Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £4,906,025, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 81st day of March, 1933, for the Salaries of the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, and of the Receiver for the Metropolitan Police District; Bonus to Metroplitan Police Magistrates; the Contribution towards the Expenses of the Metropolitan Police; the Salaries and Expenses of the Inspectors of Constabulary; and other Grants in respect of Police Expenditure including Places of Detention; a Grant in Aid of the Police Federation, and a Contribution towards the expenses of the International Criminal Police Commission."—[Note— £5,227,000 has been voted on account.]
I should like to say, on behalf of those who sit on these benches, with what general satisfaction we heard the Home Secretary's statement when the Home Office Vote was before the Committee recently. I desire now to say something in connection with the administration of the prisons and the police. With regard to the prisons, no party issue is raised, but we want to put certain questions to the right hon. Gentleman and, in particular, to make a few suggestions for the humanisation of business conditions. [Interruption.] I did not realise that we were at the moment on the Police Vote. That, I take it, covers the Home Office expenditure in regard both to the Metropolitan Police and the provincial police. The cost of the provincial police borne on this Vote is about half the total expenditure on the Police Service. That means that the total cost of the police in England and Wales to the ratepayers and taxpayers together amounts to over £20,000,000 per annum. By last year's Economy Act there were cuts in expenditure, particularly in regard to the wages and salaries of police officers. The sum asked for in the Act was £500,000. These cute, of course, created a certain amount of resentment in the force, as did similar cuts inflicted in education and other services. The police entered their protest in a constitutional form, and the sum was deducted.
I understand, however, that the position is that the Exchequer has actually obtained £700,000, or £200,000 more than was originally intended. I want to ask the Home Secretary whether that amount is to be refunded. What about the second year's deductions? Is there to be a revision in the scale of police pay in order that the extra £200,000 may be refunded to the officers concerned? I can assure the Home Secretary, from information I have received very reliable sources, that there is the greatest and practically universal dissatisfaction throughout the force on this subject, and we should like to know what arrangements the right hon. Gentleman is making for the Police Federation to discuss the matter with him. Is there to be a meeting of the Police Council to consider it? That council has met only once or twice during the last several years. It was constituted by the Police Act, 1919, and it is supposed to represent all the interests and sections in the Service. The complaint of the men, and particularly the lower ranks, is that it hardly ever meets at all. It is, in effect, the Whitley Council of the Police Service, and those councils are supposed to meet whenever necessary to discuss grievances, and particularly grievances relating to remuneration. I ask the Home Secretary to use his influence to ensure that the Police Council meets more frequently, if not actually at regular intervals, and we should also like to know when the next meeting is to be called, and an opportunity given to the representatives of the force to discuss this particular subject, namely, the refunding of the sum which has been over-deducted.
There is a further point relating to the grievance which the men feel in respect of the cuts. The Police Federation was brought into existence by Act of Parliament 12 years ago, and during that long period open meetings of the federation to discuss current subjects of interest have been held from time to time. Now, practically for the first time, open meetings have been forbidden. When the Second Reading of the Bill was before the House in 1919, the then Home Secretary, Mr. Shortt, stated that this was a democratic organisation elected upon the broadest franchise. It was managed by the force itself, for them to confer exactly as they choose, and make any representations they like to the highest police authority. "We put it forward," he said, "as an organisation which we believe to be, and we ask the House to say is, amply sufficient to safeguard all that is necessary for the welfare of the police and to do all, indeed, that an industrial body, say a trade union, could do." That was a definite promise by the representative of the Home Office, and on that promise members of the force were asked to abandon all idea of becoming members of an ordinary trade union or establishing an ordinary trade union organisation among themselves. They were adjured to leave the existing trade union, namely, the Police and Prison Officers' Union, because they were told that the new Police Federation would do everything for them. Mr. Shortt himself said they could make any representations they choose, they could confer as they pleased, and do exactly as they would do if they were in a trade union affiliated to the Trades Union Congress.
Since then open meetings have repeatedly taken place, and speakers of all shades of political thought have attended them. Discussions have taken place in the presence of those representative public men, and such public men have made comments thereon as part of the general discussion. Lord Remnant, for example, certainly addressed one of the open meetings. The hon. and learned Member for North-West Camberwell (Mr. Cassels), another Conservative, also spoke. The hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) addressed one of these meetings, and so did the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), who is a Liberal and now adorns the Treasury Bench, and the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant), also a Liberal, and the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), who sits on the Opposition Front Bench, and the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who was an Undersecretary of the Home Office. I would like to know what wrong any of those Members has committed, or what wrong the Police Federation itself has committed in inviting them to take part in its deliberations, because apparently—at least, so it is stated in a certain journal— it is on the ground that meetings have been addressed by public men like Members of Parliament that they are to be banned for the future. The men are told now that if they are dissatisfied and disgruntled they can mutter among themselves, but it must not go beyond them. They may mutter, but must not openly express their grievances so that public men may listen to them and know what they are feeling and thinking, and in no case must they make public comment in connection with their special topical grievance in regard to the salary cut.
I rather fancy the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary himself muttered when he disagreed with his colleagues inside the Cabinet on the tariff policy, but he also demanded, and he obtained, the right to air his particular grievance in public, and has done so, and I understand he proposes to do so again. I put it to him, Where is the Liberalism, to say the least of it, of denying a free opportunity to the police to express their views when responsible public men are present? The Home Secretary goes one better than the Police Federation. He takes good care that he is well reported, that the Press are present when he addresses meetings, but the Police Federation have taken the step of excluding Press representatives, so that the meetings are practically not public meetings. They have been attended by public representatives such as those I have enumerated, but the Press representatives are not present. I think the Home Secretary ought to know, if he does not know already, that there is a strong feeling of resentment throughout the whole of the police forces over this refusal of the right of public meeting. These open meetings —I ought not to say public meetings— were actually begun and instigated by the Home Office itself 12 years ago, because at that time they wanted to get the Police Federation going and to ensure that it should become popular. They encouraged open meetings at the beginning, but now, because the men are dissatisfied and want to discuss the salary cuts—at least, that is the only ground, I assume, for the refusal—and it does not suit the Govern- ment's purpose to let the public generally know that the police are dissatisfied, open meetings are prohibited, merely because the subject of discussion is one which is distasteful to the Government.
I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that that is not a sufficient reason. As far as I can gather from information which I have received from various sources, Lord Trenchard, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has actually gone right outside his province in this matter, having attempted to interfere with open meetings outside the London area. He has no jurisdiction, I understand, over police forces in other parts of the country, but he actually refused to allow representatives of the Metropolitan Police to attend meetings called in some of the large provincial towns, although their representation was on a national basis and it was the national committee which had arranged those meetings. The committee were therefore responsible to the Home Secretary and not to Lord Trenchard at all, and I understand that after he had taken that unconstitutional action, which was definitely unconstitutional, the position had to be regularised by the Home Office, the right hon. Gentleman having to step in and confirm the action so far as it related to meetings outside the Metropolitan area. I should like to know very much whether that is the case. It seems to me that it is a very, very serious thing if an official has taken upon himself action of that character.
The whole basis on which this federation was established becomes farcical if opportunities for the men meeting in order to discuss their problems are definitely refused. You will not extinguish discontent and dissatisfaction by suppressing meetings and I should have thought that the Liberal principles of the Home Secretary would have taught him that free and open discussion of grievances was the best way to deal with discontent in the Police Force as well as in every other organisation. It is in the interests of the public service itself that discontent should not be allowed to smoulder underground and should have an opportunity of finding expression in a proper, orderly and constitutional manner. There is the keenest resentment in the Police Force all through the country on account of the Home Secretary's refusal to permit them to hold open meetings, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the whole question and see whether he cannot allow the police to do what every other citizen has a right to do. Every branch of the Civil Service and the officials of all Government Departments from the heads of Departments down to the junior members are permitted to hold public meetings to discuss their grievances even with reporters present. The school teachers held large meetings last week to which considerable publicity was given, and the only people who are not permitted to hold open meetings are the police officers.
It is very desirable that the Home Secretary should not make an exception in their case, because it must lead to the spread of discontent if they have no opportunity of freely ventilating their grievances. Apart altogether from the police themselves, many people outside are asking why there are so many officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force in the Police Force. Men have been appointed to high and responsible positions who have no experience, training or knowledge whatever in the matter of crime detection or prevention. They may be excellent people, but they have no technical qualifications for those positions. They are just militarists and disciplinarians and nothing more. It seems to me that for positions of that kind you require initiative, intelligence, enterprise, and qualities the very opposite of those which win commendation in the Army, where blind and unquestioning obedience on the part of the common soldier is all that is asked of him. It does seem to me that the appointment of officers unaccustomed to organisation on these lines is not in keeping with what is required as far as the Police Force is concerned. We should like to know how many Air marshals, generals, colonels, majors, brigadiers, and other officers of the Services there are employed on the staff at Scotland Yard and whether it is intended to toe the definite policy of the Government to staff the police service with ex-officers of the Fighting Forces.
I pass from that subject to another source of dissatisfaction which, I understand, exists in the Police Force at the present time, and it relates to the Police Orphanage. The Board of Management is not representative of the paying mem- bers of the service. The lower ranks are pressing for adequate and proportional representation having regard to their direct contributions. I understand that Lord Trenchard has refused this request, and I ask the Home Secretary to reconsider this matter. The board is absolutely top-heavy with assistant-commissioners, chief constables and superintendents whose contributions are negligible compared with those of the lower ranks who have only a small minority representation. Rumours have been going round that the orphanage is to be sold and turned into another training school or college for the police. Many of the officers feel keenly about the welfare and future of the orphanage and I invite the Home Secretary to make a statement on this matter.
I want to refer to the case of men in the Police Force who are killed while on duty. A member of the Metropolitan Police Force, while on duty, met with an accident on the river and was drowned, and his widow got a pension merely of £30 because the accident was held to be accidental. Another constable was killed while on motor patrol and his wife was paid a pension of £70 a year, because it was held that death in that particular case was non-accidental. No one in the Police Force can appreciate these narrow differences, and I cannot understand a differentiation of that sort. Apparently, this is entirely a misinterpretation by some official of the Department. My suggestion is that cases of that type are both anomalous and unjust, and distinctions of that nature ought to be abolished. I understand that strong representations in that direction have been made by the Police Council to the Home Secretary, but nothing has been done, and I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman is going to meet the Police Council on that point. Everybody in this House and out of it, I am sure, regrets that in the circumstances I have mentioned the widow of a policeman should have to apply to the public assistance committee owing to a misinterpretation of the law by the Department concerned.
Another matter which has given rise to a great deal of criticism is the recent case in which a police constable at Ox- ford was killed while on duty by a motor car driven by an undergraduate. I understand that the undergraduate was committed for trial and was acquitted, but up to the present nothing has been done in the way of compensation to the policeman's relatives. The police constable who was killed in this case happened to be a single man, but his father, who was a part-time signal man in a rural area, and mother were living in very poor circumstances, and they received nothing whatever from the Police Pension Fund, not even the amount which the deceased constable had had deducted from his weekly pay. The Oxford watch committee stick to this sum. If the policeman concerned, instead of having been killed, had been discharged for misconduct, the amount deducted from his contributions to the Superannuation Fund would have been returned to him. That seems to be an extraordinarily anomalous position which, I understand, is due to the interpretation of which I have complained.
I gather that that decision was reached on the ground that parents must be wholly or mainly dependent on the son. These parents were dependent to some extent. They would certainly have become almost wholly dependent in the course of a very few years, because the father is an old man. If the case had been one which concerned a chief constable or one of the higher officers, ways and means would have been discovered for getting round the law and for giving a rather wider and more liberal interpretation to this particular Section of the Act. It has been done; we have definite information and can quote instances to the Home Secretary where it has been done in the case of higher officials. It has also been done in the case of certain officials at Scotland Yard. Throughout the constabulary of the country there is a very strong feeling regarding this particular case, which has attracted a good deal of attention in police circles, as have a number of other parallel cases which have occurred during the last two or three years. The right hon. Gentleman's personal attention to this particular matter is invited, in order that a somewhat broader and more humane interpretation of the Section of the Act may be given by him.
