§ Motion made, and Question proposed. That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
The matters I wish to raise are akin to the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks). I have raised this subject on previous occasions and, in order to save the time of the Committee, I invite the Joint Undersecretary of State to look at the contribution I was able to make in two 1622 discussions on this matter, on 29th January, 1952, and on 6th May, 1954.
On those occasions, I pointed out that Parliament had very few opportunities to debate the finances of the metropolitan police. I pointed out then that, outside London, we have either the standing joint committees or watch committees which exercise some degree of control over local police administration. In London, we have, in a sense, the most undemocratic form of police administration which exists in the country.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has referred in summary fashion to the way in which police finances are provided. If one turns to the Civil Estimates for the current year, one sees there an Appendix covering the Metropolitan Police Fund. That involves a total expenditure of about £29 million, of which nearly £14 million —
§ Mr. Lipton
What I am trying to argue, Sir Gordon, if I may be allowed another minute, is that this Clause confers upon the Receiver power to borrow money, and the repayment of any loans raised under the Clause would create a charge on public funds. In order to collect those public funds, it is necessary for the police authority to precept on the ratepayers in the Metropolitan Police District to the extent of about £13 million a year. If the Receiver is to be given additional powers, there must inevitably be an effect on the amount he has to raise by way of precept to cover the interest on the additional loans that the Clause authorises him to negotiate.
For that reason, Sir Gordon, I wish to point out that, in regard to the Metropolitan Police, we have a classic example of a complete departure from the principle of no taxation without representation.
§ Mr. Lipton
I am sorry that you have taken that attitude, Sir Gordon. If I may refresh your memory, the Clause provides that the Receiver may have 1623 power, with the approval of the Secretary of State, to borrow for the purpose ofacquiring any land or erecting any buildingsandfor the execution of any works or the provision of any equipment the cost of which ought in the opinion of the Secretary of State to be spread over a term of years.In my submission, Sir Gordon, that means that we are entitled to discuss the financial consequences of agreeing to the Clause now before the Committee. I am trying to suggest that one of those financial consequences is that the ratepayers in the Metropolitan Police District will probably have to be subject to additional precepts if the Receiver exercises the powers which we are asked to confer upon him under Clause 4. I do not see how the conferring of this power on the Receiver to raise loans can be divorced or separated from the inevitable consequences which will flow from the passing of the Clause. I was trying to bring to the notice of the Committee the fact that, every year, the Metropolitan Police authorities issue a precept long before they have submitted any estimate either to the House or to anyone else.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
On a point of order, Sir Gordon. I submit to you that the opening words of subsection (2) are "The security". The security for the funds which it may be necessary for the Receiver to raise is the London rates, because it is to be met out of the money which he receives from the precepts. If that is so, are we not entitled to raise the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) is raising?
§ Mr. Lipton
I am sorry that you are adopting this attitude, Sir Gordon, because it places hon. Members in very serious difficulty. We are here expected to approve financial proposals without being given an opportunity to make any comment whatever upon the way in which those financial proposals are to be effected. The only way in which the Clause can be operated is at the expense of the ratepayers of the Metro- 1624 politan Police District, including 28 Metropolitan Boroughs and about 17 other rating authorities.
If I may respectfully say so, Sir Gordon, a discussion on this point, on the Amendment moved a few moments ago by the hon. and learned Gentleman, was allowed while you were not in the Chair. On this particular Clause, which raises almost exactly the same point but in a much larger framework, you are deciding that no discussion is permissible about the financial consequences to the ratepayers of London if we accept the Clause. In the circumstances, I hope that you will feel disposed to allow a little discussion.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
May I make one short submission on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham when he referred to subsection (2)? I have a little difficulty in following this at the moment. Subsection (1) provides that, under borrowing powers conferred on the Receiver, he may borrow certain sums of money for certain purposes on the security referred to in subsection (2). The security in subsection (2) is the moneys for which the Receiver is authorised to issue a precept. Therefore, the moneys for which he is authorised to issue a precept are the security for the borrowing powers given under subsection (1), and, as I understand it, that really means the rates. Therefore, I should respectfully submit that the composition of that security which is the subject of subsection (2) is within the ambit of the discussion in the Committee and, therefore, within the submissions which my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton is making.
§ Mr. Sparks
Further to that point of order, Sir Gordon. The last two lines of subsection (2) refer specifically to the issue of a preceptin relation to expenses incurred for those purposes respectivelyand the purposes are enumerated above. I submit that the Clause gives power to the Receiver to levy a rate and a charge upon the local authorities in the Metropolitan Police District. If we are not 1625 allowed to refer to that on the Motion, That the Clause stand part of the Bill, what is it there for?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
It does not refer to Government expenditure. Police expenditure is under the Local Government Act. It has nothing to do with this Measure.
