§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Having come up at odds of—I believe —about 400 to I with a second favoured place in the private Member's ballot in consecutive years, I should perhaps explain why I have chosen a Bill of this nature because it is a measure which, if passed into law and implemented, would bring about a major reform in the administration of the police under the 1964 Act in England and Wales and the 1967 Act in Scotland, and which might therefore seem a somewhat ambitious measure for a private Member, and an Opposition Member at that, to bring in.
I certainly do not introduce the measure in any spirit of antagonism to the police. I regard this very much as a Bill which will increase public confidence in the police, in the very difficult job they have to do. My hon. Friends and I are not saying that the existing procedures for investigating complaints do not work, or that more than a small number of the investigations which are carried out under Section 49 of the Police Act are carried out badly or in a lax spirit.
Personally, I have every confidence in my own local chief constable and in the Derbyshire constabulary. I put that on record simply to show that I am not bringing the measure in in any hostile spirit.
§ Mr. Whitehead
My hon. Friend may have differences with his chief officer, but I do not have any with mine. This is probably an appropriate reason for me to introduce the measure, because no element of personal or local rancour is involved. It is precisely because I have that confidence in my own force that I feel I can bring in a general measure to implement a general principle.
The principle is based on the contention which those of us who are sponsors of the Bill, from all parties, make that 935 some complainants are dissatisfied, that some of their complaints are justified, and that many members of the public would probably have greater confidence in all these proceedings if the police did not appear to be judge in their own cause in the matter of the investigation of complaints. They not only investigate but adjudicate upon the vast majority of complaints that are received—all those which are not referred to, and retained for the purpose of instituting prosecution by, the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and the Procurator-Fiscal in Scotland.
I have reason to believe that the police themselves would probably now accept an independent element in the complaints procedure, certainly in principle.
At this point I should like publicly to thank the many people of all ranks in the police force who have helped me considerably with the discussions prior to and during the drafting of the Bill—notably the Metropolitan Commissioner, Sir Robert Mark; Mr. Nightingale, the doyen of the chief officers and himself Chief Officer of Essex; Chief Superintendents Rowland and Taylor of the Chief Superintendents' Association, and most notably of all Mr. Pamplin of the Police Federation.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech. Is he aware that neither the Association of Chief Police Officers nor the Police Superintendents' Association have had the opportunity of discussing amongst themselves the proposals in the Bill. However, although not being opposed to the introduction of a review system, they have conveyed to me their opposition to proposals which may put police officers in double jeopardy. There are no safeguards in the Bill against that.
§ Mr. Whitehead
In fact there are such safeguards. Perhaps that is a lesson against giving way too early in one's propounding of a motion. Chief Superintendent Rowland told me yesterday that the hon. Gentleman would be putting these points in the debate; and I understand that the hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity to do so later. I shall come on to the whole question of double jeopardy.
936 All these elements in the police were consulted, as it was right for them to be, in the drafting of the Bill. Since this point of further confrontations may be raised at a later stage from the Government Front Bench, they have also been consulted throughout the last few years as the whole process of discussion about an independent or lay element in the complaints procedure has proceeded. They had their own private consultations in the working party set up in 1969 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). I shall come on to that and, perhaps, to the lamentable reasons why it was never made public later. There has been a continuing process of consultation and, if the Bill receives a Second Reading today and goes to Standing Committee, today, I should not want that process of consultation to come to an end. Quite the contrary; there is room for a continuing process. However, it is not accurate to say that there has been no opportunity for this at the moment.
I expect many of the views of different elements in the police to be put forward in the debate. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, will put some of the views of the Police Federation, which have been clearly expressed to me throughout. Perhaps the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) will put some points that have been raised by the Scottish Police Federation.
I shall confine myself to the Police Act 1964 for England and Wales from now on, and the amendments that we propose to it. If hon. Members think that my avoidance of the Scottish provisions is due to my invincible ignorance of Scottish law they are quite correct. I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray), whose is learned and Scottish, which I am not, and who has has as close a relationship with the famous Leith police as I have with my own constabulary, will be putting the points which we wish to make by way of amendment of the Police Act 1967. We accept at the outset that the rôle of the Procurator Fiscal in investgating complaints in Scotland is somewhat different from and in a sense more independent than the role of the Director of Public 937 Prosecutions under English law. I think my hon. and learned Friend will go into more detail as to why the procedures which we have envisaged for amending the 1967 Act in Scotland are different.
I turn to the background of this Bill. As the House will recollect, under the 1964 Act every complaint must be thoroughly recorded and investigated by the police. The main outside element in this procedure at the moment is that if there is prima facie evidence for a criminal prosecution the papers must be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, whilst under Section 49(1) of the present Act a chief officermay, and shall if directed by the Secretary of Statebring in an officer from an outside force to investigate, although he is not bound—and there have been some sad cases of this—by an investigating officer's report when that is put to him. There have been cases where these reports recommending disciplinary action have been ignored by the chief officer concerned.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I am sure my hon. Friend will make that point at a later stage in the debate if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker.
Often these investigations proceed when there is no indication that a criminal offence may have been committed but there may have been an offence against the police disciplinary code.
It is fair to say that we are entitled to look at the statistical background to the complaints procedure, not in terms of the strike rate, and judging its effectiveness by the number of policemen prosecuted in the courts or disciplined or dismissed, but simply in terms of what the public can see of this procedure. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) said, the public sees very little of the results of the complaints 938 procedure. The complainant is notified with some brevity, but the public sees nothing of the results of the investigation.
In England and Wales, excluding the Metropolitan Police area, which is a direct responsibility of the Secretary of State, there were 5,885 complaints made in 1967, and by 1971, the last year for which we have complete figures, that number had risen to 7,939. About 12 per cent. of these complaints appear to be substantiated annually. There appears to be a constant percentage as one looks at the figures from 1967 onwards. In the Metropolitan Police district the figure of complaints seems to have risen from 2,412 in 1966 to over 4,000 under the new procedure in 1972. In the Metropolitan district the proportion of complaints substantiated has been between 9 per cent. and 6 per cent.
When we look at the number of complaints which go to the Director of Public Prosecutions—only about one in five throughout the country are so referred—and at the comparative rarity even now —after the changes which were urged upon chief officers by the former Secretary of State the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) 18 months ago—of officers from outside forces being brought in to investigate—about 1 per cent. of all cases—I do not think it is surprising that the public find this system to be less than clear and sometimes less than fair.
In the Metropolitan Police in 1971, just over a quarter of the complaints were referred to the Director of Public Prosetions and 92 per cent. of those complaints came back to the somewhat arcane process of investigations with the original force. Criminal proceedings were brought in only 104 cases in the Metropolitan district in 1971, and in 52 cases in the rest of England and Wales. When we look at the figures for those cases which were returned by the Director of Public Prosecutions with no recommendation for prosecution, it would appear that out of 1,200 returned only 41 resulted in disciplinary action. Of those which were not sent at all in the first instance, a smaller number, and a proportionately smaller number since there is a larger figure for complaints not referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions at all, resulted in any form of disciplinary action.
939 As I have said, it is not the strike rate of prosecutions, nor the Director's estimate of the evidence needed to justify one, that concerns us in sponsoring this Bill. We are more concerned with other matters—the brevity of the unsupported statement which the complainant receives if his complaint has not been substantiated; the infrequency of investigations by outside officers, and the fact that for the public at large and for the complainant in particular the outside officer, if he is brought in—and he has no mandatory powers in having his findings implemented by the force concerned —is still a policeman and is seen to be a policeman from the point of view of the complainant. In some notorious cases in recent years the reports of outside investigating officers have been ignored, as I have said, and they appear —this is the indication that one gets from some former inspectors of constabulary—to have run into some tenacious local loyalties in the process, which has made the task of investigation and inspection still more difficult for them.
We are concerned about the volume of complaints, some of them trivial and many of them malicious, especially if the complainant is having court proceedings brought against him, in which case the investigation of the complaint will be further delayed. We are concerned about the inability of the police authorities to keep a close and proper watch on the handling of complaints investigations as they are supposed to do under Section 50 of the Act, and as they were reminded by the previous Secretary of State at the end of 1971 they had to do. The complainant may conclude in cases which have not ended in criminal or disciplinary proceedings that his complaint was rejected because the police were judge in their own cause and that he was being fobbed off. He may also think that the investigating officers, weighing his complaint against the necessary level of morale of the force, may be influenced by the fact that their reports are not publicly available and cannot be challenged, and therefore may be taking a less strict line with officers who have allegedly committed offences than would otherwise be the case.
It is this nagging feeling—a scintilla of doubt, and rather more than that in 940 some cases—that justice is not "seen to be done", in the old cliché phrase, which has moved the public argument in the last few years in the matter of an independent element in these investigations. I think that public feeling has moved far and fast in the last few years.
I come now to the background from the point of view of both the Government and the House in relation to that changing public debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), as Home Secretary, set up the working party of the police and the police authorities to review the system in 1969. It reported in 1971, to the new Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Barnet, after the change of Government. The right hon. Gentleman said that he acceptedthose recommendations … which aim at bringing about substantial improvements within the existing framework.That meant more outside investigating officers, as was recommended, and some real bite for police authorities. Also, there followed the most successful setting up of Division A10 in the Metropolitan Police, which has already done a deal of good work. I pay tribute to Commander Anning and his team in the Metropolitan Police.
