HC Deb 09 December 1974 vol 883 cc104-66

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. John Ellis.]

7.0 p.m.

Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)

There is no regular occasion in the House to debate the affairs of the police in the way that there is in relation to the Armed Forces, yet the protection of freedom in our society under the rule of law ranks with defence as the prime duty of Government. Today, therefore, we have chosen the subject of the shortage of police as a topic for debate in the hope that the Home Secretary will welcome the opportunity to tell us what progress the Government have made and expect to make in making good the very serious shortfall that there is in the police force.

We ask much of the police. Police duties and responsibilities in this age of rapid social and economic transition are very much more demanding and complicated than ever they used to be. We expect them to maintain law and order with scrupulous care for the liberty of the subject. We expect them to cope with soaring rates of crime, especially violent crime and juvenile crime, and with constantly increasing traffic and large numbers of demonstrations, especially in London. We expect the police to win the confidence of immigrant groups and to protect the country from terrorism.

Considering the burden that is upon the police and the shortages of manpower, the police continually earn our respect and gratitude for the work that they do. I wish to start my speech by paying a tribute to their remarkably high performance. They are asked to do work calling for a high order of judgment, initiative and discipline, often in the face of great and deliberate provocation. Without their dedication society would be in danger of falling apart. The least we can do for them is to ensure that they have the manpower and the backing to tackle their task with less pressure than that which is upon them today. They are under pressure. Crime is, alas, still rising fast.

We have had a recent announcement from the Home Office comparing the crime figures for the first half of this year with the equivalent figures for the first half of last year. Overall, the crime rate, for offences recorded as known to the police in England and Wales, has risen by 20 per cent. The burglary rate has risen by 22 per cent., which is a fairly sharp contrast with last year's experience, when there had been a fall of 11 per cent. between the first halves of 1972 and 1973. The rate of theft and the handling of stolen goods has risen by 23 per cent. The criminal damage rate—which I imagine is largely vandalism—has risen by 28 per cent. There has been, as I said, an overall increase of 20 per cent., and a much larger increase in the rate of juvenile crime—a distressing feature which ties up with the subject of the previous debate.

Not only has the incidence of crime been continuing to rise fast but, of course, terrorism has made new incursions in our land. The House gave a welcome to the Home Secretary's Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act last week, when I think that we all recognised that the burden of carrying into effect the provisions of that Act will impose extra duties upon the police.

To face this aggregate of very difficult tasks, the police, alas, are still heavily undermanned. The latest figures that we have are the figures at the end of 1973, in which out of 45 police authorities no fewer than 16 had shortages greater than 10 per cent. of their establishment, and two of those 16, the Metropolitan Police and the West Midlands Police, had shortages of over 20 per cent. of their establishment. The Metropolitan Police are handling 20 times more crime than they were in 1921—and a large increase in violent crime—with 800 fewer men than they had in 1921.

I have to say at once that the number of civilians employed by the police force has risen dramatically to supplement and to complement the work of the police, and we must not forget that this has increased effectively the performance of the individual police officer. But when one considers that a quarter of the crime in this country takes place in the metropolitan area, and that in that area are found the embassies and the great mass of the demonstrations, as well as huge volumes of traffic, one realises that it is extraordinary that the police should be even asked to tackle that mountain of work, even with civilian help, with 800 fewer staff than they had in 1921. It is, therefore, all the more creditable that the police have managed, by increased operational efficiency, to offset some of the effects of undermanning.

We know that our police are much admired abroad and at home. Earlier this year a poll of public opinion was taken in this country. People were asked which institutions they held in the highest respect. That poll showed that top of the list came the police force, admired by 70 per cent. of those who answered—a far, far higher proportion of the population, alas, than that which had admiration for our work in this House.

The police are demonstrating mounting skills in detecting the crimes on which they focus. I referred a little earlier to their success in the period between the first half of 1972 and the first half of 1973 in turning down the volume of robbery on which they concentrated in 1973. I think that I may have given the House a wrong figure earlier. There has been a rise in robbery of 7 per cent. in the first six months of this year, compared with the figure for the first six months of last year. That rise compares with a fall of 19 per cent. between the first half of 1972 and the first half of 1973. That fall in 1972–73 coincided with the attempt by the police to focus particularly on robbery, which attempt seemed then to be very successful.

The police record is not perfect. There are occasionally justified complaints, or worse. We know that the vast majority of complaints have been disproved. We know that the Home Secretary is negotiating with the police a more sophisticated complaints machinery. I should like to hear about the present position on that matter from the Home Secretary.

In brief, however, the police seem to be better organised, more effective, more accountable and more respected than ever before in our history, at a time when they have probably more to do than ever before. If they can achieve this relatively well despite severe undermanning, the country and the House will ask why should they not do much better still if only they were fully manned. That is the question we put to the Government.

The present position is that the cost of keeping any control at all over the more serious crimes is that scant attention is paid to crimes which in normal times would be called serious but which are all too often now regarded as relatively minor. For instance, burglaries, of which there are enormous numbers of examples every year, can now claim very little police time. There are far too few men available for preventive patrolling, and the detective force carries a huge case load. There is a great deal more to be done on the preventive side which the police are either at present not asked to do or do not have the manpower to carry out.

This is not a debate about the roots of crime, but we all know that there are preventive and prophylactic policies which we should be asking the police to help the authorities concerned to put into effect, and which might reduce the crime rate in future. Only last week the National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders—NACRO— invited Dr. Oscar Newman to this country to give a talk on "Defensible Space". It seems now to be commonly agreed that the briefs that we give to architects for many of our building schemes are almost designed to encourage crime and alienation. I have the sad feeling, as one who was many years ago a Minister of Housing, that the social mistakes of the past in our housing estates are reproduced now on thousands of drawing boards all over the country, and that we could repeat the mistakes in the future simply because we have not drawn on the lessons that the police, in conjunction with social workers and voluntary bodies, could teach us for our guidance in future design.

If we want the police to carry out a constructive social function for the community, in which they would provide constructive links with social workers in order to ease social stress, we must give them the manpower to carry out both their prime job and other important work. I need hardly tell any hon. Member that there is great public concern about crime. No subject features more often in hon Members' postbags than worry among constituents about crime, particularly violent crime.

We recognise, in approaching this debate, that in the present state of the economy public expenditure must not be increased. Indeed, the Opposition would say that public expenditure should be decreased. If, therefore from this Box I urge on the Home Secretary that expenditure considerations should not constrain police recruitment, I would couple that with the fact that during the past two General Elections the Opposition urged that public expenditure should be restrained, if necessary more in some areas than in others, so as to allow for extra expenditure in four or five main areas. During both General Elections we urged that those special areas should include the police. Therefore, I can with an easy conscience press on the Home Secretary, if necessary, the need to increase public expenditure on the police service.

We ask the Government to give top priority to increasing police manpower. I believe that the Home Secretary will be able to confirm that he is not restrained in this respect by Treasury injunctions. An answer to a question during recent Select Committee proceedings encourages me to believe that that is so.

We believe that the police are now able, given the manpower, to turn the tide of crime back. But at the moment there is a vicious circle. The combined level of pay and working conditions is not enough to attract sufficient men of quality. Therefore, those now in the service have to work longer hours and undergo unsatisfactory conditions, and so they quit, thus making the task of those who remain even harder.

I turn to the shortage and the cure. Everything that I say from now is subject to the qualification that we would expect the Government and the police authorities to maintain quality. Pay, which has just been increased, is a vital factor, but not the only factor that the police have to face. The biggest factor is wastage, which I am sure stems mainly from a dissatisfaction with working conditions. The job satisfaction of a policeman is potentially high but now is often soured by the irregularity and length of hours, by shift and weekend working, and by cancellation of leave. All these maters affect home life. We read with sympathy and dismay that in the Metropolitan Police, a police officer can expect to get off only one weekend in every eight. In such circumstances the strain on home life must be very considerable.

As the Home Secretary is aware, the pre-war policeman expected and got far better conditions and pay than the average industrial worker. Now, when the need for policemen is desperate, both pay and working conditions are far worse than those of the average industrial worker. We urge the Home Secretary to take every possible step to increase the number of policemen, while maintaining the quality.

What can we suggest? Our suggestions will all be familiar and so I shall not spend long dealing with them. The Home Secretary should review pension arrangements and, because shortage is worse in big cities, he should consider a big-city allowance, if that is the only way to make good the shortage. He should also look at the career structure. Does it make sense that when young people leave school at 18 they find that they cannot be recruited into the police until aged 19? That point should be considered.

There should also be more reward for long service. We recognise the value of a policeman who stays in a community, knows it and takes a part in it. Such a policeman should be rewarded for his length of experience. There should also be more opportunities for promotion. We hope that an increase in the numbers of policemen would enable the Home Secretary to remove some of the sore points from present working conditions. We also ask whether housing allowances are effective, and we wonder whether there is further scope to civilianise more of the jobs in the police service.

We ask the Home Secretary how his working party is progressing in relation to special constables. We realise that the police forces have mixed feelings about special constables, and all hon. Members will appreciate that special constables cannot do the main job of the police. But they can back up the police and relieve them of more mundane tasks. We hope that the Home Secretary will give some information on this point.

All these proposals have implications for public expenditure, but I put finally a proposition to the Home Secretary. The British taxpayer has to pay a large amount in taxes. He has to pay taxes for many things of which he disapproves. We could each make a little, or perhaps a long, list of those taxes which the British taxpayer pays with the greatest distaste. But there is I believe one element of the tax system which the taxpayer would pay readily—those taxes to increase the strength and effectiveness of the police forces. That is the sort of taxation which the British taxpayer thoroughly understands. If it were to produce less crime, and more effective and more fully manned police forces, the British taxpayer would be willing to pay the part of his taxes that would go to that end.

The Home Secretary has much credit to gain with the public if he succeeds in reducing the under-manning. I say this with diffidence and caution, but one of the few comforting by products of any recession that may be emerging is that undermanned public services as a whole—I do not pick out only the police, but also, for instance, transport and health services —may be able to recruit manpower of talent and quality that, especially in the case of the police, is greatly needed.

We wish the Home Secretary well if he is to undertake this task. We hope that he will succeed and that he will this evening give the country, and us, some good news of his progress and of his intentions.

7.18 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) concluded his speech by wishing me well, and therefore it would be churlish and would not accord with anything that he said or anything that I desire to say if I were to engage in controversy on this occasion. I welcome the debate. It is desirable that we should discuss the police, and problems of recruitment and police strength, in general terms rather than in relation to a specific occasion. The analogy which the right hon. Gentleman drew, of saying that we automatically discuss the Armed Forces—some people think, by our traditions in the House, on almost too many occasions a year—but hardly ever discuss the police, except when a particular issue arises, makes it desirable that this topic should have been chosen on this occasion.

We hold the debate against the background of a terrorist threat almost without precedent in this country. It is a threat which we have debated at length recently and one aspect of which we shall debate again on Wednesday. Therefore, I shall not say any more about it on this occasion—at least not anything significantly more.

We also hold the debate against the background of rising crime figures which, unfortunately, have been a feature of our society for a considerable time past. The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East knows well the statistical history of this matter, which was that after a fairly long period of a depressing rise, we suddenly had what I fear proved to be a "false dawn" in the latter part of 1972 and the early part of 1973. Curiously, it appears in the statistics as though it were a 1973 phenomenon but in fact it began in the latter part of 1972 and reversed itself in about the middle of 1973. The trend had already turned the wrong way almost by the last six months of 1973. I think it would be difficult to draw any conclusions from this, except that the remission, immensely welcome in itself, did not seem to have any long-term consequences.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the substantial increases in many categories of crime during 1974, provided that he recognises that this began in 1973—as he does—and is also right to draw attention to the fact that perhaps the most disturbing feature is the increase in juvenile crime, a subject which was debated earlier today, to some extent.

