HC Deb 18 November 1959 vol 613 cc1239-303

6.54 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)

I beg to move, That this House regrets the failure of the Secretary of State for the Home Department adequately to explain the payment of £300 out of public money in the case of Garratt v. Eastmond in which the alleged misconduct of a Metropolitan Police officer was involved. This is a Motion of censure against the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. I must tell him that, of course, we shall listen with very great care to his speech tonight and that our decision on what action to take at the end of the debate will depend on what he says. But we shall also have to take into account—I must tell him this—the handling of the case by him so far. In that connection T wish to quote a sentence from The Times leading article this morning on the general handling of this matter by the Home Secretary. The words of The Times are: … the Home Secretary has shown an inexplicable and uncharacteristic reluctance to accept, or, indeed, even to face the principle at stake. Before I develop that—as I shall—I wish to raise one general issue which seems to me very much in point in connection with this case.

The general issue is that if identical facts and allegations had arisen in connection with a provincial police force, we would not be able to raise the matter in the House of Commons tonight or at any time. We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) for drawing the attention of the House to this matter, but if the facts or the allegations had occurred in his constituency he would not have been able to do so. It is a very great anomaly that we are here able at Question Time to discuss and raise the affairs of the greatest police force in the land, but cannot raise the affairs or question in any way the conduct of any other police force in the country.

I admit that there are difficulties about changing this. We certainly do not want a centralised police force in this country. Nor do we want to invade the rights of local authorities, but some way has got to be found out of this difficulty and anomaly. The police have very great powers. The police must have very great powers in all parts of the country. Just because they have great powers, it is essential that they shall be effectively answerable to public authority. The only way of asserting public authority is to establish the ultimate authority of Parliament, which represents the whole of the people.

I admit that this question involves the need for great care and thought, and maybe this is a matter which should be sent to a Select Committee of the House to consider and to recommend to us how we can find ways of raising matters about the police in general without the difficulties I have mentioned. It may be that there should be preliminary explorations through the usual channels, but, in the end, this is a matter for the House as a whole and would have to be, and must be, debated by the House as a whole.

The ultimate issue, which is the basis of our Motion, is the responsibility of the Home Secretary to the House for the affairs of the Metropolitan Police. There are some problems here too. This whole question bristles with problems.

The Home Secretary has a split official personality in this matter. On the one hand, he is responsible to Parliament for the Metropolitan Police and on the other hand, under the Police (Appeals) Acts, he is the appellate authority from disciplinary proceedings affecting the police. It seems to me that in the answers he gave on 5th November he was hinting at a conflict between these two capacities and suggesting that they were the cause of the difficulties in which he found himself.

It seems to me very easy to exaggerate this difficulty, and I think he did so on 5th November. For example, if the Home Secretary insisted that there was a prima facie case for an inquiry, whatever the Commissioner of Police might think, I cannot see why that should affect in any way the impartial discharge of his appellate jurisdiction later on. To say that there is a prima facie case is not to prejudge the case. In any event, one thing seems clear. As things now are and without any alteration, the Secretary of State has a clear duty to Parliament in this matter which we are debating tonight. He made this clear himself in the answers he gave on 5th November. One or two of the answers in this respect I thought ambiguous, but one was absolutely clear when he said: As Secretary of State I am responsible for the Metropolitan Police and for the Commissioner."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 1199] I want to make clear that nothing I say tonight must be taken as directing criticism against the Commissioner, who, of course, is not in a position to defend himself. Everything I say, I want to make clear, is a criticism against the right hon. Gentleman, who has frankly and fully admitted in the answer I have quoted his responsibility to Parliament in this matter.

One of these responsibilities which has been referred to in many newspapers, including The Times and The Guardian, concerns the fact that public money is involved in this business—the payment of £300 plus costs to Mr. Garratt in satisfaction of damages in his civil action against police constable Eastmond. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman a number of questions in regard to this issue of public money because Parliament and the public have a right to know about the expenditure of public money.

The first question is one of fact. How much public money is involved in total? I understand that £300 was given in settlement of damages and that, in addition, full costs were awarded. What were the costs? We do not yet know how much public money is involved in this.

The second question is this. I take it from the supplementary answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave on 5th November, C. 1197 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, that the burden of this expenditure falls on the ratepayers. He said this, but I do not know if he meant it, and I should be glad if he would clarify it. I should like to know, if it does fall on the ratepayers, on which ratepayers it falls and if any of it comes out of funds for which Parliament is responsible in any degree.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman if the decision to spend public money in this way is solely at the discretion of the Commissioner, and if there is any limit to the amount he can decide to pay and whether his decision needs directly or indirectly, prior or subsequent authorisation by the Secretary of State? I ask him to whom and how this expenditure is accounted for, and in what public accounts does it appear, so that it can be discussed at some stage by the people out of whose pockets it has been taken.

The final and fundamental question is one which was put extremely clearly today by The Times in its leading article, when it said: The official position, so far taken up, does not make sense from whatever angle it is examined. If the officer did nothing wrong—and we have been told by Mr. Butler that no disciplinary proceedings are to be instituted—then £300 of public money has been spent for nothing. If, on the other hand, an offence or offences occurred, then those who have to foot the bill should have been told at once, and without all this evasive action, why their money had been spent. This is a critical and fundamental question in regard to the use of public money, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will address himself tonight specifically to the question posed by The Times.

This brings me to the particular case that underlies the Motion. To raise questions about the alleged misconduct of the police, of course, puts one in great difficulties and it is important to get the matter into perspective. I want to make it quite clear that by raising a case or even a number of cases one is not attacking the police as a whole. Indeed, the opposite is the case.

I believe that we have the best police force in the world. I am very proud that our police are unarmed in spite of having to work in great cities, where there is a concentration of dangerous criminals, and that they can do this work unarmed, in spite of being undermanned. I must say, too, that one reason why we have a police force of which we can be so proud is because of the constant vigilance of Parliament.

It seems to me that we have in a matter of this sort a twofold duty. One is that we must stand firmly by the police in the proper discharge of their duties, especially when they have unpopular duties laid upon them by law and by Parliament. Secondly, it is inevitable that in human organisations there will be improper acts and, sometimes, people in the organisations who ought not to be in them. If there is any evidence of an improper act, it is just as important that we should ruthlessly expose it and that it should be punished. This is necessary to personal freedom: it is absolutely essential that every Briton should feel completely safe in any police station in the land and feel completely safe in his encounters with the police upon the streets. It is also necessary to the general good repute of the overwhelming majority of the police that any improper acts should be exposed and stamped upon, and that anyone found unworthy of being in a good force should be put out of it.

The worst service that can be done both to the cause of personal liberty and to the police is to give the slightest appearance of the automatic defence of the police whatever charges may be made in any particular case, or to give the appearance of attempting to cover up any abuse of authority.

The right hon. Gentleman has a special responsibility in his high office both for personal liberty and the repute of the police. I want to say that, whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say tonight, we do not like the way in which on 5th November he gave the appearance of trying to cover up something and trying to shelter himself behind the Commissioner. That is the sort of thing which stimulates public disquiet about the police.

When we look at this case, the thing that we cannot understand is, firstly, why no disciplinary inquiry was instituted, and, secondly, why public money was used, in effect, to prevent the facts from coming out in a civil action. For both of these acts the Secretary of State is responsible. That accentuates the impression that facts have been covered up which the public and we in Parliament should know.

There are two aspects of this failure to hold an inquiry. One is that it has been very unfair to Police Constable Eastmond, who has had no chance to state his side of the case at all; we have only had the other side stated all the time. According to the Sunday Dispatch of 8th November Police Constable Eastmond said that he would welcome a full investigation into his case by Parliament …"— if I may mention that to the noble Lord, the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke)— or the Force. The result of the mishandling of the case seems to me to be that Police Constable Eastmond has, in fact, been punished without any inquiry at all into the allegations made against him. In the article in the Sunday Dispatch it is said that he was sweeping the floor in Wimbledon Police Station and making pots of tea for his fellow officers. That is a very grave demotion for a man who has been given no chance to state his case either before an inquiry or before £300 was spent to stop the civil action.

I should like to ask whether Police Constable Eastmond agreed to pay £300 into court and to its being paid out to bring the civil action to an end—whether he did agree, or whether he agreed only under very great pressure. We should know that in the interest of this man.

In the absence of an inquiry and in the absence of the conclusion of the civil action we have heard only one side of the case. I am conscious of that. I am not forejudging the case, and I am certainly not crying out for retribution. There seems to me to be an overwhelming prima facie case for the holding of a disciplinary inquiry. That has been very widely agreed in the serious Press. Indeed, The Guardian of 17th November said: Certainly the alleged facts in the case of Garratt v. Eastmond, now settled, could scarcely look worse for the police or more disquieting for the citizens. That was said by The Guardian, a paper which weighs its words with very great care.

The case is covered by the Police (Discipline) Regulations, 1952, which contains a disciplinary code, breaches of which render an officer liable to disciplinary proceedings. I think that paragraph 8 in the First Schedule of that code is the one appropriate to the allegations made in this case. It is headed: Unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority. It goes on to say: … if a member of a police force—

  1. (a) without good and sufficient cause makes any unlawful or unnecessary arrest, or
  2. (b) uses any unnecessary violence to any prisoner or other person with whom he may be brought into contact in the execution of his duty, or
  3. (c) is uncivil to any member of the public."
Unnecessary arrest is the first of the things that come into this section of the disciplinary code. When Police Constable Eastmond took Mr. Garratt to Putney Police Station, the charge preferred by the police constable was refused and, according to the accounts which have been published and which have not been contradicted, Superintendent Potter apparently apologised to Mr. Garratt and assured him that no charge lay against him. That seems an absolutely clear prima facie case of an unnecessary arrest. Here was an arrest, a charge refused, apologies offered and an assurance given that no charge would be made.

To my mind, perhaps the worst aspect of these allegations is the alleged attempt by Police Constable Eastmond to interfere with two private citizens, Mr. Garratt and Mr. Rix, talking together. In fact, they were talking about the evidence that they might give, but they could have been talking about anything else. Where are our liberties if two citizens cannot talk together in the street without police interference? This is what has been alleged and not contradicted in this case. I should have thought that a very grave allegation of this kind, made by two very respectable citizens, would automatically render it the subject of a disciplinary inquiry.

The allegations made in this case have been borne out by the settlement of the case out of court. We are told that the police lawyer said that the payment did not imply any admission whatever by the police. If he said that—and if not, I can be corrected—I would point out, first of all, that the payment was made with the consent of the court and, secondly, that the Home Secretary made a very interesting comment upon it on 5th November in answer to Questions, as reported in column 1198 of HANSARD. He said: The payment was made into court without admission of liability. That is, of course, the technical thing that happens on these occasions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 1198.] He could hardly have told us more clearly that the denial of liability when paying the £300 was a mere technicality.

In the light of all this, it seems to me inexplicable that there has not been a disciplinary inquiry. If there has not been such an inquiry on these facts and allegations, what is necessary to justify a disciplinary inquiry? Secondly, it is inexplicable that the Home Secretary has not given a clear and proper account of the expenditure of public money. I repeat, the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for both these acts.

We shall listen to what he says in a moment, but let me say this to him. So far his conduct has fallen below the responsibilities which he owes to the House. He has gravely mishandled and bungled this case. He must firmly take responsibility upon his own shoulders, and he must explain clearly and unambiguously why and on whose authority public money was spent in this case and why no disciplinary proceedings were taken. He must give us a much fuller and much more convincing explanation than he gave on 5th November and he must stop sheltering from his own responsibilities behind the Commissioner.

7.14 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I am glad that the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), in moving the Motion, paid tribute to the police. In the course of my speech I shall obviously have other opportunities of doing so, but I should first like to acknowledge that tribute. They are engaged in a very serious battle against crime. I am also glad that we have an opportunity of considering the issues raised by this case, and I will try to respond to the request of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends in answering as many as I can of the points which he has put to me.

I answered Questions on 5th November, and the House was then told that the matter would be raised on the Adjournment. I welcomed that, for I thought that it would give me a fuller opportunity to give a proper account to the House than is possible in answer to Parliamentary Questions. I have been long enough in the House not to complain of criticism from the Opposition benches. I think that we live on that and, I hope, thrive on it, but what some outside organs fail to understand is that in a very crowded day, during Parliamentary Questions, at the beginning of the Session, there is not always that latitude to express oneself fully as there is on such an occasion as this.

