I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order in Council dated 23rd July, 1942, made under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts, 1939 and 1940, making Regulations entitled the Defence (Amalgamation of Police Forces) Regulations, 1942, a copy of which was presented to this House on 30th July, be annulled.
I am moving this Motion on behalf of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Holland and Boston (Lieutenant Butcher) because he is unable to be in his place in consequence of illness. The question of the amalgamation of police is by no means a new subject. It was considered by the Desborough Committee as far back as 1920 and more recently by a Select Committee, whose Report was made in 1932. The Select Committee made certain proposals and recommendations, the principal of which was that amalgamation of police forces should take place of those police areas with a population of under 30,000. That Report was made in 1932. It is now 1942, and the Home Office, who, I understand, supported that recommendation, have had, if they had deemed it necessary, all the rights to introduce legislation to put these recommendations into force. They have, however, taken no action. The Association of Municipal Corporations, who represent the larger section of the police, also gave the recommendations their support.
But, as I have said, nothing has been done, and my purpose in making reference to this is to try to draw a dividing line between what the Select Committee recommended and what is now proposed by the Home Secretary, because I am not here representing the Association of Municipal Corporations with any idea of opposing police amalgamation. We admit, in fact, that in certain cases it may be advisable, but what we say is that during a great crisis like this world war the amalgamation of police forces should not have been brought forward. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that while I oppose this Regulation I am not opposing the amalgamation of police forces but merely want it done in a constitutional way after the war is over and, going a little further, after the first census taken when the war is over is completed. In that way we may get a more efficient police force than we have at the present time. On that point, I would say that I do not think there is any body of men in the country who have the more wholehearted support of the public or in whom the public have greater confidence than our police.
Having, I hope, cleared that Select Committee Report out of the way—and I hope that it will not influence Members —I ask what it is that the Home Secretary proposes. He is proposing the amalgamation of police forces, and the ground upon which he is putting it forward is that it will facilitate naval, military and air operations. I attended the all-party meeting which the Home Secretary addressed, but at that meeting no evidence was produced that military operations are now in any way hampered by the present organisation of our police forces. No case was put forward which would warrant this drastic change.
We want to help the Home Secretary if we can, but we feel that he ought to make it clear to us how far he proposes to go. During the three years of the war we have had some experience of military operations here. We had the embarkation of troops, we had to deal with the evacuation from Dunkirk and we had the Battle of Britain. Surely those were major operations which would have given some indication that the police forces as at present organised were not in a position to enable those operations to be carried out with the desired efficiency. Apart from the association for which I am speaking, there are two other associations interested. There is the County Councils Association. In fairness to them, Jet me say that they have wholeheartedly given their support to the Government's proposal, but I must ask myself, Why does that association support this proposal? There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding among hon. Members who represent counties as to the power which is given to the Home Secretary by this Regulation. I submit that under it any two or more county forces might very well be amalgamated overnight if the Home Secretary chose to do it. I ask hon. Members who represent counties to reconsider the position during the remainder of this Debate. Unless we get some better assurances from the Home Secretary than we have had, I think they would be justified in voting against this Regulation if it has to go to a Division. The other association is the Non-County Boroughs Association. They unanimously opposed this Regulation for the same reason that the Association of Municipal Corporations opposed it.
The Home Secretary has put it forward that he wants to be satisfied that Military Commands can more readily circulate their instructions. I have tried to see where there is any weakness at the present time in circulating Military Command instructions. I have been in communication with chief constables in different parts of the country, and to strengthen the point I am making I feel that I ought to read a letter from a very important borough police officer, which shows clearly that the Home Secretary's point regarding the circulation of Military Command instructions is not very well supported. It is a letter from the Cambridge Borough police to the Town Clerk of Cambridge:
I have to refer to your letter of 14th instant, regarding the Regulations herein"—
That is, the Regulations for the amalgamation of police forces—
and to inform you that chief constables are very much opposed to such a scheme, and not one of my colleagues considers that such amalgamation is necessary. In my opinion, there is already machinery available whereby the military commander of an area can issue instructions to one point, so they can be distributed to all forces in the area. A message from the Military Commander to the Regional Commissioner would ensure his requirements being passed to all forces in the Region. No. 4 Region is divided into Groups and the headquarters of some forces are regarded as group centres. My headquarters is the group centre for Cambs. County, Cambridge Borough, Huntingdon County and the Isle of Ely. Any message for all these forces is sent to me and distributed to them as a matter of routine. If the forces in one area were amalgamated and under one Chief Constable, there would still be the same number of messages to be transmitted to the various detachments under his command before any instruction from the military commander could be put into operation. In the circumstances I fail to see what can be gained by amalgamation. On the other hand, police forces are working smoothly, and the interruption that amalgamation would make to normal administration would by far outweigh any mythical advantages.
That I accept as being very strong evidence against what the Home Secretary proposes. It has been suggested by him that this is not a very drastic Regulation and will refer only to the smaller police forces. He has not yet defined what he
means by a small police force. I do not want to say that I am suspicious of any interpretation which may be put upon his remarks, but I should feel more satisfied if he would say to-day that the Regulation is to have a definite ceiling and what that ceiling is to be. I appreciate that, with this threat of amalgamation hanging over them, police forces feel that conditions are not conducive to the highest degree of efficiency. No police force has any idea whether it will be amalgamated to-morrow morning, so to speak.
One must admit that in these grave times some arrangement regarding amalgamation, or the machinery which it may involve, may be necessary. I would ask the Home Secretary whether the proposal is to be confined to small police forces. Can this not be done through administration? When the War Emergency Powers Act is withdrawn at the end of the war and this Regulation expires, what shall we find? If the Home Secretary chooses to exercise his rights during the war— and obviously he intends to do so—police forces will have been amalgamated. At the end of the war, how are you to restore them? The police have funds and property, and there are certain rights possessed by borough police forces and not by county police. How are these matters to be adjusted, in order to keep that spirit of good will which we know exists in the police forces? If the Home Secretary amalgamates police forces, he may immediately break down good will and confidence between public and police. I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to be more candid with us. Let us have a frank statement from him about what he is really going to do.
Another point, to which the right hon. Gentleman has not made any reference but which is very important, is the position of Civil Defence organisations. We know how the police are involved in them. What is to happen to them? I want the Home Secretary to make the position clear, as I am far from satisfied that Civil Defence organisations will not be weakened by this proposal. I am taking the liberty of asking permission to read another left
The police organisation has become so interwoven with the local government administration, and in particular with Civil Defence organisation, that a transfer of police powers during the war would necessitate a complete reorganisation of Civil Defence, which it would be almost impossible to achieve in the present difficult conditions in regard to staff. The chief constable of Ramsgate is the sub-controller for Civil Defence; one sergeant has been seconded as staff officer for Civil Defence and other officers have received intensive training in various branches of Civil Defence. The chief constable acts in close liaison with the town clerk and other chief officers of the Corporation on Civil Defence matters, and frequent conferences are held between all other officials and the chief constable to ensure that all departments are ready to play their part in the event of a heavy air attack or invasion. The chief constable is in active collaboration with the town clerk in a scheme for the evacuation of the civil population in the event of a threat of invasion, including the housing and care of essential civilian nucleus to remain behind with the military if evacuation should be ordered.
This town clerk, who has had vast experience during the last 3½ years, knows what it means to be in the front line and we ought to take some notice of the case which he puts against amalgamations and how it will affect the Civil Defence organisation. I believe that this country will again have to experience very heavy raids, and I would not like to see anything done to weaken the Civil Defence position.
The Home Secretary will say that in opposing the Regulation we are taking upon ourselves very great responsibility. I am fully conscious of my responsibility, but I realise what may be the consequences of amalgamation unless we get some clearer definition of what it means. I am fulfilling what I believe to be my duty under my responsibility, and I shall have to vote against the Regulation if this matter goes to a Division. That expresses what I feel about it. We cannot ignore what people outside this House think about the proposal and the extent of their confidence in those who may have to administer this Order. Only a day or two ago the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, making a speech, said:
You can't have a Gestapo without a national police service.
Are we now laying the foundation stone for a national police service?
Once you have a national police service you have opened up the way for a Gestapo, and I have no more confidence in some of the gentlemen in Whitehall than I have in Hitler himself.
[An HON. MEMBER: "Shame!"] That is what was said by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, and however shameful hon. Members may think it is, we must have regard to the reactions in the minds of people outside.
I want to make clear where I stand. I said I hoped that the Home Secretary would be frank, and tell us exactly how he intends to interpret this Regulation and that if the matter went to a Division I would vote against the Regulation unless the position had been clarified. The country is divided into regions, in each of which there is a regional superintendent of police. The Home Secretary may say that these officers have not the power which he wants for them, but if that be so, the powers should be given to them so that they can have contact with military commanders to take their instructions, which, from the regional superintendents of police, could be circulated throughout other police areas in the division. I hope that the Home Secretary will appreciate how we Members feel on this matter.
