HC Deb 12 March 1964 vol 691 cc812-39

Amendment made: In page 27, line 5, leave out from "section" to end of line 9.—[Mr. Brooke.]

Sir F. Soskice

I beg to move, in page 27, line 13, at the end to insert: (4) The Secretary of State shall appoint for each police area a panel of persons not to exceed ten in number composed of such persons as the Home Secretary may deem suitable for the discharge of the functions conferred upon them by subsection (5) of this section, being persons resident in the area and not being members of or employed in any police force. (5) There shall be furnished to each member of such panel as soon as may be after the end of each month a copy of all entries recording complaints against members of the police force for the area for which such panel is appointed, and any member of such panel shall be entitled to have access to all reports, statements and other documents relating to such complaint whether brought into being before or after such complaint is recorded, including any report thereon furnished to the Secretary of State in relation thereto, and shall furthermore be entitled to be present when any steps are taken in the course of any such investigation into such complaint, and to be present at the hearing of any disciplinary charge arising out of any such complaint, but shall on such occasions as he is present act as an observer only and take no part in any such investigation or at the proceedings during any such hearing, save that he may put any questions to the officer of police conducting such investigation or presiding at such hearing relating to such investigation or hearing. (6) The members of any such panel may report as to such investigation or hearing direct to the Secretary of State who shall take such report into his consideration but save as aforesaid the members of any such panel shall not disclose to any person other than to members of the panel to which they belong any matters coming to their knowledge concerning any such complaint investigation or hearing in the exercise of their functions under the previous subsections, and save also that before making any such report to the Secretary of State they shall furnish a copy of such report to the officer of police in charge of any such investigation or who presides over the hearing to which the report relates.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

With this Amendment we can discuss the Amendment in page 27, line 14, at end insert: (4) In every Regional Area there shall be appointed by the Secretary of State a panel from which shall be drawn tribunals presided over by a barrister-at-law to hear appeals, by police officers or members of the public, against any decision of a chief officer of police, arising from any complaint made by a member of the public. Such tribunal shall report its findings to the Secretary of State for appropriate action. Under this section the chairman of the tribunal shall have discretion to refrain from submitting any appeal to the tribunal on grounds of triviality.

Sir F. Soskice

Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The Amendments both deal with the question of complaints against the police. In the course of our discussion in Committee this question was fully ventilated and explored, but the Secretary of State was unable to accept any of the many proposals which were made by my hon. Friends. This is a new approach, which introduces, in a sense, a kind of semi-Ombudsman. The Amendment would provide that the Secretary of State should appoint panels for each police area. They would be smallish panels—not in excess of 10 persons—and would be composed of what may broadly be described as responsible and respectable persons resident in the area who were independent of any connection with any police force.

When a complaint is made against a police officer the Bill in its present form requires that the complaint shall immediately be recorded—I suppose in a complaint book. I am referring to complaints made by members of the public against a police officer. The Clause proceeds to set out requirements that the complaint must be immediately investigated by an investigation officer, who in due course reports to the chief constable, who, in appropriate cases, conducts a disciplinary hearing of the matter disclosed in the complaint, unless he feels that a criminal offence may have been committed by the police officer concerned, in which case the Clause requires it to be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Amendment would require that at the end of each monthly period complaints recorded in the complaint book have to be brought to the notice of the area panel. The proposal would not impose an excessive amount of red-tapeism on anybody. It would be a simple proceeding. Members of the panel would be notified of complaints—one hopes that each month they would be few in number—recorded in the complaint book. So far, so good. If the panel thinks there is nothing in the complaints—if they appear to be routine complaints of no significance—it can ignore them or, if they desire, the members of the panel may decide to make a spot check, selecting one or two to see how the complaints are dealt with. Alternatively, the members may think that the record shows something of a more serious and sinister character. One hopes that that category of case will be rare.

Supposing the panel decides to see what happens to a particular complaint. It has the right of access to all papers brought into being in the form of reports, statements taken before or after the matter had been referred to it, and so on. The members can see and read those documents. No doubt one of the panel would be deputed, if it were thought necessary, to represent the panel at the investigations about the complaint by the investigating officer. One must assume that the panel is comprised of responsible and sensible people who will not want to abuse their powers or insist on being present when steps are being taken which can have no significance in the conduct of the investigation.

I suppose that statements would be taken by the investigating officer from the person making the complaint or people giving evidence concerning it. The individual member of the panel might ask to be present when those statements were being taken. If the investigating officer's report ultimately results in a disciplinary inquiry before the chief constable, the panel can require to be present at the hearing, but its members must act as observers throughout the proceedings, subject to one exception; that they will have the right to put questions, no doubt at an appropriate time, to both the investigating officer and the chief constable. They can thus inform themselves of all the details.

When we discussed this matter in Committee a rather truncated form of the present proposal was put to the Home Secretary in the form of an Amendment to the effect that there should be observers only during the hearing of disciplinary inquiries by the chief constable. The Home Secretary rejected that proposal, his main argument being that the presence of the observers would be superfluous, that there would be nothing they could do and that their presence would not be conducive to the proceedings.