If one is looking, as one must, for some slight sign of alleviation, it is that the increase in violent crime has not been nearly as great as the increase in crime in general. However, I do not believe that we should draw too much comfort from this, for what we want is not just a slowing down in the rate of increase but a reduction in the amount of violent crime. The increases which have come forward have not been reflected in the same rate of increase in that form of crime, namely, violent crime, which, although all crime disturbs us, disturbs us most of all.

The broad questions about the rule of law which have so recently and so vividly faced us all more than justify our applying ourselves to a wide spectrum of police affairs tonight. The right hon. Gentleman dealt with these wider issues, although focusing upon the question of police recruitment. I want to follow much the same pattern in my reply and to try to pick up at any rate a fair proportion of the right hon. Gentleman's points. If I let some of them slip I am sure that my hon. Friend the Undersecretary will deal with the others when she concludes the debate.

It is right that we remember that the tasks that the police have to carry out are not only vital to the whole fabric of civilised society; they are tasks which Parliament has specifically laid upon them by the House under successive Governments. The responsibilities of the police have always been heavy and have become significantly more so as a result of recent developments, to which the right hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention and which are readily present to the mind of every hon. Member.

The police have responded readily and effectively to the additional demands placed upon them by the Prevention of Terrorism Act which the House carried through a little over 10 days ago—in particular, the travel controls. Ever since the beginning of the wave of terrorism in Great Britain in March 1973 —alas, it had existed in Northern Ireland before—the police have maintained a high level of surveillance at seaports and airports dealing with the Irish traffic and a still higher level of surveillance is now being exercised following the new legislation.

Few people will doubt the value of the efforts which the police are devoting to counter-terrorist operations. Successive Governments have devoted the highest priority to supporting the police in this vital aspect of their activity.

I do not think that at this time we should forget or ignore the fact that there have been some notable police achievements in this field in the last week or so. It is important, from the point of view of police morale, which is vital to us all at present, that the House should express its appreciation of what has been achieved in this field.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I am very glad that the Home Secretary has paid that well-deserved tribute to the police. Will he couple with it a particular tribute to the Special Branch? I ask this simply because, perhaps more than any other branch, the Special Branch has been, quite wrongly, vilified in many public prints. Of course the Special Branch makes mistakes, but it, too, is entitled to credit.

Mr. Jenkins

The Special Branch, as I think the hon. Gentleman knows, has never been vilified by me. I have the highest regard for its work, and I think it is of peculiar importance at this time. The Special Branch, like the whole of the police, knows that it has to operate within proper limits. It is left in no doubt of that by me. It also knows how much we depend upon its work.

One of the great difficulties of police work is that if, on the one hand, the police fail to give adequate protection to the public, they are bitterly criticised, and if, on the other, they step an inch over the line, they are just as bitterly criticised. This is part of the challenge of police work—to be able to strike the right balance, and a very difficult balance it is. I believe the police know that it is certainly the case that I—as, indeed, any Home Secretary—while accepting my responsibility to the House and to the public, and to our great civil and libertarian ideals, to ensure that proper safeguards are preserved, am still aware of the great debt we owe to the police, including the Special Branch, and in the proper exercise of their function they will have every support from me.

Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that the strength of the Special Branch will be maintained? Does he agree that in these very difficult times its strength should be increased?

Mr. Jenkins

This is a function of the strength of the police as a whole. There is certainly no question of not maintaining the strength of the Special Branch, and if it were thought desirable that there should be some slight switch of strength I should of course consider that. However, though I have a certain general supervisory duty, it is a duty of the commissioner and of police constables throughout the country on whom the operational responsibility lies to maintain the proper balance between their various arms. If they made representations to me I would consider them most seriously, but they have not yet done so.

During the past three weeks chief constables have, at the request of the Home Office, been urgently reviewing their requirements for equipment—in par- ticular, in relation to some of the problems which face us today—with the help of officers from the Police Scientific Development Branch of the Home Office. The object has been to see what further equipment can usefully be deployed. The equipment includes metal detectors, devices for detecting explosives of various sorts, low-dosage X-ray equipment and other devices the details of some of which it would not be in the public interest to reveal.

Security at the ports, as at other places, can never be 100 per cent., but at least it is evident that the measures now being taken provide a significant capability for preventing terrorists, their weapons and explosives from entering the country. No matter what route they choose, bombers and bomb material run an increasing risk of detection.

It is clear, too, that a high proportion of police time has been taken up over the past few years—perhaps not entirely over the past few years—by public demonstrations and other gatherings of people which may result in breaches of the peace or other infringements of the law. In his annual report for 1973 the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police reported that in his police district there had been 445 major events requiring special police arrangements, and the demands made this year have certainly been no less. Such occurrences impose a heavy strain not only on police manpower but also on the patience and endurance of all ranks and on the powers of judgment and decision of the senior officers in control of police operations.

Yet there are considerations which I believe the whole House would wish to accept, both of principle and of a practical nature, which severely limit the scope for action by the Government or by Parliament to relieve the police of this strain. The right of people to assemble freely and to give vocal expression to their opinions, provided they do so peaceably, is not one that any of us would willingly forgo.

The manpower situation is, therefore, central to this debate. The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East said, "If only the police were fully manned". We can all agree with that. My predecessors in office with whom he served will agree with that, and so would I have in my previous period in office. There have been some improvements, and the police service is substantially larger than it was when I ceased to be Home Secretary in 1967, but the present picture is not wholly reassuring, and this is clearly no news to the House. Indeed, in some areas of the country it is particularly disturbing, but at the same time we should remember that it is not a picture of unrelieved gloom.

At the end of October the strength of the police service in England and Wales was 101,014. This was a gain of 448 in the first 10 months of this year. Although this is a smaller net increase than in 1973, mainly owing to high wastage in the early months of 1974, the last three months have produced better results. Recruitment is now running at the level of 1973, and the response to national advertisements—a pointer to national recruitment—is currently at a very satisfactory level.

I am glad to say that there was another high intake of police cadets this year which brought the strength up by 305 to a new record level of 5,474. I believe that it is particularly important that we should encourage and sustain the interest of these young people in the police so that they go on to make it their chosen career.

There is a separate point which was raised by the right hon. Gentleman about the age of entry into the force proper as opposed to the cadet force, and I shall come to that in a moment. Although there has been a drop in the number of traffic wardens to 5,885, the number of civil support staff of all kinds has gone up by over 2,000, to 32,427. As the right hon. Gentleman recognised, it is essential to have regard to this very substantial figure, now nearly one-third of police strength, in evaluating the strength of the police today as compared with that of a few decades ago when civilian support was of an entirely different and lesser quantity than that which now persists.

The manpower position, of course, is patchy over the country and is least satisfactory in the larger urban areas, and particularly in the two which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. In 1973 the metropolitan loss in strength was 522. So far this year the loss has been just under 200. I find it difficult to know exactly how one ought to evaluate this. To say that this shows a great improvement would, in a sense, be grossly complacent, because a loss of 200 following a loss of 522 means that we are still worse than we were at the end of 1973. On the other hand, I suppose that one can draw somewhat minimal comfort from the decline in the rate of loss, from the flattening out of the adverse curve, but I do not wish to put too much weight upon this. Both the Commissioner and I are doing and will continue to do all we can to improve the position.

Perhaps more important than the flattening out for the year as a whole is that the position has begun to show some improvement in most cases in the last three months, and we must build on these improvements. In the context of what we are doing to improve the manpower figures and in the wider context of what we are doing by way of technical and other support to make the use of the manpower which is available more efficient, I think we can approach 1975 with what I can best describe as cautious optimism. I fully recognise that the individual constable is the service's most vital resource, and our actions must acknowledge this.

In reply to one point made by the right hon. Gentleman, the new pay structure which came into operation following the negotiations early this autumn paid special regard to the long-service constable. That, I think, is of importance because I think we must recognise that however vitally important it is to have a satisfactory promotion structure, and while it is vitally important to back up the individual with the best equipment we can give him, the individual constable, to most people and so far as reality is concerned, is the backbone of the police service. We have to some extent recognised and met that matter.

I come to the subject of pay to which the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East drew attention and on which I believe we have made some worth while progress recently. In July of this year the Police Council reached agreement on new pay scales for the federated ranks and for superintendents with effect from 1st September. Besides the increase in basic pay, there were three significant features of the settlement: first, the introduction of a pay supplement to compensate for the considerable number of unsocial hours worked by the police; second, the full achievement of equal pay for women officers, which I regard as an important step in ensuring that women are given an equal opportunity in the police service and in ensuring that we make the best use of their potential; third, the introduction of further long-service increments to encourage officers to stay in the service.

The overall result was a substantial increase for all ranks. As an example, a newly appointed constable outside London now gets £1,632 per annum, an increase of £279 or 20.6 per cent. over the same date last year. In addition, all police officers get threshold payments amounting to £229.68 and either free quarters or rent allowance in lieu.

In the context of pay I would draw attention to the Police Council agreement, as a result of which the London allowance for the federated ranks and superintendents was increased from £74 to £275 a year, paid from 1st April last. I think it was a considerable act of statesmanship on the part of the Police Federation that while it had always been, for understandable reasons, attached to national scales broadly, it was prepared, even though nearly four-fifths of its members are outside the metropolitan area, to agree to this significant differential for the Metropolitan Police. That made it possible for us to go forward some reasonably significant distance, and I hope this will be helpful.

Finally on the question of pay, I should tell the House that when the recent pay settlement was concluded the Police Council agreed to undertake a review of the structure of police pay, and a working party of the council was set up. Several meetings have already been held, and a report will be submitted to the council next year. I assure the House that the Government will take that report and any recommendations which the council make on it very seriously. We want this matter looked at fundamentally.

Money, however, is not the only factor, though it is of great importance. We are making determined efforts to assist the local recruitment arrangements made by chief officers of police by central pub- licity and by the provision of advice, equipment and facilities. Nearly £700,000 will be spent by the Government this year on national publicity for recruiting, and the Commissioner is spending £130,000 on publicity for the Metropolitan Police alone. The provision of funds for local publicity, which is in addition to the national effort, is a matter for individual police authorities, and I have encouraged them to provide the funds needed. I hope that the same degree of effort can be continued during 1975.

We are in touch also on a slightly different, and difficult, manpower issue— the right hon. Gentleman referred to it —that is, the age limit on entry into the police. I have considered this recently. It would be wrong in any way to reduce the standards for entry into the service simply in an effort to improve the number of police officers. The House will at once accept that we should not be getting anywhere if we suddenly produced figures which showed that we had solved the manpower problem but as a result of reducing standards we had a service which could not do the job as effectively as it had. We must maintain standards.

But that does not mean that we must maintain the age. In the past, it has been generally accepted that 19 was the lowest age at which there was any chance of finding young people of sufficient maturity to hold the responsible and ancient office of constable. I am not sure that this still holds good, and I am conscious that many of the young people who leave school between the ages of 18 and 19 want to start straight away in their chosen career and if we miss them in that year we may never get them back. I am conscious also of the recommendation to this effect in the Seventh Report of the Expenditure Committee.

These issues have been considered by a working group of the Police Advisory Board, and a report on them is to be considered by the board at its next meeting.

As I have made clear to the House, and as I made clear also to the Police Federation at its conference at Scarborough which I addressed last October and on other relevant occasions, I am anxious to make progress in this matter, and I believe that that is the general wish of the House. However, it is important to carry police opinion with us on the matter. Otherwise, we might make progress at the expense of a set-back in other respects. However, accepting what the right hon. Gentleman said and what I believe to be the general view, I assure the House that we shall endeavour, compatibly with carrying police opinion with us, to move in that direction, and I am not unhopeful of the outcome.