§ Mr. Sparks
If we wanted to oppose giving the Receiver the power to levy a precept, we should be entitled to do that?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Certainly hon. Members can argue that they do not want this Clause at all, but we are arguing about whether the Clause should stand part of the Bill or not.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Are we not entitled to argue on subsection (2) that the rates are not a proper security for borrowing powers of the Receiver under subsection (1), and therefore to consider the composition of the security? Is not that within the ambit of the discussion on the Clause stand part?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That, might be suitable, but we cannot argue the whole matter of police expenditure.
§ Mr. Gibson
This Bill provides for additional expenditure, mainly in relation to probation costs, but it is additional expenditure which at the moment none of us in local government in London has any knowledge of until the Receiver precepts. If the Bill is to provide for possibilities of additional money to be raised by precept on London boroughs, surely that must be capable of discussion and question. That is all that we are asking for at the moment.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Hon. Members can discuss whether these borrowing powers should be given or not, I quite agree.
§ Mr. Lipton
May I within the definition that has emerged try to make the point that I was starting to make before these various points of order were raised? If it is necessary to argue that further borrowing powers should not be given to the receiver, then I am pre- 1626 pared to say, for the purpose of argument, that these powers should not be granted. The next question, therefore, is why these additional powers should not be given to the Receiver. I should like to adduce by way of reason why these additional powers should not be granted the fact that the people who have to pay at least one half of the expenditure, namely, the ratepayers of London, have no say whatever in the way in which these borrowing powers will be exercised if we accede to the Clause that is now before the Committee.
I do not object, nor would any other hon. Member object, if the Government came to Parliament and said, "We want money for a particular purpose." When, however, the Government put forward a question of that kind we are entitled to discuss whether or not the purpose is a proper one for which these additional powers are required, and to what extent these additional powers will remain subject to democratic control of some kind.
I am suggesting that if we grant the powers asked for in this Clause, as requested by the Joint Under-Secretary of State, we are betraying a trust that is reposed in us as representatives of the citizens of London to have some regard to their interests when these matters on rare occasions come before the House. Borrowing powers are not an unimportant factor because at the present time it may be seen by reference to the police accounts that there is already authority to borrow £7 million and that power is already vested in the Receiver of Metropolitan Police. As a matter of fact, £9 million has already been authorised, of which £7 million has been borrowed, repayable over a period of 22 to 30 years.
Reference to the accounts also shows that at the end of the 1958–59 financial year there was outstanding on this capital or loan account £4,481,967 0s. 5d. For a variety of reasons, the Government take the view that these borrowing powers should be increased. The loan charges already amount in the Estimates for 1959–60 to a sum of £297,850 which is quite a considerable sum because it means that in order to provide this sum of £297,850 to cover the loan charges, there has to be a precept upon the ratepayers of the Metropolitan area 1627 to cover at least half that amount because only half the amount of the total police expenditure is provided by way of Government grant and the precept for the current financial year is calculated to provide £14 million. I suggest that in these circumstances it is not quite good enough that the first intimation that the local authorities have of loan charges, interest, and other items of expenditure comes in the form of a circular on 14th February each year before any of the local authorities or the House sees any of the Estimates. The first opportunity that we have of finding out what is the position comes when the Estimates appear some time in March and, by the time the people directly concerned get to know anything about it, the whole thing is cut and dried, settled and finished and demand notes have gone out. That is an end of the matter.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipton
I am trying to suggest. Sir Gordon, once again that if we already have to provide something like £297,000 by way of loan charges, this Clause will increase the amount that will have to be found to provide for loan charges in future years. I think that the Committee is entitled to some further information and some further assurance from the Joint Under-Secretary that in some way or other in the course of operating this Clause, if we agree to the Clause, there will be some form of consultation not merely with finance officers pledged to secrecy and not allowed to say what is going on, because local authorities never get to know about it until the whole matter is cut and dried. Before we can be asked to agree to this Clause, I think that the Joint Under-Secretary may be fairly asked to give some assurance that a better method of consultation is provided in future than has been made available in the past.
This has been a matter of complaint for many years, and it is time that something was done about it. I raised it in 1952, in 1954 and in 1956. In 1952, when I raised this and other points, the then Home Secretary. Lord Kilmuir, said:They are matters for inquiry, and that inquiry I shall make."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 29th January, 1952; Vol. 495, c. 127.]1628 That is what the Home Secretary said in January, 1952, and no inquiry took place. Seven years have elapsed and nothing has been done about it. In the interests of good democratic government, I think that the time has come for the Joint Under-Secretary to provide some assurance on the lines that I have tried to present to the Committee.