My hon. Friends and I submit that the new approach differs and cures what I agree was a defect in the previous proposal. A member of the panel can now be present throughout both the investigation and the hearing and can question the officers concerned. Having done all that, what will happen if the observer is not satisfied with the result of an inquiry and feels that further steps should be taken or that something has been hidden which should have been brought to light? What can he do? He has a specific power. He can report to the Home Secretary, who is required by the terms of the Amendment to take that report into account.

As a matter of fairness to the investigating office or the chief constable, the member of the panel, before submitting the report, has to show it to those officers, so that they can make their own comments and know what is said about them in the report, if there is to be one. The Home Secretary can then use the powers he is taking under this Bill. He can hold a local inquiry under Clause 32, he can call for a report from the chief constable, and he can, if he thinks it necessary, use the more drastic powers which the Bill gives him. One therefore spells out a direct chain of action between the local member of the public who looks at the matter from the point of view of the affected public and the Home Secretary himself.

It is extremely difficult to formulate a type of protection for the public which shall, at the same time, not involve an undue intrusion into and interference with what must be—or is, at any rate, claimed to be—a matter which should be peculiarly within the province of the police, but I put it to the Home Secretary—and this has been put to him many times before, and I think I am right in saying that, in principle, he accepts the validity of the argument—that although the machinery for the actual hearing of complaints and conducting an investigation may have been—and I myself think has been—greatly improved by the Bill, there is still one gap.

The public are not yet reassured, and the Bill does not contain any machinery for reassuring them, that complaints are, in fact, properly heard by police officers. The talk goes about that a complaint against the police is dealt with by the police, and that the public are, in fact, excluded from any participation in the inquiry into the complaint. That gives rise to some degree of disquiet on the part of the public; how much is rather a matter of controversy. The Royal Commission Report said, as has been many times repeated in our debates, that the actual hearings are properly conducted and complaints properly investigated, but that what is still imperfect is the method by which the conviction is brought to the mind of the public that that, in fact, takes place.

I respectfully put this new approach before the House as being one that leaves with the police that degree of control which they require over their own discipline, that leaves the chief constable the officer responsible for the proper behaviour of his force, and that leaves it within his province to maintain the standard of behaviour of that force. It does not in any way impinge upon or diminish the authority of the chief officer of police as being the officer who is responsible for, and who is known to be responsible for, and has the means of enforcing, the maintenance of due discipline standards within the force which is under his command, but it gives an effective means by which the member of the public can be reassured that discipline is properly maintained, that complaints are not covered up but are properly sifted and, where there is some thing behind them that warrants that they should be dealt with more severely, more severe treatment is applied.

I would put it to the House that this addition to the improved machinery of the Bill goes a considerable way to curing the difficulty which the Bill still discloses. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider carefully the proposals in the Amendment. They "marry in" and fit in very well, so it is submitted, with the new powers he himself has taken in Clause 32, in particular, to institute local inquiries. It is obviously of fundamental importance to try to maintain the best possible relations between public and police; more important than all, it is necessary to try to maintain the morale of the police, which we are told has been seriously undermined by what police officers, perhaps not unnaturally, think a kind of nagging of them in the performance of their difficult and dangerous duties.

It is suggested that this approach keeps the person who is an observer—but nevertheless armed with those powers that he will require if he thinks that there is something that should be brought to the notice of the Secretary of State—on the spot, and enables him to act, as it were, on behalf of the public in a way, nevertheless, that does not involve disturbance of or interference with the authority of the chief officer, who still remains the officer ultimately responsible—the officer upon whose personal responsibility the standards of the force, the pride in the force, and the discipline of the force will continue to depend.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Winterbottom

I rise to put a point of view in regard to Clause 49 and to the Amendments now before us. First, want to mention the very sad case that we had in Sheffield when two people were flogged with a rhino whip in the police station, an action which was watched by certain officers of the C.I.D. who were of the highest rank in the police force.

Under Clause 49, provision is made in the case of complaints for responsible officers from another force to be called in to investigate those complaints. Therefore, it is safe to assume that had the Sheffield case never taken place and had this Bill become an Act, the probability is that if complaints had arisen in another district nearby those very officers who witnessed and countenanced the flogging of a man with a rhino whip would have been called in by a neighbouring police authority to adjudicate on complaints made against police officers of that force.

Our case against the investigation by a police officer of another force is based on the simple principle that dog does not eat dog. A second point to be considered is that there has been a succession of cases in the country which have brought a great deal of disrepute to the police. I want to make it quite clear that in my opinion these cases are in a minority, that they are isolated cases. However, these isolated cases have had far-reaching effects upon the minds of the citizens of this country.

I suggest that in order to assuage the suspicions and doubts which are prevalent in the minds of the public and in order to give an adequate protection to the police, some system should be devised whereby complaints should be the subject of investigation by someone outside a police force who would have the right of reporting back to the chief constable before the matter reached the stage of a disciplinary hearing.

Many of these complaints can be eliminated at their very source without being referred to a disciplinary court. I feel that something of that kind would help to establish what is very badly needed in the country, a feeling of confidence between the general public and the police.

Turning to the Amendment moved by my right hon. and learned Friend, it is one of bits and pieces which may provide quite a succession of jobs for the legal profession. I believe that this is something which should be avoided. In an investigation at first hand of these cases we do not want anything in the nature of the rigidity that emanates from the lawyer-like mind.