I shall now briefly draw together some of the threads in the London situation, although, as a Birmingham Member, I know very well that much of what I say will relate also to the West Midlands and to some other conurbations.

The problems facing the police in London are particularly heavy. It is a matter not merely of crime but of the range of other factors which go to make up the environment in which police officers have to live and work. Demonstrations make great inroads into the private as well as the working lives of the police. There are housing and other difficulties. The manpower situation grows on these and feeds the problems from which it springs. It is no pleasure for any Home Secretary to have to refer to net losses in the force for which he has particular responsibility, and small comfort, as I have said, to be able to say that the net loss this year is smaller than it was last year. But these figures do not yet reflect the increase in pay or the London allowance to which I have referred, and nor do they take account of the relatively encouraging position in the recruitment of women and of cadets into the Metropolitan Police.

The right hon. Gentleman stressed that police expenditure should be freed—I was about to say freed of all constraints, but that would be unfair to him—of unreasonable constraints. I thought that he put the point very reasonably. An old phrase always comes to one's mind in this context. I think that it was said of Sir William Harcourt, the founder of the Special Branch, apart from other matters, —a reference to whom is very appropriate to our discussions—that he was a radical in every Department but his own. There is no danger of that in my case, I need hardly say, but there is a danger of being an economiser in every Department but one's own, or even one's own shadow Department. However, I do not feel that could be laid against the right hon. Gentleman this evening.

The right hon. Gentleman asked for assurances that we were giving sufficient priority to the police. I hope that by my words I have made reasonably clear that we are so doing. By our actions we shall give them full support in their exercise of their proper functions. Provision has accordingly been made in the rate support grant negotiations for an increase of 1,000 police officers next year. I wish to make clear also that if more are forthcoming within authorised establishments—we all know that in the undermanned forces there is a long way to go to authorised establishments— specific grant will be paid on the additional expenditure involved.

One has to have regard to the need for public expenditure to be stringently controlled, and no one would suggest, even in the case of the police, that we should say, "You can spend money without worrying about it." That would not be good for any service or any part of public expenditure at a time when it must be stringently controlled. However, I believe that the House will accept as both helpful and realistic the attitude to the police which I have just carefully defined—1,000 officers provided for, and if more are forthcoming specific grant will be paid.

This is a short though important debate and, after the right hon. Gentleman's succinct opening, I intend to reply fairly succinctly, too. We are concerned about what we ask of the police and what we enable them to do to carry out those tasks, especially as the tasks increase, and I hope that I have given some indication of the attitude which the Government adopt. I do not pretend that it will solve all the problems, but I believe that it provides a proper basis on which to go forward.

There is one advantage in being Home Secretary for the second time. As it happens, I am the first recidivist Home Secretary since Sir John Simon, though whether that is an entirely admirable recommendation I am not quite sure. However, one advantage in being Home Secretary for the second time is that it enables one to look with a certain small sweep of perspective at least over how things have developed during the nine years, or nearly nine years, since I first assumed this office. One thing I can say with confidence is that police morale, in spite of the problems, in spite of the shortages, is higher today than it was nine years ago. I believe that one reason for this is that the police feel the dependence of the public upon them at a time when the fabric of our civilisation is under some challenge, and they are approaching their task with a degree of responsibility, and even humility, which should sometimes go with responsibility, recognising that their relations with the public, always a delicate balance, are better now than they have been for some time past.

I think the police take pride, and rightly so, in their high standing in public esteem, which is shown by the polls and other experiences. They recognise that this must be preserved and built upon by devotion to duty and by restrained exercise of their powers. I believe that this is an important and invaluable factor and the House tonight from this debate should send out a message of encouragement and support to the police in the many and difficult tasks which they have to perform in these peculiarly difficult years.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Before I call upon the next hon. Member to speak I remind the House that a considerable number of hon. Members wish to take part in the debate which will be fairly short. Reasonably short speeches would be helpful all round.

7.51 p.m.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

At the outset I wish to say how much I agree with the Home Secretary's closing words. All of us here have a duty to support the police in their difficult task.

This is the first time I have spoken in the House as the Member for Altrincham and Sale, but since I have spent 12 years in the House it cannot by any degree be categorised as a maiden speech, and therefore I cannot crave the indulgence of the House and expect to make the speech without interruption from the Government benches.

Some years ago there was an American musical called "Finian's Rainbow". One of the songs in it was called "When I'm Not Near the Girl That I Love, I Love the Girl I'm Near". Its sentiment bears a certain similarity to hon. Members who change their constituencies more than once. From 1959 to 1964 I represented Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East and I thought that it was the greatest constituency in the country. The electors there decided that I was not the greatest Member and sent me packing. On April 1967 I came back to the House at a by-election as the Member for Brierley Hill. That lasted until February 1974, and on that occasion it was not the electors who sent me packing but the Boundary Commissioners who decided that Brierley Hill was much too large a constituency and abolished it.

Naturally, during the time that I represented Brierley Hill I thought it was the greatest constituency in the country. Now that I represent Altrincham and Sale I feel without doubt that it is the greatest constituency in the country. It has great things to commend it because its sensible electorate has sent Conservatives to Parliament for as many years as anyone can remember.

This is the time to pay tribute to my predecessor, Tony Barber. When I first came here in 1959 he was a junior Minister. Over the years he rose up the political ladder and the great thing about him was that he never changed as a person. He was always one of the most approachable Ministers in Conservative Governments and in the constituency he was immensely popular and respected. I am sure that I speak for hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that we are delighted at his recent honour and we have no doubt that his great gifts and knowledge will be of enormous value to the other place.

We are debating a most important issue. Britain has the best police force in the world. The Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) have both drawn attention to the problems of under-manning. Those problems exist not only in the Metropolitan area but in all our great urban areas where there seems to be a greater prevalence of crime. On 12th June 1973 there was a debate initiated by the now right hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mrs. Williams). She said then that the Government of the day, which was a Conservative Government, had failed to deal with the serious under-manning which existed in certain police forces, notably the Metropolitan Police. On 2nd December this year the Undersecretary of State for the Home Department gave information which showed that under-manning still exists. Therefore what was happening in June 1973 and for which a Conservative Government was censured is still prevalent, and we are in the same position.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

Surely the hon. Member would want to add that at least now the police are better paid.

Mr. Montgomery

Perhaps the pay is better, but the cost of living has also risen and it is therefore doubtful whether policemen are any better off.

We have been told that recruitment is continuing, but although new men are joining the force there is a great deal of wastage among experienced police officers. When I represented a West Midlands constituency the chief constable told me that he had undertaken a most expensive recruiting campaign. The force had gone particularly to Wales to try to recruit men and it had done extremely well. But at the end of the year the number of recruits taken in more or less just counterbalanced the number of men who were lost through wastage. The great tragedy is that recruits have to be trained whereas the people who are leaving the force are experienced police officers whom the force cannot afford to lose.

We must discover the causes of wastage and try to rectify them. Undoubtedly the first point that any policeman will draw attention to is pay. Recently in a newspaper there were two advertisements, one for traffic wardens and the other for policemen. One offered 18-year-old girls as traffic wardens working regular hours basic pay of £2,000 a year. On the same page the other advertisement offered a 19-year-old policeman who would be doing shift work and therefore unsocial hours £1,757 per annum. In that situation it is no wonder that the police get disgruntled. They work unsocial hours and there is little compensation for that.

The hours cause domestic tensions because wives dislike it when their husbands are working and when their friends and their friends' husbands can go out to enjoy themselves. The policeman's wife must stay at home and baby-sit while her husband is at work. Policemen can have their rest days cancelled at 24 hours or even 12 hours notice. This again puts a strain on family life.

The Home Secretary has talked about the London allowance for officers in the Metropolitan Police. It is being increased by a further £201 a year, and I think that they have already received £74 a year. The difficulty is, however, that although they will get the increased London allowance they will lose one additional rest day per month. A police constable with over 17 years service will lose £156 a year because I believe that he gets £13 under current arrangements for working each of these additional rest days. If that £156 and the amount he pays in tax on his increase in the London allowance is subtracted, the officer will end with very little more than when he started.

The situation will worsen because in September 1975 the police are due to lose a second additional rest day per month with a third going as from January 1976. Unless there is a substantial pay increase in the coming year, therefore, the loss of these three additional rest days will mean a drop in the living standards of constables working in the Metropolitan area.

There has been no mention so far in the debate about the disciplinary code. I hope that the Home Secretary will look at this point. We all realise the reasons for the code, but it is farcical that if a policeman appears before a court on a speeding charge he can be fined and have his licence endorsed and he can then find himself appearing before the police on a further disciplinary charge. Therefore, he could be punished twice for the same crime.

I suppose that the argument is that the police must set an example, but Members of Parliament are responsible for legislation. If an hon. Member is caught speeding he appears in court, and is fined, but that is the end of the matter. Some of our local associations might have something to say about it, but speeding would not necessarily mean that the hon. Member concerned would be kicked out by his constituency party. I cannot understand why the police should be treated differently from any other section of the population.

The police are doing a more difficult job than they have ever done. There has been a decline in discipline in our schools, and this presents tremendous problems. There is less respect for authority, symbolised by violence at football matches and the vandalism on football specials.

The policeman all too often sees the rule of law collectively defied. We have had recent problems with picket lines, when public order was upheld and people were injured. There is then the outcry of police brutality, all too unfairly. If pickets are allowed to do as they like, the other section of the community says that the police are failing in their duty.

I hope that I shall not be accused of being too musical if I recall that years ago Gilbert and Sullivan wrote "The Pirates of Penzance", in which the hit song was "A Policeman's Lot is Not a Happy One". That is very true today. It is up to us to try to ensure that the policeman's lot is made a little happier. There are certain matters we must consider. Basic pay is an important item. A policeman does the job because he wants to do it. But love of job does not pay the rent or mortgage. The policeman's holidays should also be considered. The total annual leave allowance of a police constable with less than 10 years' service is 18 days.

In police recruitment we are competing all the time against industry and commerce. Compared with the conditions in industry and commerce, conditions in the police leave a great deal to be desired.

Unless these matters are put right, wastage in our police forces will continue. It must be stopped if we are to maintain our proud record of having the best police force in the world.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

I am sure that the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) will forgive me if I do not follow closely the lines of either his musical submissions or the opening part of his speech. I was not sure whether he seemed more like the advertisement that we often see, saying "Keep moving", or the ghost of the Vicar of Bray.

The correct tone was set by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary responded to that opening with his analysis of the situation. When they realise that they have men here of the calbre of my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman, the police forces will understand that they need not fear that their case will never be properly put in the House. Perhaps it is the great attribute of the House that when we debate issues of this character, the fundamental concepts that we all share are so ably voiced by both Front Bench speakers.

I shall do my best to accede to your request for brief speeches, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and therefore I shall confine myself to the Metropolitan Police, as my constituency is in outer London. Many of the problems of the forces in the outer London boroughs are much greater than those in the inner London boroughs. It has rightly been said that the Metropolitan Police probably have many more difficulties and duties than police forces in other parts of the country. Because we are the capital city and the centre of the British Commonwealth, and for a variety of other reasons, the Commissioner of Police in the metropolitan area and of his staff, down to every constable, are that little more under constant pressure than any of the other forces in the land.

I am all for demonstrations. As my right hon. Friend said, and the right hon. Gentleman agreed, it is vital that the principle of free speech be maintained, within the terms of law and order. Apart from the problem of demonstrations, we have seen an increase in crime. In some newspapers and magazines we find an absurd inference, perhaps not intended, that there is a relationship between the increase in crime and the police, as if the police were responsible for that increase.