I welcome the opportunity provided by the Opposition Motion. I will accept the right hon. Gentleman's invitation and go into these matters in some detail. I do not like being accused of lack of candour with the House, and I hope that it is not habitual with me. I will attempt to put all the facts, as best I can, before hon. Members, whether they like them or not, and then they will have the information in their possession.

Some of the published comment on this case is based on a misunderstanding of the relationship between a police officer and a police authority. First, I should like to clear up some confusion in the public mind on this matter. It will be well to remind ourselves of the constitutional position of the police officer. He is not the servant of any authority, local or central. Acting in the office of constable, he is answerable to the law and personally responsible for his actions. Neither the police authority nor the chief officer of the police force concerned has any legal liability in such a matter. That is the position in law of a police officer.

I am the police authority for the Metropolitan Police, and in that capacity, generally speaking, I have the same responsibilities as any of the other police authorities responsible for maintaining the police forces in this country; that is to say, it is my duty to see that the Metropolitan Police Force is efficiently maintained and administered.

With that preface, I come to the case of Garratt v. Eastmond which has given rise to the Motion. The events in question took place on 17th December, 1958. P.c. Eastmond, who was on traffic duty, stopped Mr. Rix for exceeding the speed limit. Mr. Garratt, who was driving along the road at the time, stopped his car and proceeded to speak to Mr. Rix. What subsequently happened is to a considerable degree a matter of dispute, but there is no dispute that ultimately the constable took Mr. Garratt to the police station to charge him with the offence of assaulting the constable in the execution of his duty. The station officer refused to accept this charge and Mr. Garratt was released.

Following correspondence between Mr. Garratt's solicitors and the Commissioner's office, on 27th January Mr. Garratt issued a writ against Constable Eastmond claiming damages for assault and battery and for false imprisonment.

As I explained a few moments ago, a constable is not a servant or agent of the police authority or the chief officer of police, and therefore to have any chance of success such an action must be brought against the police officer himself and not against the Commissioner or the police authority, who have no legal liability for acts such as those alleged here of a police constable. We therefore have a normal case of a citizen exercising his undoubted right to obtain legal redress from a police constable who he considers has injured him by wrongful action.

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

Is it not a fact that the police authority has the opportunity to defend the officer, as an officer of the authority, if it thinks that the officer was right?

Mr. Butler

I have a passage in my speech on that point. I hope the hon. Lady will then see how the police authority stands behind the police officer. I think that no one can cavil at the accuracy of what I have said hitherto, namely, that this is a normal case of a citizen exercising his undoubted right—I will come to the hon. Lady's point-to obtain legal redress from a police constable who he considers has injured him by wrongful action.

It has been the practice of police authorities for many years to assist constables against whom writs are served in relation to their conduct on duty with the defence of the action. I am sure the House will agree that, generally speaking, this is a right policy. It has been followed by successive Home Secretaries and, for many years past, it has been the practice to allow the Solicitor for the Metropolitan Police to act for a police constable defending such an action if he is requested by the officer concerned to do so. A police officer could, if he liked and asked, employ his own solicitor. In this case—this helps to answer one of the right hon. Gentleman's questions—the constable agreed to the Solicitor to the Metropolitan Police acting for him.

That means—I hope the House will realise it—that the duty of the solicitor was to act for Police Constable Eastmond in the ordinary way in which a solicitor acts for a client. Eastmond was his client, and it was the solicitor's duty to have regard to the interests of his client. That is an important point to be borne in mind. Moreover, experienced counsel was instructed by the solicitor to act for Eastmond, and on his advice—that is, the advice of counsel—the solicitor decided that the action ought to be settled and, the figure having been agreed, £300 was paid into court

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how far the action had advanced? Had a statement of claim been delivered? Had a defence been delivered? If it had, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what was in it?

Mr. Butler

I cannot go any further than I have done in describing the case, which is a matter for the court. The answer to both parts of the hon. Gentleman's intervention is in the affirmative. The plaintiff took the money out.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Did Constable Eastmond agree to the solicitor's action? The right hon. Gentleman said that Eastmond was the solicitor's client. Did Police Constable Eastmond agree, or was this done without consulting him?

Mr. Butler

My information is that he agreed, as he was working with the solicitor, and he accepted the advice of learned counsel.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

Were written instructions taken from the police officer by the solicitor, as is the general practice? For example, in the Trade Union movement, when solicitors act for members of a trade union they will not settle any case, whatever the union may think, without taking written instructions from their client. In this case we are entitled to ask, in view of the special position that the officer obviously is in, being under the authority of a superior officer, whether written instructions were taken from the police officer.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Butler

There is no need for hon. Members to get quite so excited. I am trying to give the facts. I understand that written instructions were taken from the police officer. There is nothing behind this case about which the hon. Gentleman should get so excited.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

Written instructions to settle?

Mr. Butler

I understand that written instructions were obtained from the police officer.

Mr. Paget

To settle?

Mr. Butler

My information is that instructions were taken from him and that he agreed to this course, namely, to £300 being paid into court. He was working with his solicitor and with the learned counsel provided.

Mr. Silverman

Did he know that public money would be involved?

Mr. Butler

Of course he did, because he was being supported by public funds, for which I accept full responsibility and about which I am going to tell the House. The constable obviously knew that he was being supported by public funds.

I wish to make this clear. The plaintiff took the money out and the settlement was without admission of liability. This may seem to the House to be a contradiction in terms—that one is, on the one hand, denying that one is liable and, on the other hand, conceding the plaintiff's claim to the extent of paying him money. I realise the difficulty which hon. Members are in, but I am advised that it is not an uncommon situation in litigation. The position is that there was not and is not an admission of liability. That, as any lawyer will know, is an exact description of what happened. [Interruption.] There were 43 Questions on that day and I am as experienced as anyone in answering Parliamentary Questions. I may not have used the correct technical language as understood by solicitors, but I am now attempting to state the facts. I am not a lawyer, and I apologise if I have used technical language wrongly.

I come now to the point referred to in the Motion, namely, the payment of £300 out of public funds. The right hon. Gentleman asked me some questions about the money. The money is under grant and, therefore, presumably the payment is made from the Metropolitan Police Fund. It is accounted for by the Receiver of the Metropolitan Police and the Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office. The accounts are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and are published in the Appropriation Accounts. Part of this money, it being the Metropolitan Police Fund, would be made up out of rates and partly out of the national grant, because, like all police forces, this force exists partly on a national grant and partly upon money from ratepayers. I think that answers the point about the source of the money.

I wish to discuss now the responsibility of myself as Home Secretary. As Home Secretary, I had direct responsibility for authorising the payment of this money. It has been for many years the normal practice of police authorities to stand financially behind a policeman against whom an action is brought arising out of his conduct as a police officer. I am sure that the practice is a sound one, and I will give the history of it so as to show the background against which I was acting and against which my predecessors have been acting for many years. I have looked up all the precedents and records. It was approved by a Committee of the Police Council in 1931, but it had been in operation before. It was commended by the Oaksey Committee, which the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) knows all about, in 1949.

This practice has two good reasons behind it. First, a police constable cannot be expected to carry out his duties effectively if he must on every occasion on which he finds it necessary to take action pause to consider the risk of an action being brought against him for the costs of which he would be personally liable. It is surely right that he should, in general, be able to rely on the support of the police authority in meeting the cost of any action arising out of the exercise of his duty and any damages awarded against him. In this respect he ought not to be in any different position from an officer employed by a public authority. In the case of such an officer, an action would be brought against the authority, and it is only because of the special status of the constable, to which I referred in my opening remarks on purpose so as to make this clear, that an action must be brought against him as an individual.

The second reason, which has been proved by experience to be right, is that it is in the interests of the person who brings an action against a policeman that responsibility for costs or damages should be accepted by the police authority. Otherwise, an aggrieved person might be awarded substantial sums and entirely fail to recover them from the defendant. It would be indefensible to allow that to happen.

Therefore, bearing in mind all the precedents and the long-established practice, I sanctioned the use of £300 of public money for the settlement, and I hope that the House will endorse my decision.

I come now to the question whether disciplinary charges should have been preferred against the constable. Although it is not mentioned in the Motion, I suspect that it is the question which has given rise to most concern among hon. Members and the public at large. There is a feeling that, if the published version of the event of 17th December is true, a police officer is being allowed to get away with grave misconduct without public exposure in the courts and without any disciplinary punishment.

There is also the feeling that it is a corollary to public co-operation with the police that a policeman who misbehaves and abuses his powers in relation to the public should be punished, and severely punished. From my experience, that is normally the case. It is one of my most painful duties as Home Secretary to deal with some of these cases. A policeman found guilty on a disciplinary charge has a right of appeal to me, as I am the appellate authority, and I can assure hon. Members that the standards of discipline in the police are extremely high.

At this point, it is necessary for me briefly to explain where the responsibility for discipline rests in the Metropolitan Police and what is the position of the Secretary of State. The disciplinary authority is the Commissioner. This responsibility is placed upon him by a succession of statutory provisions—which I have set out here in detail—beginning with the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829. As Home Secretary, or police authority, I have no responsibility whatever for the initiation of disciplinary proceedings, and no power to review them or to express an opinion upon them. The decision is taken by the Commissioner or by his responsible officers.

My responsibility arises only if, when disciplinary proceedings are taken and certain punishments are awarded, the man who has been punished appeals to me under the Police Appeals Act. I should emphasise that the appeal is not to me as police authority but to me as Secretary of State, and it is an appeal that is available to a police officer in any force. It was, therefore, a matter for the Commissioner to decide in this case whether a disciplinary charge should be brought.

I have been in touch with the Commissioner, and he has authorised me to say that he reached the conclusion not to take formal disciplinary proceedings in this case, partly because the proceedings connected with the civil action had been hanging over the head of the man for a long time, during which time the Commissioner had thought it right, in the interests of all concerned, to withdraw the man from his former duties. Further, there was considerable doubt whether the evidence would support the major allegations against him.

Having reviewed all the circumstances and all the available evidence, the Commissioner came to the conclusion that formal proceedings would not be the appropriate course. I would only add that the constable concerned was removed last January from the traffic duties on which he had been previously engaged, and I am informed that it is not the Commissioner's intention that the man should return to those duties.

To sum up: the Commissioner is responsible for the discipline of his force. He is not a man who will tolerate the covering up of any officer who has brought the service into disrepute. Hon. Members may not all agree with the Commissioner's action in this particular case, but I have no doubt that he took it after exhaustive consideration and with a full sense of responsibility.

I must now face the House with this position—

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

If the right hon. Gentleman would allow me to interrupt him—

Mr. Butler

I would rather proceed with this part of what I have to say, and then I will sit down.

Since the Commissioner is the sole disciplinary authority in the Metropolitan Force, the only action I can take if I regard a decision of his as impairing the efficiency of the force is to recommend that his appointment be terminated. In view of what I have said today, and previously, I must tell the House that I do not intend to make any such submission. That is not to say that I have not certain proposals as to how we should handle these matters, and the House may ask where we go from here.

The case, though starting from a small incident, does have underlying it a number of questions of great importance, both to the public and to the police, in which there is evidence of widespread interest and about which there is evidence of considerable anxiety. A number of questions arise. One of them was raised by the right hon. Gentleman in his opening remarks, namely, that we cannot discuss a provincial force, and if we discuss details of discipline in the Metropolitan Force the Secretary of State is put in what may be described as an ambiguous and difficult position.

Nevertheless, many other questions arise. There is the relationship of the central government to the police authorities, and to the police themselves. There is the relationship of the police authority to the chief constable—and, if we like to bring it nearer home, there is the relationship of the Secretary of State to the Commissioner. There is the relationship between the chief officer and his force. There is, as in this case, the problem of the constable who was sued m the civil courts in respect of conduct which may also amount to a disciplinary offence. There is the question of the payment of public money, and the practice that has hitherto been followed in making it available.

Above all, there is the relationship, mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, between the police service generally and the public. I do not believe that in modern conditions the police can carry out their heavy responsibilities without adequate public co-operation and the fullest measure of public confidence. The relations between the police and the public are therefore fundamental to the success of police operations—and, indeed, fundamental to the maintenance of law and order in the community.

