I beg to move,
That the Bedfordshire and Luton Police (Amalgamation) Order, 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 6th December, be not made.
This is a Prayer in the names of myself and one of my hon. Friends and a number of other hon. Gentlemen. Perhaps I should explain to the House how it comes about that a Member of Parliament for a central London constituency should be in the unusual posture of moving a Prayer against an Order affecting a borough in the county of Bedfordshire and the county itself. It arises from the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) is unfortunately permanently silent so long as he is a Government Whip and can therefore say nothing on the Order himself. I am therefore doing this in the rôle of advocate and putting the points before the House before the Order is passed. I know that a number of other hon. Gentlemen with similar points arising in their constituencies may have something to say on the general nature of this subject.
Perhaps, before dealing with this type of Order in general scope, I should say something about Luton and Bedfordshire especially. I do so again on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton and I will put the points as I hope that he would like them put.
The Order is being made under Section 29(2) of the Police Act, 1964, for the amalgamation of these two police forces. It is being made consequent on a public inquiry held by Mr. Charles E. Scholefield, Q.C., in February, 1965, and his report, dated May, 1965.
The precise Order was announced by the Home Secretary on 3rd June last year and I think that it is worth while for the House to hear the terms in which it was announced before considering the Order. The then Home Secretary said that he
had received the report of Mr. Scholefield and laid it before Parliament. The OFFICIAL REPORT goes on:
Mr. Scholefield says that if there had not been such a long history of intense desire for separation he would have had no hesitation in recommending that he could see no reason for departing from the principles of the Royal Commission and that the two forces should be amalgamated, but that, in the circumstances, he has grave doubts about the timing of amalgamation. He therefore recommends that consideration should be given to an experimental period during which the separate forces should co-operate with each other in every way and that, at the end of that time, the question of amalgamation should be reconsidered.
The then Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), went on:
I carefully considered this suggestion but I decided that it would not be right to adopt this suggestion, since it would prolong uncertainty and so tend to undermine the morale and efficiency of both forces. The question of amalgamation must be resolved now; and it is clear that on merits the two forces should be continued. Co-operation with them, however effective, is no substitute for unified command, and I have no doubt that once a decision is taken, the Luton Council and the members of the borough force will work as part of the combined force in the interests of police efficiency."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June. 1965; Vol. 713, c. 253–4.]
The decision was then announced to proceed with the amalgamation scheme, despite the recommendations of Mr. Charles Scholefield. The appeal is that the Order should not be proceeded with.
The history of the force is somewhat unusual in that from 1888 to 1947 Luton had a separate, non-county force. In 1947 when the non-county borough police forces were abolished, there was an amalgamation between the Luton Police Force and the Bedfordshire Force. I am told that the amalgamation was resisted by Luton at the time.
In 1964 Luton became a county borough and immediately demanded its own police force. The Home Office, I believe, intimated to Luton at the time that it would perhaps be unwise for Luton to set up its own police force, since the Police Act was at that stage going through the processes of this House and another place. But on 1st April, 1964, the Luton Police Force was set up with a separate identity. I believe that it is still in existence today, and it will be in existence until this Order goes through.
What are the arguments for amalgamation? I understand that the main argument put forward in favour of amalgamation is based on Recommendation No. 53 of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Police. On page 6 of his report Mr. Scholefield sets out that paragraph and the principle upon which the Home Office seems to be basing its opinion. It is that
police forces numbering less than 200 suffer considerable handicaps and the retention of forces under 350 is justifiable only in special circumstances. The optimum size of a police force is at least 500.
The establishment for the Luton Force is 239. If one looks merely at the figures and compares an establishment of 239 with the criterion of 350 laid down in the Royal Commission's Report, I suppose that one can say that it is clearly less than 350 and that, if there are no special circumstance shown, then on the face of it, at any rate, it appears desirable that the two forces should be amalgamated.