In a debate about our police forces we must go a little wider than just to talk about the police. Everyone in public life must examine the society we have been creating, a society which has made life much more difficult for our police forces. Many people who would have liked to become police officers have decided that it is not worth the candle. In the past few decades there has been an enormous increase in all the ugly aspects of our vulgar, acquisitive society.

Police officers to whom I have spoken have been rather distressed by some sentences imposed by the courts. As an extreme example, train robbers who stole a couple of hundredweights of paper called pound notes, and injured the driver, were sent to prison for 30 years but a hit-and-run driver in my constituency was fined £60. Hit-and-run drivers sometimes take the police many months to apprehend. The police are most diligent in trying to search out the awful people who hit and run and often kill people.

It is very difficult for the police to complain about such sentences, but the House should take note of the examples I have given. In between those two extremes a number of other instances could be quoted. Such examples are bound to have an effect on the morale of the police.

There is another matter which I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will note and raise with the Lord Chancellor or my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. In the Metropolitan area, in particular, police officers are discovering that when they make arrests, and when summonses are issued for a variety of crimes, many months pass before those who have been apprehended can be brought before the magistrates' courts. Yet there are disputes between the magistrates and the local authorities about the building of magistrates' courts. That is not a satisfactory state of affairs. I ask my hon. Friend to take cognisance of what I have said.

A few years ago I contributed to a debate in this House, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), who is also present, about the decision to end the work undertaken by 40 or 50 police officers whose duty had been to go round the metropolis teaching fifth and sixth formers, who were about to leave school, the essentials of how to ride a motor-cycle or drive a motor car. At the same time they had taught young children how urgent and serious it was to understand what was meant, for example, by the Belisha beacons and safety crossings. It seemed at the time that this was a most sensible piece of teaching. It brought young children and those on the threshold of life in contact with police officers in a friendly and sensible way.

Alas, there had to be cuts and there had to be a reduction in some of the extra responsibilities undertaken by the police. Consequently, the useful squads of police officers who went round the schools in the Greater London area were disbanded. We should reinstate a similar squad. I feel sure that the commissioner and senior officers would be only too keen to examine the possibility of a closer liaison with education authorities, and for the police to be able to visit our schools to talk to youngsters just about to leave school on the attractions of joining the police force.

In my constituency many exhibitions are held by industrialists. They are held with a view to persuading young people to become apprentices in certain industries. They put forward the attractions of working in those industries. The police sometimes contribute but often, because of their enormous duties, they find that they cannot take part. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider that proposal in more detail.

Very often police officers in the London boroughs find that much local government legislation, for the enforcement of which they are responsible, could more easily be enforced if there were some sensible liaison between the local police force and the local authority. The suggestions I have made could contribute to making the policeman's lot a happier one.

It is essential that he should have the pay and the conditions of service, not merely to make his job worth while but so that he or she will feel that they are getting a just reward for the magnificent service that they give to the community. Notwithstanding the awards that have been made—I echo what my right hon. Friend said about the patience and good will of the federation in accepting the London weighting allowance for police officers in the Metropolitan area—I believe that remuneration for constables up to the middle grades is not equal to the demands that are made on their services. That situation must be tackled if we are to attract the right sort of people into our police forces. We must ensure that in the structure of the police forces a career is offered which is worth while undertaking.

I believe that we can instil such a feeling into young people who are just about to leave school. I believe that we can introduce to them the idea of joining the police forces. They will do so if they feel confident that there is a career ahead of them which will be well worth while. If they enter the service with that attitude there will be no danger of the magnificent name which the police forces now rightly enjoy being tarnished in any way.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)

I shall concentrate my remarks on the need to expand and strengthen the Special Constabulary. I claim a modest degree of first-hand knowledge and experience as I served for five years as a special constable in what was then the East Suffolk County Police.

It is well known—and it has been said already many times this evening—that the regular police forces are under-manned, overworked and overstretched. That is a situation which is likely to worsen before it improves because of such strains on police manpower as the increase in the number of demonstrations, especially in London, and the frightening rise in terrorist activities, which are likely to continue.

Against that background it should be obvious to everyone that our society will benefit from having a well-trained and efficient police reserve supporting the regular police at all times, and particularly at times of tension, violence or when increased vigilance is required to combat and to prevent terrorism.

The foundations of such a reserve already exist in the shape of the Special Constabulary. It is my contention that the Government should start to build on those admirable foundations by seeking to increase the number of and to improve the effectiveness of our special constables. It is extraordinary that such a policy should be a matter of controversy. It is not a matter of controversy among the senior ranks of the police. Undoubtedly the overwhelming number of chief constables, and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, would give their fullest support to such a policy.

There is controversy and opposition at what might be called the shop steward level of the police forces. The obstacles to progress is the attitude of mind of the Police Federation towards the Special Constabulary. At best its attitude is one of patronising condescension towards the specials, and at worst one of outright prejudice and hostility. If the House thinks that I am exaggerating, there is no need for it to look further than the November issue of the Police Federation's magazine entitled Police. On page 9 of that issue the editor saw fit to publish four somewhat offensive cartoons depicting special constables as geriatric halfwits who hinder rather than help the police. We might be inclined to dismiss those cartoons as jokes in rather bad taste were it not for the remarks, on special constables, which are published on another page, of the secretary of the Police Federation. The magazine sets out the views of Sergeant Les Male, which can be paraphrased simply as "Specials go home".

Sergeant Male makes it clear that the federation does not want specials supplementing police strengths on a regular basis even in such minor matters as directing holiday traffic at large summer gatherings. He does not want specials having a rank other than constable. The federation does not regard specials as anything other than an impediment to the recruitment of regular police force officers. Sergeant Male went on to say that the only time specials could be useful was in time of major emergencies such as the two world wars.

That is the attitude of the Police Federation. It is high time that someone denounced its sentiments as prejudiced and antiquated claptrap that has no place in Britain in 1974. In case the federation has not noticed, we already have a serious emergency that has been created by terrorists. In such circumstances, and with talk in the air of private armies, we cannot regard the police forces as a closed shop in which there is no room for a volunteer reserve of special constables working in support of the civil power.

The attitude that I have outlined shows that the federation is in danger of behaving like dinosaurs in an IRA world. We need extra police manpower for increased vigilance at stations, airports, shopping centres, public houses and all places that are potential bomb targets for attack. We need extra manpower for handling demonstrations so that police officers, especially those from the Metropolitan Police, can spend more than one weekend out of eight with their families. This kind of extra manpower cannot be recruited on a full-time basis. There is not the money and there are not the men willing to take on the jobs on a full-time basis. However, the manpower could easily be recruited from an expanded and better-trained Special Constabulary which is in no way in competition with the regular police.

I should like to be personal for a moment. I joined the Special Constabulary at the age of 20 because I wanted to do some form of worth while and useful service to the community in which I was living. In doing regular duty on the beat and in a patrol car I came across the whole gamut of police experience from coping with appalling road accidents to dealing with crime. Such experience was certainly valuable to me as a younger man, and I hope it was of some small value to the community at large. As I found it such a worth while form of community service, so I believe would thousands of other young people given the slightest encouragement to enter the Special Constabulary.

The one force in which there has been encouragement for the specials, where it can be measured, is the Metropolitan Police. Last year, thanks partly to the enthusiasm for the Specials by the Commissioner, the Specials were given a £10,000 grant, now increased to £12,000, which was spent almost entirely on publicity. As a result, in that one year the strength of the Special Constabulary in the Metropolitan Police has increased from 1,600 to 2,100—an increase of nearly 30 per cent. That is an indication that there is a source of voluntary manpower ready, willing and able to be harnessed in fighting the war against crime and terrorism alongside and in support of the regular police.

Unfortunately, what is being done in the Metropolitan Police is not being done to the same extent in other areas. Indeed, I believe that the Home Office is displaying a somewhat lethargic attitude towards the Special Constabulary.

I should like to give three examples of this lethargy. First, the Home Secretary announced two months ago that he was setting up of special police advisory board to look into the future of the Special Constabulary. Yet this police advisory board is not to meet until 5th February, and no one has yet been appointed to it. Why has there been such a slow and rather slack attitude to this important police advisory board?

Secondly, the Home Office's budget for national advertising for special constables has been reduced in the current year. Why has this reduction been thought necessary?

Thirdly, I was sorry that in an excellent speech the Home Secretary made no mention of the Special Constabulary. I think that if a senior Home Office Minister were to come out clearly in saying that Britain needs more special constables and that it is Government policy, supported by all political parties, to strengthen and expand our Special Constabulary, it would make a great impact.

I have deliberately stirred things up a little in the debate, because I feel so strongly that the Special Constabulary should be encouraged to play a greater part in supporting the civil power in these dangerous times. The hour is great and the attitude of mind of the Police Federation is regrettably small. Now is the time for a political initiative to be taken by the Government to strengthen and expand the Special Constabulary.

8.23 p.m.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

Like my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I consider that more time should be given by Parliament to debate police matters. I do not think that we have got matters in the correct perspective, because many important issues are involved. We in Parliament often pass legislation which places the police in great difficulties in carrying out their already difficult job.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary opened a new police station in my constituency last weekend. Therefore, I should like to identify myself with what has been said tonight about giving the police proper conditions, wages, and the best facilities to carry out the job that Parliament gives them. I think that we tend to expect too much of the police in solving some of our problems. Indeed, sometimes the problems with which they have to deal as a result of legislation are but symptoms of greater social problems.

In the limited time that I have to discuss the matter I want to concentrate on the issue of confidence in our police. I think that we would all agree that the police are increasingly moving into more delicate social areas, such as race relations, trade union disputes and civil liberties. There may be offences being committed in those areas, but I think we must admit that they are highly sensitive areas, which are liable to misinterpretation and charges of lack of confidence in those carrying out and enforcing the law —the police.

At the same time the law is being increasingly challenged. On a number of occasions I have endeavoured to justify incidents which constituted breaking the law. However, we are not debating that matter tonight. The real point is that there is an ever-increasing challenge to the rule of law.

I want to draw attention to trade union activities in this context. People will bring to mind picketing demonstrations, and so on, during industrial disputes which have been seen on television. In industrial relations and trade union activity there is great sensitivity, and in this context a great deal of activity is carried out by the Special Branch. Mention has already been made of the Special Branch, but knowledge of its activities is not as easily available as is knowledge about the ordinary uniformed police.

The Special Branch was originally set up to deal with Irish terrorists and to combat a "potential threat to the State". I believe that is the term that is considered when something deserves the attention of the Special Branch.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that the Special Branch operates within proper limits. People think that Special Branch activities are largely concerned with terrorists, particularly in the context of the legislation that we passed two weeks ago. But it is beginning to become clear from a number of incidents that the Special Branch is involved in matters which certainly do not constitute a potential threat to the State. I appreciate that what is considered a potential threat to the State is capable of many interpretations. How- ever, I should like to draw to the attention of the House cases which do not in any way pose potential threats to the State.

Before coming to the particular incidents, it is important to be aware of the kind of activities involved. One is the encouragement in certain cases of agents provocateurs in industrial disputes, photographing demonstrations and various industrial disputes and asking people to identify the persons depicted in them. Another function of the Special Branch is to maintain surveillance and to conduct searches. Those are the normal activities of the Special Branch, but in industrial relations they can be counter-productive and I question whether the Special Branch even has a rôle in industrial relations.

What is my evidence? As a seaman I saw Special Branch activities with my own eyes. The Special Branch was involved in the seamen's disputes. Evidence has been made available to the House, for Questions have been asked and there has been correspondence with Home Office Ministers.

