Public Bodies (Admission To meetings) Bill (changed from “Public Bodies (Admission Of The Press To Meetings) Bill” )
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
New Clause.—(Admission to committee meetings.)
Nothing in this Act shall be construed so as to prohibit a committee of a public body from admitting the public to its meetings.—[Mr. Kirk.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
The point in the Clause is quite a small one. It seeks to re-enact Section 4 of the 1908 Act, which is repealed by this Bill. Section 4 of that Act reads word for word the same as this Clause, with one change to take account of the change in the scope of the Bill which took place in Standing Committee. Section 4 of the earlier Act reads:
“Nothing in this Act shall be construed so as to prohibit a committee of a local authority from admitting representatives of the press to its meetings.”
I have simply altered that to read “admitting the public.”
It might be thought that this re-enactment is unnecessary, but I am advised that otherwise it might be possible to question the practice of a very large number of councils that do admit the Press—and will, presumably, admit the public—to certain of their committee meetings. I very much hope that the House will agree to include this very small item in the Bill in order to make it abundantly clear that it is legal for [column 772]committees to have members of the public present at their meetings should they so desire.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)
My only comment on this new Clause is that I am advised that its inclusion is quite unnecessary. The Bill requires a minimum of amendments to be made by local authorities to their standing orders, but there is nothing to prevent them carrying out things in addition to those mentioned in this Measure.
I have one very great objection to including an unnecessary Clause, and that is that it might later have unforeseen effects on the construction of the Bill as a whole if any particular item in it came under adjudication by the courts. That is my only reason for resisting the amendment, but I believe it to be a valid reason, dependent on the construction of the Bill.
Question put and negatived.
Clause 1.—(Admission of public to meetings of local authorities and other bodies.)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 9, to leave out from the first “by” to “exclude” in line 10 and to insert “resolution” .
This is a technical, drafting Amendment, and I shall endeavour to give my reasons for putting it forward. As the Clause was originally drafted, there was a requirement that a resolution under this Clause should be passed by a majority of members present. In Committee, the view was expressed that although that requirement was in the 1908 Act it would be better if this resolution was subject to the ordinary rules as they apply to other resolutions of local authorities. An Amendment to that effect was, therefore, moved in Committee, and was accepted. When I looked further into the matter, I had reason to believe that that Amendment did not, in fact, achieve the desired effect.
The rules about ordinary resolutions of local authorities are contained in paragraph 1 of Part V of the Third Schedule to the Local Government Act, 1933. Sub-paragraph (1) contains a provision substantially the same as the present Amendment, but sub-paragraph (2) provides for a case which we did not [column 773]consider in Standing Committee. That relates to there being an equal number of votes for and against the resolution. It provides:
“In the case of an equality of votes the person presiding at the meeting shall have a second or a casting vote.”
I am advised that if we leave the Bill in its present form we shall preclude the provision relating to a second or casting vote. If we pass the Amendment it will have the effect, which I believe was the desired effect as expressed in Standing Committee, of making this provision apply to the resolutions covered by the Bill.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 1, line 18, at the end to insert:
(3) A body may under subsection (2) above treat the need to receive or consider recommendations or advice from sources other than members, committees or sub-committees of the body as a special reason why publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest, without regard to the subject or purport of the recommendations or advice; but the making by this subsection of express provision for that case shall not be taken to restrict the generality of subsection (2) above in relation to other cases (including in particular cases where the report of a committee or sub-committee of the body is of a confidential nature).
A number of hon. Members expressed the view in Standing Committee that it may be difficult for officials of a local authority to give advice freely and absolutely unfettered in the presence of the public or of the Press. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government advised that the exclusion provision would permit a local authority to receive advice in private, but I have thought fit to introduce an Amendment to cover the point so that there should be no doubt about it in the minds of local authorities.
The Amendments which were put forward in Standing Committee related specifically to advice from officers of the body. We realised at the time that there might be occasions upon which the body would wish to receive advice from independent consultants whose opinion it had requested but who were not actual officers of the body. The Amendment, therefore, is drafted in wider terms to include occasions of that kind when the body wishes to receive advice from independent consultations.[column 774]
Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
We are indebted to the hon. Lady for having put down this Amendment. It carries a little further and makes clearer the Amendment which some of us were anxious to make in Standing Committee, and it will relieve anxiety which officials of local authorities have felt about this part of the Bill. I trust, therefore, that the Amendment will commend itself to the House.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 25, at the end, to insert:
(4) Where a meeting of a body is required by this Act to be open to the public during the proceedings or any part of them, and there is supplied to a member of the public attending the meeting, or in pursuance of paragraph (b) of subsection (3) above there is supplied for the benefit of a newspaper, any such copy of the agenda as is mentioned in that paragraph, with or without further statements or particulars for the purpose of indicating the nature of any item included in the agenda, the publication thereby of any defamatory matter contained in the agenda or in the further statements or particulars shall be privileged, unless the publication is proved to be made with malice.
This Amendment arises from an undertaking which I gave in Standing Committee to consider the problems which may arise when documents pursuant to the requirements of the Bill are supplied to members of the public or representatives of the Press. As the Bill was originally drafted, there was no provision to protect documents which it was mandatory upon the body to supply by the inclusion of the defence of qualified privilege. The effect of the Amendment is to give a body and its officers a defence of qualified privilege in an action for libel in relation to the publication of defamatory matter, for two reasons—either because they have supplied those documents for the benefit of a newspaper or—and I have added a second reason—because we have now thought fit to include the public within the purview of the Bill.
It is clear that when the public as of right attend meetings of authorities they may well not understand what is going on unless they are supplied with documents which make clear the subject matter under discussion. The chances are, therefore, that the body will think fit to supply those documents, although [column 775]it is not imperative that it should do so. I felt that if a body supplies such documents the defence of qualified privilege should be available to that body in so far as it supplies these documents to members of the public attending the meeting.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 32, at the end to insert:
“and to any organisation which is systematically engaged in collecting news for sound or television broadcasts; but nothing in this section shall require a body to permit the taking of photographs of any proceedings, or the use of any means to enable persons not present to see or hear any procedings (whether at the time or later), or the making of any oral report on any proceedings as they take place.”
This Amendment is brought forward because I gave an undertaking in Standing Committee that I would consider the position of any B.B.C. or I.T.V. reporters who wished to attend a meeting of a local authority. At the time I expressed the opinion that they would be included as members of the public I think that is correct, but in the Bill as it is at present drafted we have made further arrangements relating to the Press.
The Press is entitled as of right to certain documents. If B.B.C. or I.T.V. reporters attended as members of the public they would not be entitled as of right to those documents, although they might get them. I therefore thought it advisable to equate the position of reporters of the B.B.C. and I.T.V. to that of the Press so that they get the extra facilities which are essential if they are to do their job properly.
I have equally tried to make it clear that these facilities extend only to attending for the purpose of reporting in order that the local authorities may not have any fears whatsoever that they might be liable to have the proceedings actually televised. That, of course, is not envisaged in this Amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 2.—(Application of Act, and consequential provisions.)
I beg to move, in page 3, line 4, to leave out from “Act” to the end of line 10.
This is another technical Amendment, the reason for which is not evident at [column 776]first sight. When I came to look further into the question of qualified privilege as it applies to oral statements at meetings of local authorities, I found a case which covered the point for which I had made substantial provision in the original Bill.