§ Mr. Gibson
I do not want to give the impression that I am opposed to an improvement of the probation system in London or of the buildings in which it works or that I oppose necessarily the provision of land and buildings to improve and extend this valuable service in the London courts. I have had too much experience of the help that the probation service gives in social problems to be of that opinion.
This is, however, a proposal to expend what could easily be a very large sum of money in the extension of this service, particularly in view of the cost of buildings and land in London. If we are to extend this power to the Receiver, we should provide protection in the way of discussions before anybody is committed to the final expenditure.
Who is to decide where these new buildings to be used in the probation service will be? Is there to be any discussion with local authorities in the London area, who have a close and intimate knowledge and an interest in the question, or are matters to be continued as at present, when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) has said, we know nothing until we get the precept? As far as I know, there is no effective discussion beforehand of any of this expenditure, except, perhaps, for a private talk with a finance officer, who never reports to the council about it. I say that with some feeling as one who spent many years on the Metropolitan Standing Joint Committee. It is up to the Government to say whether, in view of the number of occasions on which this question has been raised, a new line will be taken concerning this provision for additional expenditure, even if, in view of the Ruling from the Chair, we cannot deal with the whole cost of the Metropolitan Police.
Will the Minister, therefore, undertake to look into the point that before 1629 the service is extended in any large way, at least before any financial commitments, which could be very large, are entered into, there will be discussions with the representatives of the London boroughs, possibly the Metropolitan Standing Joint Committee, a body which can represent the opinions and feelings of London ratepayers and which is responsible to them and can report to them and be pulled up, if necessary, by ratepayers, using their natural right to criticise public expenditure?
At the moment, there seems to be no public check except through the Home Secretary, who has plenty of work to do apart from checking matters of this kind. Without an enthusiastic Home Secretary, such a check is ineffective. It certainly does not in any way meet the principle that there should be no taxation without representation. This kind of thing has been going on for so many years in London that if we are to extend the borrowing powers of the Receiver of the Metropolitan Police, we ought this time to make provision whereby discussions will take place with the people who have to provide, in the words of the Minister, at least 50 per cent. of the moneys. I put that point to the Government and I hope that they will provide a satisfactory answer.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
This is a matter that gets raised in the House of Commons from time to time. The curious thing is that the Metropolitan Police is the only part of the British police forces which is under good democratic control. Let my hon. Friends the Members for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) or Clapham (Mr. Gibson), or any other hon. Member, try to raise a matter in the House about what happens in a county force. The first thing that is said is that the Home Secretary has no jurisdiction. For the Metropolitan Police, however, the Home Secretary is the police authority.
The Estimates to which my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton has alluded can be called for by the Opposition on any Supply Day if thought fit. Then, the Home Secretary can be called upon to justify in detail every penny of expenditure and the conduct of every officer, high and low, in that force. It is the only police force in the country to which that applies. Any expenditure 1630 incurred under this new Measure will be subject to that control. If my hon. Friends, or any other hon. Members, think that the site selected for a probation office or the conduct of a probation officer is unsuitable, they can have the matter raised either at Question Time or on consideration of the Home Office Vote on any Supply Day they like to call for it.
Contrast that with what happens in an ordinary county. Let us suppose that in the Urban District of Dorking the rate payers feel that the probation office is in an inconvenient place or that the probation officer does not act appropriately. In so far as it is a matter within the police, neither the ratepayers of Surrey nor the representative of Dorking in the House of Commons, if he were free to do so, could raise anything about it. Expenditure on police in the County of Surrey is a matter for the Standing Joint Committee, which consists—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he is getting a little far away from the Clause. The Motion is, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Ede
I am sorry, Sir Gordon, if you think I have gone too far, but I was trying to prove that the Metropolitan Police is the only part of our police forces in which the good democratic control that my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton called for operates. As I have already said, no police expenditure in any county can be questioned by anybody other than the Standing Joint Committee, and that Committee does not have to report to anybody.
I could wish that there were more frequent debates in the House of Commons on the Home Secretary's Vote in relation to police powers. This is where all these matters can be raised and I hope that in the years to come, we shall have this matter more frequently ventilated than we have done in the past, in the appropriate way on a day set aside for the Estimates.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Sparks
I listened with interest to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who has a very great deal of experience in this matter, having been in the Home Office for some 1631 years and having been worried about this problem on past occasions. While I cannot go too deeply into the point which he mentioned, I do not think that the local authorities or ratepayers in the Metropolitan Police area will be wholly satisfied that, although they are not consulted about expenditure from the Metropolitan Police Fund, nevertheless, Questions may be asked in this Chamber after the precept has gone out and nothing can be done to change or vary any part of it. That does not apply outside the Metropolitan Police area, but I should think that there is something to be said for the watch committees who control the borough police. They have much more say in police expenditure in the boroughs than local authorities in the Metropolitan Police area have.
