HL Deb 17 June 1985 vol 465 cc10-26

3.2 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill now be further considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Lord Elton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 42 [Reorganisation of functions]:

Lord Mishcon moved Amendment No. 80AA: Page 26, line 22, leave out paragraph (a).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the permission of the House, I shall also be speaking to Amendments Nos. 80AD and 80AG. Also, in order to save your Lordships two speeches from me, I shall in the course of my remarks introduce the relevant matters to Amendments Nos. 80AB, 80AE and 80AH. Amendment No. 80AB: Page 26, line 25, leave out paragraph (b).

Amendment No. 80AD: Page 26, line 40, after ("functions") insert ("except functions relating to police").

Amendment No. 80AE: Page 26, line 40, after ("functions") insert ("except fire and civil defence functions").

Amendment No. 80AG: Page 27, line 2, leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment No. 80AH: Page 27, line 11, leave out paragraph (b).

I shall be asking for the opinion of the House to be taken (unless, of course, the Minister, with his usual conciliation and adjustability, in fact accepts these amendments) in regard to the police force as distinct from the fire and civil defence authorities.

Lord Elton

My Lords, will the noble Lord help us further? I ticked off what he said. I understand that he is not proposing to speak to Amendments Nos. 80AC or 80AF. The understanding I was given after midday today was that the grouping would run from Amendment No. 80AA to Amendment No. 80AH, and that only Amendments Nos. 80AJ and 80AK, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, were to be taken on their own. Having been given that information very late in the day, it is slightly disturbing to have it altered at this stage.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, no. If I may follow, as I hope I do, the noble Lord the Minister, my understanding is that my noble friend Lord Carmichael will be speaking to Amendments Nos. 80AF, 80AJ, 80AK and 80AC. I shall be speaking to the rest of the amendments until Amendment No. 80AH. I shall, however, be asking for the opinion of the House to be taken in regard to the police separately from that in regard to fire and civil defence. I believe that the House would wish to take those matters separately, although the case for them may be very much the same.

In talking particularly to Amendment No. 80AA, I hope the House will agree that there is no one who could say that these amendments hit at any of the principles behind the Bill. I believe this to be a submission that not even the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, would make; nor the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, if he were in his place, or the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, if he was in his. They are the three great proponents, if I may say so, of answering any amendment that they feel can be so appropriately answered by saying that it infringes in some way the principle of the Bill. There is nothing in these amendments that does that.

The amendment, together with its brother amendments, if I may so call them, does what this House always wants to do: that is, accepting for a moment all the aims and principles of the Bill, to see that the Bill properly carries out sensible and reasonable provisions, that it does no harm and that, if possible, it does some good.

These amendments relate to Clause 42 of the Bill. I wonder whether I may be permitted to remind your Lordships of what the clause seeks to do. It seeks to do something to fundamental activities for securing the safety of the state and (if I may use a phrase beloved of the Government and, indeed, fully supported by the Opposition) to matters that deal with law and order and security. All of a sudden in Clause 42, a power is given to the Secretary of State which I shall quote. The clause reads: The Secretary of State may by order make provision for any of the following purposes". I concentrate on paragraph (a), which states: the constitution of a metropolitan district or of the county of Northumberland as a separate police area with its own police force and police authority". In other words, this clause seeks to give permission for the fragmentation of a police area to be vested under the Bill in a joint board.

I do not need to remind your Lordships that when the Secretary of State does something by order he does it with the approval of both Houses of Parliament. It is done by affirmative procedure or negative procedure. This is to be done by the affirmative procedure. Your Lordships will know that, certainly in regard to this House, it is almost unprecedented that a vote is taken even on an affirmative Motion to approve an order. Your Lordships will most likely consider that if any case at all is made by the Minister for this long-stop power, one should see, when dealing with the police force, that when an area, happily and satisfactorily developed over the course of years, is to be upset, it should be done by primary legislation and not by an order of the Secretary of State.

Having said that, I should like to quote several passages this afternoon. I do not usually quote so many passages as I shall this afternoon. However, before I indulge in these quotations, perhaps your Lordships will allow me, as the person on these Benches privileged to have the responsibility for home affairs, to beg your Lordships to consider the matter from the point of view of home affairs' responsibility, regardless of party and regardless of what Government may be in power.

With your Lordships' permission, I shall indulge in some quotations in order to see just where we had reached before Clause 42 found its way into this Bill and before your Lordships at the Report stage. As a matter of courtesy, as you would expect of me, I have given the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, notice that I should be quoting what he recently said in an interview which he had with Mr. Barry Loveday of the Birmingham Polytechnic, who was carrying out a certain inquiry.

