HC Deb 25 November 1969 vol 792 cc367-75
Mr. McNamara

I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 3, line 12, leave out from 'Regulations' to end of line 21 and insert: 'not be deemed to have committed, as a member of his home force, an offence against discipline, until such time as the commission of a disciplinary offence has been substantiated under the Regulations and procedures appropriate to his home force'. Some of the substance of this Amendment has been covered already by part of the speech made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths). It is important that we should look at it in some detail because among the many copies of holy writ which have been quoted today we have not had a quotation from the Cameron Report.

In the third appendix of that report there is a statement on page 103 which is a summary of Section 24 of the Constabulary Act which deals with the method by which complaints against the police in Northern Ireland are dealt with. It says: By Section 24 the Inspector-General or his deputy, or any person or persons to be nominated for the purpose by the Minister of Home Affairs may examine on oath into the truth of any charges or complaint preferred against any member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and report thereon to the Minister of Home Affairs. These would appear to be the only provisions for investigation of complaints against any member of the force. This provision has had an unhappy history. It has been regarded as being used as whitewash for complaints against the R.U.C. Now we have the position where members of the British police forces may be transferred to Northern Ireland for short periods on secondment as opposed to the mutual aid provisions. We should have the situation more into line with procedures for dealing with complaints against the police in this country.

This is the object of the Amendment. I realise that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, when she was replying to part of what the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) said, spoke about moving towards some degree of mutuality. I should be grateful if she would indicate, so as to protect British policemen going to Northern Ireland, and also to bring the requirements of the new Royal Ulster Constabulary up to the provisions that we expect in Great Britain, whether the new Police Bill to be introduced in Stormont contains provisions for a procedure for complaint against the police similar to that which exists in Great Britain.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I cannot support the Amendment as drafted, but it gives an opportunity to ask the Minister a further question. I am in some difficulty in comparing subsection (l)(a) with the words in subsection (3). We are dealing only with officers who engage for periods of time on their own voluntary decision in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) seemed to imply that this covered all policemen who might be sent to Northern Ireland. This is not so. It is a little different from the case of those who are sent compulsorily.

My difficulty is that under subsection (1)(a) an officer serving in Ulster may be dismissed or caused to resign because of an offence he may commit against the discipline imposed upon him there. This is obviously right and sensible. Senior officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary must have the power to discipline men who fall under their command for periods of service. My difficulty is that, looking further into subsection (3), any such person will be deemed to have committed an offence in his home force and if the Inspector-General of the Royal Ulster Constabulary provides a certificate to that effect his home police chief will have to take disciplinary proceedings against him.

As I understood the Minister, she said earlier that a police officer serving in Ulster would be responsible only to his own chief officer for his own discipline code. There is a dfficulty. In practical terms the certificate given by the Inspector-General of the R.U.C. will be in respect of an offence committed under the discipline regulations of that force. It will not be enough for the accused officer to say, "But the Minister of State said in the House of Commons that I would not be under the discipline of anybody except my own force".

I suspect that the answer that the Minister will give is that what she said applied to those who were sent there by the Home Secretary or by their chief constable and not to those who voluntarily engaged. If that is so, I shall be satisfied.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I hope that we can deal with this Amendment fairly quickly. The position is as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) set it out. Any policeman who is sent under the mutual aid arrangements and, therefore, is sent not voluntarily but as a result of these arrangements, is bound by the disciplinary procedures of his home police force. A policeman who volunteers to go for a short service engagement, which is what the Clause is all about, comes under the Royal Ulster Constabulary's disciplinary procedures and is aware of that when he originally signs on for that purpose. It is, therefore, open to the Royal Ulster Constabulary to discipline him if he disobeys its discipline regulations.

If, however, the reprimand amounts to dismissal from the force, or if he should be disciplined and asked to resign from the force, in either event he reverts to his home police force, and at that stage it is for the chief constable of his home force to decide whether any other action falls to him as a result of the grounds upon which the dismissal or resignation takes place. It may well be that the home chief constable will take a different view of the seriousness of the charge from that taken by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. In that event, it will be for the chief constable of the home force to decide whether he also requires the resignation of the policeman or his dismissal from the home force. In either event, the constable would be further protected by his right of appeal to the Home Secretary.

The Clause covers any situation in which the Royal Ulster Constabulary takes a particular view of a man who has volunteered for a short-service engagement and his home chief constable takes a different view of the seriousness of the matter. Therefore, the burden of proof, to put it like that, rests on the slighter evidence which would have to be given, in the present situation at least, to the chief constable of the home force.

The implication of the Amendment is that the entire process of proof would have to be gone through all over again. There are major reasons why this would be difficult. It would involve the bringing of witnesses from Northern Ireland to this country to state the reasons upon which the procedure had been based. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) to accept my assurance that, since in any event whatever punishment is involved is subject to the decision of the home police force, what he wants is basically covered not just by an assurance from me, but by subsection (3) of the Clause itself.

I ask the Committee to resist the Amendment on the ground that we do not want to require that the entire procedure arising out of disciplinary matters shall be gone through all over again. To do that would be virtually impossible.

Mr. McNamara

I accept my hon. Friend's assurance. The Amendment was a probing Amendment, intended to ensure that our fellow citizens in this country had their rights as police officers protected. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Carlisle

Clause 2 is entirely different from Clause 1 in that it deals with members of police forces in England or Wales who choose to go on short engagement to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary, as recommended in Chapter 7 of the Hunt Report. The Hunt Committee's main consideration in that recommendation, I understand, was the advantage not so much of members of English or Welsh forces taking short-term engagements in Ulster as of members of the Ulster force coming on short-term engagements to English or Welsh forces. The Hunt Committee believed that such service by members of the Ulster Constabulary would give them a broader picture of police work than they obtained in their own country.