The manager of one company that was engaged in a dispute—the Strachans Company, of Eastleigh—admitted that he was the contact man for the Special Branch, that he fed it information about his workers, and that files on the workers in his plant were prepared, apparently because one of them belonged to the International Socialist Group. It might be said that such a man was a potential threat to the State, and although I do not accept that argument I appreciate that it could be used. The question is whether the Home Secretary is prepared to justify Special Branch activities in highly sensitive political areas where terrorism is not involved.

Another example concerns nurses in Kent, who, in May of this year were engaged in a dispute. It was admitted by a chief constable that a Special Branch man had been present at a demonstration and had had a camera with him. It was asked why he had had a camera and it was then said that there was no film in it. The point is that photography is a principal activity of the Special Branch, and this raises fundamental questions. Who decides what organisation—the nurses, the seamen or other industrial workers—shall be brought to the attention of the Special Branch? Who decides what constitutes a threat to the security of the State, and what definitions does the Home Secretary use to determine that? Does the possibility of violence have to arise, or is it merely the disruption that occurs from an industrial dispute?

Once a photograph has been taken by a Special Branch man, he has to have identification of the people involved in, say, a dispute, and so he goes to the industrial organisations concerned and asks whether the people in a photograph can be identified. What are the rights of an individual who is asked to identify a person in those circumstances? Is he asked to co-operate in protecting the security of the State? What if he refuses to co-operate? Is he put under any kind of direct or indirect pressure if he refuses?

What is the position of managers who are recruited into working for the Special Branch, directly or indirectly, and into reporting on workers about whom files may be compiled? Whatever one's views about these matters, it must be accepted that these are highly sensitive areas and that it is at least questionable whether the Special Branch should act in this way in our society.

Because time for this debate is short, I am not able to deal in detail with the Starritt inquiry into the killing of Kenneth Joseph Lennon by unknown persons. I hope Parliament will provide time. Lennon was killed in April of this year. The courts have accepted that he was a police informer, possibly an agent provocateur, but they have refused to order the Special Branch men involved to attend, even though there was a plea by the defence that they should attend the court so that their rôle in the matter could be ascertained. As Lennon is dead, it is clear that the only persons with relevant information are the Special Branch men, and yet the courts have refused a defence plea that those officers should be brought before the courts.

Mr. Aitken

Before the hon. Gentleman goes any further with this conspiracy theory of bluebottles under the trade union bed, and the Special Branch, will he allow me to say, as someone who has been under surveillance by Special Branch and brought to trial at the Old Bailey, that I do not accept his sinister picture of Special Branch men, and that my experience of them, however distasteful it was for me to be prosecuted by the Special Branch, was that they behaved as totally professional police officers, with complete rectitude? That is a more accurate picture than the hon. Gentleman is giving us.

Mr. Prescott

I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. He may well believe that those Special Branch officers acted correctly. He may think that taking photographs is acting correctly, and that identifying industrial workers in dispute and compiling files about them is acting correctly. Knowing his views on these subjects, I am not surprised.

The main issue is whether those activities are correct, and whether that is what the Special Branch ought to do. The hon. Gentleman does not have to accept my view of the matter. The courts have been increasingly concerned about the rôle of agents provocateurs and police informers, and the Lennon case has made clear that there is that concern.

The inquiry into the Lennon affair was conducted by the police themselves, unfortunately, which does not give the greatest confidence in the validity of inquiries when the activities of the police are questioned.

What is true is that the offence of entrapment which has been evident in some cases is one which the courts are not prepared to entertain. That must be of serious concern to Parliament because, although the Home Office has certain rules, in these cases the actions are not challengeable. My concern is that the courts have refused to deal with the activities of the Special Branch.

In these delicate areas where confidence in our police force is increasingly required, certain essential steps must be taken to improve the situation. First, there should be an independent body to consider complaints against the police. Such a step would be supported by a number of policemen. The Home Secretary made it clear that he supports the principle, and I hope that within the next six months that procedure will be brought into being. It is known that the police organisations are opposed to such a procedure, but I must tell the House that a number of policemen in my area and other areas feel that an independent inquiry would provide a fairer way of dealing with complaints and that such a body would give the public more confidence in the police.

I said during the Second Reading debate on the terrorism Bill that we should have to look for the compilation of a Bill of Rights. Lord Scarman, in his speech, made a substantial case for the establishment of such a Bill, and Parliament should consider that as a means of protecting the rights of individuals. The use of Judges' Rules, and the law of detention, is increasingly being flouted and individuals rights threatened.

Parliament should institute some kind of check upon the activities of the Special Branch, so that we may take into account its activities in security matters, which I accept in certain rôles. There should be public accountability, because the rights of individuals are involved in these matters. We are not able to debate the findings of the Starritte inquiry because time is short, but Parliament should establish some form of council to look into matters affecting security, thereby ensuring that there is public accountability.

No one denies that the police have a difficult job to do, but the areas in which the Special Branch carries out its activities have been increased by recent legislation and the activities of those concerned should not go unchecked. If their actions are right they will be justified, but if they are not they should be considered carefully, in the interests of all concerned. We must restrict the power that we give by ensuring that there is adequate supervision. It is important to do this for the sake of the rights and freedoms of all within our society.

8.38 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Jenkins) in his admirable speech, described himself as the first recidivist Home Secretary in this House. In declaring an interest I feel that I am doing so as one recidivist speaking to another, for while I have no interests to declare at this moment I shall tomorrow resume my post as adviser to the Police Federation, and I am proud to do so.

The Home Secretary said that after some years he has returned to the Home Office to find the police stronger— "better equipped", I think he said—and certainly more warmly regarded by their fellow citizens than at any time previously. I think he is right in that, but if the police have grown in strength, in equipment and in the regard of their fellows, the pressures on them have grown very much faster.

In the interests of saving time it would be wrong to attempt to survey the whole scene. I merely list briefly some of the rising pressures upon the police today. Crime is growing in both violence and complexity. I wonder whether the House has any idea of the number of police hours that are spent in disentangling a major fraud.

With regard to the traffic problem, there are 15 million cars and it is a matter not simply of directing them but of the enormous carnage which they create in life and limb and their use as accessories to crime. There are also demonstrations, not only of a political but of an industrial character—strikes, pickets, sit-ins, and so on. Justified of not, they invariably place new pressures on the police.

There are also particular pressures in urban areas which perhaps we fail to recognise. I wonder whether hon. Members realise how great an additional pressure tourists place on the Metropolitan Police. The police are also concerned with football crowds, the need to protect embassies, and the drug problem.

There is an ever-increasing list of legislation with which the police are concerned. As the Secretary of State for Energy this afternoon listed the new speed limits and the restrictions on the use of heating in factories and advertising signs—measures with which we all agree—I wonder how many Members gave a second thought to the additional burden which they must place on our limited police.

The pressures on the police increase all the time. In return, what should this House give to the police if they are to do their job well? First, they need more and better equipment. This pays off. Few pieces of equipment have done more in the cause of effective policing than the personal radio. It is time that the Minister's technicians were given the job of linking the personal radio of the police officer on the beat directly with the police in the motor car and not simply through the collator at the station. That is a small piece of technology which would enormously improve communications.

We must eventually have some form of computerised national finger print bank. I am reluctant to say that, and I appreciate hon. Members' misgivings about it, but the police can no longer forgo such scientific aids. It is also with considerable reluctance that I say, as my hon. Friend the Member for Peters-field (Mr. Mates) said the other day in an admirable maiden speech, that, taking the advantages and disadvantages together, we shall probably have to introduce some form of identity card, at least for people who frequently move between Ireland and this country.

Secondly, the police need much better housing, especialy in city centres. During an average weekend in central London, 1,000 or 2,000 police constables are needed to maintain public safety in the face of demonstrations. How many hon. Members realise that many young constables must commute from the suburbs because they are the only places in which they can afford to live? Normally police constables cannot afford to rent houses in central London. I should be reluctant to recommend the use of police barracks —there are great problems in that—but I ask the Under-Secretary of State to recognise that major demonstrations in city centres cannot be dealt with by commuting policemen. It is essential to house in city centres constables who are on immediate call.

A third necessity is for the police to stay close to the people.

The strength of the British police is that they are rooted in the community and that they and their wives and children live with the people.

I remember some years ago attending the passing out parade of the California Highway Patrol, which is possibly the best police force in the United States. As he was removing his uniform at the end of the day one young man told me that he always took it off because when he got home he did not want his neigh- bours to know that he was a policeman. I understand the reasons. In the United States, to be known as a policeman in a neighbourhood can often be a grave disadvantage to a man's wife and family. How different it is in this country, where most of our fellow citizens are proud to have a policeman as their neighbour.

I remember the late Sir Joseph Simpson, when Commissioner of Police, telling me that in his opinion a police officer who spends a few moments helping an old lady to cross the road is doing just as much of a job as is the CID officer who is dealing with major crime. It is this relationship of trust between our unarmed civil police and our civil population that is our best source both of intelligence and of that continuing community support which is the policeman's strongest arm.

The police need the continuing, never-ending support of the House and the public. That is why I so much welcomed what the Home Secretary said and so much deplored some of the undocumented remarks made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). What the police require above all else is the knowledge that Parliament, the public, the Press and their fellow-countrymen are behind them.

The police believe firmly in the rule of law. To us "the rule of law" is a phrase, but it is the police officer's staff of life. I say to hon. Gentlemen on the Government benches that the law is a seamless garment. It cannot be broken in Clay Cross and maintained in Birmingham. The law is the law, and those who seek to break it simply because they feel strongly about a certain matter, or because they back one group or the other, sincere as they may be, are only harming the cause of the British police.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether his remarks refer to the farmers who were recently involved in serious trouble?

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

My remarks apply to everyone. The law is the law, and it applies to farmers, ratepayers and trade unionists alike. We want to hear from the Government side a clear declaration that the law applies to all men regardless of political persuasion.

Above all, the police need enough men to do the job. Police forces are well below establishment. Numbers can be helped by civilianisation, although civilians normally work from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and expect the regular police to do the rest of the duty. Specials have a rôle. I noted what my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) said, and I shall make it my business to enable him to meet officers of the Police Federation so that he may dispose of any difficulty he may have with cartoons. Equipment, too, can help, but in the end there is no substitute for an adequate number of policemen. I shall not weary the House with the figures. I shall refer only to the Metropolitan Police. Its strength today amounts to just over 21,000, but its establishment is 26,628. In numbers the Metropolitan Police force is actually losing ground.

How are we to resolve this problem? I very much welcome what the Home Secretary said about the review being undertaken by the Police Council. That is an important move, and those conclusions cannot come too soon. I hope that the Minister will confirm that this review will include the whole range of matters pertaining to the police, such as establishment, working conditions, pay, and all the rest of it.

Even more welcome was the Home Secretary's announcement that rate support grant this year will include provision for 1,000 more constables, with the implication that this would not stand in the way of further recruiting up to establishment in the forces. But in welcoming those improvements I must remind the House that by adding 1,000 constables to the force we shall increase the total number by just on 1 per cent. An increased figure of 1 per cent. comes nowhere near the manpower necessary to cope with the growing pressures on the police force.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) said in his excellent speech, the police force is expensive. In round terms the force costs at least £500 million a year. Therefore, if we are to advocate what my right hon. Friend said in terms of an increase in police manpower, we owe it to the House to say how we would finance it.

I speak tonight from the back benches. I do not in any sense seek to com- mit my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler). But I believe that the national need is not for 1,000 more but closer to 5,000 more constables over the next three or four years—and for a total increase of 10,000 more constables by the early part of the next decade. I believe that it is possible to recruit that number, and it is certainly highly desirable that we should do so.

