Orders of the Day — Prevention of Crime (Scotland) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th April 1968.

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Order for Second Reading read.

3.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfriesshire

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a valuable Measure which will be widely welcomed by many people in Scotland. I am somewhat disconcerted because a Minister from the Scottish Office is not present to reply to this extremely important debate. I am wondering what sort of reply will be given, and perhaps the absence of the Minister who is responsible for this matter is indicative of the fact that he is in support of the Bill. We need all the support we can get because hon. Members who attend regularly on Fridays will be aware that the Government have blocked the Bill whenever it has come forward.

The Bill is necessary because in recent years the number of crimes of violence in Scotland has increased astronomically. In 1957 there were 1,116 and by 1967 he number had increased to 3,536, a rise of 200 per cent. All Scotsmen cannot but feel ashamed of this increase in 10 years, and this is all the more reason for our taking action now to halt this rise. Pressure has been mounting in the last Pew years for the police to be given power to search for offensive weapons. Since the Government have failed to give the police in Scotland this power, despite pressure for it to be given by all of my hon. Friends and many hon. Gentlemen opposite, it is essential that we take the first opportunity in private Members' time to pass a Bill of this kind. My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) was lucky in the Ballot at the beginning of the Session, but unfortunately when he brought the Bill forward there was no opportunity to debate it. On subsequent occasions when it has been brought forward it has been objected to by the Government.

While I will do my best to explain the purpose of the Bill, it would be better explained by a lawyer. At present the police in Scotland may apprehend an individual and search him for offensive weapons only if there is strong reason to believe that an act of violence will be committed. In the dark and amidst the crowds leaving football matches in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland it is easy for weapons of this type, some of which are extremely brutal, to be carried by the thugs who use them, and the police cannot be certain that they will be used to commit acts of violence. It is also difficult, when such persons are apprehended, for the police to secure convictions.

In Clause 1 are the words: If a constable in Scotland has reasonable cause to suspect any person of having committed an offence under subsection (1) of this section, he may search that person and may detain him for the purpose of searching him. The police would be given the opportunity to apprehend and search people for offensive weapons which it was suspected they were carrying in order to commit crimes of violence. One knows of the broken bottle, the sharpened combs and sticks, and other most brutal weapons that are now being carried for this purpose.

The incidence of murder, the extreme act of violence, has mounted dramatically in the last year or two. There were 41 murders in 1967 compared with a figure much nearer 30 in previous years. The numbers would be very much higher still but for the skill of surgeons and nurses who have brought back virtually from the grave people who have been assaulted in this way. To those surgeons and nurses and their colleagues very great credit is due.

I have taken a particular interest in the prevention of crime because for a long period I was a member of a joint police committee and chairman of it for five years. Such membership enables one to look at the situation through the eyes of the police committee and the chief constable and through those of an ordinary member of the public. One notices with great pleasure how over the last 10 or fifteen years our police forces have been equipped to deal with crime generally, and have reached a very high standard of efficiency.

Last week we were told that a regional crime squad is expected to be set up in a few weeks. That squad will be at a great advantage in chasing criminals who now use the motorways and dual carriage ways for quick escape. It will be able to get after those criminals quickly and, more importantly, will be able, by means of efficient wireless communications, to alert other forces further along the roads so that the escaping men may be intercepted and apprehended. That system has worked very satisfactorily in Dumfries, where the number of escaping criminals who have been apprehended on the main trunk roads has risen dramatically. It is a most valuable indication of how modern wireless and motor cars can increase police efficiency in catching criminals.

In considering a Bill of this nature one has to look at crime in all its aspects. In our many debates on the police force, and particularly a year ago when we dealt at some length with the Select Committee's Report on the police, I brought out the relation of the establishment of the police and the number of members in each force. It is easy to have an establishment of so many hundreds, but it is not nearly satisfactory to be 20 or 30 short of that establishment.

We all know that the numbers of the police are well down. I know that the total is higher than it has ever been, but in Scotland we are certainly short of strength and we must make every endeavour to provide for more men. In the same way as with teachers, doctors and nurses, we have to consider the basic reasons why we are short of policemen. One of the prime reasons always has been that police pay has not been as attractive as the pay in comparable employment. It has to be remembered that there is hardly any other comparable service in which people are on duty or on call for so many days in the week and for long hours each day. It is only by the devoted and loyal service of police officers that we have been able in any way to contain the rising rate of crime, and the congratulations of the House should go to the Scottish police forces for the outstandingly able way in which they are carrying out their task.

Not only strength and establishment, but equipment is needed to deal with the modern sophisticated criminal. I have said how improved wireless communications now are in the Scottish police forces. All cars and police vans have radios and are in constant touch with police headquarters in the main centres of population, but this, too, has been augmented dramaticaly and efficiently by the introduction of individual personal radios which policemen on the beat now carry. These radios have made it possible to do away with the pillars and police boxes which one saw dotted about the town and from which the police reported by telephone to headquarters every now and then.