On 18th January 1985 the noble Viscount was interviewed by Mr. Barry Loveday. We all know the noble Viscount's great experience at the Home Office, quite apart from the other offices of state which he has dignified by holding. The noble Viscount said: I would stand up for the Police Authority. I think it is going to be a difficult problem getting the Police Authorities right after the Metropolitan Counties are over. I think this is going to be difficult. I always thought that was one of the difficulties of doing this. It is, and I don't think you would find anyone in the Home Office who does not accept that". How right is the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, and how chary one must be before dealing with these police areas and police authorities after this Bill has passed. The difficulties facing police authorities are being deliberately increased by the inclusion of the secession option in Clause 42, and it is not too dramatic to say that the Sword of Damocles is now hanging over them because of this residuary power of the Secretary of State.

Before I deal with the opinion of the chief constables and Ministers, let me first deal with the view of the experts. PA Management Consultants were called in by the six metropolitan counties to examine what might be the position relating to various matters, having regard to this Bill. They issued a report. I should like to quote from their report. It says: the Government's proposals to allow districts to opt out of Joint Boards will introduce a strong element of instability into their arrangements … The wish on the part of districts to opt out will colour their attitude to the Boards from the start". 3.15 p.m.

Let me now deal with the Government's own expert views as set out in their White Paper entitled Streamlining the Cities. At paragraph 2.18 of that White Paper the Government stated that they were, satisfied that the present general structure of police authorities is working well and that it would not be appropriate now to consider breaking up existing police forces". In order to save making two long speeches I have said that I would include the fire authorities, but in this speech and for the purpose of your Lordships making a decision, I am emphasising the position of the police force quite separately. Paragraph 2.19 then says: the Government believe that the present fire service organisation in the metropolitan counties and in Greater London is broadly appropriate on both operational and cost grounds and the existing brigades will be retained". Is this a quarrel between the Home Office and the Department of the Environment? If it is, it ought to be resolved in the fact that the noble Lord the Minister in this House who graced the Home Office now graces the Department of the Environment. Therefore, I hope that in some synthesis he can resolve any difficulty there might have been between the departments.

However, in July 1984 the Secretary of State for the Environment issued some more details of the Government's proposals in a document entitled Abolition of the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan County Councils. At paragraph 2.12 the Secretary of State gingerly said: The White Paper proposed statutory joint boards for a small number of services: police, fire and public transport in the metropolitan counties, and education and fire in London. But it made clear that the Government would consider on their merits any proposals by individual district councils to provide separate transport services outside the Passenger Transport Executive framework". Then he went on: They have decided that, for the other services, joint boards remain the right solution, although they also announced on May 4th that they would provide for the possibility that individual authorities or groups of authorities could take over responsibility for fire and police services in their areas. The local authorities would be required to satisfy the Home Secretary, once the joint boards had been in operation for a reasonable time (and no application would be entertained before then), that they would administer the services more effectively, and that provision in the rest of the metropolitan area or nationally would not be adversely affected". Let me explain to your Lordships why I spoke about the opposing views, so it seemed, of the Home Office and the Department of the Environment, which seem to want to throw something for the edification, if not for the appetite, of district councils in regard to this Bill. If The Times is an accurate reporter of events, on 30th July 1984 it published an article which stated: Conservative MPs concerned about effective policing have been given private assurances by Mr. Leon Brittan, the Home Secretary, that powers which would allow the break up of police authorities in the metropolitan counties will never be used". If that account, that they would never be used, is accurate, why include the clause in the Bill and why have the Sword of Damocles hanging over the police authorities? If there be an exceptional event, which not even the Home Secretary can foresee, why not deal with such a serious matter by primary legislation, and not by an order?

I shall now deal with the chief constables. Your Lordships usually take chief constables to be people who are not actuated by any self-aggrandisement or by any political considerations, but are experts in their own forces and, by and large, do a national job which we admire so much. What do they have to say? A Parliamentary Question raised by Mr. Eldon Griffiths, on 31st January in another place, as reported at col. 245 of the Official Report, asked: How many chief constables have made known to the Home Secretary their views on possible breakaways from the proposed police joint boards? I quote from part of his Question. That part was answered by the Minister, Mr. Giles Shaw, in the following terms: No chief constable has indicated to my right honourable and learned friend that he favours a change in existing force areas". I now quote from a gentleman whose name is not unknown to your Lordships, Mr. James Anderton, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, who is not known to be a rebel against the establishment. What he had to say, as quoted in the Manchester Evening News, is something that I find necessary to quote before your Lordships. It is the Manchester Evening News of 10th January, and this is what he said: the possibility of the county force being broken up either wholly or in part was 'totally ludicrous'. He added: 'I can't understand why this particular clause is in the Bill'", and he was referring to the clause that I am dealing with before your Lordships today. Serious disruption of the major metropolitan forces in this country at perhaps the most sensitive period in police history in modern times makes no kind of sense at all". He added that it was, nonsense to say that the clause would not be invoked ant then leave it in the Bill". If I may say so, what a sensible observation and how moderate in its tone!