Another small point that I wish to raise has caused a certain amount of disquiet and has led to correspondence in the police journals. Under the Road Traffic Act a policeman can exercise his discretion by cautioning a motorist without summoning him. When the Act was being discussed that particular Clause in it was generally welcomed by the House as a very wise provision. But there are some motorists who do not take at all kindly to these verbal cautions. I am informed that recently a motorist complained to the Commissioner that when he was being cautioned the constable entered the particulars in his notebook. It was not to the caution that the motorist objected, but to the fact that a record had been made of it in the policeman's official pocketbook. I am told that as a result of the motorist's complaint an order has been issued instructing the police that in future, when an officer cautions a motorist, the particulars are not to be entered in the notebook in the presence of the person cautioned. Apparently the constable has to memorise the index number of the car, the sex of the driver and other relevant particulars, and then as soon as the offender is out of sight he has to enter the details in his notebook.
Surely the making of a surreptitious entry of that kind is reducing the whole business to a farce. Why should the person cautioned not see the entry made? The officer concerned has decided that he has committed an offence, but not an offence of sufficient gravity for a prosecution to follow. Why should the officer, in those circumstances, when delivering an official caution in respect of which subsequent action may be taken, not make an entry in the presence of the person concerned? Although the matter is in itself a very trivial one, I understand that the police consider that it should be considered. They ask quite definitely that this order shall be rescinded, so that the officer shall not be put in the invidious position in which he finds himself to-day.
A further matter I wish to raise relates to the Special Constabulary, about which also there is a good deal of unrest 'and dissatisfaction. When a public appeal was made recently for special constables there was a considerable and patriotic response on the part of the public. I understand that many of the "specials" were quite prepared to perform emergency duties under a sense of public duty, and were willing to give their services when required in cases of serious public disturbance, but they do resent very much indeed being called upon to perform ordinary routine police duties., and the members of the regular force, I am told, also object very much to these amateurs being brought in to take their places. The new departure, the employment of civilians, laymen, non-professionals, as special constables to take ordinary police duties, is really a species of dilution of labour. It is also a kind of blacklegging. If there is a shortage of police, as i understand there is, the Home Secretary or the various watch committees have a tremendous list of healthy young men who are candidates for the Police Force and are qualified in every way to be employed. The Commissioner and the watch committees have the pick of the best of these men, who ought to be employed rather than these amateurs. If the force requires strengthening, obviously the proper course is the make addition to the force.
One of the reasons for dissatisfaction inside the force on this head is that the present scheme practically bars the way to promotion for a number of men. If the force is augmented to proper strength by the recruitment of new men, that opens up avenues of promotion to capable men in the service. If, on the other hand, the numbers of the regular force are kept down and unpaid amateurs are employed, the chances of promotion are necessarily reduced correspondingly. We suggest to the Home Secretary that it is bad policy, and false economy in the long run, to try to save money by maintaining the police force at its pre-War strength. A great many things have happened since 1914. We have a considerable increase in population. There has been a multiplication of new duties imposed on the force by legislation in the intervening 18 years. A great strain has been imposed on the force by the coming of the motor car, and there are numerous things of which cognisance has now to be taken under the Road Traffic Act.
There are complaints from many districts of the country that particular areas are under-policed at the present time. I think the Home Secretary must have received a good many representations on that matter, and I know definitely that quite a number of watch committees and standing joint committees have had their attention drawn to the matter. We suggest that police work is difficult work, responsible work, and it is often dangerous work, and it is not the sort of job to be given to amateurs. A number of motor police patrols, official, semi-official, and unofficial, have been tried in different places, and have always proved unsatisfactory and have been given up. There is a considerable danger to the public from the uninstructed zeal, and often the officiousness, as well as the ignorance, of lay policemen. They may be all right under orders in squad formation at times of grave public emergency or disturbance. No one has a word to say against their employment under such conditions, but to use them, in normal times and circumstances, to take over the duties of the ordinary policeman, seems to be entirely wrong, and it really involves no inconsiderable danger to the public and to the reputation of the force as a whole. There have been several of what I might almost call scandals due to the lack of discretion exhibited by some of these special constables, and the public in the districts concerned, and elsewhere, ask for protection against this sort of thing. We ask the Home Secretary that the amateurs shall not be used to supplant the ordinary policeman. We ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider that aspect of the question as well as the fact that Members of the regular Force resent the introduction of these men.
On a previous occasion the right hon. Gentleman gave us a very interesting description of the service over which he presides, but he was forced to break off because he was getting out of order.
The remarks I have to make are prompted more from a desire for information than by criticism. I do not altogether agree with the hon. Member who has just spoken, that there is ill-feeling in the Police Force over the economy cut. As I understand it, the members of the Police Force are as desirous as any other body in the Kingdom to bear their share of the burden caused by the trouble in which we found ourselves last year. Where members of the Police Force do find ground for complaint is that the salary for new entrants to the force is widely different from that which was in operation before October of last year. Members of the Police Force of long standing are now wondering whether the 5 per cent. which was knocked off last year, and the further 5 per cent. which will be knocked off this year, will be given back to them when the school teachers and others get the benefit of the restoration of their cuts. Members of the Police Force have also some doubt as to what is going to happen to their pensions. I shall be very grateful if the Home Secretary will give some assurance on these points.
Most of the economies in the Home Office Vote on this occasion comprise reductions in the pay of police officers. There has been a reduction of 5 per cent. as compared with last year's Estimates, but 86 per cent. of that five per cent. comprises reductions in the salaries of police officers. We all agree that we were sent back to the House of Commons to cut down expenditure and economise as much as possible, but not necessarily to economise at the expense of our servants. We have had very little evidence, so far, of administrative economies, and I shall be very grateful if the Home Secretary will point out what economies in administration have been made since October of last year. The Police Force have submitted to the Home Office various methods by which in their opinion economies could be effected, but, go far as we know, nothing has been done in that direction. I put down a question in February last asking for information on the point, and I was told that all these proposals had been considered by a sub-committee of the Police Council, and that steps had been taken, or were being taken, in the light of their findings. We would like to know what steps have been taken.
I am at one with the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) in regard to the use of special constables, but, if the Home Office desire to continue special constables, there is less important work for them to do than directing the traffic at crossings, and dealing with other important matters. If the time of the police force is to be saved, and they are to be put on to their original jobs, it would be better to use special constables for such work as watching smoky chimneys, finding out who has a dog without a licence, and so on, rather than putting a uniformed constable on to this work when there is more important work that he can do. We are told that the women police are a useful body, and perhaps the Home Secretary will be good enough to tell us where their utility comes in, and whether it is worth while keeping them on, or whether they should be disbanded. I should have liked to ask a question on another matter, but it is to some extent sub judice at the moment. That is the question of merging the smaller police forces in the larger ones. This proposal was made by the Desborough Committee in 1919. It is now 1932, and only a very short time ago a committee was formed to look into this question. Of course, we do not blame the Home Secretary and the present Government for that delay; previous Governments are quite as responsible; but many of us think that in these times, when we are trying to cut down expenditure, if such a committee had to be appointed it ought to have been appointed six months ago, and not to-day. Everyone realises that the police force are a responsible body of men. We depend upon them for many things, and we consider that they ought to have justice. We ourselves, in our own businesses, as far as possible, cut down ad- ministrative costs before we start touching the wages of our workpeople, and we think that the Government ought to have done the same in regard to the police.
I should like, on behalf of the Committee, to congratulate the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Lees-Jones) on his maiden speech. I am sure it is the universal feeling in the Committee that we shall look forward on future occasions to remarks from him to such as he has given us to-day, speaking with authority, clarity and brevity. The first point that I want to raise is in connection with the observations of the hon. Member for the West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) in relation to the Police Federation. All the time that the hon. Member was speaking, I felt, and probably other Members of the Committee felt, that there was an idea that the police should have some sort of political bias or political feeling, either for the Government or against the Government, according to the particular actions of the Government and according to whether the Police Federation approved of the Government's actions or not. I think, however, that there is a general desire in all quarters of the House that the police should be, like the armed forces of the Crown, above all political pressure, and should not take part in any form of political organisation; and I feel that any discussion, or action, or request to His Majesty's Government, which would allow of greater political latitude to the Police Force, is something which the police themselves as a body would not welcome, and which is not desirable in the general interests of the country.
The hon. Member for West Bermondsey referred to the orders of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, and said that the Commissioner had exceeded his duty in interfering with meetings outside the police area. I would ask to be allowed to-day, as a Member of the House who had the privilege of serving under the Commissioner, to say that, whether he did right or wrong according to the law, I am quite sure that he did right according to the merits of the particular case. Having had the honour of serving under the Commissioner for a good many years, I felt, in a disturbed time, when none of us quite knew who were our friends and who were our enemies, and when the Police Force was under severe criticism, very happy when I learned of the appointment of Lord Trenchard as Commissioner, because I felt that, whether one agreed generally with the Government of the day or not, at any rate they had done one wise act, and I am sure that, as long as Lord Trenchard has the command of the police, there will be nothing wrong with the force.
May I ask the Home Secretary what is the position with regard to the ever-increasing menace of motor banditry? Every day we are disturbed by reports of an increase of crime. That is probably connected with the industrial depression and the unemployment that exist to-day. The Home Secretary has statistics which bear out the fact that, in every cycle of economic depression and unemployment for the last 100 years, there has been a corresponding increase in crime. Now we have the greatest depression that we have had in recent history, and we can only look forward with misgiving to a greater cycle of crime, with modern methods and modem instruments of crime such as the fast motor car and possibly even the aeroplane in the future. One would like to know, without asking any indiscreet questions as to the secret methods which no doubt the police are using, whether the Home Secretary does look forward, unfortunately, to an increase in this crime, and whether he feels that the methods and facilities which he has at his disposal are likely to be sufficient to cope with it.
With regard to the question of motor accidents on the roads, may I personally pay a tribute to the mobile police? I feel that their introduction has not only checked certain crimes or transgressions of rules of the roads, but has afforded a link of liaison between motorists and the police which has gone some way towards bringing about a better understanding between those two bodies. In the past, the motorist has very often felt that he was a pariah in the sight of every policeman, and the police were his natural enemies; but the fact that the police themselves are driving on overcrowded roads, and are having to navigate through the same traffic through which the ordinary motorist has to navigate, gives him a, feeling of confidence that his difficulties are understood and appreciated by the police, and that he will in the future get an even fairer deal from the police in any case of trouble than he has had in the past. I should like to ask the Home Secretary whether the police are encouraging the further introduction of control lights for pedestrian traffic. I know that this is a matter for local authorities, but doubtless the Metropolitan Police have to make reports to those local authorities, such, for instance, as that of Croydon, who have put up these control lights, and I should be glad to know whether those responsible for the administration of traffic look with favour upon an enlargement of that system.
With regard to the one-way traffic system, for which the Metropolitan police are responsible, I should like to ask for how long the taxpayers are to be called upon to pay for the retention of a constable permanently directing the traffic at certain points, such as Hammersmith Broadway? Is there no means of avoiding the necessity for a uniformed police officer to be engaged in waving traffic this way and that way all the time as it comes into that street? An officer has been stationed there for that purpose for very nearly two years to my knowledge, and I hesitate to think of the amount of money that it has cost the taxpayer, as well as the diversion to this purpose of the services of an officer who might well be doing duty in a more useful sphere. There may be other places in London where this occurs. Is there any means of eliminating this man-power for ensuring that motorists keep to the one-way regulations?
The hon. Member for Blackley said that the police were often employed in going round looking at dog licences and spotting smoky chimneys when they might be employed on more useful work. One feels very often, however, that this necessity for looking at dog licences and smoky chimneys is really a result of the legislation which we ourselves are responsible for passing. We keep on passing laws week after week, month after month, and year after year, and the police are responsible for seeing that those laws are kept; and when they do that, and we are reluctant to grant any more money for an enlarged Police Force, we ask why the police are not doing their proper jobs. But we ourselves are to blame, and I trust that we shall not continue passing this legislation without enlarging the Police Force and giving them a fair chance to carry out the regulations which we pass.
Finally, I would say that motorists as a whole owe a deep debt of gratitude and are under a considerable obligation to the average policeman, in the Metropolitan area in particular. He has a hard and arduous task, and I know personally, having had an unfortunate motor accident quite recently, the tact and courtesy and fairness and technical efficiency with which the police dealt with that particular accident, which is typical, I am afraid, of many others that occur. Accidents are all too frequent. By means of the Road Traffic Act and by various other methods we are endeavouring to reduce them, but I would like to say, as one Member of the House who has been concerned in an unfortunate accident, that the police, if they act in other such cases as they did in mine, will continue to merit the good will of the House of Commons.