We are fully alive to the realities of the situation. I feel that other Members like myself want to help the Home Secretary in his very difficult task, one of the most difficult in the Government. But if he wishes to retain our confidence and support, I would say to him that he must have confidence in this House, as I hope we have confidence in him. To retain that confidence, let him come down to brass tacks and say what is needed and what it is intended to do. This Order is far too wide.
I beg to second the Motion which has been so well moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis).
In doing so, I will undertake, as far as I can, not to travel again over the ground which he has already covered. I desire to approach this matter from the special standpoint of the non-county boroughs, for whom I am in a position to say something, and who are the authorities who are, in the main, the police authorities which control these smaller police forces. This matter has been discussed from time to time upon the basis that what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary desires to do is to eliminate the smaller police forces and to combine them into larger and, as he thinks, more efficient police units. The difficulty I find in dealing with that aspect of the matter is that, of course, we have all got different conceptions of what may or may not be regarded as a small police force. Hitherto my right hon. Friend has abstained from indicating what the view of his Department is about that particular matter. Accordingly I have had to consider it to some extent in the dark.
I suppose we should all agree that a police force of less than 25 constables was a small police force. As far as I can see, there are about seven police forces in the country with a peace establishment of less than 25 constables. I think it is fair to say that in addition to them there also are two police forces whose peace establishment is actually 25 men. But the whole position has been changed by the addition to these smaller forces of the police reserve and the police war reserve, and if you add to their peace establishment the additional constables who have been introduced into the forces by the mobilisation, if I may call it that, of the police war reserve, there are actually at this moment something like four police forces in this country with fewer than 25 constables. So that, looked at from that standpoint, this problem is not a problem of very great magnitude. If you consider the number of police forces possessing less than 50 constables, I believe that the figures is something like 20. So the problem of the small police forces is not a problem of any great magnitude.
What is my right hon. Friend going to do in order to deal with this comparatively small problem? He has made this Regulation which, unless we can persuade him to-day to reconsider the matter, will give him power to form joint police authorities, and to form joint police areas without any restriction at all upon the size of the area or the size of the authority or the size of the police force itself in respect of whom he can make these Orders. My right hon. Friend is proposing to take powers of the widest and most comprehensive nature to deal with this problem of police amalgamations. Indeed it is difficult to appreciate what powers he might have taken which he has not taken to make changes in the structure of the police organisation of this country. Under this Defence Regulation the Home Secretary can completely transform the whole structure of the police administration of the local authorities. In these circumstances it is not surprising that this Defence Regulation has aroused the most widespread misgivings on the part not only of the authorities who are the police authorities for these smaller forces, but on the part of those who are very big police authorities indeed. It is not only some of these small authorities who are alarmed at what is proposed to be done. Some of the biggest police authorities in this country have grave misgivings about the action which my right hon. Friend proposes to take.
There is another factor in this matter which I think has not tended to modify the misgivings which the police authorities feel. So far as we know, until this Defence Regulation was made there was no complaint on the part of anybody about the efficiency of the service which the police authorities were giving. As far as I know, it was regarded as satisfactory. Indeed, as the House knows, 10 years ago a Select Committee of this House investigated the whole matter, as a result of action which was taken by the Association of Non-County Boroughs. The Select Committee came to the conclusion that no grounds existed for modifying the then structure of police administration, save only that they recommended that a borough with a population of less than 30,000 should not be a police authority. That being so, if there had been any substantial grounds for regarding the peace-time organisation of the police authorities as not fully efficient, and in particular if the organisation of these smaller forces controlled by the boroughs with less than 30,000 population had been regarded as inefficient in peace-time, then one would have expected that long ago my right hon. Friend's Department would have acted upon the recommendation that was made by the Select Committee. The inference which can fairly be drawn from this long inaction is that the Home Office was satisfied with the administration of even these smaller forces.
I was speaking of peace-time. One of the matters about which the local police authorities are concerned is that when the emergency period ends their peace-time organisation shall be restored, until Parliament decides otherwise. Everybody, I suppose, recognises that a system of police administration which was efficient in peace-time may not answer the purpose in war-time. My right hon. Friend was good enough to receive a deputation representing the non-county boroughs, and, later on, to speak to some of us in one of the Committee Rooms of this House. He has told us why this very far-reaching Defence Regulation is being made, and I understand that his reasons relate to the operational control of the police forces. The Order itself says that it is made for the purpose of facilitating naval, military, and Air Force arrangements. I should not have thought that the existence of four police forces of less than 25 men would have had any very embarrassing effect on those arrangements; but that is the ground which is stated in the Order. My right hon. Friend has put forward other reasons why it is considered desirable to make these changes. He will, no doubt, state his reasons again in this Debate. But I anticipate that it will appear that the only grounds on which he desires to make this change are of a purely operational nature. He considers that there may be instances where it is desirable to have a senior police officer, or a chief constable, of a rather different type from that to be found in certain places at present, to take responsibility for the additional duties which have arisen from out of the war.
Furthermore, there may be certain police services which must be provided in time of war, which my right hon. Friend feels cannot be provided by the smaller forces. But all those objections to the existing system are based on operational grounds. If all that my right hon. Friend desires is the establishment of a wider measure of operational control over these police units, it is by no means clear why he is taking power to transform completely the whole administrative system of these forces. I hope that my right hon. Friend will explain why it was not possible for him merely to have taken power to place these smaller police forces under larger authorities for the period of the emergency, and, if he considers necessary, even to remove a senior police officer whom he finds unsuitable for the duties that he will be called upon to fulfil during the emergency. If he had done that, he would have obtained all the additional power which he considers necessary; then, when the emergency ended and the emergency legislation lapsed, unless this House had decided to the contrary, the police administration would fall back to the position it was in before this emergency regulation had been made, and the position of the police authorities would have been completely safeguarded, in the sense that the status quo would have been preserved.
It is all very well for my right hon. Friend to say, "This is only a Defence Regulation, and when the emergency is over everything will be the same as it was before, unless Parliament should otherwise decide." But if you pass a Defence Regulation to knock Humpty Dumpty off the wall a great many things have to be done before he can be put back there again. That is exactly what is going to happen to these police forces. In time this Regulation will lapse, but the whole background of the administrative organisation of these forces—which has given satisfaction, so far as we know, to everybody in time of peace—will then have been completely tranformed, and the position of the authorities who now control these forces will be entirely different from what it is to-day. I hope my right hon. Friend will explain why it has been necessary to go so far beyond anything which seems to be required in order to obtain the operational control which he now considers to be necessary. That is what the local authorities object to.
The suspicion which has been aroused by this Defence Regulation represents a very much wider feeling of apprehension than the merits of this particular Regulation in themselves justify. There is among the local authorities of this country a feeling that the emergency of the war is being used in some way to prejudice their position as independent organs of democratic local self-government. Regionalism is in the air. There is much talk about reform and change in local government. Everybody agrees —local authorities themselves would be the first to agree—that changes must come when the war is over; but they desire to ensure that their position shall not now be prejudiced by Regulations such as this, before any complete inquiry and a decision about their future status has been taken. That is the thing about which they are apprehensive. If my right hon. Friend had gone in the first instance to the local authorities or to those bodies which they have formed to represent their joint interests and had said, "I am not satisfied that I can be responsible for the security of the country in the present emergency unless I have certain additional powers," and had invited their co-operation and had heard their views, their misgivings would very largely have been met. But that has not been done. Instead of that, my right hon. Friend comes before the House really having made up his mind, and it is not quite fair, having done that, to say afterwards that, because they did not at once agree, you have not got their co-operation.
Nobody understands better than the local authorities and their officers the urgency and the exceptional nature of the present time, and nobody is more ready to co-operate in doing whatever is required in order to ensure the security of the country in the present emergency. Nobody who knows anything about the work which local authorities have done can doubt what the contribution which they have made to the organisation of the Civil Defence services of this country has been of the greatest possible assistance and will be so in the future. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that in this Regulation he has taken powers which appear to go far beyond anything which the emergency of the situation requires, and I suggest that he might have given to the local authorities, apprehensive as they are about the whole matter, some assurance that when the emergency lapses their position as independent authorities shall not be prejudiced.
Is it not the fact that the Home Secretary did receive deputations from the Association of Municipal Corporations and also from the non-county boroughs which my hon. Friend represents, and when he says that the Home Secretary should consult the opinion of local authorities, surely he has already taken a step in that direction in receiving these deputations?
