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Police Forces, England And Wales (Organisation)

Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 18 May 1966

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Organisation of police forces in England and Wales.

With the expert advice of H.M. Inspectors of Constabulary, I have carried out a review of police areas throughout the country. I have taken full account of the recommendations made in 1962 by the Royal Commission on the Police; but I am satisfied that the continuing increase in crime and its changing pattern, as well as growing traffic problems, justify a more far-reaching reorganization than was contemplated by the Commission.

I have not thought it sensible to adopt any rigid formula for determining the right size of police forces, but I have examined each area and have sought to establish police forces of a size most likely to achieve full efficiency in the prevention and detection of crime and the control of traffic. I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list of the police authorities to whom letters have been sent on my behalf suggesting amalgamations on these grounds. Copies of the list are now available in the Vote Office for the convenience of hon. Members.

As examples of the scale of the suggested reorganisation, I am proposing the amalgamation of 12 county borough police areas with Lancashire; of seven police areas with the West Riding; of five authorities in the Thames Valley (Oxford City, Oxfordshire, Reading, Berkshire and Bucks.); and of Devon, Plymouth and Cornwall.

The proposals for Wales involve reducing the number of separate forces there from 12 to four.

These amalgamations would reduce the number of police forces in England and Wales from 117 to 49 and another four forces would be combined into one if the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government for Tyneside are carried into effect.

I greatly hope that the local authorities concerned will recognise the need for these proposals and enter into voluntary schemes. But if they do not I must use my powers under the Police Act 1964 to promote compulsory amalgamations, for I am satisfied that these amalgamations are essential to a determined attack on crime. The proposals involve a major reorganisation of the police service, but I am confident that all concerned will approach them with the single object of securing the efficiency and well-being of the police service.

The Home Secretary has made a most important statement, which will obviously require scrutiny, and I hope that he will convey to his right hon. Friends the need and desirability of Parliamentary discussion. In the meantime, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that what he has proposed is much in line with our own Police Act and, indeed, with the policy recommended in our election programme.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will therefore accept that, in principle at least, we on this side of the House will feel bound to support him in the general lines that he is proposing, while I hope that he will not object to hon. Members, in any part of the House, raising anxieties which may be felt by their constituents.

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman three short questions. First, presumably the amalgamated forces will require more numerous and more centralised, specialised services than the older and smaller forces. Will he consider whether this is not the time to review the physical requirements which are exacted in recruitment, as the specialised services may not need such highly exacting physical requirements?

Secondly, how will the new amalgamation affect the financing of the police forces? Will not the Home Secretary take the opportunity possibly to transfer some of the burden from the localities?

Thirdly, can he give an assurance that any senior officers whose position may be affected will be treated both generously and justly?

I note what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said about the desire to discuss this matter and I appreciate the wish for that. I am aware that this proposal is in accordance with the Police Act, 1964. I am proceeding along those lines, although I am making much fuller use of that Act than has been done hitherto.

As to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remark about Conservative statements during the election, there were some slightly vague statements about a Queen's constabulary. I am sure that he will agree that this, above all, is a field in which action is more desirable than words.

I am aware of the point about physical requirements for specialised services and I will consider that, although I do not think that it arises directly from what I am proposing today. Secondly, I do not think that there is a case for reconsidering at present the 50 per cent. financing from local authority sources and 50 per cent. from the central Government. We are maintaining the local authority control, and amalgamated joint police authorities will continue to be responsible for the provincial police forces.

I think that the problem of senior officers can be satisfactorily handled. Amalgamation means, of course, that a large number of chief constables cannot continue to function as chief constables. That is inevitable in any amalgamated service. I think that great numbers of them will be offered important posts as assistant chief constables. A few may not be able to achieve quite that rank. They will all be able to continue at at least broadly their present salary rates. Should this not be possible in a few cases, I think that generous compensation—fair compensation—arrangements will be worked out.

Will my right hon. Friend say what consideration he has given to, and what contribution he is prepared to make towards, the new amalgamated police forces installing equipment of the kind that will be necessary? If the 50 per cent. grant which is being given from the Exchequer is insufficient for that purpose, will my right hon. Friend be prepared to publish a White Paper setting out his considerations and the reasons why he has not agreed to make substantial contributions for providing computers and heavy equipment of that kind, which alone can lead to this kind of development?