We must balance the advantages and disadvantages to see which is the best object to which we can direct our attention. We are asked to approve Clause 4, which proposes to give to the Receiver for the Metropolitan Police District powers to borrow money. This is for purposes connected with his responsibilities towards the Metropolitan Police Force, the Metropolitan Magistrates' Courts and the probation service within the Metropolitan stipendiary court area. That is a very wide and comprehensive field. The Explanatory Memorandum says on Clause 4 that, although this will not create an immediate increase in expenditure,it is impossible to estimate the amount of any ultimate increase ".This is a very important factor, since the Clause envisages an increase of expenditure in due time.
In view of the fact that the Clause presumably reaffirms the right of the Receiver to levy a charge upon local authorities and ratepayers, I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman should give an undertaking that consultations will be entered into with the people who will pay the bill, who, I am sure, will not be satisfied to be told, "In the House of Commons, you have to pay the bill and your Member cannot say anything about it". As representatives of the taxpayers, they expect us to say something about this sort of thing. I would have thought, therefore, that we are entitled to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to 1632 give the Committee an assurance that before any expenditure which arises from the borrowing powers of the Receiver is incurred there shall be consultations with the people or representatives of the people who will be called upon to find half the necessary money. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman could give that assurance because we are concerned, not with an immediate increase, but with an increase in expenditure in the next few years.
In addition, we are giving the Receiver an added power which he did not have before, namely, the power to borrow money for the probation system. That point has been adequately dealt with by my hon. Friends. We do not apologise for emphasising it, because, whatever my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields may say, this is a matter of considerable concern among all authorities in the Metropolitan Police area. All that is asked is that before the people are presented with the bill they shall be consulted.
There is another factor which arises from Clause 4. It is proposed to give the Receiver power to borrow considerable sums of money for practically all the purposes of the Metropolitan Police district. It is a very formidable power and will enable the Receiver to acquire land, buildings, and so on, for adaptation for the use and purposes of the Metropolitan Police and its other services.
Distinct advantages are to be found in consultation with the local authorities in the Metropolitan Police area. It may well be that the local authorities in those areas will already have land and buildings no longer required for other purposes and which could be adapted for police authority purposes.
Therefore, for the Receiver to shut himself, as it were, in a separate and distinct compartment and say, "We are not having anything to do with you local authorities, we are going to go our own way," does not seem to me a good course to follow, because I think local authorities are in a position, if their cooperation is asked for, to make a substantial contribution in the shape of land and buildings and other requirements, towards the needs and requirements of the Metropolitan Police Authority.
I should have thought that the first fruitful source would be consultation 1633 with the local authorities about the requirements of the Metropolitan Police authority. I should have thought it would invite the local authorities to make some suggestions or recommendations, to put forward any proposals they may have. It may be that the Metropolitan Police authority may like to erect some buildings in an area for its probationary service, and that local authorities in that area may already have some buildings which could be usefully adapted for the purpose, they no longer requiring them for the purposes for which they originally held them. I can see quite a wide range of possibilities in this idea of inter-relationship between the Metropolitan Police authority and the local authorities in endeavouring to meet the former's requirements as laid down in this Clause.
All we are really trying to do is to impress upon the hon. and learned Gentleman and the Home Office that there is much more to be gained by consultation and co-operation with the local authorities than there is by ignoring them and refusing to take them into consultation. If the hon. and learned Gentleman can give us an assurance that he and the Home Office will again look into this question, which has cropped up on many previous occasions, I am quite sure we shall be satisfied that something will be done to reach towards that standard of co-operation which we ought in the end to strive for, and that is, closer co-operation between the local authorities and the Metropolitan Police authority.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
There is an important matter which I want to raise. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman would like to hear it before he intervenes or whether he will answer it later.
§ Mr. Renton
I was thinking that there have been some misunderstandings, quite obviously, in the minds of hon. Gentlemen, and to save any further hon. Members from repeating similar misunderstandings I hope it may be convenient to the Committee if I do my best now to explain the position. That would not preclude the hon. Gentleman 1634 from raising another point later, and I will do my best to answer it.
The effect of this Clause is that the Receiver's power to borrow for the three purposes which are in the Bill will in future not be subject to a limit imposed by Statute but that each loan which he raises will be subject to the approval of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and, of course, of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer as well.