I hope that I was not putting my point unfairly. The point which I made was that when these deputations were received this Regulation had already been made. It would have been more satisfactory from the point of view of these local authorities if my right hon. Friend had met them before he had decided exactly what he was going to do. If he had met them in the first instance and had said "I desire to increase the measure of control over the police forces," they would have been only too ready to co-operate in any way they could to ensure what was necessary for the safety of the country. I hope that when my right hon. Friend comes to reply he will be able to give us some assurance which will allay the misgivings of these authorities about this Regulation.
It is not with a desire to make any carping criticism of the Home Secretary that I rise to oppose this Regulation. These Regulations are becoming very frequent, but in the very nature of the case they cannot be discussed in all the detail of a Bill properly presented to this House. There is also a danger of using these Regulations in order to get through measures which otherwise would be strenuously opposed. I oppose this particular Regulation because at no time has there been given any adequate reason for making such a drastic change.
The Home Secretary has stated that the new Regulation is a war-time measure and that the necessity has arisen in con-sequence of there being, in his opinion, too many police forces, some of them very small and that it is essential in time of emergency such as a threatened invasion, that the commander of military forces in any area should be able to make immediate contact with the chief officer responsible for the police administration, with a view to any necessary action being taken without delay. He has also stated—and I mention this in all fairness to him—that he has no intention of discontinuing as separate forces, any forces of considerable size, and that before an order is made, the police authority will be consulted and given an opportunity of submitting to him their views on the subject. He has also stated that it is intended to be a war measure only and that it will not prejudice, one way or another, any action which Parliament may have to take after the war.
In spite of that assurance, in spite of the fact that it has been stated that the purpose of this Regulation is to facilitate naval, military and Air Force operations, I am deeply apprehensive lest we do irreparable damage to borough police forces throughout the country and travel one more step towards greater bureaucratic control not only of the individual but of our borough councils as well. Everyone recognises that anything which facilitates naval, military and Air Force operations should be encouraged because everybody desires to win the war. But if I wanted to get a most revolutionary scheme through this House with the least protest, my best way would be to use the war as an excuse for the urgency and need of the proposal. Let it be remembered that similar proposals were examined by a Select Committee in 1932. They were put forward from the same source and by the same people. At the back of this proposal, it seems to me, are, not the military authorities but Home Office officials. It is they who more than anyone desire this Regulation; they wish to put into the hands of the bureaucrats the entire police forces of this land. There was no war when other proposals similar to this Regulation were put forward, and now they have attached to the old proposals new reasons in order that their Regulations can pass through the House without anybody knowing that it is being done.
Let us examine the "co-operation" argument in support of this new Regulation. First of all I would like to ask the Home Secretary what complaints have been received against the present system of co-operation? These small police forces in operation in Kent and the blitzed areas of Lancashire and elsewhere have so far done their duty faithfully and well and with the closest co-operation with the military authorities. Does not close co-operation with the military authorities already exist? If not, is there any other way to secure it without destroying borough police forces, which have done such excellent service in the past? If the Home Secretary requires greater co-ordination, would it not be possible in the County of Lancashire, part of which I represent, instead of abolishing the chief constables of small boroughs, to divide the county into areas and appoint the Chief Constable of Lancashire as a co-ordinating officer to give instructions to the chief constables of the small cities and boroughs? If this were done, it would preserve in being the forces which are now valued by the people they serve.
It is said that this is only a war-time measure. Then, why has the Home Secretary made provision for the compulsory retirement of the chief constables of these small boroughs? Does it mean that they are to go out of existence altogether or that in future, even if the forces are restored, these men are to lose their jobs? Why is it that the municipal corporations are opposed to this Regulation? Why is it that the Police Committee of the Association of Municipal Corporations and all the watch committees of the municipal authorities are opposed to the proposals he puts forward? They too wish to collaborate with the military authority and help to win the war. The reasons, I think, as are follow: The abolition of the small police forces in small boroughs will make for less efficient police service than they have at present. The chief constables in these small towns have a far more intimate knowledge of their local areas than any men outside.
There is also opposition to this Regulation because of the feeling of local patriotism and civic pride. The policemen know they are part and parcel of the life of the small city and town. Therefore to interfere with the well ordered life of these boroughs is sure to stir up resentment in towns where a united war effort is required. Again, these proposals make for injustice to members of the police forces who have done, and are doing, such splendid work during these strenuous times.
Not only is this Regulation unjust to the men but will inflict great hardship on the chief constables as well. In borough police forces the chief constables are generally young men who have gone into the service with zeal. They have worked hard to improve their knowledge and, step by step, have been promoted, until they have become experienced, efficient men. These are the men whom the Home Secretary intends to put on the scrap heap. They are to be wiped out of existence or demoted to be superintendents. There is no provision for them except that, I think, they are to have 10 years added to their service. They have given up their position in large towns on their appointment as chief constables in the boroughs. They may have bought a house and given the best part of their working lives to the town. But there is no scheme to compensate them for their loss of office. They are simply to be scrapped or given a 10 years' extra service grant.
Undoubtedly these proposals are producing great disquiet among ordinary constables in small boroughs because under this scheme a valued right will be taken away. In the county police the chief constable is the sole disciplinary authority; in the small borough it is the watch committee, and if the ordinary constable feels that the chief constable is harsh or unjust, he can make an appeal to the watch committee and have his grievance redressed. Once this Regulation is enforced that right of the ordinary borough constable to appeal to the watch committee will be eliminated altogether. In my opinion this is unfair.
Furthermore, I oppose the Regulation because it is another step towards bureaucratic control. There is a tendency to use the war as an excuse for increasing this control over private citizens and over their elected representatives on the borough councils. Whitehall is always reaching out its tentacles like an octupus. We go from Regulation to Regulation. Our lives are regulated, governed and controlled from day to day. There is no protest, because this is war-time, but we ought to resist, as far as it is possible, this increase of bureaucratic control over our councils and over our civic life unless there are much stronger reasons than those put forward in favour of these Regulations.
I will tell the hon. Member. The bureaucrats of Whitehall tried to get these proposals through in 1922 when there was no war. A Select Committee was set up to examine their suggestions, but nothing was done. The scheme was shelved. Whitehall Wants all the time the merging of small units into larger units which are more easily controlled. We see this happening in industry and trade. In the matter of Government contracts the little man is ignored. The large contractor is easier to deal with. Small industries are, by regulations, penalised in favour of large monopolies. Now comes the merging of the small police force into the larger ones. So that they too may be more under the control of Whitehall.
Lastly, I oppose the Regulation because of this greatest of all dangers to a democratic country. These proposals, no matter how one may examine them, put into the hands of the Executive, and into the hands of one member of that Executive, who may be in the future a dictator, and without any limitation of any kind, a powerful force to carry out what may be his own will. The time may come, if it is not already upon us, to curb the growing power of the Home Office and not to increase this power, as is now proposed. Therefore, I hope the Home Secretary will not allow himself to be pushed along by the vis a tergo of his own officials. If he does so one day he may wake up and find that, in spite of his natural modesty and his strong and ardent democratic feelings, he has had thrust upon him through lack of Parliamentary vigilance, and in spite of his own disinclination, all the powers of a dictator in a democratic land.
In listening to the three speeches that have been made, it occurred to me that, in spite of all the things that are sometimes said on this side of the House concerning limitations on freedom of speech, those speeches illustrate how wonderfully free speech is in this country, and provide a reply to the reference made by the hon. Member who said that the Home Secretary is inflicting Gestapo-ism on this country. If there is one thing that convinces me that the Home Secretary should have the powers for which he now asks, it is those speeches, because of their parochialism. They remind me of the discussions that took place some 30 years ago in the part of the country where I live, when the small parish council there was discussing an amalgamation scheme with another council. The representatives of each of those small districts were concerned, with that innate conservatism which all of us seem to have, to retain their own little local identity as against the interests of the common weal. When the hon. and gallant Member for Accrington (Major Procter) talked about the loss of position of some of the chief constables, he reminded me of those people who, to use a nautical metaphor, would rather be captain of a barge than third mate on an ocean-going liner. I cannot see why, as long as this House remains as it is and there is the opportunity to make speeches of the tenor of those we have heard, these Regulations should cause any fears.