Then there is Mr. Geoffrey Deare. On his appointment to the post of chief constable of the West Midlands on 22nd February of this year he said that he was, opposed to moves to split the force into smaller 'borough style' forces on abolition of the County Council. I think it would be a pity if it happened". There I am quoting from the Birmingham Post of 23rd February 1985.

I referred to Mr. Loveday of the Birmingham Polytechnic who was asked to conduct an investigation and research on behalf of the Merseyside Police Authority. Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I quote from this relevant portion of his report, as follows: The provision of this additional clause within the Local Government Bill came as something of a surprise to senior members of the Police Service. There had been an assumption among Chief Constables within the Metropolitan areas that the maximum reorganisation to which their service would be subject would entail the replacement of the existing Police Authority by a Joint Board. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the inclusion of Clause 42 within the Bill has caused some consternation among members of the Police service. It is of interest that the Association of Chief Police Officers was not consulted prior to the decision to add this new power. Even more surprisingly, members of Her Majesty's Inspectorate at the Home Office were not informed either. In addition to the reservations which members of the Inspectorate have expressed as to the viability of Joint Boards must now be added the problems which will arise from de-amalgamating"— I ask your Lordships' forgiveness for that word— some, if not all, of these Metropolitan Forces. One HMI commented that the decision made by the Secretary of State for the Environment concerning the creation of District Forces appeared to him to be 'inexplicable'. An immediate issue arising from this is the degree of commitment to the proposed de-amalgamation of Metropolitan Forces within the Home Office itself. It is of interest that the general view held within the Police Department is that there is not justification for de-amalgamation whatsoever. This view was expressed by the Deputy Under-Secretary who stated that he 'saw no need for any increase in the number of police forces' ". What is almost my last quotation goes back to something said by the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw. It is a quotation of 18th January, and I ought to say that I made inquiries, having given notice to the noble Viscount, and in answer to my inquiries I was told that the transcript of the interview with the noble Viscount was sent to him before publication and that he had no amendments to make. It reads: In response to an inquiry as to whether the Government would implement the provision of de-amalgamation powers, Lord Whitelaw commented: 'That is certainly not the Government's intention. They (the Districts) may believe that is what will happen in the end. They have always wanted it to happen. I think, myself, that the Home Office will be very much against that. After all, having put all those police forces together, they are hardly going to want to split them up again'". I wish that the noble Viscount would have consented to add his name to my own support of this amendment, but in a sense he has done so by making these pregnant sentences available to me in pursuance of what I am moving.

Lastly, I should like to turn to the ordinary members of the police forces—not the chief constables. What do they think? Perhaps I may quote from the Police Magazine of March 1985: Home Office resistance to what appears to have been originally an initiative of the Secretary of State for the Environment, has most recently been evidenced in correspondence between the Home Secretary and the Police Federation. In a letter to the Secretary of the Police Federation the Home Secretary stated:—'We have stressed that it is not our intention to use these powers in the foreseeable future. No application from a Metropolitan district to have its own police force will even be considered until the Joint Authorities have been in operation for a reasonable time"'. The article in the Police Magazine of March 1985 continues: Further, in the light of the Government's justification for the abolition of the Metropolitan Counties, the Home Secretary concluded his statement by commenting that:— 'I am satisfied that the Metropolitan County Forces are efficient and I see no justification for altering the Force Areas'". The professionals, the experts, Ministers, past eminent Home Secretaries, all say that this is never likely to happen. I repeat: if, indeed, the Minister wishes to reply that a reserve power is always useful, may I say that we are very careful about the reserve powers we give in an Act of Parliament. If the exception of the rule, the million to one chance, which seems to emerge from the quotations that I have given is the only time when this clause will ever by brought into effect, perhaps may I say that your Lordships would expect that it be done by primary legislation, properly considered after full consultations, and with Parliament knowing what they are doing to the great police force of our country. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am glad to be able to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who has close relations with the police. He has had association with the police in the same sort of way that I have had; that is, close association with the police for a long time. Together we should be able to make a strong case.

My name appears on three amendments compared to a much longer list of his, but I shall try to keep my few words to these three amendments and I shall try to avoid repeating what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has already said so clearly.

I think both he and I can agree on the first thing that comes to mind; and that is that too much power is likely to be in the hands of the Home Secretary. The Bill could bring big changes in our police. There may be cases come forward with poor reason, subject, perhaps, to political pressures, but when one considers police business it is always necessary to look ahead.

