'1. The following section shall be substituted for section 2 of the Police Act 1964:
2. — (1) The police authority for a police area consisting of a county, including the Greater London Council area, shall be a committee of the council of the county constituted in accordance with the provisions of this section, to be known as the police committee.
(2) The police committee for a police area shall consist of such number of members of the council or the county or Greater London Council as they may determine.
(3) The quorum of a police committee shall be such as may from time to time be determined by the council.
(4) Section 102(5) of the Local Government Act 1972 shall apply to a committee appointed under this section as it applies to a committee appointed under that section.
(5) Any proceedings by or against a committee appointed under this section shall be brought by or against the clerk of the council or town clerk as representing that committee".
2. The following section shall be substituted for section 4 of the Police Act 1946:
4. —(1) The police force maintained for a police area under section 1 of this Act shall be under the direction and control of the police authority who shall secure the maintenance of an adequate and efficient police force for the area, and to exercise for that purpose the powers conferred on a police authority by this Act.
The police authority shall prepare and publish a law enforcement policy for its area which lays down the policing practices and methods to be adopted and the proposed allocation of resources.
(2) The police authority for every such police area shall, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State and to regulations made under Part II of this Act, appoint the chief constable of the police force maintained by that authority and all other officers of the level of inspector and above, and determine the number of persons in each rank in that force which is to continue the establishment of the force.
(3) The police authority for any such police area may, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State, provide and maintain such buildings, structures and premises, and make such alterations in any buildings, structures or premises already provided as may be required for police purposes of the area.
(4) The police authority for any such police area may, subject to any regulation under Part II of this Act provide and maintain such vehicles, apparatus, clothing and other equipment as may be required for police purposes of the area.
(5) A combined police authority may, if so authorised by the combination scheme, make arrangements with any constituent authority for the use by the combined police authority of the services of officers of the constituent authority and the making of contracts and payments on behalf of the combined police authority to the constituent authority.".
3. Section 5(1) and 7(2) of the Police Act 1964 shall cease to have effect.
4. Section 12(3) of the Police Act 1964 shall be amended to leave out "ought not to be disclosed, or is not needed for the discharge of the function of the Police Authority" and substitute "cannot be disclosed or is sub judice":.—[Mr. Dubs.]
With this we shall discuss the following amendments:—
Amendment (a), in line 5, at end insert
'together with a number of magistrates equal to not less than one third of the total membership of that authority.'.
Amendment (b), in line 9, at end insert
'provided that one third of those present shall be magistrates.'.
Amendment (c), in line 20, leave out from beginning to end of line 22.
Amendment (d), in line 25, leave out from 'authority' to end of line 27.
New clause 11 — Police authority supervision of powers.
'(1) It shall be the duty of the police authority constituted under the Police Act 1964 to monitor the exercise of powers given to the police under this Act.
(2) In the proper exercise of the duty under Clause 1 the authority shall call for regular reports from the chief constable about the use of the powers by the members of his force and the numbers of complaints arising from their actions.'
(3) Where the committee consider it appropriate they shall refer any disputed use of the powers to a sub-committee to investigate.
(4) If the sub-committee are of the view that any officer has abused the powers granted under this Act, it shall refer the case to the chief constable to take disciplinary action against the officer.'.
New clause 25—Accountability of the Metropolitan Police.
'(1) The Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police shall lay before Parliament an annual report on the activities of his force; and such a report shall be considered by a Select Committee of Members of Parliament representing constituencies within the Metropolitan Police District.
(2) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament proposals for a Metropolitan Police authority which shall include representatives of the Greater London Council, the London Borough Councils and such other local authorities as lie within the Metropolitan Police District; provided that such proposals shall not be laid until the local authorities mentioned above have been elected by a method of proportional representation.
(3) Such proposals shall include provisions to ensure that such an authority shall be responsible for the policing of the Metropolitan Police District and shall for that purpose:
(4) The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police may object to or request the deferral of the discussion at a meeting of the Authority of particular police operations if he considers that such discussion would prejudice the effectiveness of his force and if the chairman of the Authority is not prepared to accede to such objection or request the Commissioner may appeal to the Home Secretary who shall have power to reverse the decision of the chairman of the Authority.'.