Since I have been at the Home Office. I have had a great deal of experience, not only in connection with the force in the Metropolis but also with certain provincial forces. The problems that I have mentioned do not arise solely from this case. There are others with which I have had to deal, and which the House has noticed.

There are also wider questions of organisation, recruitment, training and discipline, as well as questions of the right attitude of the police to the community and of the community to the police. I have given a good deal of thought to these wider questions. A Motion has been put down on the Order Paper by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and his friends of the Liberal Party. [That this House, whilst demanding that appropriate compensation be paid to those whose personal liberty is unjustifiably interfered with, and, in particular, to any persons wrongfully arrested by the police, recognises the valuable services conscientiously rendered by the great majority of the police force in this country in spite of inadequate manpower, regrets that there are signs of a growing gulf between the general public and the police; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take all necessary steps to ensure that recruitment to the police force is encouraged by adequate remuneration and improved conditions, and that members of the police force are relieved of the excessive burden of duties caused by traffic congestion and traffic regulation and are thereby enabled to perform more effectively the essential duties of preventing crime.] The right hon. Member for Smethwick has mentioned the possibility of appointing a Select Committee.

What are we to do? The issues in question—recruitment, training and discipline and organisation, the relationship of central and local authorities to the police and their relations to this House, and the relations of the police to the public—are complex. Underlying them are constitutional and legal principles of great difficulty and supreme importance—as I have found in my own experience.

My own impression is that the time has come to have them examined with the authority and impartiality of an independent inquiry. Therefore, what I would propose to do is to listen to the rest of this debate with a view to deciding, in the light of the speeches made, what would be the best form for this inquiry to take. These various issues would include those lying behind this case and other cases affecting the police that have aroused interest in recent months, not only here but in other parts of Britain. I suggest that it is to these larger issues that we should address ourselves. The House would not then feel that we were burking any of the questions raised in this case, or in other cases.

Having said that, I would add that I would certainly be ready to enter into any conversations with a view to implementing what I have said; and I would invite the House to reject the Motion that is now before it, in the hope that the issues of personal liberty and constitutional law will be resolved by our joint endeavour in this Parliament, in the interest of the relations between the police and the public.

7.39 p.m.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

In his closing words, the Home Secretary gave an assurance that I am sure will be welcomed by the House, but I think that his reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) will not be considered adequate by either this House or the country. He has left unanswered certain very important points.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is right and proper for the police authority to stand behind the police constable who is brought to court, or who faces a charge that might lead to the payment by him of costs and damages. This House has always been sensitive about the liberty of the subject. After all, that is almost its raison d'être. Above all, we are the guardians of the people's civil liberties. It is, therefore, I believe, right and proper that this debate should have been initiated by my right hon. Friend, for the price of liberty is still eternal vigilance and the House should not overlook responsible principles that are at stake.

I believe that the Home Secretary has not removed the fear of the maladroit manner in which this case has been handled. I believe that a succession of unfortunate mistakes has given an impression that need never have been given, and about the worst thing that can happen where the police and the public are in any form of conflict is for the appearance to be given that something has been covered up. I believe that the people who suffer most of all in these circumstances are the police. My right hon. Friend quoted The Times of this morning and The Guardian of yesterday, but I believe that not only the Press but the public as a whole will have awaited the Minister's statement tonight with some anxiety.

I come to the answer that the right hon. Gentleman has given us. It is quite clear that the police constable, who after all has his professional career and reputation at stake, is in an impossible position. It was possible, and I believe it should probably have been done, for him to be charged under paragraph 8 of the First Schedule of the Police (Discipline) Regulations, 1952. My right hon. Friend read out that provision. He did not remind the House that the police officer was charged, however, under paragraph I of the First Schedule, the Discipline Code. This deals with Discreditable conduct …discredit on the reputation of the force or of the police service. The interesting point is that although, at first, the officer was charged under this disciplinary code, the Commissioner did not proceed with it. Indeed, I think it fair to say that the case was held over because Garratt brought an action against Eastmond, and the astonishing thing is that the Commissioner, without any hearing of the charge after it had been made, had it withdrawn, and I believe that Eastmond has never since been charged. Instead, as the House knows, he has been transferred to garage duties. Now we are told that he is to be punished permanently by not being allowed to assume normal police duties, without having had an opportunity to be represented at a hearing before his superior officers.

Mr. S. Silverman

The Home Secretary has said very fairly that when the matter was settled the instructions of the police officer, as the defendant and as the solicitor's client, were taken in writing to settle the matter and to allow the payment to be made Of course, the police constable could have refused to give those instructions, and if he had refused to give those instructions the matter would have proceeded to trial and the court would have decided which of the two was telling the truth.

Mr. Thomas

I do not dispute what my hon. Friend has said. I am advised—and I can only give the House the advice that I have received—that, in this case, the police officer was very anxious for the case to be proceeded with in the first instance. I am told that the police constable was very anxious for this case to be tried in court at the beginning, but for some reason or other his superior officers decided that it should not come up.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

As this sort of allegation is entirely contrary to what we have heard, might it not be to the benefit of the House if we were given the source of the hon. Gentleman's information?

Mr. Thomas

All I am saying is that the officer concerned was anxious for the case to go to court.

Mr. Iremonger

Who told the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. S. Silverman

That is not the business of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger).

Mr. Thomas

The hon. Gentleman must wait until he has an opportunity to address the House.

Although there is a disciplinary code laid down for the Metropolitan Police, I believe that the Commissioner—and I have no hesitation in being a little critical of the Commissioner—behaved in a strange way. The Home Secretary ought to assure us, and the police force, too, that in cases where alleged circumstances of this nature arise the officer is entitled automatically to expect the disciplinary code to come into operation. I should have thought that that would be a protection both for the public and for the officer. I cannot for the life of me think of any other walk of life where a disciplinary code, which has occupied the time of Parliament and the terms of which were agreed after long care and deliberation here, would not automatically come into operation in a case as serious as this.

Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

Am I or am I not right in thinking that disciplinary cases are heard in private?

Mr. Thomas

I would presume that if a case were heard in private the officer concerned would have the right of representation there by his colleagues and by the Police Federation.

I want the Home Secretary to clear up one matter for me. He said that written instructions had been obtained from this officer for the settlement. Were these written instructions obtained under pressure? It is a fair question. Also I believe we ought to know whether these written instructions were instructions to negotiate or instructions to settle, and the date on which they were given.

We have not only the question of the liberty of the subject, of the man in the street, but we have the great responsibility to ensure that the police force, too, is made aware that in a case of this importance and this magnitude everything is done to ensure its good name and fair treatment for the people who are concerned within the service. I still have an uneasy feeling that pressure was brought to bear upon the officer who wanted the case heard in court, and I should like an assurance from the Attorney-General that such was not the case.

I move to my conclusion. I believe that the House has had from the Home Secretary an assurance which is worth a great deal. I hope that this inquiry which he is to set up, and which he calls an independent inquiry, will none the less have representation from this House. I believe that this is not a matter for judges alone. I do not believe that it is a matter merely for those who are concerned in the operation and the administration of the law. I would like this House represented, because few things are more important than a right relationship of trust and confidence between the public and the police force. It is a tribute to the police forces that very few incidents of this sort occur in the crowded island in which we live. I hope that the Attorney-General, who, I expect, will reply to the debate, will feel able to answer some of the questions which I have raised.

7.50 p.m.

Sir William Robson Brown (Esher)

I am bound to say that I cannot support or agree with the Motion as it stands or the narrow interpretation which has been applied to it. I think that there is a far wider interpretation of the matter to which the House must give its attention tonight.

I entirely support the practice of giving financial and legal aid to police officers in circumstances similar to these, because police officers must be protected. This is the only effective way I can see whereby they can be properly protected.

I speak tonight as the Member of Parliament for Mr. Garratt; he is one of my constituents. I feel bound to put before the House the position in which he has found himself from the beginning and in which he is at this very moment. I am sure that the House will wish me to inform it about Mr. Garratt. He is a man of the highest character. I have known him and his family for many years. I know of no one more respected in the district, and I have to say that public indignation in the constituency of Esher is strong and powerful at this moment. The people of Esher are very pleased indeed to know that this debate is taking place on the Floor of the House of Commons now. It demonstrates the interest of Parliament in the rights of the citizen in a very powerful and effective way.

I am informed by Mr. Garratt that the statement in the Spectator is a reasonable and fair outline of what precisely took place. There were two gaps in the inevitably short outline which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave which, I know, he did not leave deliberately but which are very important in judging this matter. First, Mr. Garratt did not stop and speak to Mr. Rix with the policeman there. He stopped and spoke to Mr. Rix well down the road, far away from the policeman. It was the policeman who came up and addressed these two gentlemen. I use the word "gentlemen" quite precisely. Also, it was Mr. Rix who telephoned for the police from Putney Police Station.

This is no storm in a teacup. Mr. Garratt suffered shock and was under very grave stress that morning. There was the matter of injury also. I sincerely hope that we shall have an inquiry, and I will explain why. Mr. Garratt had to have first-aid treatment from the police surgeon that morning, and he was retained at the police station until mid-day.

There is another important matter which he has asked me to convey to the House. He has the highest praise for the courtesy, consideration and kindness shown to him by the inspector and superintendent at Putney Police Station. I believe that that is typical of our police forces and police officers throughout the country who operate under great strain and who are overworked. We are dealing here with an exceptional case which must be considered as such. It is Mr. Garratt's especial wish that I should emphasise that he found that kindness extended all round by everybody in the police force, with the one exception.

What I fail to understand is why Police Constable Eastmond was allowed or advised to settle out of court. I am not a lawyer, but that appears to me to be an indictment against him. I do not understand why, if the officials of Scotland Yard had considered that Police Constable Eastmond did not behave correctly, they did not proceed with this matter and bring out the facts in the courts of the land. That is the thing I do not like about it. Indeed, I dislike it very strongly. Settling out of court has a bad taste and is capable of only one construction.

Another thing which puzzles me is this. I am an ordinary member of the public, with no legal background, and I cannot understand why, after he was tacitly advised to settle for £300, no disciplinary action was taken against the officer afterwards. That is a double contradiction. The statement of the Home Secretary conveying the opinion of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police does not hold water. He suggests that the civil action had been hanging for so long over the head of the policeman that he thought he had suffered enough. But did it not also hang over the head of Mr. Garratt, and was not Mr. Garratt the offended party? Mr. Garratt is no legal authority or expert. He accepted this money in the natural belief that his character and judgment had been vindicated and he had not acted in a way which was open to any criticism. His good name has been at stake.

In defence of Mr. Garratt, I should like to say that he would not have taken any further action on that particular day, because the kindness of the police officers at Putney was so great and he felt that honour had been satisfied, except for the blazoning across the headlines of the Press of the country the facts of the whole incident—perhaps because of the public character of Mr. Rix, who was well-known and whose doings made good copy.

From that day to this, Mr. Garratt has been in the extraordinarily embarrassing position of never being heard in court. In fairness to the police officer, also, I must add that neither has he. Having in mind the disquiet in the public mind about the matter, the fact that it is being debated in the House today and the fact that both Mr. Garratt and Police Constable Eastmond are now under a shadow, I should have thought that it would be within the competence of the Commissioner to decide that the right and proper thing would be to say, "We will have an inquiry in order to have the matter settled and thrashed out and be done with it …" That is the British way of doing things, not to try to smother the facts or smooth or gloss them over, not to avoid publicity but to invite it.

The only satisfactory feature of a very unsatisfactory state of affairs is the statement made by my right hon. Friend—which is so typical of him—that he immediately recognises the gravity of the situation and suggests that steps should be taken so that nothing of the kind shall ever occur again. If Mr. Garratt is to have any satisfaction out of this matter, I think that that will be it. The amount of money paid to him was no satisfaction to him. At the beginning he entered the writ knowing full well that he would have to pay very heavy costs if the case went against him, and it was only on the advice of his counsel that he accepted the money to have done with a very unpleasant business. He felt that at that time he had been vindicated. The only ultimate vindication he may have now is in knowing that, arising out of this very unpleasant and unsavoury incident, a committee of inquiry will be set up and, perhaps, never again shall we have such a situation in our country and both the police and the British public will be adequately protected.

