Orders of the Day — Crime

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd July 1969.

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Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds 12:00 am, 23rd July 1969

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Mark Carlisle) for not being able to hear his speech, but I am grateful to him for having raised this matter. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) made a thoughtful speech, but he under-estimated the practical difficulties which would arise if the police could not use the statements made to them, often in difficult circumstances but always after a caution. Of course there are exceptions, but, usually, any person who is taken to a police station is cautioned before being asked to make a statement. This is a real safeguard.

The hon. Gentleman should be very hesitant in proposing that those statements which are made after a caution should not be admissible in court unless an independent legal adviser had been present.

With much of his speech, however, I agree. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech over the weekend about the civilised society. I thought it was very relevant to that debate, and was in character for the Chancellor, who has given much thought to these questions. I honour him for what he said.

I would, nevertheless, oppose to his ideas of the civilised society, which I support, the notion of a responsible society. Recent legislation may well have increased our social freedom, as I believe it has, but there is a danger of its removing that sense of felt responsibility which an individual has for his family, his community, his country and himself.

This is a large philosophical area into which, perhaps, I should not tread, but I would place alongside the notion of a civilised and permissive society that of a responsible and self-reliant society. Discipline is important as well as permissiveness.

As far as the police are concerned, the House knows that I have an interest. And I start by pointing out that the demands upon the police over the last five or 10 years have multiplied enormously, whether from traffic, from crime, from demonstrations, or through the many laws which we pass and with which they must familiarise themselves. Also, there are the new problems of drugs and violence.

The police are also in the midst of what amounts to a revolution in their methods and organisation. I believe that the recent amalgamations have been generally a useful step forward. There may be more to come. But we should now let the police service have time to settle down. Do not let us have another set of amalgamations and regional reorganisations until we have consolidated the new forces.

There have also been important changes bringing civilianisation to the service, new responsibilities for the traffic wardens. All of these create problems as well as solving problems.

Then there is the new unit beat system. I have had the opportunity of visiting a whole series of forces and observing this system in operation. On the whole, it has been a success. But I hope that the Under-Secretary will accept that it it not yet an entirely demonstrated success. I hope that it will spread across the country and will become more effective, but there is much work still to be done to perfect it. We must ensure for instance that the collator, who is the key to the system, has the training and the backing which are essential to his function.

Then there is the virtual revolution in equipment, in the whole technology of policing. The Research and Planning Branch does excellent work and is a credit to the Home Office and to the country. With the use of the personal radio and, very soon, of the computer and other modern accessories, the police are undergoing a technological revolution. They have taken to it well. In the process they have overtaken the American police in their policing techniques. In broad terms, they are not only the most organised and dedicated police forces in the world, but are becoming the best equipped.

Given these enormous new demands upon the police and the rapid changes in their organisation and technology, there will gradually have to be a new kind of policeman, too. New kinds of policemen already are growing up in the forces. On the whole, they are younger. They have to deal with more sophisticated problem, requiring an increasingly high quality of man. But as we gradually develop more sophisticated and professional police forces, composed of better educated and better trained men, these men must have the rewards that go with a professional and sophisticated service. I do not wish tonight to press the Minister in the direction in which he knows I am going. It is perfectly plain.

The police force of today and tomorrow requires several things. It requires the right rewards, but that is for another moment. It requires, as my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn said, to be backed up by the magistrates. It requires more men on the job.

I echo what has been said by many people when I say that the present absurd situation is that there are three sets of strength in each force. There are the established strength, the permitted strength and the actual strength. It is time that there were only two strengths. We should have the establishment. I realise that all kinds of researches are going on into what an establishment should be. But we should get away from the permitted strength, which arose largely from the financial crisis of two years ago. I hope that it will soon be possible to be done with the whole notion of permitted strength with a financial ceiling and to relate the actual strength to the genuine establishment that the forces should have.

However much the police service may change, at the base of everything it does is the constable. His status is the crucial element within the service. I hope that the Under-Secretary, who is shortly to take the chair of the new working party on rank structure within the service, will accept from me that there are two important points which that working party should consider. First, if rank structure is being considered, the territorial pattern of organisation must also be considered within each force. I do not know whether in future we shall be able to have the division and sub-division arrangement that we have always had. I suspect that the pattern of organisation will have to be considered alongside of rank structure.

My second point concerns the status of the constable. After two years' probation a man may take his examination to become a sergeant. Very often he may be promoted sergeant within three or four years of joining the force, and this is right. We want to encourage the young man to get ahead.

If, however, a man is capable of passing the examination, being promoted sergeant and sent out on the beat, by the same token he should be able to enjoy all the incremental advantages of a constable during the same period. That is to say, if, within four or five years of joining the force, a constable can become a sergeant, he should certainly be able to come on to the top scale of a constable's pay during that same period. At least, that should be the aim towards which we should move.

My last point concerns something for which I give the Government credit. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer started the very useful working parties in the Home Office. He set in train a structural revolution in the service which has been fruitful. He has been succeeded by the Home Secretary, whose knowledge of the police is very great, as I have reason to know. But I hope that present and future Ministers—who may come from this side of the House—will accept that if they want to tackle the problems of crime and to deal with the police they must do so in close consultation with those who are elected to represent the police.

It is vital that the closest consultation should be undertaken between Home Office Ministers and those who represent the police organisations, all of them. I am sure that the Minister has this very much in mind and that this would contribute to dealing with the problems of law and order.