Orders of the Day — Crime, Scotland (Police Powers)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th March 1968.

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Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfriesshire 12:00 am, 26th March 1968

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Wright) and North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) upon initiating this most important debate, even at this early hour of the morning. It is an advantage that this important subject can be discussed free of a particular time limit, for that gives us a valuable opportunity for it, and I am glad so many Scottish Members are here, and taking the chance to participate.

I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) in detail, but I will touch on some of his points in the course of my speech. The House must have been impressed by his first-hand knowledge of the law and with his point about the interpretation of the present law relating to search and arrest. It is a very valid point, and any clarification which the Under-Secretary of State can give will be of benefit to the whole country, including members of our police forces who are none too certain about it. It is a matter which the Government have not made clear in recent months when there has been so much pressure from the public for action to be taken.

My hon. Friends have made out a case that there is a serious situation, and that crime has increased. I will not repeat the figures in detail. To overcome the position, we have to bring into greater co-operation in a complementary sense not only the police and the law from the point of view of administration, but also the leadership of the country and the position of the Government represented by the Secretary of State. These four different authorities are all fighting on the same front, but obviously not in the same direction. That is where we must look for the long-term solution, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns brought out so clearly.

During out debate on the Report of the Estimates Committee on the Police almost a year ago, I made a speech to which the Under-Secretary of State replied. I am interested to know what progress there has been in the 12 months since then on some of the points which I raised and to which he gave a favourable commendation, saying that he would look at these matters and do something about them.

A matter in which I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) will be interested is recruitment, establishment, and the amount of overtime which the police have to work to perform their duties. Has the situation deteriorated in the past 12 months? He will also want to know about the resignations from our police forces, as brought out in H.M.I.'s Report. The reasons for the resignations appear to boil down to dissatisfaction with pay and pensions and some of the anomalies which arise from the pension regulations.

The subject of resignations takes in compulsory retirements. The Under-Secretary of State told me a year ago when I asked him about the position in Fife that he was taking the matter extremely seriously and that he hoped at an early date to discuss it with the Fife authority. What has he done? Police officers have been forced to retire after 30 years' service, often in the prime of their police experience.

As it is so important in the long term in relation to fighting crime, can he say what progress has been made about the Scott Report on Police Cadets? This contentious Report has not been accepted by many police forces in Scotland. What progress has been made towards finding a solution which will be acceptable to the majority of forces? The attraction of first-class police cadets is the long-term basis for having the best police officers in our forces.

What progress has been made recently over the Regional Crime Squad? In answer to a Parliamentary Question earlier this month we were given to understand that this was before the Chief Constable:, at the moment and that, when all agreed, the regional crime squad would be put into operation. I should like to know whether we have complete agreement, whether the force will be in operation within the next few weeks, what is the strength of it and what will it cost? We want value for money and cost effectiveness in the regional crime squad. We do not want a name for a name's sake.

What progress has been made in the past year in the provision of equipment for officers on the beat? What progress has been made regarding pocket radios and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns mentioned, the provision of motor transport? The days of the bicycle are out. We want to see every police officer in rural districts equipped with motor transport and in radio communication with his base.

What progress has been made with the introduction of civilians into the police force for administrative tasks? It seems a tremendous waste of a trained police officer's time to have him sit for a long period of time typing out long reports when he is not a particularly skilled typist. The introduction of civilians into the force for this sort of work is a valuable saving of a skilled man's time.

What progress is being made regarding promotion and the memorandum which has been put before the Police Advisory Board? Many of us accept that to get young, able leaders in the police force, they must gain experience quickly, and there must be a form of accelerated promotion. This is the basis for the memorandum. The objective is to find the minimum time that an officer must serve on the beat before promotion. This will be accepted if it is explained carefully and persuasively to the police officers of Scotland.

Since I spoke a year ago on this subject, the Secretary of State has made more frequent appearances at meetings of the Police Advisory Board. This is an essential link between the police forces and the central Government. It is of prime importance that either the Secretary of State or his representative, the Under-Secretary, should be present at the meetings of the Police Advisory Board.

I said that I would not go over the figures which have been given, but they prove conclusively the unfortunate trend in crimes of violence and murder. I have stated that I was always in favour of retaining the deterrent of the death penalty for certain types of murder. Unfortunately this is no longer an issue until the minimum time for review, which will be another year or two.

We have, within the limits of order, touched on the powers of the police. This is the most important question of the day amongst senior police officers in Scotland. I hope that the Under-Secretary will say something tonight not only about the police directly, but also whether it is felt that the courts are being severe enough in their penalties. I appreciate that this is something in which the Secretary of State cannot interfere, but we are entitled to express an opinion. Are the facilities for sentencing adequate? Is this one of the difficulties which handicaps the courts? Is there sufficient prison accommodation?

My hon. Friend the Member for Pollok touched on the question of a young offenders' institution. I know that more places are being made available, but will these be enough? Are there enough places at borstal institutions? These considerations must be at the back of the minds of those who have to make their decisions in the courts.

This summer we shall be considering the position of the probation officer when we deal with the Social Work (Scotland) Bill, but, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South said, many of the problems are affected by the availability of money. In a way, government is the art of priorities, and the art of spending the money that is available in the right place at the right time. If we want more police, we have to give them more pay, just as if we want more teachers we must pay them more. I support these priorities just as strongly as I oppose money being provided for the purposes of the Transport Bill or the Land Commission. We must get our priorities right, and spend the money where it is most required. Whenever there is a financial crisis, cuts are made right across the board. I think that we must be severe where the need is less urgent, and use the money that we have where it is most needed.

I think that in relation to the spending of money on the police and on crime prevention generally we have to support the Government in paying their share of the money which has to be found by the police committee, or the joint police committees as the case may be, because it is essential that all the costs of dealing with this unhappy situation should not fall progressively on the ratepayers who at the moment have to bear a very heavy burden on the rates to pay for this type of service.

I think that at the moment the balance is reasonably fair between what the Government pay and what the local authorities pay, but it may be that as more crimes are committed by criminals to whom money is no object we shall have to provide more money to fight this kind of crime by the provision of even better and more expensive equipment. I think that the Government may have to help local authorities by providing more money for expensive equipment such as motor cars, teleprinters, and so on, which are so important in dealing with crime.

I said at the beginning of my speech that leadership was as important as strengthening the police and strengthening the courts. It can be shown by the sheriffs, by chief constables, by officers on the beat, by teachers, and most important of all, by parents. But the Government, too, must provide leadership, and not just by means of the bureaucratic machine. Leadership must be shown by our elected leaders, by the Secretary of State, by the Under-Secretary of State to improve still more the relationship between the police and the public. The criminal must be brought into perspective, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns said, at the moment he seems to hold almost a position of esteem in our national life. We should hammer him into the ground in every possible way.

Those points make up a form of anti-crime policy. It is for the Government to provide the necessary leadership. At the moment it is far from positive enough.