Even at this late stage, I make an appeal to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I understand that he has no power in the matter, and I fully appreciate that, but will he consult the Commissioner with a view to meeting the public disquiet expressed? I have known the Commissioner, as the Chief of Police for Surrey. He is an excellent man who was rightly and justly promoted. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make known to the Commissioner the feeling of hon. Members expressed in this debate so that, even now, he may graciously acquiesce in the will of the House. He will not lose the respect of his men or the public by this action, but only enhance it.

7.59 p.m.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

I am wholly dissatisfied with the explanation we have received. Of course, it is the duty of the governing authority of the police force to stand by a constable against whom an action is brought. There are two reasons. In the first place, if constables did not have authority standing behind them, they would be in an impossible position. Secondly, the reputation of the police force itself is at stake. Of course, it is the duty of the police force to take action, but do we defend the constable and the reputation of the police force by paying a sum of money into court with a denial of liability?

Mr. S. Silverman

There was no denial.

Mr. Paget

With a denial of liability

Mr. Silverman

There was no admission.

Mr. Paget

I will leave technicalities aside. With an admission or with a denial of liability, what difference does it make?

Mr. Silverman

It makes a lot of difference.

Mr. Paget

Will my hon. Friend please not interrupt?

That is not defending the police force and it is not defending the constable.

There is a third party concerned here, namely, the public. If the police are entitled to the co-operation of the public, as of course they are, then there is a two-way duty. There is a duty on behalf of the Government and of the police force to see that where a member of the public is abused the matter is settled satisfactorily. The Home Secretary said, "I am not the authority to order a disciplinary inquiry". Of course, he is not, and I agree with that entirely. His duty arose when he was asked to sanction, as he had to sanction, the payment into court of public money with a denial of liability. That is where his responsibility lay, as he agreed in his statement.

At that point it was the right hon. Gentleman's job—and this is where I think he signally failed—to send for the Commissioner and say, "A charge has been brought against a policeman by a member of the public. That charge has to be investigated. Either it will be investigated by a disciplinary inquiry, which it is for you in your discretion to decide, or it will be examined by the tribunal which the offended member of the public"—in this case Mr. Garratt—"has chosen. It will be examined by the court and public money will not be used to prevent the High Court of England examining this charge brought by Mr. Garratt against a policeman and, by implication, against the police. Public funds are involved because the reputation of the police in its relationship with the people is involved. As Home Secretary, I am the guardian here, and I say that public funds must not be used to prevent access to the court and a decision by the court".

We have this absurd position. Mr. Garratt has been put in a position whereby, if he brings an action to vindicate himself and recovers less than £300, he has to pay the costs of both sides. That is the point of paying money into court. He is in a position which is utterly unfair if he wishes to vindicate himself and public money is being used to put him in that unfair position and to prevent him vindicating himself. Equally, the police constable is denied his right to vindicate himself and, as a result, the police constable has been punished, put into opprobrium, abused without trial, without inquiry and without resource.

I should like to know a little more about the question of consent.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

How can the hon. and learned Gentleman say that the police constable was denied the opportunity of vindicating himself? The action could not have been settled without his consent.

Mr. Paget

That is precisely the point I am coming to. I am not in the least satisfied on that matter.

This action has been paid for at the public expense. What I want to ask the Attorney-General is this: may we see the pleadings and the consent? I can well visualise what may have happened. There was first a consultation with the solicitor. Instructions were taken from the policeman. This is what "instructions" in this sense means. He told the solicitor what his case was and what his answer was. The solicitor then said, "A small award may be made against you. I think it would be advisable to pay a sum into court with a denial of liability". One can very well understand a policeman, however confident he may feel of his innocence, saying, "Whatever you advise, as long as it is paid in with a denial of liability".

The next step is that the money is taken out and the policeman has no further voice in the matter. He does not have to consent to the money being taken out. Once the money is put in, it is for the plaintiff to take it out. I am not in the least satisfied that the policeman in this instance has at any time consented to the case being settled in this manner. I have no doubt that he was informed and agreed that a sum should be paid into court with a denial of liability, but, as we now understand, the consequences were not consequences which would have been apparent to a policeman in these circumstances.

As the Home Secretary said, a policeman is a constable and a constable is an officer of state. He is a person known to the common law with rights and duties under the common law. One of those rights is to prefer a charge if he sees the law broken. It is his right and his duty. In these circumstances, what authority does there exist in anybody—in the right hon. Gentleman, in an inspector, or in a chief of police—to refuse a charge of a constable? The essence of a constable's office is the authority and right to prefer a charge.

What about Mr. Rix? What has happened to the charge against Mr. Rix? Why has it not been proceeded with? Was he or was he not exceeding the speed limit? Also, what about the charge against Mr. Garratt? [An HON. MEMBER: "He has rights too."] Precisely. One of the ways of settling the matter would have been to institute proceedings in a criminal court. What has happened to the charge against him and his right to answer it as well as the constable's right to prefer it?

I believe that in a charge against a policeman for an offence on duty against a member of the public, the sanctioning of the use of public money to be paid into court with a denial of liability, thus leaving the matter undecided and in the air, is a grave error of judgment and one which we should not pass over.

8.10 p.m.

Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)

I find myself compelled to refer to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) concerning the duty of the Secretary of State to interfere at a stage before a decision is made to settle a case because public money is likely to be involved in settlement. It seems to me to be wholly wrong for the Secretary of State to interfere in what is, after all, a private matter between, in this case, the police constable and his legal advisers.

The Secretary of State surely must not come into the picture until that decision has been taken by the police constable on the advice given to him by what are his own personal legal advisers. After that decision has been taken, it is surely then for the Secretary of State to decide whether the settlement is to be supported out of public money. If the Secretary of State attempts to come in at an earlier stage, it seems to me that he is taking upon his shoulders a responsibility which constitutionally must be accepted for good or for bad by the police constable himself.

Mr. R. A. Butler

That represents the position entirely.

Sir H. Linstead

I am glad to have that unexpected reinforcement from my right hon. Friend. That was my reaction upon hearing what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton had to say.

It is clear that the issues raised by this incident are complex, and yet I feel deeply that the House must keep in the forefront of this debate a simple fact and a simple question. The simple fact is that a member of the public desiring to perform a public duty by giving evidence against the police was—I do not like the word, but I must use it—assaulted by a police officer. That is the simple fact to be kept before us. The question is, by what means can the public be satisfied that justice has been done in those circumstances? I cannot feel that up to the present the public is satisfied that justice has been done. I do not see an easy, simple solution to the problem, but I do say that that is the question which overhangs this debate.

The incident itself developed in three stages. The first was on the road, which has been sufficiently described and discussed already. The second stage, however, deserves a little more examination, and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Sir W. Robson Brown) referred to it. We ought to have regard and respect for the action that was taken by the police officers at Putney Station when the incident came to their notice. Looking at the matter through public eyes, we may well feel that an incident of this kind ought not to be suppressed. If, however, we look at it for a moment through police eyes, those two police officers were faced with an almost impossible situation to rectify, and yet by patience, tact and courtesy Inspector Doak and Superintendent Potter were able almost to bring their boat home to harbour. It was an amazing achievement when one considers the wrecked condition of the vessel when it first came their way. It was a compliment to them that at that stage Mr. Garratt declared himself satisfied and was content to leave the matter where it was. It was only the opening up of the case in the daily papers which led him, in his own self-defence, for the sake of his own reputation and his standing as a civil servant, to start his action.

At the third stage, when the action was started, it seems to me that it got on the wrong foot again. The police had got themselves almost in the clear locally and then the action got into Scotland Yard and things went wrong. It is remarkable that, even at that stage, Mr. Garratt has said that had he received a straightforward statement of apology in writing such as he accepted verbally from Putney police station he would have been content to let the matter rest there.

The questions raised by this case are, first, one that we have discussed already: why was there no formal disciplinary inquiry? Then comes the question raised in the Motion concerning the payment out of public funds. Finally, there is the question of the respective rôles of the Home Secretary and the Commissioner of Police. At the risk of going over ground we have already traversed, I want to say a word about the first of those questions: why has there been no formal disciplinary inquiry?

It is interesting that a year ago, in December, 1958, the Commissioner had decided to hold a disciplinary inquiry. It was only when he found that Mr. Garratt was not prepared to forgo his right to bring the matter to the courts that the Commissioner decided that the disciplinary inquiry would have to be dropped. That seems to me to be a perfectly proper attitude for him to take. It would lead to all sorts of confusion if there were to be a disciplinary inquiry by the police coming to one conclusion and, possibly, an action in the High Court subsequently coming to a completely different conclusion.

The Commissioner, therefore, is surely right in saying, "With an action in the High Court pending, we cannot have a disciplinary inquiry." What I am not clear about is the converse of that and why there is any objection to holding a disciplinary inquiry after there has been either a settlement or a conclusion of the case in the High Court. It must be a matter for the Commissioner's judgment and for the judgment of all of us, but I cannot feel that merely to say that twelve months have elapsed is by itself a sufficient ground for changing a decision which the Commissioner had evidently made in December, 1958.

It seems to me that if the Commissioner is to defend and indemnify in civil actions, he must apply other sanctions in appropriate cases. Surely, it cannot be sufficient for disciplinary purposes in a great police force that whatever the decision of the High Court may be, that terminates the matter, because the affairs to which the High Court may direct its mind may be quite different from the matters directly concerned with the discipline of the force to which the Commissioner has to direct his mind.

Concerning the payment out of public funds, the case has been fully enough argued already this evening. My own feeling is that the action taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in this case was inevitable and proper. If a police officer does not have absolute certainty that he will be defended out of public money against any action that is brought against him in the pursuance of his duty, I do not see how he can carry out his duty. Every time that he is called upon to disperse a crowd, every time that he is called upon to draw his truncheon, must he think, "If I use this truncheon, if I use force, will I find myself faced with the cost of defending an action for unlawful assault?" That would be quite intolerable. Therefore, it is inevitable that public funds should stand behind every constable who is challenged in the performance of his duties as a constable.

As to the respective rôles of my right hon. Friend and the Commissioner, I do not think enough emphasis has been placed tonight upon one fundamental and important political fact, and that is that police forces should never be directly subordinate to the Executive. It seems to me that the phrase "political police" is all too well-known, with all its unhappy connotations, for us to be prepared ever to see a Minister of the Crown with a direct and immediate responsibility to the police force and with the right of directing the police when they shall take proceedings and when they shall not.

Mr. Paget

Tell that to the Kenya Government.

Sir H. Linstead

I would at least go as far as this with the hon. and learned Gentleman. It was Colonel Young, Commissioner of the City of London Police, who came home from Kenya exactly on that issue, because he said that he, as chief officer of the police, was not going to be directed in his actions by the executive Government. I would not myself complain that in the case that has been put from the other side of the House sufficient importance has not been attached to the essentiality of keeping police forces independent of political pressure and political influence.

Mr. G. Thomas

Would the hon. Gentleman further his argument by saying who he thinks should, in turn, control the Commissioner? I think that there must be some point of appeal for those who are under the Commissioner.

Sir H. Linstead

That is essentially a case of the centuries-old question—quis custodiet ipsos custodes—who is to control the police; and I suppose that there is no satisfactory answer to it. It can hardly be Parliament, it cannot be the Executive, and it must therefore be a resultant of forces, with the police, Parliament and the Executive all pulling in their different directions and maintaining a sort of equilibrium which is accepted by the public.

Just because of the essential claim of the police forces to independence, I think there is a special obligation upon chief constables and upon the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to be ready to satisfy the public, not only that justice has been done in a particular case, but that justice appears openly and manifestly to have been done. I have a rough suspicion, knowing a great deal of the background of this case, that here rough justice has in fact been done, but what I cannot say is that justice openly and publicly appears to have been done.

If I have any lesson to draw from what has happened and any advice to give, it would be to Scotland Yard not to be afraid of publicity. If there is one thing that restores public confidence, it is the feeling that all the cards, good and bad, have been put on the table. I think that is the great lesson which is to be learned from the unfortunate happenings which we are examining tonight.