However, the right hon. Member for Barnet sat on the other part of the working party's report. It has not been published. On 2nd December, he was pressed about it. His predecessor in office asked him whether the report of the working party had been unanimous, and whether he would reconsider his decision to do nothing about the introduction of an independent element. The right hon. Gentleman was adamant on both counts, saying that nothing could be done, that it would be too difficult to introduce an independent element and that the report could not be published. On the question of unanimity, he used a rather interesting phrase:It is quite possible that it was not unanirnOUS."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December 1971; Vol. 827, c. 652–5.]To this day, the document has not been published. I think that the Secretary of State said at the time that it was never intended that it should be published. But, since those deliberations came almost exclusively from police forces and police authorities and they so materially affect 941 the debate about whether an independent element in the investigation of complaints is needed, I am sure that it would have been better if the House had seen what the recommendations were and the reasoning behind them.
Instead, fortunately, we have been able to rely upon the report of a Select Committee of the House, though, again, this has never been debated. I refer to the Report of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration, Session 1971–72, the Sub-Committee concerned being chaired by the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who, I hope, will be able to catch the eye of the Chair in this debate.
I think it valuable to quote some passages from that report, since the reasoning in it has very much influenced me in settling the shape of the Bill now before the House. The Select Committee said that there were three possible main remedies to the anomalies in the present system,each commanding support. One was an investigation of complaints by independent persons, possibly assisted by a police assessor. A second was a police inquiry with an independent lay assessor. The third, added to the present system, was a review, on appeal, by an independent tribunal where a complainant or accused policeman is dissatisfied. Each of these has the merit of meeting, at least to some extent, the criticism of the present system that the police are judge and jury in their own case. Each would be more costly, the third more so than the others.In the next paragraph, the Select Committee said,We have weighed all these remedies. We think, on balance, that the third solution is the one which merits further examination. This can be done quickly, because the ground has already been prepared by the working party. We believe it should be. We do not think that an independent inquiry or a lay assessor could, without long experience, grasp the operational details of police procedures or be able to conduct an inquiry as thoroughly and comprehensively as the police themselves.With every word of that I agree. It is sound reasoning. Moreover, of those three possible courses, it is the third, I believe, which probably commands the widest public support. I hope to hear from the Secretary of State whether the Government also agree with that line of reasoning presented by the Select Committee.
In paragraph 332, the Select Committee added an important definition regarding 942 the category of appellant and the membership of the tribunal:The police officer complained of, no less than the complainant, should have a right of appeal to the tribunal. The tribunal should contain at least some persons with judicial and legal experience.Again, I agree with both those recommendations.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler (Nottingham, South)
I was a member of the Committee which produced that report. For the record, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will note that it was cautious in putting forward the detail of the solution suggested, and that in several paragraphs, although favouring the lay element in the the complaints procedure, the Committee did not definitely propose that the appeals tribunal was necessarily the final answer.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that nothing I have said so far indicates that I consider that the Select Committee was rash. Quite the contrary. Its deliberations were measured, sober and carefully reasoned. All I am saying is that it came to the same conclusion, with all the qualifications which the hon. Gentleman now wishes to interpose—
§ Mr. Whitehead
—it came to the same conclusion as I would myself, and, in so far as it was not specific and left a considerable area of initiative open to the Secretary of State, I have followed that course. That is what we have done in the Bill before the House. I see that the hon. Gentleman shrugs at that, but there must come a point beyond which one says, "We are now agreed upon the principle and we must begin to sketch in the detail of how it should be done" Otherwise, the interminable discussions and references back will go on, and further documents will gather dust just as the working party's report has done over the past two years.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
For the elucidation of the House, and the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) in particular, perhaps I may read the first sentence of paragraph 333 of the report, which, as he reminded us, the hon. Gentleman himself signed:In short we recommend that the Secretary of State take urgent steps to introduce a lay 943 element into inquiries into complaints against the police …
§ Mr. Fowler
That is exactly the point, for in the very next line the report goes on to say something else. The hon. Gentleman would do better not to make selective quotations. The sentence continues… possibly by setting up independent tribunals to consider appeals".That is the only point I make, and I think it right that it should be made for the record.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I have so far read substantial passages from three paragraphs, and I do not think that that can be called selective quotation. If I paused at paragraph 332, it was simply to avoid—
§ Mr. Whitehead
The hon. Gentleman knows the procedures of the House, and he ought not to intervene on an intervention. Now that he has made his point, once by himself and once by proxy, as it were, I hope that he will let me get on with my exposition of the Bill.
Substantially, the general recommendation of the Select Committee, which I endorse, was that it would be good for public confidence, good for the police, and ultimately good for police morale if a lay element were introduced into the procedures. That is the basis of the Bill.
In the evidence presented to the Committee, many different views were expressed, but there was a wide range of consultation across the whole spectrum of police, local authority and lay opinion, and the general case for an independent element was supported by, among others, the chief constable of Birmingham and the deputy chief constables of Warwickshire and Coventry.
I realise that there are many who feel that only a wholly independent inquiry taken completely out of the hands of the police will suffice. That is the basic view of the National Council for Civil Liberties, which has been good enough to be of some assistance in the discussions and drafting of the Bill but which has made perfectly clear in the circular sent 944 to hon. Members that, in its view, the Bill is only half a loaf, or less than that.
In my opinion, the introduction of the lay element at the review stage will not only achieve at this moment that wide measure of public as well as police support which is necessary but it will probably do the job, as suggested by the right hon. Member for Ashford and his Committee.
I do not consider that we should destroy the present procedures under Section 49, but there is a real need for a body which is seen to be independent before which either the complainant or a policeman complained of can go. Such a body should exist to scrutinise the adequacy of the investigation under Section 49 and pronounce on the correctness or otherwise of the decision taken, though not, I hasten to say, since the question of double jeopardy has been raised, to put the policeman originally complained of on trial once more. That is neither the purpose nor the result of the Bill.
The Bill is providing redress rather than revenge. It is not a "pound-of-flesh" Bill. There is nothing here for a complainant who simply wishes to see a policeman about whom he originally complained put once more in the dock. We are here discussing the way in which an investigation under Section 49 and in the equivalent Scottish Act is carried out and to satisfy a wider public that the investigation is carried out fairly and properly. So for England and Wales we are suggesting that the tribunals be formed on a regional basis with not more than 10—possibly eight or nine—of which obviously the metropolitan area would be one, with a legally qualified chairman and one other member at no time connected with the police, although a third member could be a serving police officer or a retired former policeman.
§ Mr. Christopher Woodhouse (Oxford)
Would I be right in understanding from what the hon. Member just said that in the case of a police officer against whom his chief constable has already decided not to take disciplinary action on a complaint and has then been investigated by the lay tribunal, even if the tribunal finds the chief constable to have been wrong not to have taken disciplinary action that there would still be no disciplinary action against the police officer in question?
§ Mr. Whitehead
That is correct. In no sense is the tribunal to be a court which will put the policeman on trial again. As I understand it, that is the technically accurate meaning of the phrase "double jeopardy".
The purpose of the tribunals would be, as is made quite clear in the wording of the Bill, to put their findings—and I stress the word "findings"—at the disposal of the interested parties in the case. Hon. Members will see from Section 49(b)(3) that on completing the review the tribunal shall send a statement of its findings to the complainant, to the police officer against whom the complaint was made, to the chief officer of the police force concerned, to the relevant police authority and to the Secretary of State.
I stress once again that this is not with a view to opening disciplinary proceedings where those proceedings have been considered and rejected, but simply so that the process of the investigation can be correctly supervised and a measured judgment upon them can be given. As for the police officer, I reiterate that it is essential that the policeman should also be able to go before the tribunal if he believes there has been a malicious complaint, or if he has been framed—and such things do happen—and if, for one reason or another, the investigation which was held into his alleged malpractices took inadequate account of that fact. He should be limited in appearing before the tribunal only to the extent that when he has appealed already to the Home Secretary under Section 37(1) of the 1964 Act he will not then be entitled to refer a complaint against him to a review tribunal. Naturally, very few appeals by policemen are granted by the Home Secretary. I think there were 37 appeals in the last year for which we have figures, only two of which were upheld by the Secretary of State and no independent inquiries were set up by the Secretary of State as he is empowered to do under, I think, Schedule 5 of the 1964 Act.
One can therefore say that there must be a number of policemen who feel that they have a case which has not been properly investigated and who would have liked to go to review tribunal, just as there are complainants who feel dissatisfied with the present procedures. We 946 believe that the procedure of review tribunals should be prescribed largely in rules made by the Home Secretary and subject to the approval of Parliament.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
presume that my hon. Friend is now alluding to Clause 3 and the reference to Section 49B. The thing that worries me a little is that it seems that what is envisaged here is that the representations to the review body shall be made in writing. How can the review body properly assess the character of the complainant and the respondent, which must be relevant to the conclusion that they reach, simply by perusing written documentations? Oughet not there to be a procedure whereby oral evidence is submitted, with the attendance of witnesses if necesary and a proper scrutiny of the allegations that are made?
§ Mr. Whitehead
The tribunal should be able to request such evidence as my hon. Friend suggests. It can require written submissions. Several hon. Members have asked me if this means that the Bill contains the powers to subpoena and that there were penalties for those who did not make such written submissions. We do not envisage that. What we say is that if either a complainant or a police officer complained of refuses to make such a submission, that would be a material part of the findings of the tribunal and a matter of regret about which I imagine the tribunal would speak strongly.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
I do not wish to delay my hon. Friend further, but so that all our minds may be clarified will he confirm that under Section 49B(2) the regulations which the Secretary of State may make will include regulations enabling oral evidence to be taken if that were felt desirable.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. As usual, he has read the small print of the Bill as closely as, or more closely than, I have. What he said is the case. That is one of the things that we have deliberately left largely with the discretion of the Secretary of State precisely because there are points which would be raised today and, I hope, in Committee, where matters of this kind are best left to his discretion and his direction.