I have some views on this matter and there are one or two things on which I would like my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to give some more information. We must not oppose this scheme in favour of outworn systems for which we ourselves are largely responsible. The hon. Member who moved the Prayer referred to some meetings of interested bodies in which the Home Secretary has taken part. Those meetings were all to the good. I was privileged to attend two of them. At the first meeting, at which the Home Secretary was not present, there was wholesale condemnation of the proposal and not one redeeming word was said about the Regulation. It is not to flatter the Home Secretary but merely to encourage him that I say that at the later meeting, an all-party meeting of Members of Parliament, which the Home Secretary attended and stated his case, a large percentage of the former opposition disappeared after the Home Secretary's explanations. I only hope that, if the Regulations are agreed to, the Home Secretary, before bringing forward a scheme, will have some talks with the people who are affected by the proposed merger. It is very often the case that in preliminary discussions before the die is finally cast, a great deal of agreement can be reached. Further, whatever may be said about the considerations that applied in 1932, we are now in an emergency. If we keep that thought to the front, that the Regulations have been brought forward as essentially a war measure, I think we shall carry a good many people along with us.
I want to devote myself to one aspect of it, the right of appeal in disciplinary cases. In the case of a borough police force, the disciplinary authority is vested in the watch committee. Any disciplinary award by the chief constable is subject to confirmation by the watch committee, and any member of the force who is aggrieved by an award of the chief constable has the right to appear before the watch committee. In a county police force the position is different. Disciplinary authority is vested in the chief constable, and against an award by him there is no appeal, except to the Secretary of State, if a member of the force is dismissed or required to resign. Therefore, if a borough force is amalgamated with a county force, former members of the borough force will become subject to the disciplinary authority of the chief constable of the joint force, and they will have no right of appeal to the police authority. This is a point to which I know the police, and indeed a good many of us, attach much importance. The Select Committee on the Amalgamation of Police Forces, which reported in 1932, recommended that in such a case all members of the new joint force should have a right of appeal to the police authorities. I recognise that there may be difficulties in creating a right of appeal to the Standing Joint Committee of a county, since these committees have not hitherto been concerned with matters of discipline, and I recognise that committees of local authorities vary in their capacity for, and their success in dealing with, matters which in their nature involve a mixture of the judicial and the disciplinary. In fairness I must agree that such a system may perhaps work both ways, for and against the interests of the police.
I would ask my right hon. Friend that, this being essentially a war measure, the police to be merged should have their right of appeal continued. I think we ought to grant in a large way the right of appeal to those who absorb and to those who are merged. It would be a big gesture. If this could not be done so fully as I suggest, might I ask the Home Secretary to consider whether something should not be done by an extension of the Police Appeals Act? That Act provides for an appeal to the Secretary of State, in the case either of a county or a borough constable, against a decision to dismiss a man or to require him to resign. If the Act were extended so as to provide an appeal against the serious punishment of reduction in rank, or in the rate of pay, it would go a long way to meet the difficulty. I hope the House will feel inclined to recommend that some change of that description should take place. If, however, this proposal is not generally acceptable, I suggest that a provision should be inserted in these Regulations giving an extended right of appeal to the Secretary of State in any case where an Order is made for the amalgamation of a borough with a county force.
Whatever variance there may have been in the distant past between the police and the public in industrial districts, we folk in public life in those areas now see an atmosphere between the two which is splendid and all to the good. We owe a debt of gratitude to our policemen. They have been steadfast and true to the communal weal in these dark days through which we are passing. It would not be in keeping with the high ideals with which we are fighting this war to take away a liberty now enjoyed by the police force. Here is an opportunity to issue a small instalment of that brave new world that we say we are to have after the war. Can we be big enough to give to all members of the force, whether in counties or in boroughs, the elementary right to which we say all Britons are entitled, the right of appeal? This Debate will have served a useful purpose if public attention has been, if only for a short time, focussed on this important question, and I hope the Home Secretary can help us in the matter.
I listened with great interest to the speeches of the mover and seconder of the Prayer, but I was very little persuaded by their arguments. The Orders against which it is directed are war measures for the facilitation of naval, military and air operations. I should think that in itself is sufficient justification for putting them into force. A special reason for them is the necessity of simplying the task of military commanders, especially Allied military commanders, who do not understand our system of local government and our system of police.
We shall have in the not far distant future Allied military commanders in this country in a position in which it will be necessary for them to have touch with and in certain circumstances to give instructions to the police. By lessening the number of police chiefs with whom they have to deal there is no doubt that their task will be appreciably simplified. I do not think that the task would be simplified by the means suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis), that they should deal with them through a regional inspector of constabulary. Military commanders will want in cases of emergency, and in many other cases as well, to deal with the police chiefs themselves. If there are a large number of police chiefs and if the area of their responsibility is, as it is in many cases, very ill-defined and indeterminate, it will make the task of the military commanders, especially if they are strangers to the country, much more difficult than it would be otherwise.
Apart from that, I believe that there are certain disadvantages connected with small forces. When we speak of small forces, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton that it is a little difficult to know from the terms of this Order how small the forces are which are to be affected. Perhaps the Home Secretary will give us more particulars about that. Speaking generally, small forces, in spite of what some of my hon. Friends have said, have seldom the same standard of efficiency as larger forces, for a variety of reasons. In a small force of comparatively few men it is only natural that the chief or head constable will be hardly of the calibre of the chief or head constable of a large and more important force. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because the big man Will not apply for a position in which he has much smaller responsibility, much less scope and much less pay. For the same reason there is not the same opportunity of promotion, and the ambitious and clever young man is less likely to enter a small force than a bigger force where there are greater opportunities of promotion. There are not the same facilities in the nature of things for training in a small force, and in few cases can a small force have anything of a criminal investigation department. Where there are two big forces in a small area, as, for instance, in the case of some county towns, where there are the headquarters of the county police and the borough police and where the police areas have ill-defined boundaries, there is often doubt and confusion as to which force should deal with matters that may arise in the vicinity of the boundary, and there is often overlapping.
An important consideration is the principal work of the police, which is the prevention of crime, and that is better carried out on the whole by the larger and better equipped forces. In the case of undetected crime or crime in which the accused cannot be immediately apprehended, it is left to the discretion of the local police whether assistance should be invited from a larger neighbour or even from Scotland Yard; and as the essence of detection is immediate action, the chance of the apprehension of an offender is often lost by delay while the local man is considering whether he shall deal with the matter or hand it to a larger authority. In a county town where the county police headquarters are there may be a small borough force over which the county chief constable has no authority. I will give an instance of this within my own knowledge. About a year before the war there was a serious motor accident, in which four cars were involved and persons were injured, a short distance outside a county town. A neighbouring resident was asked to telephone the police, and as in the telephone book there are two police forces, he unfortunately telephoned to the wrong one, the borough police. These, being anxious to show their zeal and activity, did not say, "This does not concern us," did not inform the county police but motored to the scene, only to say on arrival that they were very sorry, it seemed to be a serious business, but they could not act. That resulted in delay in taking statements, which was inconvenient. I suggest that the same thing might easily have happened in a case of serious crime where immediate action was of the utmost importance.
Then there is the question of control by watch committees. I would with great diffidence suggest that the borough aldermen and councillors are not always the most suitable persons to control a disciplined force. The powers of watch committees are much greater than the powers of standing joint committees. Without the consent of the watch committee no man in a borough force can be sent to assist a neighbouring force in any difficulty or emergency. This might be a very important matter under conditions of invasion or air raids. Under the present system of a number of forces of varying size there is apt to be a diversity of police methods. That is undesirable as between forces in areas close together, and amalgamation would undoubtedly tend to lessen such diversities. It may be argued, as it has been argued by some of my hon. Friends, that these amalgamations, although they are temporary and for the war period, are likely to become permanent after the war. If the scheme is found to be unsuccessful in practice, I cannot imagine that any Government will wish to continue it, but if, as I believe will be the case, it is found to make for greater efficiency and also, by elimination of overheads, for greater economy, then there will be at any rate a strong case for its continuation; and I cannot see the difficulties which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton either in continuing it if it is thought necessary or in discontinuing it if it is found that in practice it has been a failure. I would say, as has already been mentioned by two of my hon. Friends, that the Report of the Select Committee of 1932 should not be left out of consideration. That Committee recommended most strongly amalgamations, although that recommendation was never acted on.
I know that one argument against amalgamations, as well as against anything more ambitious, is that local control would disappear, but local control, in the case of a standing joint committee, does not include control over discipline or duties of the police. It comprises only administration, finance and the responsibility of a chief constable to the standing joint committee for the efficiency of the force, and that, I agree, is a very important responsibility. That seems to me to be a sufficient degree of local control, and the joint authorities to be set up under the Order will presumably have at least these powers, and the areas of amalgamated forces will have representations on these joint authorities. It seems to me that local interest and local connection, both of which are, I agree, very important measures, and some measure of local control, will thus be preserved, and it is to my mind both unnecessary and undesirable that any police authority should have powers as regards discipline, and I include powers of deciding appeals against disciplinary action. It seems to me that disciplinary powers are especially undesirable in cases of watch committees and small forces, where, possibly, local friendships, local antipathies, local gossip and even local matters that may be mentioned at local elections may influence a committee in its decisions. Appeals should be in the first instance to the chief constable, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) that right of appeal might well be extended and enlarged. Next I would suggest that possibly there might be a place for the regional inspector of police as regards the hearing of appeals, and that he might come between the chief constable and the final appeal to the Home Office. In conclusion, I believe that these Orders are not only necessary but long overdue, and I trust that the Prayer of my hon. Friends in this case may not be granted.