My new clause is intended to establish police authorities and to take a firm step to make police forces in England and Wales accountable to elected members of local authorities. I do not believe that the argument about accountability will go away, no matter how much consultation is established by the Home Secretary and no matter how many efforts he or the Metropolitan police commissioner make to involve London Members of Parliament to a greater extent.
There is a demand throughout the country that police forces should be accountable to locally elected persons. Until such time as that demand is met, there will be continuous agitation for change and a constant belief that police forces do not act according to the wishes of local people. The issue has been the subject of numerous discussions. We spent some time in Committee discussing an amendment based on the same principle.
The new clause provides that the area for a police force should consist of the county or, in London, of the Greater London Council area. The police committee for the area will consist of a certain number of members of the county council or, in the case of London, of the Greater London Council. They will be elected councillors, who will be in charge of the police in their area.
The new clause goes into some detail about establishing a quorum for such a police committee, the form of its proceedings and the responsibilities of its clerks. It makes substitutions for section 4 of the Police Act 1964 for particular operations, approvals of the Secretary of State and the making of various regulations.
Those of us who have been dissatisfied for a long time with the operations of the police and who believe that democracy should be brought into police operations will wholeheartedly support the clause. Why is there increasing feeling throughout the country that we should have democratic control over the police? I know that some Conservative Members will talk about political control. We have been round this course before, and the argument is that through the Home Secretary in London we already have political control of the police.
There is nothing pejorative about the expression "political". We are all in politics. We may not like one another's politics, but we are all involved in politics and there is nothing wrong with the Home Secretary being accused of exercising political control over the police in London. We are seeking a uniform pattern of democratic control over the police in London and in other areas. We wish that democratic control to be exercised through elected people who will be answerable to the electorate every four years when local elections take place, or every year in the country councils that have annual elections. There will then be an element of democratic accountability exercised every year through the medium of the electorate when elections take place.
We are often told that there is a lack of co-operation between local communities and the police. If local people had more sense of being able to influence policing in their areas, there would be a greater willingness to co-operate with the police. The sense of co-operation is at its worse in London, where there are no statutory police committees. In London there is a feeling of distance between local people and the police force. The local people who talk to me about policing in the area feel frustrated that they cannot influence local policies. They feel that the system is rather remote compared to the way in which they can, through the democratic process, have some influence on other policies in the area on housing, planning and highways, for example.
I am not suggesting that there is a direct analogy between housing policy and police policy, but the wish of local people to influence both is understandable and they find ,it difficult to understand why they should not have more say in the way in which policing in their area takes place. I suggest that bringing local people and the police closer together through the democratic process would increase the wish of local people to co-operate with the police. That itself would help to reduce the crime rate.
Such a policy would have another important consequence. Most of us have no understanding and no knowledge of how the police set their own priorities between, for example, tackling burglary as compared with street crime and auto crime. We have no information about how the police set their priorities, and because of that we cannot influence priorities. Constituents ask me why there are not more police officers on the beat and why more action is not being taken to deal with certain offences. All that I can do is write to the police commander to convey the views of my constituents to him. There is no sensible procedure through which the public can effect democratic control over these matters. There may be a little help through the Secretary of State's proposals to have more consultation, but that is no real substitute for accountability.
Accountability would enable people to express firmly and positively what type of policing they wish to see in their areas and give them the weapon of democratic votes at elections to enable them to push forward their views in a way in which in a democracy all views can be pushed forward.
We have been round this course on a number of occasions and I do not wish to spend more time developing the argument. I believe that people have an enormoous wish for a change in our policing and for democratic control over the police. I believe that that message is coming through loud and clear from the electorate. I feel it positively in Wandsworth among the many people to whom I talk frequently about policing. I believe that the issue will not go away. If it is not conceded by the Home Secretary this year, the demands will continue and sooner or later we shall have democratic accountability of the police. I hope that when the Home Secretary realises that something is inevitable he will move towards meeting the inevitability of the public's healthy and democratic wish.
It might be convenient, Mr. Weatherill, while speaking to the new clause, if I comment also upon my amendments. They seek to ensure that magistrates will be preserved on any police authority. At present, they form one third of the authority, and I am anxious that they should remain. That is the esential point that I wish to make.
