Home Office (Estimates Committee's Reports)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th May 1964.

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Photo of Sir Eric Errington Sir Eric Errington , Aldershot 12:00 am, 6th May 1964

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House takes note of the Eleventh Report from the Estimates Committee in the last Session of Parliament and of the Second Special Report from the Estimates Committee relating to the Home Office". I should like to thank those who have made possible this second discussion following the Report of the Estimates Committee. This is the Eleventh Report of the Estimates Committee, and it deals with the Home Office.

There have been two debates on this matter. The first was on 27th November last year, on the Committee stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. During that debate the Joint Under-Secretary of State, and the Home Secretary himself at col. 346 promised that there would be a review dealing with the whole question of immigration—not just the particular points to which the Report called the attention of the Home Office. So far nothing has eventuated. What is the position with regard to that review? What conclusions have been reached? When was the review started? There seems to be some doubt about whether it was started early this year, or early in the Session. That means that already 12 months have elapsed without any result being produced.

I am particularly concerned about this, because there was not a word to the Sub-Committee investigating these matters that there was to be a review of any kind. It was promised that the results of the review would be available very shortly. Four or five months have elapsed since the Home Secretary undertook to report the results of that review to the House.

One of the most valuable things about these debates is that one can follow up these matters, so that one does not feel that their investigation produces no result at all. This is particularly true of the Home Office. I do not want to be more contentious than is necessary, but in my opinion the whole attitude of the Home Office in regard to this Eleventh Report amounted to a brush-off of the Committee, which had gone into these matters as carefully as it was able to do.

The other matter debated, which was raised in an Adjournment debate on 2nd December, concerned the publication of Civil Defence Handbook No. 10. The Government spokesman on that occasion—I believe it was the Joint Under-Secretary—said that the document was a training manual. If it was a training manual it is an extraordinary thing that on page 4 it said quite clearly: This booklet tells you what you could do to protect yourself, your family and your home. It was suggested that the Home Office should have produced a handbook which would have been more acceptable. What the Estimates Committee had to do, and what it rightly did, was to call attention to what it considered to be a waste of money. Those are the two matters which have been before the House previously, following on this Report.

The next matter to which I must call attention is Recommendation (12), which deals with the development of the criminal law, and refers specifically to the Fugitive Offenders Act. In 1962, following the then crisis in Cyprus, it was thought that the Act should be amended. After two years had passed it was not unreasonable to ask what was being done about it. It was then said that the matter was one for consultation, and that consultation took a certain amount of time. But it is not unreasonable to ask what has been done about that Recommendation, which related to a question that was particularly exemplified by the case of Chief Enahoro.

A year had elapsed between the Cyprus incident and the case of Chief Enahoro and now, when almost another year has passed, we ought to know what the situation is. I am sorry to be so categorical, but I do not want to spend more time than is necessary in making my speech.

Recommendation (12), to which I have already referred, asks that immediate steps should be taken to reorganise the division of responsibilities between the Home Office, the Treasury and the Lord Chancellor's Office. The observation made in regard to that Recommendation was that two further Reports of the Criminal Law Revision Committee have been dealt with. The somewhat woolly statement goes on to say: There is close co-operation between the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department on all matters of common concern: a recent example is the appointment of a working party of representatives of these and of other interested Departments to review the effectiveness of the present system for the provision of court accommodation in England and Wales. Then there is a further reference, after which the statement goes on: The Secretary of State and the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury, in consultation with the Lord Chancellor, will, however, take a suitable opportunity of examining any further points of detail in relation to which there may be doubt as to the precise division of responsibility between Departments. That is not satisfactory. Even Sir Charles Cunningham, in evidence, indicated that there was no logical reason for this distinction, which was a difficult one to make, and he said that it was to a great extent an historical one which did not always lead to a line of demarcation which could be defended as strictly logical on every ground, but which worked reasonably well. It is not using one's imagination too much to visualise a nice cosy chat about the situation.

In criminal courts the Lord Chancellor is responsible for the administration and the appointment of officers, while the Home Secretary deals with procedure. On the other hand, in the magistrates' courts the Home Secretary deals with administration and the appointment of officers, while the Lord Chancellor deals with procedure. One can imagine a very nice friendly arrangement being arrived at, which would make it very puzzling to know whose really was the responsibility for these matters, which are of grave importance and which require careful consideration.

I am convinced that this historical difficulty ought to be cleared up. There should be a complete overhaul, and some arrangement should be made as a result of which there would be a clear division of responsibility, and no investigation would be required. This does not mean that we should have some body which turns out laws and runs things entirely separately, over and above the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department, but the existing responsibility should be made quite clear, so that there is no need for these discussions.

Next, I want to refer to the question of the general department, which has been described as the residuary legatee—which is a very polite way of referring to what is coloquially called a "rag-bag" of all the things that nobody else has. This is Recommendation (18): …to review the whole structure and organisation of the General Department with a view not only to improving its organisation, but also to ascertaining whether any of its duties might not more appropriately be performed by other Government Departments. The observation was a rather terse one—"This is being done."

I should like to know what is being done about this matter. What has happened as the result of the review? Is the Home Secretary really satisfied that a happy combination of racial discrimination and explosives is the most desirable way of running our affairs?

I hope that I shall be forgiven for my anxiety not to speak for too long, because I know other hon. Members wish to speak. I may, therefore, have covered some matters rather scrappily. I come finally to Recommendation (13) which relates to grants to the Metropolitan Police. Originally someone could not resolve the situation in respect of what ought to be paid to the Metropolitan Police, and said, "We will pay £100,000 a year." That has gone up to £500,000. We suggested an immediate inquiry for a more appropriate system of payment to the Metropolitan Police for their special services. I submit that that is the right way to treat this matter which is essentially one for the Estimates Committee. A sum of £500,000 is being paid, and that may be the right or the wrong amount. But no one can know more about it. It has been agreed by the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan Police that this is what they will do: The Secretary of State is satisfied that the circumstances in which the Metropolitan Police are required to undertake special services are unique, and that the principle of an additional Exchequer grant to the Metropolitan Police Fund on that account should be maintained. There however, great difficulties in making any precise assessment or allocation of the specific costs from year to year of particular services in this field. The Secretary of State and the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury therefore agreed, after careful examination, that the grant should continue from 1961–62 to be paid on a flat rate basis, but at a level revalued to take account, among other things, of the change in money values; and they do not consider that a further inquiry would reveal a more appropriate system of payment in this case. That seems to me an intolerable answer to give to the Estimates Committee. After all, there must be responsibilities for Estimates and the agreement is apparently passed on what is known as a careful examination, but there is no indication of what was the careful examination. There is no indication of how the £100,000 has gone up to £500,000. The only answer is that it seems to be the figure agreed between the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan Police authorities. Since the original arrangement was made the block grant system has come into being and surely some consideration should be given to dividing up the amount so that one may know what the Exchequer is paying for.

I am sorry that we are critical of the manner in which this matter has been dealt with. But these are things which we examine carefully in order to be helpful and to improve administration. I do not often quote from The Times. but it stated that the Estimates Committee is the eyes and ears of the public whose interests the Departments are maintained to serve. There is nothing exactly parallel to the Home Office, and that we realise; but to promise reviews and not to produce them and report to the House means that the Estimates Committee is justified in raising these matters at every opportunity until something is done and is seen to have been done.