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Police

Volume 437: debated on Thursday 8 May 1947

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Salford (Deputy Chief Constable)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware of the indignation created by refusing to confirm the appointment of the deputy chief constable of Salford to be chief constable as recommended by the Watch Committee; that this officer joined the Salford police force as a probationer constable, has passed through every phase of police work in the force and has been deputy chief constable nine years and acting chief for the last six months; and what are the reasons for disqualifying him for this post.

I have, on two occasions, discussed this matter at length with representatives of the local police authority, and have, in addition, given a personal interview to the candidate himself. I have no reason to doubt that, in the course of these interviews, all the material facts were brought to my notice. I greatly regret that I could not approve the watch committee's choice, but, after the most careful consideration, I could reach no other conclusion than that the candidate whose name they submitted was unfit for the post of chief constable.

In view of the fact that the Minister has not given the reason why this man has been disqualified, will he explain why he was refused confirmation by the Home Office before any interview had been arranged, and also whether he is aware that the Home Office approved the short list of six prior to the appointment being made?

The Home Office does not approve or disapprove the appointment. The Home Secretary does that, and I take the full responsibility in this matter. I pursued a course in this case which, I am told, is without precedent. I twice interviewed the watch committee in London, although they did not pay me the compliment of sending the chairman of the watch committee as one of their delegation to meet me. I also interviewed the candidate, and, as one who has given 40 years of his life to interviewing candidates for local government appointments, I say that if this man had appeared in front of me, and had been the best candidate, I should have readvertised the appointment.

In view of the fact that this man had 27 years' service and was condemned in an interview lasting 30 minutes, is the Minister aware that the Salford Watch Committee are receiving support from all parts of the country, including his own constituency, who have stated that they have appointed two chief constables neither of whom had served in any other police force?

If my constituency have said that, the people who stated it have misinformed Salford. Many queer things have been done in South Shields for which I am not responsible. I am responsible for this appointment. Never before has a Home Secretary granted an interview to a candidate whose application he was, considering. I gave the man not half an hour, but three-quarters of an hour, and I venture to say that is a longer time than the Salford Watch Committee gave to any of the other candidates they interviewed.

Would the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether, in his opinion, this deputy chief constable of Salford is in any way inefficient for the job?

Is my right hon. Friend convinced that he is more capable of judging the capabilities of an officer than those who have been controlling the officer for some years past?

The difficulty is that the law places a certain responsibility upon me. I have to discharge that responsibility in accordance with my own conscience. I make no reflection on the good faith of the Salford Watch Committee. They have discharged their responsibility. I have discharged mine. I regret that our views do not coincide.

In view of the unsatisfactory reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this question on the Adjournment.

Metropolitan Police (Strength)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what are the reduced physical standards that have been laid down for recruits for the Metropolitan Police; whether, in spite of this, the necessary numbers have been passed; what is the present strength; and what is the total authorised establishment.

The only alteration in physical standards was the reduction, in June, 1946, of the minimum height for recruits from 5 ft. 9 in. to 5 ft. 8 in. Since 1st January, 1946, 2,658 men have joined the Metropolitan Police Force, including 233 under 5 ft. 9 in. The total male strength is 14,850, and the authorised establishment is 19,741.

Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take any other steps to bring the force up to its establishment, and thus relieve the pressure on the existing constables?

I am doing all I can to increase the strength of the force, and since April, 1946, there has been a net increase in the strength of the force of 1,117. I hope that suitable men will apply for enrolment in this force.

Shot Civilian's Dependants (Aid)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what official means exist of providing for the dependants in necessitous circumstances of citizens who may have been gravely injured or lost their lives in going to the assistance of the law by endeavouring to detain criminals in the act of committing, or immediately after the commission of, a crime.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what compensation will be paid to the widow of Mr. de Antiquis who was killed whilst assisting the police, and out of what Department fund.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what arrangements exist for granting compensation to members of the public injured when assisting the course of justice or to their dependants if fatal injuries are sustained.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether any provision exists for compensating out of public funds the widow and children of Mr. Alec de Antiquis, who was killed while carrying out his duties as a citizen in an exemplary manner, and, if not, whether he will make special provision for them.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is considering making some recognition to the widow and dependants of Mr. Alec de Antiquis, who was killed while attempting to prevent the escape of three gunmen in the West End of London on 28th April, if necessary, by asking this House to award a special grant to the widow and six children of this gallant citizen

I am sure the House would desire me to express their sympathy with the wife and orphans of this man, who lost his life voluntarily discharging the duties of a good citizen. The question of making an appropriate grant from the Metropolitan Police Fund is receiving my sympathetic consideration.

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his answer, which I am sure will be appreciated, may I ask him whether he will agree that it would be very undesirable if the sole means of compensating the dependants of loyal and law abiding citizens were to be private benevolence?

Yes, Sir. I hoped the final sentence of my answer would indicate that I intend to give practical recognition of my views on that point, and I hope I shall have the general support of the House.

In a case of this description, is not such a man assisting to combat the enemy as much as a man in the field of battle, and will it not be more dignified to see that in these circumstances consideration is given to the granting of a pension?