947 The Bill expressly provides that where the complainant refers the complaint to the tribunal for review the police officer complained of should be notified of that fact at this stage, not at an early stage. Various representations have been made to us by the Police Federation that a statement should be put before the police officer at the stage of the original opening of the investigation by the police force concerned. Since we have not in any other respect decided to alter the existing wording and procedures of Section 49 we have not felt able to do so in this respect either. At the point of the opening of the tribunal each party in each district must be notified of the fact and each must be expressly notified of their right to make submissions to the tribunal on matters relating to its inquiry.
As I tried to assure my hon. and learned Friend a moment ago, I think the tribunals will need information to deal properly with a reference and they must have the power to require the complainant or police officer to provide it.
The conclusion of the tribunal's proceedings will be that full reports of the findings are placed not only before the two parties but also before the chief officer who was ultimately responsible for the way in which the original investigation was carried out and the police authority which has the powers now under Section 50, but does not always use them, to make a close scrutiny of the way in which that chief officer's force has conducted itself, either quarterly or annually, and before the Secretary of State acts, if there were cases of grave malpractice there would be a call which the Secretary of State would find difficult to resist for an investigation initiated by him into the force concerned.
I turn to the question of the police authorities themselves and the report on the reference which must be made by the tribunal when its findings come out. Several hon. Members have suggested that we are in some way belittling or demeaning the rôle of the police authorities by setting up tribunals and investigation to do what they can already do under Section 50. But they do not do it. They do not themselves initiate an investigation into the procedures by which complaints have been investigated and from all we have seen and from the many 948 statements which have been made, notably by some of Her Majesty's inspectors, it appears that police authorities take a somewhat passive view of these matters and of the way in which they should consider reports when these are presented by the chief officers concerned.
I should like to read a short extract from a study of the police vis-à-vis one minority—a study that looked at the same area as the Select Committee did. Discussing the question of the authorities, Mr. Derek Humphry said:in the provinces the public fancies that its Watch Committee run the police. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially since the 1964 Police Act which restricted their powers to little more than supervision of finance.Over a year I made a point of asking members of Watch Committees how powerful they thought they were; how much of a brake could they keep on the Chief Constables? The older ones were satisfied and talked of its being a matter of understanding between them and the Chief. Younger, more inquiring minds stated quite bluntly that they had no real influence and even less knowledge of the inner wheels of the police.The presentation of the findings of the tribunal to the police authority in each case would materially assist the authority to assert itself rather more, as it was exhorted to do by the previous Secretary of State in December 1971. I understand that the Secretary of State is to intervene at a later stage. I realise that there will be calls for us to think again, for the sponsors of the Bill to permit further consultations to go on. I hope that the Secretary of State will say that he now accepts that a policy change is possible, desirable and even imminent, and that he can now accept the principle of the independent lay element in the complaints procedure, as his predecessor felt unable to do two years ago.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will go further, and tell us that he envisages early non-statutory experiments and legislation, with a timetable which can bring the Bill into law. Naturally, I am prejudiced in favour of my own Bill, and I hope that he will allow it to go to Standing Committee. I believe that it is a good Bill, which has taken account of many of the reservations put to us by those who will be intimately affected by the proceedings of the tribunals if they are brought into being.
949 Police confidence and police morale are inexplicably intermingled with public confidence and public morale. Public confidence in the police is highest when it can be seen that the police are doing their increasingly difficult job fairly and properly. None of us involved in the introduction of the Bill suggests that the vast majority of the police are other than scruplously fair and honest. It is in only a tiny minority of cases that that might not be so. In those cases the review tribunals are doubly necessary.
Public confidence could be improved by the introduction of the independent element where the public were suspicious about an investigation because of the low incidence of disciplinary actions, the overruling of outside investigating officers, the comparative brevity of the reports, or the lack of supporting evidence for the reports given to the complainant. If for any of those reasons the public are currently dissatisfied or sceptical about the conduct of investigations under Section 49, the Bill is necessary.
It has very truly been said that nothing can stand against an idea that has found its time. There have been long debates over the past few years, ever since the last Royal Commision on the question of the independent element in the review of complaints. With the working party and the right hon. Gentleman's Select Committee behind us, and with deliberations that must now go into the Bill here and in Committee, we can see that the idea has found its time, and I hope that the House will give the Bill its Second Reading.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) both on his choice of Bill and on the way in which he has justified it. We shall all warmly endorse his concluding remarks on the conduct of the police in general.
But the hon. Gentleman will be warned by the interventions during his speech that he has embarked upon a somewhat hazardous course. As he will find before he finishes, this is not a flat race but one over a number of hurdles. Nevertheless, I support the Bill, and my name appears on the back of it, partly for the reasons the hon. Gentleman has already made clear—my connections with the Select Committee and its recommenda- 950 tion—but also because the hon. Gentleman's initiative gives us an opportunity to get the subject out of a rut in which it has lain for rather too long.
Doubts whether the present system of dealing with complaints against the police is wholly satisfactory, from either the public or police point of view, are not the monopoly of the National Council for Civil Liberties. They are much more widely shared, certainly by many policemen of all ranks.
This is not wholly due to feeling about the police themselves. We have had the advent of the Ombudsman since the Police Act 1964, and the opportunity to see how he has gone about this sort of work in other spheres. In a sense, there is a public desire to see an appeal procedure in such matters taken a step further.
Those general impressions in my mind were very much confirmed by last year's investigation which the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration undertook on immigrant-police relationships. They were on a limited front, but they afforded considerable insight into complaints procedure. The Select Committee took a great deal of evidence on it.
I cannot think of any area we visited in which the subject did not arise and on which we did not have evidence from both the police and the public. As the hon. Gentleman fairly said—I do not want to enter into the dispute between him and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) on the matter—of the alternatives available we expressed a cautious preference for that solution which broadly forms the basis of the Bill.
Before going into further details I should like to deal with one question that I know lies uppermost in the minds of a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends: "Why not leave it alone?" As seen by a number of Conservative sympathisers, the Bill is in a sense a potential stalking horse for the police. As some see it, fairly, the police are now under heavy pressure, perhaps the heaviest at any time in their history. In all the circumstances, morale is remarkably high but it is not to be taken for granted.
The balance between the police and the forces aligned against them is very delicate, and the argument is that any move 951 that might be interpreted as tilting the balance against the police would be damaging and therefore should be avoided I am very conscious of that attitude of mind, and it must be respected.
Not the least of the police adversaries are not the criminals but those, a very small minority, who within the law seek consistently and sedulously to discredit the police. Those who are at odds with our society and such authority as remains to us are fully aware that to undermine the credit of the servants of authority is to take a cardinal step. To complain against the conduct of the police, as any practising lawyer present will agree, has become a reflex action among many who fall foul of the criminal law. To dismiss the complaints procedure as so much whitewash is part of the same armoury.
Those are very strong arguments, and I well understand them inclining many minds against altering the system of complaints procedure. It will seem to such minds that this sort of exercise is gratuitously derogatory of the police and takes the wrong side.
But when we have accepted the force of that thinking we must ask and answer the question whether the present procedure helps or hinders the police, whether on balance it is an asset to them or to their adversaries. I have reluctantly concluded that the system now working is less of an asset to the police than to their adversaries. That is why I seek a change and why I support, with reservations, the Bill and the hon. Gentleman's approach to it.
I turn now to defects in the system as we saw them in the Select Committee. Proceedings under Section 49 are very long. They are thorough and complicated both for the complainant and for the police. I shall not quote paragraphs 326 and 327 of our report, but they make the point clear. Moreover, there is no shortened version. There is no alternative to going through the whole gamut of what is laid down in Section 49. Once a complaint has been entered, this protracted procedure must be carried out through a series of steps amounting to about a dozen. An enormous amount of time of senior police officers is consumed by these inquiries even when the complaint turns out at the end of the day to have been trivial or even vexatious. 952 This very vigour and thoroughness means a long delay between the complaint being laid and the resulting verdict.
Moreover, the virtue of this thoroughness does very little to impress the public or inspire their confidence, because they see nothing of it. Members of the Select Committee were astonished when the first senior police officer to give evidence spelt out to them precisely what happens when a complaint is made against one of his policemen. If we were surprised, it might be said that the public would be even more surprised. But it is lost upon them and therefore has a diminished value. It is invisible and is behind closed doors. I do not say that in a pejorative sense but because it is a fact. It is an arrangement bound to assist those who would seek to prove that the acquittal of a policeman who has been accused of something is no more than whitewash.
In my view, the public are well served by the system as it is. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman endorsed that view. But, alas, too many of the public do not realise it. I stress to my hon. Friends who have doubts about this fresh approach that the police are getting the worst of both worlds. They are spending a great deal of time in following the procedure of Section 49 without getting credit from the public for what they are doing.
I fully accept that when we consider alternatives formidable difficulties present themselves. Some would plump for the investigation of complaints by independent persons, perhaps assisted by a police assessor. This has long been a considerable school of thought—but it would present obvious difficulties. A sound investigation requires an insight into police methods and police discipline which only an experienced professional will acquire. But once he has acquired it there is some danger of his becoming or being seen as part of the system and exposed to the criticism now levelled against the system, that it is a closed shop.