I do not believe that a police authority can or should be merely one more arm of the locally elected council The police service is different from any other. The debates on the Bill, whatever else they have done, have demonstrated that the administration of justice, and the operations and control of the police are different from any other social service. I start with the proposition that we are dealing with a service whose impact on the public is entirely different from any other.
I have seen something of political control of the police in the flesh. I accept what the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) said. There is nothing odious about political control. We are in that business. I have seen political control work in the United States where lived and worked for some 16 years. "Political control" is, I suppose, an alternative to "accountability" of the police in the United States, and it leaves a great deal to be desired.
One result in too many places is that the police service is affected by the annual or quadrennial round of elections. During the run-up to an election the political masters of the police will put pressure upon them to handle the administration of law in a way that is likely to help that authority to be re-elected. That is common knowledge and there is no need for me to spread it around. I am sure that no one in the House would want to go down that road, but it is the road that has been opened up by the amendment.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Home Secretary does that with London? If he does not, why should the hon. Gentleman assume that other elected representatives will?
There is a difference. With great respect, the Home Secretary is not an elected local authority. He is a senior Minister responsible to the House. He has a national as well as local responsibility for policing matters. I do not suggest that we would inevitably go in the same direction as the Americans. However, it opens the door and it is the one experience that I have had of political control of the police.
Several years ago, the Police Federation walked out of the Police Council. All types of difficulties flowed from that. When the Police Federation walked out of the Police Council, many of the affairs of the Police Council were brought to a halt. The Police Federation was no longer prepared to tolerate the party politics that had been injected into the Police Council through the local authority associations. The Police Federation was not prepared to see questions about pay, pensions, status and responsibility bandied between a Conservative majority on the then county councils association, and a Labour majority on the Association of Municipal Corporations. There were many tensions and difficulties. Hon. Members know perfectly well how that state of affairs can arise and it made the task of the police virtually impossible.
Throughout Britain there are those who, according to their own lights, consider that the time has come for elected politicians to have more control, not only of general policing policies but of their operation. Some members of local authorities make no bones about the fact that they wish to have some control over police operations. I have before me the statements of several people, one of which says that the police should be agents of Socialism and democracy. Members of the National Front may say that they should be the agents of something else. Those are the views of extremists on the fringes of politics. Perhaps hon. Members should not take them too seriously. Some people consider that the police represent power, and they wish to get their hands on that power and then use it.
Will he hon. Gentleman give an attribution to the first quotation? That quote is often misused by people who have no right to it.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me about the term "Socialism"? It is a late hour. I am prepared to bring in the notes. I did not come equipped with all the information. Suffice it to say, that there are those, whether they be on the far Right or the far Left, who would like to get their hands on the control of the police for political purposes—
I shall spare the hon. Gentleman the necessity of leaving the Chamber to look up his own quotation. It is the view of the Socialist Workers party, which stands for nothing anywhere, and cannot be elected to anything at any time. It really trivialises the debate by quoting it.
The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to say that. I am sorry to press the point, but he knows that there are Labour Members of some police authorities who, although they would not necessarily adopt the quotation that I used, would take the view that it is proper for elected local people to control the operations of the police. That would not be to the advantage of the country, the police or the public.
Politicians have a role to play at a local and, indeed, national level in setting the general policing policies. Perhaps the time is coming when the degree of political control over general policing policies will need to be increased. I go along with what has been said about the demand for increased accountability. The time is coming when the police will have to be seen to be more accountable. I believe that they are accountable at present, but I accept that they must be seen to be so. It is a question of how far we should go, and I believe that it is going too far to accept new clause 10.
Subsection (2) of the new clause states that:
The police authority shall prepare and publish a law enforcement policy for its area which lays down the policing practices and methods to be adopted and the proposed allocation of resources.
That goes too far. It would import political judgments into law enforcement. Policing policy is one thing, but the act of enforcing the law is another. That is why my amendment seeks to leave out that provision.
In the following subsection it is proposed that the police authority, with its elected majority, should appoint not only the chief officer but
all other officers of the level of inpector and above, and determine the number of persons in each rank in that force which is to constitute the establishment of the force.