I end with one reflection. Last week Mr. Speaker received his first issue of beef coupons. Many members of the other place, including many on the bench of bishops and many other senior citizens of substantial income also received their beef coupons from the Government, at a total cost to the Exchequer of some £33 million a year. At the same time we must remember that this year the subsidy on imported cheese—not British cheese but Camembert, and the like—will amount to one-third of the total cheese subsidy of £44 million. Taken together it is obvious that this year as much as between £50 million and £55 million will be expended on beef coupons and imported cheese. I believe that the manning-up of the British police should have a larger pull on our national resources than these two items, and I hope that the Minister in her reply will say why, in her opinion, it is more important to carry on a subsidy on imported French cheese than it is to re-establish the Metropolitan Police Force to the level it needs to occupy.

8.54 p.m.

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

One of the advantages of speaking late in a debate is that many of the things one would have liked to say have already been said, and I shall not bore the House by repeating them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) made a forceful point about complaints by the public against the police. He feels that the police should be subject to independent scrutiny, and I, too, believe that the police would benefit from such a course in the long run. I wish to emphasise the importance of not differentiating between the police and the rest of society. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) took up that point.

If, as has been done in much of Central and Latin America, Asia and, indeed, some parts of Europe, we make the mistake of creating the police as a recognisably separate group, we create the danger of alienation between the community and the police. So far we have not made this mistake but, as other hon. Members have said, we have placed increasing burdens on the police, burdens which involve the police intruding into the lives of citizens in ways which they have not used before and ways which are likely to provoke resentment. This emphasises the need for independent examination of police action in the event of complaints.

I can narrow this down further and point out to the House that there is a sense in which we treat the police differently from most people in society. This dates from a period just after the First World War. Policemen are workers, like everyone else who works for a salary or a wage. But they are not given the same rights as most people who work for their living. They were significantly deprived of their rights in the few years immediately following the First World War, when I understand that the frightened politicians of that time thought that the Russians were coming or something like that. It seems that nothing changes. So the police were deprived of the right of free choice in the matter of trade union membership. Indeed, they were deprived of the right of trade union membership. They were also deprived of the right to freedom of action which is enjoyed by the generality of workers and particularly by trade union members in this country.

The particular legislation which was enacted rather more than 50 years ago was enacted in the heat of and under the pressure of a particular time, and it emphasises the moral that the sort of thing that we did the week before last is never well advised. Legislation should never be passed under pressure of any sort. The interesting point is that, like most temporary bits of legislation, the legislation governing the rights of the policeman is still with us and still denying to the police what I would call their natural rights or, if one does not care for that phrase, at least parity of rights with the rest of the community.

Most speakers in the debate have said that policemen are highly responsible people and that their job is highly demanding. These things have been said quite properly and correctly in my view, in that they characterise the policeman's job accurately. If, however, the policeman's job is such a job that it demands these special qualities—qualities of mind, responsibility, sophistication, adaptability, ability to handle people and the ability to make value judgments quickly, and so on—how is it that people who are hired to do that kind of responsible work are not deemed officially by the State to be sufficiently responsible to choose their own trade union?

A policeman is not allowed to join a trade union. He is allowed to join an association, but even then he is denied choice. He is told—if I may paraphrase the late Henry Ford—"You can have any association you like so long as it is the Police Federation". I am sure that most hon. Members appreciate that this is really a throwback to a paternalistic age, to a time when, for example, chief constables were usually idiots who had never worked in the police force before they were appointed as chief constables. That was a time when it was customary to retire into the police forces regimental commanders who treated policemen as if they were regimental nobodies. Much of this tradition hangs on, but it is fair to say that most of the senior police officers today are very different people. They are much more sophisticated in both a managerial and a leadership sense.

But the structure of the system has not changed in this respect. We still deny policemen the simple basic rights. I hope that hon. Members will not misunderstand me. I refer to all the rights possessed by other people who work for their living— the right to join a trade union and do all the things that trade union membership and free collective association with one's fellow workers mean.

That would mean, incidentally the elimination of the rather patronising attitude, expressed, no doubt with good intentions, in the House about what we shall do, for example, about policemen's wages. We should bear this point in mind. The men who do this work are not to be patronised. They do their work for society and in many cases risk their lives for us, and they should not be treated like children. They should be accorded the rights of freedom of association and freedom of representation enjoyed by everybody else. A free society can afford to give its policemen equal rights.

9.1 p.m.

Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)

I wish to make two brief points about the terrorist trend in this country, but first I must take up a point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) who was, I think, advocating the introduction of a trade union system into the police force. He said that the police force was the only part of society that does not have such a system, but I have spent time in the Services and I can state that we did not have such a system there. Indeed, it would be a sad day if bodies that are able to carry out their work in society on the basis of their inbred discipline, loyalty and esprit de corps, were to have all that eroded, as has happened in other organisations of a Service nature in European countries, very much to the disadvantage—

Mr. Litterick

I am certain that I did not suggest that all other occupational groups in society enjoy the rights of which I was speaking. I am painfully aware that they do not. It might be more appropriate if the hon. Gentleman and myself were, on another occasion, in the context of a different debate, to take up the question of trade union rights for members of the Armed Forces. I would be willing to take issue with him on that subject, but in the meantime I point out that the police are not a military force.

Mr. Mates

I shall leave that point, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, to another occasion. But what the hon. Gentleman suggested in his speech would be a retrograde step in any organisation in this country that provides a service which requires discipline from within its own ranks.

I turn to two points regarding the present terrorist problem. First, I urge the Government most strongly to take more definite steps over the knotty question of the extradition of terrorists who seek refuge in the Republic of Ireland. For far too long Governments have taken a soft line on this. If stronger action were taken now it would be a tremendous help to our police forces in combating terrorism in this country and in Northern Ireland. We welcome the steps taken by the Irish Government 10 days ago in announcing plans for the trials of criminals in countries other than where offences have been committed, but this does not go far enough.

I join in the praise that has been lavished on the police for their splendid work in the past few weeks, and for their courage, devotion and detective skill, which has resulted in 15 or 20 people being arrested and charged in connection with the bomb outrages in Birmingham and Guildford. It is a horrifying thought that had those people managed to get into the Republic of Ireland they could now be sitting there feeling completely safe and there would be nothing that we could do about it. With the increase of such outrages in this country, it is becoming daily more unacceptable that this state of affairs should continue and that a foreign nation which alleges that it is in friendly agreement with us, and which in many cases seeks most-favoured-nation treatment, should continue to drag its heels on this most important matter.

The second point which I want to raise is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said, one which I raised in my maiden speech. It concerns the introduction of identity cards. At the end of the anti-terrorism debate the Home Secretary was kind enough to say that, partly because of what I had said, he would keep an open mind and examine the question. I have written to him and have sent him a specimen identity card. I have looked into the whole question in the 10 days which have elapsed since the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act.

It is now clear that a simple, cheap and effective card of indentification could be produced that would be virtually unforgeable. I have a couple of specimens which at the end of the debate I will put into the Library so that Members may look at them. There is a system whereby a photograph and a fingerprint can be etched on. I stress that it is the fingerprint that is crucial as regards identification. It is difficult, if not impossible, either to replace or to deface the photograph that has been so etched on.

The adoption of such a measure would assist the police in their control of movement between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland and Great Britain. It could be made so simple and so effective that I strongly commend it to the Government. With an embossed name and means of identification, very quick checks could be made at ports, just as anybody who takes a credit card into a restaurant can very quickly have the details on that card recorded. It is simple and effective. It would not cause excessive delays. It would allow the police a very useful tool in checking on the movement of people into and out of this country.

The other day I said that this system should eventually be universal. I believe that it should, although I know that there will be some objections from people who consider that this is yet a further intrusion on personal liberty.

Having thought about this matter deeply, I offer a couple of constructive suggestions as to ways in which such a system would help us in our way of life in Britain. My mentioning these may help to overcome certain objections. For a long time Governments have been seeking a means of improving the lot of certain sectors of society—old-age pensioners, the disabled, students, and so on. It has been a great problem, because it has up till now been a question of providing more money and also a problem of not trying to treat such people in a patronising and charitable way.

If we had a national system of identification, and if everybody carried an identity card, how simple it would be to give a special one to, for example, old-age pensioners which they would carry as of right. It could be of a different colour. This would ease enormously the administrative problems of, for example, issuing beef tokens. It would ease enormously the problems of being able to do more for such people without necessarily incurring extra Government expenditure.

Why could not a pensioner with a red card travel free on trains outside rush hours, when the trains are going around the country half empty? There would be no administrative problems and no extra expense. A pensioner could travel with this symbol of his status in society. He could use trains and buses free at certain times. Likewise, there could be another card for the registered disabled and yet another for students. All groups in society which need special treatment on special occasions could, as of right, get the support which they need in this manner easily, simply and without any great administrative machine.

I commend this proposal most strongly to the Government as a constructive idea which will help the police immeasurably. It is a measure of which no innocent person need have any fear, and at the same time it will give to other Government Departments real help in enabling them to do their best for the special sectors of society which need help.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)

I should like to mentioned two topics which so far have not been touched upon. The first is the morale of the police. Anybody who is familiar with the work of the police today will know at once that morale amongst the men is very low indeed, at all levels. Morale in the metropolitan and county police forces is low because of a general sense of frustration. It has nothing to do with money. It is quite wrong, as was suggested by an hon. Member opposite, to suppose that money and an increase in manpower will cure the problems of the police. It will not.

Speak to any officer, whether he be a uniformed officer or a CID officer, and the reason for the frustration will become apparent immediately. It is because the whole weight of evidence, of rules of procedure, of sympathy and of public opinion is against the prosecution, and against police officers giving evidence. The whole system at the moment makes it very difficult successfully to prosecute a person whom everybody who is aware of the true facts of the case knows perfectly well is guilty. That, in certain cases, ultimately leads to degrees of police corruption. One has to face that fact. The present Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Robert Marks, has faced it and has said so again and again. The A10 Department is very active. It is concerned solely with investigating complaints against police officers.

Why are police officers frustrated? It is, first, because they are vastly overworked. The average case load for a CID officer in the Metropolitan area is over 400 a year. In the country the figure is far smaller. When an officer gives evidence in court, or waits to give evidence, he cannot get on with his ordinary work, which piles up in his absence in his office. Given the fact that he may well be on night duty at various periods of the year, this adds to the strain.

The Labour Government who left office in 1970 had a very good record in passing a number of Acts of Parliament which made it a good deal easier for the police to carry out their duties efficiently and effectively. I refer to such measures as the Criminal Law Act 1967 and the Criminal Justice Act 1968, which, in effect, changed the rules of evidence in such a way as to make prosecutions of guilty persons much more effective.

I ask my hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate on behalf of the Government to say what the Government are doing now to deal with this very real sense of frustration by police officers. What is the Criminal Law Revision Committee doing on the question of the caution? The caution, in the opinion of many judges and people who practise in our criminal courts, is antiquated, and is an anachronism which has no place in modern criminal law. It encourages guilty men and sophisticated criminals to keep quiet and discourages innocent people from giving to an investigating officer an explanation at the first reasonable opportunity.

Morale is low. There is no getting away from it. No tolerant or pompous platitudes from well-meaning politicians exhorting police officers to work harder will cure it. The fact of the matter is— most senior police officers hold this view —that the calibre of man joining the police today is not as good as it used to be. Every officer who now has to deal with questions of recruitment and training will confirm this view. We no longer get the dedicated young man entering the police force. The calibre of man at levels higher than that is very good, but again and again one hears the view expressed —no doubt, each succeeding generation makes it—that the men coming into the force now are not as dedicated as they used to be and are not as hard working, and the reason is that they are utterly frustrated.