It is not essential to put in an extra provision for qualified privilege in order that a body may claim it. It may claim it in respect of oral statements at meetings of the body, even though third parties are present, by virtue of the common law as decided in Pittard v. Oliver in 1891, reported in 1 Queen's Bench, at page 474.
In that case, which applied to a board of guardians, there were members of the public present at a meeting of the board of guardians. During the course of that meeting one of the members of the board made certain defamatory statements about the accounts as presented by the clerk to the board. The clerk sued the member of the board who had made those statements, and it was held that the privilege which would have attached to the statements if made in the presence of guardians only was not taken away by the presence at the meeting of reporters or persons other than guardians. That, therefore, is the present law without any provision in the Bill.
I am advised that, if we put in a special provision covering something which is already dealt with by the law, it might throw doubt on the construction of other Acts of Parliament. For that reason, I ask the House to accept the Amendment to delete the appropriate words.
Mr. M. Stewart
I am a little concerned about this Amendment. As I followed the argument, the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) says that the words which it is proposed to leave out are not necessary because they would do no more than put into a Statute what is already in the common law. She quoted a case where a board of guardians was concerned. Can we be certain that a decision given in a case affecting a board of guardians will be regarded as the law applying to all bodies mentioned in the Bill? That seems to be one doubtful point.
Secondly, even if the position at common law would cover all the bodies [column 777]mentioned in the Bill, do we do any harm by making statutory what already exists at common law? The hon. Lady says that to do so might throw doubt on the interpretation of other Statutes, but I am not sure that I follow that. If the decision in the case which she quoted is to be regarded as part of the law of the land, surely it is not altered by the insertion of these words in the Bill.
As I see it at the moment, the addition of these words makes the position of people attending meetings of the bodies mentioned in the Bill entirely satisfactory and beyond any doubt, and it does no damage to anyone. I should have thought that it would be desirable to provide that safeguard. I wonder whether a Member of the Government can give us some advice on the matter.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Sir Keith Joseph)
I am, I think, in a position to give the assurance for which the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) asks. The decision in the case of the board of guardians was in terms general enough, I understand, to cover a far wider range than that. I am advised that, if we specifically mention this protection in the cases limited to this Bill, we should, perhaps inadvertently, throw doubt on what is a general right, and this may go beyond even the bodies covered by the Bill. I urge the House to leave the law as it now stands, without intervening in this way.
Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I am rather interested in this. Could the Parliamentary Secretary or the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) give us authority for what is, to me, a novel principle of interpretation?
One has a decision of the courts. That has been applied, because its terms are wide, to other bodies. One then, in a Measure such as this, gives statutory declaration to an existing practice. What is the principle of interpretation which says that, because at a certain point one gives statutory declaration to an existing practice, one somehow, for some reason, throws doubt upon that very practice where it applies elsewhere? This seems to be a quite novel proposition.
I feel that the law is difficult enough to find already, particularly where one [column 778]is dealing with cases of rather small bodies which cannot, perhaps, always have easy access to advice and the law libraries. Paragraphs in Acts of Parliament which have to be worked with which are merely declaratory can tell people what the law is and provide the easiest way to find it. For that reason, I think there is something to commend them.
By leave of the House, may I add a few further comments? One does, perhaps, learn by experience that it is better to mention the authority in the House without mentioning the facts of the case upon which the ratio depends. The ratio of the case I quoted was, of course, that where qualified privilege exists by virtue of a duty in the person who makes the statements to make those statements and a duty in the person who receives those statements to receive them, the privilege is not taken away by the presence of members of the public unless they are called in specially to hear the defamatory statements.
As regards the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), there is not, of course, a specific authority for this provision. My difficulty is that I have already had sufficient trouble with what may happen if this Bill becomes an Act, and I do not want to be accused of having introduced something which affects the construction of other Acts of Parliament.
The hon. and learned Gentleman will know that, when one is construing a provision in the court, one matter which comes up frequently for consideration is this. When there is a general provision in the law already and one then finds an additional enactment declaring that general provision, in a boundary case a doubt may be raised and it may be said, “If Parliament had intended the law to apply in other cases, would it not in a boundary case have made a specific provision?” .
The hon. and learned Gentleman is far more conversant with these matters than I am. I am advised that it would be better to leave the words out. I can do no more than say that. If the House wishes to put them in, that is a matter for the House, but I am a little against putting in surplus words where the law is clear without them.[column 779]
Mr. F. P. Bishop (Harrow, Central)
There must, I suggest, be an element of common sense in this matter of interpretation. Is there not another danger, apart from any effect upon the interpretation of other Statutes? Subsection (2) as it now stands reads:
“a person publishing any defamatory matter at a meeting while it is required by this Act to be open to the public” ——
and so forth. The public may be at a meeting of the same kind at a time when the Bill does not require that they shall be permitted to be there; they may be there simply by the permission of the authority or body concerned. It seems to me, as a matter of common sense, that the words of the Bill as they stand would cast doubt upon the position when members of the public were present not specifically by virtue of the Bill. For that reason, if for no other, I suggest that it would be better to accept the Amendment.
Mr. M. Stewart
By leave of the House, Mr. Speaker, I should like to add a final word on this matter. We really are a little doubtful about it. We do not want to make difficulties at this stage of the Bill. Will the hon. Lady give an undertaking that she will pursue the matter further with the object, should it prove desirable, of arranging that another place should put the words back? We would be willing to accept the Amendment if the hon. Lady would give an undertaking that she will take further advice and, if matters stand as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) thinks they stand, will endeavour to get another place to put those words back.
I am quite happy to give that undertaking. It is news to me that I could have such an effect upon another place, but I will do my best.
Amendment agreed to
I beg to move, in page 3, line 30, to leave out from “of” to the end of line 31 and to add:
“June, nineteen hundred and sixty-one.”
In Committee, I gave an undertaking that I would reconsider the date for coming into force of the Bill in the event of it becoming an Act. It is urged upon me that, as we had changed certain [column 780]principles of the Bill, it would be advisable to delay the operation, at any rate for some months. It was suggested that the appropriate time would be immediately after local authority elections, as a number of authorities may wish to make changes in their standing orders. They are not the only authorities concerned in the Bill, but they will be affected in greatest measure. I therefore think that the most fitting date for coming into force of the Act would be immediately after the local elections of next year.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend could consider this matter a little further between now and when the Bill reaches another place, to see whether the influence which she has that place might be used on this matter. Obviously, the date in the Bill, 1st September, is wholly unrealistic. It would not be possible for all the necessary arrangements to be made.
On the other hand, I cannot help but feel that twelve months, which would be the effect of the Amendment, is rather long. Certain authorities will have to change their standing orders, but it is news to me that they can do that only after local elections. I sat, although for only a short time, on a local authority, and, if necessary, we could change our standing orders at any time. I cannot see why it is necessary to wait as long as is proposed, although I agree that some Amendment would have to be made because 1st September is unrealistic.
Although I do not intend to press the matter to a Division, I hope very much that my hon. Friend will consider possibly 1st January or 1st March as more suitable dates than 1st June.
Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
I should like to add a word to what has been said by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk). If the Bill comes into force after the next local elections, it will operate at various times in various parts of the country. There will be local elections early next year, in March and April, in certain parts; and local elections in other parts in the autumn. If the Amendment is passed, the Bill will operate in one part at one time and in another part at another time, as I understand.[column 781]
Perhaps difficulty has arisen because of the way in which I moved the Amendment. The Amendment is that the Bill should come into operation on 1st June, 1961. The reason for the Amendment is that that is a date by which most local elections would have occurred.
Sir Robert Grimston (Westbury)
I am sorry that I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk), but I very much hope that 1st June will be accepted, particularly for the convenience of a number of small local authorities which have been used to having a general purposes committee of all the members of the council. It will be convenient if they have a little time to adjust themselves and if that time is extended over the next local council elections. It would make only a matter of a few months' difference, and for that reason I hope that the House will accept the date of 1st June.
Mr. Robert Jenkins (Dulwich)
Since the Committee stage, the larger local authorities have given this matter a great deal of consideration. It seems that they are quite unanimous that 1st June is about right. All the elections will be over by then. Even in places where there are no elections, such as in London, the committees for the following year will have been selected. I hope that the House will agree to the Amendment.
Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I, too, hope that the House will accept the Amendment. Not only the standing orders of local authorities are involved. Those of us who were members of the Standing Committee will know that we spent a lot of time discussing how some local authorities will make the arrangements which the provisions of the Bill require. Some local authorities will require a lot of time to make the necessary accommodation available. The Amendment proposes a reasonable date, and I hope that the House will accept it.
Sir K. Joseph
I very much hope that the House will accept the Amendment. In addition to the reasons given, I would remind the House that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government proposes to discuss with local authority associations a code [column 782]of conduct, which they will want time to consider and which must take a little time to prepare. My right hon. Friend would not like to impose on local authorities a need to consider two alternations—one for bringing in the Bill and another at a later date when the code has been published. I hope that they will be able to do both at the same time.
Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)
I am sorry that it is proposed that the coming into operation of the Bill should be postponed for such a long time. I had hoped that it would be in operation very much earlier. I am sorry that it cannot be brought into operation within the next month or so, because we have had some bad examples recently of things being done by local authorities which this Bill will stop them doing.
For instance, St. Pancras Borough Council has decided to keep the public out of its meetings for the next three months. We have been told that the actions of Conservative-controlled councils and quite a lot of Labour-controlled authorities made it necessary to introduce a Bill of the kind presented to us on Second Reading. Now, a Conservative-controlled authority has decided that it will keep the public out of its meetings for the next three months. I am, therefore, sorry that the Bill, when it has received the Royal Assent, will not come into operation sooner in order to make that council reconsider its decision. I am disappointed, but, as we are in a position where it is physically impossible to do that, reluctantly I will have to accept the Amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule.—(Bodies to which this Act applies.)
It seems to me that it might be for the convenience of the House if the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton), in page 4, line 35, to leave out:
“or to advise on the discharge of”
were discussed with that in the name of the hon. Member for Dulwich. (Mr. R. Jenkins), in page 4, line 8. I will call the second Amendment if it is required for decision of the House.[column 783]
Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Robert Jenkins
I beg to move, in page 4, line 8, to leave out:
“or advise on the discharge of” .
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) will be able to accept the Amendment. Joint advisory committees appointed by two or more local authorities cannot reach any executive decision without submitting their reports and recommendations to each of the constituent bodies. The operative decision about whether a certain line of action should be followed can be made only by the constituent bodies themselves and any discussion which this involves will take place in the constituent bodies.
There seems to be no reason why either the public or the Press should be admitted to meetings of bodies of this kind. As the Bill is drafted, it would catch joint committees which are appointed by two or more local authorities to discuss, perhaps, the preliminary stages to be taken in connection with the provision of a service and in which one of them should take the initiative. These are not the sort of things which should be made public. They are often of the nature of preliminary negotiations.
The next point is that where consultation is taking place, and advice is to be given to the constituent bodies, when preliminary talks are taking place it is obviously not necessary or even desirable for the Press or public to be present at those embryonic stages. In any event, the results of their advice will go back to the two or more constituent bodies, which then come within the ambit of the Bill.
I have been asked strongly to press this matter. Under the Bill, serious inconvenience could be caused in the running of a body of this kind, which is merely of an advisory character, which has no functions whatever and whose decisions will come to the light of day in the normal course. I am advised that difficulties would be created in local government when these committees were set up. With this explanation of the reasons for my Amendment, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), in the interests of local government throughout the country and of [column 784]assisting the working of the Bill, will find herself able to accept the Amendment.
Mr. W. Hamilton
I wish to put a similar case on behalf of Scotland, where similar arguments apply. I understand that the Scottish Office has no feelings about the matter and is prepared to accept the Amendment. I am sure that the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) would not want to do anything to offend Scotland, otherwise she might have some of the treatment that Ministers have had in recent weeks. I very much hope that she will accept my Amendment in line 35, on behalf of the Scottish local authorities.
I certainly would not want to do anything to offend Scotland. It was with trepidation that I included Scotland within the purview of the Bill at all, particularly when I read that on an earlier Bill an English Member had objected to the inclusion of Scotland on the ground that it would increase the loquacity of the Scots in their local authority committees. The more things change, the more they are the same.
I have an open mind on the Amendment. I inquired about the kind of functions which these committees performed and was told that frequently the purpose of such committees is to co-ordinate the actions of several authorities. There may be matters—for example, relating to National Parks—which concern a piece of land which is within the area of different local authorities comprised by the park. In an instance of that sort, any discussion of the future of such a National Park would seem to be of great interest to the public and to the Press. It may be that such matters as seashore coastal defences come within the purview of two different local authorities but have to be treated as a natural geographical unit.
As the Bill was drafted, it was meant to cover committees which exercised delegated functions. Now the principle has been altered to those committees which consist of the whole of the members with a view to getting maximum discussion in public. If maximum discussion in public is the principle, subject to certain safeguards, it might be a gesture on the part of [column 785]those who wish to get as much public information as possible over to the public to consider leaving in the words which it is now sought to delete. It would not do harm to leave them in, because the committees concerned have abundant safeguards in that they could exclude Press and public when confidential matters were being discussed. I am entirely in the hands of the House on this matter, but we should make it clear that we want maximum discussion in public.
Mr. M. Stewart
The House would be well advised to accept the Amendment, which has been moved by the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) and supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton). The matters to which the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) has just referred are matters which will come up for public discussion in the bodies which have appointed the joint committees. By the Amendment, we should not be doing anything to cause decisions that should be discussed and taken in public to be taken in private with the public or Press improperly excluded. As the hon. Member for Dulwich said, we should be protecting negotiations in their embryonic stage. In the interests of good administration, that is a right thing to do.
There are some steps in the making of policy that cannot be so well done in full view of unlimited publicity as they can be done by private discussion. Acceptance of the Amendment would bring no risk of any hiding of vital matters or decisions from either the Press or the Public. We should, therefore, pay proper attention to the needs of local authorities, both in England and in Scotland, and accept the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West and of the hon. Member for Dulwich and make the Amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
I should like help from the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins). It is possible for his Amendment in page 4, line 12, to leave out from “Council” to “and” in line 13, to be discussed with the following one in line 13, if that is sufficient for him. If, however, the hon. Member wants to go as far as taking a decision of the House, that course cannot be adopted. [column 786]Does the hon. Member agree with my suggestion?