But the argument put forward by Luton —and this is an argument which the House would consider—is that one should look at the trend of the population figures in the borough. If one does this, one sees that the population has risen from 108,000 in 1947 to 147,000 in 1964. If one projects those figures forward, one finds that by 1971 the population is expected to be 175,000 and by 1981 it is expected to be no less than 210,000. It is estimated by the Luton authority—and this was given in evidence before the inquiry—that at a ratio of one police officer to 450 inhabitants, by 1970 the population would call for about 328 police officers and by 1971 it would require over 350 police officers. If one looks at the way in which the population is at present developing, therefore, it seems that within the next four years the figure given as a criterion will not only be reached but will be exceeded.
The second argument which was put forward for amalgamation was that there was a social affinity between the county of Bedfordshire and the town of Luton. I suppose that the argument was that if there is a county in the centre of which there is a county town which at the moment has a separate police force, then to amalgamate the force of the county with the force of a county town is a sensible suggestion.
It is, however, right that the House should consider the argument put forward by Luton, which is that Luton is not a county town in the classic or accepted sense of the word but is a town with a higher growth rate than that of a county outside, a town with a greater industrial potential and a greater industrial complex than that of the county outside and a town with a higher crime rate than that of the county outside.
As far as one can gather, the type of crime with which Luton is afflicted is more metropolitan in character than are the rural crimes which seem to take place in Bedfordshire. Some of the evidence given at the inquiry was that the Luton criminal tends to do most of his burglarising in the northern part of London and part of Hertfordshire rather than looking for his spoils in the outlying districts of Bedfordshire around the town. For all these reasons, the County Borough of Luton felt that it would not be proper to consider Luton as merely, so to speak, the county town of the county and to base the amalgamation on that.
I suppose that the other argument concerns administrative convenience and efficiency. Indeed, the smallness of a police force tends against flexibility because, by and large, a small police force would not permit a sufficient number of specialist services to be provided. On the face of it, this would seem to be an attractive argument—that is, until one considers the argument which Luton presented because that showed that, in terms of specialists, Luton is extremely well equipped. In terms of services, it showed that Luton can provide what the people require and that there is no evidence that administrative convenience is being stultified and that efficiency is in some way being lessened.
There are, I suppose, five arguments against the amalgamation. The first is that it is felt, I am told, by the people of Luton that they will not get as good a service after amalgamation as they are now getting from the existing police force. They say that, from their experience during the period of enforced amalgamation, 1947–1964, the police services with which they were then provided were not as good as those provided when they had their own separate police force.
The second argument is that the present service is good. The third is that when they were amalgamated the services declined. The fourth argument is that it is estimated that it would cost the people of Luton more if amalgamation were to take place than were they to be a separate entity. The fifth argument, which would seem to be the strongest one, is that there seems to be no advantage in efficiency to be gained but that there is the possibility of a loss of efficiency if amalgamation goes through.
It is all very well for Whitehall and the Home Office to say that, on efficiency grounds, an amalgamation of this sort should take place, but it is important—particularly when one is dealing with a police force which depends on good relations between the force and the people it serves—for the people in the locality to consider that they are getting the best policing and services that are reasonably available. As far as I can gather from reading the documents which have been sent to me, this would not be the feeling in Luton where the amalgamation is to take place. I will quote what Mr. Charles E. Scholefield said at the end of his report. After referring to all the evidence, he stated:
…I should have recommended without hesitation that I could see no reason for departing from the principles of the Commission's report and that the two forces should be combined "—
He was there dealing with the county town argument which I used—
I have very grave doubts about the timing of an amalgamation. To force a loveless marriage at the present would, in my opinion, be to take grave risks.
Those are strong words from an official inspector's report, words which the House would be well to consider. As to the way in which the amalgamation would finally emerge, the report of Mr. Scholefield suggested that representation on the combined authority should be equal. The plan, as it has emerged, does not have equal representation of the two local authorities of Luton and the county outside.
It is for these reasons, which I have been able to deal with in only general terms in this sort of debate, that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, for whom I speak—almost in the rôle, so to speak, of advocate, having been briefed by my hon. Friend because he knows far more about this matter than I do—felt that these arguments should be placed before the House and that the Order should not be allowed to go through without hon. Members having an opportunity to debate the matter. That is why the Prayer was put down and why my hon. Friend desired the whole matter to be aired in the House.
I support the plea made by the hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard). I realise that he was speaking on behalf of the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie), although I should point out that it would have been possible for the hon. Member for Luton to speak had he decided to take a certain course as far as his present appointment with the Government is concerned.