Not only this House but the whole country owes a very deep debt of gratitude to the police. They have carried out their duties during a very difficult time with that tact and efficiency which we are accustomed to get from them. In these days of industrial depression the police are frequently called upon to use great tact. We have an instance in what happened yesterday. When we think of what happens in other countries, we may be congratulated upon our Police Force, and it is largely owing to them that these incidents do not occur in greater numbers. I think we are all agreed that in the near future we shall probably be obliged to have an increase in our Police Force in London and elsewhere. It appears to me that we could extend them on the lines of having a supplementary road control organisation. In some counties road scouts belonging to various clubs and associations have been used for point duty work. Generally speaking, these men carry out their duties as efficiently as the police could do. I believe that in some counties they receive remuneration for providing these services. It appears to me that that practice might very well be extended but, if that is going to be done, it is obvious that these road point duty men must have official authority behind them. It is no good an R.A.C. or an A.A. scout holding up his hand unless the signal is going to be obeyed. Throughout the country generally we shall require a large number of road point duty men, and that service might very well be rendered by such men as these. That would enable us, not only in London but also in our country districts, not to increase the number of police more than is necessary for vital police work.
I sum afraid I thoroughly disagree with the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter), who spoke about dissatisfaction in the Police Force. I do not believe there is anything like the dissatisfaction that he gave us to understand, and I am certain that the satisfactory condition of the Police Force is very largely due to the fact that they are not dominated by any particular political party. I believe the holding of outdoor meetings is not wished for.
I accept what the hon. Member says, in which case I feel sure he will agree that this Committee should not go away with any idea that the Police Force wishes to hold outdoor meetings of any kind. I feel that the country is very well served by its Police Force, and that is principally due to the fact that it is not dominated by any particular political party. I am not sure whether another subject that I wish to allude to is in order on this Vote, but is it not time that all London squares had one-way traffic? It would obviate a great number of accidents. It would not inconvenience many people and it would obviate a great deal of trouble.
I think the matter would come more appropriately on the Transport Vote. The House under the guidance of the Ministry of Transport has passed certain legislative measures to deal with traffic and one-way traffic Orders should, I think, come under that Ministry's Vote, although administration of those Orders after they are made may come under the police.
I have said all that is necessary on the subject and, if it has anything to do with the right hon. Gentleman's Department, no doubt he will make a note of it. So far as the general duties of the police with regard to road traffic in London are concerned, we are all very glad to see that automatic signals are very largely taking the place of the police and doing the -work very efficiently indeed. It is obvious, from the fact that these signals are working well, that the police on point duty are nothing else but human signal boxes, and it seems to me that the time has come when we might not only see an expansion of the system of automatic signalling, but also that the duty of operating these signals might very well be transferred to men not of the physical standard and capacity and capability of our present policemen.
I should like to associate myself with what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said as to the public appreciation of the way in which the work of the Police Force is done. It has, in general, earned the regard of all those who realise how much we are dependent on them for the maintenance of public order. I rise to ask the Home Secretary if he will put an end to the differentiation of practice that now exists in reference to police reports. There is a lack of uniformity which often results in what might be grave injustice, and certainly in dissatisfaction, to those concerned in litigation who can least afford it. I want to say a word on behalf of the poorer litigant who claims in respect of a motor accident. A large proportion of the litigation to-day in county courts and in some branches of the High Court arises out of running down and collision cases, and in almost every instance the defence of those actions is undertaken by insurance companies, because this House in its judgment recently passed an Act making it essential for every driver and owner of a motor vehicle to be insured in respect of third party claims. The injustice to which I refer cannot but operate harshly in the case of a man who is injured and seeks to bring an action against a motorist who is supported by the resources of some substantial insurance company. It often arises that the only evidence available to the plaintiff is that of a police officer who was at the scene of the accident or came immediately afterwards. At any rate, if any such evidence is in existence, it should be available. The practice is that the superintendent of police or the chief constable is approached for a police report to say what evidence there was, who the witnesses were and what the circumstances were in connection with the accident.
Then begins the variation which causes the injustice to which I refer. In one part of the country a précis of the police officer's statement is sent on payment of a small fee. In an-other part of the country—I am sorry to have to say that this practice is getting more and more common—the head of the Police Force first of all fixes a fee for the statement of the police officer and then fixes a fee for each statement of any person who can throw any light at all on the occurrence. If an interview is wanted by those concerned on behalf of the unfortunate plaintiff, a fee has to be paid to see the police officer, and a fee is again sometimes asked for each statement of witnesses whose names the police have taken. If the officer is required to go and see the plaintiff, his expenses must be paid and, as the conversation can only take place in the presence of a superintendent of police, a fee again must be paid to enable the superintendent to go. A poor litigant will suffer considerable hardship (unless he is covered by the poor persons rules) as, in order to get the necessary evidence he will be put to expenditure which he can ill afford. I am certain that there is no police officer in the country who would desire to deny to any litigant any evidence that is available. It is not the police officer who gets the fee, and he does not desire to put difficulties in the way of a man bringing his claim to court. It is the authority that puts the difficulty in the way of the litigant and demands payment of these fees. Any police constable, I am sure, would be only too glad to do what every decent member of society would do and place any information that he has at the disposal of those seeking justice.
Only to-day I have been supplied with a letter from a responsible officer of the Surrey Constabulary, who says he proposes to regard any statements that he has as confidential and not in any circumstances to give any extracts from them at all. This is a denial to a litigant—perhaps one already suffering from some permanent injury—of his right to approach justice with the full facts to which he is entitled. No such ordinary statement of fact can be considered privileged or confidential, and I think no police official has the right so to proclaim it. Access to our courts is a universal right, and all such suggested restrictions are to be deprecated in the interests of public justice. And there are many such variations in this police procedure, all calculated to be embarrassing to those seeking the truth in preparing their eases. As another example, one finds that in Kent, between Dover and Folkestone, a matter of 15 miles, there are two entirely different practices, and the result is that with this multiplicity of practices in the police authorities there is great difficulty and embarrassment caused to litigants in various places. I urge upon the Home Secretary to issue instructions to the various police authorities all over the country that there shall be one and the same practice adopted, and that no litigant because of his lack of means shall be denied the right to have at his disposal, in order to assist justice, every piece of available evidence, and that the police authorities concerned should be directed, and given no option in the matter, that on the payment of the smallest fee, if a fee at all be necessary, a complete statement of what was in the knowledge of any police officer who witnessed the accident or who was called to the scene of the accident, should be made available on behalf of the person who had been injured and who sought to bring an action.
It may be said—I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will not suggest it—by members of the Committee, "Why is not the police officer subpoenaed?" It would be wrong to subpoena a police officer whose statement you had not seen. The litigant who brings an officer to the court puts him forward as a witness of truth and dependability and he is bound by what he says. It would be dangerous on behalf of a litigant to bring a witness to the court whose statement he or his advisers had not seen. I ask that every effort be made and every direction possible be given to see that a full statement is made available at the earliest possible time after the collision, on behalf of the injured man in whose interest an action is brought. May I remind my right hon. Friend of the fact that, unfortunately, road accidents are not getting less; they are increasing. The more frequent they become, the more harsh will be the injustice which I have indicated in my observations this afternoon. I hope that my right hon. Friend will, at a very early date, stop this arbitrary procedure and insist upon a uniform and fair rule being adopted by every police authority. May I ask that we be allowed another occasion on some future date of discussing in the House the many questions which will arise out of those matters which, for various reasons, we are now unable to discuss?
The point which the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) has raised, will appear to every Member of the Committee, and even to the Home Secretary, to be a subject of very great importance, and I am sure that the Home Secretary will give it full and detailed attention. I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman in regard to the point which he has raised, but to bring back the Committee to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) when he opened the discussion this afternoon. Hon. Members have rightly paid tribute to the general efficiency of the Police Force of this country as well as to their great devotion to public duty. No one on this side of the Committee would desire to detract in any way from the fullness of the tribute which they merit. But if a policeman is to discharge his duties adequately, the conditions under which he works must be conditions with which he is fully satisfied. You cannot have an efficient service unless you have as a pre-condition a contented police service. Surely, whatever we may consider to be adequate for them, they clearly have a right to a voice in determining the conditions under which they work.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Bermondsey reminded us that after the trouble which supervened soon after the War, the Home Office and the Government deliberately and with set purpose instituted an organisation to act as the medium through which the police would be able from time to time to ventilate any grievances from which they might consider themselves to be suffering. That organisation—the Police Federation—has functioned more or less effectively. I cannot say that I am enormously enamoured of its work, but still it has functioned for well over a decade. Its procedings have been looked upon with favour by the head of each Government Department. It has followed certain procedure which, I understand, until recently has never been questioned. Towards the end of last autumn the police, like other arms of the Civil Service, had to undergo a certain measure of economy, and naturally a policeman, like everybody else, dislikes a cut in his salary. I do not suppose that Cabinet Ministers like it either. If the police dislike a cut in their salaries, surely they have a right to express their disappointment. The Police Force, not only in London but in other parts of the country, naturally wished to express their feelings concerning the cut which was imposed upon them. In expressing their feelings by way of public discussion they were not implying in any way a demand that they should be put above other people. They were not asking for any special and exceptional terms, but were prepared to regard themselves in the same light as other people, subject to the same disabilities as other people—no more and no less.
After the cuts had been imposed upon them, they deemed it to be wise to hold a certain number, not of public meetings in the ordinary sense, but of what might be called open meetings at which the Press were not allowed to be present but to which public representatives drawn from all political parties, I believe, were invited to participate in a discussion on a common platform. Now, I understand, the Home Secretary has frowned upon that procedure. It is a very daring thing to risk the frown of the Home Secretary, but a good number of his colleagues in the Cabinet have sustained their experience and so far have survived wonderfully well. If the Home Secretary is to be free to express his disagreement with his colleagues when there is no cut in his salary involved but a question of policy, or public policy if you like, surely the policeman ought to be equally free to express his view at an open meeting. The right hon. Gentleman from time to time makes it clear to the world from his place at that Box that he disagrees with his colleagues of the Cabinet, and I understand that he is going to do so again this week. Why may not a policeman do the same sort of thing? What right has the Home Secretary to be treated differently from the ordinary policeman in demonstrating his disagreement, especially when in the case of the policeman it concerns his daily or weekly wage?
Some hon. Members have expressed a feeling of abhorrence lest the Police Force of this country should partake of some sort of political flavour. Personally, I am not anxious to rope the Police Federation into the Labour movement. But that is not the question at all. If you want to avoid politics being introduced into the police organisation, please give them a guarantee that they are free to discuss their grievances from time to time without let or hindrance even from the Home Secretary, benevolent as is the present Home Secretary. The Home Secretary, in this matter has departed somewhat from the strict faith of Liberalism. It is not his first departure I know, but do not let us have too many lapses, otherwise he will begin to lose his political identity which, so far, he has managed to retain. In this matter, anyhow, the right of a man to discuss the conditions under which he shall work is an elementary right in the sight of every Liberal, and should be a right with which a Liberal Home Secretary should in no wise interfere. I, therefore, invite the Home Secretary in all good faith and good feeling to remove the embargo which he has placed upon open meetings at which policemen may invite the representatives of all parties to discuss with them their special professional grievances. Hon. Members on the opposite side of the Committee have asked us to take good care not to introduce a political flavour into the Police Force. If I accord that point to them, will they accord to me that there must not be a military flavour introduced into the Police Force?
What is the real explanation of the diligent search for Military, Naval and Air Force officers to man the higher posts of the police service? Why is it that we cannot contemplate the promotion of somebody in the Police Force who has equipped himself by experience and long association with that force adequately to discharge the function of Police Commissioner in London? It used to be said that Napoleon encouraged his soldiers with the thought that each man carried a field marshal's baton in his knapsack. I understand that an ordinary policeman may not, according to the present position, anticipate at any time becoming the Chief Police Commissioner. Why not? Time after time we go outside the service to invite Admiral this or General that or Vice-Marshal this or Marshal that. Why should this important service be deemed to be the preserve of highly placed military officers? I will ask another question. Who is Colonel Drummond? Where did Colonel Drummond come from? What was his special qualification to join the Police Force in London? Had he qualified in some special way for this force? Has he subscribed to the ordinary rules to which policemen subscribe? What merit attaches to him particularly? Did he drop from the clouds, or from where did he come? It is time that we put an end to the stupid habit of bringing in people from outside to occupy those high posts. Inevitably it creates a feeling of suspicion that these posts are being preserved for certain highly placed people. I dare say that is not true, but the repetition of it over and over again does lend colour to the suggestion, to say the least of it. I do not understand what is wrong with the principle that there should be pro- motion for people who all their lives have been associated with the Police Force and have qualified by meritorious service for promotion within the Police Force. Why are not they guaranteed the chance, the prospect—to put it no higher—of eventually ascending to the top of the service?