Mr. Robert Jenkins
The hon. Member indicates his assent to my suggestion. Therefore, I call the following Amendment, in line 13, and indicate that the subject matter of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dulwich in line 12 may be discussed with it.
I beg to move, in page 4, line 13, after “councils” , to insert:
“in boroughs which are separate police areas,” .
This is a somewhat technical Amendment as I have drafted it. The Schedule includes within the operation of the Bill several authorities which are statutory police authorities. These are, as stated in paragraph 1 (a) of the Schedule, standing joint committees, combined police authorities constituted under the Police Act, 1946, and watch committees of borough councils.
The watch committees of borough councils have had a history dependent upon the police force which they were formed to control. The standing joint committee is a statutory authority for the county police force. The watch committees were originally the statutory authorities for borough police forces. By virtue of the Police Act, 1946, a number of boroughs lost their statutory police forces and their function were carried out by the county forces. The county boroughs still retain their police forces, and certain very large boroughs are still treated as county boroughs for police purposes only, although they are not treated as county boroughs for other purposes.
Those authorities are defined in a Section of the Police Act, which says that if the population of a borough exceeds half the population of the administrative county authority it is, in fact, treated as a county borough for police purposes, and its watch committee is a statutory authority for police purposes.
We are, therefore, in a position where we have two kinds of watch committees, those which, like a standing joint committee, are the statutory authority for police purposes, and those of the ordinary boroughs, not county boroughs and [column 787]not county boroughs for police purposes, which still have a watch committee although they have lost their police forces. Those boroughs which have watch committees but no police forces exercise residuary functions such as house-to-house collections in the areas which they serve, but they are no longer the statutory police authority.
This Amendment is designed so that those watch committees which are statutory police authorities should, in accordance with the rest of this paragraph of the Schedule, be within the meaning of the Bill and subject to its provisions.
Mr. Robert Jenkins
I am sure the House will be more than grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) for moving the Amendment, but, quite frankly, the local authorities throughout the country, especially the larger ones, the boroughs in particular, do not feel satisfied that the Amendment goes far enough. I should like shortly to give the House some facts on the whole question of watch committees, the different types of those committees.
The House will remember that watch committees of borough councils are appointed under the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, which provides that a council shall from time to time appoint a sufficient number, not exceeding one-third of the body, who, with the mayor, shall be the watch committee. By the Police Act, 1946, a watch committee, the police authority in relation to county boroughs, where the county forms part of a combined police authority, is at present appointed by the county boroughs and is a statutory police authority. Those committees are the police authorities for their respective boroughs.
Watch committees may also be, and in a number of cases still are, appointed by county boroughs which are not statutory police areas, and it is this type which are not police authorities. Watch committees which are police authorities are given certain functions by Statute, and may, in addition, exercise functions on behalf of the council under powers delegated by the council; but watch committees which are not police authorities exercise only those functions which are given to them by the council. [column 788]
There seems, in my opinion, no justification for treating the latter type of committee in any different way from any other standing committee appointed by local authorities. It is gratifying to me, I say again, that my hon. Friend has gone some way to meeting the objections of the main local authorities.
However, I suggest that in administrative counties it is the chief constable and not the standing joint committee who is the disciplinary authority. In boroughs having statutory police forces the position is reversed and the watch committee is the disciplinary body. This means that much more business which is done of a personal nature is dealt with by watch committees than by standing joint committees, because, I repeat, the chief constable himself is responsible for that administration.
This type of business is generally accepted as being unsuitable for public discussion. The work of the watch committee in those circumstances would be, as it is in the case of the chief constable, personnel, their appointment, promotion, dismissal, and matters of discipline; the state of crime in the area; or any measures needed to deal with the current situation; or premises, equipment, general administrative matters concerning the police.
As to the first of these, personnel matters, they could be dealt with in private under the Bill, where they concern the police or ordinary administrative staffs of local authorities. As to the state of crime in an area, it is manifestly of the highest importance that this should be discussed in private. It would be impossible to discuss this subject in the presence of members of the public who might include criminals who would be glad to know the information being discussed in the committee.
As to the ordinary matters of premises and equipment and administration, these usually involve expenditure, and the watch committee is in precisely the same position as any other committee of the local authority and would have to get the consent of the council itself to that expenditure. Therefore, the opportunity for discussion of those matters in open council with the Press and public present would be available. [column 789]
If my Amendment is not accepted, the watch committee will undoubtedly find it necessary in the public interest to exclude the Press and the public from its meetings when it is dealing with the first and second classes of business I have referred to, that is, personnel, discipline, dismissal, promotion, and the state of crime. Any major items which come within the third class of business would normally be submitted for the approval of the council. I suggest, therefore, that there seems to be no reason for including watch committees among the bodies to whom the Bill will apply.
There is one general point I would make. I think that it would be a serious thing for the country and local government in particular if a Bill were passed by the House which would have the effect of making a local authority take appropriate action to exclude the members of the public, which they may do under the Bill. It would be a bad thing that local authorities should find themselves continually having closed sessions merely because there was no provision in the Bill to enable them to have them by right of Statute.
It is quite clear, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley will be alerted to the point, that discipline and other things of that kind, such as promotion, cannot be discussed with the Press and public present. It is quite clear that crime cannot, in those circumstances, be discussed. It is quite clear, as to the third class of business, that all those items will go eventually to the council for open discussion. Therefore, I should have thought that it would be wise in the interests of making the Bill work to provide that watch committees are excluded from its scope.
Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) seems to have made a most convincing case for the Amendment which he has agreed not to move. I am the more disappointed at his agreement, because I thought that today I should be able for once to support the hon. Member.
Mr. Robert Jenkins
On a point of order. Did I in fact, Mr. Speaker, say that I was not moving my Amendment? With great respect, I thought that you [column 790]were asking me to agree to have my Amendment and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) taken jointly and that after joint discussion I was to move my Amendment.
I am very sorry if the hon. Member misunderstood. Being aware of the difficulties which would arise if I went on to the Amendment of the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), I indicated in terms to the hon. Gentleman that if he wanted the decision of the House on his Amendment I should not be able to take the course I was suggesting and for that purpose I invited the hon. Gentleman's help. He did not say anything, but he indicated assent by nodding and I referred to that verbally to get the nodding on the record as it were.
Mr. Robert Jenkins
On a point of order. I was not aware of the point that you were putting, Mr. Speaker. I thought that you said that you wanted my assistance in the sense of my agreement that the two Amendments should be taken together. When you called my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) I rather thought that you were calling her first and me second to move my Amendment, although the two Amendments were not on the Notice Paper in that order. Is there any way that we can go back on the Notice Paper so that the decision of the House can be taken on my Amendment?
If the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will forgive me, I should like to tidy up this point and, therefore, continue to interrupt him. I do not see any way of doing what the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) asked me to do, unless—and I am not in any sense putting any pressure on anybody—after discussion, it turned out that the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was prepared to withdraw her Amendment. In that way we could get back, but I see no other.
Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Lady-wood)
Further to that point of order. All this is very regrettable, because I gathered the same impression as did the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins). I understood that the two Amendments were being taken together [column 791]and that we should be able to vote on both of them. What could have been the alternative to that? Does it mean that if the hon. Member for Dulwich made a mistake, owing to a misunderstanding which must have been shared by other hon. Members, it cannot be rectified?
I am extremely sorry to cause any misunderstanding in the mind of anybody at all, but I hope greatly that when hon. Members look at the Official Report they will see that the words which I used made the position quite plain. I am afraid that I cannot help that there has been a misunderstanding. It is very difficult to listen carefully to every word uttered here, but I think that I used words which made it quite plain. There is no way back, as far as I can see, except the one that I indicated.
Owing to an error of mine, as I see now, for which I apologise, my Amendment cannot be taken unless my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley withdraws her Amendment. May I ask whether, in the event of that not happening but of my hon. Friend's Amendment being defeated, my Amendment could then be taken?
No, I am afraid not.
Mr. M. Stewart
Further to that point of order. It may have been a defect of understanding on our part, but I believe that most hon. Members had the same impression as the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) had—that it would be still within our power to give an expression of opinion on his Amendment. Is it really the case that the only way we can do that is by the withdrawal of the earlier Amendment? If that is so, I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) will see her way to do it. This is a matter on which a number of hon. Members feel strongly and it might affect their attitude to the Bill as a whole.
My recollection of what you said, Mr. Speaker, was as you later described it and not as it was recalled by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins). If my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) withdraws her Amendment, is [column 792]it possible for her to move it afterwards? Some of us would prefer her Amendment.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. That is a possible course. In again expressing regret at having somehow procured a misunderstanding, I would add that if hon. Members read the Notice Paper they will see that what they had in mind was impossible. The two Amendments relate to successive lines.
The only thing that I have been clear about, Mr. Speaker, was what you said first. I am in a fog about what has happened since. Is it possible, if I withdraw my Amendment now, for me to move it again after my hon. Friend's Amendment?
The matter would be governed, of course, by the decision of the House on the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Dulwich but, subject to that matter, if the hon. Lady withdraws her Amendment now she will be able to move it thereafter.
Do I understand that in the event of my withdrawing my Amendment, discussion on it can take place simultaneously with that on the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich, although the actual formal moving takes place afterwards? Is that correct?
That is quite correct. I am obliged to the hon. Lady. That would be the position.
In that event, with the consent of the House and in the hope that I may have leave to move it later, depending on the vote on my hon. Friend's Amendment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Robert Jenkins
I beg to move, in page 4, line 12, to leave out from “Council” to “and” in line 13.
I have intimated that with this Amendment may be discussed the Amendment in the name of the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley, in page 4, line 13, after “councils” , to insert:
“in boroughs which are separate police areas.”[column 793]
You asked me to forgive you, Mr. Speaker. As I always pray that my transgressions may be forgiven as I forgive other people, although I did not recognise any need for your plea to me, if it will give you any peace of mind, I will. I was in no doubt about what your Ruling had been, as I made clear in the very first words that I uttered when I rose previously.
I was the Minister who presented the Police Act, 1946, to the House. Although that is now some time ago, my recollection is that the Amendment in the name of the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) in page 4, line 13, would apply only to two boroughs—Peterborough and Cambridge. Let us be quite clear on that. The only two boroughs which satisfied the condition that their population exceeded one-half of the administrative county were Peterborough, which had more than half the population of the Soke of Peterborough, and Cambridge which had more than half the population of Cambridgeshire.
I understand that recommendations have now been made by which Cambridge will become a county borough. Therefore, that might reduce this matter merely to the position of Peterborough in the new county of Bedfordshire, of which it certainly would not have more than half the population. Therefore, as far as one can see, the Amendment eventually—in the course of two or three years—would achieve exactly nothing.
I support the speech made by the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins). I think that to give the Press unlimited rights in respect of watch committees would make the administration of the police in county boroughs even more difficult than it is now. I cannot think that the Press ought to have the right to hear the deliberations of a watch committee on the internal discipline of a police force. Although, personally, I dislike standing joint committees as such, I prefer the arrangements for police discipline in counties to those in boroughs, for I think that in a disciplined force the discipline should be in the hands of the chief officer.
Having served on a standing joint committee for a great many years, I know the advantages that accrue from [column 794]the chief constable being the source of discipline in counties. If he makes a mistake, or—what is, I think, more often the case—if a member of his force thinks he has made a mistake, there is an appeal on his decision to the Secretary of State, when an inquiry, generally by a barrister and an inspector of constabulary, deals with the matter.
I would hope that at some time in the future discipline in county borough forces may be brought on to the same lines, but while matters concerning the discipline and promotion of a police force are within the competence of the watch committee it would be highly undesirable that the Press should have the right of access to meetings where those matters are discussed. Where the issue is whether P.C. 37 or P.C. 479 shall be appointed to the vacancy for a sergeant and presumably—I have never attended a watch committee meeting—arguments for and against on that delicate issue are being advanced, it is extremely undesirable that a public discussion should take place.
There are occasions when matters not quite as positive between two members of the force are discussed where it must be highly detrimental to the future work of the force in a county borough. Suggestions may have been made by a member of the watch committee and put to the chief constable, such as that he has no confidence in the competence of a certain constable, sergeant, inspector or superintendent. If that sort of thing is to be ventilated in public it must, clearly, make the work of the police force in the area very much more difficult than it is at the moment.
For these reasons, I hope that the hon. Member for Dulwich, having secured the initiative once again, will persist in his Amendment, for I can think of nothing more detrimental to forces in county boroughs, particularly in these difficult times when all sorts of people imagine they have grievances against the forces, than it being competent for the Press to attend meetings where the conduct and discipline of forces are being considered. That does not mean that when any misconduct occurs in the force it should be hushed up, but it should not in its early stages be given the kind of publicity which the Bill at present might give it.[column 795]
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)
I hope that it may be of some help to the House if I attempt to give advice on these two Amendments. I am all the more impelled to do so because I find, I think for the first time in two and a half years, that I have to correct the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) on a point of interpretation in relation to the Home Office.
The Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), which applies to all watch committees which are not police authorities, is applicable not merely to Peterborough and Cambridge. I happen to know the position in Peterborough and Cambridge because my constituency lies right between the two cities. The right hon. Gentleman is certainly correct about those two places.
But there are, I understand, borough councils which, although they are not police authorities, have watch committees. That is the case where, for example, there is a combined police authority, a borough and a county having got together, or having been put together, to form one police authority which is called a combined police authority. But in those cases the boroughs have retained their watch committees. They are not police authorities, and the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley would apply to them. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not mind my making that correction.
I accept what the hon. and learned Gentleman says. Of course, many places which have never been police authorities appoint bodies which they call watch committees.
Yes, that is so. They are not obliged to appoint such committees, but it pleases them to do so, and it is sometimes a useful thing to do.
The two Amendments raise most interesting points of police authority organisation. As the Bill stands at the moment, all police authorities, whatever character they have, would be covered by the terms of the Bill so that the Press would be admitted, subject to the right of exclusion, to such meetings. The Amendment in the name of my hon. [column 796]Friend the Member for Finchley would, of course, upset that broad application of the Bill to all police authorities by excluding watch committees.