This matter has raised the gravest concern in Luton and it is felt very strongly by the Association of Municipal Corporations that we should not proceed with this Order. Many of us have taken an interest in this subject. I am particularly interested in it because certain steps are to be taken with regard to the police in Exeter, and we have had wide correspondence with prominent persons in Luton.
The hon. Member for Barons Court referred to the local inquiry carried out by Mr. Charles Scholefield. In his report he said that this force should not be combined at present but that there should be a certain period for voluntary cooperation, which I thought was a very useful suggestion by the learned gentleman. He said that only at a later stage, if the period of voluntary co-operation was not successful, should compulsory amalgamation be considered.
I do not understand why the Home Secretary has repudiated this suggestion. When the Police Act was going through the House in the last Parliament this point was stressed strongly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) who was Home Secretary at the time. It was felt very strongly that every care should be taken not to upset the local affiliation of the police force. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department knows full well how important it is to have this link with the local authority and that only in exceptional circumstances should it be broken. The men who enlist in the police force often enlist so that they should stay in the locality and not be drafted away from it. They have their houses in the area in which they serve and their children attend schools there and they would very much regret being drafted away from the area where they started. It is therefore important to see that these people's connection with the local authority is maintained.
I do not understand why the Home Secretary has decided to ignore the recommendations of his inspector. It is only in very special circumstances that this should be done. What is the point of an inquiry into the whole question of whether police forces should be amalgamated if when the inspector says that they should not the Home Secretary is going to over-rule the inspector? This is an important point. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will deal with it when he winds up the debate.
I should like to follow up one of the points made by the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir Rolf Dudley Williams) about the wide concern felt by the Association of Municipal Corporations and many local authorities throughout the country. In my own area the town clerk and all who are connected with the local authority are watching closely what the effect of the Order will be on a borough police force which is submerged in organisation with the county police. This pattern of combined operations for police administration is set out clearly in paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 of this draft Order. This specifies the pattern for police management and operation on a county basis. It is clear from the terms of the Order that, henceforth, the management of the new police authority will be largely in the hands of the county, with about 12 members of the authority from the county council as against 10 from the borough, and six magistrate members from the county administration as against five from the local authority.
Local authorities in all parts of the country are watching this development very closely, as I have already emphasised, and the question they ask is this: will it be the kind of police pattern to be imposed upon local authorities, taking away from the local areas the borough status which has previously set the pattern of police organisation?
I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to take into account a number of factors which observers feel should be considered in making proposals for amalgamations. Will the sort of "loveless marriage" spoken of by Mr. Scholefield in his report be the best way of providing the best police arrangements in our urban areas? This is the point which has arrested the attention of the Town Clerk of the Borough of Stockport, and, in a letter which he wrote to me a little time ago, he had this to say:
In the case of the Luton police force, Mr. Charles Scholefield, Q.C., was satisfied that Luton was efficiently policed by the Luton police force, but thought that the combined area of Bedfordshire and Luton might be better policed by a merger of the two forces. He stated, however, in his report"—
this has already been quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard)—
that to force a loveless marriage at the present time would be to take grave risks', and recommended to the Minister that the two forces should remain separate for an experimental period, during which they would co-operate with each other in every way, and that at the end of that period the question of amalgamation should be reconsidered.
He then went on to make the second point as regards other authorities, saying that his committee
also feel that, should this policy proceed, this would eventually lead to there being a small number of large forces with which there would be a real danger of these being treated as a national police force, arising from the fact that there would be a much greater degree of lack of identity with local government areas.
This is a point which we emphasised and discussed in a previous debate on the subject.
Would it not be better to continue with separate Luton and Bedfordshire police forces for a further trial period until my right hon. Friend has fully inquired into the desired form of police organisation? Would not this be the better course not only for Luton and Bedfordshire but also for the whole country? This is a question which should be subject to overall review, taking into account local authority reorganisation on a long-term scale and not dealing with cases piecemeal.
It seems to me that force efficiency is no criterion in the present method of reorganisation and investigation, either at the inquiry stage or at the final stage of producing an Order. It seems that one has to prove that a combined force would be less efficient. The onus is upon the authority not to prove the efficiency of its own force but to prove that the building up of a county force would not be a much better system.
