from the defect that they are not designed to defeat violence by themselves, nor have they the powers of the constable and the backing of the court. They must be invited by the Government of the day. They clash with my earlier observation with regard to the Government, and nobody else, having control of all organisations. In short, there is no place for volunteers in my scheme.

I propose that the special constabulary should have their role widened. I believe they should have specialised sections to deal with electric power, gas, sewage and the docks. I feel sure many young men are likely to join these specialised sections. Retired specialists of these kinds will want to serve their country in an emergency, and their age can be allowed for. I do not think it matters very much. I have complete confidence about recruiting. They will thus have the powers of a constable and, as such, will not need protection. If this step requires legislation, the sooner it is enacted the better. These people have to be trained like everyone else.

If I am told that it is not the job of a policeman to run a power station— although I think otherwise—my reply is, "Nor is it the duty of the Navy, the Army or the Air Force. They are trained as fighters to win battles, not to ensure essential supplies to the public, but they will also obey orders". My whole scheme aims to keep down the temperature, and to ensure essential supplies to the public; that is to say, you and me. It will also be subject to the law. The people will understand that. It is much less provocative than the use of the Armed Forces or volunteers. Indeed, if these forces have to be employed the emergency may become a crisis, with all that that involves.

My Lords, I come now to my conclusions. First, I ask Her Majesty's Government the Question on the Order Paper. The police and trade unions would naturally be concerned, and would be consulted before legislation was introduced. At the end of the debate on subversion, which was opened by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich said two things which impressed us all. First, my noble friend said: It is the responsibility of the police to deal with violence….

Later on, my noble friend said: The police neither want nor need the assistance of self-appointed …".—[Official Report, 26/2/75 ; Col. 950.]

I cannot think of the word he used, but I think he used the word "bodies". The fact remains that this country can and may be brought to a standstill without violence by the withholding of essential supplies to the public.

I imagine that the police will welcome any addition to their powers to deal with difficult situations. They are already badly strained, handling crime and demonstrations and so on. The trade unions are largely patriots who, in a crisis, must put the interests of the general public before those of their members. They do not, however, seem to be in full control of individual unions and, consequently, are not always able to protect the public. Of course, they will insist on safeguards, but they will be as determined as Parliament, the Government and the majority of the people on the defence of this country against a threat from within. If the reply of the Government is that they are not contemplating the raising and training of specialised sections of the special constabulary in the broad way that I have described, I should be grateful to hear from my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich, who is to wind up, what they are planning to do. My procedure would be to meet a crisis within the law, not by declaring an emergency, and not by employing the Armed Forces.


My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, allow me to ask a question? I am interested in the question of supplying essential services in time of need. Would the noble Lord also be in favour of the special police having a section which could supply surgeons and medicine?


My Lords, one can add to my list. I have deliberately kept it to only four sections, but one could have any number of others. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, is right in his suggestion, but I have not included surgeons in my list for that reason. My plan aims at keeping down the temperature, and at keeping the public supplied with the essentials of life within the law. The Government cannot deal with the possible threat any more than can the Regular Forces who constantly train and have to meet a threat by doing nothing. I hope it is taking action.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, when I saw this Question from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, on the Order Paper it appealed to me, particularly because it is put by an eminent General who has held high and responsible command. In the event, he has used arguments and reasons skilfully deployed and convincing in their character. I hope the noble Lord will receive strong support from my own Front Bench, and also that the Government spokesman will encourage us in the hope that the Government will give it strong consideration. How much more worth while is this debate than the debate which yesterday occupied so much time in an attack on traditions, conventions and patriotic respect, in which I was burning to participate, to try to pour scorn on the suggestion of dismantlement of our historic procedure. This debate today is of a much more important character.

This is a time of dissidence, violence and disruption, and there is an urgent need for additional support of a civilian character. We might even have had some help in ensuring that the clocks in the Palace of Westminster were giving the right time; or we might have found some volunteer to bring some copies of Hansard here, which we would find helpful. But this era is one when we find the undoubted influence of Communism militating against what ought to be the natural instinct of a citizen to support law and order and give voluntary service in any way that he can. This dissidence is dismaying. It is in the Press, in the media, in the faculties of universities, even in schools. I was shattered when I read yesterday that universities are encouraged to have indoctrination by what is known as lightning disruption. I had not heard of that before, but it appears to be a new method of prosecuting disruption. It even comes into the schools. It is terrifying to read of the disruption that sometimes occurs in schools.

I was shattered today also to read on the front page of The Times three items in large print. The first was a warning by the Head of Scotland Yard against complacency over extremists. The second was a hooded UVF spokesman stating that their organisation killed two UDA officers. Another item read: Prisoner shot dead as IRA gunmen storm jail". There is not much law and order there. That makes me think of the subversion debate which your Lordships' House con- ducted some two to three weeks ago. I was out of the country at the time. I regret that I missed hearing it, but I read it and was immensely impressed by it. That certainly showed the contemptuous disregard for law. I think of the case of Northern Ireland, where the disbandment of the "B" Specials must certainly have contributed a good deal to the intensity of the disruption there, an absence of the civil as against the military, whose different roles are most important, as the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, has emphasised.

I have just returned from a visit to Southern Africa, which included Rhodesia. Looking from that distance, when one read of the continual murders and disorders in the North of Ireland, one wondered what can be the thinking of people in other countries as to the ability of Britain to govern a small province of 1½ million people without having this terrible carnage. In Rhodesia there is complete law and order. It is impressive that there the civilian security auxiliary forces, both black and white, are ready to help the civil authority. In passing, I may say that a Minister in the Cabinet of the South African Republic said that the conflict in Africa is not black versus white, but Communist versus non-Communist.

That is why I feel that this support which the noble Lord has recommended would at least go some way towards meeting our need. I think it was folly disbanding the Yeomanry and reducing the Territorial force. It is further evidence of the view of the Government responsible; that is, that the need for provision against internal disorders is declining instead of, as it is, increasing.

There has been diffidence in some quarters about discussing this question. In fact there were expressions of sensitivity about it. I can see no reason for that. I can see strong reasons for supporting the Question put by the noble Lord. There is a one-world movement. It is dangerous. I find myself perplexed. Apparently instead of there being a worldwide Communist movement, there is a tendency, I read, towards strengthening individual countries' Communist movements. That may be the right interpretation of movements which are taking place. Anyhow, it emphasises more strongly the need for a civilian auxiliary force such as my noble friend is recommending. Such might easily have helped in the situation we hear about in Glasgow. I have not been to the city to see it, but think of the waste being uncollected for nine weeks! What an appalling situation in a civilised country to let the world read about!