May I ask another question, because it touches upon a matter of importance? I understand that there has been a development recently in the Metropolitan Police Service of a campaign emphasising the value of zeal. I am all for zeal. Zeal is an excellent quality, whether in the Police Force, the Cabinet or any other service, but I am rather afraid that zeal is in danger of being tested in the wrong way. How do you test the zeal of a policeman? Do you test it by the number of arrests he makes or the number of prosecutions he secures, or how is it tested? I should be glad if the Home Secretary would let us know how many warnings in regard to zeal have been sent out to the Metropolitan Police Service in the last two or three months. I think I shall not be very far from the truth when I say that zeal is in danger of being interpreted as success in bringing home convictions against people, or at any rate, the prosecution of people. That is an extraordinarily vicious principle to introduce, if it is being introduced.
If a man feels that his zeal is being tested by the number of people he hales before the courts, or the number of prosecutions he is able to undertake, and if he feels that his efficiency pay depends upon that, and, incidentally, the amount of his pension depends upon it, you are liable to divert that policeman's activity into a very undesirable channel. I should like to ask the Home Secretary if he will see to it that—while we are all anxious to safeguard the retention of as much zeal as possible on the part of individual members of the Metropolitan Police Force—zeal is not necessarily to be interpreted or defined as success in securing convictions or in bringing about prosecutions against a greater or lesser number of people. The question of payment by results, for that is what it comes to, is an old question. It is not one that applies merely to the Police Force. It was a vicious old principle that used to be applied in the teaching service. It is a horrible principle, a vicious thing, and it ought never to be allowed to enter into a Service of this sort.
There is no special merit in creating an infinite number of prosecutions or exciting the interests of the individual policeman in getting a certain number of prosecutions to his credit. The question is whether the law is being fairly administered, whether the policeman is a dutiful servant of the community, and whether he is able to give his superiors adequate proof of his diligence in the discharge of his tasks. None of these artificial tests ought to be allowed to be introduced in so difficult a service as the police service. I hope, therefore, that the Home Secretary will be able to give us some assurance on these three simple points: First, whether appointments are to have any political flavour and whether they are to be relieved of military flavour; secondly, whether the Police Federation is to be free to be the vehicle for the focussing of opinion among the police forces of the country, without undue interference from the Government; and, thirdly, whether we can have an assurance from the Home Secretary regarding the interpretation of the word "zeal" as applied to the ordinary policeman.
We are asked to vote a sum of £944,000, almost £1,000,000, for the prisons. This is a suitable opportunity for those who are dissatisfied with the working and the results of the prisons—
I hope that after what has been said on both sides of the Committee in regard to the Police Federation, the Home Secretary will take this opportunity of clearing up the difficulty. As far as I have been able to discover, the Police Act, 1919, gave no statutory right to the Police Federation to hold what has been called open meetings, but the situation has been made rather obscure by political or semi-political actions; by the fact that previous Home Secretaries and, I think, the present Home Secretary, have, what I may call, condoned open meetings of the Police Federation. It is a fact that since the constitution of the federation in the Police Act, 1919, open meetings have been allowed by the Home Office. As recently as February of this year, the Home Secretary stated in a letter to the federation that, although open meetings were not inherent in the constitution of the federation itself, they had in the past served a useful purpose, and he had no doubt that they would do so again.
I understand that the Home Secretary's reason for not wishing that the Police Federation should hold open meetings at this particular juncture is that its purpose may be to discuss economy measures. I hope, however, that he will take this opportunity of clearing up a matter which has given rise to a certain amount of doubt, as to whether the Police Federation can even hold its own normal meetings. I believe that previously it has been allowed to hold six meetings a year, four of which could be held in the Provinces, but I understand that that has been vetoed and that the whole of the six meetings must be held in London. If that is the case, then clearly it is not giving the Police Federation "a fair do," and is not giving the policemen in the country an opportunity of putting their case to the Government through the very medium which the Government set up in years gone by for that purpose.
I would also ask the Home Secretary to give us an assurance that he will consider the recommendations which the Police Federation have made in regard to further economies in the Police Service. As the Committee know, further drastic reductions are to be made this year and, as is always the case with economies, a Government Department usually takes a look round at pay. I suggest that in the case of the police there is plenty of scope for economy in administration. I hope the Home Secretary will give the fullest-consideration to the proposals which have been put forward by the federation which, as far as I can see, would in no way jeopardise the efficiency of the Service but would tend to create greater contentment in the personnel of the force. There is a certain amount of apprehension among the police as to the new pay rates which new entrants to the force are to receive. I do not intend to discuss that matter, but those rates are obviously in accord with the policy which the Government intend to pursue in future. Apprehension has been caused among the present members of the force owing to lack of an assurance that it is not the intention of the Government to reduce in future the pay of the present members of the force on the permanent scale to that which they propose to impose on the new entrants. There is also apprehension in regard to pensions. I hope that the Home Secretary will seize this opportunity Of dispelling this apprehensive feeling, because I think it is unjustified. I do not think that the Government have any such intention, but it should be just as well if they said so to-day in no uncertain manner.
There is one further point which I should like to raise in connection with pensions. A case was mentioned by the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter). I had not heard of it before, and I did not think that that attitude of mind existed in the pension authorities in this country. He referred to the case of a policeman who had been drowned through his boat upsetting, and to another policeman who lost his life when he was in charge of a motor-boat patrol. He referred to the very great difference in the amount of pension which had been granted to the two widows. I should like to ask the Home Secretary on what principle the Home Office proceed when they decide such cases, in view of the very large discrepancy in the amount of pension given in almost two similar cases. I think I know the answer that will be given, but I thought that that state of mind was only in evidence in a country like India, where we know that decisions on matters of pension are rather peculiar. In my own experience I remember that we had a Gurkha mule driver who was kicked by a mule and had to retire from the Service. It was decided that he was not entitled to a pension on the ground that a similar accident might have occurred to a civilian. After a great deal of correspondence, we discovered what we ought to have known before, that there were no such things as mules in Nepal. However, the man eventually got his pension.
A mule. I hope that that state of mind does not prevail in the pension departments of this country, and I hope that the Home Secretary will tell us what are the real facts and what guides the Home Office in coming to a decision. I suppose he will tell us, as many Ministers of the Crown tell us, that he has no power to alter the existing regulations. If that is the case, I hope that he will take his courage in both hands, as he does so often on other occasions, and come to the House and ask for power to put right what is an obvious injustice.
On a previous occasion I raised the question of police evidence in civil causes, and I propose to raise it again this afternoon, and if I repeat myself I hope to a somewhat different audience to that which I then addressed. My point then was that I had discovered, much to my surprise, that the Home Office gave instructions to policemen whom it was desired to see in order to get what is called in England a proof of their evidence, but what we in Scotland call a precognition, of what they were going to say in the witness box in a civil action for damages, to demand a fee. The amount to be demanded was 5s. for a constable and 7s. 6d. for a sergeant, and I presume that as you go up the scale to a superintendent and chief constable it will be a larger sum. I protested then and I protest now against this as being a highly improper proceeding. It is the duty of every citizen to give evidence of facts which come to his notice, and it is his duty to do so without fee or reward. If he asks for money then he at once becomes a suspect witness. If he is a working man who has lost any time by having to go to the court then he is entitled to be indemnified for the time he has lost and to have his expenses paid, but to suggest that a salaried officer like a policeman is to ask for money before giving evidence of facts within his knowledge in connection with a civil action is a most improper proceeding.
This money, for which the constable is to ask, does not go to the individual constable and, indeed, the individual constable is far too good a citizen to make this demand, he knows his duties far too well to do so. Indeed, if a constable were to ask for any payment for his private profit disciplinary action would be taken; no doubt he would be dismissed from the force for asking for money for which he has no right to ask. The offence on the part of the police in asking for this payment becomes all the more gross because the Home Office has instructed chief constables to demand money from people who are seeking the truth regarding some particular claim they may have and which is being heard in the courts. I have seen it stated as a justification that people who take action in the courts for damages do so for private profit. That is an entirely unsound argument, because a person who is injured by a motor car or in a motoring accident, of which the police may be the sole witnesses, is not seeking private profit but is seeking to have made good the damage he has suffered in the accident. If a person loses a leg he may recover anything from £500 to £2,000. There is not a Member of this House who would lose one of his limbs for any amount of money, and yet money is the only reparation that can be made in the case of such accidents. A man who is awarded damages in a civil claim in the case of an accident is not made any richer by the award, he is only making the best that can be made to diminish the resulting damage of his accident.
As I say, it is the duty of every private citizen to bear witness to the truth without fee or reward, except when he is subpoenaed, when some small allowance may be made to cover out-of-pocket expenses. If you propose to tender a witness as a reputable witness you take care, you can hardly do otherwise, to interview the witness and find out what he is going to say. If you are suspicious that such a witness may go back upon his statement you ask him to sign a written statement of what he has said, and then if he goes back upon that statement in his evidence before the court you can then ask leave of the court to treat him as a hostile witness and cross-examine him as such. The suggestion of the Home Office is that the police, these public servants who are paid out of taxes, have a lower conception of their duty in dealing with these claims than the ordinary citizen. This idea is perfectly monstrous; it is fundamentally wrong. Who benefits? It is only the insurance companies who defend these actions.
It may be that the people who raise these cases are comparatively poor. It may be the case of a widow woman whose husband has been killed in a motor accident, and the first thing a constable is told to do is to demand a payment before he will say what he saw. It has been suggested that it means taking him off his beat. The police have as much leisure as the rest of the community and there can be no objection to people who require their evidence on questions of fact in regard to these civil actions interviewing a policeman in his leisure as they would in the case of another citizen. I have sufficient knowledge from a long experience in my own profession and of the policemen to know that no policeman will put any obstacle in the way of his giving that evidence. It is the bureaucratic mind of the Home Office or some other similar mind which has suggested this extraordinary instruction. It is all very well to make exceptions in the case of poor people, but that suggests a poverty inspection, an examination as to means. The whole thing is entirely wrong, and I hope the Home Secretary will announce that he is renouncing this exaction which has crept into the administration of justice.
The danger of this kind of thing spreading we can see clearly in what is miscalled in to-day's papers the cheapening of justice. It is proposed now to abolish the right of the citizen to demand a trial by jury. We must watch these on goings. Take the case of a private employer. Suppose a man who has been injured in an accident goes to a private employer and says, "I understand your foreman and two of your journeymen saw a certain accident. I want you to give me an opportunity to interview them." The employer might say, "Oh, if you want to do that the charge payable to me for the journeymen is 5s. each, and for the foreman 7s. 6d." There is such a thing as a privileged statement, but there can be no privileged statement of a policeman who is the witness of an accident. He is only an ordinary citizen who has seen what has happened. There is no question of privilege, and his evidence should be made available without fee or charge. There is no suggestion that it will lead to any abuse. It only means that the unfortunate injured person will be able to find out how the accident happened, and my long experience is that the police state the facts as they see them. It is a shocking thing to put any obstacles whatever in the way of the administration of justice, even in civil causes.
The police at the moment are having a very hard time because so many foolish duties are being put upon them. It is entirely wrong for them to have control of the direction of traffic. That is not a policeman's duty. You do not want these splendid specimens of manhood to do that work. You can get a much more economical class of citizen to perform this duty through the different motor societies, thereby releasing the police for their real duty of preventing crime. Another matter wherein there might be a saving is here. I have never been able to see why there is any moral difference, or that there should be any legal difference, between drinking good champaign at a reasonable price at one hour and drinking bad champagn at an unreasonable price an hour later. It is a silly regulation, and to have our first-class policemen wasting their time in looking after these melancholy night clubs is bringing the whole country into ridicule. Why not charge these places £l,000 licence duty, and let us have our share of it; but do not waste the time of the police in this way. Give Mrs. Meyrick the O.B.E. and finish with it, and have all these foolish regulations done away with. If fools and their money are to be parted let us get some of it.