Police officers are frustrated at perverse verdicts by juries. They are frustrated at having to spend time in court day after day being cross-examined in a hostile and aggressive fashion. They are frustrated at having dirt flung in their faces in court, and at seeing guilty men get off scot free day after day because of some legal technicality.

I believe that to be the reason why police morale today is so low. Of course, the police would welcome extra money, and shorter hours, but the basic reason for their frustration is that they see their legitimate objective of pursuing criminals and prosecuting them to conviction defeated again and again.

It is noticeable now in the courts that when a prosecution rests entirely upon the evidence of police officers, with no evidence of an independent civilian kind —for example, the offence of living on immoral earnings, or something like that, when the case depends entirely on the observations of police officers—time and again guilty men get off scot free because public confidence in the police as shown by juries throughout the land has diminished.

That is one aspect of the matter with which I want the Minister to deal tonight, because it seems to me that no sensible proposal has yet come from the Government to deal with the intense frustration among police officers.

The other matters to which I now turn —it has already been mentioned—is the present thoroughly unsatisfactory system for internal discipline. It is unfair to the men and women in the force, and to the public. Anyone who has been present at a disciplinary hearing concerning a police officer will appreciate at once that the proceedings are more akin to those of the Court of Star Chamber in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries than to the proceedings in a modern court room. All the rules of fairness and of evidence are ignored. Anything goes.

When an individual police officer is under investigation by a disciplinary tribunal, by an investigating officer, or by a Home Office inspector of constabulary, the procedure is totally unfair. I go so far as to suggest that the officer concerned—man or woman—stands no chance. This is a serious matter because if the officer is convicted he or she loses all pension rights, although the offence falls far short of a criminal offence. When, on the other hand, a criminal seeks to throw a police officer off the trail, a favourite way of going about it is simply to make a complaint about the behaviour of a police officer, when an investigation has to take place and the officer concerned is subjected to this thoroughly unfair procedure.

How do we strike the happy medium of, on the one hand, protecting the interests of the public and, on the other, maintaining good discipline and ensuring that there is no corruption? The Government must come up with some ideas in this connection, but at this stage I respectfully suggest that one of the causes is the immense size of our police forces now. In my opinion, the police amalgamations which resulted in the creation of huge forces throughout the country was a great mistake. That has happened now, however, and I do not for a moment suppose that the Government will reverse it. However, we must introduce some sensible safeguards in dealing with cases in which a complaint is made by a member of the public against a police officer, that complaint then being investigated through the thoroughly unsatisfactory procedure according to the Police Act 1964, under which one police force investigates another and no one has any confidence in the outcome of the inquiry.

I very much hope that we shall hear from the Government on those two important matters of morale and discipline.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

I had not intended to speak when I came into the Chamber, until I listened to the Home Secretary. But first may I say two things to the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman)? He said that he was the first to have mentioned police morale tonight and said that it was lower than it had ever been. Had he been here at the beginning of the debate he would have heard the Home Secretary say that in his opinion police morale was higher than it had ever been. When the hon. Member says that "a torrent of pompous platitudes" are of no use to the police morale, therefore, he should direct his remarks to the Home Secretary.

I do not believe that the hon. Member helps the police force by saying that the calibre of men joining today is lower than it has ever been. That is directly contrary to my impression while in the Home Office. He does no good either by making widespread and totally unjustified attacks on the police disciplinary procedure. Unfortunately, it is a necessary part of a disciplined force. I welcome the hon. Member's comments about the Criminal Law Revision Committee Report. I only wish that I had had some support from other lawyers in the House, particularly Labour lawyers, when as Minister I had to introduce a debate on the report shortly after its publication. At that time I found singularly little support of any kind from Labour Members for it.

I welcome the general cross-bench agreement which has come up in the debate. I find it slightly ironic, as my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) pointed out and as the Home Secretary will remember, although he was in no way responsible at the time, that in June 1973, against a background of two years of good police recruiting, we faced a motion of censure on police manpower. I welcome very much the more bipartisan approach which has coloured the debate this evening.

Although I welcomed the terms and phrases that the Home Secretary used in his speech I found some of his facts and figures rather more depressing than he seemed to regard them. First—and I know that the Home Secretary will share this view—we are debating this subject against an alarming turn-round in the crime figures. I accept, as he said, that the decrease in 1973 really started in 1972 and that by the end of 1973 the figures were already on the upswing again.

But the figures mentioned by the Home Secretary can only fill the House with alarm when apparently in the first six months of this year we are back to a rate of increase in crime which I believe has not been equalled since the 1950s, whereas throughout the 1960s and early 1970s we witnessed a steady drop in the rate of increase. Maybe one day we shall be able to debate the causes of this disturbing trend which appears to have changed rapidly over the last 12 months.

I still believe that the greatest deterrent to crime is the likelihood of being caught, which means and requires the strongest possible police force. When I said that I found the Home Secretary's figures somewhat disappointing I hope he will not think me unfair in pointing out, if I understood him correctly, that when he said that in 1974, although recruitment had not been as good as in 1973, we were at least still getting an increase. He ignored the fact that the year 1973 was itself considerably worse than 1972 and was worse than 1971, and therefore the 1973 figures start from a fairly low level. Although I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about recruitment in recent months, we should not in any way be complacent or fail to realise that the trend at the moment is down rather than up. It is equally clear that the areas of severe police shortage are also the areas of the highest rate of crime.

Now that the Police Federation has come out in support of a differential pay rate for the Metropolitan area, I welcome what the Home Secretary said about the increase in the London weighting allowance. We must realise that policing in the Metropolitan area is in many ways a considerably different task today from policing in the county areas, particularly with the volume of work imposed by demonstrations and so on upon the police in the metropolitan area. A policeman of the City of London told me today that the more specialist forces there now are— bomb squads, fraud squads, cheque squads and so on—the greater the drain on the men who do the beat work. Thus the hours the average policeman must serve become longer and longer.

I know that the Home Secretary was short of time, but I was disappointed that he said nothing about the position of the Special Constabulary. I realise that the Police Federation has always been rather dubious about the Special Constabulary. But I think I am correct in saying that in 1972 the Police Federation was persuaded for the first time to go along with a motion from the Police Council which called upon chief constables to encourage the recruitment of more members of the Special Constabulary. We should be making an all-out drive for more special constables.

Rather than decry, as some of us in all parties tend to do, what appears to be the phenomenon of the build-up of private armies, we should apply our minds to channelling the desire of people to do something to help support authority into the Special Constabulary, rather than into any third force. There is a possibility of increasing the number of special constables, and I hope that we shall hear something about it from the Minister.

Much has been done. The Home Secretary said that when he returned to the Home Office the police force was better in numbers, equipment and morale than when he left. As someone who was involved for three and a half years of that seven-year period in the Home Office, I accept the compliment to the stewardship of the police side of the Home Office during the right hon. Gentleman's absence. I, too, believe that the police force is better in numbers and is better equipped. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for Blyth, I believe that morale is also higher.

But more needs to be done. I welcome the Home Secretary's statement that no cuts in Government expenditure are likely to affect police recruiting. There should be a clear statement from the House to the Police Federation that we need more recruits and more specials, and that if we went all out in a recruiting drive for special constables that would not be used to curtail our demand for more regulars, because we need more of both.

9.28 p.m.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

My 13 years of almost constant practice in criminal courts have given me enormous respect for the police forces in Great Britain. I trust that I shall not be blamed if in a two-minute speech I do not spend time in allying myself with the praise hon. Members have heaped on the police in this admirable debate. Likewise, I wholeheartedly agree with all those who have demanded an increase in expenditure to bring the police establishment up to full strength. I go further and say that the defence of the realm from within is every bit as important as its defence from without, and that such internal defence should be given a much higher priority in the Treasury's scale.

As my one, small, and very short contribution to this important debate, I should like to make a point about police confidence. It is the other side of the coin shown to the House by the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) when dealing with police frustration. Can the Minister give us the latest figures for the rate of acquittal of those who have pleaded not guilty and have been tried before a jury in recent months? It would be heartening to hear that the figures have improved on those given in March 1972, when we learnt that almost half of those who pleaded not guilty before a jury were acquitted. That meant either that a large number of innocent men and women were being subjected to the humiliation and degradation of a criminal trial on a false accusation, or that too many guilty people were being acquitted. Whichever is the true position, there is considerable room for improvement in a system which is so grossly inefficient.

Mr. Ryman


Mr. Lawrence

No, I have only half a minute. As I am an admirer of the police force I am always saddened to see juries acquitting in serious cases in which they do not believe the evidence of police witnesses. This lack of confidence turns so frequently upon the so-called "verbal", the alleged admission of guilt to a police officer, often in unlikely circumstances. Frequently that is the only evidence against an accused person.

I believe that the rules for police interrogation are out of date. The Judges' Rules are out of date. The concept of the right of silence is also outdated and an unrealistic feature of our present system of criminal trials. I believe that we waste our constructive energies in trying to justify this anachronistic relic of a bygone age.

However, hand in hand with that approach should be a realisation that there is one sure way in which the police can increase the confidence reposed in them by British juries and increase, incidentally, the rate of convicting the guilty. If conversations with suspects in the interrogation rooms of police stations were tape recorded, such conversations not to be admissible in evidence unless they were corroborated by an authenticated tape recording of the police officer's evidence, such evidence would be less frequently open to criticism. Not only would public confidence in the word of the police increase but the moral and recruitment of police officers would rise and crime would be easier to fight.

I earnestly ask the police authorities to give renewed consideration to the now mature proposal that I have put forward. I ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to set up an inquiry into the technical and practical feasibility of tape recording confessions.

9.32 p.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

This has been a valuable debate. There have been substantial contributions from both sides of the House, not least the speedy speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). First, I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) on what I understand to be his third maiden speech. I also welcome the news that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is to resume his former role as adviser to the Police Federation.

During the debate there has been agreement that the police face a serious if not a critical position. That stems partly from the ever-increasing demands which we as a country are putting on the police service. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) said, crime is currently increasing. In the first six months of this year there was a rise of 20 per cent. That is one of the most disturbing increases that we have seen since the war. At the same time we have seen new forms of crime such as the terrorist outrages over the past few months.

Such is the present burden of crime that men in the CID and in specialist sections such as the Bomb Squad and the Special Branch are working round the clock so that the threat can be checked. At a time when society has been put at risk, it is right to stress the debt that we owe to policemen. As a Birmingham Member, I know that we owe not least part of that debt to the dedicated work being carried out by the Special Branch. But it is not only the CID but the uniformed branch that is stretched to capacity.

The police have an obligation to preserve public order. As the Secretary of State for the Home Department said, they have to deal in London alone with between 400 and 500 major events. Many of these events are weekend demonstrations which necessarily eat into a policeman's rest time. Few would doubt that this is a difficult time for the police. The demands have never been greater, yet it is precisely at this time that the service has run into severe undermanning difficulties.

We must be careful not to overstate the difficulties, but there is one chief constable who compares the present situation with that of the late 1950s. He is advocating the establishment of a new Royal Commission. Of all the problems which the service faces, the most serious is the number of experienced men who are resigning. There is the problem of wastage to which my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale referred.

In 1971 and 1972 there was a welcome increase—a net gain of almost 6,000 policemen. That was doubly welcome coming, as it did, after the lean years at the end of the 1960s. Last year was not so good. In London the numbers recruited went down and the numbers of men resigning from the service went up. The result was the worst wastage figure for 18 years.

I echo what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn about the figures for this year. Frankly, a net gain of 448 does not seem particularly encouraging. It is the worst figure since 1968, and London is still losing men.

