HC Deb 10 February 1959 vol 599 cc982-8
20. Sir D. Robertson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, in view of continuing public concern because proceedings have not been brought, if he will move for an inquiry into all the circumstances of the case of John Waters, in order, in the general public interest, to restore public confidence in the local police force.

21. Mr. D. Howell

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will move for an inquiry into the case of John Waters, details of which have been supplied to him by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson).

Mr. N. Macpherson

This is a matter for the criminal authorities, who decided not to prosecute. The complaints against the police have been fully investigated by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate. My right hon. Friend has no power to order an inquiry; nor would he consider it appropriate to proceed under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921.

Sir D. Robertson

Does the Secretary of State for Scotland deny that one or both of the police constables assaulted this boy?

Mr. Macpherson

The Secretary of State for Scotland has not had access to the evidence in question. It is for the Lord Advocate, for the criminal authorities, to deal with these matters.

Mr. Howell

Is it not a monstrous thing that when seventeen witnesses have said they saw a young man in good heart taken away by policemen and immediately on release lie was seen by other witnesses and a indeed, to have very extensive injuries indeed, no inquiry is to be held on this prima facie evidence? Why is it that the police authority will not order an inquiry? Why is it that the Secretary of State will not have regard to his duties in respect of the defence of civil liberties, and, indeed, of the good name of the police force, by clearing up this matter?

Mr. Macpherson

I have already stated the responsibilities of the Secretary of State in my reply. The only power that could be used to hold such an inquiry is, as I said, in the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, under which a tribunal may be established in pursuance of a Resolution of both Houses of Parliament on matters of urgent public importance. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] This procedure has never been used in such a case—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and my right hon. Friend does not consider that it would be appropirate in this case. The Chief Constable could hold an inquiry and there would be an appeal from any findings to the Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend has no power to order the Chief Constable to hold an inquiry and it is hard to envisage how he could have advised the Chief Constable to hold one, since the evidence on which it would have been held is the same as the evidence which the criminal authorities considered insufficient to justify a prosecution.

Mr. Woodburn

This seems to be a very roundabout way of stating the Scottish law. Clearly the simpliest way to establish either the innocence or the guilt of the constables is to prosecute. As I understand it, the Lord Advocate, representing the Crown, is responsible for all prosecutions in Scotland and therefore, if a prosecution has not taken place, it is because the Lord Advocate has decided on behalf of the Crown that no evidence exists for a prosecution. Is the Lord Advocate satisfied that his decision in this case is correct? If not, why is not the Lord Advocate justifying his decision here today?

Mr. Macpherson

In reply to the last part of the supplementary question, the Question was put to my right hon. Friend asking what powers he had to hold an inquiry. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate looked into this again at the instance of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), and he decided that the Crown Counsel's decision that the evidence was insufficient to warrant an inquiry was correct.

Mr. M. Clark Hutchison

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that this case has been looked into twice already, and can he say whether the aggrieved party has a right of action for damages in the civil court if he wants to take it up?

Mr. Macpherson

The answer to the first part of the supplementary question is, "Yes, Sir." It was looked into by Crown Counsel and it was also looked into at the instance of my right hon. Friend by the Lord Advocate. The answer to the second part of the supplementary question is also "Yes." I would point out that my hon. Friend, in the course of the Adjournment debate last Tuesday, said that if he received an unsatisfactory answer from my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate—and I gather he considers he did get an unsatisfactory answer because he has put down this Question—the parents intended to bring a civil action. Therefore, I do not think it would be right to develop the argument as to guilt or otherwise now.

Hon. Members


Mr. Shinwell

Are we to understand from the Under-Secretary that both the Lord Advocate and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have conducted their investigations into these allegations? If so, can the facts, so far as the investigation has clarified the situation, be made available to hon. Members, so that we may judge whether justice has been done in this matter? Can the hon. Gentleman say why there is this anxiety to conceal the facts from hon. Members? What have the Government got to hide in a matter of this sort? Would not it he satisfactory, from the point of view of police themselves, for a thorough inquiry to be conducted?

Mr. Macpherson

In answer to the first part of that rather long supplementary question, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not conducted an inquiry into this matter. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate has investigated the matter, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not done so. In the course of the Adjournment debate, my right hon. and learned Friend gave his reasons why it would not be appropriate, on long-established legal grounds, to state why he had exercised his discretion one way or another in a matter of this kind.