I submit that National Service is something that should be encouraged; that is, community work, not military National Service. How much better we should be as a nation if we had obligatory service of some kind, community service in whatever form it is put forward. That is why I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the noble Lord in this Question, and I repeat that I hope it will receive some intense consideration by the Government.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, I need to start with an apology to the House and in particular to my noble friend Lord Bourne for not being in my seat when he started his speech. I noticed that he had completed about one and a half minutes and I trust that I did not miss anything especially vital that he said beforehand. I may also have to offer an apology to the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, because the timing of the start of this Unstarred Question has somehow gone haywire. On a previous calculation, I thought the debate would be safely finished before I had to leave for a previous engagement. If I should have to leave, I apologise in advance.

I am glad that my noble friend Lord Bourne tabled this Unstarred Question and that he elected to do so at this time. I shall not follow the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, for whom I share the affection of the whole House, in being drawn into the contentious question of the B Specials. My remarks are really focused on the terms of the Motion and the need to keep running the wheels of industry in its vital key areas in times of a crisis in Britain. I had already noted that my noble friend Lord Brookeborough was here to speak from the Northern Ireland point of view in any case, so, sorely tempted though I am, I will control myself and not be drawn by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby.

It is hardly necessary to make the point that the subject of this Question—the eventuality in which it is set—is a deli- cate and difficult one. But I do so simply to express my view that there are dangers in skating over and underrating it, as indeed there are in magnifying and overexposing it. I am not at all sure (and I told my noble friend in advance that I would say this) that the proposal embodied in the Unstarred Question of the noble Lord is appropriate to the undoubted need for action which could arise in certain circumstances. But I am sure that it was right and courageous that such a Question should be tabled and that it is in the public interest that an answer should be given by the Government regarding their preparedness for the kinds of emergency which the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, has in mind.

It is particularly timely that the Unstarred Question should have been put down so soon after the debate initiated two weeks ago by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, but I am not returning to the area which that debate covered. In the minds of many people around the country I believe there to be a good deal of complacency, on the one hand, and a good deal of anxiety, perhaps overanxiety, on the other, about the dangers represented by militant extremists in our industries to which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, drew our attention, among other things, the other night. It would be pointless to try to quantify those elements of feeling because, of course, against that there is a vast area of sound, good common sense, but to the extent that there is both a good deal of complacency and of anxiety about a breakdown of the essential supplies and services in this country, neither of those sentiments is a healthy symptom for the body politic.

In my view what is badly needed is a widely shared blend of realism, concerning the political, as well as the economic, dangers of industrial disruption, and confidence that the Government of the day have both the will to exert their democratic authority to sustain the essential services and supplies under conditions of order and that they have the means so to do. One does not have to be an admirer or a supporter of General Sir Walter Walker, and others like him, in order to share the concern and at least to understand the frustration of many informed and thinking people in this country at this time when we see lawful authority wilting under pres-sure from extremist minority groups in neighbouring European countries.

It is important, and consistent with the prevailing demand for more open-ness in Government, to call on the Government for reassurance about both the will and the means. To all this I should like to add my own concern about those voluntary initiatives. I have mentioned that of General Sir Walter Walker. I was indeed relieved to read—because I could not stay to the end of the debate —remarks covering that area which were made from the Front Bench the other night by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. However well-intentioned these initiatives may be (and I am sure they are) which are borne of frustration and a lack of confidence in established authority, and which stem from a lifetime of professional leadership, it is something which can get out of hand in certain circumstances, raising the temperature of a tense situation to boiling point. I believe that such organisations could even take the law into their own hands for lack of a lead from the Government.

As to the means proposed by my noble friend Lord Bourne for keeping power supplies and vital communications operating, I here tend to part company with him. I question the wisdom of attaching the responsibility for the services, which he has listed in his Unstarred Question, to the police. There is no precedent for this kind of duty to be laid on police officers, whether regular or reserve. If and when it is right to put any uniformed forces, equipped with the appropriate skills, into these key areas of industry, then I think it wiser to stick to precedent and to look to the Armed Forces and their specialist reserves. It may be thought that the essential difference between my noble friend and myself is simply a matter of the colour of the uniform, but I believe that this is a matter of established precedent or, if you like, tradition, and is very important in this highly sensitive area.

As an old soldier, I have no more liking than the noble Lord for the employment of troops, sailors or airmen in an industrial situation. I have no liking for this for the reason that the noble Lord gave; that is, the training and main priority job of the Armed Forces. But I object also because it creates tremendous bitterness in the industrial scene, a bitterness which could easily enlarge the trouble.

My Lords, I like even less the notion of raising a new and purpose-built force for these jobs within the ambit of the police forces. Whereas the use of troops is always a recourse of last resort, it has become accepted, albeit reluctantly, as a result of custom. I very much doubt the acceptability, either to the police or to the public, of new and special forces from that quarter to intervene upon the industrial scene. From that standpoint, to which I adhere, my questions for the Government are: Have they the necessary pool of skills from the regular forces, and from those various categories of reservists which still exist? We have had doubt thrown upon that situation by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. Could the reservists be called up under the present law and used in industrial emergencies? Could they be used in time? If the answer is "No" to any or all of those questions, then, surely, the question of enabling legislation, of a big "thinkagain" about what has been done to reduce and remove the various categories of reserve, should be rethought and recruitment should begin again.

My Lords, there is, as the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, mentioned, the possibility of compiling a register of skilled civilian volunteers who would be competent to man the key industries and who would have police protection afforded to them when they were called upon by the Government in a crisis. Here again I differ from my noble friend Lord Bourne. My view is that whereas this would, at least for the time being, be politically unwise, it would almost certainly be provocative of trouble in the trade unions. None the less, I think the time could come, perhaps after an actual crisis had occurred which spelt out the prospects of real disaster for all to see the writing on the wall. That could be the time when a call to public-spirited citizens to offer their services to the Government might conceivably be appropriate. But I do not believe that that time has yet come.

Finally, my Lords, I realise that the terms of the Unstarred Question put down by my noble friend refer only to a special kind of constabulary and I hope that the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, when he comes to reply, will be able to say something about the current strength of the regular and reserve police forces as compared with their establishments. We have been told by my noble friend Lord Bourne that they are under strength, but it would at least be a starting point to know where they stand. I should like to feel that the Government will give us at least the assurance that they are keeping under review the question of increasing police establishments to cope with increasing demands. The actual demands and the prospective future demands being made on the police in respect of civil disturbance were mentioned in this morning's Press reports of Sir Robert Marks' speech at Bramshill.

Perhaps even more important than the Question put down by my noble friend Lord Bourne, is our search for an assurance from the Government to the public that in the case of more severe political or industrial troubles than we have experienced so far, the police will be strong enough to allow ordinary citizens and willing workers to go about their jobs and their ordinary lawful business unintimidated, without hindrance and without harm.