I am bound to conclude my remarks with a question. I know that in my constituency, where the affair happened, the public are not satisfied. I cannot see any easy solution to satisfy them. It is clear that the responsibility is not upon my right hon. Friend. It is clear that the responsibility rests on the Commissioner, but equally, as an independent police officer, he is entitled to take his own decisions and to stand by them. I am not too ready to challenge a decision taken by a great public servant in the exercise of his own undoubted responsibility. I leave the matter with a question mark of dissatisfaction, hoping that the road that has been opened by my right hon. Friend—the road of an inquiry into the whole of this delicate situation between the Executive and the police force—will be examined, and that something a little more satisfying than has come out of this case will be the result.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Throughout the whole of this debate there have been constant references to very interesting and important technicalities. I do not think that the public are greatly interested in technicalities, though I confess a great interest in them myself, and I sometimes wonder why people fail to realise that it is on a proper understanding of what are called the technicalities of the law in oases of this kind that rests ultimately the protection of the liberty of the subject and the avoidance of our degeneration into a police State.

What the public are interested in, and the cause of the dissatisfaction to which every Member who has taken part in the debate has testified, is that we do not know now what happened at this place and on that date. The hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) said that, in fact, Mr. Garratt was assaulted. How does he know? It is perfectly true that Mr. Garratt says so, and I think it is probably true that Mr. Rix says so too, but we are told by the Home Secretary that the police officer concerned denies it. Here we have a case in which an incident took place, in which allegations of a serious kind are made against a police officer, in which it is said that the police officer—and I do not think it is said so far that he actually denies them—at any rate does not admit them. Surely the first public interest is to resolve that conflict and that ambiguity and to try to find out what the facts are.

What the public are interested to know is whether the police officer concerned acted in this way or not. Their dissatisfaction is increased because it seems to them that the whole conduct of the matter has been developed in order to avoid any inquiry into that question. That is what their dissatisfaction is about. It has been made perfectly clear in the course of the debate that if Mr. Garratt was anxious to establish the truth of his allegations, and if the police officer was anxious to establish his innocence of the accusations, there was a wide variety of public or private methods open to them under which evidence could have been called on both sides, the one weighed against the other, and some objective third-party judgment arrived at.

There could have been an inquiry held by the Commissioner. He started one and decided not to continue with it. I believe I am right in saying—I am not sure—that under the disciplinary code the police officer himself, if the Commissioner did not institute an inquiry, could have demanded one, just as an officer in the Army can demand a court-martial in order to clear his name of any improper accusation made against him.

Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Crlton)

In the Navy.

Mr. Silverman

I beg the hon. Member's pardon, but what is he saying?

Sir K. Pickthorn

But I am not quite sure he still can.

Mr. Silverman

I am not sure, either. I said so. An officer in the Army certainly can. I am not quite sure whether under the latest disciplinary code a police officer has a right in corresponding circumstances to demand an inquiry. I think he has, but I agree I am not sure.

Then there is another method, from the public's point of view the most satisfactory of all, though it is the most expensive and imposes the heaviest burden upon the plaintiff. If one brings an action one is not bound to settle it, and if a payment is made into court in such a way that it leaves in doubt whether one's accusation was true or not or whether the accusations made against oneself are true or not, one can say, "I will not settle this action. I want it fought. I want a decision of the court." It is quite true that if there is a payment into court one takes a risk about costs. It is because one may establish liability against the defendant, but one's assessment of the damages may have been wrong; one may recover less, in which case one wins one's case, loses the costs of both sides and gets nothing financially out of it. But one does get out of it what presumably one sets out to gain, namely, the clearing of one's name of the accusations brought against it. Then the defendant is not bound to make a payment into court. He, too, can say, "I am not guilty of what is alleged against me. I am not going to make any payment. I am not going to allow any payment to be made in my name. I want the whole thing investigated, and I will abide by the decision of the court."

It would be most interesting to know why the police officer, if he really denied what was alleged against him, was not advised to do that. The Home Secretary has said quite clearly—and we must accept it from him, in spite of what has been said since in the debate—that no kind of pressure was brought upon the police officer, that the solicitor to the Metropolitan Police acted purely as the police officer's solicitor looking after his interests.

What were his interests? The police officer had no financial interest in the matter. The Home Secretary has made it perfectly clear that whatever happened in the case he was going to pay the damages, he was going to pay the costs. So at no point could the solicitor acting for the police officer, and having in mind only the police officer's interest, have advised the police officer to settle on financial grounds. Quite clearly from what we have been told, the police officer was and could be under no financial liability at all, win or lose.

But the police officer had an interest; not a financial interest in the case, not an interest to avoid paying damages, not an interest to avoid paying costs. His interest was to clear his reputation as a police officer from the very grave charges brought against him.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

Or to avoid having evidence given in public. I do not know.

Mr. Silverman

I do not know about that. The reason why the police officer could have been advised that it was in his interest to get rid of the case on any reasonable terms in order to avoid having the evidence given in public could only have been that the evidence told against him. The hon. Gentleman, if he will wait a moment, will, I think, see that I am following a line which does not differ very much from that which seems to have been in his mind.

I am saying that the solicitor advising the police officer in the police officer's interest could not have been influenced by any financial consideration. Public funds were going to take care of that in any event. Therefore, the only consideration which ought to have influenced the solicitor and the officer was the effect that the proceedings and the way the proceedings were handled would have upon his particular conduct as a police officer on that occasion.

It has been said in the course of the debate that the reputation of the whole police force was involved. With great respect, I think that is absolute nonsense. Of course, the reputation of the whole police force was not involved. What was involved was whether this police officer, on a particular occasion in a particular place, had acted properly or improperly, and that was very important to the police officer. If there was a reasonable chance from a full investigation of the evidence on both sides in public, in court, that the police officer might be cleared, it is very difficult to see why the police officer was advised to settle at all.

I should like that explained. I am sure that the initiative did not come from the police officer. I am sure that the people who were actually going to provide the money must have kept in close contact with the solicitor throughout the case, from the moment when the writ was served to the moment when it was mentioned and settled in court. They must have considered the evidence. They must have considered the likely outcome, the probability, and how much it was likely to cost. They must have had some indirect control of the conduct of the proceedings. Or did they not? Did they leave it to the police officer and the solicitor to decide for themselves whether there should be any payment into court and how much it should be? Surely not.

I should like to know, if the Home Secretary or the Commissioner had any influence over the handling of the case at all, for what reason they advised, if they did, or failed to advise, if they did not advise, the police officer that his interest was to get his reputation cleared and the only way to do that was by not settling. If the police officer has a good answer to the charge he is the most injured person in this case—much more so than Mr. Garratt. Somebody said a few minutes ago that Mr. Garratt had this case hanging over his head all this time as well as the police officer, but Mr. Garratt has £300 to console him. Mr. Garratt has had damages. The police officer has had nothing. He has never had an opportunity of defending himself at all, unless the decision to settle was really voluntary—

Sir H. Linstead

I wish the hon. Member would address himself to the question whether it is not conceivably possible that the legal advisers of the constable may have said to him very simply, "You have no chance of succeeding; better settle."

Mr. Silverman

Of course. The hon. Member is perfectly right. It may very well have been the overriding consideration. It often is. People who feel that they have an overwhelming answer to a complaint are not normally in a hurry to pay damages for it. But if it is thought that that is the most probable explanation of why the matter was settled in this way, then the decision not to hold an inquiry becomes inexplicable, does it not?

On the one hand, the Home Secretary is saying on behalf of the Commissioner that an inquiry was not held because it was not clear that the evidence would support a finding of guilt. It seems to me a very peculiar reason for not holding an inquiry. It seems as though the right hon. Gentleman is saying, "We will not hold any inquiry into any allegation against any police officer unless we are satisfied in advance that we can prove the charge against the other party." That would be a very indiscreet way of deciding whether or not inquiries should be held. Let us suppose that the right hon. Gentleman came to the conclusion that he was not satisfied that Mr. Garratt could prove his case. It is equally clear that he was not satisfied that the police officer could prove his case, because, if he had been so satisfied, to expend £300 of public money in order to avoid proving it becomes an extremely odd venture.

So we have a situation in which serious charges are made and in which it is admitted that there is such a conflict of evidence that the decision might go either way. This would seem to be an admirable case for holding an inquiry in order to see which way it would go. If the police officer has an answer to the case he is being most unfairly treated. If he has no answer to it some action should be taken. If it is not known whether or not he has an answer to the case there should be a proper inquiry in order to find out. The public are generally dissatisfied because they feel that in a serious matter of this kind they do not know the truth, and that they never will know the truth. They feel that the whole matter has been so conducted as to make sure that they never will know. That is what the dissatisfaction is about, and the right hon. Gentleman has done nothing whatever to allay it.

We all welcome the right hon. Gentleman's offer to have a general inquiry into a number of important general questions. I am most grateful to him for it—if that is the right word to use. But if he has the inquiry it will not remove the public dissatisfaction with this case. I do not think that any of us seriously fears that this country will degenerate into a police State, but the question whether or not it will do so will be settled precisely by the way in which we handle individual incidents of this kind. The difference between a police State and a free State lies precisely in the question whether the police are allowed to decide their own conduct for themselves; whether they are a class apart; whether they have privileges before the law that other people do not have, and whether they can bring proceedings or take action arbitrarily against individuals without ever being called in question for what they do.

We can protect a country from becoming a police State by having a system of administrative law, provided it is fairly applied and administered, but in this country we have never thought that the best way to proceed. We have always thought the best way was to have all questions of this kind determined by the ordinary courts, in the open, with the Press and the public present and with everybody free to hear and know what goes on and to form his own judgment about it. It is precisely in that respect that the handling of this case has so lamentably broken down.

8.44 p.m.

Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

I believe that everyone in the House and in the country will agree that this debate raises very important questions. I also believe that people will regard it as most unfortunate that the matter should be debated in a party atmosphere, upon a Motion of censure put down by the leading Members of the Opposition. That is a most unfortunate thing, which I hope will be remedied before the end of the debate by its being made clear that there will not be a party vote tonight.

If one thing is certain it is that the debate has demonstrated that the wording of the so-called Motion of censure is a complete farce. The statement, That this House regrets the failure of the Secretary of State for the Home Department adequately to explain the payment of £300… is now shown to be really nonsense. The payment of £300 and the circumstances of it have been completely explained. The background and the various circumstances attending it, the legal and constitutional difficulties, remain. Anyone who votes for this, if it is put to a vote—I sincerely hope it will not be—will be voting for a piece of nonsense, and I say that without any doubt at all.

Having dealt with that matter, let me deal for a moment with what is the real importance of this debate. The Motion of censure, if there is to be one, is not on the Government or my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but upon everyone in this House, and upon Parliament, for not having a police system which is working as satisfactorily as it might be. We are responsible to the country for that, and for us to squabble among ourselves about whether a particular piece of administration has gone right or wrong will not appeal very much to the people of this country. They want to know that there exists a police system upon which they can rely.

We all know today what is wrong but what we can do to remedy it is another matter. The whole essence of having a police force in this country is that we should have a body of men who feel that they are doing, as part of their duty, something which it is the duty of every member of the public to do—that is, to preserve law and order. They can do that only if they have the co-operation of the public. They must know that they have that co-operation. I am sure that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) wants them to have it, but sometimes when he speaks one wonders whether he views the matter in that way.

It is essential that the police should be able to feel that they understand the public and that the public understands them. That is not so at the present day. Many people think that one reason is the difficulties arising over traffic and road offences. I have talked to many members of the police force, I have many good friends among the police, and I am sure that one of the most tiresome and trying things to have to do is to deal with the business of traffic offences.

Let us face it, many members of the public are not as co-operative with the police as they might be over these things. There are faults on both sides, and one of the matters which we shall have to consider one day before very long is whether in some way that part of the police work cannot be administered somewhat differently from the rest. Many proposals have been put forward. It would not be appropriate to discuss them tonight, but I believe that a great deal of the present distrust and unhappiness is due to that kind of thing.

That is all I propose to say, except that I should like to add that I think we should all welcome the statement which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made today. We ought also to recognise the courage required to make it. There will be people who will say—I hope that no one in this House Will say it—that his decision to have an inquiry into the whole subject is a method of getting out of this Motion of censure. [HON. MEMBERS: "No one has said it."] That would not be a very worthy thing to say, and I do not think there are many hon. Members—I hope there are none, but I am not sure, there may be one or two—

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is the only one who has said it.

Sir L. Heald

There may be some hon. Members who would like to say it. At any rate, I sincerely hope that will not be the view of the House.