Only last week, I was in my police headquarters and saw how stimulating it was to be able to listen to the controller in the operations room calling up his policemen on the beat, getting their answers and knowing exactly where they were, knowing that if an emergency arose, or if there were a 999 call, he could direct the nearest policeman at once to the scene of the crime to help to apprehend the criminal, or to give his services if it were a road accident or fire. This is a tremendous step forward and a development which must be encouraged in every way.

For fighting the sophisticated criminal we have to provide criminal investigation departments with facilities of the highest quality, the best fingerprinting equipment, the best photographic equipment and so on. This is most expensive.

For the provision of equipment a balance has to be struck between the cost to local authorities and the portion of money which has to be provided by central Government. In recent years that balance has been about right, but now equipment, particularly that of motor cars, radios and photographic equipment, is becoming so very expensive that we have reached a stage at which Government provision of money must be stepped up.

I do not know if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport is to make an impassioned reply on behalf of the police in Scotland. It is quite extraordinary that the Government who have failed Scotland lamentably on the crime front should be resolutely opposed to this Bill and should have done absolutely nothing to bring in the provisions which we are asking for in relation to offensive weapons. There should have been a Scottish Minister to answer this debate. This is a scandalous state of affairs and something that Scottish people will be extremely cross about.

It is not that the Government did not know that this debate would take place. We have bombarded the Secretary of State for Scotland at Question time in December, in January and in March, and we shall do so again next week. He must take cognizance of the fact that Scottish people will not tolerate this situation much longer. It may be that we shall have a new Secretary of State for Scotland tomorrow, but whatever the state of play, we want very much more decisive action by the Government in relation to crime in Scotland. It cannot be allowed to go on as it is at the moment.

I have not had time to study the newspapers today in detail, but I understand that a long interview has been given to a journal by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who is responsible for the police. He would have been better employed answering this debate. We want to know what the Government will do about search for offensive weapons. I have been diverted by the thought that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport might have to reply to this debate. That has diverted my thoughts from where they would have been most gainfully employed—on the question of providing sufficient policemen to deal with the crime wave in Scotland.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Order. The hon. Member is getting even wide of a Second Reading debate. This Bill is concerned with the powers of constables to detain and search for offensive weapons. The hon. Member must stick to the Bill.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfriesshire

I appreciate that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but if we have not enough constables they cannot search for anything.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

That may be so, but I am afraid that the Bill does not make provision for more constables.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfriesshire

I, of course, bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have tried to indicate to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, who apparently is responsible to the whole Scottish Office this afternoon, that the position in regard to crime in Scotland is serious. The figures are mounting, especially in Glasgow where unfortunately the strength of the police is at the lowest ratio compared with establishment. In order that they may combat this serious problem, it is absolutely essential that this Bill should go through. What is so surprising is that the Government apparently do not wish it to go through. Why do they not accept that when young men are seen going down a street with very dubious intent it should be possible for a police constable to take one or two of them aside and search them? I know that there will be the difficulty of knowing when to say that a comb with a razor-sharp point at one end is an offensive weapon, or will he used with an offensive intention. But it is far better to be safe than sorry.

The Under-Secretary has often said that it would be wrong, and infringe the individual's rights and freedom if he were to be stopped and searched. But if one is innocent I do not think that one would have any objection to being spoken to by a policeman, so long as it was not done in the full glare of publicity. We are so annoyed at the Government's attitude because the Bill would introduce relatively simple powers that would be detrimental only to the criminal armed with an offensive weapon.

We must again press the Government to let the Bill go through, because it is what the people of Scotland want. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has often read in the Scottish Press over the past year how much the people of Scotland are annoyed at the Government's attitude, and it is essential that action is taken at the earliest possible moment. I am sure that my hon. Friends will add support to this most important Bill, and I shall be very interested to hear what the Government have to say in reply.

3.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

It is with a little trepidation that I support my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), but I should not have stayed to do so on a Friday afternoon if I were not completely certain, from the not inconsiderable amount I know of Scotland, that the Bill is a Measure that Scotland needs. It is a plain, sensible and straightforward Bill giving the constabulary in Scotland specific additional powers which I think can be proved to be absolutely necessary. I believe that I am right in saying that they are powers granted to the constabulary in England and Wales two or three years ago. I know from the Chief Constable of the Leicestershire and Rutland Constabulary and one or two other chiefs of police forces in England and Wales just how useful those powers, which my hon. Friend now proposes to provide for the Scottish police, have been to the police forces in the Midlands in executing their duties more efficiently.

I support my hon. Friend in this well worth-while Measure because of the explosion of crime and criminal offences, which yearly increase in pace not only in England but in Scotland. There are figures in the Statistical Abstract which show that certain types of offences have increased in England and Wales in the past five or ten years. A significant fact which I feel sure will change if my hon. Friend is successful in getting his Bill through is that whilst they have increased by X per cent. in England and Wales they have gone up at exactly double that rate in Scotland in the same years. I feel that notwithstanding that the Scottish police forces are not up to establishment the extra powers of search which this Bill will give to Scottish constables will do the trick, and at least will break this very rapid acceleration in the crime rate in Scotland.