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not delay your Lordships long and, like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for arriving a minute or two after he rose to speak. I have just returned from Brussels where I have been on your Lordships' business and the plane was a little late. I should like in principle to support the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, in what he has said to your Lordships' House. I firmly believe that no single group, whether it be small or large, has any right to hold the country to ransom in any shape or form, nor do I believe that they have any right to cause inconvenience or great distress to thousands of innocent people. I believe that any disruptive element that sets about achieving either of those two objectives must be dealt with, or at least the facilities must be available to enable the country to deal with them.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I have slight reservations about whether the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, to put these special squads into the uniform of the special constabulary is necessarily the right answer. Again I have doubts whether they should come under the umbrella of the police at all because, whatever form they take, they would undoubtedly in certain circumstances require protection themselves. Then you come to the next point: Who will protect such squads if they go in under difficult circumstances? The obvious answer is, first of all the regular police force, which is terribly under strength at the moment. If circumstances such as are envisaged should arise, undoubtedly they would be fully stretched, possibly in other directions. We then come to the question: Who else could provide protection? There we come back to the Regular Army. The Regular Army is fully committed and also is not of any great size at present. So we come down to the Territorial Army and the volunteer reserves.

Here one can say without any risk of Party politics that successive Governments over the years have torn that great force to pieces. It is nothing like what it used to be and can no longer provide an effective force or protection in the event of a major disturbance. Those concerned would do their job as they have always done, but they are terribly under strength. I believe that the requirement to which the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, has referred, would be better served by expanding the units of the TAVR. They have ready-made units in the form of the Royal Engineer units, the REME units and the Ordnance units, all of whom have the requisite trades, or could recruit the requisite trades, to man such installations as power stations and the like. I believe also that we lost a great deal in this country when we did away with National Service, but I will not press that point. We did an even greater disservice when we so drastically reduced the TAVR.

I am digressing for a moment, but I will come back to the main point. We are suffering at present more than during any period in my lifetime from a great gap between people from different walks of life. I believe that this is due largely, and for this I am very glad, to the fact that we have not had a war for 30 years. Therefore the two extremes do not have the opportunity of meeting and serving together, learning a bit of discipline and finding out that there is a great deal of good in all men. When the TAVR was at full strength it to some extent filled this gap. That is my principal reason for saying that if this is a requirement— and I believe we have such a need— it would be better to form such special squads by expanding the TAVR.

I accept the fact that whenever you bring in forces, whether they be regular or reserves, that can be provocative. But let us face facts. Whether you bring in the Regular Army, the TAVR or the special constabulary, such a situation is provocative and explosive anyway. The great thing is to try to keep the heat out of it as much as possible. I hope there-fore that Her Majesty's Government will give serious consideration to seeing that such special units are available to maintain, if not all, at least a substantial part of, the essential services which the ordinary citizen of this country is entitled to expect. One thing I think we are inclined to overlook is that 90 per cent. plus of the ordinary trade unionists or men who strike are as loyal as any one of us in this House or elsewhere in this country. I believe that most of them do not wish to strike or to have anything to do with violence. Therefore, whatever we do it is essential that we do not turn the vast majority of men who want no part in violence or disruption into taking part or joining with the violent element simply because they have been provoked. I am probably posing more problems than I am trying to solve, but the fact remains that the average man in this country must realise that in the end it is in his own interests that the essential services of the country are maintained.

Now I am afraid that I may seem to be rather starry-eyed. I should like to feel that the Government would put these facts fairly and squarely to the trade unions, and would point out to them— and, as I have said, the majority of trade unionists are good and loyal men—where situations such as have occurred in the past and may occur in the future are driving the law-abiding citizens of this country. The fact that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, has raised this matter and that we are sitting here debating it this evening, shows that many of us are very concerned with the preservation of law and order and the safety of essential installations should there be industrial strife. I believe that it would be far better to try to find a joint solution with the trade unions and at the same time to give serious consideration to strengthening our reserve forces. I hope that this will be done.

7.22 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to welcome the opportunity which the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, has given us to debate this subject and to say how pleased I am that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, is replying to the debate, because there are few people who have such clarity of speech in answering what I believe to be a very important Question. My noble friend Lord Hunt covered a good deal of ground in which he described the aims of the terrorist, but i feel it is worth while repeating—possibly in slightly different words—that one of the aims of the subversionist and terrorist is to make the citizens of a country doubt the capacity and the will of their democratic Government to maintain that democracy in the face of their subversion. It is therefore absolutely essential for the Government to make it clear that, no matter what the attempts of that subversion and terrorism, democracy will survive.

My Lords, the Question which the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, has posed falls into two categories. First, there is the possibility of forming a reserve of specialists to maintain essential services; and secondly, there is the formation and employment of an enlarged special constabulary in a manner which could enable us to delay the employment of the Armed Forces in an emergency. I speak today because I feel that I have had a certain amount of experience in both spheres. I was a junior Minister in the Government of Northern Ireland in the Ministry of Commerce, which was responsible for the electricity supply in Northern Ireland, when we had, first, an industrial dispute and, secondly, last year, a political dispute. I speak with a great deal of experience on the formation of a special constabulary, because I was more closely involved than any other member of our Government in recruiting and in doing our best to get people to join our reserve police, which is the equivalent of the special constabulary in Northern Ireland. Two members of my family are in that reserve and are very proud to be so.

Last year, we had a political strike which was, as your Lordships know, the Ulster Workers' Council strike. Of course it is quite possible that we shall have a strike in this country which will start off by being an industrial dispute and will, either through mishandling or, indeed, through deliberate subversion, be converted into a political strike. The area which the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, is discussing in speaking of specialists in regard to the electricity industry—and I am speaking entirely about that industry, as it is of that that I have personal experi-ence—is what I should describe as the middle management area; that is, the power station engineers and engineers who manage the switchgear.

Each power station is a different entity, and is run by the accumulated experience of the resident staff. When a power station is commissioned, the manufacturers spend some months training the resident staff to run the station. After the station has been commissioned it is developed, modified and changed, and from that moment, the manufacturers of the station no longer have that experience. In any case, there are only a few manufacturing companies in the country, so one is left with the problem that the only people who can run the station are the resident staff. We simply could not draft in engineers to run, say, 20 power stations in this country. We could not even do it in Northern Ireland which is a small country. To draft in unskilled people would produce catastrophic damage to the grid supply of the country. In Ulster, during the political strike to which I have referred, the manual workers withdrew. The trained enginering staff remained and they performed a duty which, as I am sure noble Lords with knowledge of grid work will say, went far beyond known technology in maintaining a power supply in the face of the problems with which they had to deal because of the withdrawal of manual labour. Finally—and this is really the crux of what I have to say—due to intimidation of themselves and their families, the engineers were eventually forced to shut down the power supply. They did so with great skill, so that there was no damage to the system, and when it was restarted it was done at a speed which again was beyond the known technology of the time.

My Lords, I am absolutely confident from my knowledge of that strike and of the other strike to which I referred, that any attempt to replace the striking workers with anybody in uniform of any description would have been disastrous, no matter what the uniform. To have involved the special constabulary or the reserve police would have been a negation of the objective of a police force, which is to serve the community as such. They would at once have been classified as strike-breakers. So in that sense I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. The engineers would not have remained if these people had been brought in, because they would have believed that their duty to their country was to make sure that permanent damage was not done to the electricity supply industry. They would have been afraid —and rightly so—that to split the industry down the middle with them remaining in would do far greater damage to the country than would the temporary loss of the supply. There is no reserve of skilled manpower to deal with our most complicated life today.