Those hon. Members who have put their names to this Motion, those very important gentlemen who have signed their names, are not present at the moment and probably they will not be in the Chamber during the rest of the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hope that they will consider seriously whether the country will think more of them than it does already—which is saying something rather important—if they remove their names from this Motion or withdraw it.

8.50 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I want to trouble the House for only a very short time. I should have thought that all hon. Members, would have welcomed the Home Secretary's proposal to have an inquiry. I should have thought that that in itself justified this debate. But there are still one or two things we have to make sure of if we are to improve relations—and here I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald)—between the public and the police, which ought to be as good as possible. Where there are individual cases which cause public anxiety they should be investigated and seen to be investigated.

The crux of this case and the feature which worries the public is, first, that a police officer could have behaved in a way in which it is fairly apparent this police officer behaved. The hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) used the word "assault", and from what we know of the case it seems clear that this officer did commit an assault. Some people wonder what would have happened if he had not picked for the subject of an assault a rather distinguished civil servant.

I quite see that the Secretary of State in an appellate position was not able to advise in the earlier stages as to what action should be taken. Nor do I intend to spend any time criticising the proceedings in court. It seems to me that in fact the police constable got very good legal advice. I think it is the genuine view of the public, and no doubt of police constables, that on the whole it is a wise thing to settle if one can rather than to fight legal cases. The second point is why there was no action, or what action was taken by the Commissioner of Police after the case had been settled. I thought it might be arguable that the Commissioner was unable even then to have an inquiry as there might have been other cases pending, but it has not been advanced as a reason for not taking action that Mr. Rix might have had a case pending.

We are told that the police constable in question has been demoted to making tea, but that cannot be a regular police punishment, that police should go out and make tea in the more remote police stations. What has not been explained to us is whether some disciplinary action has in fact been taken, and it has not been made clear to the House what it is. It may well be that an inquiry was unnecessary, but I believe the public are and were concerned to know what action was taken against a police officer who, so far as the public know, committed an assault on a man who was going to the aid of someone who was going to be arrested. I think it might be some slight satisfaction to the public to see that Parliament has taken this matter up. It might be some slight satisfaction to the public to see that the Secretary of State has come to the House of Commons and made a statement about it, but there are still many features of the case which to my mind remain completely obscure.

The other thing I want to say a word or two on is the matter of the inquiry which the Secretary of State has promised. There are two separate questions. One which may be inquired into is the whole subject of the control of the police, relations between the Secretary of State and the Commissioner and local police authorities and police constables. The other is a slightly different question relating to the pay, recruitment and duties of the police. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey that one of the things which is most exasperating to the police forces, which takes up so much of their time, is traffic control. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, that leads to bad relations with the public. There are various other law enforcement duties which the police have to carry out where the laws are extremely anomalous and absurd and where the public candidly do not think the law is in fact worthy of respect. In these traffic and other matters it is the fact that the public so often feel that the law is to be evaded, which is a factor in making for bad relations with the police.

We might possibly be told at the end of the debate whether the inquiry is going into this question of police duties and methods, because something which is causing grave disquiet among the public at large is the increase in crime. Many of us feel that the worst possible outcome of the increase in crime would be that we should go back to the old-fashioned and barbaric methods of retribution. But it is not sufficient for us to say that we shall do nothing about it. It is our duty to fight against this highly reactionary return to flogging and so forth, but we must make sure that we have adequate means of preventing crime and that both the public and the police co-operate to deal with what the public feel is a most serious increase in crimes of violence.

8.55 p.m.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

This Motion certainly raises extremely difficult and important questions but my constituents put the matter to me, as I expect other hon. Members have had the matter put to them, in a fairly simple way. They say, "Why should £300 of our money have been paid out without our knowing all the facts of the case?" It is in the light of that question that I have entered this debate. That is only one example of a general difficulty.

Our constituents often say to us, "Why will the Home Secretary not intervene with the police administration in some way?" When I was Under-Secretary at the Home Office many hon. Members put exactly that question to me. It is astonishing how widely it is supposed that my right hon. Friend has power to intervene with the police. I regard that attitude not only with amazement but with a great deal of distaste. It would be a disaster if my right hon. Friend had power so to intervene. This Motion, in terms, asks that the law should be amended so as to give him that power.

Mr. Paget


Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I will develop that point. If we are to intervene in this case, in which hon. Members think that it would be good to intervene, then we must also give my right hon. Friend power to intervene in other cases, which might be very difficult, such as cases of prosecution in which most hon. Members would agree that such a power would be wholly undesirable.

My right hon. Friend put the legal position clearly in the course of his speech. As this question turns on this matter, I should like to go into it in a little more detail. It originates in the Metropolitan Police Act, 1829. That Act gave certain justices of the peace responsibility for the police in London. I hope that the House will note that it was to justices of the peace, that is, a judicial authority, and not to the Minister, the executive authority, to whom the power was given. Section 5 is the relevant part of that Act and I will read the relevant parts. The said justices may from time to time, subject to the approbation of one of His Majesty's principal secretaries of state,— these words are to be noted in this context— frame such orders and regulations as they shall deem expedient, relative to the general government of men to be appointed members of the police force under this Act … After further words which merely amplify that part of the Section, it continues: and the said justices may at any time suspend or dismiss from his employment any man belonging to the said police force whom they shall think remiss or negligent in the discharge of his duty … In that part of the Section there are no words making the provision subject to the approbation of the Secretary of State. In other words, what the Act did was to give the Secretary of State power to control the Regulations but no power to control the discipline of the police force. That was the position provided by that Act and it is the position today.

Subsequent Acts changed the justices' name to Commissioners of Police and reduced them to one Commissioner of Police, but he is still a justice of the peace, he is still sworn in and he is still not answerable to any Minister. For my part, I think that that position is quite right. I never want to see the detailed action, as opposed to the efficiency, of the police under political control.

If that be so, then whereas my right hon. Friend can give general instructions by means of the Regulations which he has power to make, he cannot intervene in any particular case, which means that he is unable, as a matter of law, to require the Commissioner to hold an inquiry in such a case as the present case. If the Motion were carried it would amount to a statement that my right hon. Friend ought to be in a position to require such an explanation from the Commissioner of Police. If it does not mean that, then, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) said, it is complete nonsense.

Mr. Paget

It means nothing of the sort. The right hon. Gentleman has to decide whether public funds can be used. In this case he can say to the Commissioner of Police, "A charge has been brought against the police by a member of the public. That must be resolved. You can resolve it or the courts can resolve it, but public funds must not be used to avoid its being resolved". That is what we are complaining about.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

That is not what the Motion says or anything approaching it. The Motion begins: That this House regrets the failure of the Secretary of State for the Home Department adequately to explain the payment of £300 out of public money. … To give any further explanation than that which he has given, it is generally admitted that he would need powers to obtain that explanation from the Commissioner of Police.

Mr. Gordon Walker

The Home Secretary said that the payment of the money had to be made on his own authority under the existing law.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The Motion does not complain of the payment of money. It complains of the lack of explanation. If the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) had meant to complain of the payment of money, it would have been easy for him to put down a Motion in those terms, and we should be debating quite a different Motion.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend has done precisely what it was his duty to do under the Act. On the other hand, it is true that our constituents have been putting these questions. This is an old Act, and the position is one which could well be reviewed. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that he would set up an inquiry into this much more general question. The whole House will welcome that. I hope that they will reject the Motion ignominiously.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

The speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) confirms me in my belief that the difficulty felt by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House is to what extent we are discussing the shortcomings of individuals and to what extent we are discussing the shortcomings of the system. Speeches from both sides of the House have shown some difference as to that. That is why we all welcome the main announcement by my right hon. Friend that there will be a general inquiry into the system, subject to such suggestions as we may care to make tonight.

Some very curious accounts have been appearing of the incident involving Police Constable Eastmond and Mr. Garratt, well calculated to stir the maximum of public mistrust. It is an excellent thing that we have at least heard part of both sides and have had an "inquest" into the incident, of which we are the principal tribunal. At least more facts have been elicited from both sides. That in itself has been very welcome.

Subject to two qualifications, there is an overwhelming case for a much more general review. To some extent, all parties in this case have suffered somewhat from a rather unsatisfactory system, or, if not unsatisfactory, a system which is hardly equal to modern pressures. The fairest thing to say is perhaps the hardest thing to say, and I express it as a personal view only. It is my belief that in the case of Police Constable Eastmond the Commissioner of Police has felt called upon to show strong loyalty to his force. I believe that that goes to the heart of this trouble. There will be differences of opinion about whether the Commissioner should have done that. We are not in a position to debate that, because we cannot debate the conduct of a public servant.

The terms of the Motion puts all this trouble on to the shoulders of the Home Secretary, but it is inevitable that we should be in these difficulties. We have taken elaborate steps to provide ourselves with awkward laws. We have done this deliberately to avoid political pressure on the police. That is the cardinal feature of our system. It follows that there must therefore be a limit to political control. One subject of criticism tonight was the absence of political control over the decision in this case. The Home Secretary made out a perfectly clear case on this, which I think will be accepted by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. As the law stands, how far my right hon. Friend can direct the Commissioner to do anything is most strictly guarded. Indeed, he cannot take such action. I hope that the lesson we have learned about the difficulty arising from this lack of control will not be lost when the inquiry is set on foot.

There is one thing which should be said about the background to what has happened and the background to the inquiry which I find very disturbing. Much has been said about the feeling of the public towards high-handed action by the police, which we all agree is isolated. Something should be said also about the feelings of the police, possibly reflected in some of the things which occurred in this case. They do not see themselves as men with excessive powers pushing the public around, and very few of them show themselves guilty of that. On the contrary, some of them and some of the men commanding the police forces see themselves as men with inadequate weapons facing a task as difficult, and on occasions as dangerous, as has befallen the police almost at any time in this century in keeping the Queen's peace.

I do not wish to exaggerate the element of violence, but hon. Members know full well the difficulties confronting the police. Some policemen feel that there is perhaps an insufficient appreciation of them. We must face the fact that the tougher law breaking becomes the more likely that the police, too, will be tough, and the more likely that citizens who intervene, however innocently, may get hurt. That is designed to be a fair statement in relation to the police, but I believe it to be true.

There is some bitterness among the police, particularly those in the more responsible positions, at the failure of many to understand their difficulties, and of the inclination from time to time to seize on incidents that are regarded as a symbol of police misconduct. Last night the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) made reference very fairly to the easy way in which speakers had referred to police corruption in relation to betting and gaming.

I was guilty of that myself, and I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's corrective was very salutary. It is so easy to get into a frame of mind and speech in which one alludes to large-scale corruption of the police in relation to gaming and betting, as if we knew as a fact that it existed. There is the temptation, yes, but, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, widespread corruption has not been proven, nor, in the circumstances, is the allegation justified.

The depth of feeling between police and public today is not, unfortunately, just a matter of public opinion. There is a certain amount of police feeling as well. We need not enter into how it comes about, but I find it alarming. This, therefore, is a highly appropriate moment for an inquiry. For this the Home Secretary offered the widest possible field, so I would like to make two comments.

My right hon. Friend clearly implied, as I thought, that the inquiry should include matters of discipline. I suggest that it might, perhaps leave us with some more independent system whereby these difficult matters that are at present very uncertainly demarcated between the Home Secretary, the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, the watch committees and the joint standing committees might be more clearly defined.

Another factor that is most relevant to the relationship between the public and the police, and a factor that was the background to this incident, is police responsibility for traffic generally. If we are to have an inquiry—and my right hon. Friend invited suggestions—I suggest that the whole relationship of the police to traffic, motoring and motoring offences, should be included.

It is quite certain that in a country with 8 million licence holders the relations between public and police are affected by the number of those who have nothing to fear except when at the wheel of a motor car. I think that that goes very deeply into a good deal of the feeling now existing between many responsible people and members of the force, and I hope that an inquiry will consider that aspect.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) has raised the question of political control. I hope that we shall be very careful before giving the central Government power, or before any inquiry suggests that the central Government should be given the power, even though, from this case, it may seem to some of us that such a need exists and although many members of the public most strongly believe that that is what they want.