I suggest with due respect to my hon. and learned Friends, that a little more flexibility the examination of a case in the first place would be a great advantage. Whilst I cannot wholly agree with the Amendment, because it does not completely meet the position to the advantage of the police, of the public and of justice, I shall nevertheless support it, because it is the only practical alternative before us to police inspection of the police. Throughout the country, lawyers and magistrates over a long period of time have been gravely concerned that in the processes of justice nothing of this nature has been possible up to this stage. Despite what I have said about the rigidity of the lawyer-like mind, the institution known as "Justice", made up mainly of lawyers, has said that some kind of examination such as I have suggested is necessary.

This would be best done by a subcommittee from the new form of watch committees or police authorities of the county establishments. There, with wise chairmanship and wise direction through circulars issued by the Home Secretary, an investigating body of two or three members could be formed. The chairman could eliminate frivolous, unnecessary and unfounded cases and could start investigating only the real prima facie cases. In spite of the fact that what I have said is not expressed in any of the Amendments before us, I feel that I have justified myself as one of the Members of Parliament for Sheffield in expressing not only my own views but those of people in Sheffield who have had to deal with the situation over a long time.

Mr. S. Silverman

I regard this as a rather sad occasion—an occasion of which some subsequent Parliament will be thoroughly ashamed. We are dealing with the most important part of the Bill after 11 o'clock at night on a Thursday when hon. Members on both sides of the House have been encouraged to go home.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

By whom?

Mr. Silverman

Right hon. Members on both Front Benches know exactly what I mean. If the hon. Member makes an effort he also will be able to understand. If the hon. Member wants to say something I wish he would rise and say it so that I can hear it.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I think that the hon. Member will find the Whip on the door still.

Mr. Silverman

What is the Bill about? It came into being as the result of a Royal Commission on the Police. Why was that Royal Commission set up? I do not think that there is any controversy about it. We all know that it was set up because all the decent Members of the House of Commons—there are some exceptions—had become completely dissatisfied with the relations between police and public. I do not say that those relations, if they were worse than we should have liked them to be, were the result of police misconduct or of public misconduct or that there was any justification whatever for the general feeling of malaise and dissatisfaction which was widely felt throughout the country in all political parties and which was given expression by every national newspaper.

What was the cause of the dissatisfaction? There had been a series of reports, all of them nasty, some of them true, in respect of which there was a feeling that justice was not being done, and that it was not being done because the police were not accountable to anyone, if any member of the public made a complaint, because they judged the complaint themselves, because they judged it in secret, because they judged it without the complainant being represented, because they judged it without the complainant knowing what was being said for him or against him in the secret inquiry conducted by a tribunal formed of the people against whom he was making his complaint. Whatever else the Royal Commission reported, it was clearly not satisfied with that situation.

It is clear, also, that the Government were not satisfied with that situation either. There are parts of the Bill which go some way to meet the objections which were felt to lie at the root of public discontent. The Bill does improve the situation in a number of ways, and we are all grateful for it. It will no longer be true, or not nearly so true as it was, that the police are responsible only to themselves. We shall be able—though it is doubtful to what extent—to ask the Home Secretary some questions if incidents again occur like the one my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom) was dealing with a few minutes ago. It will no longer be possible for the Home Secretary to say, "It has nothing to do with me. I am not responsible. The police are not responsible to me. Go to the chief constable. Go to the watch committee. Go somewhere else". We have not rectified that position completely, but we have rectified some of it. It will be possible to raise matters here, and the Home Secretary will be responsible to the House of Commons for what he does concerning them.

Secondly, there is the power which the Home Secretary will have under the Bill to set up an inquiry at which everyone who ought to be represented will be represented and which will report to him. All these things are important, but the central objection is not met.

In Committee, we had five or six different Amendments down designed sometimes to enable the complainant to be present, sometimes to enable the complainant to be represented, sometimes to enable the complainant to call evidence of his own or to cross-examine evidence called by anyone else, and sometimes designed to provide in the final result for some means of appeal. It was objected time after time that these were too many, and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) said on one occasion that they provided five different ways in which this inquiry could be made and the police embarrassed in their conduct of it and their morale undermined and so forth. It was not necessary to have five. Nobody wanted five. But I think what some future Parliament will be ashamed to remember is that not even the Labour Party and its leaders found themselves able to vote for even one of them.

11.15 p.m.

Miss Bacon

If my hon. Friend will look at the report of the proceedings he will find that we did vote for one of them. It stood in the names of my hon. Friends the Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) and the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees).

Mr. Silverman

I apologise. I made a mistake. There was an error. We did indeed vote for one of them. The Government could not even accept that. But none of the others.

It seemed to me, and I said this in the Commitee, that if the right hon. Gentleman would accept one of the Amendments—any one—we would be satisfied. He would not accept any of them. The one which seemed to me to be most useful was one moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle), which is No. 42 on the Paper today, and which, I understand, by decision of the Chair, may be discussed with the one which my right hon. and learned Friend has moved.

What does that Amendment do? In particular, what does it do which could do any harm to police morale, or could be an offence to fair play, or any limitation or denial of justice? I can see none. It provides for a right of appeal. My hon. Friend was particularly careful to see that his Amendment did not provide for an absolute right of appeal in every case. He provided in the final sentence: Under this section the chairman of the tribunal"— which is set up by this: I shall deal with that in a moment— shall have discretion to retrain from submitting any appeal to the tribunal on grounds of triviality. That is given to him without argument, without representation. Under that Amendment the chairman of the tribunal has an absolute discretion, vested in him alone, which entitles him to say, "No. This is not important enough; this is not serious enough: we are not going to waste time in entertaining an appeal about it."