My Lords, I have said it is my opinion that to have recruited a special force to go into those power stations would have been catastrophic. The engineers in Ulster stayed at their posts because they have a most responsible attitude to their duty to the country and to their industry. They must have—and this may be relevant—a prestige in the community and a remuneration which recognises their special place in the life of the community. That may have something to do with my opinion about the present negotiations. We must recognise their special place and realise that without them we are in a difficult position. Having said all that, I must say that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said something which I felt was very important. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and his Party are fast running us into a totally Socialist State. Perhaps we should go Russian and make it illegal to have strikes in these industries. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, was right to say that they might be included in the Civil Service, and it could then be made illegal for them to strike. But one must, at the same time, recognise their position and prestige, and their remuneration must be sufficiently high.

I come to the second and, in my view, the more productive area of the matter; that is, the question of the enlargement, deployment and role of the special constables, which I will call the reserve police wherever possible because as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will agree, the use of the word "Specials" in Northern Ireland can sometimes cause controversy. I said that the electricity supply in Ulster was brought to a standstill by intimidation. If we are to expect skilled workers to stay at their posts it is our duty to see that there are sufficient forces available to ensure that there is no intimidation. I believe that the size of the police force in this country is totally inadequate, and I agree with noble Lords who have said that it is a very serious matter indeed to bring in the Army in a state of emergency. There may be a case for a third force—a subject with which I will not deal tonight—to deal with appalling problems such as Red Square. However, we must face the issue of the special constabulary or the reserve police fairly and squarely, because it is there where we have room to do something.

I understand that there is an establishment for about 100,000 regular police in the country, and for the special constabulary or reserve police of about 120,000. But I gather that even the Metropolitan Police are 30 per cent. under strength. Pay is an area where we can do something. The special constabulary is completely unpaid. It is staggering to think that 20,000 people in this country can put themselves at risk of being manhandled yet still receive no pay. What patriotism they have! Possibly we in this House comprise one of the other few forces in the country who are also unpaid when we come here. When I see my hotel bill for a stay overnight, I appreciate what a short distance money goes. We pay the Territorials when they are on duty and we also pay the RNVR. We really should change our principles and pay the special constabulary.

In Ulster we now have a really first-class reserve police force and they are paid, and I believe that in this country we should follow suit. In the last six months or so, following some very sensible modifications which the Government carried out in regard to recruitment, the numbers of our reserve police now equal those of our regular police, and this is what we should aim at. We have about 4,400 reserve police and once the Government got the male numbers up to strength they then concentrated on recruiting women. We now have over 500 police women, who do duty exactly the same as the men and take on all their tasks. What a tragedy it was that Police Constable Mrs. Harrison was blown up and foully murdered the other day in the constituency in which I live. I feel sure that when I go to her funeral tomorrow, which I shall do most sadly, I will be in order in expressing the feelings of this House to her gallant husband and his family.

These people take on very dangerous tasks and are doing everything that the ordinary police are doing in Northern Ireland, and there is a good case for having the same sort of service in this country. If one multiplies the 4,400 we have in Northern Ireland, we should have 88,000 to 90,000 people in the special constabulary here, and I do not think it is very much to ask people in the country to volunteer for that. They are required to do a certain minimum service and we have a right to ask that of them because they are paid. But that minimum service, whereby they attend a number of parades, is arranged to suit them, and by this means we can get the full recruitment.

People will say that to pay these very honourable men may change the content of recruitment, but in Ulster we have people from right across the strata. We have university students, who comprise a very important section, even if they do only a year's service. If they are involved in law enforcement during that time, it has an excellent effect. The chair-man of our planning appeal body, a man of great ability, is perfectly content to play his part as an ordinary constable on the beat and to accept his pay. At first there was a certain amount of opposition from the regulars. It is difficult to be certain about this, but I think there was a feeling that, somehow or other, to have a large special constabulary would downgrade the regular police or debase their bargaining power. That may have been at the root of it, but practice has proved that that is no obstacle, because recruitment to the police is not based on pay alone. The weekends are the times when the "demos" and football crowds require the maximum effort from the regular police, and that is the time when the reserve police can be mobilised at their highest level, which is why the police should welcome this development.

I return to the basis of the debate. If in dealing with essential supplies we can have sufficient numbers in the force spread right across the community, we can prevent intimidation, which is one of the major weapons of the terrorist. And then, if the specialists are properly paid, they will serve the country and keep the service going.

7.38 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a remarkable debate. We have had the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who was Director of Operations in Malaya when I was in the Service there. It was his job to carry out policy directives and to succeed in certain dispositions; it would certainly have been the responsibility of the civil administration to keep him primed with all the information. He was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, another Army officer, and it was interesting to note that, while they did not disagree that the situation was serious enough to warrant action being taken by the Government, they did suggest rather different procedures to be adopted. We also had an interesting speech from the noble Lord, Lord Mais, who I think rather favoured the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve to be brought in to help the Government in certain eventualities, and he was followed by a very interesting speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, who spoke of his experience in Ireland.

I may be the only noble Lord who has had a rather unique experience—I say this because I feel that tonight we are discussing a matter which is designed to avoid the loss of our freedom; our freedom is being very seriously threatened at the present time—and I can tell your Lordships that I know of no more terrifying experience than the breakdown of government, the terrified looks on peoples' faces when they do not know who is in control in a given situation. This is not something that I should wish on any of your Lordships, or on anyone in this country.

I consider that what we are discussing tonight is of great relevance in the situa- tion facing this country today. Before I develop that argument a little further, I should like to say that I feel that the trade unions by and large—that is to say, the rank and file of the people who are members of the trade unions—are some of the most loyal subjects we have today in Britain. Therefore I hope that in any comments I make it will be understood that these are the views I hold, and which I hold most sincerely. In the present situation, I suppose some might think that it would be better if we did not debate this subject at all, because it is contentious; better to avoid it as it revolves around a very sensitive area. If that view were held and sustained—or held to any degree for any length of time —in my opinion it could result only in the further disrepute of our institutions and the loss of belief in the capability of your Lordships' House to make constructive suggestions as to how we should deal with the present situation.