It should not go out from here to the public that we ourselves see an overwhelmingly strong case for more political control—and by that I mean, of course, more central political control. The diffusion of power of control of the police has been one of the greatest safeguards to the citizens themselves, and has been proved to be so over a very long period. It is one of our deepest traditions, and has survived a large number—

Mr. S. Silverman

The hon. Gentleman has said what I think we all feel, that it is a good thing that we are having this debate tonight. All that has been suggested is that we should have the same power even if this incident had not happened in London. That is what is lacking.

Mr. Deedes

I think we are really at one on this. As I have said, it is a question of what degree of blame should be ascribed to individuals and what degree to the system, and I hope that I have drawn a fairly clear line between the two.

As for the question of power, it does not preclude discipline and justice to the public to have a diffused police system. The present system whereby there is what one might term provincial control has never, under the terms of the Act, precluded proper safeguards in respect of discipline and the rights of the public. I believe that if we are going to set off on this inquiry we ought to speed it on its way with the conviction that, on the whole, the present system of diffused control is best and offers, in the long run, the greatest safeguards to the public and to the police.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Mcndelson (Penistone)

The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) criticised the attitude of my hon. Friends on this side of the House in spending so much time on an individual case. I should like to begin my remarks by saying that there is no other way to safeguard the liberty of the subject from wrongful arrest than by dealing with individual cases as soon as they arise. I should have thought that that would not be controversial as between the two sides of the House.

My second point concerns the importance of the praise that has been given to the police force in the course of this debate. I join in that praise. But it is equally important that, whilst we must not allow false allegations about the police force as a whole to go out from this House, we should give due consideration to every case where their general reputation is being brought into disrepute.

The Home Secretary has announced the organisation and preparation of an inquiry. I welcome that announcement. Before this debate I was very concerned with the position of provincial police forces. I have been disturbed in the past when a Member of this House has wished to raise a case concerning the delicate relations between a provincial police force and a supervisory authority, but has been told shortly before putting a Question that it was ultra vires and could not be raised.

It is very important that we should not centralise police power, but, at the same time, it is equally important that there should be some power at some point that could inquire into the conduct not only of ordinary members of the police force but of chief constables as well. That is one of the main reasons why I welcome the announcement that the Home Secretary has made tonight.

May I now turn to the Motion on the Order Paper. It is difficult for me to understand why there should have been criticism of the act of putting down this Motion when, in fact, if we look into the history of the House we find that that is the normal way of raising a matter of significance. It has been done down the ages, and it is right and proper. I do not think the Leader of the House will dissent from the view that the task of the Opposition is to put down a Motion of this kind where the liberty of the subject is involved. I think that today's debate will have done a lot of good.

I wish to make only two more points. First—and to me this is the crux of the matter—I have witnessed a growing reluctance among a number of people to volunteer to give evidence. I think that is a very serious matter. The crux of this case centres around the attitude of the constable which, if unchecked, is bound to lead to a general discouragement to members of the public to volunteer to give evidence in police courts. It is most important that we should encourage the ordinary citizen to volunteer to give evidence and not work in the other direction.

I think I may say, without contradiction, that one sometimes finds that ordinary members of the electorate will say, "I do not want to be involved in this. I do not want to have anything to do with the police". What they mean by that, to put it quite frankly, is that there is an apprehension in their minds that they might be got at in some way or other in the future. I know it to be a fact that, in many people's minds, that fear is prevalent, although, in many cases, it is in no way based on actual experience. But it is there. It is the duty of the Home Secretary, of the Opposition and of every Member of the House to ensure that that sort of feeling is dispelled.

In my view, the Opposition have done their duty properly in this case. I believe that the idea of an inquiry has been in the Home Secretary's mind for some time. Speaking for myself, I have felt that there has been growing, in recent years, even without this case, the feeling that an inquiry was needed. I did not have this allegation in my mind before I got up to speak or before the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey mentioned it for the first time. In any case, although the idea might have been in the Home Secretary's mind, it is the duty of the House of Commons to make him hurry up, and, perhaps, announce an inquiry a little earlier than he otherwise might do.

Although not all the facts have been explained tonight, this case has, on the whole, been made much clearer by the debate. Expressing my own opinion, I know that I can go from this debate and say to my constituents that the Opposition have safeguarded the liberty of the subject from wrongful arrest and that there is to be an inquiry which will be in the interests of all citizens of this country.

9.22 p.m.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

This debate has been very well worth while, because it has drawn from the Home Secretary a statement of great importance and a promise that there will be a general inquiry into the police forces all over the country and their relations with the public and the Executive. I hope that whoever is to reply will say whether it is envisaged that the inquiry shall cover the whole of the country, England, Wales and Scotland, or be confined to England and Wales alone. Further, will it cover a point raised by several hon. Members during the debate, namely, the relations between the provincial police forces and the Home Office?

As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) in his opening speech.

had the incident which was the peg upon which this argument was hung happened, for instance, in my constituency in Yorkshire, I should not have been able to raise the matter in the House by Question or in any other way. Therefore, if an inquiry is to be held and there is to be deliberation on these issues, the position of the provincial police forces must come into it.

The Home Secretary has, I think, climbed down considerably during the last fortnight. He will recall that, when this matter was first raised by Question on 5th November, his answers were curt. He was not prepared to do anything, and even when I invited him to reconsider his view and gave him fairly strong hints that there was more behind the case than appeared on the surface, he dug in his heels and still refused to consider the matter further. He took a superficial view and brushed the matter aside. His reply was. I cannot carry the matter any further."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 1198.] During the following two days, public concern expressed in the Press kept the right hon. Gentleman in no doubt that what The Times called his stonewalling had to be abandoned. The Home Secretary must admit that, on this matter, he has had a very bad Press. I cannot recall another Home Secretary in my political lifetime who has been stigmatised and attacked by three leading articles in The Times in the space of a fortnight.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

A terrifying experience.

Mr. Jeger

I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman must have been surprised at the Press comments he received and also at the tone of the speeches and approaches made to him by hon. Members on his own side of the House. Consequently, on 12th November we had a change of heart. The Home Secretary told us that he welcomed the opportunity for a fuller statement, the same as he has told us today. I thought on that occasion that the right hon. Gentleman was going to emulate Mr. Doolittle and would say that he was willing to tell us, he was wanting to tell us, he was waiting to tell us all about the case of Garratt v. Eastmond. I should like to think that the second thoughts that he had on this matter were prompted by a more careful consideration of the facts of the case, but I think that the truth is that his second thoughts were forced upon him by outside pressure and the pressure of the Opposition in trying to safeguard the liberty of the subject despite the offhand manner in which the Home Secretary treated this case.

The pressure of the Press and public opinion manifested itself in various ways to the right hon. Gentleman. If he had wanted to make a statement on the case, if he welcomed the opportunity to do so, who prevented him from doing so on 5th November? Sufficient Questions were put to the right hon. Gentleman to make him aware of the seriousness of the situation. He could either have made a statement in answer to the Questions, he could have said that he would investigate the case and make a statement later if a Question were put down, or he could have said that he would make a full statement at the end of Question Time, which is a normal thing for a Minister to do. The right hon. Gentleman did none of these things, and we on this side had to put down a Motion of censure as the only way in which to get the right hon. Gentleman to consider the case and to put forward the very welcome suggestion that there will be an inquiry into police procedure generally.

I should like to revert to the case of Garratt v. Eastmond. I should like to ask the Home Secretary whether he was ignorant of the facts of the case, whether he was misinformed, or did he really know all the facts and misjudge their significance in relation to public liberty? One thing that he does know is that he made a grave error in dismissing the matter so casually and blandly.

Take the case of Mr. Rix, the motorist who was originally stopped by Eastmond. The Home Secretary is aware that Mr. Rix and Mr. Garratt, who intervened on behalf of Mr. Rix and offered to give evidence, were accosted by Eastmond who wanted to know what they were talking about, interfered with a witness and then made a series of lying statements and false charges against Mr. Rix. On arrival at the police station at Putney, to which reference has been made, Mr. Garratt's evidence was believed and Mr. Garratt and Mr. Rix received profuse apologies from the police in charge. Mr. Rix was subsequently informed by the Assistant Commissioner of Police that, after further consideration, no action would be taken in connection with the allegation that he was driving his vehicle at a speed exceeding that allowed by law. In other words, the evidence of Mr. Garratt and the statement of Mr. Rix prevailed over the false charges and statements of Police Constable Eastmond.

After long correspondence, which has been dealt with by hon. Members, it was agreed that £300 should be paid to Mr. Garratt out of court, but the complaint is that no disciplinary action was taken against the police constable. Yet it was generally known that this police constable is in the habit of making false charges against motorists. The Commissioner knew that the police constable had not told the truth. Officials at Putney Police Station knew that he had not told the truth, and that is why they did not proceed with the case against Mr. Rix.

Was this the first offence by this policeman? Is he a man with a known good record, an officer of great value to the police force? Perhaps we had better look at his record to find out. I have here a statement from a firm of solicitors in connection with another case. It concerns a Mr. Plesner who was driving a bright red Jaguar on 20th February, 1958. A police constable chased after him on a motorbike and Mr. Plesner pulled up. The police constable tried to drag the motorist out of his car and there was a struggle. The motorist attempted to call a neighbouring woman as a witness and the police constable refused to allow her to give evidence. The police constable tackled the motorist, brought him down and sat on his head in the gutter until the police car arrived. The motorist was subsequently charged with dangerous driving, careless driving, assault, obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty and failing to produce his driving licence. I do not know what else could have been thought of.

Mr. Plesner elected to go for trial. During the proceedings, the police constable gave a lurid account of the various pedestrians who had evinced signs of horror at Mr. Plesner's drive down the road. No witnesses were called on behalf of the policeman. The chairman of the Kingston Court put the issue to the jury in completely unequivocal terms. He said: There is no question of mistake. Either Mr. Plesner is lying or the policeman is. The jury acquitted the motorist and the remaining charges which had been adjourned at the magistrates' court were never proceeded with.

That case lasted three days in March, 1958. It cost the innocent motorist nearly £200 to get himself acquitted. Mr. Plesner's counsel, incidentally, was Mr. Richard Body, who was then Member of Parliament for Billericay. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who was the constable?"] The Home Secretary should know, because a letter which I hold in my hand and which is signed by Mr. Richard Body, whom we knew as the Member of Parliament for Billericay, states that he took up the case and the Home Secretary directed the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to conduct an inquiry. I had a long report about it which largely backs up the police officer…. The report quotes as follows:—'The Commissioner feels that in some respeots P.C. Easrtmond's handling of this case was not entirely satisfactory, and the necessary action will be taken as regards this.' I understand that in July, 1958, Police Constable Eastmond was officially reprimanded for his action in that case.

One or two hon. Members have said that the Home Secretary cannot initiate action regarding the discipline of police constables and the hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead), with whom the Home Secretary agreed, made the point that the Home Secretary cannot intervene. I ask the Home Secretary whether the statement which I have read from Mr. Body, who is known to us all, is true and whether the Home Secretary initiated action by asking the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to conduct an inquiry.

I have another case, the report of which I take from The Times of 6th January. This report is headed, "Director cleared of drink charge". It is a case which I will summarise rapidly, but it follows the same pattern as the previous one. This was the case of a Mr. Kenny, of Kingston Hill, who was found not guilty of driving his motorcar while under the influence of drink and he was discharged. Mr. James Burge, defending, cross-examined the police constable, who said that he did not pull Mr. Kenny out of the police car when they arrived at the police station and it was not true that he had hustled Mr. Kenny on to the steps so that he fell on an injured knee. Mr. Burge then asked the police constable: It would not be the first time an allegation had been made about you being rather rough, would it? to which he answered— No. That is quite right. Further questioned by Mr. Burge, the witness agreed that he had hold of Kenny when they went into the police station, and that he did, in fact, go down on one knee. Two doctors gave evidence, and after Dr. Stringer's evidence the jury said they did not wish to hear any more of the case. The charge against that motorist was dismissed. It was the same policeman, the House will be interested to know.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Does not the hon. Gentleman recollect that his leader, the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and other hon. Members on his side of the House have spent most of their time this evening in saying that, in their view, possibly this constable was maltreated? Is this a vote of censure?

Mr. Jeger

If the noble Lord will allow me to develop my argument, he will see that I am not basing this attack upon the Home Secretary entirely upon the policeman. What I am doing is trying to show that the Home Secretary has glossed over the facts which have given rise to this debate, and that if it had not been for this specific case of this policeman there would have been no debate here tonight and the Home Secretary would not have promised an inquiry into the reorganisation of the police force. It has taken this case and this policeman to bring that statement from the Home Secretary.