This Clause will not free the Receiver from Parliamentary control. All that it does is to remove the need for periodical legislation. Parliamentary control, to which, as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) quite rightly pointed out, local authorities in similar circumstances would not be subject, will be exercisable over the Receiver's borrowing powers in several ways: first, because my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer can each be questioned in the House about the way in which the power to authorise loans has been exercised; secondly, because the Receiver's estimates come before the Select Committee on Estimates and can be called for discussion upon the Floor of the House as well; thirdly, because the Receiver's appropriation account is presented with the Civil Appropriation Accounts generally and therefore comes before the Committee of Public Accounts and is subject to scrutiny in the same way.
§ Mr. Renton
With respect, that cannot be so with the Estimates.
As to the question of the making of a precept prejudicing the position of local authorities, it is really not so serious as the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) has suggested. As I said on an earlier Amendment, a precept is made, I agree in advance of expenditure, in respect of 50 per cent. of the expenditure, but if a change has to be made later, because, for example, there has been an under-expenditure in relation to the amount for which the precept was levied, an adjustment is easily and readily made when later precepts come to be made.
1635 In any event, if hon. Members apply their minds to the subject matter of the items in respect of which the precepts would have to be made, they will realise that there is no great deal of room for error of judgment or of accounting or of estimating. On the contrary, such things as better courts, new police stations and probation offices are things which the public want, and which they will be willing to pay for provided that they are built in a way which is not extravagant and the money is properly accounted for and subject to Parliamentary control. Although it was a point worth making, I say with respect that it was not a point with very great substance or one which need arouse many fears.
It has been suggested that the Receiver, in exercising powers to provide police stations and new courts for metropolitan stipendiary magistrates and new probation offices, should consult the local authorities. The Receiver is answerable to the Home Secretary in exercising these powers and the Home Secretary, and he alone, is answerable to Parliament. Before we try to fix upon the Receiver any duty of consultation with a third party we have to consider the extent to which it might impinge upon the Home Secretary's responsibility to Parliament.
I would add, having made that point, that, as has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), there is at least once a year informal consultation between the finance officers of the Metropolitan boroughs and the Receiver so that the authorities, through their officers, are kept in the picture about future expenditure.
Then there is the planning procedure to be considered in respect of the siting of the courts. Where a Government Department is concerned, planning procedure is somewhat different from that in the case of the private individual. Nevertheless, Government Departments lean over backwards to make sure that they do not tread on the toes of local planning authorities, and the Receiver, acting on behalf of my right hon. Friend, when any question of providing a new court or a police station might arise, would be anxious to consult the plan- 1636 ning authority at the earliest possible stage. In that way also, therefore, there is de facto consultation with local authorities. Therefore, I think the hon. Gentlemen who have expressed anxieties about the exercise of borrowing powers will find that those anxieties are not as great as they expressed them to be.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Gibson
The Minister has not yet dealt with the point. We are not asking about the Parliamentary control which exists up to a point after the money has been precepted and very often after most of it has been spent. We are saying that if there is to be a heavy rate, as there is in London, on the ratepayers through the borough councils for police purposes, we ought at least to give an opportunity to examine the estimates before the final figures are arrived at.
That is what we are asking for. We are not saying that there is no opportunity of criticism, through the Home Secretary or through the annual discussion of the Estimates. We are saying that before the police issue the precept, for which they must have prepared estimates, they should give the local authorities who have to raise the money an opportunity to discuss it and put forward their criticisms, if any. That has nothing to do with planning. In any case, planning does not affect cost. It is a matter of the rights of the local authorities who have to raise the money—and who put it on my demand note every year—to have a discussion before the final decision is taken on how much the rates shall be.
§ Mr. Renton
That is where I find myself in difficulty, Sir Gordon, as regards your earlier Ruling. It seems to me that Clause 4 is based upon the existing accepted law that, to the extent of 50 per cent. of the expenditure on these matters, the Receiver has the right to precept. We refer to that only because we say that the sums raised by the issue of the precept shall be the security for the loans which he is empowered to make. The only point which it is in order to discuss is whether that is a sound security or not. I do not think it would be right for me to argue that there should not be power to issue a precept, because there is no question here of amending the Local Government Act, 1637 and there is no Amendment on the Notice Paper saying that we should do so.
§ Mr. Sparks
But why should this responsibility be saddled upon local authorities and ratepayers who are inarticulate in this matter and who are not consulted in any way?
§ Mr. Renton
I think the hon. Gentleman is dishonouring himself when he says that, because he is their representative in the House of Commons, and when he raises a question of expenditure on the Home Office Estimates or on the Civil Appropriation Account, he is representing them. In my opinion he is also representing the local authority of his constituency, more especially if it should particularly ask him to do so, which it has every right to do.