I support the idea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. I do so because, as other noble Lords have said —I do not wish to dwell on this too long —people are very worried at present. They are fearful of the powers of certain sections of our community, and the damage to their interests, their freedom and their way of life. So they are forming organisations to protect themselves and their interests. I do not believe—and neither do I believe that they believe— that the Government have any power (this might have been a criticism levelled at us when we were in power) at present to hold the balance fairly as between conflicting interests and as between sections in our society. I feel rather sorry tonight that we do not have joining us in this debate some of the most distinguished Members of your Lordships' House who have been members of trade unions. It would greatly have enhanced the value of the debate had we been able to listen to some of their views. I do not seek to make Party points. The situation, as I have said, is very serious—too serious for that! I have said previously that the problems existed when we were in power. But with regard to the organisations which exist, and which have sprung up over the past few months, I suggest to the Government that the time has now surely arrived when it would be better and safer for the Government to harness and to bring under their own control and discipline these patriotic people—for the most part—who have set up these organisations, primarily to protect their own interests, but who also have deep feelings of loyalty to this country.

It would be possible, in some shape or form, to include these people as specialists within a special constabulary. Judging from what I have heard in the debate, I hope that all the suggestions which have been so ably made by other noble Lords will be answered by the Government at the close. I hope that the answer we get from the Government this evening will not be one which indicates that, if they did as is asked by some noble Lords, then this would be a form of "union-bashing", and that, therefore, it could not be considered. I do not deny that it may take courage on the part of the Government to act. Nobody who listened to some of the outstanding speeches made in your Lordships' House on 27th February about subversive elements, and at the Committee stage of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill on 10th March, can have any doubt about the organisations which exist to do harm in this country. Nobody can have any doubt either—I say this in affection for the trade unions —about the deep and genuine suspicions which exist in the unions about the law as it affects their own interests. They are reluctant to consider it.

My Lords, in a sense I feel that it is most unfortunate that unions feel this way, and so far as I can reason it seems unnecessary that they should do so. But great sacrifices have been made to establish man's freedom under the law. If individual freedom was lost, it would be the end of trade unionism and all the benefits that union leaders have secured for their own members. An organisation of specialists, within the specialised constabulary, to keep the essentials of life, in movement to the community, is no threat to any union. It would help to preserve the unions. But there are dangers and problems existing everywhere, including the problem of Ireland. We must take notice that the disruptive elements in our society would be the first people to welcome a breakdown of law and order, particularly at this time when they feed on the discontents and cruelties thrown up by inflation. Clearly the Government should have—any Government ought to have—a fall back position to meet the situation. But have they?

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, whose views I respect, and who will be replying for the Government at the conclusion of the debate, that if the Government are not prepared for all eventualities, are not the Government, any Government, guilty of a dereliction of duty to their citizens? I hope that when the noble Lord replies we shall have a complete answer to some of the most important points which have been raised so capably by other noble Lords.

7.47 p.m.


My Lords, you will be relieved to know that I do not intend to speak for more than about seven minutes. We can judge the merits of the various proposals put forward only against a background of the future developments which are likely to occur in the country and in our society. I therefore propose to deal with this point almost exclusively in my speech. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said recently, this nation has for some time been undergoing a bloodless revolution in its social structure, but I foresee that the strains will become far greater in the future. Our unions have today immense power politically, but far too little power when it comes to controlling labour in a way that can help this country out of its difficulties on an overall national basis, or prevent the evils of uninformed and unfair mass rule. Some of them are, frankly, afraid of losing control of their members, and afraid of dissociated groups, who are, almost certainly, Communist-inspired, taking over control and more and more dictating policy by strong arm methods. This is something which is not often said, but I have very little doubt that if one asked most of the union leaders one would find that they have this fear in the back of their minds.

If we look around at the way things are going, I do not think we can accept the view that the same sort of thing has always been occurring and that the situation is no worse than it used to be. That view was put forward in the recent debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. The whole structure and stability of our older society has changed, and in the flux which now exists the Communist task of calculated disruption is made immensely easier. In this situation the moderates are also much less certain of the right direction and are correspondingly less effective in combating the extremists. I do not believe that there are many on the extreme Left of the Labour Party who want a fully Communist State, because the more intelligent know perfectly well that real communism simply cannot work without autocracy and an intolerable loss of freedom which goes with it—intolerable to our nation which at the moment seems so concerned for its sovereignty. What I think they fail to appreciate is that where there is a radical change there is always a tendency for the pendulum to swing to extremes. I believe that it will be extremely difficult to found the Socialist State of their dreams without skidding into communism. I cannot help saying in parenthesis, although it is not part of this argument, that in my view it is immensely foolish to go on making doctrinal changes which can have no possible effect on the quality of life for anyone until the profitability and the gross national product has increased. Such philsophy positively de-creases the likelihood of any recovery now taking place.

My Lords, for some time I have thought that there were really only three likely ways in which the future will develop. First, we may continue in a gradual and continuing decline in our ability to become competitive with other European nations. This decline would be gradual and no major crisis will develop —I consider this highly unlikely because, from what I have already said, crises are almost bound to occur. Secondly, our decline will reach a point where all good men will rally round and do what is necessary (often unselfishly) to put the country on its feet. Many of the people I have talked to think that this will not happen until the present situation gets a great deal worse. Thirdly, as a result of our economic difficulties and failure to obtain credit abroad, there will be a collapse of our economy, with massive unemployment and a great reduction in real wage levels, possibly coupled with hyper-inflation.

In these circumstances, effective action by central Government would have to be taken if anarchy was to be avoided. The use of the military in these circum- stances would be likely to result in some-thing approaching civil war and, ultimately, in an extreme authoritarian type of government. In this context the difference between fascism and communism would be largely meaningless.

My Lords, I believe that we would have been perilously near that sort of situation if the late Conservative Government had pursued their fight against the miners to its logical end. From my analysis of the situation, I conclude that even if by some miracle our economic situation started to improve tomorrow, we should still be faced with crises due to social change. However, the odds against the country recovering without a very unpleasant situation developing seem to me to be very small indeed.

In all these circumstances from my point of view, the use of the military is likely to be disastrous, and the failure of the Government to preserve essential services and some degree of order under chaotic conditions even more disastrous. It is for these reasons that I believe that we must push forward immediately with some of the ideas which have been suggested this evening. I personally favour increasing the reserve police force, which I think, on the whole, has been what most noble Lords have said. Finally, I hope it will be realised sooner or later that by these sort of measures the unions probably have more to gain in the long run than almost anyone else and, correspondingly, have more to lose; because in a situation where there is no longer any control their whole future and credibility will immediately be at stake. I think we should find that they would no longer exist in the way they have existed. Before it is too late I hope that they can see the sense of this and therefore support any measures that may be put forward to try to keep law and order in this country if the crises of the sort I think are very likely to occur in fact do occur.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that my speech can be even shorter than that of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, who I believe was not only a Regular soldier but a Sapper in his soldiering days, and therefore must have thought a great deal professionally about some of these questions at the time he was serving. I am glad that this un-starred Question has been raised this evening for it is an important one. I must declare an interest. I have never been a special constable but I have served in the Territorial Army for a number of years, and hence perhaps can be excused for, at least in my mind, making comparisons between the two Services. But I am left in no doubt that we in this country have under-estimated the importance of the service which special constables can give. I am certain that we have given lip service, but from my inquiries up and down the country— and I have been closely interested in the subject for about a year—I have found that the support by the county authorities, by the general public and by the regular police varies greatly from area to area. Apart from this regional variation, there is some responsibility in the hands of the Home Office.