That takes the elected majority right into the heart of operations. It is only possible for the chief officer professionally to establish just how many inspectors or sergeants he will need in certain areas. It is entirely right that the police authority should control his budget and that in turn must have an effect on the rank structure of those involved. However, once a political authority can establish who shall be promoted from inspector to chief
inspector, from chief inspector to superintendent, and so on, it is inevitable that people will seek to please, appease, placate, and get on well with the political majority. That happens in local government, but it would be wrong for it to start in the police service, which has to deal with the administration of the law of the land.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that that is what happens in the borough engineer's department? If not, and if borough engineers' staffs do not go posterior crawling to their political bosses for favours, why does he think that policemen will do so?
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's point about the borough engineer's department is correct. On occasion, there is probably a good deal of sucking up among officials in a department who are looking for promotion. It would be wholly wrong to place the police service, which is concerned, above all, with the administration of justice, and which must take a neutral and impartial view, in a stuation in which career prospects depended on how well those involved got on with the political party that happened to be in control of the council.
In all elected bodies, there are bound to be changes in party control. That may not happen as frequently in some authorities as it does in others, but it would be wrong for a man to establish his credentials with a strongly Left-wing authority only to find that it is replaced in the democratic process with a moderately Right-wing party. If the police service was involved in that sort of party political mechanism, it would create problems and tensions for it.
The danger that the hon. Gentleman is postulating is already with us, as some local authorities in London now employ only those who are of the same political persuasion as the party in power. We now see political officers wearing political badges as a sign of their affiliation to the ruling political junta.
The hon. Gentleman has underlined the point that I was making in a more glancing way. It is a fact that political authorities, especially those of either extreme, like their senior officers to adopt their party political colours. That is not acceptable for chief executives, borough engineers or education officers, but it is extremely serious when the administration of the law and the right of citizens to impartial treatment before the law start to be affected by party political or ideological considerations. I do not want to pursue that line or argument too far, but it was the control of the police that put the extremists into control in Germany and the Soviet Union. That is the real commanding height. Once a political party gets hold of the police force and is able to use it for its own ends, the bastion of political democracy is destroyed.
I do not dissent from the general feeling that the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) advanced reasonably. There is a case for increasing accountability. I have supported that aim in London. I welcome what my right hon. Friend is doing in a cautious, gradual but conspicuous way. It is one thing to achieve greater accountability but quite another to establish party political control of that crucial service.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, (Mr. Mikardo), whose contribution to the debate in Committee earned great respect, argued that if there was greater local control there would be more public willingness to cooperate with the police. I think just the opposite.
One of the reasons why the police, with all their faults, stand so high in the estimation of the British public is that they are seen not to be party political or the creatures of local authorities. If it ever happened that the police were seen to be under the control of the local council, they would begin to slip down the scale of public esteem and favour to the point where local councils are—close to the bottom.
A small fraction of the electorate will vote in the local elections this week. Irrespective of whether we like it, local politicians, and indeed national politicians, stand less high in the regard of their fellow men than does the police service. We should not win the consent of people, especially youth, if we put the police conspicuously under the thumb of local authorities.
New clause 10 has some merit. It is essential that magistrates remain, as they provide consistency, have knowledge of the law and are not subject to electoral whims. It is essential to remove any suggestion of local politicians being able to control the advancement of policemen.
I should like to speak to new clause 25 as it covers the ground on which there was most agreement when we debated the Metropolitan police. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have tried to advance a new clause which covers what the House will accept. I do not dissent from what the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) said about the need for more accountability in London. There is no argument about that. The problem is how to achieve that accountability. I still believe that the Home Secretary should continue to be the police authority in London, but we must build a structure whereby he can be responsible to this House, and through it to Members of Parliament who represent London constituencies.
Over the years, we have complained that we have been unable to influence discussion on policing in London. New clause 25 goes some way towards meeting that point. It calls on the commissioner to make an annual report to Parliament on the activities of his force, which shall be referred to a Select Committee consisting of London Members of Parliament. It also states that:
The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament proposals for a Metropolitan Police authority",
and the new clause describes how that should be done. We are trying to illustrate the lines of communication directly from the political control of this House to the liaison committees in the community. Given that type of structure, we shall begin to get a response from the community.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Battersea, South, who implied that everyone in London is raving mad about not being able to control the police. That may be so in Battersea, but I doubt whether it is so in other parts of London. People are simply fed up at not being able to walk the streets in safety, and they constantly demand of me, "Where are the police? Why can we not have more?".