Then there is the modified version—a police inquiry with a lay assessor. But to this the same objections could lie. How long would it be before the lay assessor was seen not as a public representative or as a public safeguard but in a sense as a police stooge?
So, in our own investigations we on the Select Committee concluded that the 953 most promising approach would be to add to the present system a review on appeal by an independent tribunal when either the complainant or the policeman was dissatisfied. Notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman has said, it is still not difficult to raise difficulties and objections even to that course. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) raised the question of double jeopardy. I accept that the Bill goes a long way towards meeting that but circumstances could arise in which it confronted us with a dilemma.
First, if we are concerned about the time-consuming nature of the present procedure, this new addition would not shorten it but would add a fresh annex to the proceedings, so that the agony in a sense would be prolonged. Secondly, if the right of appeal is to be unconditional the tribunals might well be swamped and the system put into difficulties. Thirdly, of course, there is the obvious difficulty of allowing any lay element to reverse a decision taken by a senior police officer whether for or against the accused policeman.
I accept that the hon. Gentleman has gone a considerable way round some of these difficulties. The task of his tribunals, as I understand it, will be really to decide whether the procedure has been conducted fairly by the senior policeman concerned. Nevertheless, that will give rise to further questions. Who, for example, is to be entitled to give testomony? If an injustice has occurred, how would it be reversed? I was reassured to hear the hon. Gentleman's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) that even if it is reversed it does not mean that a policeman once acquitted is going to be brought back to book again. But again there is the point of the appeal to the Home Secretary and of safeguarding that.
When these and other considerations, which I know the hon. Gentleman accepts, are rehearsed, it can be seen that there is no simplistic solution. In a rough analogy, one only has to consider the contents of the Manual of Military Law to realise the complications which arise when one seeks to provide in a sense a separate law for a disciplined service. To arrive at one that in this instance gains the confidence of policemen of all ranks and of the public is all the more difficult.
954 This is why I applaud the hon. Gentleman's solution—perhaps I should say "our" solution. It is the willingness to accept that there is still a great deal of ground work to be covered and tested —probably more than could be safely left to the Standing Committee which would consider the Bill after Second Reading. Having got this far with the hon. Gentleman, I hope that he will feel able to await the reply of the Home Secretary and see how far he is prepared to go. The hon. Gentleman has indicated that that is his intention.
§ Mr. Whitehead
But does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should have some indication of the timetable? Deliberations have taken a considerable time already. The process could go on and on. There could be further changes of face or regime and we could have interminable delays unless we get a timetable.
§ Mr. Deedes
The hon. Gentleman has anticipated me. Having said what I hope the hon. Gentleman will do, I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able in the first case to accept that the point has been passed when we can simply do nothing, that the present system must he reviewed and revised if it is to keep the confidence of police and public. Moreover, I hope he will accept that this conclusion is not simply due to the cumulative pressure of police critics but is widely shared by all ranks of the police themselves. If he accepts that and undertakes that the Bill will form the basis for action I fully take the hon. Members point that we ought to have some indication about time. He has rightly reminded us that the working party was set up by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) who was then Home Secretary in the Labour Government of 1969. It has been in the Home Office since, if not gathering dust then at least invisible to everyone else. The subject is too important to push into acceptance proposals which may not work, not least because there has been insufficient consultation. "Consultation" is a deadly word when used to procrastinate what ought to be done fairly quickly.
In this instance however I fully accept that we cannot possibly get a workable solution unless there is consultation and 955 —some of my hon. Friends will be pointing this out—not only with all ranks of the police but with certain other persons too. If the Bill is taken as a springboard for action—and I believe that is what the hon. Gentleman wants—then I think he will be satisfied that it has done a good job of work. It has taken the work of a great many people, not only the Select Committee and the hon. Gentleman, but many others who have been interested in this, a logical step forward since the proposals were made. The first proposals were tentative, the first of their kind, and emerged from proceedings on the Police Act 1964.
This Bill must not be allowed to gather dust alongside the report of the working party. It must be made a signal for action and if it requires statutory action that must be brought into the foreseeable scheme of things and not postponed without a date. If that assurance can be given, many of us will be satisfied. My hon. and learned Friend should be aware that in a sense the Bill leaves uninvestigated and not dealt with a number of difficult details which may yet arise. The supporters of this Bill will get some satisfaction from this solution and I hope that by that means my hon. and learned Friend will be able to satisfy both sides.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
As the House knows, I have the honour to act as the parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation for England and Wales. Thus, I should like briefly to explain the federation's initial reaction to the Bill. First, however, I must pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) for his unhesitating agreement to consult the federation when preparing the Bill. My hon. Friend had several meetings with Mr. R. H. Pamplin, the wise and respected secretary of the federation, and with me, before the Bill reached the Vote Office.
All of us recognise my hon. Friend's unfailing courtesy, industry and integrity. Notwithstanding our new and improved arrangements for Private Member's Bills, it is still a daunting task for any private Member to propose a measure of this kind. My own experience, when drafting what is now the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, and two other 956 Bills which have become law, gives me an abiding sense of the difficulties facing any private Member who wishes to promote a Bill of his choosing.
There is no real difficulty for the Member who is prepared to take a pre-drafted Bill from some wealthy pressure group. But fortunately there are still those, on both sides of the House, who are prepared to face the challenge of starting from scratch with a Bill of their own. My hon. Friend is such a Member and deserves credit for the efforts he has made to produce an acceptable Bill.
I know that my hon. Friend entirely understands the federation's viewpoint which is that there is still a need for some important matters to be clarified and for the Bill to be amended at certain points. My hon. Friend well appreciates, from his meetings with Dick Pamplin, that the federation needs no reminding that it is the public interest that must be served in resolving complaints against the police, whether they are complaints from outside the service or from one police officer against another.
The federation has consistently held that the chief officer, if he is to be the chief officer properly so called, must at all times be the disciplinary authority. The federation further insists that its members must not be placed in double jeopardy by any proceedings for reviewing the investigation of complaints. If the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, I hope that when the Bill becomes law it will in no way damage the principles argued in the federation's detailed submissions to my hon. Friend. If we reach an accommodation in Committee, as I am sure we can if the quality of consultation is preserved, there is no reason why these principles should be damaged.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
In principle my hon. Friend has cited again the concept of the constable not being placed in double jeopardy. Is he not aware that there are a considerable number of cases, certainly in my experience, when it is often the complainant who would face a similar situation? A complainant may have been before the court, the case against him has collapsed, and if there are to be further proceedings he would have to go through the same procedure again. It is not quite one-sided. The 957 public too will have to submit themselves to a tribunal if they wish to pursue the point. I know of many people who are not prepared, even under this procedure, to go on further when they have endured the acquittal at court.
§ Mr. Morris
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have not suggested that the matter is in any way one-sided. I shall return to the question of double jeopardy, but first I want to deal with some specific points in the Bill. The wordscontrary to the public interestin Clause 2(i) are not necessary with regard to reports normally submitted by chief constables to police authorities under Section 12(1) of the Police Act 1964. Such reports are generally available at present. Clause 2(2) concerns the publication of reports under Section 30(1) of the 1964 Act and should clearly have the qualifying words:except in so far as it would be contrary to the public interest to do so.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I am not sure whether I heard my hon. Friend correctly, but I think he said that the reports are generally available at present. Is he aware that last year the National Council for Civil Liberties wrote around to police authorities and 35 of them declined to make available a copy of the chief officer's report? It is still the case that some individuals to my knowledge have gone to their local police authority for a report but have not obtained it. I was told of a case the other day by Mr. Tom Harper in which a police authority said, "Go and look in the library, you might find it there." Reports are not generally available to the public and that is what the Bill seeks to make mandatory.
§ Mr. Morris
My hon. Friend may, however, agree that any necessary changes in procedure may not require a change in the law. I am sure he will agree also that I should not make an unduly long speech, thus delaying the conclusion of the debate. I know that on this point, as on others to which I shall refer, my hon. Friend will be prepared to look carefully at the viewpoint of the federation in Committee.
In Clause 3, there is the proposed amendment to Section 49 of the 1964 958 Act. In lines 25, 26 and 27, the police officer is prohibited from referring his case to the review tribunal if he has already appealed to the Secretary of State under Section 37(1) of the 1964 Act. This is a deeply important matter in the federation's view. There is a disquieting reluctance on the part of the Secretary of State to accede to applications for tribunals to re-hear evidence in a disputed case.
The vast majority of appeals are dealt with by consideration of written reports only. The federation feels strongly that where the Secretary of State refuses a member's application for setting up a tribunal to re-hear evidence, then the review tribunal proposed in this Bill could be used to ask the Secretary of State to reconsider his decision.
There have been some extremely disquieting cases which, in the view of officers of the federation, clearly merited a review tribunal. The Minister of State will be aware that there has not been a review tribunal for over two years. There are about 30 disputed cases a year. Thus there will have been over 60 disputed cases since there was a review tribunal.
I should like briefly to refer to the case of Sergeant James O'Connell and Sergeant Jack Richardson of the Hampshire constabulary. There is a strong feeling among federationists that there may well have been a serious miscarriage of justice in this case. The case concerned a series of incidents which occurred during the night of 18th-19th December 1970. In the dying minutes of the hearing of the case by the chief constable, he said "I do not know what happened that night in detail—I wish I did—I wish I could understand but I cannot". He then awarded three virtually top-weight punishments as being appropriate, in his view, for some of the details of the night's occurrences. There should have been a tribunal in this case.
