Women Police Patrols.

– in the House of Commons on 10th May 1922.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Colonel Leslie Wilson.]

Photo of Mrs Margaret Wintringham Mrs Margaret Wintringham , Louth Borough

I wish to raise again the question of the disbandment of the women police patrols, and to show how their retention will help towards economy in prisons, hospitals and workhouses, will result in a great improvement in public health, and will help to maintain public morals. In reply to a question which I put to the Home Secretary on Monday he informed the House that already 12 of the women patrols had been disbanded and that the rest were under notice to go. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will delay the dismissal of the remainder of the women police, for two reasons. The first is that the suggestion of the Geddes Committee to get rid of these women police was made only in consultation with the Home Secretary and the superintendent of the police, and there was no evidence from the Home Office Committee appointed in 1920. The second reason is the increased and universal interest in the matter which has been shown throughout the country recently. That interest has been expressed in three or four different ways. First of all, I believe a great many Members of Parliament have had a change of heart. That has, possibly, been due to the electors and to the public opinion behind them. I feel sure that, if a vote were taken of Members of this House, we should have a majority in favour of retaining these women police. Secondly, the organised women of all classes and all parties in the country are strongly of opinion that the women police should be retained. I refer to large bodies such as the National Council of Women, the Consultative Committee of Women's Organisations, which represents 67 women's societies, the Standing Joint Committee of Women's Industrial Organisations, the Women's Co-operative Guild, the Young Women's Christian Association, and many other women's societies which at this hour I will not mention. Another section that has pressed for the retention of the women police is composed of the churches and the philanthropic and rescue agencies. It is a fallacy to say that these bodies wish to do the work of the women patrols. They are very anxious to support the work which the women police are doing, but not to usurp it. Another class of societies affected, is that which includes professional and specialist societies such as the National Council for Preventing Venereal Disease. It realises how its work is going to be increased if these women are taken away from the Metropolitan Force. The College of Nursing realises how hospitals and workhouses are going to have much more to do if these women are disbanded. Then the Association of Head Mistresses realises the importance of the work which these women do in the matter of controlling and supervising children going to and from school.

Another class affected is the provisional local watch committees. At first it was thought these watch committees would follow suit, and dismiss their women police, after the Metropolitan force was disbanded. In my experience, the idea which prevails is very different. I think there is now a general recognition of the value of the work done by the women police in the provinces, especially as they have power to arrest, and the provinces are showing a superiority over London in discerning how women police are going to prove an economy, and to bring about an improvement in the moral tone of their towns. That idea is being expressed more and more freely. Such active representatives and expressions cannot be disregarded by the Home Secretary, and I appeal to him to respect this public opinion which is growing daily. A delay of a few weeks may save much readjustment if and when this House, as representing the electors and expressing their views, gives its vote in favour of the retention of the women police. For these reasons I beg the Home Secretary not to dispense with the services of any more of the women patrols until a vote of this House is taken, and when the vote does take place, I hope that he will allow it to be a free vote.

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

In the first place, I ask the House to remember that the money for the women police is taken upon the Metropolitan Police Fund Vote, and that therefore any money spent on women police is money devoted to the police work, strictly speaking, of the metropolis, namely, the protection of property and life and limb with which the police have to do. I do not wish for a moment to belittle by one word what the hon. Member has said about the work of these women police. I do not wish to belittle the welfare work that they are doing. But I have to look at this from the point of view of the work which has to be done by the metropolitan police and paid for by the Metropolitan Police Fund. I have to consider what it is the Metropolitan Police Fund is to pay for. It is to pay for the protection of the property and life and limb of the populace in the metropolitan area. I have to consider how I can best meet the reduction in expenses that are required, and at the same time preserve the work which the metropolitan police are intended to do, and which the money voted for them is intended to pay for.