I shall come in a moment to one or two specific instances which I wish to give to the House to substantiate what I have said, but I should first like to refer to the use of radio walkie-talkies. They are a great boon to police forces throughout the country especially in many places where those forces are low in establishment. They have found that, by the use of this sophisticated modern equipment, the average constables on the beat can, so to speak, almost be in two places at once. If one has a walkie-talkie in one's pocket—

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

This Bill does not deal with walkie-talkies, and the hon. Member is not relating his remarks to the Bill. He must do that.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was endeavouring to show that the use of walkie-talkies has been found in certain police forces to reduce the necessity for additional constables, and I was going on to relate my remarks specifically to the Bill.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

I am afraid the Bill is concerned only with constables having this additional power, and the hon. Member has not so far related his remarks to the Bill.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I will move on from walkie-talkies, and go on to say how useful the constabulary in England have found these additional powers granted to them in conection with poaching offences. In that connection these powers have been of real value. In many parts of England and in Wales, before the recent legislation was enacted, country police forces had no power of search such as is contained in my hon. Friend's Bill. They might have the very greatest suspicion of one or two people of poaching, but simply because they did not see the offence committed, they did not actually see a person they suspected kill the game or pick up the game, they could not, until very recently, arrest and search the suspected person, and that is the power contained in this Bill.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness

I am sorry, but I do not follow the hon. Member's argument. Surely he is not suggesting that salmon can be an offensive weapon?

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I am not sure that the hon. Member could have been listening. I was only trying to point out to the House that useful examples can be produced in England and Wales of the added proficiency of the police since the recent legislation and since the police forces have been given the power which would be granted to the Scottish police by this Bill.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

The powers here are related quite narrowly to search of persons suspected of having offensive weapons. I am afraid the hon. Member is wide of the Bill.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

With the greatest possible respect, I must apologise for not having made it clear to the House before that in England and Wales and, I understand, even in Scotland, a shotgun, used commonly by poachers to kill game—pheasants, etc.—is classed as an offensive weapon. The crime statistics which I have here show that the number of offences committed by armed criminals using shotguns has increased rapidly in both England and Wales. It is for that reason that I mentioned the subject. In the statistics which I have here perhaps one of the most significant is the increase in criminal offences. One of the most distressing things to us all has been the manner in which juvenile delinquency has increased in Scotland. My hon. Friend mentioned the desirability of police forces in Scotland having the Dower to search juveniles who are suspected of possessing such offensive weapons—of searching them when they return from Scottish football matches and other crowded occasions.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

There is no shadow of doubt that this type of hooliganism is on the increase throughout the United Kingdom. I have had personal experience of seeing it at football matches in London, and I am distressed to know, from what my hon. Friend says, that the same trouble occurs at some Scottish football matches, particularly in Glasgow. The figures for the whole range of juvenile offences for the ten or 12 years for which I have statistics have steadily increased, not only relating to the possession of offensive weapons but to a host of other things.

Perhaps I can give the House an idea of the gravity of the situation by saying that in Scotland juvenile offenders who were committed for an offence in 1938 only numbered 15,408, and in 1966 that tragic figure had increased to 23,451, an absolutely staggering rate of acceleration.

Another reason why the Bill will be a moon to the constabulary in Scotland is that it will help to fight not only the rate of juvenile criminal offences but the general increase in crime in Scotland, which has doubled in the last ten years. In some spheres of criminal activity such as murder, attempted murder or wounding and assaults, the figures in Scotland have far more than doubled over the past ten years. Although the number of the offences of murder, attempted murder and wounding and assaults has increased in England and Wales, in Scotland the rate of increase has been double or more than double the rate of acceleration in England and Wales.

My statistics relating to crime in Scotland show that in 1963 two offences of murder were proved, and in 1966 that figure had risen to 23. The hon. Gentleman opposite may find this amusing. I find these figures tragic and significant. They are not a matter for hilarity on either side of the House. The increase from two to 23 is a staggering rate of increase of nearly 1,200 per cent. In England and Wales in the same period, between 1963 and 1966, the figures went up only from 46 to 72, a rate of increase of something like 82 per cent. It is significant that the trend of certain crimes has increased by a far greater rate over the last few years in Scotland than in England and Wales. The Bill which my hon Friend has introduced this afternoon, by giving the constabulary of Scotland the powers which they need, can in my opinion, do nothing but good.

4.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfriesshire

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was under the impression that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) sat down exactly at 4 o'clock in order that the Question might be put.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

I was listening very carefully to the chiming of Big Ben. In any case, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Woodside (Mr. Carmichael) had risen, and I cannot put the Question while there are still hon. Members wishing to speak.

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 26th April.