I see that a former Home Secretary in one of the Sunday papers wrote an article under the title "I am not a killjoy" and said that some people wanted too much liberty when they thought that there should be no laws against burglary, night clubs and drunkenness. You will notice the collocation. He, not the present Home Secretary, is largely responsible for those foolish activities of the police. Naturally a man who appears to think burglary, night clubs and drunkenness are on a par would be responsible. That is why so much time of our police is wasted, and I hope that the present Home Secretary who, except in his fiscal judgment, is a very intelligent Member of the Government will exercise his sanity and commonsense and get rid of all these D.O.R.A. Regulations which are wasting the money of the taxpayer.
There is another matter upon which I want to say a word, and that is the large amount of crime which is occurring at the moment. The police, I am told, are very much hampered by certain regulations which were brought into force on account of a memorable Hyde Park case, in regard to which I have always had the suspicion that they were right, although they were not able to prove it. Under the old regulations you could not ask a man or woman whom you were going to accuse to make a statement without a previous warning that they need not make any statement at all, but that regulation was extended to people who may be witnesses to the offence and from whom you may wish to get some inkling or some evidence which will enable the police to put their hands on the proper criminals. When you have got this witness, whom you may never charge at all and do not intend to charge, you have to say, "Now please understand that although I am a policeman and seeking justice you need not say a word unless you like." What is the good of getting hold of a witness whom you want to speak and then telling him that he need not do so? The police have not a chance in these circumstances. It is the result of hysterical and emotional action in connection with the Hyde Park incident, and it has greatly hampered the police in the execution of their duty. They do not know where they are. In the main the police give every suspected individual a fair run. The police as a whole are very anxious not to arrest decent citizens, and it must be very galling to them to have this muzzle put on them, as the result of that case. I believe the Home Secretary will be meeting the views of practically all well-behaved and decent citizens if he restores to the police the old facilities that they had to make it more certain that, when a crime has been committed, it will be possible for the police to get at the facts, and make a proper examination of witnesses who are likely to be able to throw light on the subject. Apart from what I have said, I think the report of the Home Secretary is in the main satisfactory.
I particularly want to ask one question on the matter that has just been raised, namely, the examination of witnesses by the police. Has the position been altered, or has it not, since the Savidge case? As has been so clearly pointed out, the ends of justice are defeated if the police have to warn witnesses who may be able to give valuable evidence in the detection of crime, "If you do not want to answer any question you need not." That renders the whole course of justice absurd. It is difficult for the police, in those conditions, to work up any case at all. There is not the slightest doubt that many crimes are undetected, for this very reason that restrictions have been placed upon the police in the examination of witnesses. Everybody agrees that if a man is going to be accused of a crime he should be warned. That is in an entirely different category from the examination of witnesses who may be able to give valuable evidence to bring home the crime to the criminal. It is quite impossible for the police to carry out their arduous duties at the present time. There is no injustice whatever to the witnesses, but there is an injustice to law and order that this regulation should continue. I hope the Home Secretary will take steps to have it altered, if it is still in force, and that the police shall know that it is not necessary to warn the witnesses, who may toe able to give evidence in the detection of crime, that they need not answer questions.
I must, in the first place, thank the Committee for the tone and the manner in which they have discussed this Vote. As the official head for the time being of the police services of this country, so far as there is any official head of the police services, I would like to thank many hon. Members who have paid a tribute to the efficiency of that force, and not only to thank them, but myself to join in such a tribute. The police are one of our British institutions in which as a nation we take most pride, and whatever defects there may be from time to time, here and there, on the whole we can claim that our Police Force yields to none, and is, we believe, superior to all in efficiency, and in what is the first condition of efficiency, honesty. One or two hon. Members and right hon. Members opposite have asked me to say today what I should have said on the Home Office Vote if the rules of order had not excluded matters specifically relating to the police Vote. I therefore wish to make a few observations with regard to the effectiveness of the police in the control of crime, having in view the great concern which is felt throughout the nation, due to the increase of certain classes of crime.
Of course, if the police were greatly increased in their numbers, they would probably be much more effective than they are now in the suppression of crime, but there the question of cost comes in. Before the War, the police of England and Wales cost just upon £7,000,000 a year, to the Exchequer and to the rates together. Last year they cost,, not £7,000,000, but £21,000,000, three times as much, although the numbers have increased only from 54,000 to 58,000. The cost of pensions alone has gone up from £1,300,000 to £5,000,000. So that this very heavy cost of the Police Force has to be taken into account, particularly in these days of financial stringency, when we consider the possibility of a great increase in their numbers as a means of coping with crime.
It is said and said quite rightly that there is a considerable proportion of the force devoted to other duties instead of being concentrated upon their primary purpose, and that is so, although I think that somewhat exaggerated ideas are entertained as to the extent to which the police are diverted, particularly to traffic duties. In the Metropolitan Police district the number of policemen allocated to traffic control is 7.5 per cent. of the whole body. Of every 100 police, 92 are devoted to the general duties of the police, and between seven and eight are devoted to traffic control. The actual numbers are: 1,500 devoted to traffic control, out of 20,000. Taking the country as a whole there are 4,300 policemen engaged on traffic points. The cost to the country as a whole is about £1,000,000, and in the Metropolitan Police district just under £500,000.
Although the proportion is comparatively small, it is undoubtedly the case that if we can save any considerable part of this man-force, highly expensive as it is highly efficient, undoubtedly we shall do so. That can be done by means of automatic light signals which have been brought into use in recent years, and which are extremely effective. The capi- tal cost of one of those signals is roughly about the same as the annual cost of a policeman. That is to say, you make your expenditure for one year and you save the annual cost of the same amount ever after. It is greatly to be desired that the provision of these signals should be proceeded with as rapidly as may be. The Ministry of Transport and the Home Office are in constant consultation in these matters, but the actual control rests with the local authorities. Particularly in London I trust that the borough councils, under the influence of the public opinion of the citizens of London, will proceed with somewhat greater rapidity than they have done hitherto, with the provision of these admittedly effective means of controlling traffic and securing public economy.
Already the Ministry of Transport makes a grant of 60 per cent. of the cost of the signals, which I think is not an unfair division as between the taxpayer and the ratepayer. With regard to the appointment of other kinds of traffic controllers—traffic wardens, not policemen, that has been tried, and is effective up to a point, but there is no very great saving involved, and, at a recent conference of the authorities concerned was not very much favoured. The general opinion was that it would be more economical and in every way more advantageous to provide a greater number, and at a rapid rate of progress, of the automatic signals. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) asked what was being done in order to put a stop to the depredations of motor bandits. That can be achieved partly by a better allocation of the forces that are available, and the Commissioner of Police in London particularly, and I have no doubt the chief constables elsewhere, have the matter very much in mind. The whole efforts of Lord Trenchard are devoted to securing that the police shall be, to as great an extent as possible, allocated to their primary purpose of stopping crime rather than to those minor duties of preventing the' more trivial offences to which reference has been made.
Furthermore, within the last two or three weeks, as the Committee is aware, the regulations have been altered which forebade the locking of private motor-ears parked in London. That rule was enforced because of the difficulties of moving cars that were locked and were parked too closely together. The Commissioner of Police and the Minister of Transport have come to the conclusion that it is more important to enable the owners of cars to take the necessary precautions against their cars being stolen, especially since it is stolen cars that are used for the depredations of bandits. The police authorities in London and elsewhere have established a system of mobile patrols, equipped with motor vehicles of their own which are able to exercise some check upon this class of crime. We are taking steps, and I hope the House will permit it, to promote the merger of the smaller police forces. There are 180 Police Forces in this country, too many for efficiency. That is a matter that requires legislation, and it would not be in order for me to dwell upon it on this occasion.
Lastly, in this connection, and this is a point of very great importance, those tradesmen who are purveyors of valuable commodities really have the duty to take some measures for their own protection. At the present time stocks of great value are frequently left wholly unprotected, and a mere pane of glass is regarded as sufficient security for goods that may be of the value of thousands of pounds. That used not to be so in former times, when stocks of great value were protected by grilles and in other ways. The Commissioner of Police would be glad if tradesmen would take what may be regarded as reasonable precautions, and it would not be a bad thing if the insurance companies who insure the stocks against robbery were to bring pressure to bear upon those concerned to induce them to take the necessary measures.
However much we may desire to see the police devoted to other matters than traffic, the fact remains that they have a very real public duty to do what they can to prevent dangerous driving, and to save the lives of our fellow-countrymen. The figures for road accidents for 1931 have not been published, but they will be issued in a few days. I will give to the Committee now, since I know it will be interested, the advance figures. They show an exceedingly serious state of things. The number of persons killed in Great Britain in road accidents last year was no less than 6,691, and the number injured was 202,119. Every day of the year 18 people are killed and 553 are injured on our roads. It is true that there is this one favourable feature— that the number of fatal accidents' last year shows a reduction on the previous year of 614. On the other hand, the non-fatal accidents show an increase of no fewer than 24,224.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to convey to the Committee that the whole of these accidents are due to the fault of the motorist, when they are, in so many cases, entirely due to the fault of the pedestrian; and I hope the police will exercise their authority in arresting pedestrians who walk about to the danger of other traffic.
No, but it is not seldom that motors have to swerve in order to avoid pedestrians, with great damage to themselves. I do not know that we have yet reached the stage when it will be necessary to legislate in this matter and to invert the old law which required every motor car to be preceded by a pedestrian carrying a red flag, and require every pedestrian to be preceded by a motor cyclist carrying a red flag. But certain it is that there are some cases in which the pedestrians are to blame for accidents, and any animadversions which I may make are directed to all who use the roads. One other favourable feature appears in the statistics of the past year. They show the favourable effect of one piece of legislation passed by this House, namely, the Section of the Road Traffic Act of 1930 which deals with pillion-riding on motor-cycles. Parliament passed a Section prohibiting any person from riding as a passenger on a motorcycle, otherwise than seated astride the cycle, on a proper seat, securely fixed, and the consequence of that enactment has been that fatal accidents to pillion-riders, or to bicycles on which pillion- riders were seated, have declined by 27 per cent. in a single year, and there has been a smaller decline in the number of non-fatal accidents in that class.
The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) urged that no fees should be charged in certain cases where the police are called upon to give evidence with regard to street accidents, and the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) raised the same point. At first sight I thought that there was a great deal of force in the hon. and learned Member's contention, and I went into it very carefully. It is not, by the way, the bureaucracy of the Home Office which has imposed any new rules. It was the Central Conference of Chief Constables of England and Wales who thought it was necessary to charge some fee for these interviews. They are exceedingly numerous and the great majority of them are given in respect of occurrences which do not involve any legal proceedings at all. In the Metropolitan district area alone, the interviews number about 4,000 a year and are a serious encroachment on police time. If a policeman is interviewed off duty and a fee is charged, it is charged where the policeman receives payment from the police authority in respect of the duty which he has to perform in his own time.
If in any case there is any danger of hardship or any indication that the person cannot afford the fee, the instruction is that the fee should be waived. But, in general, if no fee were charged there would be no limitation upon what I may call the fishing interviews that policemen might be required to give either to persons who were thinking of bringing a possible case, or to persons who might be interested in the matter in some way or another, without litigation being involved. In these days of economy, when all legitimate sources of public income ought to be husbanded, I submit that it would not be right to have the official time of officers of the State taken up by interviews with persons for the private purposes of those persons without some fee being charged for the services of those State officials. That is the reason and the justification given by the chief constables for the action which they have taken.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the interests of economy, but what about the economy of the poor people who want this information? Is the economy of the private citizen not to be considered?
That, obviously, is an entirely different matter. It is the duty of every citizen to give evidence to assist the enforcement of the law, just as it is the duty of every citizen to assist the police in arresting a person in the commission of a crime, and there can be no question of paying a person for assisting in what is, normally, the citizen's duty in that regard.
The cases are not quite on all fours. With regard to the suggestion that the police are now hampered in the preliminary examination of persons who may be brought forward as witnesses in some criminal case, I have, on many occasions, answered questions in the House of Commons on that point. There is a widespread misapprehension regarding it. There has been no change in practice which hampers the police in any way. The complaints which I have received and the allegations made do not come from any of the police authorities but only from the newspapers which have secured from their contributors a series of startling articles suggesting that the increase of crime is due to the fact that policemen cannot examine possible witnesses without warning them beforehand and telling them that they need not reply unless they wish. There is no such instruction at all. They have not to warn any person before taking a statement. Of course, if a person is likely to be charged with the commission of an offence, necessarily that person must be warned beforehand, but that is not by any instruction on the part of the police authorities. That is done under the judges' rules, because the judges have laid down the very proper and, indeed, elementary consideration of justice that a person must not be led into making a statement which incriminates himself without knowing that he is doing so. Apart from that there is no restriction such as is suggested and I have received no complaint from any police authority in London or in any part of the country that they are in any degree hampered in their efforts for the suppression of crime.
The hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) and one or two other hon. Members have raised certain questions relating to police administration and the relations of the Police Forces with the police authorities in general and the Home Office in particular. Perhaps I may be permitted to say how much I regret that on this occasion we have not the skilled and expert assistance of Mr. Hayes, who, on previous occasions of this kind, took so active a part in connection with these matters. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) said it was necessary to have a Police Force which was fully satisfied.
Is there any force or any group of men, or, indeed, any individual in the world, who could be described as fully satisfied? No doubt there is dissatisfaction in the Police Force with the cuts that had to be made in their pay, just as there is among teachers, among the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, among the unemployed and among other classes, all of whom have had to contribute to the economies which the condition of the national finances requires. With respect to the holding of open meetings in order that that dissatisfaction might be voiced, I would remind the Committee that Parliament, soon after the War, gave long and anxious consideration to the right form of organisation to be authorised for the Police Force. It was seen that legitimate grievances might arise, and had in fact arisen, which ought to have means of expression, and that opportunities ought to be given by which full attention would be paid to them.
On the other hand, it was never contemplated that the Police Force should engage in what may be called ordinary trade union methods of organisation and propaganda. It was considered that, being a disciplined force, they must consent to work under certain restrictions. I think that was fully understood by the police themselves. An hon. Member has asked in this connection, "What about Cabinet Ministers?" But no one would
suggest that Cabinet Ministers are a disciplined force. The Police Federation, which was established and authorised under the Act passed at that time, has proved of very great value, and I should be the last to desire or to do anything to lessen its prestige or hamper its proper activities, but I would point out that the Act then passed did not contemplate anything in the nature of what are called open meetings. In fact, Section (1) of the Act says
The Police Federation and every branch thereof shall be entirely independent of and unassociated with any body or person outside the police service.
That is a very clear indication of what Parliament had in mind. Then, Section (4) of that Act provided that the Federation should be represented on the Police Council. The Police Council consists not only of the representatives of the Federation, but of the police authorities including the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and representatives of the Home Office, and the Police Council is the main method of communication between the Police Forces as a whole and the Home Secretary. [HON. MEMBEES: "When has it met?"] It has had two meetings since I have been Home Secretary, which is not very many months, both of which meetings I attended. Between those meetings its deliberations were carried on by a committee which was appointed to go into these very matters of police pay, and on that committee the Police Federation was fully represented. Certainly the Police Council will meet again before any definite further steps are taken in these matters. Indeed there is a statutory obligation on the Home Secretary to consult with the Police Council before any serious or important measures are taken which affect the main interests of the Police Force.
It is true, however, that open meetings have been authorised from time to time, not in accordance with any statutory obligation but because it was considered by previous Home Secretaries that it would be not unwise in the circumstances to do so. During my tenure of office also I have authorised two such meetings to consider this question of police cuts, one great meeting in the Albert Hall and another in Manchester. It was not considered advisable, however, that there should be anything in the nature of a public propagandist campaign throughout the country. It was thought that that would be exceedingly disturbing to the Police Force and would not serve a useful purpose. But, certainly, full opportunity will be given to the Police Federation, working in accordance with its ordinary statutory machinery, to make proper representations. I think it was the hon. and gallant Member for Ardwick (Captain Fuller), who asked whether it was the case that the ordinary organisation meetings of the Police Federation in the Provinces were being prohibited and that meetings were only to be allowed in London. That is not so. There has been no change effected in that respect. Nor is it the case that Lord Trenchard has in any way travelled outside his authority with regard to members of the Metropolitan Police attending open meetings elsewhere.
One other point with regard to the organisation of the Metropolitan Police was raised by some hon. Members opposite, who asked why it is that certain military or air officers have been appointed to Scotland Yard. I share the view that it is most important to take no steps which would in any way result in the militarisation of our police forces, but it is far from being the case, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Caerphilly, that it looked as though certain posts were being reserved for highly placed people. That is very far indeed from being the case. When I came to my office of Home Secretary, or very shortly afterwards, Lord Byng informed me that, for reasons of health, he was compelled to resign his post; and it was a matter of very grave responsibility to find a first-rate organiser and a man of commanding authority to undertake the difficult task of maintaining the Metropolitan Police in a state of high efficiency and even of improving its efficiency.
Several names were suggested to me, which did not seem to fulfil the requirements of the situation, and I approached Lord Trenchard with a view to securing his services to the State. He, having retired from the public service, had engaged in activities which he was most loth to give up, and it was only when it was put to him as a public duty that he should accept this office that he consented to place his great services at our disposal. So that the suggestion that this post has been kept open for the advantage of any highly placed individual is absolutely contrary to the facts.
I think Sir Edward Henry, in my time, a very efficient Commissioner of Police, and he was a civilian. Colonel Drummond, who has been appointed, not to exercise, as a matter of fact, any administrative functions of command of the Police Force, was with Lord Trenchard for many years as his assistant in the plans which he had to carry out in the Air Ministry, and Lord Trenchard asked that he should be allowed to bring him to Scotland Yard as his own personal assistant, in a temporary post. That is the explanation of the appointment of Colonel Drummond. The only other appointment that has been made at Scotland Yard from outside, so far as I am aware, during the last few months is that of a barrister, who was appointed in order to strengthen the legal side of that department.
With regard to the Police Orphanage, as to which a question was asked, I am afraid that I cannot take responsibility there. I think that these charities of the force should be managed by their own boards, in consultation no doubt with the Commissioner, but should not be made the responsibility of the Home Office.
No, not so far as I know. The action of Lord Trenchard was with regard to the very large number of members of committees and sub-committees who were granted time off in order to devote themselves to the affairs of the Orphanage. When Lord Trenchard went into the question of the proper allocation of the Police Force, and desired to see how many men were actually available at any one time for real police duties, he found that a very considerable number were occupied in one way or another, thereby weakening the effective strength of the force. One of these points that he went into was the number of members of committees that attended to the affairs of this Orphanage, and he found that the time off was really most excessive—I have seen the figures, and if I could give them to the Committee. I am sure every hon. Member would agree. But when he desired to reduce the number, there was objection taken, and as a consequence, I understand, some of the committees are not now functioning, but I think that Lord Trenchard would be most glad if at any time they would resume their activities.
With respect to cases of accident compensation, to which reference was made, that, I know, is a matter of serious importance to those persons concerned. They are technical questions. I have not familiarised myself with the particular cases mentioned, and I would ask leave of the hon. Members to take a little time. I will go into them personally and see if any injustice has been done or avoidable hardship inflicted, in which case I will endeavour to find a remedy.
Police cautions to motorists is another point which was raised, as to why it is that the policeman is told to enter the facts in his notebook but not to inform the erring motorist of what he has done. Well, a policeman must enter everything in his notebook. What happens on the stage or in a music hall, when anything occurs and a policeman takes part in it, is that instantly he draws out his notebook. In many countries, automatically, when anything occurs, the policeman produces his revolver; the British policeman produces his notebook.
But I can give an assurance that these entries that are made, without inviting the concurrence of the motorist concerned, will never be used in evidence against him. They are merely in order to provide a record, in order to enable a constable to show that he has taken some action on some occasions, without the necessity- of issuing a summons or bringing any kind of charge. If the motorist was shown the entry in the notebook, immediately an argument might arise, and he would ask for an opportunity of making representations, whereas many of these cases are extremely trivial, and much the best thing is for the policeman, in a sensible, fatherly way, to rebuke the motorist who is at fault, and let the thing be put aside and no one trouble any more about it. If he has to make an entry in his notebook, it is merely a matter of police routine.
Is it not a fact that an order has been issued to the police that they are to make entries in their notebooks but not to do so in the presence of the motorist who is cautioned, but to wait till he has gone and has disappeared before doing it?
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the facts in the policeman's notebook are reported to the local police, so that if at any future time the erring motorist is unfortunately brought before the court, this particular entry from the policeman's notebook will be brought up against him? Is it not the fact that the policeman's notebooks are recorded in the area?
They cannot be brought against him, and they are not recorded for the purpose of being brought up in court in the case of any more serious charge being made against the motorist.
With regard to special constables, I am grateful to the hon. Member opposite for mentioning this matter, because it will enable me to make a statement which, I trust, will remove misapprehensions. It is the case that a number of special constables have been invited to present themselves for training. They have not been called up; there is no compulsion about it. It is purely voluntary, not in order that they should supplement the police force and carry out the ordinary duties of a policeman, but solely in order that, if any emergency should arise and the regular police should be devoted to other purposes, there should be a reserve of special constables who would have some elementary knowledge of the simpler duties of the policeman and able to do some of the work of the policeman while the main body of the force was devoted to some other and more important duties. The Government do not consider that there is any such emergency even in sight, but as a mere matter of ordinary routine it is thought desirable that this large and valuable body of special constables should be given some little insight into the ordinary work of the police force; and the special constables themselves desire to have an opportunity of obtaining this knowledge.
The only instruction that has been given to them is, for any man who wished to undertake it, during a period of three or four days in the year, and on each of those days for a period of from two to four hours, so that it is obvious that they are not being trained with a view to performing the ordinary functions of policemen in ordinary times, and none of the police stations in the Metropolis has ever more than eight of these special constables being employed at any one time. The average is about three, and none of them have been employed for more than six periods in a year— most of them only for two or for three periods. So that the suggestion of the hon. Member for West Bermondsey was made under a misapprehension, when he said that the Commissioner proposed to use them in normal times to take over the duties of the ordinary police. That is not in the least the intention. They are not intended to supplement the ordinary police force in ordinary times in any way, or to share, however desirable it might be that everyone possible should share, in the detection of ordinary crime or the arrest of criminals. I should be very sorry to think that a special constable who had been trained for four days in the year for four hours at a time was in any way qualified to perform the ordinary duties of the Metropolitan Police.
Let me come now to the suggestion made by one hon. Member that the women police were perhaps of no value and that we might contemplate their disappearance. That is certainly not the view either of the Home Office or of the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, nor, I believe, of the general body of chief constables. The women police for certain functions—not, of course, for every function—are of very great utility. The Committee may have noticed the increase in the number of offences against young girls. That is to some extent a real increase, but it is partly a statistical increase, more offences having come to light; and offences that would previously have been concealed, owing to the natural reluctance of those concerned to allow the facts to be known, are now often reported to the police for the reason that there are women police to whom these offences may be reported. Therefore, the increase is partly statistical, but it is exceedingly desirable that these offences should be brought to light, in order that condign punishment may follow where the criminal can be detected.
In the Metropolitan Police district, on the other hand, so far from desiring the abolition of the women police, a considerable increase in their number had been planned, but difficulty arose with regard to their housing, and afterwards questions of finance have prevented that increase; but two measures have been taken within the last few months. In the first place, I have issued new regulations throughout the country for the employment of women police, which gives them a more assured status and entitles them to perform more definite duties; and, in the second place, the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police has reorganised the women police service in London and, with a view to making it more effective, is concentrating them to a somewhat greater degree in the central parts of London, and is taking experimental measures with a view to seeing how the force of women police in London can be most effectively used. The head of them, Miss Peto, whose services are well known, has now been given the rank of Superintendent of the Metropolitan Police Force. The Commissioner regards this force as of real value, and we all hope that when the finances of the country allow, it will be further expanded. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) asked whether there might not be quite so much emphasis on zeal which might be misdirected zeal in the Police Force.
It is quite obvious what zeal in the Police Force means. It means that it should be active and energetic in the prevention of crime, and, next to the prevention of crime, in detecting crime after it has been committed, and in catching the criminal. It is not a good thing that any individual member of it should feel that, irrespective of whether he is active or inactive, industrious or idle, he will go on with automatic improvements in his pay, with full increments and promotion following almost as a matter of course. It is very much to the credit of the able administrator who is now the head of the Metropolitan Police that he is endeavouring to promote a high point of efficiency in the great body of men under his command, and I have very great expectations that the results of that will be seen in the diminution of the too high figures of criminal activities which prevail in the Metropolis. I think that I have dealt with every one of the points that have been raised by hon. Members, and unless they have any desire that I should answer any other points, I will ask that the Vote should be withdrawn so that the Committee may proceed to discuss the Prison Vote.