The facts show that the smaller police forces—that is certainly true of Stockport —have a far better crime detection record than the larger authorities. The County Borough of Stockport police force can boast an efficiency rate of 58·1 per cent. in the detection of crime in 1964, whereas some of the larger forces are below 50 per cent. or even lower. Naturally, one would not wish to enter into a competition about this, so I shall not take the point further.
Size is not the all-important factor. Efficiency is—the ability to establish close and effective public relations, understanding and mutual trust, to operate well-organised and quickly-operative police services, motor patrols, on-site and scene-of-crime experts, dog handlers, accident and emergency equipment, and so on. In other words, it is a question of how quickly one can get to the scene of a crime once a report goes to headquarters. To me, that is what matters—not the building up of a police service, not the getting bigger and drawing everything more and more remote.
What must be asked is: does my hon. Friend regard the Order as a pattern for future police services and organisation for the whole country? I hope not. To me, it is not the correct solution for Luton and Bedford, and I strongly register a feeling of dissent and also the concern of my borough about the Order.
Mr. Scholefield reported that he would advise that there should be an experimental period when the two police forces should remain in being before there was any amalgamation, if it was practical. The former Home Secretary did not give any explanation of practicality at all in his very rapid decision on the Scholefield report. Mr. Scholefield reported in May, and on 3rd June the former Home Secretary was able to announce his decision. One cannot help feeling that his decision must have been influenced largely by the Report of the Royal Commission on the Police. That Report was very much a matter of opinion. It was not supported with statistics. It was just a series of arguments in favour of larger police forces. Since then the Association of Municipal Corporations has carried out investigations and made inquiries with local authorities as to exactly what are the effects on local police forces and on the size of local police forces, and these researches do not in any way agree with the point that 500 is the optimum size and that a force below 350 is in general unsatisfactory.
There are various arguments, and I do not want to weary the House by going through them, but one is of very considerable significance—the question of training. Probably the best test of training is the results of promotion examinations. These figures are most illuminating. In 1958 and 1959 the best results were obtained in forces of 350 to 499 men; second best were forces of 200 to 349 men; and in the last of the five groups came the forces with over 1,000 men. This surely indicates that certainly as regards training the best results come from forces below 500 men.
Then there is the argument that promotion is difficult in smaller forces. But there is a pyramid in all forces; there is a certain number of constables to sergeants and a certain number of sergeants to inspectors. To a certain degree there must be a pyramid whatever the size of force. Although promotion is quicker in the Metropolitan Police Force, that is because the force is under establishment rather than because it is a large force. It is only at the very top that there comes a difficulty. Here perhaps the most important point is the selection of chief constables, and no local authority has complained that it had any difficulty in selecting a satisfactory chief constable.
All the investigations of the Association of Municipal Corporations indicate that the opinions offered by the Royal Commission on the Police should not be taken as the very last word, and I fear that they have been taken rather as the last word by the former Home Secretary. In the debate of 7th December, the Under-Secretary of State said that most local authorities approved of amalgamations except in their own case. I do not think this is so. The Association of Municipal Corporations has never put forward the view that it approves of amalgamations. I think that the hon. Gentleman was a little unjustified in what he said. Perhaps he was being his usual happy, lighthearted self, but I want to get the record straight.
In consequence, I hope that the House will not approve this Order.
The Prayer on this draft Order, taken with the report of the inquiry conducted by Mr. Charles Scholefield, is valuable in creating the opportunity to discuss this matter, because the proposal to amalgamate the Luton and Bedfordshire police forces has given rise to a great deal of apprehension in other towns at present served with great efficiency by their police forces, just as Luton is served by its own force.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Gregory) has said, in this case efficiency does not seem to be the criterion upon which the amalgamation has been decided. The inquiry made it abundantly clear that Luton is well served by its present police force. The question is why there should be this loveless marriage, this shot-gun wedding. In many areas, it is feared that such amalgamations may produce effects the opposite of good and, indeed, the distinguished Queen's Counsel who conducted the inquiry had his doubts and expressed them.