I say further that although my right hon. Friend has the sole responsibility to Parliament in these matters, subject to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's approval of the terms of loans, there is nothing to prevent any local authority from making representations to my right hon. Friend about any proposed expenditure. It is inconceivable that on any major item of expenditure, such as the building of a new police station or a new stipendiary magistrate's court, the local authority would not have got to hear about the matter, in one or other of the ways I have mentioned, before the actual amount of expenditure to which the local authority would ultimately be committed had come to light. So I say, as I said before, that although I welcome the opportunity of explaining these matters, I feel that the anxieties expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite are not real ones, and that they dishonour themselves when they say that their constituents have no opportunity of challenging what it is proposed to do.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
We are very grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his very full, comprehensive and sincere approach to the rather difficult problem brought forward from this side of the Committee. However, he has not quite faced the problem. He came to the point of order, and then when he came to face the problem he rather inclined to hide behind the point of order.
Let me put it this way. What my hon. Friends, who have great experience 1638 of local authority matters, are concerned about is the local government position. There are two aspects to the security referred to in the Clause. Fifty per cent. of the security is provided out of Parliamentary moneys. My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) has just made it perfectly clear that my hon. Friends are not in the least concerned about any inadequacy of control over that 50 per cent. There is full 50 per cent. control through the Home Secretary in this House. Let us clear that out of the way with the answers which the hon. and learned Gentleman has given on the Parliamentary aspect of representation here.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. and learned Gentleman speaks of full control over 50 per cent. There is, in fact, full control over 100 per cent., because when my right hon. Friend can be questioned about this he is questioned about not half the expenditure but all of it.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I accept that. I ought to put it rather more accurately. I should have said that there is full Parliamentary control over what arises from taxation. Therefore, there is full democratic control over what arises from taxation.
Let us take the 50 per cent. raised from rates. It is true—this is the whole point—that there can be Parliamentary accountability through the Home Secretary in the House for that 50 per cent. The point is, however, that the money is raised by rates through the corporations. Therefore, it is the corporations who should have the say about it. It is no more necessary to say that there is accountability through the Home Secretary in the House of Commons than to say that there is accountability to any other body. The House of Commons is a tax representative body. It is not a rates representative body, and it is no answer to say that there is an hon. Member who represents a certain borough in the House. The Member is not here as a representative of the ratepayers. The councillors are the representatives of the ratepayers.
Therefore, the point is that with regard to the 50 per cent. raised by rates, the representation, the accountability or at the least the consultation should be with the Metropolitan boroughs, which are the democratic bodies representative of the 1639 ratepayers. It is no answer to say that there is accountability for the 100 per cent. in this House when only 50 per cent. is raised by taxation and the other 50 per cent. by rates.
I agree at once with the reference to the point of order which was made by the hon. and learned Gentleman. Of course, the Clause is on the basis of the law as it stands. However, I suggest that it is perfectly legitimate to cover this, and certainly advisable to do so now that we have gone so far, when extended borrowing powers are given enabling the Receiver to raise further moneys. We are at least entitled to an answer in respect of further moneys which are to be raised on the additional security provided by the Clause, and, therefore, on the general principle which is applicable as between ratepayers and taxpayers.
It is not at all surprising that such a very distinguished lawyer as the present Lord Chancellor, when he was Home Secretary, promised, as I understood from my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), to look into this matter and give it his consideration. It is a serious problem. It is a difficult point of much wider import than this Bill. What we therefore ask, and what my hon. Friends have been asking for, are these two things. First, within the discretion which already exists for the Home Secretary, there should be proper consultation with the boroughs. The second point is that the extremely important point of principle which my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton brought before the Committee should be subject to the serious consideration which the present Lord Chancellor, the Home Secretary at that time, obviously considered it merited.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
I am sorry that I cannot follow this fascinating discussion, on which I find myself in entire agreement with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas), but I want to raise an entirely different question.
I want to ask the Joint Under-Secretary whether I am correct in assuming that the words "Metropolitan magistrates' courts" include Metropolitan juvenile courts? On that 1640 assumption I wish to press the hon. and learned Gentleman to give some assurance to the Committee that under these new powers which are being obtained by the Receiver some expenditure will very quickly be provided for a better service of Metropolitan juvenile courts than is at the moment available. As I understand it, this Clause is in no sense, as Clause 3 was, a formal change. It is much more than that because, in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, we read:There is no current power to borrow for court purposes; the amount of borrowing necessary will depend upon the extent and scale of building it is possible to carry out over a number of years …I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman can give the Committee an assurance that there will be an extended building programme to deal with the quite shocking conditions which at present obtain in the Metropolitan juvenile courts.