But in cases which are not trivial in the opinion of the chairman, what does it provide? It does not interfere with the investigation of a complaint; it does not ask for representation in the investigation of a complaint; it does not provide for any hearing before the chief constable an which the complainant is entitled to be present or to ask questions or to call evidence or to be legally represented. It abandons all those things, and seeks to enact instead that, when the chief constable has had a free hand, completely unfettered, not disturbed or annoyed or embarrassed or harassed by anybody, and has come to his decision to the best of his ability, and made his decision, then there should be a right of appeal against that decision. It should not be a one-sided right of appeal. Nobody says that it is only the complainant who should have a right of appeal. The Amendment expressly provides that the officer complained of shall have a right of appeal, too.

I wish someone would explain at some stage what as wrong with that, either in principle or in practice. It gives satisfaction to nose who say that the final result ought not to be beyond challenge in some tribunal which is not a police tribunal. This is what it is all about. The Royal Commission, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) was, I am sure, a valued member, decided that it would not have a national police force. It thought that the main objection to a national police force is that it leads to a police state. I do not think it does. I think that the Royal Commission came to the wrong conclusion.

Mr. Hale

We said that this argument had been put forward. I do not think that the Royal Commission ever said that it accepted the argument. It went on to state in very full detail and very impressively the many arguments which brought it near to the conclusion that a national police force, if it were within its terms of reference, might have been desirable.

Mr. Silverman

As usual, my hon. Friend is nearly right. It is true that the Royal Commission approached the question with great care, and it very fairly indeed, and to me convincingly, set out the arguments for a national police force. I rather think that my hon. Friend was not really of a very different opinion. Nevertheless, it did not recommend it but came down on the balance of the argument against it. That is really the only point I was making.

Mr. Hale

It did not come down on the argument that my hon. Friend put forward as among its reasons.

Mr. Silverman

It was among its reasons. But that is not important to what I am saying.

Mr. Hale

My hon. Friend said that it was among the reasons submitted to it.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that interruptions may be made standing up so that I may be able to hear them.

Mr. Silverman

I hope we may rectify any difficulty of that kind, Mr. Speaker. I did not raise the point in order to argue whether there ought to be a national police force or not, nor did I raise it in order to argue whether it was a good or bad reason, or whether anybody ever held the reason, or stated the reason, that a national police force might lead to a police State. What I am concerned with is what really does lead to a police State. If one has a police force which is not accountable to anyone outside it, that is the classic definition of a police State.

Mr. Hale

Hear, hear.

Mr. Silverman

If it is accountable to someone outside itself, one has complete safeguards against the creation of a police State. If it is not answerable to anyone outside itself, then and there in principle one has the makings of a police State. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West agrees with me about that—

Mr. Hale

Hear, hear.

Mr. Silverman

—as, indeed, I should suppose most people would. But we have not got the situation I mentioned, except in a tentative, provisional way, which are the improvements which I have mentioned already. The Amendment would provide it, and without dong damage to anyone. It would not interfere with the investigation of the complaint by the chief constable, and it would not interfere with the chief constable in arriving at whatever decision he thought fair. But, in the result, if either party—the police officer complained about or the member of the public who complained—was dissatisfied with his decision, it would provide a method of appeal against it.

I can see nothing wrong in principle or in practice with that proposition. I can see that there might be arguments against it if the machinery proposed were onerous, impracticable, imposed too great a labour on people, or in some other way was non-judicial or unworkable. But it is not. All that my right hon. and learned Friend has done is to ask the Home Secretary to set up a panel, but that instead of using that panel merely as observers with very limited rights which amount to no more than being told what complaints have been made and what has been done with them, and the power to write a letter to the Home Secretary if they do not like what happens, there shall be set up a tribunal of appeal presided over by a lawyer, perhaps selected by the Home Secretary, but certainly selected from a panel nominated by the Home Secretary.

Why in the world should that be rejected or refused? I know of only one reason. The Police Federation does not like it. But there were lots of things that it did not like. It was entitled to make its representations, and it made them very powerfully, and sometimes very convincingly, but the Committee did not always accept its recommendations, any more than the Royal Commission did. The mere fact that the Police Federation does not like the right of appeal to a non-police man in cases against a police man is to my mind a very good reason for having a tribunal of appeal, and a very bad reason for refusing to have one.

I do not want to delay the House any longer. I know that this is a hopeless, quixotic, endeavour. I congratulate both Front Benches on the arrangements that they have made for securing that this proposal shall not be properly debated. They have arranged the situation in such a way that no adequate vote can be had on it. We are not going to have another Police Bill very soon, and this proposal has gone. I do not regard that as a good thing. I do not rejoice at it. I do not think that we have rendered a service to democratic institutions. I do not think that we have done anything to secure what we all want to secure, namely, a situation in which the public are always ready with complete confidence to co-operate with the police. That is the essence of it. People will not be easily persuaded to co-operate if they remain dissatisfied with the way in which complaints are investigated.