I must have regard to what my statutory powers in the matter may be. I hope that when the House hears what I propose, they will feel that I have given adequate recognition to what this man has done. If I may be allowed to say so, I hope I shall be able to put the widow and children in a position which is no worse than that in which they would have been had the man survived. The House will appreciate that the machinery for doing these very desirable things is sometimes very difficult, in view of statutory limitations, but I will ask the House to empower me to do the right thing if, in fact, the Statutes at the moment prevent me.

While endorsing entirely what the right hon. Gentleman has said and the act which he proposes, may I ask him to be good enough to inform the House when he has come to a conclusion as to what action he can take?

In view of the fact that we have had a case of a similar nature in the City of Glasgow, would any action recommended by my right hon. Friend in the present case be directed to the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland?

If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State communicates with me, I will see that he and I walk in step in this matter.

Armed Criminals

9.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that the public is concerned at the alarming increase in cases of robbery or attempted robbery with violence by armed men in the Metropolis; how many such cases have been reported since 1st January, 1947; and in how many instances the culprits have been convicted.

During the first four months of this year, 25 robberies occurred in the Metropolitan Police district where a firearm was known to have been used. Eight of these cases have been cleared up, involving the arrest of 14 persons, 13 of whom have been convicted and one of whom is awaiting trial. The Commissioner of Police is giving every attention to dealing with this series of crimes.

Is it not really astonishing that so many crimes of this nature should escape solution, and can nothing be done to tighten up public security in this regard?

I imagine that criminals of this type are pretty astute, and that they take steps to assure themselves that the coast is reasonably clear before they commit their crimes. I think the number of detections that I have been able to announce is not unsatisfactory, having regard to the number of desperate men there are about at this time, but the Commissioner of Police and myself are fully seized of the importance of putting down this form of lawlessness, and I am quite sure that we shall have the support of all law-abiding citizens in the efforts we make to achieve our object.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the main, the illegal possession of firearms is punished in the lightest possible way by the magistrates, who are not using the maximum powers they possess? Would my right hon. Friend consider issuing a recommendation to the magistrates for the imposition of maximum sentences for illegal possession of firearms, or coming to the House for further powers to increase those punishments?

It is my endeavour to issue as few recommendations as possible to magistrates because, having been a magistrate myself, I know the resentment with which the Home Secretary's circulars are sometimes received, but I have no doubt that the question put by my hon. Friend will draw the attention of magistrates to this matter, and I hope they can feel that the House is behind them in seeing that the law is enforced.

May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is in consultation with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power with a view to the immediate termination of blackout conditions in the streets, which give these thugs an excellent opportunity of making their escape?

Is it the case, as I have been told, that the police are sometimes very badly handicapped in that they have not sufficient power, and that in cases where they know they could make the necessary arrest they are thereby handi- capped? If this is the case, will not my right hon. Friend ask the House for further powers?

No, Sir. One has to be very careful how one arms the police with additional powers. I am quite sure of this. The police themselves are very keen to bring this form of crime to an end, for, after all, they quite frequently are the persons most in danger from the use of these illegal weapons.

Housing

10.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that, owing to the impossibility of obtaining dwelling accommodation, many county constabularies are unable to provide sufficient police officers in districts which have grown up since 1939 and, in consequence, the burden on existing police officers is becoming severe; and whether he will arrange to acquire from the Ministry of Health a uniform prefabricated type of house on priority terms that can be erected for the use of police officers in rural and semi-urban areas.

All the temporary prefabricated houses provided under the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act, 1944, have been allocated in accordance with the terms of that Act to housing authorities, and the demands are such that the share available for police officers is small. The question whether the provision of houses for the police can be accelerated by the use of any other type of prefabricated house is being studied as such houses become available.

Could the right hon. Gentleman pay particular attention to county constabularies in certain districts where large populations have recently sprung up, and where it is impossible to place constables owing to the inadequacy of housing at the present time?

I have those areas particularly in mind. As I have moved about the country I have been in consultation with chief constables, standing joint committees and county district housing authorities.

Flogging

11.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department in how many cases of robbery with violence since 1st January, 1947, punishment by flogging has been ordered.

But does not criminal history show that the ruffians who engage in this form of lawlessness are extremely tender about their own skins; and will the right hon. Gentleman do whatever may lie in his power to popularise this simple but salutary deterrent?

No, Sir. I should imagine there is no more controversial matter connected with the administration of my Department than the efficacy of flogging.

Is the Home Secretary aware that a large number of these forms of violence with arms are committed by men who have deserted from the Forces; and would not the most practical thing be for the Government to consider granting an amnesty to these men, in order to get them away from these evil conditions?

No, Sir. I am not convinced myself that that would be the most efficacious way of dealing with the matter.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the figure of To in his original answer. What was the total number of convictions of which the figure of 10 was a proportion?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Select Committee on Corporal Punishment, after examining a mass of evidence on this subject, came to the conclusion that flogging was futile as a deterrent to these crimes; and in his forthcoming Criminal Justice Bill will he take steps to abolish this barbarous punishment?

The statement of my hon. Friend with regard to the report of that committee is accurate I must ask the House to await the Bill.