I am sorry. I mean the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins). I certainly do not wish, Mr. Speaker, to add to the confusion that we have already had this morning.
The Amendment by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich would disturb that broad principle that all police authorities are covered by the Bill by seeking to exclude watch committees. My hon. Friend put his Amendment forward, rather strangely I thought, not so much on the ground that watch committees could be said to be committees of local authorities but on the ground that they have particular powers dealing with appointments, promotion and so on which other police authorities do not have.
For the sake of the record and so that the House may be fully seized of the actual position, I think I should deal with both of those possible arguments. It is true that watch committees are appointed by local authorities and that they are called “committees,” and in a nominal sense—but a nominal sense only—they are committees of local authorities. But they are police authorities in their own right. The legislation introduced by the right hon. Member for South Shields made that quite clear.
Let us be quite clear in our own minds that if we are to deal with them in this Bill, we ought to deal with them, not on the footing that they are committees of local authorities, but should deal with them on the footing that they are police authorities. Therefore, my advice to the House on the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich is this. Quite candidly, from the Home Office point of view, we have no very strong feelings either way as to whether all police authorities should be subject to the Bill or no police authorities should be subject to it, but we do say that all police authorities should be treated by the Bill in the same way. [column 797]
If the House were to accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich, we would feel obliged to advise my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley to use her best endeavours to secure that, in a later stage of the Bill in another place, and for the sake of the necessary consistency, and rather than avoid a conflict between the two Houses of Parliament, she should have an Amendment moved to strike other police authorities out of the Bill; namely, standing joint committees and combined police authorities. That is my advice to the House, and, in the light of that advice, the House may take whatever decision it thinks fit.
I should add one or two matters which are relevant. The first is that in Scotland police authorities are quite different. In Scotland, police authorities are quite truly committees of local authorities. They have in the fullest sense all the dual functions that our watch committees do not have. The Bill, of course, applies to local authorities in Scotland in just the same way as it applies in England and Wales, and, therefore, the House may wish to bear in mind when it is legislating that there is this strange difference between, on the one hand, England and Wales, where the police authorities are completely autonomous, and, on the other hand, in Scotland, where they are committees of the local authorities; and, of course, we have excluded the committees of local authorities from the Bill.
Another thing which I think is most relevant, and which answers or at any rate deals with the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich, is this. It deals with the real argument which he advanced in favour of his Amendment, to which I referred briefly earlier. It is true that watch committees have certain powers, with which the House is familiar and which have been mentioned this morning, which other police authorities do not have, but we must realistically face the fact that it is not only watch committees in the exercise of these powers, but all police authorities in the exercise of a great many of their powers, that will find it necessary to use the right of exclusion rather frequently, and certainly very much more frequently than one would expect local authorities to do. I [column 798]am very glad to see the right hon. Member for South Shields nodding, because it is right that I should try to carry right hon. and hon. Members with me on this matter.
It is not merely a question of personnel, appointments, promotion and discipline matters which may have to be taken, as they are at present, in private by watch committees, but for all police authorities there are matters concerned with the disposition of the police force for the fighting of crime, and there is no point in playing into the hands of the criminals by allowing the Press to attend. The House may wish to bear that factor in mind when deciding whether or not we should move towards a position in which all police authorities are included in the Bill or all police authorities are excluded from it.
Then, of course, police authorities, like other public bodies mentioned in the Second Schedule, will sometimes have to consider the purchase of land and buildings, and, in order that speculators may not get foreknowledge of what might happen, they may well be in the position of having to exclude the Press. I think there may be very good nominal reasons and reserve powers given to the public at large by our providing that police authorities shall admit the Press and the public, and it is only right to point out at this fairly early stage that it will be essentially a reserve power and that in practice on very many occasions the power of exclusion will have to be exercised.
I want to express surprise that we did not have this explanation given to us during the Committee stage of the Bill. What I want to ask the Minister is this. As I try to understand his argument, it is that whatever we do, the Home Office has no very strong feelings about it in this matter, but that, whatever we do, the Home Office wants us to be consistent.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has also said that this Bill will also apply to Scotland and went on to explain in some detail that police authorities in Scotland are not only police authorities but also local authority committees, which would be excluded from the provisions of the Bill.
If, therefore, h, e is suggesting to the House that it ought to be consistent in [column 799]this matter, do I presume that his argument is that we ought to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins), because, otherwise, there would be inconsistency in the application of the Bill as between Scotland and England and Wales?
No, it is essentially a matter in which the Government, for the reasons which I have given, should not do more than point out the results of accepting or not accepting my hon. Friend's Amendment. It is a matter which we have all along felt can properly be left to the decision of the House, and it is right that I should point out to the House the results either way of its decision. As to the distinction between England and Scotland that arises, all I can say is that it will not be the first or the only remaining distinction. We often have to legislate in a different way for the two countries. My father was a Scotsman, and I have always respected——
That accounts for it.
I do not know what that accounts for, but these mixed marriages sometimes produce strange results. I do not think that should deflect us from the position in England, which is the only one for which I can answer. Having pointed out the distinction, we do most seriously think that we should have consistency. You may, Mr. Speaker, think it right that I should say that it does not very much matter one way or another which way the House does decide, so long as there is consistency, because, as I have attempted to explain, if the Press and Public are admitted, the power of exclusion will have to be so wide that, in fact, there will be very little difference in practice, whichever decision the House takes.
Nevertheless, there are those occasions when it might be useful from the public's point of view that there should be this fundamental right for the public to be admitted, subject to the power of exclusion.
May I say a word before the hon. and learned Gentleman sits down? He has told us that it does not matter which way the House decides, and he leaves it very much to the House. Then he spent [column 800]a lot of time giving us the objections to the present position and, in effect, speaking in favour of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins). Having said that it does not matter and could be left to the House, does he not think that he should give some arguments for leaving the Schedule as it is? He has given us a rather onesided point of view. I have an open mind on the subject, but I think that he should spend a little time giving us the arguments in favour of allowing the Press and public into meetings of watch committees, because as yet I am not able to make up my mind.
I hope that I shall not be thought to be making a second speech, because I had in fact sat down, but the hon. Member prefaced his intervention by saying, “Before the hon. and learned Gentleman sits down.” There is a distinction between the position which arises on the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins). For obvious, technical reasons, my advice to the House would have been to accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley if it had not been withdrawn. No doubt the Government spokesman in another place, if the opportunity arises, will give the advice which I would have been prepared to tender to the House this morning.
I am afraid that in clearing up the understanding the hon. and learned Gentleman missed my saying that the Amendment at present withdrawn may in fact be discussed with the current Amendment.
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. I understand that it may be discussed, but it seemed to me that the discussion was likely to be academic because, the Amendment having been withdrawn, it could not be made.
I raised this issue before. The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), having withdrawn her Amendment, is at liberty to move it again if the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dulwich falls by the wayside. Is not that correct?
Yes. There is absolutely no need whatsoever for the [column 801]slightest misunderstanding. We are at present discussing the Amendment in page 4, line 12. I have said that at the same time we may discuss the Amendment in page 4, line 13. If the Amendment to line 12 succeeds, the next Amendment will fall. If the Amendment to line 12 falls, then the hon. Lady is at liberty to move the Amendment to line 13.