3.30 p.m.

What distresses me particularly is that we have not had a public inquiry before any decision, such as we could see, with the splitting of a metropolitan district from a metropolitan county. In practice the Minister's powers seem almost unlimited. The clause appears to be drafted both ways. It is possible for a district to break away from a metropolitan county, while it is possible for there to be amalgamation under the powers in the Bill. These might be parochial matters or there might be decisions which would have some effect throughout the country, and still there would be no proper inquiry.

Reference has been made to the constitutional issue which the noble Lord has been speaking about. There is another and practical side. We live in a world where police efficiency depends to some extent on the size of the force. However, that happens not in this country alone. The 1964 Act and later provisions were drafted with this trend in view. It would surely be foolish now to risk fragmenting larger forces against this trend, which cannot be ignored or overlooked.

I make no great claims to professional experience, but I have spent some time with police forces, probably more abroad than at home. I have tried hard to learn, to get into their minds and to try to live in their world, because it is a special world. In Britain, I am sure there is no feeling against the idea of a national force. But where could the Home Secretary's powers lead under the Bill? We might find ourselves well on the road to a single national force.

I have not yet heard any expression of the view or preference of the police authorities. It is strange that in the police world the main control has been in the hands of those who move in a grey area which is very imprecise. First, we have the authority of the Home Secretary, which is difficult to grasp; then we have chief constables, who tend to seek more power; then we have the police authorities, which do not know what their own position is. I have spoken to many of them. In the near future we must think clearly ahead as to how we would like this control. We do not now want to bring arrangements into being under this Bill which could make it more difficult to work out. It would be best to leave well alone for the time being and, while there is no clear evidence of any breakaway, let us leave the words out of the Bill that we are considering.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am anxious to find the right speech on this occasion! Clause 42, to which these amendments are addressed, provides for the reorganisation of the functions for the joint authorities to be set up under Part IV. I shall from time to time refer to transport issues because they are embedded in the workings of the clause. I want to start by ensuring that your Lordships are familiar with the way the clause works as now drafted, because it is to changing that that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, with the assistance of my noble friend Lord Inglewood, has addressed himself, and it is proper so to do.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, before the Minister continues, I wonder whether he would help me in the same way as I was trying to help him in having this matter dealt with tidily. What I thought was (I should love him to agree or disagree) that the opinion of the House, and therefore, the debate, ought to be limited first to the police, then to fire and then to transport. Otherwise we shall have speeches on transport, on fire and civil defence which will muddy the whole issue. To be frank, I regard the police as possibly the most important, although I do not in any way diminish the importance of civil defence, fire and transport. However, they are separate issues and I therefore do not want them to be muddied by a mixed debate, as I said. In my speech I tried to talk only about the police and I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister may agree that it is proper to do the same in his.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think I ought to take your Lordships a little into my confidence about the background to this. I was not surprised when at the close of business on Friday, which was about seven or eight o'clock at night, it was not possible to get any indication of the groupings which noble Lords opposite wished for these amendments. I was not altogether surprised when I telephoned the usual channels on Saturday to get the same response. I was a little surprised when at nine o'clock, ten o'clock, eleven o'clock, half past eleven and at twelve o'clock today I could still get no groupings from the usual channels. When I thankfully received the groupings they were, as I stated at the beginning of this debate, that all the amendments down to Amendment No. 80AH were to be taken together and Amendments Nos. 80AJ and 80AK were to be taken separately. I was content with that and it was on that basis that I put my remarks together.

I have endeavoured to mark out in my speech the passages which refer exclusively to the police, those which refer to fire and civil defence and those which refer to transport. It is my honest intention to try to follow the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, but I must say that it would have been useful it I could have known them sooner through the usual channels. I do not propose to make a great song and dance about this or score any runs off it. I do not ask your Lordships to give me any credit for coping with a difficult situation. I merely say that I shall do my best, but the Bill is constructed with these three facets interwoven and when I deal with the way the Bill works I shall refer to transport, fire and civil defence. But they will not be germane to my arguments and I am perfectly prepared to look at the police alone, which is what the noble Lord wishes me to do.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I interrupt for the very last time, but I am trying to get things clear for the future. I want to make it abundantly clear that not over the weekend when I was abroad but certainly not in the course of this morning did I receive any message about the groupings—this is, after all, an amendment to which my name is attached as is the name of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood—but if the noble Lord the Minister had indulged in the often more convenient channels of a personal call to me I should have told him at any time this morning that the police were being taken separately from civil defence and fire and that transport was also being taken separately. I regret that we were not in touch.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I always regret an opportunity missed to speak to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, particularly outside the Chamber, where we more frequently agree than we do inside it. The amendments to which I refer carried also the names of my noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, and, until we discovered that they were not a part of this, there were amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. It is the function of the usual channels on the noble Lord's side of the House to make the communications which the noble Lord says were not made and not for the usual channels, or indeed the unusual channels on this side of the House, to volunteer and, as I always do when I interfere in other people's business, get things in a muddle. We seem to have done it without my assistance on this occasion.