Then there is the case of Police Constable Morris—he is not my relative—of the Hertfordshire constabulary. The case basically concerns the matrimonial difficulties of this police officer. I believe it would have been unthinkable for a man to have been treated as Police Constable Mortis has been treated if he had come from any other walk of life.
959 I hope that the Minister of State will now agree that there are strong grounds for the disquiet which exists among federationists on the question of review tribunals. It is wholly unbelievable that there has not been a single case since the beginning of 1971 in which a review tribunal was necessary.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully and I hope that I have not misunderstood him, but would it not be right to say that in the two cases he has quoted the procedure proposed in the Bill would have provided the redress for the police officers which the hon. Gentleman seeks?
§ Mr. Morris
I am coming to that point. In view of the federation, the Bill as drafted does not provide the answer in such cases.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
Will the hon. Gentleman note, if he is not already aware of it, that, while the Superintendents' Association, whose members must carry out a large number of the investigations into complaints, is not opposed to adequate review machinery being introduced, it shares entirely his view about the inadequacy of the Bill to meet the situation?
§ Mr. Morris
I am very mindful of the need for further consultation with the Superintendents' Association. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North had taken the point very much to heart when it was raised previously.
I now wish to refer to the proposed new Section 49B of the Police Act 1964. There appears to be some confusion in subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b) as to the circumstances in which the police officer and/or complainant may make submissions or may be required to make submissions. I presume that the requirement in subsection (1)(a) to notify the police officer or, as the case may be, the complainant, relates to the party who has not been the cause of the reference to the review tribunal. Is the explanation that the police officer or complainant may, in these circumstances, make submissions?
In subsection (1)(b) it appears that the police officer or, as the case may be, the complainant, is in these circumstances the person responsible for the reference to 960 the review tribunal and that he may, therefore, be required to make submissions on any matter relevant to the complaint. If that is not the explanation for paragraphs (a) and (b) in subsection (1), there is some confusion between the suggestion in subsection (1)(a) that he may make submissions and the requirement to do so in subsection (1)(b). I am sure that my hon. Friend will wish carefully to consider this matter in Committee.
There is serious concern in the federation that, in the even of a member of the public raising a matter with the review tribunal, the individual police officer will be required to make submissions. The federation believes that it would be for the chief officer responsible for the investigation of the complaint to make submissions and not for the individual officer to do so. Any suggestion that the officer's conduct was to be investigated by the tribunal would mean that he or she was being placed in jeopardy for a second time. This matter must be clarified at an early date.
I say again to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) that the federation is right to be concerned about the danger of double jeopardy, to whomsoever it may apply. I know that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North will take very carefully into account the point I have just made.
Subsection (3) of the proposed new Section 49B deals with the action to be taken by the review tribunal when it comes to a conclusion on a complaint. It is left completely open what will then happen in consequence of the findings of the tribunal. The federation believes that it must be made crystal clear that any forthcoming criticism is directed to the chief officer of the force concerned and, in particular, to his administration of the investigation of complaints in his force. The individual officer must not be subjected to recriminations or punishment.
There is a long-standing grievance among police officers involved in complaints made by the public which is not resolved in the Bill as drafted. Even when a complaint is believed to be malicious and completely unfounded, it is not normally possible for the police officer who is the subject of complaint 961 to be given a copy of the original complaint made to his chief officer. There is a long history of difficulties arising from this problem because, at one juncture, the Secretary of State gave advice to chief officers that it would not be appropriate for letters of complaint to be made available to the officers concerned. That advice is now modified by the Secretary of State having asked chief officers to decide for themselves what course to follow. In the minds of the vast majority of chief officers, however, the belief unfortunately appears to persist that they are in breach of some form of privilege if they make the document available to the police officer involved.
Police officers have civil and human rights like every other citizen. There is the classic case—a Scottish case—in which a police officer was pruning a tree in the garden of his council house. A neighbour complained that he was destroying council property. An investigation was held, which established that the officer had planted and owned the tree. The assumption here, as in so many other cases, is that the police officer's civil and human rights are not as great as those of other people.
I know that my hon. Friend, indeed the whole House, recognises the outstanding service given by the policemen and the policewomen of this country. I ask him again to take very carefully into account the constructive suggestions which will be put to him in Committee. They include points which have been made to him already by the Secretary of the federation and by me. I can see no reason why an acceptable Bill should not emerge from Committee if there is the same kind of consultation which we have already enjoyed with my hon. Friend.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler (Nottingham, South)
I would first pay tribute to the very moderate way in which the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) proposed the Bill. I found myself in agreement with a great deal of what he said. I apologise if I seem to make heavy weather of this, but the only reason I intervened in his speech was to make it absolutely clear for the record, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), that what the 962 Select Committee on Race Relations said was a cautious recommendation in principle. We were in favour of the independent element in principle. I most certainly am in favour of the independent element, and have been since 1964 when my first pamphlet was published on this. However, for various reasons I may not find myself able to support the Bill.
In considering this broad area there are two factors we must bear in mind. The first is the confidence which the public can have in the police. Nothing can be more vital than that, and the police service depends on the cooperation, on the help, on the support of the public. Without that support its effectiveness is very substantially reduced. We are very fortunate in this country that predominantly the public do have this confidence in the police. I do not say that complacently. Attitudes change; they have changed in the past. Therefore, any Government, or any chief constable, or any policeman who takes a complacent attitude about this, who does not regard this area of being of the utmost importance, is, in my view, failing in duty. So I share very much the concern of the hon. Gentleman about that, and I agree with him that there are danger signs. He mentioned one—the area of immigrant-police relations. I perhaps could mention another—the relations of young people with the police. I think that in both respects there are danger signs which this House should note.
There is, however, a second factor to be borne in mind, and that is the morale of the police service itself. This is important because if police morale is reduced by any scheme which we introduce, that will defeat the whole aim of what we are trying to do. It would defeat it because a service whose morale suffered would be more likely to come into conflict with public. If, for example, we were to give the impression that the system favours the complainant, or that the system enables anyone and everyone to have a knock at the police, this would have a dangerous effect on ordinary policemen. Again, fortunately, under our present system—I have criticisms of it—this is basically not the case.
The morale of the police force is high, but, again, there are danger signs, risks which we in this House should note. It hardly needs any emphasis from me that 963 the police service suffers from overworking. It is overworked because a variety of duties is thrust upon it from the registration of immigrants to the licensing of shotguns, but, basically, the police are overworked because they have never been under greater pressure than they are today in carrying out their basic functions of preventing and detecting crime. Several forces have been severely under strength. In others, long hours of overtime have to be worked.
Therefore it is not surprising that they resent it that too many trivial, unjustified or malicious complaints are made against them. I give one figure. Over the last three years the annual total of complaints against the police forces in England and Wales including the Metropolitan Police has been about 12,000. Of those only 10 per cent. have been substantiated under the procedures which we now have.
Of course, some will say that that is the result of those very procedures, but I suggest that it takes an exceptionally well-developed conspiracy theory about the police to believe that those figures show a great cover-up. My impression is that policemen generally are as insistent as everyone else that those in the service who have abused their power need to be punished. One can make a very strong case for saying that chief constables and other police are insistent that culprits within the service should be brought to book.
What they resent is the number of groundless complaints which are made. What they resent is the number of trivial complaints. They resent them because of the great wastage of time involved in dealing with them—an enormous amount of police time that could be spent on other, more essential, duties. Then, also, there are the costs, which must run into literally hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions. They also resent such charges because for the individual policman they can mean long periods under a cloud of investigation, under uncertainty, and, in some cases, even suspension from the service itself.
I suggest that while we take into account the public's feelings we must also, in this Bill, take into account the police feeling as well. I would say that this should be taken into account in any new system which we devise.
964 I have a number of criticisms in detail of this Bill. As far as I can see, there is no system for separating the serious and the trivial complaints. This is a very difficult area. That I do not dispute. This was also one of the things, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford would confirm, which we also found in the Select Committee when we were taking evidence from the police—that there was this feeling that a great number of trivial complaints were made. As I see it, the member of the public who alleges that a policeman has, for example, been rude to him has the same access to the tribunal for appeal as someone who alleges a far more serious offence, as, for example, assault.
§ Mr. Whitehead
The hon. Member will agree that the police in their investigations under Section 49 have to take every, and ostensibly, trivial complaint seriously because it may turn out to be serious. So the tribunals would have to do the same thing. This Bill, after all, is an amending Bill. What I would say to him is that a tribunal ought to be able to state in its findings that the complaint is trivial, or also, and more so, that it is malicious. The tribunal would be in a better position to do so than investigating officers within the police.
§ Mr. Fowler
I recognise the difficulties the hon. Gentleman is in. I do not for one moment pretend that it will be easy to distinguish between the trivial and the more serious cases which an appeal tribunal would look at, but what I do think is that we should make some attempt, if it is possible to do so. Perhaps I may be allowed to develop my argument and come on to what I have in mind because I wish to explain my fear.
Past experience of complaints has suggested that people are fairly free in making complaints, and there is nothing to suggest that they will not appeal as well, and that the great number of cases going to the tribunals could become a flood. I would make that cautionary point. I acknowledge that the policeman has a right of appeal to the tribunal. That is useful, but in practice the system would be used predominantly by the dissatisfied complainant. That is my criticism of the detail.