I have been asked by my hon. Friends behind me to extend general support to the Home Secretary and against the Motion. There have been occasions within the recollection of my right hon. Friend when some of us on these benches have ventured to differ from some of his proposals, because we have thought that he was seeking to exceed his powers, but on this occasion, when it appears to be his sole purpose to act consistently with the effective war effort, we can do no other than give him our support. I have listened to the Debate from the beginning, and I confess to some surprise at the arguments adduced by hon. Members opposite. I have frequently heard them plead for unified strategy, unified war effort, and co-ordination in production and in this and that, yet they boggle at the amalgamation of a police force. That seems to me to be straining at the flea and swallowing the elephant, a singularly foolish procedure.
I noted that the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis), who made an excellent speech, so far as delivery was concerned, although I could not agree with its substance, said that he had no objection to amalgamation, provided it was deferred until after the war. If amalgamations have any virtue, it is better to have them at this juncture.
This is the critical time. I do not propose to discuss the merits that amalgamation may have in peacetime. I believe there is always merit in amalgamation, particularly in modern times. There is advantage in amalgamation of all our Forces now, whatever they may be, police, Civil Defence, military, naval or Air Force. I frequently hear hon. Members opposite demanding some of these things. I quite understand the hon. Member for Southampton being apprehensive lest Southampton should be included. No doubt the same observation applies to the hon. Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson). Suppose the Home Secretary said to them in reply, "I propose to proceed with the Regulations, but Southampton and Ilford will be excluded"; that would remove their apprehension. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] In effect, their case is, "Do what you like with the small fellows but don't touch us."
In following the case presented, I have been at pains to understand what is behind it. What are hon. Members concerned about? The hon. and gallant Member for Accrington (Major Procter), who is absent at this moment, said that this proposal would damage the police. How can amalgamation of police forces damage the police? How can it weaken the police? It cannot weaken the effectiveness of the individual policeman. I have some experience of policemen, both local and county, and I have never detected any difference in their weapons, their language, their forthrightness or their courtesy. They are pretty much the same, whether they are local or county. I cannot see any substance in the suggestion that by promoting these Regulations the police will be weakened; I can see a case to show that the police would be very much strengthened. It has been suggested that we might, as an alternative to these Regulations, co-ordinate various small police forces under the chief constable of a county. Mark that the suggestion has come from hon. Members opposite. I cannot imagine anything more calculated to stir up local strife than a proposal of that kind. We have had plenty of trouble about chief constables in the past, but if you proceed to put a number of small police forces, without regulation, without scientific adjustment as is proposed in the Regulation, without concerning yourselves with pension rights and various other rights, if it is done in a loose rule-of-thumb fashion, a haphazard fashion, by putting a number of these police forces under the chief constable of a county or anywhere else, I am certain that that will lead to more trouble than the House desires.
It has also been suggested that really there is nothing wrong with the existing police arrangements. I do not at all demur from that. The police are an excellent body of men, the smaller groups of policemen just as are the larger groups. But let us assume the probability—and I use that term advisedly, because it has been suggested by the Government themselves—of invasion in any part of this country; will anyone suggest that it is not as important to have a highly organised and efficient body of policemen under a single authority, at any rate in a particular area, as it is to have a military organisation completely unified, and to have liaison between that unified police authority and the unified military authority? It is of the highest importance that that should be achieved, and I should like to see the faces of some of my hon. Friends opposite in the event of invasion if, in any part of the country, they found the police at loggerheads with the military forces, or in a position where they could not be effectively organised for the purposes of controlling the processes associated with evacuation, with the transfer of the civil population. I venture to put this to my hon. Friends opposite, that one of the purposes for which a police force is required, both in peace-time and in war-time, and particularly in the event of invasion, is to direct the road traffic. After all, that cannot be left entirely in the hands of a small police force. There have to be some instructions, some coordination in order to ensure that the instructions emanate from headquarters, and they they are properly carried out.
Of course, there will be military direction of road traffic, but, after all, all these partly civil matters or semi-military matters cannot be left entirely in the hands of the military, not because they cannot carry them out efficiently, but because they have other very important work to undertake. I am not so sure that I put the matter as correctly as I should. The military are efficient, but the police are extremely efficient when it comes to dealing with road traffic and matters of transportation. From that standpoint I cannot agree with my hon. Friends opposite.
I wish to come to what I think is the point of real substance in this, and which appears to have aroused apprehension in the minds of my hon. Friends opposite. It was voiced, I think, by the hon. Member for Southampton and the hon. and gallant Member for Accrington, who was perhaps a little more vehement in the matter. He said, "What is all this going to lead to? A national police force, dictatorship, bureaucracy." I can understand that these possibilities arouse apprehension. I am very glad to note that my hon. Friends opposite have made up their minds there can be no dictatorship in this country. I take note of that. It is on the record. I also note that they are averse to bureaucratic methods. I have taken part in public life for some considerable time, and I have not noticed in the past that my hon. Friends opposite were unduly troubled about bureaucratic methods in any Government Departments. It was only when there was an advance in certain social directions that they became disturbed about bureaucracy. Of course, there is red tape. I have been in Government Departments, and I have tried to break it down, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so successfully, but I doubt whether there is any real substance in all these complaints about bureaucracy in Government Departments.
There is another apparent allegation. I hope I am incorrect in this assumption, but I seemed to see in what hon. Members opposite were saying a suggestion that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wants to be a dictator. I have quarrelled with my right hon. Friend often enough —I may do so to-day—but I want to pay tribute to the administrative abilities of my right hon. Friend. He is as fine an administrator as we have had. He knows his job. Sometimes I do not like his methods and his tactics—he does not like mine— but, as for my right hon. Friend looking ahead and envisaging a great national police force which he is going to use as his instrument, that is absurd; it is fantastic; if is grotesque.
I never suggested that my right hon. Friend would ever be a dictator. I carefully excluded him from it. What I said was that we were making it possible for a would-be dictator to have an instrument at his hand to carry out the will of the Executive.
If my hon. and gallant Friend did not envisage my right hon. Friend as a possible dictator, I do not know whom he had in mind. Perhaps it was me. That would be a more likely assumption. I want to be quite frank with hon. Members on both sides of the House. I say that in this war, if I had had my way there would have been more dictation. This is a digression for which I hope, Sir, that you will forgive me; but very early in this war I wanted industrial compulsion, and I wanted compulsion all round. In war you have to be ruthless. In peace-time it is different. Liberties must be preserved in peace-time, and individual characteristics safeguarded. But in war, when you have your backs to the wall, when you are facing a ruthless enemy, it is very different. We have had an example of that in the last few hours, one might almost say, in the manacling of our men. I say to my right hon. Friend that in that situation he is not ruthless, enough. When he comes forward with this modest proposal, this puny thing, he immediately stirs up a hornet's nest. Why?
Let us examine that question; but first let me say this to hon. Members opposite, "What do you think the Home Secretary has in mind?" He says, "I want to facilitate military, naval and air coordination by these proposals." He is satisfied that it cannot be effectively undertaken in any other way. What other reason can he have? After all, it is only making him more unpopular; and really, with the best will in the world towards my hon. Friends, and perhaps hardly the best will in the world towards my right hon. Friend, I am bound to say that I cannot believe that he would want to advance these proposals to create more unpopularity for himself. He is doing something that he believes to be necessary. Now I come to hon. Members. What is behind their position? I do not think that it is fear of beaurocracy or dictatorship. It may be perhaps a little fear of my right hon. Friend, but I do not think that it is even that. The trouble in this country is that we have created vested interests all over the place; the whole country is cluttered with vested interests.
The hon. and gallant Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Major Petherick) refers to trade unions. He is not even the friend of the workers. But let us not get into controversy. I did not start it. There are vested interests in the country. You can afford vested interests in peace-time but not in war. Vested interests wherever they are, whether of a single policeman or a chief constable or a Government Department—and even hon. Members have their own vested conceptions of how society should be run—have to be struck down. I have to say, looking at this thing quite objectively—and I have an open mind on the matter—that the House should support the right hon. Gentleman. Do my hon. Friends opposite propose to wait until an emergency eventuates before taking effective action? Is not that a fair question to put?