The statutory provisions under which members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary could join English or Welsh forces are, presumably, a matter for the Stormont Parliament, but I hope that we may have from the Minister of State an assurance, so far as she can give it, that similar legislation is being introduced and will, it is hoped, be passed in the Stormont Parliament, and that the authorities in this country will encourage members of the R.U.C. to come over here on short-term engagements.

I do not want to recriminate in any way, and a lot was said during the debate on Clause 1 about the shortcomings or otherwise of the Ulster Constabulary, but we should all agree that there are undoubted advantages, as the Hunt Committee said, in officers of that force having some time in training and in normal police work with forces in this country.

Second, what is envisaged by a "short-term" engagement? Is there any defined period of years? When the words are used in the sense of the army they usually refer to a defined number of years. Is there a defined number of years on this occasion, or would it be up to the individual applying?

Finally—I think that I can bring this within Clause 2—in dealing with the disciplinary powers under Clause 2 (3) the hon. Lady has repeatedly referred to the fact that there are specific statutory provisions for those who go on short-term engagements, and said that those who go under Clause 1, on the mutual aid basis, will remain under the discipline of their home force. I did not intervene earlier on the point because I did not wish to start the debate going again on an Amendment which had run for a substantial time. But is that to be found in any place in the Bill?

The only apparent reference in the Bill to those who go under the mutual aid provisions is that during the period during which they are provided for the assistance of the Royal Ulster Constabulary they shall be under like direction and control as a member of that force". I should be grateful if the hon. Lady could explain where the distinction lies between the direction and control and the discipline which she has assured the Committee would remain with the chief constable in this country and not with the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It would appear on a reading of the Bill—with a degree of substantial ignorance—that the words "direction and control" would be likely to include discipline. I shall be grateful if the hon. Lady will deal with that.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I wish to say a few words on two points.

First, on training, which my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) has just mentioned, I hope that the Minister can say that the members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who would be welcomed to this country to benefit from the training facilities here, will not simply be pushed to Bramshill and Hendon and the better-known training schools in the London area. While those schools are first class, I hope she will be able to say that the police will be encouraged to go to the many good district training schools in other forces in the country.

The second point is the thorny matter of discipline. I am still concerned about the fact that there will be two sets of disciplinary regulations under which policemen working alongside one another will be bound. This adds yet another complication. We have the Royal Ulster Constabulary men, who know perfectly well what their disciplinary regulations are and what legislation, including the Special Powers Act, they are required to enforce. Alongside them we have two different categories of British police reinforcements. One group are those who have engaged for periods of time voluntarily, and they, as I understand it, are directly under the discipline of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and would be required in the normal way to enforce all the laws of Northern Ireland without any reservations.

Then there is a third category conceivably, those British policemen who might be sent for short periods under direction. They are under a somewhat different disciplinary code. Moreover, by the Minister's assurance they have been specifically exempted from enforcing some parts of the Northern Ireland law. The Minister must accept that this is an administratively untidy situation, one which the individual policeman will find very difficult to understand in the fast-moving circumstances with which the police frequently have to deal. I hope the hon. Lady will comment on this problem.

Mrs. Anne Kerr (Rochester and Chatham)

Would the hon. Gentleman approve of the use by the police of CS gas and Mace, in either Northern Ireland or Britain, in any part of the United Kingdom? I have experienced both—

The Deputy Chairman (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. I do not think that that point is covered in the Clause that we are discussing at this stage.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I was sitting down, Mr. Gourlay; so I will leave that point.

11.45 p.m.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

With respect to my hon. Friend, I am not sure that I can see how that matter arises on the Clause either.

We understand that provision will be made in the Stormont Bill which will satisfy on the part of the Northern Ireland Government the recommendations of the Hunt Report with regard to the interchange of personnel on a short- service basis by attachments or secondments. The length of engagement that we and the Northern Ireland Government have in mind is between six months and three years, and it will be a matter for negotiation with the individual policeman exactly how long the engagement is between those two ends of the range.

The answer on the somewhat troubled matter of discipline is that a mutual aid policeman does not lose his membership of his home police force. Consequently, for all purposes his discipline comes under his home police force, as is the case with the present arrangements for mutual aid. I recognise that this is more important in the case of Northern Ireland.

The person who voluntarily accepts a short-service engagement becomes a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary for that period, and is, therefore, bound by its disciplinary regulations, which will be clearly explained to him. However, if he commits an offence against discipline under the terms of his short-service engagement and as a result is dismissed from the force, or is asked to resign from it, and then reverts to his home police force, it is for the chief constable of his home force then to decide what action to take. It need not be identical with that which would be taken in the same circumstances by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I do not believe I can put the position more clearly, and I hope that that will go some way to answering the hon. Gentleman's question.

The purpose of the whole Clause is to make possible short-service engagements with protection of the policeman's career. It was not possible in the past unless the policeman seconded himself with no right of reversion to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. To that extent it gives a greater freedom and security to the policeman, be he from Ulster or from England or Wales.

Whe hope that the Clause makes it possible for more training to take place on a mutual basis. It is indeed our intention that the training should be as wide as possible.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the special—one might almost say unique—abilities the British police force has shown when dealing with civil demonstrations and disturbances of various kinds. Perhaps uniquely in the world it has shown a capacity to deal with such demonstrations without the escalation of violence. When there has been such an escalation, it has worried the police forces as much as it has worried my right hon. Friend or the hon. Gentleman.

It is with the sort of training that leads to that capacity in mind that we feel the Clause is an essential part of the Bill. I would not like to suggest that there is nothing we can learn from the Royal Ulster Constabulary about dealing with criminal actions, and we hope that our police force can benefit from its experience in that sphere.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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