Having said what I intended to say and why I am going to say it, I shall proceed to say it. Clause 42, to which all these amendments are addressed, provides for the reorganisation of the functions of the joint authorities that are to be set up under Part IV. The joint authority with which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is particularly concerned is that for the police. The other two dealt with in the clause are for the fire service and civil defence, which now have one authority, and for passenger transport. The noble Lord's interest in the police is shared by my noble friend Lord Inglewood, but not the other two.

Broadly, the first subsection of the clause enables the appropriate Secretary of State to make an order withdrawing any district from the police authority or any borough or district from the fire authority and constituting it a separate police or fire authority in its own right. Under paragraph (c)he could also withdraw a district from the passenger transport area— but I shall leap over that passage.

The second subsection of Clause 42 provides for the Secretary of State, again by order, to arrange for the re-combination of seceding districts into new police or fire authorities where that is appropriate, or for them to amalgamate with other existing police authorities. The Bill as at present drafted therefore permits the Secretary of State to take one of four courses in respect of the police authorities.

The first he can take is what I would call the normal one. It consists of leaving things as they are or rather as, after abolition, they will be. The second is to take one district out of the joint authority on its own and leave it on its own as a separate authority in its own right. The third is to take two or more districts out of the set and to set them up together as a new joint authority. The fourth and final course is to take one or more districts out of the set and put them straight in with the existing shire county police authority next door.

Subsection (3) requires the Secretary of State to consult with the parties to any such reorganisation before he makes an order to do any of the things that I have described, whether they relate to the police or to another authority.

What I have so far described are the provisions of the Bill as it is drafted. Before I deal with the changes that noble Lords opposite want to make in these provisions, I ought to state why we put them in in the first place. It could be called an act of humility or common sense because what we have done is to look at the recent history of local government in this country and to learn an important lesson from it. It is a lesson, I should add, that nobody in the world but Ministers and politicians would have to learn because everybody else has known it all along.

It is simply this. No matter how right what we do may seem to us now, it is almost certain that it will not remain the best arrangement for ever. Later, if not sooner, we shall need to make changes. That has been proved by the reorganisation of 1965 and proved again by the reorganisation of 1974. If the changes needed later prove to be fundamental or sweeping, then clearly they must be made (as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, suggests that these should be made) by primary legislation. But primary legislation is slow and expensive when it can be obtained, and very often there is a long wait for it. Often, it also calls into question by politicans much larger areas than actually require attention; and this alone curbs the enthusiasm of governments to embark upon it.

There ought therefore to be in the Bill provision for change of lesser matters that will otherwise have to remain unaltered long after they have been proved to be unsatisfactory. I am speaking now of things not big enough for statute but too big for the Secretary of State to do, as it were, at will. There must still be safeguards in the form both of consultation and of parliamentary procedure but not full-blown legislation.

It seems to us that the pattern of allocation of functions between grouped local authorities falls into exactly this category of change and that the consultative duty and the affirmative procedure in both Houses of Parliament provide exactly those safeguards. I repeat that we would be very arrogant if we now were to assume that we have all these arrangements exactly right already, and we would be very optimistic if we assumed that the minute we or our successors thought that they were wrong, time would be available for primary legislation to right them.

But that is what Amendments Nos. 80AA to 80AH would in effect be saying; and I address myself only to those on Lord Mishcon's list. Amendment No. 80AA strikes clean out of the Bill the Secretary of State's power to set up a single district as a police authority on its own; and Amendment No. 80AG strikes clean out of the Bill both his power to take two or more districts out of a joint authority and form them into a new joint authority by themselves and his power to take a single district from a joint authority and put it with an adjacent one.

I ask your Lordships—and in particular I ask my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who wishes to help the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in this matter and who has such long and creditable police service experience, as I very well know from conversations I had with him on a number of occasions when I held office in the Home Office—to ask whether you are absolutely, 100 per cent., rock-bottom, solid certain that we have got these groupings right—not just for now, as I for one believe we have, but for all time or, at least, for the entire life of this legislation.