The support that the special constabulary get ought to be uniformly strong throughout the country. In the last Report that I could get hold of by the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis for the year 1973, there is one page devoted to special constabulary out of the 100 pages in the Report. From the figures I can see that the special constabulary in the Metropolitan area are not 30 per cent. under strength, as has been reported in this debate, but 80 per cent. under strength. I hope that those figures are out of date and that when the noble Lord replies he will be able to give us a more comforting picture.

Many noble Lords will doubtless have read The Times of 12th February last, in which there was a most impressive letter from Sir Eric St. Johnston who had been Chief Constable in his time both of County Durham and of Lancashire, and was Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary for England and Wales at the end of his service. There is a great deal in that letter (which is too long to read now) which is of interest to noble Lords here this evening. He makes one point which is worth reading. He says: I would like to nail one completely untrue assertion often made by the Police Federation in this matter. They often allege that Police authorities and Chief Constables use the Special Constabulary to avoid increasing the establishment of the regular Police. In all my dealings with Police authorities through- out the long time I served as a senior officer in the Police service in this country, I never once heard it suggested or hinted at by any member of any Police authority that by the employment of the Special Constabulary we need not increase the number of regular policemen employed. I mention that view because I believe it is strongly held, not among the majority of rank and file police in this country but by certain influential members of the Police Federation. I hope that the noble Lord will address himself to that point when he replies. I have spoken to members of the forces of all ranks in different parts of England, and they have all mentioned this outmoded fear on the part of the Police Federation, not just with regard to establishments but also with regard to status generally. It is really an outmoded fear and a luxury that we cannot today afford to allow to continue.

In the county of Cumbria where I have the honour to live, the training of the special constabulary is described basic-ally as training for emergencies; and this, I think, meets the need of the noble Lord opposite. They are not just weekend standins for traffic wardens—and I am not saying that disparagingly; because the two services are equally important, but they are different. There are 450 special constables in Cumbria, a scattered rural area, doing duty regularly, apart from many others who cannot do so regularly but who are none the less valuable. They do regular weekend training courses and they work on an equal basis with the regular forces. That is how it should be throughout the county, although I believe there are certain areas where a division is still maintained. If we can succeed in strengthening the special constabulary by recruiting those with specialist skills and interests, they will get the chance to develop those interests. Rather than recruiting specialists into specialist detachments, as the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, suggested, I should prefer, at least in the first instance, to see recruiting done on a general basis. That is the priority I should give.

I have not been to Malaya and have not seen the break-down there, but anyone who was in Belgium in May 1940 and saw the break-down within 48 hours of the administration of a country so close to us will never forget it. Indeed, they will remember all the emergency policing that was done by the regimental police of the British Army at that time, and how valuable was the work done by that small handful of men. Therefore, when the noble Lord replies, I hope that even if he cannot be precise in his answer to the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne—and I suspect that he may not be able to be entirely precise this evening in reply to an Unstarred Question —I hope that he will leave us in no doubt whatever that the Government intend to see recruitment carried out so that the special constabulary may be brought up nearly to full strength, if not completely up to full strength, and, also, that they will consider some system of payment. I should have thought at least that the latter question was simple and is the least that the noble Lord could tell us. I hope the Government will no longer let either apathy or mistaken fears continue, nor allow the present unsatisfactory state of affairs to remain.

8.2 p.m.


My Lords, one common thread throughout the debate this afternoon has been the general agreement that this question is an extremely difficult one. The very difficulty of the issues concerned merely serves to underline the importance of the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and this point was made most eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I should like to join with other noble Lords who have spoken from all sides—although regrettably not from the noble Lord's own side—in hoping that when he replies he will be able to convince us that the Government are taking the matter seriously and that the question is being studied with the sense of urgency that I think we all agree it deserves.

The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, deserves special congratulation on the timing of his debate, as matters have turned out; and it reflects a great deal of credit on this House because of the way in which your Lordships have lived up to the obligation placed upon you today to say nothing which would be liable to have an adverse influence on the extremely delicately-poised situation which we are facing in Glasgow at the present time. Perhaps it is best to say no more on that point.

Probably the best thing I can do without widening the scope of the debate too much is to look for a moment at the wide range of possible situations with which the kind of force which was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, might reasonably be expected to deal, as a body capable of being interposed between the police, on one hand, and the Armed Services, on the other. The noble Lord referred to the breakdown of essential services, and, of course, this could happen because of accident, natural disaster or attacks from outside, as well as from sabotage, subversion or, indeed, from strikes. Perhaps situations of national crisis or emergency are in some respects slightly different from local disruption or breakdown for other reasons. We have talked about civil disorder and what I might call the "Red Square syndrome," which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Brooke borough in a rather nice Freudian slip—I beg your Lordships' pardon! I have now followed my noble friend in the same Freudian slip by saying "Red Square". I meant to say the "Red Lion Square syndrome".

There is one issue which has not so far been mentioned today; that is hi-jacking and kidnapping carried out by international terrorists coming from out-side the country concerned. It seems to me that ideally each contingency calls for a slightly different response, which might be prepared for by means of employing the slightly different training and skills which are needed. On a previous occasion I have referred to the need to have some body which might be used as an intermediate step between the orthodox police reaction and a full-blown military intervention. It is a sad fact that in an increasingly technically sophisticated world we seem to be breeding at the same time increasingly ruthless and sophisticated groups who threaten our society. As other noble Lords have mentioned, this issue was dealt with exhaustively in the very timely debate which was recently initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont.

In certain circumstances—fortunately rare so far but, I fear, likely to become more common—countering such actions can be beyond the powers of our own unarmed and undermanned police force. Of course, they have built up a reputation which is probably the envy of almost every other country in the world. In fact, the police do not have a very long tradition behind them, so it is perhaps astonishing that they should have got themselves into this enviable position, and it is something that we should seek at all costs to retain. But incidents like those in Red Lion Square and the London Airport security operations call for some kind of buffer force which, while more fully equipped and trained than the police to deal with the kind of emergencies we are talking about, would avoid the necessity of playing our last card too early in the game.

We have also talked about the danger of a vacuum being filled by "unofficial organisations"—which is an expression I prefer to use rather than "voluntary organisations", because we have mentioned that voluntary service is one of the ways in which we might hope to fill some of the existing gaps. If we look at historical precedents, we are in danger— though I do not want to sound over-alarmist about it—of meeting what might be called the "Red Revolutionaries" on the one side and the "Jackboot" on the other. Given the kind of threats which need little imagination to envisage, the public will very promptly judge hardly any Government which have not made any preparations to deal with these situations. As has been said already, one of the first objectives of any subversive organisation is to undermine the confidence of the people in the power of their Legislature and Administration to maintain the ordinary basic necessities of orderly life.