That is a further factor to which I draw attention. For the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley to be made, the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich should not succeed.
The intervention of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) was valid. There are arguments—I do not say very strong arguments—in favour of admitting the Press to meetings of all police authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich mentioned some of them. What he did not say was that from time to time in past years—and some hon. Members may think in recent years—there has been occasions when watch committees and other police authorities—I do not want to single out watch committees—have made decisions which have sometimes ultimately surprised the public and when the public would have understood those decisions very much better if the Press had been present in order that the explanation underlying those decisions might have been made. That is an argument in favour of keeping police authorities in the Bill.
Are not all those cases cases of police discipline, which the hon. and learned Member has himself conceded ought not to be discussed in public?
I would not say that they were all matters of police discipline, but in so far as they were, the right hon. Gentleman has made a valid point.
Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
The hon. and learned Gentleman has added to the confusion. He has said that it does not matter which way the House decides and will not make any difference so long as the House decides one way or the other. How can we decide with that kind of advice? He went on to say that we are consistent [column 802]in England and that there is a difference between the positions in England and Scotland and that so long as we are consistent in England, it does not matter what happens in Scotland.
Mr. W. Hamilton
Oh, but it does.
On Second Reading and in Committee I said that the Press should be admitted, when an authority decided, to meetings of the watch committee, the education committee, and so on. However, the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) has called attention to one matter which I overlooked. The Schedule would permit the Press to attend meetings of sub-committees of watch committees. For some years, the Birmingham Corporation has admitted the Press to meetings of the watch committee, but matters of discipline, promotion, and other things fundamental to the way in which the police force works and the difficulties which the police force encounters have been discussed in a sub-committee, the judicial sub-committee, to which the Press has not been admitted.
I see no reference in the Schedule to sub-committees. Can the hon. Member help me?
There is no reference to sub-committees, but it mentions watch committees of borough councils and says that the Press is to be admitted to sub-committees consisting of every member of the committee. What I am saying is that the Birmingham judicial sub-Committee consists of all the members of the watch committee. It is important that that sub-committee should be able in private to discuss the very full information which is given by the chief constable. Although the hon. and learned Gentleman made a distinction between the positions in England and Scotland, in practice there is no such distinction with Birmingham, because the watch committee is elected by the council and its sub-committee, consisting of all the members of the watch committee, discusses matters such as discipline, appointments, promotion and so on. If a sub-committee is formed to consider all these matters of privacy, and if it consists of every member of the watch committee, its meetings might have to be in public; and it would be a very serious matter in Birmingham if [column 803]the Press and the public were admitted to hear the discussions.
A borough council appoints a watch committee. It does so because it has power of appointment, not merely because it is exercising a power of delegation. Appointment and delegation are quite different things.
That may be so, but in Birmingham the watch committee re-reports to the council and it may be questioned in council upon its report on all matters affecting the police service. From my own knowledge, I can say that thirty years ago the question of the police attending meetings and taking secret reports was discussed in the City Council.
I do not object to the Press being admitted to full meetings of the watch committee which can give general information of interest to the public. Difficulties arise, however, if the Press are to be admitted to the judicial committee. Recently we had a dreadful murder in Birmingham. The chief constable was naturally anxious to give the fullest information, and he gave a great deal of information about the murder to the judicial committee. It is a good thing that all members of the watch committee should be members of such a committee, because all members of such an authority ought to have the fullest information which the chief constable can give. But the House will see at once that to admit the public to a discussion of that kind would bring immense difficulties. To use the words of the town clerk of Birmingham, “It would not lead to the maintenance of law and order.”
The hon. Member for Dulwich has done a service in bringing this matter forward, because it is important to distinguish between the watch committee and a sub-committee which consists of all members of the watch committee. The sub-committee may discuss some matters in private and general matters may be brought through the full committee to the council.
I appreciate the dilemma of the hon. and learned Member when he says that it is unfair to have one set of rules for one police authority and another set of rules for another police authority. Could not the hon. Lady consider the [column 804]suggestion which she made earlier that a change could be made in the Bill in another place? As the Bill stands, members of the Press and the public would be able to listen to everything, unless the councillors went through the rigmarole of considering each item before the meeting and deciding which should be discussed in private and which in public. I should prefer all police authorities to be out of the Bill altogether rather than to be in it on conditions which I think will be very unsatisfactory to the public and to the maintenance of law and order.
This is a very difficult point. At the beginning, I was in favour of having watch committees in the Bill, on the ground of consistency. It seems to me, however, that there are only two courses open to the House, neither of which is covered by the Amendment. The first is to strike out paragraph (c) of the Schedule and remove all police authorities from the Bill. The second is to retain paragraph (c) and to devise a procedure whereby the very important points referred to by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) can be covered. Neither of those courses can be pursued by the House at the moment.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) is not here—possibly he will return shortly—for I wish to suggest that if these Amendments were not pressed it might be possible between now and whatever stage is appropriate in another place for discussions to take place with the local authority associations and the police authorities, who, I am certain, have an important point to make about this issue. We could then see whether a form could be devised which would keep the police authorities in the Bill, but leave out the matters of discipline and of private life which we all want to leave out. I am sure that that would be the best solution. Without it we cannot reach a consistent or logical decision. I suggest that we should let the matter fall at the moment and see whether a solution cannot be found in another place.
Mr. M. Stewart
I agree that there are two possibilities before the House, but my preference is to try to get rid of [column 805]paragraph (c) altogether. The Joint Under-Secretary of State heroically attempted to set a balanced argument before us and to try not to lead the House too positively in one direction or another. For that, he was criticised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds), who said that the hon. and learned Member had failed to make up his mind for him. I had hoped to attempt to do that myself, but, unfortunately, my hon. Friend is not in the Chamber.
Paragraph (c) mentions a number of police authorities. The Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) excludes one kind of police authority. The hon. Member gave important reasons why he thought that that kind of authority should be treated differently from others, and I do not think that the Joint Under-Secretary of State fully did justice to those reasons. I do not propose to argue that further now, however. It seemed to be strongly the hon. and learned Member's view that all police authorities must be treated alike, and I detected from his tone of voice and manner the suggestion that if the Amendment is carried the Government will do their best to see that consistency is then obtained by getting rid of the paragraph altogether. That was the tenor of the hon. and learned Member's speech. He argued that on grounds of consistency.
The hon. and learned Member went on, however, to point out to us that Scottish police authorities are untouched by the Bill anyway, and it has been argued forcibly by several of my hon. Friends that if we are searching for consistency we should take that as the starting point. The Scottish police authorities are out now. There is a considerable balance of argument whether any of the police authorities ought to be in. It is argued that consistency in this matter is a good thing in itself. It seems to me that on those three facts the best solution is to treat the English authorities like the Scottish authorities and to take them out of the Bill altogether
That conclusion is reinforced by the arguments adduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and others on both sides of the House who have spoken about the general [column 806]lack of wisdom of much police business being discussed before the public and the Press. I do not think that anyone has any doubts about that. It has been argued that if police authorities remain in the Bill their power of exclusion will be used very frequently. We are in a situation in which already there seems to be a considerable balance of arguments on both sides, where the argument of consistency, if carried through properly, is an argument in favour of taking the English authorities out of the Bill, and where the fact is that if they are kept in the Bill they will probably use the power of exclusion in nine cases out of ten or ninety-nine out of a hundred. Surely the sensible thing is to take them out altogether.