With regard to the amalgamation of the Police Forces, I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that steps were being taken to amalgamate the smaller forces. Has it been decided to amalgamate all the borough Police Forces, and is the decision that of the committee of inquiry, or that of the Government?
I am completely dissatisfied with the answer of the Home Secretary on the question of fees being demanded by the police for evidence in civil actions. The Home Office sent out the Circular, and it is no good telling us that the chief constables are to blame. Herbert Spencer once pointed out that it was absurd that, if you had a silk handkerchief stolen, the whole Police Force would try to find the thief, but that if somebody did you a civil wrong you had to go to the expense yourself of getting justice. Civil justice is as important as, and often more important than, criminal justice. The Home Secretary said that the private citizen should assist the police by giving evidence free of charge and even help to catch criminals. It is equally the duty of the police to help the private citizen. He tells us that in London there were 4,000 interviews of police for evidence in civil actions. Will he toll us how many police are in London?
With the number of policemen in London, that amounts to about one interview in five years for every policeman. Yet that is given as an excuse for this levy! The fact is that the chief constables have made a mistake and thought they would never be discovered, and the Home Secretary is covering them up. It is a scandal and a disgrace. If a citizen wants to get the evidence of a policeman, simply because be is in uniform and not dressed in plain clothes the citizen has to go to the chief constable and pay a fee into the police exchequer. It is obstructing justice, and I hope that sufficient pressure will be brought to bear on chief constables and the Home Office to abandon this scandalous practice.
Although I have no cause of complaint to make to the right hon. Gentleman, I regret that he did not see his way to make a statement on the work of the Department concerning the Metropolitan Police. He will remember that at the time of Lord Byng's appointment there was great discussion in the Press and in the House as to the disorganised condition of Scotland Yard. A number of persons were dismissed and we were told that a complete reorganisation of the department was taking place. It may be, of course, a matter of no importance to Members of the Committee or to members of the public, but at the time people were given to understand that Lord Byng was appointed specifically to reorganise Scotland Yard and to clear out certain things that were wrong there. The Committee is entitled, now that a new chief has been appointed, to be told just what has happened. Of what has the clearing out consisted? What new arrangements have been made to prevent the kind of scandals that had happened, about which there is no question, because of the prosecutions and discharges that took place? What steps have been taken to prevent such things happening in the future? When a Vote comes on for discussion, it is usual for the Minister to make a statement on that kind of subject without any of us asking for it, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us just what Lord Byng did in the way of reorganisation at Scotland Yard, so that we may know the value of his appointment.
With regard to the Police Federation, I understand that the right hon. Gentleman will permit the holding of a meeting such as has been banned up to the present. If that is not the case, I only want to point out that the people who have addressed this sort of meeting are not drawn from any particular party. All sorts of political opinions are represented at the Police Federation meetings. If I have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman in what he said, I shall be glad to be corrected, but I understood him to say that further meetings will be held. If that is not so, I want to put in a plea that such further meetings should be permitted, for the simple reason that ever since 1919 these meetings have been held and have been addressed by such respectable people as Lord Remnant, the hon. and learned Member for North-West Camberwell (Mr. Cassels), the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord), the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. F. Briant), the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), the hon. Member for West-houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies), and the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee)—a pretty good mixture.
If the hon. Gentleman is right, the right hon. Gentleman will permit the meetings to go on because, if they are so tame no harm will come from the meetings, and there is no reason witty they should be stopped. Apparently, however, the right hon. Gentleman has prevented one meeting, and I press very strongly that they should be allowed to continue. The right hon. Gentleman and others have talked about politics entering into the Police Force. The two last heads of the Metropolitan Police have been members of the House of Lords. I am not sure whether that is considered a political assembly or not; I do not think that it is a very judicial assembly, except, of course, in regard to its function as a court of justice. There Lord Trenehard or his predecessor can, if they please, influence Members, even though they are not allowed to take part publicly in the Debates. I wonder whether a member of the Metropolitan Police would be allowed to become a Member of this House. I know that the answer would be that he could not devote the time to the business. But that is beside the point. Would he be allowed to stand? He might resign his position afterwards. I cannot see why the head of the Police Force should be a Member of the Legislature to which he is responsible, and I think that it is quite wrong.
I have another objection to it. I have seen the Metropolitan Police ever since I was a child, and I have watched it come under military control. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that in the days of the Home Rule agitation public meetings were held by the party to which he belonged in this country, and especially in London, and when they were first interfered with by the police authorities, it was the Liberal party that took the lead in denouncing that interference and claiming the right of perfect freedom of public meetings. The police authorities in London sent note-takers to the meetings, and the people who made the most vehement objections to it were members of the Liberal party. That all came about because we had at the head of the police in London people who had been in the habit of controlling other people. The people do not want the Police Force to control them. What the citizens need is a Police Force to preserve order and decency in public streets, and to protect the citizen from attacks by evilly-disposed persons. They have nothing to do with opinions and with men standing at the corner of the street denouncing the Government, as the Radicals used to denounce the Government, in very strong language.
Nowadays there seems to be a tendency for a sort of censorship of the kind of speaking that should take place. It is due very largely to the militarisation of the London Police Force. Everyone who had any experience of Sir Edward Henry when he was Commissioner of Police will say that there was less fault finding with him and his administration than there is at the present time, with regard to demonstrations, meetings, discussions and so on. I think the reason was that Sir Edward Henry had another view of the duties of a Police Commissioner. I do do not think we want a semi military force as a Police Force. We do not need all this regimentation and drilling and so on. We need a Police Force for quite other purposes than those for which we need a military force. I also want to point out that the men in the Metropolitan Police have no hope of ever being able to win the place right at the top. They pass out, very often, at the age when their chief comes into the force. I think that is altogether bad, and I certainly do not subscribe to the doctrine that there is not a man in civilian life or in the civilian police forces capable of taking charge of the Metropolitan Police. I have never accepted that position; I have argued the point with many friends and colleagues, and I am arguing it to-day with this Committee. I deny that if Lord Trenchard had not been available for the post no other person of similar qualifications could have been found. Therefore, I want to enter my protest against his appointment, and to say that I hope another line will be taken when a new appointment is made. Whatever the complexion of the Government may be, I hope that a civilian and, if possible, one of the officers from that service, will be given that position in future.
In any public service it is a great thing to know that one can work right through to the very top, and for the life of me I cannot see why it should not be so in the case of the Metropolitan Police. Even the Commissioner whose administration, as I have said, was so generally approved, was brought here from India. Next time the appointment has to be made I hope it will be filled from the ranks of the force itself, or, if we must go outside the force, that a civilian will be chosen. As we have a civilian head of the Home Office who is after all Lord Trenchard's chief, we can with quite as much reason have a civilian head of the Police Force.
Next I wish to say a word about the increase of crime, and the fact that we must not, apparently, increase the Police Force on account of the cost involved. It is pretty false economy to save money and leave the property of the citizens open to attack, and I shall have something more to say on that point in a moment. I do not propose to weary the Committee with the figures which have been published in the various returns, because the Home Secretary has admitted the serious increase in crime, but to say, in face of that state of affairs, that the national finances will not allow us to employ sufficient people to check crime and, if possible, to prevent it, is an extraordinary position to take up. I should have thought that was an attitude which no one could defend. As to juvenile crime, which has increased to such a terrible degree, I do not believe any increase in the numbers of the Police Force will ever deal with that problem, under ordinary police methods and without tackling the causes, though it is impossible to go into that aspect of things on this Vote. The economy campaign which has resulted in driving youngsters on to the streets, giving them nothing else to do but just waste their time, and in many cases forcing them to become dependent upon sisters and brothers for their maintenance, has been one of the reasons for their taking to crime—following the criminal instincts which some lawyers and philosophers say all of us possess in more or less degree.
The police in the Metropolis could do a service to these boys and young people. In Brighton and Norwich there are magnificent clubs, run very largely by the police, which have proved extremely successful in keeping boys off the streets and finding them occupation during the day, indeed, often finding them permanent work. We have a good many clubs in London, but not nearly enough, and I should have thought that if somebody dropped a hint to the various divisions in South-East London, East London and North London, something could be done on the same lines as has been done in Brighton and Norwich. Anyone who has seen the work there must be not only gratified at what is being done but very thankful indeed to the chief constables and others who have inaugurated it. I would very much like to see something of the same kind in London.
There is nothing much else I wish to say, except that I do hope the Home Secretary is right when he tells us the special constables have not been called up for any reason other than to give them a chance of exercising themselves. [Interruption.] Well, I do not know what else it is; it was to keep them fit, I understood. But I do not know why it has been done. Perhaps my memory does not serve me well, but I do not think they have ever been called up in this way except in emergencies.
No, they have not been called up, but they have been "invited"—you can have it which way you like. I saw a parade of them yesterday, and all the people in my district are certain that we are in for a very bad time. I was asked by at least a dozen people: "Why are the 'Specials' called up; what is going to happen now?" There was a great church parade of them, with a band. It may be said that they have not been called up, but they were in the same position as if they had been called up. They were in uniform, they looked smart, and, I thought, quite able to take care both of themselves and of anybody else who was making trouble. We are all wondering whether the Government, which came into being to restore peace and get rid of all the evils which the late Labour Government had created in stirring up class strife and hatred, are anticipating some sort of trouble which would necessitate bringing these men into action. It was a great pity that a, public statement such as the right hon. Gentleman made to-day was not made earlier, because I can assure him that a large number of people who walked along Bow Road yesterday were very much astonished to see this parade. They have no feeling against these "Specials," but the point is, what is the emergency for which they are being invited to show themselves, for what purpose are they being, as it were, brought back into activity?
On that point, I would like to say further that, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are on the outskirts of London numbers of people who think they are very badly protected from burglars and others owing to the insufficient numbers of police available. There was an alarmist sort of statement in one of the alarmist newspapers the other day that we are going to be treated to a set of vigilance committees, who will parade at night very much as we used to parade to watch for aircraft coming over. It was said they were arming themselves with pistols and bludgeons in order to fall upon any person who might have designs upon their property. We had a very circumstantial account of one committee—how they met, what they did, and what they intended to do. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to let it be known that such committees are quite unlawful, that they have no sort of standing at all in taking that action. If it is necessary for people to resort to such action the right hon. Gentleman ought to see to it that, in spite of the demands for economy, the Police Force is reinforced sufficiently to protect any property that may be in danger.
I have one or two questions to bring forward, and, in the first place, I would like to emphasise the point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) as to the right of the police to give evidence in a civil case. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Home Office, in making a charge for the police giving evidence, is setting back the hands of the clock of progress.
Not for giving evidence, but, what may be more important than giving evidence, for being interviewed and for their time off. It may be very much more important than the actual giving of evidence; it may be finding out the facts concerning a case. Other members of the community usually do that gladly and freely without charge, and for the police to take up this attitude is a very reactionary step. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the number of police, and said that, although there was an increase in crime, there was no increase in the number of police because certain measures of economy have been adopted. I am not anxious to have any increase in the number of police, and I cannot see any great need for an increase, but I do think that there is some need for a better allocation of police to different duties, more especially in connection with demonstrations and processions. Whenever there happens to be a meeting of the unemployed the police are sent in large numbers, and some of them are engaged in taking notes. No meetings of the unemployed take place either in London or the provinces without a number of police being sent to them totally disproportionate to the needs. Recently I passed one of our Employment Exchanges where there was a gathering of less than 100 persons, and the number of policemen there was much too large for any services likely to be required of them. Why should there be all these policemen told off to stand by in numbers altogether disproportionate to the needs whenever there is a meeting of the unemployed?
The same thing happens at public demonstrations. If a, working-class demonstration takes place either in London or the Provinces and the police think it will be attended by people holding advanced views, one is amazed at the number of police sent to march with the demonstration. If it happens to be a demonstration of rich people taking part in various ceremonies attended by motor cars, and flaunting in the face of the very poor people, they can demonstrate in any way they desire, and very few policemen are sent to watch them; but when a number of miserably clad working men who are unemployed gather in the street to demonstrate their sorrow and their terrible poverty, they are immediately attended by large numbers of policemen. There is no need for an increase in the number of the Police Force, but there is need for an increase in the amount of sympathy shown by the Police Force towards the working-class people who attend demonstrations. I know that those in charge of the police say that the people attending some of those demonstrations are poor people, but that they hold advanced views, and because of that they claim that it is necessary for the police to be present in large numbers, lest something untoward might happen. I think that view is unmistakably wrong.