In my contributions to police debates in the House, I have constantly drawn attention to the fact that police manning is still based on the manning levels of the 1930s when the crime rate was much lower. When we are told, "We are nearly up to the established figures", that means the established figures determined all that time ago. We have never updated those figures to cope with the problems of today. De facto, we are far below the level that is necessary. That has been my experience of complaints from Londoners about the lack of policing.
During the past two or three years we have seen a more dynamic form of beat policing, which has had a remarkable effect. People in my constituency feel that getting to know the local bobby and being able to talk to him is of great value and is a confidence builder. We must make people confident that the police are back in control of the law-breakers in society and that they no longer come out of the station only to deal with emergencies.
We must not give credence to the concept that everyone is in a state of high dudgeon because he is not in control of the Metropolitan police. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred to the SWP. He and I could swap stories about the problems that we have had with the SWP and the IMG. We even have Mr. Knight of the Socialist Labour League, who still believes that he is of that order, although he now holds a Labour party card. He thinks that the Labour party has gone towards him and that he has not moved an inch. Many other people are closeted with him, and it is no good skimming over the problem and claiming that it does not matter.
In my own area there is a problem with the Hackney Council for Racial Equality. Since 10 January, the new police commander has tried desperately to establish contact between the police and that organisation. Recognising the complaints about the police in London, particularly in Hackney, as well as the difficulties in Hackney as a result of the tragedy that occurred, he has endeavoured to re-establish a relationship with the community. He has approached every group in an attempt to get a dialogue going. What kind of response did he get from the Council for Racial Equality? In a letter of 21 February it said:
I am writing on behalf of Hackney Council for Racial Equality Executive"—
not the council, but the executive—
who have asked that you give instructions that the local home beat officers covering the HCRE Mare Street office, the HCRE Family Centre, Rectory Road, no longer call"—
that phase is underlined—
at either of these offices unless HCRE gives a specific call to the police.
I trust this will be acted on with dispatch.
That was signed by the community relations officer. That destroyed the relationship between the beat policemen and the community in the two areas. By common consent, that relationship had proved valuable. That one letter wiped out that relationship.
The commander felt aggrieved and sent a conciliatory letter asking the council to reconsider the situation. He was eager to hear their anxieties and was keen to make sure that the police would never close the door. He pointed out that the police wanted to be part of the community with the HCRE. The reply was:
I am in receipt of your letters of 28th February and 28th March regarding visits by the police to the premises at Mare Street and Rectory Road.
The Executive Committee of HCRE have asked me to inform you that the position remains as stated in the HCRE's original letter on this matter of February 21st.
Where is the dialogue? The police were trying desperately to continue the relationship they had
established, but the executive of the HCRE decided unilaterally to wipe out that relationship. There are councillors and people of all political persuasion on that body. Yet the working relationship which had been established has been destroyed by a few words on a piece of paper. I point out to the HCRE that it is doing no good to the ethnic communities by trying to cut itself off from the police. It is making the job of the police more difficult. I appeal to it to review its decision.
The way for the HCRE to make points on policing is to talk to the police. The police commander is young. He has not been there for donkey's years and become hidebound. He is the youngest commander in the country. He is the sort of man the HCRE should be talking to. He is the man to react to new conditions because he has been brought up in them. Yet he is being treated as though he is not worth talking to. He has a rapport with everybody. This group which feels that it represents the ethnic community is doing a great disservice to that community.
The problem could be resolved to some extent if new clause 25 were accepted by the Home Secretary. It may not be perfect. In the debate on 28 February I argued that, as well as being on the Select Committee, London Members of Parliament should be represented on the body that we have described in the new clause as the metropolitan police authority. Although that is not embodied in the new clause, if the Home Secretary felt that it should be redrafted I should be happy to withdraw it and allow the Home Secretary to do so.
This is not an attempt to be foolish or to push the Home Secretary into an area in which he does not want to go. What we have drafted is broadly what the Home Secretary has talked about and falls well within what he believes to be the parameters of accountability in London. Therefore, I hope that he will accept the principle of the new clause, even though he may wish to redraft it.