I appreciate that probably nothing can be done, and certainly nothing will be done, about it, but I could not allow the matter to go by without expressing some dissent and some regret that the opportunity should have been lost to correct once and for all a sad and wide breach in our democratic institutions.

Mr. Charles A. Howell

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument. I am sure that the House would be surprised if I did.

I commend to the House the Amendment in line 13. I propose to ignore the Amendment in line 14, and to allow my arguments to stand or fall by the first Amendment only. My reason for supporting it might surprise hon. Members.

11.30 p.m.

I wish to know from the Home Secretary whether, without the Amendment, Clause 49 changes in any material way the Police Act regarding police discipline. I ought to read the Clause which we are trying to amend. It states: Where the chief officer of police for any police area receives a complaint from a member of the public against a member of the police force for that area he shall (unless the complaint a[...]leges an offence with which the member of the police force has then been charged) forthwith record the complaint… That is all right; the incident is recorded. But the Clause goes on to say: and cause to be investigated". For my part, the remainder does not matter, because it states: and for that purpose may, and shall if directed by the Secretary of State, request the chief officer of police for any other police area to provide an officer of the police force for that area to carry out the investigation. I have a blunt question for the Home Secretary. Does the starting of an investigation by the chief officer of police mean that he must complete it? Hon. Members night consider this facetious, but I have a case in which this has happened and I reported it to the Home Secretary. One of my constituents claimed that he had been assaulted by a police officer. My constituent was one of five youths in a bus who were followed. Five or six police officers followed the omnibus. This was a pretty good operation. It seemed to me that the person who instructed a sergeant and, say, four constables to go in a police car and a police van to follow one bus had a job on hand. Quite an operation was taking place.

When the youths got off the bus, they were accosted by the police. According to the evidence which I submitted, the Press evidence, and the evidence which the Home Secretary got verbatim from the court, one lad was supposed to have made a gesture. It might have been the reverse of that given by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), but it was a gesture which upset the police. There is no question that one lad, a constituent of mine, was badly injured. A member of the public telephoned the newspaper in Birmingham while it was going on.

When it was reported to me, I wrote to the chairman of the standing joint committee, to the Home Secretary and to the chief constable. The watch committee did not want to have anything to do with it. Under the police discipline legislation, it was a matter for the chief constable. The Home Secretary wrote and told me that he could not do anything because the chief constable was instituting an inquiry under the Act. He did. I subsequently had a letter from the chief constable, however, telling me that he had completed the inquiry. He had dropped it because the father of the boy did not want it to go further.

I was so amazed that I went a 90-mile round journey to see the father, who completely denied it. This was subsequently published in the Birmingham newspapers, who interviewed the father. I wrote to the Home Secretary and told him that this had happened. Either the father or the chief constable was telling lies if the father had not asked for the inquiry to be dropped.

The Home Secretary knows that the chief constable never even acknowledged my letter when I pointed out that his information to me was claimed by the father to be untrue. That was the Parliamentary term for saying that somebody had told a lie. To my surprise, the Home Secretary replied to me and said that he had had a copy of my letter, which indicated that the chief constable had had it, although he had never acknowledged it to me.

From this instance, I want the House to understand that if no change is made by Clause 49 in the Act, any chief constable who is slick enough can start an inquiry and drop it without completing it. Incidentally, the Home Secretary so much approved of what happened that he appointed the chief constable as an inspector of constabulary immediately afterwards, even before the case had been completed.

Under this Amendment no chief constable would be able to get away with a trick like that because every incident would have to be reported to the committee. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) said that the committee should not be of more than 10 persons. Every month the panel would have in formation of all instances in which complaints were made against the police. I am not attacking the police, although I may attack the chief constable in the case to which I have referred. I do not support the second Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) spoke about the chairman having discretion in cases of triviality. A case in which the giving of the reverse to the Churchill sign is complained of might be considered trivial.

Mr. S. Silverman

If my hon. Friend has read the second Amendment he will have seen that it provides that except in cases of triviality there would be an absolute right of appeal. The concession about triviality was nut in to meet an objection that the police would otherwise be cluttered up with continual inquiries. I do not like it, but it seemed that some concession had to be made in order to get a right of appeal in cases of substance.

Mr. Howell

I assure my hon. Friend that I have read the Amendment. My interpretation of it is that the only grounds on which the chairman would be able to refuse a case would be those of triviality. What one might call a triviality might be different from what another thought trivial. Someone might report a sign which was regarded as obscene had been given and it might be said that that was a triviality.

Mr. Silverman

I have much sympathy with the point my hon. Friend is making, but does he realise that if for that reason we do not get the second Amendment there will be no right of appeal in any case?

Mr. Howell

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says, but I am prepared to wait to hear what the Home Secretary says. I have had occasion to be grateful to my hon. Friend for professional services and I cannot argue with him on legal matters. I stand to be corrected by the Home Secretary, my hon. Friend or any learned Member, but I believe that when a policeman has a punishment awarded against him by the chief constable or the watch committee he has an individual right of appeal to the Home Secretary. Although he may not have a right of appeal against the case, most certainly under police regulations he would have a right of appeal to the Home Secretary against punishment threatened to be meted out to him.

Mr. S. Silverman

The complainant has not.