I should like, in the first place, to dissociate myself absolutely from a word which has been used with regard to the action we are taking, and that is the word "disbandment." I do not think, so far as I can remember, that I have ever used that word myself. This is not a question of disbanding. There is no question of destroying the women police as women police for all time. The point is, that we have, somehow or other, to reduce our expenditure on the Metropolitan Police, and I use the same word with regard to women police as with regard to the men police—the word "reduction." It is a matter of reduction, and I have to find in what respects I can reduce the expenditure. With regard to the men, we have reduced them to the lowest possible point. Indeed, I am having very great trouble on the part of those who are responsible for the men police, about the point to which I have asked them to reduce their force. I cannot possibly, having regard to the state of things, having regard to what the Metropolitan police have to do, ask that the male police should be reduced by an other man. We are down, in the hope of economy, to the very last verge that we can go to of the margin of 6afety. We cannot go further, and I am told on all hands by those who are responsible— superintendents, the chief constables, the assistant commissioners, and the Commissioner—" If you can see your way to saving £20,000 in the reductions we have got to make "—and £20,000 is what we shall save by reducing the women police as we propose—

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

I object to the word "abolishing," and I have absolutely dissociated myself from it. I say "reducing."

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

I answer, although it stops the flow of my argument, reducing to a point which can be restored at any moment. What does it matter what the number is if it can be restored at any moment?

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

Zero, if you like. What does it matter if it can be restored at any moment?

Photo of Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter , Hertford

If it be zero you cannot restore it.

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

That is trivial. The point is that I have got to consider the safety of the Metropolis, having regard to the money I have got. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but possibly they do not know as much of the danger of the Metropolis as I do. I am told on ail hands: "If you can save anywhere, reducing expenditure by £20,000 if you can, let us have the £20,000 for Heaven's sake. Let us get more men, because that is what we want." That is what I am told by all my advisers, and, as I say, I do not want in the least to belittle the work of women police so far as it concerns the work they do, but it is not work which deals with purely police work as we know it. It is really welfare work, admirable welfare work, I agree entirely, and I agree to this extent, that welfare work always helps the police, always reduces crime, so far as sex crime is concerned, and it is a very great work indeed, but it is not the particular work for which the Metropolitan Police Fund was founded. The fact remains that the women police are doing first-rate work. It is not the work for which the Metropolitan Police Fund was founded.

Dr. MURRAY:

Keeping down crime. That is the question.

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

Keeping down crime, yes, with the sense in which the schoolmaster keeps down crime, and the clergyman and the Sunday-school teacher. If you are to put that particular argument you have to carry it much further than the women police and you have to put on police fund for more than the women police. I gave my hon. Friend credit for a little more appreciation of the position; but the fact remains that in coming to the conclusion that we must save this £20,000—which is a conservative estimate —we are appreciating fully the work that the women police have done.

We are taking no step which would prevent our setting up, in a single month, the re-establishment of women police when we can afford it. There is not a single thing we have done which will prevent the women police being reestablished in the quickest possible way the moment we can afford it. You talk about a nucleus of the police women. There is certain work the police women do. We are going to ask certain of the police women to help us to do it. One or two of them, I am sorry—I cannot say by what influence—but there are one or two women who might have done it, who have definitely refused to help us. I do not know what influence has been behind it. I think, however, that we shall be able to persuade some of them, at any rate, who are trained, but you want trained women for certain things. We have some of the women police and we shall soon get others, and they will be a perfectly sound nucleus. Supposing to-morrow we found the state of the finances very different and we wanted to re-establish the force as it was with the same numbers t I am assured that in a month you could do the whole of your recruiting. Every recruit requires two months' training, and that is what we give them. In a month you can do your recruiting, in two months you have them all trained, and in three months you could have these women police on the streets.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Wintringham Mrs Margaret Wintringham , Louth Borough

Why change your policy if there is a chance of their coming back?

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

But there is no change of policy.

Photo of Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy , Kingston upon Hull Central

The Government never change their policy!

Photo of Mr Edward Shortt Mr Edward Shortt , Newcastle upon Tyne West

We have changed no policy at all. We have never treated the women police as part of the police force for the purposes of safety. We have never allowed the women police to be on the streets without having a man somewhere handy. We have never treated them as anything but pure welfare work. We have never dreamed of leaving the women on the streets to keep order, to arrest a drunken man or woman. What we had to ask ourselves was this: Having regard to what the police fund had to do, having regard to what we have to pay to keep up the necessary number of men for the protection of the Metropolis, how are we to get the money and at the same time make the necessary reductions in expenditure? To keep a male force—

It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half-after Eleven o'Clock.