I raise briefly a narrow but important point arising out of subsection 2(5) of new clause 10. I ask the Home Secretary whether subsection 2(5) would have the effect of depriving him and the local authority of the right to amalgamate a local authority force with a police force of a public authority that is not a local authority. If that is the case I hope that he will reject the new clause because it would be wrong if the Home Secretary were deprived of the one vehicle that he could use to safeguard the position, prospects and career structure of about 100 persons who are police officers in the port of London police authority.
I am sure that the Home Secretary will be aware that the port of London police authority is older than the Metropolitan police. Its members have the full powers of police officers and the training is exactly the same as that of outside forces. Because of the decline of the PLA, the number of police officers employed there has dropped from several hundred to only 90. Because of that, a career structure is almost non-existent and the PLA has shown a great anxiety to help the police officers who have served it well and whose presence is a major selling point for the port of London. Therefore, it discussed the position with the Essex county council which said that it would be glad to co-operate in a merger if, and only if, the Home Secretary agreed.
Essex county council showed its anxiety to help, the PLA showed its anxiety to help, but, sadly, as the Home Secretary will be aware, when I had a meeting with his noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State he said that the Home Office was not prepared to sanction such a merger. I hope that the Home Secretary will reject the clause if it will prevent him from giving further consideration to a responsibility that he has to the 90 officers in the PLA.
As I drafted the new clause I can say that this part of the new clause is the same as existing law and in so far as there is power for such a combination to be carried out it is under the existing law. This paragraph is taken straight from the Police Act 1964 and does not change any part of the existing law.
I am always interested to hear the hon. Gentleman, but I have found him to be wrong on previous occasions and I should prefer to have his assurance direct from the Home Secretary. Not only do I ask him to give that brief assurance but I appeal to him to take a personal interest in the future position of the 90 police officers who have served the PLA and London well.
I am afraid that the police in the PLA feel neglected and let down because they believe that the Home Office has simply washed its hands of their future. They attract great sympathy from the PLA and from the Essex County Council and considerable sympathy from the Police Federation, but I am afraid that the Home Office has given no sign of any interest in the future welfare and career structure of the police in the PLA.
Therefore, I hope that on this matter, in which I have declared my interest on previous occasions, the Home Secretary will be able to give me the simple assurance, first, that the new clause will not deprive him of the power to help if he wishes, and, secondly, that he will take a personal interest in the future career prospects of the PLA police.
First, I think that I should reply quickly to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) was correct: subsection (5) does merely repeat what is already in the Police Act 1964. Therefore, it would in no way affect my right to amalgamate forces, as my hon. Friend suggested.
I know that my hon. Friend discussed the port of London police with my noble Friend Lord Elton. Up to now we have sustained the existing policy that a private force is not absorbed into the 1964 Act force unless there are overriding operationl reasons for this. I will, of course, look at it again.
I now deal with the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs). I accept that this is a debate of some importance, and I assure the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and the House that I shall seek to adjourn further consideration of the Bill when I have finished speaking, so that the rest of this debate can proceed at a more appropriate hour.
It is, of course, a debate about the accountability of the police. At the heart of it lies the relationship between the police and the public they serve, public attitudes to the police, the public's perceptions of police conduct, their legitimate concern when things appear to go wrong, and the need for the police to be called to account. The police need public support to do their job effectively, and the maintenance of public trust rests on a day-to-day basis, on police forces keeping in tune with the needs of the community, listening and explaining and, crucially, on a satisfactory framework of law.
I have been at pains in recent months to stress how important I think it is for the police to get on with the community they serve, to have consultations with the community they serve and to work with the community they serve. Indeed, there is already a clause in the Bill which gives statutory force to consultative committees for all those purposes.
Here, however, we are debating something different —a fundamental change in the principle of policing in this country. The Government believe that the existing framework of law as enshrined in the 1964 Act is sound and can be adapted, as it has been, for consultations. We do not believe that it needs the fundamental change suggested in two of these new clauses. I shall explain why the Government and I take this particular view.
The independence of the police in enforcing the law is crucial. The police are not the agents of the Government or of local authorities. The Opposition believe that the police should be subject to control by democratically elected bodies. My answer to the hon. Member for Battersea, South, is that I think there is a difference between "control" and "influence". "Influence", I believe, implies consultation, being apprised of what is going on and seeking to influence changes. "Control", I believe, means something quite different, and it is the use of this word "control" that the Government do not believe would be right.