Turning to the essential services, which the noble Lord mentions in his Question, we should probably have to add to the list, as he suggested, transport and essential food supplies. I think we can immediately identify both a practical problem and a political problem. The practical problem was emphasised in one particular instance by my noble friend Lord Brooke borough. Power stations are highly sophisticated affairs nowadays. I dare say that a number of noble Lords have been brought up, as I have, with stories from their fathers of doing what we have all wanted to do—to go and drive a steam engine during the General Strike. I know something about operating steam plants, and I am told there being a number of damaged boilers in the railway system after the General Strike was one of the reasons why it took a great deal of time to recover from it. And that was in the good old days when the equipment was a great deal less complicated than it is today. It is indeed hard to envisage special constables readily being able to avail themselves of the requisite skills to undertake tasks of this kind—and indeed for work in power stations. We can also include waterworks, or even those rather unromantic things, sewage plants. These are no longer simple devices.

In spite of what the noble Lord said, I cannot help wondering whether a solution might not lie in the Civil Defence organisation, which he no doubt accurately but somewhat rudely referred to as "a rump". However, rumps have their uses. We also still have, I believe, a vestigial organisation in the counties where there is an emergency officer who is available for organising services in any kind of a disaster. Could we not envisage one or other of these organisations forming the nucleus of some kind of an emergency arm? Perhaps this might point the way to getting over this politically sensitive, emotive problem, mentioned by a number of noble Lords, which concerns the element of strike breaking. That inevitably comes into consideration of maintenance of essential services. We have to face the fact that the power of people to have their way relies on inconveniencing the public. I do not believe there is any way of burking this particular issue. I say no more.

It would be, as again was said by a number of noble Lords, disastrous if opprobrium were to attach to anybody in uniform because he was seen by some to be engaged in a strike-breaking operation. Even if the public at large claim very properly that it is the Government fulfilling their duty to maintain essential services, this is not the way those who work in those industries are going to see it. I thought it very interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made the point that maybe the Forces have built up a tradition of acceptability in this area. I would question how much of this tradition exists; but I would accept totally that probably they have more acceptability than certain other forces, and notably, I would believe, people who would be dressed in police uniform in these circumstances.

I do not think we need to exaggerate the damage which can literally be damage to life if the kind of services we have in mind are disrupted. This was seen during the power strike. We know that old people have to be kept warm as well as fed. Of course we recognise that human beings have a remarkable capacity to survive, as was shown during the war. But the cost of even quite minor interruptions of essential services in our sophisticated society today can be very high indeed. I was trying to think of a name for the service one would envisage. I came up with a rather unfortunate series of initials in that I thought it might be called the Maintenance of Essential Services Squad, whose initials would spell "Mess". Certainly that is the kind of situation we should be in if we were calling for the use of such a force.

All that I have attempted to say— I think it was agreed by most noble Lords—makes me question very much whether the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, is entirely sound in suggesting that we should look to the special constabulary as the vehicle through which to channel what we all agree is an essential need. May I entirely support and endorse all the words that were said about the value of the special constabulary? I have never ceased to wonder that we get these fantastic services from these people without their being paid. I do not want to become involved in the whole issue of whether we should continue to rely on voluntary service. I merely say that it is quite evident to me that it is going to be something that will become increasingly difficult as life goes on. We want, my Lords, to find some means of postponing the drastic decision to call in troops— that is the term always used: "We must call in the troops". It is precisely for this reason that we need perhaps both a highly trained cadre of technicians and also some kind of heavy squad. But I am sure it is essential that both of these organisations remain under Home Office control. It is for this reason, if none other, that I shall look forward with particular interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, is going to tell us in reply to this debate.

8.17 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, the House will agree that this has been a useful and indeed a valuable debate, and for that reason we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for having instigated it. Inevitably the debate has covered some of the ground that we proceeded over during the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, a few weeks ago. Tempting though it is to repeat admirable speeches one has made of one's own, I would apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, because, tempting though it is, the rest of the House might conceivably be a little impatient if I were to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked me to apologise for the fact that he had to slip away because of another engagement. I do not intend to follow the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, tempting though it would be.

I should like to speak briefly about the role of the special constabulary, who have been referred to in this debate. But first I would deal with specific points made about the regular police; they were made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and indeed by the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat. The strength of the regular police rose by around 1,500 in 1974, and at the end of the year we had a regular police force of over 102,000 men. That left a deficiency on establishment of 12,500. A number of police forces in this country are not under establishment at all. In one or two areas it is quite difficult to get into the local police force. They happen, not surprisingly, to be some of the more attractive areas in which to reside.

The real police problem in this country is in London, South Yorkshire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester. And it is exactly in these areas that, of course, the most difficult police problems arise. Here are the areas where there is the greatest shortage of policemen. It is a serious problem, and I would not want in any way to minimise it. Nevertheless, having said that, it is only right to recognise that there was an increase in the effective size of the police last year; there was a substantial improvement in the last quarter of the year, just after the police pay award was determined. This improvement in recruitment is continuing, although, as I have indicated, the position in London is still very unsatisfactory. There was a small increase last year in the size of the Metropolitan Police; but before we become too enthusiastic about that small increase we have to recognise that it was solely due to the fact that the Metropolitan Police took over the police responsibility at London Airport. Therefore, the British Airports Authority police became members of the Metropolitan Police. If that had not been the situation, there would have been another reduction in the size of the Metropolitan Police last year.

So much for the position so far as the regular police are concerned. I turn now to the subject of this debate, which is the position of the special constabulary. As has been said by a number of your Lordships during this debate, all of the special constables are volunteers. They are unpaid and they are drawn from every section of the community. That is a very important point which was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, during his speech. They are appointed by the local chief officers of police to assist the regular police in carrying out their duties. Under the Police Act 1964, a special constable is under the direction and control of the local chief officer of police who has complete discretion with regard to the operational use which is made of the force. As police officers, special constables are required to show the same impartiality in keeping the peace and enforcing the law as the regular police. Special constables provide a valuable service in support of the regular police. In an emergency situation, they can play a useful part in taking on some of the more routine duties, so releasing regular officers for more difficult tasks.

However, I must make it quite clear to the House that neither the special constabulary nor the regular police is trained to run emergency services. Such training would not be relevant to their duties as constables. I am bound to say that any support of the proposal that the police, whether specials or regular, should be trained and used in this way would be certain to undermine the almost unani- mous acceptance of the police in this country as an impartial law enforcement agency. That is a fundamental feature of our democratic society. The fact is that a group of people who are trained and used to run essential services would not be police officers, as we understand that term. The use of the police in this way would perhaps be the quickest way of bringing about the situation which I am sure the noble Lord who introduced this debate seeks to avoid. For that reason, the two parts of the noble Lord's Question seem to me to be contradictory rather than complementary.