I have not raised the Scottish position on this subject, because that is a matter to be dealt with by the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I was present not long ago at a large gathering in the North of England and the number of police sent to that gathering was a disgrace to the chief constable. Whenever there is an unemployed gathering in London you see a huge number of police, although at Westminster, near the House of Commons it is necessary to have only a few policemen to keep order and protect the ordinary rights of citizens. There is a great difference in the number of police allocated in the case of a demonstration of poor people and one which is concerned mainly with rich people. I hope the Home Secretary will see that these poor people, although they may not conduct themselves in the best possible way, are not treated harshly, because there is some excuse for the things they do in face of the shocking poverty which confronts them. It is all very well to tell these people at demonstrations that they must be complacent, but I am not surprised that in the circumstances some of them shout until they are hoarse. I think that their average conduct will compare favourably with that of any other section of the community.
I agree with the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) about the police not being allowed to hold meetings, and when the right hon. Gentleman read the list of speakers at the meeting to which he alluded, I confess that I could not see why any of them should be kept from addressing the people. I should have thought that there would have been no necessity to prevent the gentlemen named in that list from addressing members of the Police Force. Whatever reason the Home Secretary may give for not allowing police meetings, I am sure that he will not say that any of the gentlemen named in the list given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley would be calculated to encourage disorder or suggest revolutionary action. It may be that some day the police will be able to get together a better list of speakers who will deliver addresses encouraging them to side with the ordinary working people instead of always siding with those in command of the country and those with property.
I want to raise again the question which I raised on the Adjournment not long ago, but I am not sure whether it will be in order. I know that you, Captain Bourne, with your usual alertness, will very properly tell me whether I shall be in order in referring to the question of the imprisonment of political prisoners. I want to ask the Home Secretary whether in the case of such prisoners the time has not arrived when in a number of cases he ought to exercise that elemency—
I was anxious to raise the point concerning the political prisoners who are now in prison. I hope the Home Secretary will consider the points which I have raised. I would like to say that I recognise in the right hon. Gentleman the one Member of the Government who has made any attempt to preserve his own political viewpoint, and while many other members of the Liberal party have gone over to the reactionary Conservatives, the right hon. Gentleman has maintained his own ideas. In a previous Debate the right hon. Gentleman raised the question of juvenile crime, and anyone who read the figures which he gave in his speech must have been appalled at the terrible increase. In that Debate a comparison was made between Glasgow, and London and Liverpool and other great towns. In one of the districts which I represent the proportion is six boys arrested for juvenile offences compared with one in some of the richer districts. Nobody can tell me that the boys with the higher proportion of crime are worse, naturally, than the boys in the other districts to which I have referred, because they are not born with six times the amount of original sin. The reason for this is poverty and their miserable conditions, and you find that both in England and Scotland the police devote a large amount of their time to juvenile crimes of that kind.
In the district in London in which I have lived for seven or eight years there is quite a different relationship between the police and the children than there is in very poor districts. There seems to have grown up the opinion that in working class districts the children are in the habit of playing in the streets and smashing windows, but I would like to impress upon the Home Secretary that there ought to be a different outlook on the part of the police towards the people living in squalor and poverty than there is in the rich districts. Take the display given by university undergraduates on certain occasions in the West End of London. They are allowed any amount of licence. They carry on, without interference, all manner of horseplay, and they show almost contempt for the police and the regulations. On the other hand, the poor people, with very little outlet for their everyday enjoyment, are imprisoned in a disgraceful fashion for very trivial offences. One has only to look at the statistics to see that the most appalling increase in juvenile crime comes from the poorer sections of the community. I say-to the Home Secretary, who has had some connection with Radicalism and Radicals, that he ought to apply himself to this problem, which cannot be met by making more rigid laws, but by giving those young people more places to play. One matter which has a tremendous effect on the size of this Vote arises out of the administration of the means test. In Battersea, where I live, one could see how the unemployed, if they had a shilling or two to spare, used to take out their children, but now, owing to the operation of the means test and other restrictions, that margin has been cut off, with the result that there is a heavy increase in this Vote because of juvenile crime, which is owing to false economy being practised in other directions. Although it is not directly connected with this Vote, the Home Secretary ought to apply himself to the consideration of the appalling increase in juvenile crime, and, if unemployment benefit is connected with it, he ought to raise the matter with his colleagues and see that these measures of false economy are not practised at the expense of the young. With regard to the other point, I hope that he will allow the unemployed to demonstrate without large numbers of police following them on every side. Surely he can trust them just as he trusts the rich, because they are as capable of conducting themselves in a decent and orderly fashion as any other section of the community.
I cannot allow the statements made by the hon. Member to pass without some criticism. He has pictured the police as an organised force whose only function is to protect the rich and to attack the poor. That is a direct misrepresentation of the facts of the case. No one who knows the poor streets of London—and I have been brought up among the poor people of London—and has seen the solicitude of the police to help the poor, could have made that statement. Young children and elderly men and women are helped in every way by the police in the busy streets of this great Metropolis. When processions of unemployed take place, it is necessary that there should be a large body of police escorting those processions but not because they are made up of poor men indignant at their position, who might do desperate things like he or I in that position. Those are not the men that need to be guarded by the police, but the paid agitators of Communist opinion, who are using these poor people for their own fiendish ends, and would lead them into smashing windows and causing destruction to property and even loss of life unless there was an adequate police force to look after them. Those are the people the police have to look after, and not the poor unemployed themselves. In my district a policeman was on duty at an Unemployment Exchange when a Communist gang turned up from an open-air meeting nearby, knocked him down, and rendered him unconscious and he had to be taken to hospital. Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that we should allow our guardians of the law to be treated like that through the action of conspirators, who are making plots in the back streets? We have a duty to the police to see that, when they are put on duty at an Employment Exchange, there are sufficient of their comrades there to protect them against attacks of that kind. The hon. Member alleges that juvenile crime is due to poverty, and states that in the poor districts of Glasgow there are six times as many child criminals as in the residential areas.
I have allowed the hon. Member to say everything up to this point, but I must protest that I did not say there were six times as many child criminals. I said there were six times as many children brought up and convicted of crime, but I did not say they were child criminals, or anything like that.
I do not think that there is much difference, but I have allowed the hon. Member to make his explanation. It is true that there are six times as many children arrested in the poor districts as in the residential areas, but, when he says that it is due to poverty, that is not so. I know the district of Clerkenwell near here, which is a poor district, where we have gangs of young criminals who entice into their gangs boys who are well brought up and whose homes are not of the poverty-stricken nature that he asserts the capitalist system produces. I have in mind a boy I know personally, who from 15 to 20 has had 25 different situations but has never kept one of them for more than three weeks, because he is in the hands of a gang of youthful criminals in. the Clerkenwell district. He is now serving a sentence of three months, after having been sent away three times. He has brought misery to his home and to his sisters, whose goods he has pillaged from time to time, and he has practically destroyed their home. That boy has never been forced to theft because of poverty. It is entirely due to the associations he finds in that poor district of London. I know of many cases of a similar kind.
I would suggest for consideration by the Home Secretary that, if we are to get rid of the juvenile crime in our midst, we shall have to alter the system by which, after having sent a boy to Borstal or any other institution, we allow him to come back to his own district to be once more drawn into the influence of these gangs. It is a. sheer waste of time to send a boy to one of these institutions and then to allow him to return to his own district, because a boy has not the moral courage to get out of their influence when once he comes back. He is looked upon as a hero and is forced to go back into his ways of crime. If a scheme could be found by which a boy, having come from an institution of a reforming nature, was then sent to a situation in a different part of the country amid an entirely different environment, these boys would have an opportunity to lead a straight career, as they so often wish to do. I resent very much the imputation of the hon. Member opposite in suggesting that the Police Force of this country is used to protect the rich and to tyrannise the poor. That is not the case. It is there for one object, to preserve law and order, and the disorder which it has to prevent is disorder of a serious kind. As to his references to the "rags" of college students, no one seriously believes that the motives behind a rag are in any way comparable with the motives behind the Communist agitators.
Would the hon. Member ask the Home Secretary to give him the figures in regard to juvenile crime, which he gave us when he made a statement on the previous occasion? The hon. Member will find that the greatest rise in juvenile crime has taken place in the dis- tricts of the country where there has been the greatest unemployment and that it has risen as unemployment has risen.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has started a magnificent hare, but I assure him I am not going to be drawn into the trap and hunt. I wish to raise the question of traffic control on which I was ruled out of order one Friday afternoon when you, Captain Bourne, were particularly active. I was then told I was not to raise it on the Home Office Vote, but on the Police Vote. There was a time, when there was, very little traffic in London and it was all horse traffic, when the regulation of traffic by the police was probably a very good thing, but to-day, with motor traffic, it is a specialised job and there is no reason at all why the police of London should be used for this particular duty. I have always advocated that this duty should be performed by another force altogether paid out of the Road Fund from the contributions of the motorists themselves. It should not be a charge on the Home Office at all but should be administered for the motorist who pays for the benefit he is receiving.
It may be said that traffic regulation is a duty of the policeman but soon, with the present Commissioner of Police, we shall have aerial policemen looking after and directing the arrivals by air at Croydon. There is no more justification for the police looking after road traffic than for their looking after traffic in the air. The policeman of London is really a very bad administrator of traffic. Traffic duty is a fatigue. There is no promotion along the lines of traffic control. It is a fatigue, and no-one takes any interest in it at all, and consequently it is badly done. Once, describing it in the "Times" and complaining of the administration of the traffic in this city, I said that we were rapidly becoming a city constipated with constables. The general feeling of policemen is that they have got to stop traffic, not get it along. If anyone questions me whether their conduct of traffic is good or bad, let me quote the convincing fact that during the police strike the traffic of London never went better. When anyone claims that the police of London administer the traffic admirably, let them think of that. I hope that the Home Office will consider some scheme whereby traffic administration may be taken from the police. Traffic control, which is a specialised job, should be done by the Ministry of Transport and paid for by the motorists who get the benefit of it.
I wish to add a brief postscript to my observations earlier, as two or three questions have been raised to which the Committee would desire me to give an answer. The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Rhys) raised the merger of police forces. That is now before a Select Committee of this House, and one must await the report and recommendations of the Committee before introducing any legislation. The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) asked what had been the outcome of Lord Byng's administration. There have been a number of prosecutions, and stern action has been taken with regard to certain abuses. For the rest, there have not been any sweeping changes which can be summarised in a speech. It is rather a question of day-to-day administration to prevent abuses. That has been going on since Lord Byng's appointment, and is going on now. The morale of the section of the force affected by these events has improved, and everyone agrees that the situation is far better than it was a few years ago. With regard to the question of open meetings for the police, I am afraid I cannot add anything to the somewhat lengthy reference that I made before. As to vigilance committees, we have no knowledge of them except what we read in the newspapers, and I think they only exist there. Certainly the vigilance committees, if they do exist, have concealed their presence as effectively from the police and the authorities as they have from the criminals, and I very much question whether any of them have in fact been formed. Certainly we should lend no encouragement to any movement of that kind.
With regard to the complaint of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), that the police are too numerous in accompanying processions of the unemployed, I do not think that that is an error at all. I think that, if there is an obviously overwhelming force at hand, it is a preventive of disorder, and is far better than the suppression of disorder. When a fairly numerous force of police has been present while these processions of unemployed have been taking place in our various ciities during the last hard winter and in the present circumstances, persons have been relieved from the temptation of creating disturbance to which they might yield if the forces of law and order were few and weak, and, therefore, in the interests of those persons themselves, as well as in the interests of law-abiding citizens, it is advisable that the police should be present in full strength. Happily, owing to the restraint of the people and the presence of the police, cases of disorder have been exceedingly few, and we have got through this last winter in a peaceful fashion. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley that we should be exceedingly careful about not suppressing the expression of opinion, and not in any way militarising our control over public meetings, and I am sure that, whoever may be the Commissioner of Police and Home Secretary, and certainly with the present Home Secretary, no measures will be taken which will in any way impair one of the most precious inheritances of the British people, namely, the right of free speech and the right of the expression of grievances. Breaches of law and order we must, of course, suppress; no one would deny that; and incitements to breaches of law and order which are amenable to the law must be stopped; but the free expression of opinion within those limits has always been safeguarded, and certainly, so far as I am concerned, I am sure my right hon. Friend will have no reason to complain of my administration. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion. Motion, by leave, withdrawn.