The police are not just another local service. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), in an intervention to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), talked about the engineer's department, but the police are not just another local service. They are independent officers of the Crown. That is because the powers with which we invest police officers should be exercised without fear or favour and without political interference.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) gave an example in the letter he quoted of the dangers of those who seek to exercise political interference and move in the direction of control. We are bound to take seriously what he said. Therefore, we have to look at the position of the police in exercising their power. They may be subject only to the law of the land and the lawful orders of their superior officers. In the Bill we are debating fully and carefully what powers the police should have, and the necessary safeguards. The use of those powers is subject to scrutiny in the courts on a caseby-case basis, but accountability of the courts is not enough. Much police work is not about criminal cases. That is why our constitutional arrangements must provide, and do, for the police to give a general account of their actions and answer for their stewardship of public funds and the maintenance of public trust.
The constitutional arrangements in London are different, and I shall come to those in a moment. I should like to respond to the proposal that would make a fundamental change. The hon. Member for Battersea, South and those who support him make no bones about that. They wish to make a fundamental change that would change the balance of the present framework of the Police Act 1964.
Hon. Members seek to change also the composition of police authorities, which under their proposal would consist wholly of county councillors. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds wisely tabled an amendment to retain magistrates, perhaps because he thought that in some way there was a chance that I wouold go down the road of the new clause. As I am not going down that road, the magistrates will remain. They are important. It is a pity that in some cases the magistrates are being excluded from police authorities, are not given their proper role, and sometimes do not exercise it. That is a great pity, because under the 1964 Act it is right that two thirds of police authorities should consist of democratically elected representatives.
The hon. Member for Battersea, South and his hon. Friends want police authorities to direct and control the police and to set out law enforcement policy, methods and practices. Police authorities already have a key role in devising strategy. It is sometimes alleged that they do not use sufficiently the powers that they have. If that is so, they certainly ought to, because their powers are there. They have a role to play in devising strategy. I have consistently encouraged them to develop that role, which is implicit in the terms of the 1964 Act.
The police authority has a legitimate interest in policy, because it holds the purse strings on the police budget and is responsible for maintaining an efficient force. A chief constable is accountable to his police authority for the policing of the area. Police authorities are already involved jointly with chief constables in developing local consultation arrangements which will inform and extend the dialogue on policing policy so that it can be adapted to keep in tune with local needs.
A police authority can play—and many do play—a critical role in policy matters, and it does not need additional powers to do that. If police authorities are reluctant to use their existing powers, or to develop their wider role, I am prepared to repeat my encouragement to them to do so. However, that is all on the basis of influence. What the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are moving towards is a fundamental change in political control. I accept the argument about the political part of it, because if I did not it would immediately be considered that as Home Secretary I am not a directly elected councillor in London, by any manner of means, and my position is different. However, I am prepared to accept that I am, or at least try to be, or am alleged to be, a politician. Some may consider that I am not, but at least that is apparently what I have been seeking to be for the past 29 years, and I do not think that I could pretend otherwise.
It is not the political side that matters. It is the control that is crucial. The chief constable has to be controlled by democratically elected people from outside. As Home Secretary, I do not control the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. I influence him, very properly, because that is my job, but I do not control him, and that is fundamentally the difference.
The right hon. Gentleman said a little while ago that the chief constable was accountable to the police authority. The word "control" is the same as accountability. If accountability means that the chief constable reports to, and may be influenced by the authority if he so wishes, but in the final analysis he can take the decision in violation of what the police authority says, that is neither accountability nor serious influencing.
I maintain that influencing is the job of the police authority whereas controlling a law enforcement policy is not. That is the fundamental difference. Some hon. Members accept that, but then say that it would not mean that politicians would be intervening in the enforcement of the law in particular cases, because the independent prosecution system, which they also propose, and which I have shown the Government favour, would solve the problem.
I cannot accept that. The public prosecutor would be acting on the information and advice provided by the police in his area. That is why the ability of the police to enforce the law independent of political control would remain so important. Under these proposals the police authority could set out what laws the police in it's area should enforce, and how they should go about it. Therein lies the great danger. Laws are not made by Parliament to be flouted by local authorities. I should have thought that it was common ground in the House that the law must be enforced impartially.