It is well known that successive Governments have prepared and maintained a number of emergency plans in order to maintain the essentials of life to the community in a whole range of emergency situations. This Government have continued the practice. We are taking steps to strengthen the special constabulary, and national and local recruiting campaigns over the past two years have achieved considerable success. The point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, about the number of special constables in the Metropolitan Police; this, in fact, increased last year by 20 per cent. A Working Party of the Police Advisory Board is now carrying out a comprehensive review of the employment of the special constabulary.


My Lords, an increase of the size the noble Lord has mentioned is obviously very satisfactory, but it still leaves the special constabulary well below 50 per cent. of their strength.


My Lords, I should make it clear that establishments of special constables, given the fact that they are not paid, are determined by chief officers of police, not by the Home Office. Therefore, it is left to the judgment of the individual chief officer of police. Obviously, we have a common interest in getting the largest possible number of special constables, and I do not wish to minimise in any way the problem that exists. The need to recruit far more special constables should be one of the central objectives of policy.

As I have already said, a Working Party of the Police Advisory Board is now carrying out a comprehensive review of the employment of the special constabulary. I have no doubt that their conclusions will be concerned—and it is important to recognise this—with the use of special constables in support of the regular police in the proper exercise of their functions, and not for any other purpose. As I have said in reply to the question which has just been asked by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, we need a substantial extra number of special constables. But nothing would do more to damage this recruitment than the acceptance of the proposition which was made in good faith by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. I am quite sure that this would do substantial damage to recruitment for a series of reasons which I will try to give to the House.

First, I come to the point which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, during the course of his very interesting and thoughtful speech. Arguably most unfairly, they would be represented and believed by a substantial number of their fellow citizens to be a corps of licensed strike-breakers. That is not a role for the police force in this country. Incidentally, during the course of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, the question of political extremists being the cause of industrial dislocation, strikes, and so on was raised. If, however, one looks at the terms of the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, we see that the first group of specially trained special constables he specified would be to deal with the problems of Electricity Power.

I am bound to say that the Electrical Trades Union is probably one of the most moderate trade unions in the country. The present leader of that union became the leader as a result of the most bitter battle with an entrenched Communist leadership. That battle eventually went to the courts where my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner presented the case for the anti-Communist element within that union. As the House will recall, after an extraordinarily long hearing, the courts found in favour of the anti-Communist elements within the union, on the grounds of the impropriety of the elections of the then Communist leadership. This is an indication of why it is a mistake to assume that all industrial disputes are caused by Communist militants. They are not.

My second point is that when moderate men are involved it is particularly foolish for a Government to take any step which can embitter relations between the Government on the one side, and moderate men who belong to a trade union on the other. That is a situation which we want to go to very substantial lengths indeed to avoid.


My Lords, the noble Lord has dealt with the position of the police, and has said why it would be most undesirable for the police to be used in any form of emergency, likening them to strike breakers. But what will the Government do if they find themselves in a situation where the life of the country cannot be carried on? Is the country to be allowed to collapse and the people to starve?


My Lords, I hope to come to that point in a moment. I am trying to deal with the position so far as the police are concerned. If I may, I will come to the remainder of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, at the end.

If I may return to the problem which the House must recognise of using special constables for this purpose, which is the issue before the House this evening, I think that the situation would be even worse, if we were to contemplate it. It would affect not only the special constables. As I have indicated to the House, special constables act under the instruction and under the direction of the local chief officers of police—the Commissioner of Police in London and the local Chief Constable in the case of all forces outside London. Therefore, the men under their control would be dragged into a large range of industrial disputes and during the course of those disputes would be used as agents of the State in an attempt to force a Government victory.

I cannot conceive of any situation which would do more to embitter relations between the regular police forces of this country and the community as a whole, than conduct of that sort. I put it to the House that I do not believe any Government on either side of this House would in fact embark along that road. It is fraught with the gravest risks and I very much hope that Members of the House, disturbed though they are by the facts just mentioned by the noble Lord, would agree that we should be hesitant before we adopted courses of that sort.

As I have indicated, this problem comes to us at a time when the regular police are already facing a number of formidable difficulties. We have a situation of rising crime, a disturbing increase in violence and, in recent months, the problem of terrorist violence which we have seen in Great Britain for the first time, though in Northern Ireland they have had this problem a great deal longer. It seems to me that at no time in the immediate past would it have been more inappropriate to take steps of the sort advocated today than it is at the present time. As I indicated a moment or two ago, in this situation the police require the whole-hearted support of the entire community. I believe this support would be jeopardised if the police were involved in some of the practices recommended here today. This is the reason why I must tell the House quite bluntly that the police service in this country is strongly opposed to any suggestion of the sort that has been made in this Question today. There would be strong support for that view from all ranks of the police service in this country, and I think the House recognises that.

The noble Lord interjected a moment ago to ask a perfectly reasonable question, and indeed it was asked earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. He asked: If you say this cannot be done, then what can be done? If I may say so, the answer to that is, to some extent, the existing legislation which is available to Government; namely the Emergency Powers Act of 1964. This touches on a question which was mentioned a moment or two ago by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal—the kind of situation with which we are confronted in Glasgow at the moment. That is a situation where the officials at the Scottish Office and the Glasgow Area Health Board have indicated that they believe there is an acute danger to the health of the citizens of Glasgow. As a result of that the Government have decided, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland made a Statement to this effect in another place yesterday, that troops will be used. Indeed, they will be moving into Glasgow tomorrow. A thousand men will be involved, with 250 vehicles sup-porting them.

This is not an unprecedented situation. When the late Government were in Office there was a similar situation—strangely enough, also in Glasgow—when there was a dispute in the local fire service and when troops were again used. Indeed, there have been two other examples since 1970 when the same thing has been done. So it is quite wrong to say that no power exists: the difficult question, so far as governments are concerned, is: what is the appropriate moment to act? Obviously, all governments want to have a peaceful resolution of a difficult industrial situation. If troops are used too early it can sometimes lead to a dangerous deterioration of the situation.

On all these occasions in recent years, governments of different political persuasions have decided to use the military, and I think they were right to do so, and I am sure that is the appropriate way to deal with the problems which have been raised in this debate today. As I have indicated, in my view troops should be used only as a last resort. I say this as a Home Office Minister who is aware of the calls on the police, but one also has to recognise the very heavy calls on the resources of the Army, not least in Northern Ireland where I had the opportunity of seeing the problems faced by the military, and indeed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, only a few weeks ago.

I have tried to indicate today why I believe that the use of special constables in the way recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, would be a mistake. But in saying that I do not want in any way to give the impression that the Government or I try to deny the existence of some of the problems which have been outlined in this debate. So far as we are concerned, there is absolutely no complacency about what is a very real problem, and all I would say to the House is that it is important for the Government to consider with great care before they act in this extremely sensitive area. I have tried to outline why I think that the course recommended by the noble Lord would in our judgment be a mistake, and why I think that in difficult situations of this sort the correct way of dealing with the problem is by the use of the powers conferred on the Government by the Emergency Powers Act of 1964.