Mr. Howell

Perhaps my hon. Friend has a point there. It may be that the chairman thought the complaint trivial and the police constable had no injury. But the constable could be suspended or reduced and that would be a greater grievance.

Although I have never subscribed to the idea of having an Ombudsman, I think that my right hon. and learned Friend is suggesting a committee of Ombudsmen to check all complaints against the police made in an area. Those persons would not investigate every case and not every case would go to a tribunal, but they would be reported to someone outside the police force. In this connection I do not divorce the watch committee or the standing joint committee for the police. This would be a special committee, an overlord. We have plenty of advisory committees but this would be almost a check committee. It would be a committee of Ombudsmen.

I do not suggest that as an hon. Member I should have better treatment than anyone else, but I am responsible for voting money which goes to the police force. When an hon. Member representing his constituents complains to a chief constable that something has happened and the chief constable sets up an inquiry, it should be forced to a conclusion. I want to go further. When an inquiry takes place in certain conditions the Home Secretary can call for a report. What would happen under the present regulations if I asked the Home Secretary to get a report on the case which I have quoted? He would reply, "The case has been concluded because the chief constable has said that this was what the father wanted."

But here is an idea which would encourage the public. The Home Secretary may say, "We do not have many complaints, and the publicity given to them is out of all proportion". I agree with him. That is not unusual with the Press. They have to get something startling. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom) said that it was because dog eats dog, but in fact dog does not eat dog. The newspapers do not often report when dog bites man, but there would be headlines it man bit dog. The bad man gets the headlines—the soldier who takes part in some mut[...]y the sailor who damages his ship, the odd constable—and thank heavens it is only the odd constable—who goes wrong; these are the people who hit the headlines. My hon. Friend the Member for Brightside spoke of those policemen in Sheffield. They are the exception, not the rule, in the police force. They get the headlines. Of the thousands of parsons in this country, it is the one who goes wrong who hits the headlines. We read about him in the Sunday papers, not about the thousand who did nothing but good.

The police have a job comparable with no other. It does not lend itself to making friends even with their neighbours. Their code of discipline applies when they are off duty, too. They can he charged under their disciplinary code with conduct prejudicial to their position as an officer, even when off duty. I think tint whatever is done by the chief constable, there should be another check; and the best way is that suggested by my right hon. and learned Friend, despite the criticisms of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne. After listening to my hon. Friend's criticisms, I wished that he had helped the House by putting down an Amendment giving him all the safeguards and appeals that he desired.

Mr. S. Silverman

My hon. Friend may like to know that there were discussions a bout this. Unfortunately, I was unable to persuade by right hon. and learned friend and his colleagues to accept an Amendment, and I thought it not worth while to waste the time of the House on it.

Mr. Howell

I have noticed several Amendments on the Order Paper today with only one name to them. My hon. Friend might have persuaded some hon. Members support him if he had put down an Amendment.

Mr. Silverman

Are we not discussing an Amendment which I put down?

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Howell

I am discussing the Amendment in page 27, line 13.

Although the hon. Member said that we had encouraged people to go, I am afraid that they went without encouragement, and I do not blame them after they have sat here all week. I hope that the Home Secretary will take some note not only of what my right hon. and learned Friend has said but of what I have said. I hope that he will reply to the short question: does the Clause, without Amendment, in any way alter the position to which I have referred in connection with the police court case?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Member has used the privilege of a Member of Parliament to make a personal attack on a former chief constable under conditions in which it was patently impossible for the other side of the case to be put to the House. It was out of the question for me to have obtained either from the Home Office or from Birmingham the full papers on this case, of which I was given no previous notice that it was to be raised. I content myself with saying that there are many facts which should be on record in this matter in addition to what the hon. Member has said, before an impartial judgment can be formed of the incident.

These are difficult matters, and the very difficulty of them is evidenced by the fact that we have had two completely different Amendments put down, with different methods of approach. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that in Committee no fewer than five different solutions were proffered. The Royal Commission summed up the position admirably in Paragraph 433 of its Report, when it said: The problem of ensuring that complaints against the police are faithfully dealt with is thus intrinsically difficult. Essentially it is to devise arrangements which are acceptable both to the police and to the public as fair and just, not favouring either at the expense of the other, and not weakening the morale of the police and their resolve to fight crime. In paragraph 428 the Commission said: The …evidence gives us no reason to doubt that chief constables and other senior officers are, in general scrupulously fair and thorough in the way in which they investigate complaints, and our own observation confirms this impression.…Pride in their force and concern for discipline, as well as for the maintenance of good relations with the public, work together to encourage senior officers, and in particular chief constables, to exercise the greatest care in the investigation of complaints, and even on occasion to weight the scales against the constable. That is the considered finding of the Royal Commission. No one would suggest that in the interest of the maintenance of the morale of the police the police should be allowed to use their powers with impunity; neither have the police themselves the slightest desire that that sort of situation should arise. On the other hand, if the police service were to feel that it was being victimised as a result of unfair criticism it is the public that would very soon suffer, because it would have lost is protection.

As I said in Committee, a policeman works for a great deal of his time alone. He is paid the same whether or not he turns a blind eye to trouble. What we want is the kind of policeman who will not turn a blind eye to trouble—will not be looking over his shoulder all the time to see whether he will be criticised by an Ombudsman or semi-Ombudsman, but will carry out faithfully the duties imposed upon him by the chief constable and, within that framework, do everything within his power to prevent and detect crime.