The objectives and priorities of the police in a particular area are adjusted to changing circumstances and particular problems that arise. The overall strategy for the area, the objectives and priorities for the force, and how to make the best use of available resources are properly for discussion and agreement between chief constables and their police authorities. Police authorities can and do exercise considerable influence over the policing of their areas, and that is the right way forward.
The proposals made by the hon. Member for Battersea, South would diminish the authority of the chief constable in a number of ways. Local, democratically elected politicians would tell him what methods and procedures to follow. His professional expertise and discretion would, if they did not like it, be of little moment. The police authority would involve itself in appointments down to inspector level. I have always regarded that as an extremely dangerous proposition.
The balance in the 1964 Act has, we believe, stood the test of time. Like so many of our British institutions, it depends on reasonableness and co-operation. We continue to believe that the 1964 Act provides a satisfactory framework within which the three elements — the professional expertise of the chief officer, the interest of the local community reflected in the police authority and the national interest reflected in my responsibilities, which I carry out with professional advice from Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary — can work together to enhance police effectiveness.
For London, the Opposition propose that the police authority for the Greater London area should be the Greater London council. They make no provision for those parts of the Metropolitan police district that fall outside the GLC area. In new clause 25 the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch beguiles me with the proposition that the Home Secretary should remain the police authority for the metropolis. I agree with that, but of course he does not beguile me the whole way in his new clause, because part of it suggests that the authorities that would form his composite authority would be elected by proportional representation. I could not go along with that. Therefore, I cannot accept his new clause, much as I accept part of what it contains. It would not be possible for us, in the Bill or at any time, even if we were of a mind to do so and believed that it was right, to pre-empt any consideration that any future Parliament might give to our electoral arrangements. The House knows that the Government remain committed to the present constitutional arrangements for policing in the metropolis. I made that clear in the full debate that we had on policing the metropolis on 28 February. I also made that clear in the Standing Committee. I believe that it would be a mistake if policing in the capital city moved in that direction. It would, I believe, replace the present system of community influence and professional independence with doctrinaire policies and greater political control. The dangers here would be the same as those inherent in the unacceptable proposals on the constitution of police authorities in the provinces.
The Home Secretary is police authority, not because of some historical accident but because Parliament must have a central say in the policing of the capital, and also because the scale and nature of "capital city" policing involves major pressures which are not regularly present outside. It is also relevant that the Metropolitan police carry out certain national functions. However, the national role of the Metropolitan police is not the key point. It is the sheer size of the metropolis and the fact that a great burden of work falls to the police because of its capital city functions. They lift the task of policing, and supervising that policing, to a different level from that experienced elsewhere. They rightly make the policing of the capital a special interest of this House, and therefore of the Home Secretary. Major constitutional changes in policing the metropolis would certainly confuse — and, I believe, eventually erode—the role of the House as the forum in which major issues of policing the capital should be and are addressed.
The Metropolitan police are accountable to the Home Secretary and he is answerable to this House. As hon. Members know, I have recently had discussions with London Members and Members for the outer boroughs that are associated with the Metropolitan police to make sure that I knew their views on policing London.
The Government's policy recognises the need for greater local involvement in policing in the metropolis, without going down what I emphasise again would be the dangerous road of political control. The Commissioner and I believe that the right focal point for increased involvement in developing local policing strategy is at borough and district level and below. As I said, I have been particularly concerned with hon. Members for London constituencies and with the London Boroughs Association and Outer Districts Associations. I now have a forum, which I chair, for regular discussion with the Commissioner and his senior officers with these bodies on more general policing issues. This forum provides an enhanced role for representatives of the boroughs and districts which pay the precept, both to state their views and to consider the practical issues concerned with policing the metropolis. I have also had useful discussion with many other people and other hon. Members about those problems.
The Government believe that it would not be wise to separate from the Secretary of State responsibility for the police force which, under any scheme, will remain by far the largest in the country. We maintain that the existing constitutional arrangements for policing in this country are sound. They can be used and developed, but they should not be subjected to the fundamental change that is set out in these proposals. I therefore ask the House, when it continues the debate tomorrow, to reject the new clauses.
Further consideration of the Bill adjourned. —[Mr. Major.]