I do not think that it is a good thing either for the law in general, or for local authorities, for us to create situations in which the public will have the nominal right to access subject to powers of exclusion, and the power of exclusion will nearly always be used. It is reasonable to give the public a right of entry, on the understanding that there is a power of exclusion, in all those cases where the power of exclusion will only be used occasionally. To go out of our way to create a situation where we say that these bodies must let the public in when we know that in most cases, because of the nature of the business, they will have to be kept out, is not desirable. If we add up all the arguments, we are driven to that conclusion.
It seemed to me that in that part of his speech where the Joint Under-Secretary of State was talking about the unwisdom of publicity for certain police matters he was speaking much more from the heart than during the latter part of his speceh, when he replied to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North and tried to produce arguments on the other side.
I shall have to have my heart examined.
I urge the hon. and learned Gentleman to follow his heart on this occasion. The right answer is to delete paragraph 1 (c). We cannot do that now, but if we want to do that the first step that will have that result in due time is to accept the Amendment [column 807]moved by the hon. Member for Dulwich So far as it is proper, on a Private Member's Bill, for anyone speaking from either Front Bench to recommend any course to his hon. Friends, that is the course I would recommend to my hon. Friends on this occasion.
Mr. W. Hamilton
I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will take note of what my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) said, because, if I judged aright, the nodding of his head indicated that he was very much in sympathy with the argument put forward by my hon. Friend.
I rise to speak because I do not see a representative of the Scottish Office on the Front Bench. I had a word with the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland prior to our meeting this morning. He explained that he would not be present because he felt that the two Amendments concerning Scotland were not controversial, and that the Scottish Office had no strong feelings on the matter. It is clear that he was not aware of the arguments that are now being adduced on both sides, whether the Press and the public should be admitted to meetings of police authorities. It would have been helpful if the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland had recognised the importance of that point and had stayed behind to give the view of the Scottish Office.
We believe that the superiority of Scotland compared with England in matters of law is well known and admitted on both sides. But it would be of great advantage to the House if the Scottish Office had a representative present to give the views of the Scottish Office on the advisability of allowing the Press into meetings of police authorities. It is unprecedented that a representative of the Home Office should speak on behalf of the Scottish Office, and I would be doing less than my duty if I did not voice a protest about this on this occasion. If the hon. and learned Gentleman, in seeking to speak for the Scottish Office, urges consistency he ought also to urge the adoption throughout the United Kingdom of the Scottish example.
My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland [column 808]and I often help each other out with work in the House, and we are very glad to do so. I should make it clear that on this occasion I was not attempting to speak specifically for the Scottish Office. When speaking for the Home Department, I was merely pointing out that there was this difference between the two countries in the Bill.
Mr. R. Grimston
We are in a peculiar position over this. But for the generosity of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) we should not have been able to discuss whether watch committee should come out or not. It is only because my hon. Friend acted in the way that she did that we can discuss the matter at all. There are certainly balanced arguments on both sides on this matter. I take the view that the police authorities should be embraced in the Bill, although I realise that there are powerful arguments against that, and that there will be exceptions to the occasions when they should be embraced in the Bill.
The only advice that my hon. and learned Friend gave the House was that whatever we do we must be consistent. I suggest that we have reached the point where it is very difficult to take it further here, and that there should be further consultations with the Home Department, local authority associations, and the police. It seems to me, therefore, that honour and chivalry would be requited all round if my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) withdrew his Amendment, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley having withdrawn hers, and the matter were dealt with in another place.
It will have to come back to this House by way of Lords Amendments so we shall not entirely lose control, but after what has happened I humbly and respectfully suggest to the House that that would be the best and the most honourable way out of the present position.
I thought that most of my troubles would be over today, but I now understand why it is Friday, 13th May. My hon. and learned Friend said that his heart would have to be examined. Some of us were beginning to think that it was not only our hearts that would need examining. [column 809]
As I understand it, consistency is the main thing. I should like to say a word in defence of my Amendment, because I was under the impression that that was the only one which was strictly consistent, which I will now try to prove. My researches showed that in Scotland the police authority was the town council and the county council. Those are within the scope of the Bill. Therefore, they are in. In the Metropolitan district of London the Home Secretary is the authority. I did not need to get him in, because he is here in any case. In the City of London the Common Council is the police authority. That is in the Bill.
In counties the standing joint committee is the police authority. That is within the Bill. In county boroughs the watch committee is the police authority. Those committees remain in the Bill. In boroughs which are treated as county boroughs for police purposes, the police authority is the watch committee. By my Amendment they would remain in the Bill and all the rest would be struck out. In some areas one gets amalgamation and consolidation arrangements where the authority is the combined police authority. Those are within the Bill already.
I therefore totally reject the argument that my Amendment would introduce inconsistency into the Bill. If my Amendment were accepted the Bill would be entirely consistent.
My hon. and learned Friend nods in assent. Therefore, I must be clear upon this matter. If consistency is the main object, it would be secured by the successful passage of my Amendment. In deference, however, to opinions that have been expressed, it seems to me that what we want is not consistency but a matter of principle which, astonishing though it may be, has not yet been decided by reference to these particular authorities.
Therefore, if my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) will withdraw his Amendment, I undertake not to move mine. I will further undertake to use such influence as I can possibly exert over the other House to have this matter considered as one [column 810]of principle, with a view to securing a result which is consistent and which also adequately reflects the principle upon which we have yet to decide.
Mr. Robert Jenkins
In view of the gracious way in which my hon. Friend has spoken, I cannot resist the temptation to accede to her request. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, in page 4, line 17, at the end to insert:
“and consisting of or including representatives of local authorities within the meaning of the Local Government Act. 1933” .
This Amendment corrects an anomaly. I understand that there can be joint water committees consisting of the boards of ordinary water companies. I know of one such joint committee consisting of the boards of two ordinary water companies. It was not intended that the Bill should cover such bodies. It is a unique case; the boards, as separate entities would not come within the scope of the Bill. It is anomalous that the terms of the Bill should cover boards joined together to form a joint committee or joint board when its constituent members are not covered by the Bill.
I have, however, thought fit to keep within the scope of the Bill those bodies which consist partly of water companies and partly of local authority representatives. Those should remain within the scope of the Bill, if only for the reason that they are, in large measure, treated as local authorities and subject to certain local authority provisions. For instance, all the members are entitled to travelling and subsistence allowances under the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1948.
I therefore propose that a hybrid body should be covered by the Bill when its members include local authority representatives. But those joint bodies and committees which are formed entirely of water boards which, as separate entities, would not come within the scope of the Bill, will be excluded from it.
Amendment agreed to. [column 811]
Further Amendment made: In page 4, line 35, leave out
“or to advise on the discharge of” .—[Mr. W. Hamilton.]
I beg to move, in page 5, to leave out lines 4 to 6.
This Amendment is designed to bring the position of probation committees in Scotland into line with the position of similar committees in England, which have already been deleted from the Bill.
Mr. W. Hamilton
I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the hon. Lady for giving Scotland what England already has. We have been watching the position very carefully and are glad to see that the hon. Lady has succumbed to our pursuasions.
Amendment agree to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.