I endeavoured to make clear in my speech that the authorities which are concerned would not oppose any measures that my right hon. Friend considers necessary to secure the operational control for which he is asking.
I think that is a complete acceptance of my right hon. Friend's position. I am not accustomed to the courts, like the hon. and learned Gentleman, except in a certain capacity, but I am bound to say that if that is the case of my hon. and learned Friend opposite, and if my right hon. Friend comes in a departmental capacity, having taken counsel of those who understand the problem, and being fortified by the Government themselves, and says, "This is the only thing I can do in order to promote efficiency in the conduct of police organisation in war-time," I do not see what objection could be offered. We cannot afford to wait until an emergency envelops and overwhelms us and strikes us down before taking effective action. It is far better to act in advance. I would say to all hon. Friends it has been a constant theme of Debates in this House on almost every occasion, at any rate on first-class Debates and matters of governmental policy affecting the war, that we should always anticipate the possibilities and probabilities. How often have we said that the Government have been too late, six months, a year or two years too late? My right hon. Friend, I hope, will not be too late in the step he is now taking, and I hope that the House will fortify and encourage him in the proposals contained therein.
I often feel that there is insufficient appreciation of the immense services which have been rendered to the community, especially during the war, by local authorities, large and small. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) has talked about vested interests. After all, what are vested interests? It is only a terra for institutions that we happen to dislike. I feel sure that my hon. Friend would not consider that local authorities were vested interests that ought to be swept away. They have been very successful on the whole precisely because of their intimate association with the localities and people concerned. To-day we are considering a matter which is concerned with defence. In making the observations I do in connection with local authorities, I am, of course, considering them in that aspect. It is clear from the Regulation itself that this is a question of defence, and it should be noted in this House and should be recollected by the Home Secretary—as I am sure it will—that he cannot carry out an amalgamation as proposed in this Regulation unless he is satisfied that it is necessary for facilitating naval, military or Air Force operations. Therefore, it is not possible to consider in this connection considerations which might be put forward by planners and other people who, perhaps rightly, concern themselves with blueprints for the future. In this Regulation planners, by Order-in-Council, are excluded.
The considerations which actuated the mind of the Commission, to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) referred, cannot be taken into account by the Home Secretary in carrying out the proposals herein contained. I hope the Home Secretary and his Department will bear closely in mind the fact that it is only upon the considerations set out in this paragraph that the matter can be set in motion, and I trust that the military authorities will bear in mind that they can only make representations on purely Service grounds. I am sure that if boroughs thought that for military reasons these amalgamations should take place in order to help in the prosecution of the war, they would feel that these considerations were paramount and that local susceptibilities and local convenience should be set aside. Unfortunately, they are not wholly so convinced, and it is not surprising, for three years of war have gone by, and it is only now that these proposals are brought forward.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham said it was very necessary that we should have these arrangements in case of an invasion, but if it is necessary now, how very necessary it must have been in those critcial days after Dunkirk, Local authorities realise that at that time no such measure was brought forward. It is suggested that from a military point of view matters may be disposed of more swiftly if some amalgamations proceed. I believe that may be so on occasion, and for that reason I would hesitate to refuse the Home Secretary his powers. But I am very anxious that each case should be considered on its merits. In passing, I should acknowledge the courtesy and consideration that have been shown by the Home Secretary in this matter. Like others, I have received an assurance that in each case boroughs will be allowed and enabled to make representations. I attach very great importance to this, and I trust the boroughs who are in danger of having their police force taken will be allowed to make their representations fully to the Home Secretary himself, and that it will not be a perfunctory matter of a funeral oration which a borough is to make before its police force is destroyed.
Finally, there is the question of finance. I notice that in the Regulations there is plenty of provision for taking away the funds of the boroughs whose police forces it is sought to amalgamate, but I cannot find any provision to safeguard the boroughs concerned against having to pay more in the future under the new arrangement. I should have been delighted to see some safeguard in that direction. The time is getting short, but I hope the Home Secretary will do his best to meet not only local susceptibilities which are deep-set, but will hesitate to overturn, unless the clearest case is made out on military grounds, processes of public administration which, after all, have been extremely well tried.
I am very grateful to the House for the good temper with which it has discussed this matter, which is admittedly somewhat contentious. It has been a good Debate and I have listened to all of it. I was, of course, familiar with the arguments of the local authorities, at any rate, as a result of my having met deputations of the Association of Municipal Corporations and the County Councils Association before the Regulations were made. I say that because I think there was some misunderstanding about it.
Not the Non-County Boroughs Association. They were not invited to meet my right hon. Friend before the Regulations were made, although he was good enough to receive a deputation after the Regulations had been made.
If I may say so, I would not say that they are the people mainly concerned. There are other police authorities besides the non-county boroughs, and I would add that I had little doubt as to what their views were. That is why, in the first instance, I met the County Councils Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations. Subsequently, the Non-County Boroughs Association, headed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson), wished to see me with the Association of Municipal Corporations. I met them together, and that meeting was actually a few days after the Regulations were made. I was very glad to see them, as, indeed, I am always glad to meet deputations of local authorities; if on this occasion they were headed by two Members of Parliament who are not themselves members of local authorities, that did not reduce my pleasure, although perhaps it made it a little more difficult for the local authorities to do a deal, because the Members of Parliament did not feel quite that way and the local authorities did not either. I was delighted to hear the arguments of the local authorities and to put my arguments to them, although unfortunately, no doubt owing to my lack of persuasive and expository powers, I did not persuade the Association of Municipal Corporations and the Non-County Boroughs Association that I was right. I think it is the case that the County Councils Association asquiesced in the Regulations, although it is only fair to add that they have perhaps more to gain than the others have.
I think it would be better if in my remarks I deal with the principles which are involved, but I should like first to express to hon. Members my appreciation of the ability with which the case has been put. The hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis) opened the Debate and put the case with very great clarity for the Association of Municipal Corporations, as did the hon. and learned Member for Ilford on behalf of the Non-County Boroughs Association. Ilford, of course, cannot be affected by the Regulations because it is already in the Metropolitan Police district, and that perhaps is a testimony to the disinterestedness of the hon. and learned Gentleman in the matter. Nevertheless it is appropriate that he should take this line, because the Corporation of Ilford has a rather long isolationist tradition in local government. I believe it was the only tramway municipal undertaking in Greater London which would not have through running with any other undertaking, and their lack of virtue was rewarded by the fact that it was the only undertaking which made a profit out of municipal tramways in Greater London in the ordinary conventional sense of the term. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Accrington (Major Procter) made rather an impassioned speech, and I was very glad to have his repudiation of the assumption of the hon. Member for Sea-ham (Mr. Shinwell) that he had been openly suspecting or implying that I had tendencies towards dictatorship and says that that never crossed his mind. I am greatly relieved that that should be so, because I was getting a bit apprehensive myself. The hon. and gallant Gentleman made his speech with vigour and clearness; I was very glad to hear his contribution, and he may be sure that his points will be kept in mind. The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) put a very reasoned case with great ability, with regard to the different disciplinary position in the boroughs compared with the counties, and I shall be referring to this point later. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys), who speaks with great knowledge of county government and local administration, as well as with military experience, produced what I thought was a completely convincing case for the Regulations, and I am grateful to him for his persuasive support.
I am specially grateful for the very competent, eloquent, logical and valuable support of my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham. I have often heard him making speeches, and have listened to them perhaps with especial care, during the period of office of the present Government, and I have varying opinions about them. I do not wish to say anything about those speeches of the past one way or the other. Why should I? I have nothing to complain about to-day at all. But I should like to say that this was a first-class speech. It was admirable, and if he will continue to make speeches of that order in support of the Government, he will not only be kept out of trouble but his stock will rise and his reputation will advance without limit towards the skies. I give this undertaking, that if I should ever be a member of a disciplinary tribunal, whether a watch committee or a standing joint committee or otherwise, he will be perfectly entitled to say, as I know he will, "You may condemn me. You may say I have kicked over the traces. But I would remind you that there was an occasion when I supported the Government, and I was thanked and praised publicly in Parliament." I promise my hon. Friend that no point of Order shall be raised against any such plea so far as I am concerned. The Debate was ended so far as the critics were concerned by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman), who wanted to know why I had only just wakened up, so to speak, after three years. This was a fair point, which I will come to in due course. He wanted to know in particular whether I would deal with these matters on the merits of the case and give the local authorities an opportunity of advancing their arguments and give them consideration. I will also come to that in due course.