The London position is worth emphasising. Inside the general problem of wastage there is the special problem of the shortage of police in some of our big cities. The police tend to face the greatest difficulties and the widest range of problems in our big cities. Crime is often more organised. The terrorist often takes advantage of the city. Demonstrations tend to be more frequent. Yet it is in the big city that the police are so overstretched.

The Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police has, as he always does, eloquently made out the case for London. Of course, he is right. But I urge upon the Minister that other cities in Britain are affected.

The number of policemen compared with population in London is in the ratio of 1 of 373; in the West Midlands, based on Birmingham, it is 1 to 534; and in Greater Manchester it is 1 to 489.

This problem is in no sense confined to Britain. The same is happening in other European countries. For example, in Paris it is practically impossible to recruit men locally, so they are drafted in. But France has a national police force so that is possible. We rely, I think rightly, on local forces attracting their own recruits.

It is difficult to see how we are to recruit without some effective additional payment for the police in our big cities. I must tell the Home Secretary frankly that I am not sure that the present London allowance that he has announced will be sufficient to attract recruits into the Metropolitan Police in the numbers that we want.

It is right that we must tackle the general problem of wastage. As the Chief Constable of Hampshire pointed out, there is a police shortage not only in the capital and in our big cities but in county forces. Our whole service is in urgent need of strengthening, and I do not think that fact has been seriously challenged in the debate tonight.

A number of valuable suggestions have been made during the debate. I should like to underline some and add one or two of my own.

We welcome what the Home Secretary said about reducing the recruiting age to 18. We appreciate the importance of the Home Secretary carrying the service with him in this change.

We also endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about the cadet service. That scheme provides an outstanding method of recruitment. On average, the cadet is better educated and, more important, stays in the service longer. Previously the guidance given was that forces should not exceed a bracket of between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. of annual intake composed of cadets. Clearly there are advantages of having men with experience outside. I hope that this policy guide does not mean that we are turning potential cadets away, for it would be possible to give cadets experience of outside life by community service, which is already done, and by attachment in industry. At the same time, we agree that new efforts should be made to recruit men in their twenties and early thirties.

I hope that the Home Office will take very seriously the point made by the Expenditure Committee, that one way to recruit such men might be to increase the recruiting budget that is made available. The Committee pointed out that it was ludicrous that the Ministry of Defence should spend about £15 million a year on recruiting while the Home Office spends only £682,000 a year. That is particularly ludicrous in view of the Government's policy on defence.

I think that we need to do more than recruit. We need to keep men in the service. Here we very much welcome what the Home Secretary has said about the review of the police pay structure and we urge that that review be completed as speedily as possible.

Above all, I believe that we must pay for experience. Most policemen remain police constables for the rest of their careers, but the trouble with the police pay structure is that the police constable reaches virtually the top of his pay scale relatively early in his service and then continues on an approximate plateau. Likewise, the figures also show that there are too many men retiring after 25 years in the service rather than going on for a further five years to the full pension age. Again I think that the Expenditure Committee has made a valuable contribution in its suggestion that a bounty should be paid at the end of the 30-year period.

I do not believe that the solution is just a question of pay or of financial incentives. It involves also the status of the policeman himself. It means that he should be recognised and treated as the skilled professional that he is, and that has implications for us all. It means, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds pointed out, that we do not as a Parliament find extra duties for the policeman simply because we can think of no one else who can do the job. Indeed, the time may well come when we should examine police duties to see which of them can be taken away.

It means that the public must not make unreasonable demands on the police services. I give just one example. In this country there is the right of peaceful demonstration and that no one wants to see removed in any way. However it is reasonable that the people who demonstrate should give reasonable notice of their intention to do so. Many do so, but many others do not and the effect is not only to eat into the policeman's weekend yet again, at very short notice, and to disrupt his personal life, but that the threat of disorder is very much greater because of the speed at which arrangements have to be made.

It also places upon us a responsibility to find solutions to problems that are at present being contained only by making extra demands on the police. One of the most depressing comments of the Chief Inspector of Constabulary in his report this year was that a strong police presence in and around football grounds, often at the expense of other pressing duties, had become necessary. It is ludicrous that, at a time when the country faces real threats, aimed at the breakdown of society itself, scarce police manpower has to be diverted to guard football grounds.

The Opposition do not suggest that there is any sudden panacea. We believe that the kind of policies that we have put forward would certainly help. However, we recognise that these policies will take time and that by then new demands may be evident. It is for that reason that we urge that the Home Secretary should take note of what my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Run-corn said about the Special Constabulary. The Home Secretary did not mention that subject during his speech and the omission was conspicuous. Special constables could usefully supplement the work of the regular police force. Of course the regular police force must have the main burden placed upon it, but there is certainly room to expand the Special Constabulary.

The standards of dedication and devotion to duty of the police services are second to none among the public services in Britain today. They have a difficult, delicate and sometimes dangerous job. Their role is already appreciated by the public. I have always believed that one of the effects of an independent review will be that it will demonstrate even to the doubters the high standards in the police service.

We now have a very young police service. Half of the serving policemen are under 30. It must be our aim to provide the conditions that will make the police career satisfying and a career that those men will want to continue.

9.45 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summer-skill)

This evening's debate has covered a wide field, but despite the large number of points that have been raised it seems to me that several clear themes have emerged. It has become clear how fully hon. Members on both sides of the House appreciate the burdens that are placed upon the police. Hon. Members in this House make laws, and it is right that we should be aware of what it is we ask of those on whom we place the primary responsibility for enforcing those laws.

We have, as has been noted this evening, recently added considerably to the duties of the police by enacting certain measures against terrorists. These extra duties have willingly been shouldered. All ranks of the service readily respond to every new responsibility, even when it involves heavy extra hours of duty and risks to their personal safety. The House has rightly expressed its admiration and gratitude to the police, and I know that it gives its fullest support to the immense tasks they are carrying out.

When he spoke at the start of the debate my right hon. Friend emphasised the steps the Government have taken to foster the interests of the police and the importance they attach to having a strong police service with a high morale. I should like to remind the House again, without being in any way complacent, that, as my right hon. Friend said, to give but one example, the increases given to a newly-appointed constable in September were more than 20 per cent. Additionally there were threshold and other increases, for instance those designed to help long-serving constables and all officers in London. It is hoped that the full effects of the increases have not yet wholly revealed themselves in an increase in the recruitment figures.

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) mentioned the London allowance. I can tell him that in the light of the increased allowance the Commissioner is trying to reduce compulsory rest-day working. Working on rest days is as much of a problem as pay. The cash position might, in the event, not be very different, but the man has another day off, so his conditions have been improved. The London allowance was backdated to 1st April and was additional to a substantial increase from 1st September.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the problem of wastage. To some extent the recent loss from wastage has been inevitable because of the relatively large number of immediate post-war entrants reaching retirement age, but the rise in premature wastage, that is, those leaving without pension, is a matter of considerable concern. The subject has been studied extensively for a number of years. The causes of wastage remain rather elusive, in the sense that it is not always easy to identify individual factors that cause it or the steps that need to be taken to remedy it. Pay is, of course, a factor, though it has not been possible to quantify its effect. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that efforts are continually being made to study the causes of wastage, to identify the factors that appear to be relevant, and to take steps to deal with them.

I have noted carefully the interesting suggestions and comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) about unequal sentences, delays in the hearing of cases by magistrates' courts, the recruitment of school leavers, and liaison between local authorities and police forces.

The hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) gave the House the benefit of his personal experience both as a member of the Special Constabulary and as the subject of a Special Branch inquiry. I assure him—I know that here I speak for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—that the Government strongly support chief officers in their efforts to maintain an active, efficient and strong Special Constabulary, and I hope that the House will recognise that the Home Office is doing everything possible to strengthen it.

The members of the Police Advisory Board Working Party which is to review the employment and conditions of service of special constables have been appointed, except for the special constables themselves, because this working party differs from most exercises of this kind in that arrangements are being made for them to be represented. It has taken some time to set up a representative committee to ensure that they are properly represented, but it is being done as soon as possible.

The level of advertisement revenue admittedly was lower than in the first year, but the first year included an element for preliminary research. However, the amount of advertising was as high as it was during the first year.

I hope that the Special Constabulary will continue to play an important role in support of the regular police.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) made a spirited speech, in which he dealt with a number of different subjects. However, the main part of it concerned the Special Branch. There are many misconceptions about the Special Branch. Perhaps I can dispose of a few of them. I assure the House that Special Branch officers are police officers and are responsible, through their senior officers, to their chief officers of police. There is no national special branch. Special branch work is a normal part of police duty.

As well as being under the control of their chief officers of police, Special Branch officers, as with all police officers, are subject to the police discipline code and to the law. It is fully recognised in the police service that members of the Special Branch should concern themselves in industrial disputes no more than is necessary for the maintenance of law and order and for the acquisition of any necessary intelligence on any subversive background to disputes. The Home Secretary has recently caused chief officers of police to be reminded of this principle and of the importance of ensuring that police forces do not pass on information deriving from official sources to trade unions, firms or employers' organisations.

On the question of infiltration of trade unions, members of the Special Branch are interested not in trade unions as such but only in such activities of individuals within trade unions as are relevant to the proper function of special branches. The same applies to Special Branch interest in any other organisation. I refer my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, for further information on some of the detailed examples he gave, to the lengthy question and answer session in which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary took part on 20th June.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) raised the point about a policeman not being able to join a trade union. We have not received any representations from the Police Federation on this matter. In fact, the conference of the Police Federation recently rejected the idea that the police should have the right to strike.

During the last Parliament but one the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr) declared himself in favour of the introduction of an independent element into the complaints procedure. That is a principle which my right hon. Friend equally accepts and from which I believe there is now little or no dissent in the House.

What my right hon. Friend has put forward is in no sense a cut-and-dried scheme but is intended as a basis for consultations with the police service and police authorities, and these are now going on. As he explained in Committee on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill, he will need a few more months to complete these consultations and get the legislation into shape. After that he will want to introduce the legislation as quickly as he can, given the great pressure of Government legislation and the time available.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) asked about the Police Council Working Party. That was set up to deal mainly with police pay. The Police Advisory Board is the consultative body for matters other than pay and conditions of service. It met only once under the Conservative administration, but my right hon. Friend values the help of the board so much that he intends that it should meet more frequently while he is Home Secretary. A meeting was held in July this year and another will be held in January.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) mentioned the financing of the police. My right hon. Friend mentioned the rate support grant negotiations for an increase of 1,000 police officers, the 1,000 is not a limit; it is only an estimate of what can be achieved. If, happily, more recruits are forthcoming, the money will be available. As to housing, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are conscious of the need for an effective and progressive housing policy, and will do everything possible to improve housing for the police service.

We have heard a great deal in the debate about the rights of the individual citizen. My right hon. Friend quoted the founder of the Special Branch. The rights of the individual citizen are not a new problem, and I should like to quote Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the Metropolitan Police. He said: It is difficult to reconcile an effective system of police with that perfect freedom of action and exemption from interference which are the great privileges and blessings of society in this country. I remind my hon. Friends who are concerned about the rights of the individual citizen that it was a Labour Government which introduced the law which allows a citizen to sue the Government. It was a Labour Government which established the Parliamentary Commissioner. It was a Labour Government which legislated against racial discrimination and for equal pay, and will legislate against discrimination on grounds of sex.

The Government believe that respect for the law, however, must be firmly based not only on the rights of the citizen but upon his or her obligations to the community. Alarmed as we all are at the growth of violence, we believe that law-abiding citizens are entitled to full protection.

The police must be strengthened and supported in the exercise of their function to uphold the rule of law. I am confident that my right hon. Friend is doing everything possible to achieve this through the progressive, practical policies he has outlined to the House tonight—policies which will help the police to tackle the many different and difficult problems which face them.

Mr. Joseph Harper (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.