Indeed, did not the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, say a great deal on his own behalf and even not a little on behalf of my noble friend Lord Whitelaw to the effect that it is difficult to get these arrangements right even to start with? The noble Lord quoted my noble friend. And talking of quotations reminds me that he referred to, and put some weight on, the Loveday Birmingham Polytechnic Report. Obviously, I cannot comment extensively on a report which has only just been sent to the Home Office for information but it may be of interest that the chief constable of Merseyside has told us that he is seeking legal advice on the possibility of taking action over some of the statements in the report. Obviously, I can say no more than that—

3.45 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, before the noble Lord continues, I was very careful to say—and I am sure that he heard me—that I would not quote what the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, had said without two precautions: first of all, a courtesy call to his office to say that I would be quoting from this report of what he was supposed to have said; and, secondly, that I obtained information that the transcript of the interview was sent to the noble Viscount before publication for any observations that he had to make. My report is that he had no such observations. Since I am only relying upon the accuracy of the report for the quotations of what the noble Viscount had to say, I do not think that the Minister ought to take any more joy out of referring to the fact that somebody or other may be taking certain proceedings against the gentleman who edited or compiled that report.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I rather think that the noble Lord will find that we are at cross-purposes when he reads Hansard. I have no quarrel with the noble Lord's wish to quote my noble friend. Indeed, my noble friend has no quarrel and, as the noble Lord has said, he has accurately quoted a transcript which my noble friend had no wish to correct. However, I am heartened in saying that and would not have said it if it did not strengthen my argument which is that we cannot be confident that we get these things immediately right and that we ought to have some means of putting them right if we prove not to have got them right after they have been running for a while.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, might I ask my noble friend one question if he will allow me? Can he confirm that the Government are doing their best to bring the police and the public really close together? In the times in which we are living it is very important that that should happen; and there is a terrible tendency that their ways should part.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I can confirm that, with the close personal experience of the way in which community policing was developing when I was at the Home Office and is continuing to develop. I would endorse absolutely my noble friend's thesis which underlies what he has said in his question; that policing is something which ought to come from the community and not be imposed upon it. Once you have community policing, you have an orderly public. But I am not quite certain how that knits into the matters that we are discussing now because plainly that will remain the case whatever the size of the police authority. Indeed, I suppose that there are those who would suggest that a smaller authority would be closer to the public and that there might be something to be said for reducing the size of the authorities which the noble Lord asks us to leave intact unless we have primary legislation to enable us to change them.

Since we are on the subject of the Home Office position, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, suggested that there was a divergence of view between the Home Office and the Department of the Environment, or more particularly between my respective right honourable friends who stand at the head of each. I am glad to reassure him that we are in fact at one; and so are they. We both believe that there ought to be arrangements for secession, and we both hold that they should be used only in a way that will not harm, and which ought actually to benefit, the service in question.

May I also reassure the noble Lord on another point, which he could with advantage pass on to his senior friends in the police force? My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has said, I confirm, publicly as well as privately, that he would not consider applications to secede until existing forces had been in operation for a reasonable time after abolition. That he has said both in public and private, and, indeed, in my hearing. But what he has not said in any of those contexts is that he will never do so, and that none of his successors will do so, either. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, accurately predicted that I would say this, that a reserve power is often very useful—and a reserve power is indeed what this is.

I then come to the difficulty of extracting the telling points that I wish to make about the police from the telling points I wish to make on other subjects which the noble Lord denies me. I have in fact covered the ground in some detail. I am convinced that it is right to provide flexibility, as this clause does, for the boroughs and districts to take over, in the future, responsibility for functions which, on abolition, will be transferred to joint authorities. I believe the safeguards which already exist to protect the interests of the other authorities involved, and of the services themselves, are adequate in the Bill. Your Lordships know that the Secretary of State would never contemplate allowing secession unless he was thoroughly convinced that the services offered would be as good as or better than those under the joint authorities. Your Lordships will know that neither would the Secretary of State contemplate allowing secession unless he was thoroughly convinced that the new arrangements will be economic and sound. If the Secretary of State decided in favour of secession it would not he who had the final word: it would be Parliament.

We are proceeding by the affirmative procedure. This is not something which a Secretary of State could do, by any sleight of hand or stretch of the imagination, in private. It is something which would, by the nature of the scope of the operation, be very public, which would be tabled as an order before it was debated in both Houses. I know that your Lordships feel—and frequently say—that the affirmative procedure is a weak one because your Lordships do not in fact amend an order. But your Lordships have been over this ground with the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, as it now is, very carefully, and have pronounced yourselves satisfied with the procedure for that very delicate purpose on a suggestion brought in by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and I think consented to by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. It is therefore not the case that Parliament is powerless. It is not the case that Parliament would be deceived. It is the case that your Lordships would have a voice in this decision. I ask your Lordships therefore to bear that in mind before coming to a conclusion on this matter. I shall speak at the end of the debate very briefly. I think I should now ask your Lordships to bear that in mind while making your own views known.