It is always an embarrassing issue of Parliamentary ethics to know how far one ought to confuse one's functions as a magistrate with one's functions as a Member of Parliament. I am always extremely reluctant to do so, but I have thought about this for some time. I think it would be wrong to allow the opportunity to pass without drawing the attention of the Committee to these very shocking conditions.
I do not do so in any real sense of censuring the hon. and learned Gentleman and his Department. The problems are difficult. They are problems which baffled my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) when he was in charge of the Department, They are not new, but they are getting worse because of the increase in the size of the court lists. The main cause of the difficulty is that, in order to try to avoid the unpleasantness of children's courts taking place in adult magistrates' courts, they are held in buildings which are available only temporarily, with one or two exceptions, for the day on which they are used. In other words, the courts are tenants wandering from place to place.
§ Mr. Renton
On a point of order. Sir Gordon. I am very reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member, because he is speaking on a very important matter; but, unfortunately, it does not come within the 1641 Bill. This Bill deals with Metropolitan magistrates' courts and that means stipendiary courts, not juvenile courts.
§ Mr. MacColl
That is a horrible point of order which leaves me breathless because, if it does not deal with what, after all, are not petty sessional courts, but courts in the Metropolitan magistrates' area under the Chief Magistrate, staffed by Metropolitan stipendiary and other magistrates, which historically have stemmed from the ordinary stipendiary courts, who has power to spend money on these miserable and unfortunate victims of the present situation?
If it is true that the Bill does not cover Metropolitan juvenile courts, the position is appalling. It means that the Receiver is responsible for providing the buildings. They are not petty sessional courts that come under the ordinary arrangements for petty sessions. They are clerked, run and staffed in every way by the Metropolitan courts.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I understand that juvenile courts are outside the terms of the Bill and therefore cannot be discussed.
§ Mr. MacColl
I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman has been misinstructed. I have not got a copy of the Metropolitan Police Courts Act, 1840, so I do not know the definition of a magistrate's court. It is not defined in the Bill.
It is a fantastic situation. Where one has courts that are under the Chief Magistrates, are staffed by officers from Bow Street, clerked by Bow Street clerks, and are in every way an integral part of the service provided by the Metropolitan Police Court, in the old use of the word, and now the Metropolitan magistrates' courts, I cannot believe that by some kind of failure in draftsmanship, because that is all it can be, the Receiver is to have no power to borrow money to build properly constituted courts. The overcrowding and the difficulties encountered, and I use a blunt word, are scandalous. These courts are worse than anything in an adult court. If it is out of order to discuss juvenile courts, the moderateness with 1642 which I started in my desire not to get involved in controversy in this matter is very rapidly evaporating.
Is it the intention when Metropolitan police courts are provided to include facilities in those buildings for juvenile courts? The present practice is not to do so. That practice is a very good one, but if nothing can be done about juvenile courts, under the present position—and I speak purely as an individual—I am not sure that it would not be better to have them included as an integral part of the adult court buildings. That would be better than the existing situation where in some cases—and I am not grinding a personal axe because the court which has the misfortune of having my services most frequently is one of the better ones and I have not much to complain about—the courts are deplorable.
We have the extraordinary situation of people coming from all over the world, and from all parts of the country, to see our juvenile courts and to assess the high reputation that they have earned. Modesty forbids me from assessing the benefit derived by these visitors, but people are brought from the confines of the Empire and the Commonwealth to see how these courts work. On arrival these people are appalled at the conditions under which the children are kept and under which the juvenile courts function.
It is unfortunate that when the hon. and learned Gentleman produced this Bill to borrow money to provide a court, he did not take the trouble to include juvenile courts. That is something which I find very difficult to believe. It indicates an indifference to the problem that I am extremely surprised to find. I did not rise with the intention of criticising the hon. and learned Gentleman, because I have always found his Department sympathetic in this matter.
In one well-known court we have the situation where, when the bench wants to deliberate and to consider its decision, it has to retire behind curtains. Every word of the discussion about whether there should be a finding of guilty, or what treatment should be given to the child, can be heard by the rest of those in the court. There is no proper retiring room.
§ Mr. Renton
I hope that I have not done the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) an injustice by making it clear that his remarks are irrelevant to the Clause. The point is that we are not taking power under the Clause for the Receiver to borrow money for the purpose of building, extending, or improving juvenile courts because, although he is responsible for providing such courts, he has advised us that he can do so out of his current expenditure, and does not need borrowing powers for that. The Clause deals only with borrowing powers.
§ Mr. MacColl
If the Receiver has said that, will the hon. and learned Gentleman ring up the Receiver or write to him and ask him why he has not done this for the fifteen years that have elapsed since the war?