During the course of his remarks, the Home Secretary said—may I have the right hon. Gentleman's attention?—that while no disciplinary action had been taken against this particular policeman, he had been taken off road traffic duties in January. Was I correct in the note I made about that?

Mr. Butler

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to my speech, I have not got the exact words here, but certainly he was taken off in the early part of the year—approximately at that date.

Mr. Jeger

I am much obliged. May I draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to yesterday's Press—any of it? I happen to see the Daily Telegraph, and I read: P.C. Eastmond loses case. Milkman cleared. The report states that a charge of careless driving against a milkman was dismissed. The accident took place in Wimbledon on 23rd August, seven months after this policeman had been taken off traffic duties. The actual case is a trivial one. A learner driver was driving a motor-scooter when she was run into by a one-mile-an-hour milk float. The motor-scooter stopped suddenly and the milk float went on. That is the sort of thing that P.C. Eastmond is busying himself with at the moment.

On 5th November, to refer back to the date of the original Question, the Home Secretary said that he had a great variety of facts and that the Commissioner had been into them. I do not think that that was strictly accurate. I do not think there is any variety of facts about it. All the facts really fit into the same pattern, but, of course, there may be different interpretations of the facts. The records which have been presented to the right hon. Gentleman by the Commissioner, in the course of the inquiry which he is bound to have made, may show that this constable was energetic, keen, full of zeal, initiative and inventiveness. Actually, different interpretations of the same facts may show him to be a liar, and, even worse, a perjurer in court under oath, a man of hasty and ungovernable temper, violent to witnesses and those people against whom he makes false accusations.

There are certain aspects of this man's record which make one sorry for him. He is obviously maladjusted, and I should say has been for many years and is now in a most unsuitable job for his temperament. I should say from the evidence that he is a man unfit to be in a uniform, unfit to be in authority over and in contact with the general public. I think it might be a good idea if he were to see a psychologist He appears to have a prejudice against red sports cars in particular.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick, who opened this debate, referred to an extract from the Sunday Dispatch of 8th November, and I think it is important because that is, I think, the first occasion on which Police Constable Elastmond has been invited to give his views and to state his own opinion. There he said that he would welcome a full investigation into his case by Parliament or by the police force.

After all the publicity this unfortunate man has received I think he is entitled to an inquiry. If the Home Secretary should direct an inquiry, as I have already quoted, into an earlier incident, I see no reason why he should not direct chat an inquiry be held into the career of Police Constable Eastmond with a view to allowing him to defend himself, to bring witnesses if necessary in his own defence, to be represented not merely by a solicitor but by a medical authority, and possibly to be fitted into some sort of position where his abilities would be made the best use of but where his disabilities would not be leading to the very sort of difficulties we have been discussing this evening. He is entitled to that inquiry, and I think he should have it.

This case itself is very disquieting so far as the public are concerned, but it has disclosed a situation over the whole of the country which has aroused concern. It is not a question of the misdemeanours of one particular police constable. Therefore, we are glad that the Home Secretary has taken a wider view of it and realised that this must fit into a pattern of a general reorganisation of the police force and its relations with the public. I am surprised that the Home Secretary has not done something about this earlier, for no one can deny that this deep concern about the disrepute into which the police force has fallen has been rising for a long time.

The relationships between the police and the public have been causing us a great deal of anxiety. I should like to know what would have happened if Mr. Rix and Mr. Garratt had not been public-spirited and tenacious enough to pursue this case, and what would have happened if they were not fortunate enough to have witnesses. The ordinary victim of a police charge, whether it is justified or not, is glad to escape, and, apart from local publicity, he goes away feeling angry, disgruntled, disgusted but powerless because of the authority which has been vested in the police force.

We all agree with the tribute which has been paid from all parts of the House, that in the main our police force is a fine body of men and that the difficulties with which they have to cope, with a multitude of laws and awkward situations and, possibly, awkward people, make their job very difficult, particularly in modern traffic conditions, but that is all the more reason for ensuring that our police officers and particularly those on traffic duty who come in contact with the public are selected with great care and that the misfits—and there must be misfits—are weeded out or placed in other positions where they cannot come in contact with the public.

The Home Secretary has shown that in his opinion he is the best Home Secretary we have got. Looking at the Treasury Bench I am inclined to think there is some justification for his belief, but he has been a long time coming round to the point of view that this question needs investigation. We can only welcome the tardy way in which he has been forced to change his opinion by public pressure and the pressure of the Opposition.

9.43 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)

I should like to begin by replying to the point which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) raised at the outset of his speech, namely, as to the scope of this inquiry. I can give him this answer which, I hope, he will find satisfactory. It is, that the issues with which we in this country are concerned about the relationship of the police and the public, and the issues to which my right hon. Friend referred, are of common interest throughout all parts of Great Britain and my right hon. Friend will continue to act in the closest co-operation with the Secretary of State for Scotland over those matters. So the inquiry will cover, as I understand it, all Great Britain.

This has been a very interesting and very unusual debate on a Motion of censure. I agree with those who say, and have said in the debate, that not only have we had a good debate but that it is a very good thing that we have had it. It would have been indeed very difficult if not impossible to deal properly with all the matters which have come into this discussion in the course of Question and Answer at Question Time.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) paid a tribute, and he is not the only hon. Member to have done so, to the high standing and the high repute of our policemen. He said, perfectly accurately, that very few of these incidents occur. When they do, they cause anxiety and general concern, and it is right that they should. None of us, despite the language that has been used by some hon. Members, really know what happened on 17th December. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Goole thought fit to condemn Police Constable Eastmond, without any trial, of lying statements and making false charges. I am sorry that the hon. Member used that language, because the evidence as to what occurred was disputed.

If I may give a short example, it was said by one of my hon. Friends that Police Constable Eastmond assaulted Mr. Garratt. Police Constable Eastmond's version, in fact, is very different, but there is no independent evidence and no independent witness of what led to Mr. Garratt being in the hedge. The versions are entirely contradictory. [An HON. MEMBER: "He jumped?"] I have sensed throughout the debate, and particularly from the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) a general concern on the one hand that Police Constable Eastmond should not be unfairly treated and a general concern on the other hand that proper steps should be taken with regard to a police constable who does wrong.

All I say at the moment, and I am sorry that the House did not accept it to start off, is that none of us knows where the truth lies in the matter. What are, of course, of general concern to all of us are the bigger issues that arise out of this of the relations of the police and the public, the Commissioner and the Government, the chief constables of provincial forces and the Government. All sides of the House welcomed the statement which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made about the course of action he proposes to take.

In the time at my disposal I will endeavour to deal with the points raised in the debate, but before I do so I would say that it is abundantly clear that really there is no valid ground whatever for censuring the conduct of my right hon. Friend. Under our present system—it may be that it should be changed—it is quite clear, in my submission to the House, that he did all that his duty required of him, and if he had done any more he would have been exceeding his powers.

I want to come to the detailed questions put in the course of the debate and I will endeavour to deal with them in chronological order. After the events by the roadside on 17th December, as the House will remember, Mr. Garratt was taken to the police station, having been arrested by Police Constable Eastmond. The first question put by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton was why the charge was refused at the police station and whether the station officers had any right to refuse the charge.

I want to deal quite shortly with that point. The effect of what the station officers said was not to prevent Mr. Garratt subsequently being prosecuted. They were being asked by Police Constable Eastmond to take into custody, in the police station, someone whom he had arrested, and, under the Statute, they had to be satisfied that they were acting properly in doing so. If there was doubt they should properly refuse to do so, and in the circumstances that is what they did. There was no question of any charge against Mr. Rix. The hon. Member was wrong about that. As for the speeding offences, as he probably knows the police constable makes a report and his superior officers decide whether or not to launch a prosecution.

So much for that part of the history of the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) said that Mr. Garratt had been promised a disciplinary inquiry. He is right in saying that in December, 1958, a letter was written on behalf of the Commissioner saying that there was a proposal to hold a disciplinary inquiry at New Scotland Yard, but that could not take place in relation to a matter which might subsequently be brought before a court of law, for the obvious reason that if the plaintiff wanted to bring an action in a court of law he would not be very ready to appear before a disciplinary inquiry. The answer to that was We regret that your letter is silent on the question of compensation to our client, and we do not understand why a disciplinary inquiry should not be held. Following upon that the writ was issued.

My right hon. Friend was asked to what stage the action went. The action was started by a writ and a statement of claim, and then there was a defence. The pleadings can be seen in the High Court. If the hon. Members want to see them I will see if I can have them placed in the Library, but I shall have to be sure that I am free to do so.

Mr. S. Silverman

What line did the defence take?

The Attorney-General

It was the usual type of defence—most things were denied.

Following upon that P.C. Eastmond's solicitor—a gentleman who is held in high repute in his profession—consulted counsel as to the course to be taken in the light of the statements made by Mr. Garratt and Mr. Rix and those obtained from independent witnesses. As the right hon. Gentleman said, that counsel is a man of great experience, and he advised the payment into court of £300–£350. The question has been asked whether any improper pressure of any kind was put upon Police Contable Eastmond to agree to that course. I can assure the House—because I have spoken to the solicitor since that question was raised—that no pressure whatsoever was put upon the police officer, by Scotland Yard or the Home Office, to induce him to take any particular course. Like any wise solicitor, Police Constable Eastmond's solicitor took authority in writing from him to settle the action on his behalf, and I can assure those who have expressed some doubt about it that nothing improper took place in that respect.

Just as Police Constable Eastmond might have refused to agree to the payment into court in settlement, so might Mr. Garratt, but the action was settled by both of them—one by paying in and the other by taking out. It has been said that the police lawyer had said that it was taken out without any admission of liability. I want to correct that. In fact the statement was made by counsel for the plaintiff.

The only question my right hon. Friend had to decide was whether to provide the public money to make that £300 available for payment into court in accordance with counsel's advice. There would have been grounds for censure if he had not made that money available. As it is, I submit to the House that it was the right course for him to take and that is the limit of his responsibility in the matter.

It was, of course, for the Commissioner to decide whether or not, in the light of all the circumstances after all this had happened, it would be right to institute disciplinary charges. He would have had to have regard to the evidence. It would not be right for him to take into account any earlier complaints or allegations against Police Constable Eastmond. He would have to consider the weight of the evidence, just as in considering whether to prosecute in a case one does not look to see how many previous convictions a man has; one wants to know what is the evidence.

In relation to what was said by the hon. Gentleman may I say that my right hon. Friend was not able, in the first case to which reference was made, to cause disciplinary charges to be preferred. He asked for an inquiry and a report and he got it. My right hon. Friend cannot direct the Commissioner to prefer disciplinary charges. Regarding the third case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, about the milk float, I wish to say, in fairness to Police Constable Eastmond, that that case was one in which he had taken a statement at the police station. That was Police Constable Eastmond's only connection with the case.

I have sought to give as much information as I can. This is an unhappy and an unfortunate incident, but if it leads to an improvement of our machinery and our organisation, and an assessment and ascertainment of the correct relationship between the police and the Government, I think that ultimately it will end in good. I cannot help but believe that the expression of various points of view by hon. Members on both sides of the House about future possibilities is far more important than the details of this particular incident, however unfortunate it was.

9.57 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Walker

I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General that this has been a valuable debate and it is a very good thing that we have had it. But if we on this side of the House had not put down the Motion, we should not have had the debate. I said at the start that we should listen carefully to what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary before deciding on our action. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman fully clarified some of the aspects of this case in which we are very interested. I do not think that he removed altogether the feeling that it had been mishandled. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman explained much more fully than before the limitation of his powers regarding discipline in the Metropolitan Police. I can only say that it is a pity that this was not said at the beginning of the case with the same clarity.

The main thing which the right hon. Gentleman did was to promise an inquiry. That has been widely welcomed. We welcome it very much indeed. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman will consult with us about the scope and nature of the inquiry. The announcement of this inquiry would not have been made if we had not had this debate, and if we had not put down the Motion, and I think that the Motion we put down was, therefore, abundantly justified.

In the circumstances, and because this whole thing has become a larger issue following the suggestion and promise of an inquiry, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.