Lord Jacques

My Lords, when the Minister tells us that we cannot be sure that we have got it right, surely he must realise that that applies to almost every Bill that comes before this House. It does not apply only to this Bill or to a few Bills; it applies to almost every Bill. We cannot be sure that we have got it right, and because we cannot be sure, have we to put reserve powers in every Bill so that it can be changed quickly? Surely this is nonsense. This is a phoney argument. The Minister must know that if there is a case for avoiding reserve powers it must be where it concernss the organisation of the police. That is something which ought to be done by primary legislation. I have never seen such a poor case put to the House against any particular amendment.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I regard that as a most welcome introduction to my closing remarks. I wonder whether I may summarise the case in literally a couple of minutes before I ask your Lordships to decide. First, this is not a Motion that comes to your Lordships' House, as the noble Lord the Minister at one time inferred in only one sentence, from these Benches opposite to the noble Lord the Minister This is something which is essentially non-political; which has nothing at all to do—and I repeat this—with the principles behind this Bill; and where the support is available of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, to whose co-operation with and knowledge of the police force the noble Lord the Minister bore testimony.

I want to make these few points. First, it is debatable that where your Lordships are not perfectly sure that you have the solution for all time it may be a sensible thing to put in a reserve power. My noble friend Lord Jacques intimated to the House very correctly that if one wanted to do that in regard to every measure that one passed it would not only make the particular Bill most cumbersome but would also give untold power to a Secretary of State to do anything he liked in order to upset legislation later on.

But let us take for granted for one moment that that point is a valid point. What your Lordships have to do is to set against what the noble Lord the Minister himself admits is a most unlikely situation the apprehension of police forces throughout the country as to the security of their position and their areas because of this reserve power. Your Lordships have to put against it, too—and this is such an essential point—the fact that one will get district councils off on the wrong foot the moment that this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament in regard to their relationships with the joint boards which have police powers, because they will be very conscious of this Clause 42, very conscious of the fact that it may be better if they looked after their own—the noble Lord the Minister wants to intervene.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I had intended to wait until the end of the sentence, but I was going to ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that the powers already exist in the Police Act 1964 and the Fire Services Act 1947 for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to amalgamate or combine police and fire authorities. They do not seem to have been acting as a Sword of Damocles since 1964.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the noble Lord the Minister is not unaware of the fact which I shall now recite to him; namely, that in this Bill the passing over to the joint boards is something which the police forces of this country have to swallow. It is indigestible enough as it is, without the noble Lord making it a matter of the gravest possible duodenal ulcer by introducing Clause 42 into this Bill.

I should like to continue my point if I may, but, as soon as I have finished it I shall readily give way to the noble Lord the Minister, who is always courteous enough to give way to me. What I am saying is that it is starting the district councils off on the wrong foot. They will be encouraged to take a local partisan view on the basis that all they have to do is to show that it is desirable for there to be a secession to the district council police powers and they will face the joint boards in that way, when I and, I believe, your Lordships would want them to face the situation that there is a vesting with the same areas in the joint boards.

The third and last point concerns the disadvantages as against the possible reserve power advantage. What is the difficulty if there occurs that million-to-one chance of primary legislation? The noble Lord the Minister indicates that this is a cumbersome procedure which may take some time. It will be a very short Bill. It will be a Bill after consultation, the noble Lord the Minister says, with all the parties concerned. It will be a Bill which will follow upon the Home Secretary deciding that great advantages will inure if this change is made. Can your Lordships not envisage in any such instance that there will be facilities afforded to both Houses of Parliament if, indeed, there is any urgency in the matter? If the present siting of and confinement to these areas has stood the test of some time, is it likely to be a matter of so much urgency that the normal courses of primary legislation cannot take place? I repeat, my Lords, that the police forces of this country regard it as the Sword of Damocles. The district councils will regard it as affording the possibility of having the wrong relationship with the joint boards.

4 p.m.

Lastly, I say this: really, is The Times inaccurate and is the Home Secretary wrongly quoted, or have the Conservative Members of Parliament been misled? I repeat that The Times, on 30th July 1984, said: Conservative MPs concerned about effective policing have been given private assurances by Mr. Leon Brittan the Home Secretary that powers which would allow the break-up of police authorities in the metropolitan counties will never by used". Take it for granted, my Lords, that that is inaccurate and that Mr. Brittan instead said, "unlikely ever to be used". Are not the disadvantages which I have recited to your Lordships greater than the advantage of having a possible reserve power? I ask for the opinion of your Lordships—

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has very kindly said that he would yield. He has managed to deprive me of my winding-up speech and so I think I should exploit that courtesy. To start with, perhaps I may reply to the question he asked me, which may have been an oratorical one, by saying that the account I gave of the conversations, speeches and writings of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary was accurate and that he has never used the word "never".