There is fear that gone will be local control and the intimacy and close relationships that are highly significant for a police force locally. Such conditions obtain in Luton. In today's earlier debate, we were told how the high mobility of the modern criminal necessitates an equal rapidity by the police and speed of detection. That surely requires highly specialised knowledge of local conditions and geography. It is no wonder that the Order has created a sense of unease among local authorities, including my own.
The Town Clerk of Swansea wrote to me in December stating:
I have reported the circumstances of the Luton amalgamation order to the Swansea Watch Committee, who expressed concern having regard to the terms of Mr. Scholefield's report and, indeed, they are apprehensive as to the precedent which may be
created, which could have a vital bearing upon other police forces. I was instructed by the Watch Committee to seek your support on Mr. Ivor Richard's prayer so that the whole of the arguments concerning the amalgamation of the Luton and Bedfordshire police forces could be debated on the floor of the House.
The question arises as to whether this amalgamation will result in effective policing. Can efficiency be adduced as a reason? Luton is the largest population unit in the county, with 147,770 people out of the total county population of 262,660. It is also the highest rateable value unit in the county, in a proportion of £9 million to £11½million. These are two important factors and, allied to the efficiency of the Luton force, they suggest that the doubts expressed in Mr. Scholefield's report were well founded.
Luton became a county borough only on 1st April, 1964, and after only a short interval it is to suffer this upheaval in its police force. In paragraph 31 of the conclusions of the report of the inquiry, Mr. Scholefield sets out his doubts and says:
…I have very grave doubts about the timing of an amalgamation. To force a loveless marriage at the present would, in my opinion, be to take grave risks.
There are many other strictures in the report. Suggestions 1 and 2 in pages 30 and 31 bear heavily on this. They are:
…the forces should not be combined for the present but allowed to continue as they now are for an experimental period.
…If, after such an experimental period, the forces are not collaborating so as to produce efficient policing over the whole area, there should be a compulsory amalgamation.
The report of the Inspector of Constabulary for the No. 5 District in subsection F of paragraph 29 on page 25 is:
Forces numbering less than 200 suffer considerable handicaps and that the retention of forces numbering less than 350 in strength is justifiable only by special circumstances, such as the distribution of the population and the geography of the area.
That is not always true. The Chief Constable of Luton repelled that assertion when he said that the Luton Police Force, already over 200, would rise to a total of over 400 within a decade in this fast-growing town. On page 20 of the report, Mr. Scholefield said of accommodation:
It was quite clear to me that, with their lower rateable value per head of population, the Bedfordshire County Council had tried
to make things do and it does not seem to me that they were wrong in doing so.
At the end of that paragraph he said:
On the other hand, the Luton Corporation's policy of denying nothing to its police force and doing everything for them without waiting was having an exhiliarating effect.
The concern expressed in Luton is therefore shared by many other areas, including Swansea, for this proposed amalgamation is regarded by my local authority and others with apprehension. It follows that we should consider these circumstances extremely carefully, since this is a matter not only of purely local interest to Luton, but of interest to areas of comparable size and, because of the ramifications of the proposed amalgamation, I support the Motion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard), in his persuasive speech, made it clear that he was speaking as an advocate. I have been brought up to try to keep out of the hands of advocates, but if ever I require the services of one, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is not available, of course, I shall know where to look.
My hon. Friend reminded us of the activities of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Howie). The hon. Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Sir Rolf Dudley Williams) was less than his usual courteous self in his reference to my hon. Friend. The House owes an enormous debt to the work of the Whip's Office. If we had not those serving us in that important office then the House would not function properly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton has, for months, been pursuing with diligence the case of his local police authority. We had reached a stage where, if I saw my hon. Friend before he saw me, then he did not see me. My hon. Friend has used every Parliamentary device open to him to advance the cause of his local police authority and I readily pay tribute to him.