I propose to deal with the limited number of administrative and other principles which are involved in the making of these Regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham said in answer to the critics, "Why should the Home Secretary want to do this out of pure perverse-ness? It involves trouble for him, it involves criticism, and it involves controversy. Surely the reasonable deduction to draw from the situation is that the Home Secretary must have been convinced that it was necessary or desirable to make these Regulations in the public interest." That is the simple truth about it. I know that in Parliamentary Debate hon. Members sometimes look for hidden motives and sometimes even for naughty motives. I do not complain because I have often done it myself in other and less responsible days.
The local authorities are suspicious. They are suspicious that there is a conspiracy on the part of the officers of the Home Office to do what they have wanted to do for a long time. Believe me, there is no such conspiracy on their part and there is no perverseness on my part in wishing to do this. As far as civil servants are concerned, they, poor people, suffer from two accusations. One is that they are always conspiring to make their Ministers do terribly bureaucratic and tyrannical things, and the other, by way of contradiction, condemns civil servants for always holding their Ministers back from doing the bold and clear-cut things. What I expect from civil servants is what I get—honest advice and loyal service, and it is my responsibility when a decision is taken. I knew that when this decision was taken it might be controversial and troublesome and that I would be on the spot, so to speak, again. I do not want to add to my troubles. I am never short of them. Nobody can be, in the Departments I serve. The Home Office and Ministry of Home Security are troublesome Departments. The corridors are paved with dynamite, and any Minister occupying these offices is liable to be blown up at any moment. It is part of the attraction of the office; it is always a great adventure, for you may come to an end before you know where you are. There is always trouble. I have plenty of trouble at the moment. There is fire prevention, which is more trouble than everything else combined. Why should I look for more? I do not look for trouble; it looks for me, and it finds me. It is only because I was convinced that it was necessary and desirable in the public interest that these Regulations have been made, and I now defend them before the House and commend them to the House.
Let me tell the House frankly why the Regulations were made. I will first endeavour to deal with the point of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives as to why I have waited for three years before making the Regulation. I am not proud of the fact that we have waited three years. I think we ought to have done it before, but there was plenty to do, plenty to bother about; and I suppose that on the balance of considerations we felt that the case was not quite strong enough to make it worth while causing all the friction involved. Then came the great American Armies, which added to the difficulty of having a needlessly large number of police forces, and that was the final straw, so to speak, though it was much more than a straw, which decided me that we must make our police administration as simple as possible.
Here is the military case as far as I can state it in public. Invasion remains a possibility. I know that there are people who laugh about invasion and say, "What are you talking about? You know it will never happen." We do not know that it will never happen. It might happen. It might happen of itself, and it might happen as a repercussion of offensive operations—we do not know. It is one of the factors we have to take into account. As I have said all through about Civil Defence, our business is to be ready, and I say that in the case of invasion, that with all the difficulties that it would involve, as pointed out by my hon. Friend opposite and others, including my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Peters-field, with his military knowledge, the simpler the police organisation the better, because the military will want a lot of service out of the police, and they will want a fairly uniform policy to be followed on the part of the police. They will want reliability out of the police, because it is not the case that in times of stress involving the civil population generals and other military officers want to run the civil show as well as the military show. They do not.
I used to have an idea that the great danger from the soldiers was that they would grab the civil administration and take hold of the civil machine. I know more about the soldiers now. I have seen quite a lot of them, and they do not want to do that. On the contrary, they like to be clear of the civil machine if they can, in the sense that they expect and want the civil machine to do certain things. They want the civil machine to do it, and not for the military to be bothered with matters of civil administration which they do not understand too well and are frank enough to say so. The military want to be able to say to the police, to the Civil Defence authorities, to the local authorities or to the regional officers of the Government Departments, "We should like so and so done," and then forget it, knowing that those authorities will do it. The military ought not to be bothered with having to know, for example, whether the county police force and the small borough police forces within a county are really marching together. They ought to be able to assume that once their wishes have been communicated and the police have said, "All right, we will take care of that," that it will be taken care of, without having to worry whether one police force is going to do it in one way and another police force in another.
At no time is that more important than in the case of an invasion, but it is also important where there are accumulations of large numbers of troops, and it is important in relation to possible offensive military operations. That would involve counter-offensive measures, and there again it is necessary that the relationships between the civil police forces and the military organisation shall be of the most comprehensive and simple character that is reasonably practicable. With the coming of the great American Armies we have in this country large numbers of people used to a different Constitution and different systems of public administration. They are bound to have many relationships with the police, because they are living in the midst of our civil population and they want help from our civil institutions and civic authorities. Is it not obvious that the less complicated our police organisation is in relation to the American Army authorities the better it will be? The American Army authorities are not going to move in accordance with civic boundaries. I want them to be dealing with civic authorities that have a high level of direction and responsibility and with whom there will not be undue complications.
Finally, in war-time, espionage is one of the things which we have to guard against, and I have a duty and responsibilities, in that respect, not only by virtue of my general responsibilities as Home Secretary, but by virtue of the special responsibilities that have been placed upon me by the Defence Regulations and Acts of Parliament. Sometimes I want delicate inquiries made. At all times I want to know as far as I can what is happening in the matter of possible espionage. I do not want a thing to happen and then only to know about it months afterwards; I would sooner know at the time, or before it actually happens.
With all the good will in the world, I join in singing the praises of the little forces, and of the policemen and the chief constables of the small police forces; I have nothing to say against them, within the limitations of their numbers and their responsibility. They are conscientious and public-spirited and have done a good job of work. In time of peace it is a nice, interesting argument whether they ought to be abolished or not; but we are not in time of peace. I shall not define these small police forces in numbers, because I do not want to get into the same kind of argument as was involved in the reference to 25 policemen which was made earlier. I shall not get into that field, because if I do, I shall be lost. A small police force cannot carry a competent and efficient C.I.D. or special branch, and they cannot be expected to be as alive as I want them to be on these espionage dangers. I have had one or two such cases, and the police did very well. They did their best, but I must point out that, in time of war, in areas where leakage of military information may be a matter of the most disastrous consequences to the Army, Navy and Air Force and to the nation's war effort, it is not right that Members of this House should seek to put before the big national interests the mere—[An HON. MEMBER: "Parochial."]—I am trying to find the right word if I can—the at times excessive civic pride of local government.
I like civic pride. I have done my best to build civic pride in this city in which we are meeting, not, I think, altogether without success. The little authorities may be proud of themselves. I do not complain when they say, as they all do, that they had the best fire brigade in the country. I am sure they had. I do not complain. I like it, because it is good for our civic government; but sometimes there are hon. Members of this House who, if they receive a letter from a town clerk conveying a resolution of a local authority, begin, a little needlessly, to tremble at the knees. I can assure them that they do not need to do so. The hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) has been having a little argument locally with the head of the civic authority of his very great city.
I am very glad that is so. I like to hear of the Lord Mayor having the utmost pleasantness and extending it to others as well. My hon. Friend was right. I read the case through carefully. He delicately hinted that he was being rather hauled over the coals for not automatically doing in this House what the Corporation of Birmingham asked. The answer was: We pay the very greatest respect to the views of the Corporation of Birmingham, but, as Members of Parliament, we must function as representatives of the nation, concerned with the interests of the nation primarily and above all. I suggest that that is the proper attitude for Members of this House. Sometimes local authorities think that Members of Parliament ought to do what the local authority asks them to do, but I have never taken that attitude as a municipal administrator, and I would never submit to it as a Member of this House. I hope nobody else would submit. A municipality is elected to do its job, and we are elected to do ours. We must stand on our own feet and discharge our duties to the nation.
In detecting espionage, it may be convenient to use the police or convenient to use other services. I want to be free to use either. Those are the reasons for these Regulations. Moreover, the Regulations are limited in their scope. A case could be made out, as has been submitted to-day, on the ground that, if anything, we are a bit too shy and nervous about this proposal, and not bold enough. I did not think I ought to make Regulations which gave me powers beyond what I thought necessary for the prosecution of the war; that is to say, I did not want to take advantage of the war situation in order to get away with a policy which has been the subject of controversy in peace-time. Consequently, the Regulations say that the Secretary of State may do these things,
if he is satisfied that the amalgamation is necessary for facilitating naval, military or air force operations,
and I will have to be satisfied. It must not be thought that the Home Secretary will ignore these qualifying words. His able officers will write them on every minute that comes up in connection with a proposed case of amalgamation. They will insist on saying why in one case these considerations apply and in another they
do not. The Home Secretary who proceeds to forget those words which will be thrown at him on the file will know that he is really setting aside the purpose of these Regulations, and it will not be long before he is found out. Consequently, the Regulations are confined in terms to matters of Army, Navy or Air Force significance in connection with the prosecution of the war. I must be so confined in the administration of the Regulations, and I give every undertaking, if that is necessary, that I will certainly be bound by this consideration, and I will only use these Regulations in connection with the successful prosecution of the war.