965 Even more basic to the aim of improving relations between the police and the public is our approach to improving the complaints system. The approach adopted by the hon. Member for Derby, North is the tribunal. There is another approach, and that is to improve the investigating procedure so as to demonstrate its fairness. It is the investigating system that is most important. To the public the tribunal has a public relations appeal, but it is the investigating system that really matters. Everything depends upon the evidence given to and the result of the investigating procedure. It is on the basis of that procedure that the chief constable and the Director of Public Prosecutions make their findings, and so, too, will the tribunal. That is the side that we should look at first.
I am not calling for an independent investigating body. This work must be done by policemen. CID men and uniformed officers have the experience to undertake these investigations.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that what he is saying is that the police will be judges in their own cause?
§ Mr. Fowler
I appreciate that, and it is probably the most obvious point of the whole debate. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me, I will continue my argument.
I see no alternative to policemen carrying out the investigation. What matters is how that investigating team is organised and controlled. There are obvious difficulties if the investigating officers are drawn from the same section of the police force as those whom they are investigating.
I draw attention to the complaints branch that has been formed at Scotland Yard. It is a separate branch, headed by a commander who is directly responsible to the Deputy Commissioner. It is staffed by members of the CID and the uniformed branch on secondment. It is an excellent scheme which should be substantially expanded.
I have been fortunate in being able to study at close quarters the complaints procedure in Holland. The scheme in Holland is similar to the Scotland Yard system with the exception that there has 966 been set up what is in effect a small investigating complaints force. It is staffed by men who are permanently seconded to it, and it is organised in this way to demonstrate the fairness of the investigating process. In Holland, where civil liberties are taken as seriously as they are here, this system has not led to complaints from the public.
§ Mr. Abse
On the question of investigation, what happens at the end of the day? As a Member of Parliament, is the hon. Gentleman satisfied, when he has sent to the police a complaint which has been made to him by a constituent, to receive the usual peremptory reply from the chief constable, "I have investigated the report and I find that there is nothing which justifies proceedings"? If the hon. Gentleman is not satisfied, as I am not when I receive such an abrupt reply, how can he expect the general public to be satisfied?
§ Mr. Fowler
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. That point lies at the centre of our approach to this whole matter.
Perhaps in this country we would not be prepared to go as far as the Dutch in having a separate investigating body within the police service. I suggest that we could do so in those forces which are large enough to set up their own separate complaints system. The size of some forces will not justify the cost of such a system and for those forces I suggest this alternative. We already have regional crime squads which are separate from the local forces but rely upon them. My suggestion is that we should add to the structure of the regional crime squads by setting up regional complaints investigating departments, responsible for investigating serious complaints within their own regions. I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Derby, North has proposed, so in addition I would incorporate, as the Bill tries to do, an independent element in the tribunal system.
We should have to examine very closely whether there could be a screening process to separate the trivial from the serious so that only the serious complaints would go to the tribunal.
§ Mr. Deedes
I am a little unsure whether separating the trivial from the serious would have the effect that my 967 hon. Friend hopes. Is it not important that trivial complaints should be exposed by the tribunal?
§ Mr. Fowler
One could make a case for that. On the other hand, balanced against that is the fact that if a large number of cases were to go to the tribunals they would be in danger of being flooded. I have just returned from another part of the globe where a screening process is carried out, and that is exactly what is happening.
I oppose the Bill, but not on principle. Reform in this area is absolutely necessary. It affects the public and a police service of 100,000 policemen. Reform is urgent and it should be a Government measure. Only the Government have the resources to carry out the necessary consultations. As a matter of urgency I should like the Government to initiate discussions with the police and all interested bodies on a change in the system. This need not be a prolonged process. We already have the report of the working party and this report should be published. It is unbelievable that we should have gone to the trouble of setting up a working party to look into this whole matter on which there is so much debate and on which we need practical proposals and that that report should remain unpublished so that we are unable to be guided by it.
The Government should examine this whole matter and present to us their proposals within a few months. We should then be in possession of a complete set of proposals. To allow the Bill to go through without having a complete set of proposals would be wrong. For that reason I oppose the Bill, but I echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, that reform is necessary and urgent.
§ 12.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
In approaching an institution which has been with us for so long as has the police service we must do so with some delicacy and with an historical sense. In listening to the sponsor of the Bill and to other hon. Members I have been surprised at their timidity and deference. The Bill has been presented as if it were a reforming measure. In the deepest historical sense 968 it is not; it is a reactionary measure. I do not use that word in a pejorative way We must have an awareness of how our police system, to which we all pay tribute, has evolved, how it has gained in strength and why it has such widespread public esteem.
The principles were laid down as soon as Peel, with his extraordinary tact and not a little guile, overcame the inevitable vested interests which then, as now, find expression, brought the force into existence in 1829. The first commissioners knew that if the public were to have confidence in the force they must have full opportunity to make complaints about any misconduct by the police. From the very beginning the Police Federation has had this historical understanding and leans back upon that great tradition.
Within a few years after the police force came into existence in 1829, tough as the procedures then were, they were made even tougher. At the prompting of the first commissioners the procedures were statutorily strengthened within four years of the passing of the Act, and the magistrates were given powers for all complaints to be investigated by them, even if they were only breaches of police discipline, and to fine and sentence those found guilty.
The early police commissioners caused a Select Committee of this House to be told that a public investigation by magistrates could remove any suspicion of bias or undue leniency and would be more satisfactory to public opinion. From the beginning they used a public investigation into complaints to establish in a sceptical public a well-founded confidence in the new institution. In these procedures, when confidence became more certain the investigations became less stringent. The situation has changed. Clearly confidence is no longer as high.
Therefore, it is time we turned back to the traditional and well-tried techniques to protect the estimation the public need to have of their police forces, if the extraordinarily benign influence that the policeman has on our way of life is to continue. We would be foolish if we were to allow a succession of scandals precipitated by a small but unfortunately not insignificant minority of policemen to minimise our sense of shock whenever the considerable tradition of integrity in our police forces 969 is dented. We should not reconcile ourselves to an inevitable lowering of standards.
Not long after I entered the House, it was so jealous then of the reputation of the police forces that the fact that a boy in a Scottish town had been cuffed by a constable and a complaint about the incident ignored was almost the main precipitator for the whole panoply of a Royal Commission on the police.
We must not allow ourselves to become inocculated, as it were, against the seriousness of the growth of complaints, too many of which have proved to be well founded. In the past three years nearly 300 Metropolitan policemen have been in serious trouble. This is serious, even when we consider it, as we must, against the background of 20,000 officers in the force.
There is clearly an overdue need for changes to protect the overwhelming majority of officers who are heavily embarrassed by this small minority. A high-ranking police officer—an inspector of constabulary—has resigned and has told us of his concern at the periodic but very significant failure of police departments to deal effectively with matters which give rise to suspicion of dishonesty. He has also said that a high proportion of serving policemen agree with him but, through a misguided sense of loyalty and a reluctance to deal with their own cloth and, worse, he says, because a small proportion of senior officers has grown up in a tradition of dishonesty, they do not speak up. If that is found by an inspector who finds it necessary to resign, and if it is for those reasons that, as he says, police officers are not speaking up, it is surely time that the House began to intervene.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
My hon. Friend referred to the situation affecting the Metropolitan Police Force and to a certain disquiet which has arisen because of the actions of a relatively small minority of officers Is it not extraordinary that in the circumstances which have arisen the Secretary of State, who has certain powers under Section 49(1), has since 1965 in no sense taken advantage of the procedures available to him to intervene?
§ Mr. Abse
My hon. Friend is emphasising the fact that there are far too many 970 misgivings, that the manner in which it is being dealt with is very troublesome to the general public—not to the paranoiac public—and that it does no good to the police forces or to the House to be excessively diffident in expressing our views about our concern.
It is not only because one is concerned about the level of complaints and the manner in which they are dealt with. There are reasons far more profound than the obvious ones why we need to take every step to ensure that the public has trust in dealing with the police force. It is because I place an extraordinary importance on the rôle of the police, perhaps more than most people do, that I support the Bill.
It is now 18 years since the distinguished anthropologist, Geoffrey Gorer, after conducting with the aid of the research department of a Sunday newspaper a study of the English character, and having questioned a sample of 5,000 people, produced the very convincing hypothesis, based upon the enthusiastic reactions towards the police of those who were polled, that one of the techniques by which the whole national character of society may be modified or transformed over a given period is through the selection of personnel for institutions which are in continuous contact with the mass of the population in a somewhat super-ordinate position.
If the personnel of the institution are chosen chiefly for their approximation to a certain type of character rather than for specific intellectual or physical skills, and if the authority of the institution is generally felt to be benevolent, protective, or succouring, the character exemplified by the members of this institution will, to a certain degree, become part of the ego-ideal of the mass of the population, who will tend to mould their own behaviour in conformity with this ideal and will reward and punish the behaviour of their children in the light of this pattern which they have adopted.
As generations pass the attempt to approximate to this ideal will become less and less conscious and increasingly part of the unconscious mechanisms which determine the content of the ego-ideal, with the consequence that a type of character which may have been relatively very uncommon in the society when the 971 institution was first manned will subsequently become relatively common, and even perhaps typical of the society, or of those portions of it with which the members of the institution are in most continuous contact.