I say to the people of Luton that I certainly am not unaware of the strength of their argument. My hon. Friend has advanced it in the Home Office, when he led a deputation of distinguished citizens of Luton, in his conversations with my right hon. and learned Friend, the former Home Secretary, in conversations with the present Home Secretary and with myself. I only wish that such persistent campaigning for a cause could meet with success. I wish that I could say to my hon. Friend that not only has he fought a good fight, but he has won a great victory. But there are wider considerations, of which I am sure he is aware.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Gregory) said that local authorities are concerned about this. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Mr. McBride), whose Welsh lilt I like so much, also said that local authorities were disturbed. Hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House have been receiving letters from town clerks of county boroughs, fearful that control over their police force might pass from the capable hands in which it at present rests. I received a long epistle from the learned town clerk of the capital city of Wales urging me to get up in the House and support my hon. Friend. I sent the town clerk an acknowledgment card, which I know he will appreciate.
It is fortunate that this debate follows the debate on crime and the forthright statements made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft), and by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples), who now sits alone on the Front Bench opposite. They made it clear that they believed that the challenge of crime today must be met by a modernised police force. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth declared in categorical terms that he is not opposed to mergers of smaller authorities with larger ones. I will seek to answer each of the serious arguments which have been advanced, but I can do it briefly.
The hon. Member for Exeter who is faced with a similar problem in his area, expressed anxiety that police officers who joined the county borough force, and who then find their force merged with a larger force, might be shifted; their children are attending school, they have their friends in the locality and a great upheaval would follow. I am able to bring comfort to the hon. Member, because under the Police Regulations a member of a borough force which is merged into a combined force cannot be required to undertake duties which necessitate his moving his home outside the borough in which he joined the force. I am sure that that will be more likely to bring the hon. Gentleman's support to the case which I have to advance.
We have heard a lot tonight about a shotgun marriage. Who am I to enforce a shotgun marriage? My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, with much more experience in these affairs than I have, has reminded me that it is remarkable how often a shotgun marriage is a success. When we look at the amalgamations where there have been protests loud and long, it is remarkable what a degree of good will is established in a short while and the efficiency of the force is so quickly revealed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North, asked me whether this was forming a pattern—
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not rush it too fast. This is a serious matter which is causing great concern among numbers of police forces. Before the Under-Secretary leaves the question of my speech, I wonder whether he would be kind enough to say why, when an inquiry is held which recommends that police forces should not be amalgamated, the Home Secretary has decided to go against the recommendation of his own inspector.
With pleasure. The hon. Member has been a Member of the House a long time, like myself, but not quite as long. He ought to know the number of times that, in the last Administration, quite rightly, Ministers, having received inspectors' reports, made up their own mind.
We cannot give to an outside tribunal the authority of Parliament. The responsibility rests with the Minister at the end of the day. An inquiry brings forward all the arguments, and the Minister has the benefit of the advice of the inspector, but it is not advice if there is no choice for the Minister but to accept what he is given. In those circumstances it would be instructions, not advice. I am sure that that is an argument with which the House will have little patience.
I have explained the general background to police amalgamation schemes, and I can tell the House that this is likely to be a pattern which will be followed. If my right hon. Friend is convinced, in any particular case, that the efficiency of the force will be improved and increased by amalgamation with a larger force, then he has an obligation—and the country will expect him to fulfil it—to proceed with the amalgamation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court outlined the case for Luton. He made it clear that when Luton formed its police force after getting county borough status it did it in the foreknowledge that the Home Secretary had warned that the question of amalgamation would be likely to come up if the Police Act went through, as it did, and the powers were given to the Home Secretary.
It is no good hon. Members coming to this House and demanding that the Home Office shall give to the police modern means of fighting crime and then coming to oppose every step which is taken for the greater efficiency of our police force. I believe that the House will realise, without my going through all the facts I have with me here, that Luton Borough has an efficient police force. Nobody questions it. What we say is that there can be greater efficiency if it is merged with another force. It is an amalgamation in this case, and the Luton Borough authority will be well represented on the new police authority.
My message to the people of Luton would be this. I hope and pray that when this amalgamation takes place, as I trust the House will give authority for tonight, there will be co-operation and good will between Luton and Bedfordshire, and that in the interests of the security of the people, and the efficiency of the force, this new amalgamation shall be given every chance to succeed.
I hope that my hon. Friend will feel it possible to withdraw this Prayer, but if he does not do so, I hope the House will reject it.