Mr. Ede

Did John Waters himself appear before the person making the investigation and make a statement to him?

Mr. Macpherson

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will put down a Question about that, if he wants an answer.

Mr. H. Morrison

I hope that the hon. Gentleman can see that there is some apprehension on both sides of the House about this matter. Is not it the case that he ought to have known the answer to the supplementary question of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), about whether this boy was seen? Is there anything in law, in practice or otherwise, to prevent the Secretary of State appointing, say, some distinguished lawyer or judge to make inquiries and to report to him on whether there is a prima facie case? Nobody wishes to persecute the police force, but on the other hand, nobody wishes to see the sort of thing alleged happen, if it did. Will the hon. Gentleman make representations to the Secretary of State to appoint some competent person to conduct an inquiry into the matter?

Mr. Macpherson

No, Sir. I do not think that I should have known whether the boy, John Waters, was seen or not. This is a matter which was no doubt contained in the papers examined by the Lord Advocate and it is not a matter for the Secretary of State.

Mr. Hamilton

Why is the Under-Secretary answering the Question?

Mr. Macpherson

Because I have been asked whether the Secretary of State will appoint an inquiry. As I stated in the original Answer, I am advised that the Secretary of State has no power to appoint a judicial inquiry.

Sir J. Hutchison

Is my hon. Friend aware that anxiety on this matter is not limited to the other side of the House? Whether it is his responsibility or the responsibility of his right hon. Friend is not a matter with which I am concerned. I am concerned with the truth of the matter and with the desirability that the allegations against the police should be cleared up one way or the other.

Mr. Macpherson

I realise very fully the anxiety which is felt in many parts of the House, but the fact is that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate decided that the evidence in this case was insufficient to warrant an inquiry.

Mr. Woodburn

Is it not obvious from what has taken place in the House today that hon. Members are not satisfied that all the evidence was put before the Lord Advocate when he made his decision? Is it not up to the Lord Advocate, or the Secretary of State, to satisfy hon. Members that the boy and all those connected with him had sufficient opportunity to make their representations when the Lord Advocate made his decision? Would it not be unfortunate if it went out to the country that there was any sort of backstairs presentation of the case in which the victimised or allegedly victimised people were not given proper access to the judge?

Mr. Macpherson

I fully understand the point of view which the right hon. Gentleman has put, but I am bound to say that the question of whether or not to prosecute is bound to rest and does rest with the Lord Advocate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] He has to weigh evidence to see whether it is sufficient to warrant proceeding with a prosecution. As I have already said, at the request of my right hon. Friend my right hon. and learned Friend went into this matter very fully and arranged for evidence to be taken from various witnesses, especially at the instance of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland.

Mr. Woodburn

On a point of order. As the Lord Advocate himself is not prepared to give an assurance to the House which will satisfy hon. Members, and since the Under-Secretary cannot speak for the Lord Advocate, who is entitled to speak for himself, how can the hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that the Lord Advocate has considered all the facts?

Mr. Speaker

The Question is addressed to the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. D. Howell

On a point of order. Can you help us in this matter, Mr. Speaker? There has been an Adjournment debate and we have put down Questions to which we have had an unsatisfactory Answer. How can the matter be raised again? The Under-Secretary has said that a Resolution of the House would be necessary to set up a committee of inquiry, which the House apparently feels to be necessary. How can we act to get that done?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member must use his own ingenuity and knowledge of our procedure in order to judge how best to proceed. He knows more about this case than I do. He could put down a Motion, which is the only thing I can suggest. Let him consult his hon. Friends.

Mr. Shinwell

Further to that point of order. You must be aware, Sir, that if a Motion is placed on the Order Paper, it is at the discretion of the Government whether they provide time to debate it. If the Government decline to find time, how are we to raise the matter? Merely to place a Motion on the Order Paper will carry us no further. If the Lord Advocate is now here, why cannot he answer?

Mr. Speaker

The reason that the Lord Advocate does not answer is that the Question is addressed to another Minister. Hon. Members have complained to me about not getting far with Questions. I think that enough time has been spent on these Questions.