The Government's approach to the problem of handling complaints is in line with that of the majority of the Royal Commission, that is, to place great emphasis on the need to preserve intact, as far as possible, the position of the chief constable as commander of his force, bearing responsibility for the discipline and morale of his men while, at the same time—and I stress this—establishing and maintaining a system of accountability which will ensure that abuses will not go unchecked and unpunished. I feel sure that all hon. Members will agree about that. It is simply a question of getting the right balance.

The Bill goes further than the Royal Commission, although the reforms embodied in it—considerable reforms which I shall mention before dealing with the Amendments—have been carefully framed so as not to risk interference with the morale of the forces or undermine the leadership of chief constables.

The Royal Commission pointed out that there were comparatively few complaints against the police. There are now fewer against the Metropolitan Police, for example, than there were 25 years ago. Only about 5 per cent. of the complaints end up with a formal disciplinary charge although, as the Royal Commission pointed out, that does not mean that only 5 per cent. of complaints have been found to have any substance. There are other ways of administering an effective rebuke of a constable outside the disciplinary code. I am sure that the vast majority of complaints are properly dealt with, even under the existing arrangements which we are proposing to improve by the Bill.

The problem is to satisfy the complainant in the relatively small number of complaints where the outcome does not at present give satisfaction the complaint that an absolutely thorough investigation has not been made, that shortcomings concerning a police officer have not effectively been dealt with, and so on.

Before dealing with the Amendments, I should like to set out the position against the background of the Bill. Under the Government's proposals in this Clause every complaint must be at once recorded. That is the first change, because no similar statutory requirement now exists. Chief constables will maintain complaints books for this purpose.

Mr. Charles A. Howell

Are no records of complaints kept at present? Am I not right in assuming that an incidents book is kept on the counter of every police station or office, in which the station sergeant must record every complaint he receives?

Mr. Brooke

In the Metropolitan Police area all complaints are recorded, but the Royal Commission found that that was not the practice throughout the country, at all provincial police stations and offices in the case of all complaints, however trivial, made by the public. The Clause will make it a statutory obligation on the police to record every complaint, however trivial.

We are accepting the recommendation of the Royal Commission that these complaints books should be open for inspection to the inspectors of constabulary when they go round, and also to the pace authority; thus both the in spectors of constabulary and the police authority will have a duty to keep themselves informed as to the manner in which complaints are being dealt with. The House should know that inspectors of constabulary do not take this matter lightly even now. They commonly ask chief constables to produce papers relating to specific complaints and they may go through the whole file to satisfy themselves that chief constables' actions are satisfactory This is by no means a formality.

Next, according to the Clause, each complaint must be investigated at once by the chief constable. As soon as the Bill becomes law and the police regulations have been revised, it is intended that an explanatory leaflet should be made available explaining how complaints are dealt with and that this should be given to every complainant as a matter of course. That will be helpful.

The next Government plan is that the officer appointed to investigate a complaint may be brought in from another police force. He may now, but until Clause 49 becomes law there is no obligation on the other chief constable to comply with the request, nor is there any power in the hands of the Secretary of Stale to insist that a complaint should be investigated by somebody from another force. Particularly in the smaller forces, where everybody in the force knows everybody else well, this may be one, of the most useful of the new provisions.

Next, under the Government plan, unless it is clear when the investigation is completed that no criminal offence has been committed, the report of the investigation must be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. That is quite a new provision. The chief officer must be positively satisfied that no criminal offence has been committed—not just satisfy himself that there is no prima facie case; then an independent mind, that of the Director, will be brought to bear on the matter.

What eventually happens to the complaint will obviously depend on its merits. If there is no need to send it to the Director of Public Prosecutions, it may lead to a formal disciplinary charge, or the investigation may show that there is neither a case for prosecution nor for a disciplinary charge. Chief constables have been told by me that, whatever the result, the complainant must be informed, and their attention has been drawn to a recommendation of the Royal Commission that correspondence with complainants should be conducted in courteous and sympathetic—and, I trust, informative——terms.

Mr. Charles A. Howell

The right hon. Gentleman says that the complainant has to be informed. Has he to be told, or is he to get a copy of the report?

Mr. Brooke

He would not normally get a copy of the report, because an investigation report must be a confidential document, but he will certainly be told the outcome of the investigation. If he is not satisfied, he can write to the Home Secretary, or he can write to his Member of Parliament who, if he thinks fit, can put a Question in the House asking me to send for the report so that I can satisfy myself——

Mr. Howell

Perhaps I misunderstood the Home Secretary. When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of someone being "told", that, to me, is something verbal. Will he be given anything in writing—informed?

Mr. Brooke

He must certainly be told in writing—

Mr. Howell

That is informed.

Mr. Brooke

I am glad to have made that clear.

Of course, it is also intended that a complainant shall be entitled to be personally present at any disciplinary hearing arising out of his complaint. By Clause 48 it will be open to him to sue the chief officer in respect of any alleged civil wrong, whether or not he can identify the policy officer concerned.

Finally and conclusively, in addition to all this, my responsibility to Parliament may be engaged if I am asked to call for a report arising out of a complaint and, in the last resort, I may find it necessary to exercise my new powers—under Clause 32 to set up a local inquiry to carry out an investigation.