I did try to catch the eye of the Chair before my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) rose to his feet. Tonight, I am in complete agreement with the case which has been already made out in support of Luton in this matter. I happen to be the Member for a constituency which is a county borough, and I refuse to be pressed by my hon. Friend, however delighted his Welsh hwyl was tonight, that size in itself has merit and is in itself a power to deal with crime in this country.
I am sorry to say this to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. He does not know the City of Cardiff, to which he refers so proudly, so well as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil. My constituency has a population of about 60,000. For 40 years it supplied Cardiff City County Borough with its chief of its police force. For 40 years from Merthyr Tydvil they went, one after another. Not only that. The administrative county of Glamorgan—this is where the argument about size is made so idiotic—has a population of about 750,000. They had to come to Merthyr Tydvil to get their chief constable, a splendid man who was with us for 18 years. He was trained in my county borough. He became wise to most of the wiles of criminals, potential or otherwise, and Glamorgan was delighted to have him.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has not made out a case against Luton tonight. It is an illusion to think that the bigger the area, the greater the efficiency. Perhaps I might again refer to my constituency, where we supply the police force from our own community. They are the product of our own social and educational conditions. Everybody knows them. They enjoy the confidence of most of the people who live in my borough, and what greater help can the police receive than that they never have to shout more than once if they need help, and plenty of help arrives? In this well-knit county borough of only 60,000 people, a policeman's uniform is no barrier, social or otherwise, between him and the rest of the people.
Despite all the slick and smart things which have been said about large police forces, I maintain that a small police force, which is the product of the area in which it operates, enjoys the confidence of the people there. Such a force is far more efficient in detecting crime, and, more important, in preventing it, than are the large impersonal forces in many parts of the country.
My hon. Friend is also an old friend. He is putting forward a case on behalf of the County Borough of Merthyr Tydvil, for which I have a high regard. I am sure that, on reflection, he would not wish to talk about the police forces in the larger authorities as "slick", and another unpleasant term which I forget for the moment.
My hon. Friend is entitled to put any construction he likes on what I am saying.
I am speaking from personal experience of a large police force in the County of Glamorgan, and also of what I have described as the police force in a closely-knit community where everybody is known to everybody else, and I say that it is not possible to improve on the great help which is given to our police force by the slick suggestions which have been made today. If the Home Office were to decide that the County Boroughs of Merthyr Tydvil, Cardiff, and Swansea, were to be combined with the administrative County of Glamorgan, I know that my hon. Friend's Welsh hwyl would strike a totally different note, and I know what his attitude would be.
I cannot understand why the hon. Gentleman cannot withdraw the Prayer if he wants to. He has plenty of time before half-past eleven.
I only want to put it on record that my County Borough of Tynemouth also wishes to be associated with the case which has been made against the amalgamation of the Luton Police Force with the Bedfordshire Police Force. In these days it is very important that the case for county boroughs should be stated, without exaggeration but with emphatic force.
I shall not argue the general case of police forces, but we become tremendously alarmed when, because a Government decide in a certain way on one occasion, they seek to argue that that decision should apply throughout the country. The police force of the County Borough of Tynemouth is an exceedingly efficient one. I do not like these amalgamations. I hope that we shall not proceed with this one. The Government have decided that they will create one county borough for the whole of Tyneside. Heaven help us if they do.
My county borough supports Luton's case. I do not understand why the Government want to override the argument of the Association of Municipal Corporations in this case. Apparently, if the Association speaks in favour of something advocated by the Government it is right, but if it speaks against it it is wrong. I want to put on record the fact that I oppose this amalgamation. I oppose the creation of enormous bodies of people, whether they be police forces or any other bodies in local government, covering whole areas and putting the counties into a situation in which they have no individuality or responsibility.
Mr. Richard Sharpies:
On a point of order. I do not wish to prolong the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and if there were a vote I should vote against the Prayer—but I distinctly heard the hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) seek leave to withdraw the Motion. After that my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) restarted the debate. Am I not right in thinking that once an hon. Member has sought to withdraw a Motion and the debate has been restarted it is not possible to withdraw it?
It always raises a difficult point—but as the hon. Member did not actually finish asking leave to withdraw the Motion when the point of order was raised I think that I can allow him to ask leave to withdraw it now if he wishes.