Few assessing the widespread violence in the community before the police force came into existence would doubt Geoffrey Gorer's view. When he probed the attitude of England towards our policemen 18 years ago, the almost unanimous response he obtained was that indeed in London our policemen were wonderful. The fact is, as descriptions of police in novels by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins or as music hall songs and jokes and similar anecdotal evidence establish, that during the whole of the last century the English policeman has been for his peers not only an object of respect but also a model of ideal male character, self-controlled, possessing more strength than he ever has to use in the gravest emergency, fair and impartial—in short, a man who followed the regulation laid down by a Mr. Mayne, one of the first two commissioners in 1830:The constable must remember that there is no qualification more indispensable to a police officer than a perfect command of temper, never suffering himself to be moved in the slightest degree by any language or threats that may be used: if he does his duty in a quiet and determined manner, such conduct would probably induce well-disposed bystanders to assist him should he require it.That emphasis on the prevention of aggression, on the preserving of the peace by a group of powerful men demonstrating self-restraint, was a novelty in English public life, but it had a powerful influence on the character of most of the population who, so to speak, encapsulated the policeman as an ideal and hence became progressively more and more self-policing.
It will be a sad day for England if that identification with the ideal policeman ceases. It will be unfortunate should the time come when the little boy who has lost his dog does not, for aid, turn with absolute trust, to the benevolent police officer, or if the little girl locked out of her house ever hesitates to run into the local police station. We should never forget that what started as an expedient to control the very great criminality and violence of large sections 972 of the English urban population has resulted in a profound modification of the character of this urban population Nor should we forget that among one of the most important reasons that this came about, apart from the fact that the police were never initially segregated in barracks or treated as a para-military organisation, was that every complaint against them was initially publicly investigated.
Yet I doubt whether we could today be as certain of the beneficent character-forming influence of the police as we could have been a few decades ago. It is true that there were complaints then against the police, but when some 16 years ago I was Chairman of the Watch Committee in the capital of Wales, the complaints I received were never of the kind or quantity that caused me any serious misgivings. There have always been complaints from certain criminals making extravagant allegations. The policeman is always in difficulty over the Question of confessions and the complaint that they have been improperly induced.
But the fact is that there are many criminals who are neurotically burdened with a sense of guilt for the childhood crimes that they in fantasy have committed and who stagger inexorably, like doomed characters in a Greek myth, towards the punishments which they demand as their right. These inadequates commit the most petty and stupid of crimes to ensure that the blows of society w ill fall upon them. To guarantee that their claim for punishment shall not be overlooked, they all but leave visiting cards behind when they commit their offences. Some immediately rush off to the police to enjoy the agony of confession —a few even select, and insist upon seeing, a particular officer in whose presence the self-abasement must be conducted. Some of them, on being challenged, readily offer an incriminating statement which they sign and they later repudiate, often suggesting that they have been threatened or beaten into submission by the police.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that some of us are pressing —and I among them—for a very serious change in the practice of the police, a change which I think the hon. Gentleman 973 would endorse. It is true that there sometimes are, though not frequently, complaints that confessions have been wrongfully obtained. The real complaint today in almost every criminal trial is the allegation that the police are putting words into the mouths of accused persons which they have not said. I invite the hon. Gentleman to agree that this practice would end if the accused person were made to sign a true and correct record of any verbal statement which he has made. This would go a long way to remove the cause of difficulties between the police and the accused person.
§ Mr. Abse
The hon. Gentleman seeks to take me along a different path, and I shall resist the temptation to follow him along it. The point I wanted to make is that no doubt there are abuses, and one should have the fairness to recognise that as a result we must appreciate the reaction of the criminal who, through the same sense of guilt, later repudiates what he has said, and often suggests that he has been beaten by the police. The hapless, embarrassed policeman has in fact rarely yielded to this masochism and in the witness box tries to step out of the fantasy role which his determined victim, with exquisite delight, projects upon him. This charade is maintained to the end of the trial and the plea of "not guilty" insisted on by the accused even after conviction, for this repudiation of guilt, despite the confession, is the only way in which the last remnants of self-respect of that accused man can be maintained. The fact that the accused requires both his lawyer and himself to present the denial of his guilt with fervour is only because his shameful need for punishment can remain private.
I say to the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) that in coming to a conclusion as to what should be done in the area to which he has directed his attention, he must understand that such a psychology presents difficulties to the police who must have projected upon them all sorts of allegations which leave the accused with his private dignity.
I do not underestimate the nature of the problem of dealing with these complaints, but these have always been in existence because this has been the psychology of the inadequate criminal. But the complaints being made are, in 974 my judgment, largely of a different nature. For me, in Wales, the turning point in my attitude to this whole question came after the complaints made about police behaviour following upon the anti-Springbok demonstration in Swansea. It will be recalled that altogether 236 members of the public made signed statements about police behaviour as a result of that demonstration. The witnesses included teachers and social workers who came forward making statements alleging that they saw police officers rabbit-punching people, throw them on to spiked railings, purposely stamp on people's spectacles, fling three schoolgirl spectators to the ground, kick men in their testicles, and repeatedly punch people in the face whilst they were being held down by other officers, in some cases alleging that bleeding was caused needing hospital treatment. I recall that a university lecturer, corroborated by an independent witness, reported to the Home Office that he saw a senior officer punch a girl's face until she collapsed backwards into a bush.
Even allowing for the inevitable feeling that is always aroused, fortunately, in the Principality around a rugby game, the bland response to these allegations had a serious effect upon relations between the public and the police. After a five-month investigation, the police, who refused to publish a report or answer any questions beyond announcing that there was no evidence to justify any policeman being prosecuted or even disciplined, regarded the matter as closed.
Is that the type of investigation which commends itself to the hon. Member who has said that he is opposed to this Bill? It is not surprising that it was beyond the credibility of many in Wales that so many witnesses of previous good character should either have been mistaken or that they should have conspired to invent these signed statements. One thing is certain. Whether the allegations were puffed up or not, such internal investigations with such bland findings satisfied nobody.
The Home Office must take a sense of responsibility in this matter. The failure of the Home Office in that case, as in so many others, to use Section 32 of the Police Act, which gives the power to hold a local inquiry, is now adding to the pressure for a new complaints inquiry procedure to come into existence. This 975 Bill is not intended to undermine police morale. It is intended to protect the reputation of the police and to reinforce their former beneficent influence which a small minority is now damaging.
If this procedure becomes law, I hope that it will make the police feel less inhibited to commence prosecutions for deliberate malicious complaints, as they can now do—complaints brought by evil members of the public. I hope that once this procedure, or something very similar, is in existence, with the public sufficiently protected in appropriate cases, officers should be freely assisted in civil litigation against malicious complaints.
There is a mood in this House to which those of us who often participate in Friday debates become very sensitive. The Secretary of State, we are told, is about to emerge. When the Secretary of State emerges in a debate of this kind we can be quite sure that we shall have a trumpeting which in the end will lead not to an acceptance of such a Bill but to a further technique of procrastination. I believe the police should stop leaning against the Home Secretary to the extent to which they are. I believe the Home Secretary should stand up and counsel the police to recognise that this House, expressing the views of its constituents, has come to the end of its patience over forms of procedure which are clandestine and which, however exhaustively conducted, leave the general public with little or no information as to how the police force has come to its conclusions.
I trust, therefore, that we shall not have some soporifics coming along, when the Secretary of State intervenes. I believe that he is mistaking the current mood, and I think that since the nonce are so important a part of the institutions of this country, since the duties which fall upon them are so heavy, since the old reflex to old-established authorities no longer exists, and since there is no longer the high certitude in the police force that existed in the past, it is important that we have a measure which gives an appellate jurisdiction, which protects policemen and public and which will begin to make certain that when a sense of grievance exists we can sort out those who are genuinely aggrieved from the paranoiac. I am very pleased that I have been able to act as a sponsor of such a Bill.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Soref (Ormskirk)
I am grateful for having an opportunity to speak briefly in opposition to this Bill which I believe, however high-minded, is contrary to the public interest and is irrelevant to our times. I have the feeling that the background to events today is contrary to the speeches and sentiments expressed by those who support this Bill.
We are living in a time of increasing violence by criminals, terrorists, murderers and hijackers, and in this climate I do not believe that one can in any way risk affecting the morale of the police, or recruitment to the police, which is equally important. I think the two things hang together.
At the present time the number of crimes involving firearms has increased fourfold since this House abolished hanging. There is now no difference between the maximum punishment that can be imposed on the bank raider who kills and the one who shoots and misses. With the public knowledge, fear and concern about this escalation of violent crime, it seems to me that it is our duty to protect the police, who are the guardians of this country. It is they who make it possible to go about our daily duty peacefully.
It was reported in the Press only yesterday, in relation to the events which took place at the Indian High Commission and elsewhere, that there are now centred in London no fewer than 50 revolutionary groups operating in different aspects of the international revolutionary movement seeking to overthrow our society. Is it not inevitable, with the vast array of international revolutionary activities, that there will be further incidents in this city? For this reason, it is essential to protect the police rather than criticise and attack them.
In a book review in The Times yesterday, the writer referred tothe rôle of the ideological mercenaries—those who transport their quarrels across national frontiers".There is a growing abundance of such people in this city. In face of the massacre at Aldershot and the activities of the Angry Brigade, it is apparent that our society is increasingly open to violence to an extent greater than at any time in our history.
977 I should have expected all hon. Members to recognise, moreover, that events in Ulster have shown how precarious it makes our position if we tamper with or destroy the powers of a police force. We create the ultimate danger if an impression is given that terrorism pays or that the police can be "knocked" with impunity.
§ Mr. Jeffrey Archer (Louth)
Is my hon. Friend saying that however bad one thing is another must not be made better because the first is bad?