The noble Lord prompted me to come to my feet when he started talking about both duodenal ulcers and the Sword of Damocles—a very uncomfortable condition for a local authority to be in. But why has the Thames Valley police force managed to get on so well when it is a combined police authority with exactly this possibility hanging over it? Why have the other six combined police forces managed to operate so well? This must not become a speech; it is an intervention. However, your Lordships will see the tendency of my argument which is that the noble Lord is wrong and that the Government are right.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, it is a tendency that I have noticed the noble Lord the Minister has had very often. But before he accuses me of using a mixed methaphor, perhaps I may tell him that there are many doctors who would agree with me that if you have a Sword of Damocles hanging over your head, you are likely to get a duodenal ulcer. My last response to him before I sit down is this. He must not quote what has happened in regard to past legislation where there have been no joint boards and where the police did not have to get used to joint boards. This is very new legislation in regard to the police. I want them to have, not just from these Benches, but from all your Lordships' Benches, the security of knowing that paragraph (a) is not in the Bill and that they are secure in their boundaries and in the efficiency that is achieved as a result of having those boundaries. I hope that your Lordships will accordingly vote for this amendment.

4.5 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 80AA) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 102; Not-Contents, 124.

Amherst, E. Jeger, B.
Ardwick, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Aylestone, L. John-Mackie, L.
Bacon, B. Kilmarnock, L.
Banks, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Leatherland, L.
Beswick, L. Listowel, E.
Birk, B. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B
Blyton, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Boothby, L. McNair, L.
Bottomley, L. Mayhew, L.
Briginshaw, L. Melchett, L.
Brockway, L. Milford, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Mishcon, L.
Buckmaster, V. Monson, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Moran, L.
Campbell of Eskan, L. Morton of Shuna, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mulley, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Northfield, L.
Collison, L. Oram, L.
Crawshaw of Aintree, L. Parry, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Phillips, B.
David, B. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Davies of Leek, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Porritt, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Denington, B. Reilly, L.
Diamond, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Roberthall, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Rochester, Bp.
Evans of Claughton, L. Rochester, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Ross of Marnock, L.
Ezra, L. Serota, B.
Faithfull, B. Shaughnessy, L.
Falkland, V. Shinwell, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Simon, V.
Fitt, L. Somers, L.
Gaitskell, B. Stallard, L.
Gallacher, L. Stamp, L.
Galpern, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Gladwyn, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Strabolgi, L.
Hampton, L. Strauss, L.
Hanworth, V. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hayter, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Tordoff, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Walston, L.
Ingleby, V. White, B.
Inglewood, L. [Teller.] Wilson of Langside, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Jacques, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Kinnaird, L.
Allerton, L. Kitchener, E.
Ampthill, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Arran, E. Lauderdale, E.
Atholl, D. Long, V.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Bellwin, L. Luke, L.
Beloff, L. Lyell, L.
Belstead, L. McAlpine of Moffat, L.
Bessborough, E. McFadzean, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Malmesbury, E.
Caccia, L. Margadale, L.
Cairns, E. Marley, L.
Caithness, E. Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Merrivale, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Middleton, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Cathcart, E. Mottistone, L.
Cayzer, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cottesloe, L. Newall, L.
Cowley, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cox, B. O'Brien of Lothbury, L.
Craigton, L. Orr-Eving, L.
Cranbrook, E. Portland, D.
Croft, L. Radnor, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Reigate, L.
Davidson, V. Renton, L.
De Frevne, L. Renwick, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Rodney, L.
Digby, L. Romney, E.
Dormer, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Eccles, V. St. Davids, V.
Eden of Winton, L. Sandford, L.
Effingham, E. Savile, L.
Ellenborough, L. Seebohm, L.
Elliott of Moroeth L. Sempill, Ly.
Elton, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Ferrers, E. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Fortescue, E. Sudeley, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Swansea, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Gibson-Watt, L. Terrington, L.
Glanusk, L. Teviot, L.
Glenarthur, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Gorell, L. Thomeycroft, L.
Gowrie, E. Tranmire, L.
Gray, L. Trefgarne, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Trenchard, V.
Grimthorpe, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Vickers, B.
Halsbury, E. Vivian, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Westbury, L.
Harris of High Cross, L. Whitelaw, V.
Hertford, M. Wise, L.
Hives, L. Wynford, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Young, B.
Hooper, B.
Hylton-Foster, B.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Zouche of Haryngworth, L.
Kilmany, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 80AB not moved.]