I have made it clear previously that in dealing with police matters I attach perhaps the first priority to improving the quality of police equipment. That continues firmly to be my policy. One of the advantages of these bigger units is that they will undoubtedly make it possible for the bigger police authorities to afford equipment which would not have been possible with smaller, fragmented forces.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Police Federation accepts and welcomes in principle these very far-reaching proposals? In view of the fact that they are bound to have a considerable effect on individual policemen may I ask, first, that he will undertake to keep the police forces informed at local level of the progress of his proposals; secondly, that the chief officers will closely consult local police branch boards; and, third, when the time comes for him to consider police pay and conditions, he will bear in mind the co-operative approach of the federated ranks?

Yes, I had the opportunity of a short meeting this morning with the Police Federation, and I would wish to keep in the closest possible touch with it. Certainly, the experience we have had so far with the small number of amalgamations we have carried out shows that one of the best ways of making a success of them is to have the fullest consultations with the federated ranks.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Superintendants' Association, which represents all the senior police officers other than chief constables, also warmly welcomes these proposals and hopes that they will lead to greater police efficiency? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that a major reorganisation of this kind is bound to lead to some temporary difficulties over conditions of service? Can he give an assurance that if these difficulties do arise he will allow the fullest consultation with the Association and other police organisations?

Yes, I have always consulted the Superintendants' Association and the other two associations on all matters of this sort.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I and my hon. Friends give a very cordial welcome to his statement and that my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) and I particularly welcome his statement about Devon, Cornwall and Plymouth, which recognises that this is a separate region? Will he take steps to speed up the amalgamation, and take the necessary compulsory measures if there is any hesitation on the part of local police authorities to do this voluntarily?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for what he has said, both in general and about the position of the South-West in particular. I want these amalgamations, so far as possible, to be voluntary amalgamations, but I have made my position clear if, alas, they cannot be voluntary amalgamations.

I hope that we can proceed, not in a rush, but, none the less, pretty fast. I hope that many of these amalgamations will be ready to come into operation by 1st April next year, and that they will be pretty well all through by a year further on from then.

I welcome this move towards police efficiency, but as my right hon. Friend knows—

Order. The hon. Member must sit when Mr. Speaker is standing. He may now put a question only.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when these amalgamations take place county boroughs whose police forces disappear are adequately represented in the control of the new amalgamated forces?

Yes. Fresh police authorities will have to be set up to cover the amalgamated areas, and, of course, all the constituent authorities will be represented on the new police authority, bearing in mind the weighting for population and other matters.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these larger forces will require a great deal of trained staff officers among the police, and will he take steps to ensure that those staff officers are available? Secondly, would he agree that this is, perhaps, a convenient moment—we could not find a more convenient moment—to consider that the distribution of the costs of the police forces as between the local authorities and the Exchequer should be reviewed?

As to the second part of the Question, I have already dealt, or tried to deal, with that in reply to the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg).

As for the first part, of course I recognise the need for trained staff officers in police work. Almost, I think, I would put the matter the other way round and say that trained staff officers in police work are essential for any organised police service, but reorganisation in larger units will make it easier to deploy them effectively.

Following is the list:


North West

St. Helens
(5)Cumberland(663) (Amalgamation proposals have already been made to the authorities in this area)

North East

(7)Tees-side (new county borough)(1,287)
Yorkshire North


(9)Yorkshire West(4,431)
Yorkshire East


(12)Leicestershire and Rutland(1,364)


(16)Lincolnshire (all parts)(1,388)

East Anglia

Great Yarmouth
(19)East Suffolk(891)
West Suffolk


(20)East Sussex(2,347)
West Sussex
(21) Essex(2,315)
(22) Berkshire(2,339)
(23)Somerset(908) (Bath and Somerset have already agreed to make a voluntary amalgamation scheme)
Hampshire and Isle of Wight
Devon and Exeter


Merthyr Tydfil
Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire


1. At present there are 105 separate police forces in England and 12 in Wales; the amalgamation schemes will reduce these figures to 45 and four respectively; and the proposed re-organisation on Tyneside would reduce the figure for England by a further three to 42.

2. The establishment of each combined force is given in brackets.