HL Deb 31 January 1980 vol 404 cc1017-21

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Belstead.)


My Lords, we on these Benches have already welcomed this Bill. Indeed, action along these lines was contemplated before the change of Government took place last year. There is something which I should like to say at this stage. In your Lordships' Second Reading debate, I referred to the proposal for an independent secretariat and welcomed warmly the recommendation by the Edmund-Davies Committee that it should be set up.

However, I expressed slight concern that it was not provided for in the Bill itself, although, as I think three speakers who took part in that debate pointed out—the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and myself—it was referred to in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill. So it was obviously accepted by the Government in principle.

I feel it only fair to mention now that I was most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for underlining in, if I may say so, a clear and emphatic way in his reply to the Second Reading debate, the Government's commitment to the proposal for an independent secretariat. It was for that reason that I did not need to return to the matter either in Committee or on Report. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for the emphasis that he gave to the Government's commitment.

There is only one other matter to which I should like briefly to refer. Apart from the tributes which we paid to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, and his Committee, we also had the opportunity on a previous occasion to say how pleased we are that the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, has agreed to serve as chairman of the new Police Negotiating Board. He has considerable knowledge of these matters and was brought on to the Edmund-Davies Committee as deputy chairman by my right honourable friends when its terms of reference were extended to deal with police pay in December 1977.

I do not think, however, that we should let this moment pass without noting that the services of the chairman and deputy chairman of the new board are being secured at such small cost. As the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum says, the total fees, depending on the number of meetings, are not expected to exceed £1,100 in the first year. Moreover, if the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, will not feel it embarrassing for me to mention this, a Government Press Notice of 25th July 1979 said that the noble Lord, Lord Plowden: does not wish to receive any remuneration for his duties as chairman of the new police negotiating body". I think it only right that we should not pass over or take for granted the contribution which very busy people make for the public good. People generally should be made aware of this, and acknowledge it. I am bound to add also that I feel that we do on occasion get services of this kind too much "on the cheap", and that sometimes the nation itself does not face up to its full responsibilities in these matters. I hope that your Lordships will give a Third Reading to the Bill.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may ask a question on Clause 1, relating to the proposed composition of the negotiating board. Clause 1 reads: There shall be a Board to be known as the Police Negotiating Board … representing the interests of the authorities who between them maintain the Police Service. I understand that in the face of opposition by the local authority associations the Government are insisting that part of the negotiating board shall consist of lay magistrates. Lay magistrates, under no circumstances at all, could be described as a body which maintains police services, although they have a role to play in the police authorities' function. If that is the Government's intention, I think that we should know about it.

Secondly, I should like to ask the noble Lord how he reconciles that with the reply which he gave to my question; namely, that there is no intention on the part of the Government to weaken the democratic element within the Police Service. It is quite evident that if for the first time lay magistrates are to be included on the Police Negotiating Board, there is a dilution of the power of local authorities and central Government. This, in my opinion, confirms the trend we have seen in the Police Service ever since the 1964 Bill, of an insidious wearing away of the democratic responsibility for the police forces in this country.

4 p.m.


My Lords, with regard to the point which the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, has raised, this of course was the intention of the report of the committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, upon which the drafting of this Bill is based. It is for that reason that one-third of the official side of the Police Negotiating Board shall be magistrates. The composition of the board, as the noble Lord will notice if he cares to glance yet again at the Bill, is provided for in Clause 1(3): … the board shall be established in accordance with … consultations between the Secretary of State and … those who make up the board. These consultations have been undertaken, and it has now been agreed that this shall be the make-up of the board.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, for what he said. He reminded us that perhaps the most substantive matter which was raised by several noble Lords, of whom he was one, when the Bill was first debated on Second Reading, was whether in fact there would be an independent secretariat. It was provided for as a matter of principle in the Bill, and it is because Clause 1(3), which I have just mentioned in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, lays a duty that there shall be consultation between the Government and the authorities making up the board, that it is not written on the face of the Bill that the independent secretariat shall be part of the machinery of the board.

I repeat, these consultations have been undertaken, and I should like to make it crystal clear that all are agreed that the independent secretariat shall exist and it is indeed being provided by the Office of Manpower Economics. I think it only remains for me to thank noble Lords who have taken part in the discussions on this short but extremely important Bill for their work on it as it has gone through your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I do not very often detain the House, but before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him to deal with two specific points. Perhaps it is unusual to ask the noble Lord's opinion, but is it not a fact that this does dilute the democratic control of the police forces; and, secondly, will he make it clear whether or not the local authority associations resisted to the end the idea of lay magistrates being put on the board?


My Lords, it reflects the make-up of police authorities throughout the country and therefore seems self-evidently right. Certainly it appeared self-evidently right to the committee under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, and I think it appears self-evidently right to those who now make up the board, because my answer to the second point which the noble Lord has raised is, Yes, indeed. The local authorities pointed out very strongly to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the difficulties which they saw in this, but after consultations between the local authorities and my right honourable friend, it has been agreed that this is the way in which the board shall be constituted.


My Lords, can the Minister inform me as to how this is interpreted in Scotland? Since the wiping out of burgh courts I do not think that the term "lay magistrate" has much effect now, and this Bill deals with Scotland as well as England and Wales.


My Lords, the noble Lord has bowled me rather a fast ball, and I shall have to write to him on that point.

Read 3a, an Amendment (privilege) made; Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.