Cumulatively, those changes are far-reaching, and I put it to the House that it would be unwise to go further than that and experiment with some untried scheme on which there was by no means general agreement before we had seen how these new cumulative arrangements for the investigation of complaints work out. We must remember that all this is against the background that the chief officer will be well aware, when the Bill is on the Statute Book, that any failure properly to investigate complaints against his men will, in future, expose the chief officer, not merely to criticism but to the risk of loss of office on grounds of inefficiency. I firmly believe that all these plans, tying together as they do, will make effective provision for ensuring that complaints are properly dealt with.

Against that background, I come to the Amendments. I will not explain them in detail, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman has admirably explained the Amendment in page 27, line 13, and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that in line 14. I am bound to say that both of them seem to be open to objections of principle. This Amendment gets over the objection to an earlier Amendment which we had in Standing Committee and which would apply only to a very small number of cases which go to disciplinary inquiry.

The fundamental objection to any arrangement of this kind of having a panel of 10 or more Ombudsmen outside is that it implies a lack of confidence in the chief constable as the head of a disciplined force. It extends that lack of confidence to every senior officer who may be appointed to carry out an investigation.

The Bill entrusts the chief constable with the control and direction of his force. Tremendous responsibilities are cast on him and the House has agreed to cast them on him and that the chief constable and his subordinates can be trusted to act impartially in investigating allegations of criminal offences and in arriving at decisions whether or not to prosecute people. I submit that a body of men trusted to discharge these duties, which affect the good name and possibly the livelihood of members of the public, ought to be trusted equally to investigate complaints against members of their service and to investigate them fairly and impartially.

I do not believe that there has been a general tendency to try to cover up. I believe that any chief constable who sought to cover up when this Bill is on the Statute Book would be heading very quickly for that situation where his efficiency would be called in question. I must say that I do not agree with the idea of a panel with a vague roving commission. I think that it would have a bad effect on the police.

I think that confusion could result from the proposed statutory right of members of the panel to intervene at any stage of the investigation of a complaint. Investigating officers have a hard job to do. If they were never to know when a panel member was going to turn up and intervene there would be a danger of their being diverted from their primary task of getting at the truth by means of a thorough investigation.

I think it is difficult to associate members of the public with those at police investigations. In fact, an investigation which starts by being one of a complaint may turn into an investigation of a possible commission of some crime. It is of fundamental importance that these investigations should be confidential. I think that the whole basis of police inquiries would be undermined if a member of the public were entitled to be present when they are undertaken.

The Amendment is drawn in wide terms as to the circumstances in which the panel could intervene. Likewise, I am quite sure that the report of an investigation must be a confidential document and ought not to be disclosed to others, even to members of a panel, in the way envisaged in the Amendment. It is equally true and even more so of reports called for by the Secretary of State. It may well inhibit the absolute candour on the part of the chief constable which is necessary when reporting to the Home Secretary if, as the Amendment proposes, he might be obliged to furnish a copy of the report to someone outside.

I do not think that, apart from these objections in principle, it would work easily in practice. Police investigations often take the form of a series of inquiries by the investigating officer of possible witnesses, one inquiry leading to another. The investigating officer may be assisted by others. It would be extraordinarily hard for members of a panel to follow all this.

Clause 49 requires a complaint to be investigated forthwith. By the time the panel received its monthly report as suggested in the Amendment the investigation night well have been concluded. The observer could intervene by asking questions in the course of the proceedings. I realise the excellent intention lying behind that, but in a court of law it would not make for good order if a chance member of the public had the right to question the judge when he felt like doing so. Though these investigations and inquiries are not like it court of law, one has to remember the consequence of making these statutory reports to members of the panel is the Amendment proposes.

I submit to the House that it would be inconsistent to put the great responsibilities on the chief constable that we are doing by common consent in the Bill and then to proclaim, as we would be doing if we wrote the Amendment in, that we had lack of faith in the chief constable's ability to conduct a disciplinary hearing with fairness to all concerned.

The objections of principle that I have mentioned apply also to the second Amendment, which both in the House and in Committee received only limited support although I know that it appeals to a number of magistrates. As an additional reason against the second Amendment I would point out that if we make provision for the complainant to appeal against the decision of the chief constable at a disciplinary hearing we shall place the constable complained of in jeopardy for the second time for the same alleged offence and that, as the Royal Commission remarked, would infringe a basic principle of justice.

As to the complaint of a member of the force against his chief constable, there is no need for the Amendment, because the constable already has a right to complain to me under the Police Acts At the moment his right of complaint extends only to certain limited cases where heavy penalties have been imposed on him. We are now in this Bill generalising that. If the hour was earlier I could develop at greater length the Government's more detailed objections to these Amendments, but I hope that what I have said will suffice to show that there are objections of principle and of practice to them.

Considering how much the Government are doing in the Bill to set up this new and cumulative system to help the public and all concerned in the handling of complaints, with the duty on inspectors of constabulary to satisfy themselves about the manner in which complaints are dealt with, and the power in the hands of the Home Secretary to order Clause 32 inquiry, it would be a mistake before we have seen how the new powers work out in practice to go further into the untried country which the Amendment seeks to map out.

Amendment negatived.