§ Mr. Renton
I rise for the second time to deal briefly with the two points which have been raised by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas). He asked, first, whether prior consultation had taken place with local authorities. I dealt with that point in my original reply and I had hoped that he would accept what I said about the degree of consultation which has taken place, and accept my argument that it is adequate, bearing in mind the fact that we have had no demand from local authorities for an extension of the present arrangements.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
I accept the statement of fact that the Minister makes, as I accept statements from all Ministers. What I do not accept is the adequacy of the statement.
§ Mr. Renton
Secondly, the hon. and learned Member asked whether or not ratepayers should pay half the expenditure of the police, and so on. This raises a fundamental point of constitutional principle which does not arise on the Clause, but the hon. and learned Member would gain great enlightenment if he had a word with his right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who has already expressed the correct constitutional position in this House and whose wisdom on this matter is well known.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
That is no answer. The Minister cannot ride away with that remark. He gave a considered reply, and I gave a considered reply to his reply. If he proposes to inquire further, I would ask him not to wave his hand but to deal with the arguments on their merits, which, in his latest remarks, he has completely failed to do.
§ Mr. Lipton
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. The Joint Under-Secretary has not attempted to deal with any of the more important points that we have been allowed to make. We cannot part with the Clause without making one further and most respectful attempt to secure from the hon. and learned Gentleman some kind of assurance. I will not press him too hard, because he is not in a position, on a Friday afternoon, in Committee on a comparatively minor Bill—minor only in comparison with more important legislation—to make an important statement of Government policy affecting constitutional principles.
I first raised some of the points discussed today as long ago as January, 1952. On that occasion the then Home Secretary said:They are matters for inquiry, and that inquiry I shall make."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT. 29th January, 1952; Vol. 495, c. 127.]
§ Mr. Lipton
It raised exactly the same constitutional point. If you require to be satisfied about that, Sir Gordon, I shall have to go through the whole debate, which will take up even more time. I do not wish to presume upon either your patience—and you have been very patient with me today—or that of the House, but it was promised in 1952 that this matter would be the subject of an inquiry. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the matter has ever been inquired into and, if it has not, or if the inquiry is still going on, tell us when we are likely to know something more about it?
The fact that this point has not been raised very often, and that there have been no representations from the Metropolitan borough councils in the last year or two does not affect the point. There is still a very considerable feeling about it, and there is no earthly reason why 1645 this feeling should be ignored or why an attempt should not be made to deal with what I think are the legitimate representations or complaints of ratepayers in the Metropolitan Police District. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman should be a little more forthcoming than he has been so far.
§ Mr. Sparks
I do not wish to prolong the proceedings unduly, but I had hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman might have held forth a glimmer of hope that at least this matter would be reconsidered or looked into. The fact that at the moment no representations have been made by any of the local authorities in the Metropolitan Police District is probably due to the fact that they have made so many in recent years that they are sick and tired of making any more. I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that this is not a dead issue at all. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) who spoke earlier referred to the standing joint committees of the county councils, upon which there are equal numbers of county councillors and other representatives of the police authority and the Home Secretary looking after these matters. It has been suggested, I understand, on previous occasions that a Standing Joint Committee for the Metropolitan Police area might be considered.
§ Mr. Sparks
No, Sir Gordon; I cannot pursue that matter any further. I am trying to point out to the hon. and learned Gentleman, who says that no representations have been made, the fact that there have been, and that this is one of them. All I wish to ask him, as we all have done, since we are concerned about future expenditure arising from this Clause under the wide powers given to the Receiver of the Metropolitan Police to raise a lot of money, is that, since there is plenty of time and this expenditure will not come about for several more years, he will consult with the representatives of the people who will have to pay half of the cost. That is all we are asking.
Plans will have to be put forward for this money, which will have to be borrowed, presumably, on a plan which 1646 will be developed over a period of years. I would not have thought that there was any insuperable obstacle to an authority saying "We will borrow the money and do quite a lot of building over a period of years, and we will consult with those local authorities whose ratepayers are to pay half of it." What we are asking does not concern this year, but what is done next year, the year after and the year after that. All we are asking for is that the people who will have to pay half the money shall be taken into consultation before the estimates are finalised. When the figures are final and brought here, we will be banging our heads against a brick wall, because we cannot unscramble the egg that has already been scrambled.
That is all we are asking the hon. and learned Gentleman to do, and I am very disappointed that he has given us what appears to be a blank refusal to do anything about the matter. I hope that as it is not too late for him to make representations, wherever he is able, to have the matter reconsidered, because I can assure him that this is a live issue and that the local authorities and the ratepayers in the Metropolitan Police Area are by no means satisfied.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.