I come to some of the arguments which have been used in the course of the Debate by various hon. Members. It is said that it is most important there shall be a very local association between the police and the public, what used to be called in Poor Law administration the local touch, which was often a good name and stated the case. I understand the argument about local association and the local touch. I am not proposing the policy of— a national police force. I am—at any rate as yet—not convinced it would be right. Administratively, I could do with the police what the House has permitted me to do with the Fire Service, and make a first-class administrative job of it. But, frankly, I am not convinced it would be right. I think that there are strong objections to a single national police force in the hands of the Home Office, objections from the point of view of civil liberty and otherwise, and I certainly do not propose to do anything of the kind.
Personally, up to now, I believe that an association of some sort of the police with local government is right, healthy and proper, and therefore I assure the House that in going forward with these Regulations I am not in the least inspired by a desire to move towards a national police force. But do not let us run the local association argument too far. After all, a county council is a local authority, and the standing joint committee covers the administrative county. It is a form of local authority, it has local responsibilities, with local representatives. On the standing joint committee half are members of the county council and half are justices of quarter sessions. I suggest that running the argument down to the very small local authority is to run to extremes what is ordinarily a good argument.
Here in London we have the Metropolitan Police, which is not even a local authority force at all. It is a police force directed by the Home Secretary, for which I am responsible through the Commissioner of Police. Therefore, here is a national force in London with a vast area and a greater number of policemen than any other police force in the country. There is no local touch in the ordinary local authority sense of the term, but the Metropolitan Police Force is amazingly popular. It has an extraordinary contact with its local public. Every mayor knows the local police superintendent; so does the town clerk; so do the other officers. There is an interlock between the police and Civil Defence in action whenever it is wanted.
I know the popularity of the Metropolitan Police—State police though it is— from bitter experience. In the municipal programme of the London Labour Party we used regularly to include, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) will remember, the municipalisation of the Metropolitan Police. I made the most fervent and indignant speeches about London having a State police force foisted upon it, for which London paid its 50 per cent., the same as any other local authority in the country, and yet had not twopennyworth of control over it. I said it was a scandal, and the Commissioner should be cleared out. It was all very well, but I could not get the people to be indignant about it. To be perfectly frank, I could not get any flow on the thing at all in the municipal elections. After three elections, I said to the executive, "Ladies and Gentlemen, you had better drop this; there is nothing in it. I will not say it is a liability, but it is not an asset, and it goes cold. Maybe there will be Labour Governments soon, and it will be good for us to have our own police force in Whitehall." So we washed it out. If there is a police force which, in the classical sense, is bureaucratically run, it is the Metropolitan Police force, with a nominated Commissioner, who has his officials under him. If ever there was a bureaucratic instrument of police administration, there it is; yet I venture to say there is not a more popular police force to be found, not only in this country, but in the whole of the civilised world. Therefore, do not run this local argument too far, because it does not stand up too well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley referred to the difference—and it was in part referred to by the hon. Member for Southampton—between the disciplinary procedure of a watch committee and that of a standing joint committee. May I shortly explain the position—which my hon. Friend did with great ability and clarity—just to remind the House? In a borough the watch committee, and not the Chief Constable, is the disciplinary authority. If the chief constable wants to discipline a man, he must report to the watch committee. The man has a right to appear, and the watch committee decides, so to speak, between the man and the chief constable. In the case of a county the chief constable himself is the disciplinary authority, and the standing joint committee has no jurisdiction. Some of the standing joint committees would like jurisdiction similar to that of the watch committees, or something between the two. The watch committees do not want to lose their disciplinary authority. This is another troublesome problem that I suppose I ought to be seeing to, in a bold and decisive way, but I do not know whether it is necessary at this juncture to have one system, and the choice between the two systems is very difficult.
I have been connected with local government for a long time, and I say, from my experience on the London County Council, which has a good deal of quasi-disciplinary business, and a very good machine, with a good legal department, very good advisers and a long tradition in handling these things, that it was a strain to keep the committees straight in handling very delicate judicial matters. It is not an easy task for the average committee of the average local authority. I would be very hesitant to recommend an extension of the watch committee system to the counties. On the other hand, I am bound to admit that, to the ordinary policeman, it is a bit tall that the chief constable should be the single disciplinary authority subject to that sole right of appeal, namely, in a case of dismissal or enforced resignation. This is rather tall and it is one of those cases in which one is torn between two ideas. If the chief constable becomes foolish in a county, it becomes known and appropriate action is taken. Personally, I am in the hands of the House. The only thing about which I am apprehensive is that if I do what I want to do about this thing, the watch committees may feel that I am taking away part of their authority by allowing an extended right of appeal to the Secretary of State. But from the point of view of the policeman, he would be undoubtedly better off and could not be worse off if he had an extended right of appeal.
What I would like to do, if it commends itself to the House—because I cannot bring in controversial matters which are not essential to the prosecution of the war—is to bring in a short Bill or Defence Regulation, to give the policemen two further rights, in the case of reduction in rank or reduction in rate of pay, as well as in the case of dismissal or enforced resignation, of appeal to the Secretary of State, both in the case of the boroughs and in the case of the counties. If it is too controversial and I cannot introduce a Bill, I will favourably consider what can be done by Defence Regulation in the case of the amalgamated forces. I prefer to make a clean job, and if it is not controversial, I am disposed to do it, and the policemen themselves would like it. I recently went to the annual conference of the Police Federation, where they had a long string of troubles, and they were not too forthcoming on most of them, unfortunately; but I asked them about this, and I said that I would be glad to have the views of the Police Federation, representing the policemen, as it was most important that I should know the views of the rank and file of the police service about it. They passed this resolution:
That this Conference respectfully asks the Secretary of State to favourably consider causing the Police Discipline Act, 1927, to be amended so as to provide the right of appeal by a member of any police force to the Secretary of State against a reduction in rate of pay or a reduction in rank.
Therefore, if as would appear it commends itself to the House and to the police—and I must consult my colleagues —I will do my best to bring forward proposals of the kind which my hon. Friend so clearly put.
There were one or two assurances that I was asked to give. One was whether I would continue the process of consultation with the local authorities. I give to the House this assurance. After this Debate, assuming I still stand up and all is well— and indeed, I hope it may not be necessary for the House to have a Division if it can be avoided—J will, if it is proposed to make an Order, consult the local authorities concerned before such an Order is made. I may not be able to see them personally. They will appreciate that it would be too much to ask, but I shall know what we propose to do before any move is made at all, and I will instruct senior officers of the Department to meet the authorities concerned and convey to me faithfully the arguments and views of these local authorities. I will consider those views and arguments very carefully and come to a conclusion in the light of the facts, including any arguments the local authorities may make, if any. I assure the House in the most categorical fashion that the views of the local authorities concerned shall be given the fullest and fairest consideration before an Order is actually made.
Now for the point as to how far we intend to go. I have assured the House that it is not part of the purpose of these Regulations to establish a national police force. It is not even part of the purpose of the Regulations to establish a police force coterminous with the Civil Defence regions. I have some sort of police organisation at the regional headquarters, but the suggestion that the wishes of the military authorities can be passed to them and then could be passed on to the chief constables does not commend itself to me. It is a roundabout way, and, moreover, I do not want to get the regions into that kind of business in that particular way.
I have no ambition to establish regional police forces. It is not necessary. What I want to do in the class of area with which we are concerned is to merge two smallish police forces into one, or a smallish police force into a bigger one. I do not propose to interfere with the larger, substantial police forces, and if I did, I would make special arrangements by way of announcement to the House, because I should regard it as a move away from the spirit of the undertaking I have given. As I have said, my real purpose in this matter is to merge smallish forces with each other and smallish forces with bigger forces and that sort of thing, so that the complication of the small police forces should cease to exist and we can have a police force in the area which is of substantial character and sufficient.
The answer to that is that this is being done by Defence Regulation, it automatically comes to an end at the end of the war; but it is perfectly competent for the Government and Parliament of the time, if they wish, to pass legislation continuing these measures and to provide for others. But I do not think I ought to prejudice that issue one way or the other. I again thank the House for the kindness with which this Debate has been conducted and for the tolerance with which Members have listened to me. I can assure them that I propose to administer these Regulations in a spirit of reasonableness, tolerance and public spirit. I hope the House will trust me with the Regulations and that in the circumstances Members may be disposed, in view of the undertakings I have given, to see their way to withdraw the Prayer which they have thought it their public duty to promote.
Having regard to the assurances which the right hon. Gentleman has given to the House and to the concession which he proposes to give to members; of the police force, I beg to ask leave to withdraw this Prayer.