§ Mr. Soref
I am not saying anything of the sort. It is my view that the present arrangements are perfectly adequate and, if I am given time to develop my case, I shall show that the present police investigation of their own affairs works adequately. No doubt the arrangements will be improved, but I am certain that the introduction of lawyers and non-policemen will make the situation worse.
I cannot accept the trendy argument that violence is usually the result of just grievances. That argument must be exploded. In the context of our present situation, the arduous and dangerous nature of the life of policemen and police women must be recognised. Every week more policemen are laid off duty because they are kicked, punched or shot—and some, as we know, are killed. According to the Police Federation the number of vicious assaults on the police increases year by year by 13 per cent. or 14 per cent. In January and February of this year the increase was 14 per cent. over the corresponding figure last year, and many cases do not come to the attention of the Federation.
As I see it, the police are the instrument for upholding the freedom of the individual and the rule of law, and it is our duty to uphold and strengthen the authority of the police. To bring lawyers and other outside persons into the investigation of complaints which members of the public may see fit to make would be to run a serious risk with the morale of the police, and that is an aspect of the matter which we ignore at our peril. It could only give heart to criminals and those who wish to destroy law and order and our society.
I believe that the investigation of complaints must remain in the hands of the 978 police. The chief officer must at all times remain the disciplinary authority. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) suggested that in Dickensian times things were rather different, but he did not bring his historical and literary allusions up to date. I doubt that respect for the police among the general public has ever been greater than it is now. It is merely a tiny minority who wish to interfere with the police, and to afford the facilities which the proposed tribunal would create would entail an increasing number of frivolous complaints made in order to discredit the police and undermine their morale.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
Does my hon. Friend agree, in that case, that if we had a proper review tribunal which had power to penalise the bringing of frivolous complaints, it would be an improvement on the present system?
§ Mr. Soref
I believe that not only would the granting of such facilities inevitably produce more frivolous complaints but that a number of criminals seeking revenge would bring new revengeful and retrospective complaints. Matters would escalate so that there would be more and more complaints the whole time. The thing would get out of hand.
§ Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that it would be much to the advantage of the police, whom we all admire in their work, if the widest possible publicity were given, through the channels of an independent review tribunal, to the frivolous nature of many complaints which are made against the police?
§ Mr. Soref
Since such organisations, representing the police, do not believe that it would have that effect, there is no 979 reason to believe that it would, and in my view the morale of the police and police recruiting should have greater consideration.
The hon. Member for Pontypool referred to the demonstrations which took place in South Wales at the time of a rugby match. I would remind the House of the demonstrations which took place in Grosvenor Square and of all the other attacks on the police at the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and the like. The police have had to withstand the most appalling physical injuries and attacks. Those who defame and slander the police, and those who demand death for the police, as is done at every demonstration, are not sued for what they say and do. Why should not the police be protected from such ever-increasing attacks by these who wish to reduce their power and authority, and against slander.
§ Mr. Jeffrey Archer
I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend again. I respect him for the way in which he is prepared to take on everybody. It is a sign of his courage and, though I am not with him in this matter, I admire him for it. Will my hon. Friend agree that, after the Grosvenor Square riots, the reputation of the police rose to a far greater extent than any speeches in this place could raise it, and public respect for the police in this country reached a new high? Will he accept that the tiny minority to whom he refers had no influence whatever on the general public?
§ Mr. Soref
That was but one of many incidents, and there has been an escalation. There have been further attacks on the police in different parts of the country. They may not have been on quite such a large scale, but that they have occurred is beyond doubt. And they will continue.
There have been references in the debate to the complications which the development of a multi-racial society is likely to create in this part of our public life. I have here a cutting from the Daily Telegraph of 26th May 1971, reporting what happened outside the Metro Club in Notting Hill when two youths were detained for allegedly possessing offensive weapons. As a result of that incident, nine policemen were injured and had to be treated in hospital, 980 and for two hours vast crowds in Notting Hill shouted "Kill the fuzz" and "Power to the people". I contend that the police deserve continuing protection from that sort of thing.
I have no doubt, since I know his character, that the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) has a high-minded purpose in presenting his Bill, but I am certain that it is dangerous because it will in the end undermine the power of the police, and I believe it to be the duty of the House to protect the police from all who would wish to do that.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) is to be commended for seizing the opportunity to introduce the Bill and in spite of the violent antagonism of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Soref), whose opinions are probably unique even in this House, the Police Act 1964 needs to be looked at again and the amendments suggested in the Bill should be considered carefully, if not entirely welcomed.
Many of us have been concerned at the way in which complaints are made by our constituents against the police, and how these complaints are treated. Over the years I have received a number of complaints which I have referred to the Commissioner of Police. Almost without exception I have received the reply, first, that the matter is being investigated and then, that there is insufficient evidence that the officer or officers concerned acted improperly. There the matter has rested, much to the dissatisfaction of the constituents. Moreover, if one sought to raise the matter further by referring it to the appropriate Minister at the Home Office, the usual reply follows. One is told that the matter has been investigated and that there was no evidence of impropriety. One can then raise the matter in the House in an Adjournment debate or by Questions and again the same reply is given that the matter had been investigated but that there was no evidence of improper conduct.
That decision may have been perfectly correct, but one often feels thoroughly frustrated after seeing one's constituent, hearing his or her story, possibly receiving medical evidence, and coming to the 981 conclusion that there is some substance in the complaint. But one can do nothing. In spite of what the hon. Member for Ormskirk said—and this is no attack on the police and what they are doing, and no attempt to prevent their carrying out their powers—the trouble lies in the machinery laid down in Section 49 of the Police Act 1964, which deals with the investigation of complaints. Subsection (I) provides that where a complaint is made against the police the chief officer records it and causes it to be investigated. By whom?—presumably by the chief officer of the police area to which the complaint relates, or by someone he deputes to investigate it. It is quite true that the section goes on to say that hemay,"—and one must mark that word "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.That is certainly an attempt in special cases to obtain the semblance of an independent investigation. Then, when the chief officer sees the report he forms a judgment as to whether a criminal offence has been committed. It is only when he forms the conclusion that it has that he sends the papers to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Clearly, under the provisions of the 1964 Act the police act—as I said in an intervention—as judges in their own cause, and that is the reason for the disquiet and suspicion on the part of the public that justice has not been done. Clearly, there should be some sort of independent inquiry so that justice may not only be done but may be seen to be done. Clause 3 seeks to achieve the object of at any rate having an element of independence in the judgments formed. The decision of the chief officer that no criminal offence has been committed or that no action is to be taken by the Director is to be sent to a police complaints review tribunal established under the Bill and the result of the investigation communicated to the complainant. Then—and this is important—the right is given to the complainant or the police officer, if he is dissatisfied, to refer the matter to the regional police tribunal. I gather that the complaint is to be con- 982 sidered then by the tribunal, which will have a chairman with legal experience and at least one member who should he unconnected with the police force.
I appreciate that in most cases the police are probably right in their decision about a complaint. It may be, and probably is, right to say that they are wrong in only a small minority of cases. I know the police have a difficult task and I know from my experience in many cases in my practice and with constituents that the police usually conduct themselves with complete propriety. I pay tribute to them. It is well illustrated in criminal cases where one makes a speech in mitigation and the police are willing and anxious to put everything forward in favour of the defendant. I suppose it is right to say—as a foreigner would—"Your policemen are wonderful". I gladly pay tribute to them. We are not here generally condemning the actions they perform or attacking their powers in this respect. Obviously, there are cases where they err, and I suggest to the hon. Member for Ormskirk that if he thinks over the matter carefully and logically he will see that it is in the interests of the police themselves that there should be an impartial inquiry. That, I gather, is the main object of the Bill, and I trust that it will receive support from all hon. Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North has also made some useful suggestions in the amendment that he proposes in Clauses 1 and 2. The duties of the Secretary of State in Sections 28 and 42 of the 1964 Act are to enable him not only to promote the efficiency of the police but to act in the public interest and the publication of reports by chief constables to police authorities are to be made public. I suppose that the hon. Member for Ormskirk will say that this is interfering with the police, but I see no danger in this because there is a reservation that such publication is excepted where it would be contrary to the public interest.
I note that this is a question of dealing with reports and of dealing with the interests of the public, and I hope that one small point I shall raise will be taken into account. I recently put down a Question to the Home Secretary about the refusal of the Metropolitan Police to submit names and addresses of witnesses to a 983 road accident before the proceedings by the police are concluded or a decision taken not to institute these proceedings. I was told that this was within the discretion of chief officers of police, and that the practice was designed to avoid prejudice to police proceedings.
But the House will appreciate that in cases of that kind a considerable time may elapse before a decision is taken whether to prosecute or not. Meanwhile, as lawyers and those who suffer know, the names and addresses of witnesses cannot be obtained. People's memories of what has occurred can be affected when delay is caused in initiating and bringing proceedings, and as a result litigants are often badly handicapped in bringing their claim. The Long Title of the Bill includes the wordsto make other provisions relating to the policeand I hope that this matter will be considered in Committee. I congratulate my hon. Friend, and I hope that his Bill will receive the support it deserves.
§ 1.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Woodhouse (Oxford)
I am particularly happy to follow the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) in the debate, if only because that makes it impossible for him to carry out the threat he made to me earlier today in the corridor that he would contradict anything I said. There is another reason why he will not be able to do so, which is that I agree with practically everything he said. There is one small exception.
I also join in congratulating the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), who argued his case extremely effectively. His arguments and the text of his Bill carried me back to the debates we had on the subject in the Committee stage of the Police Act early in 1964. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has studied the OFFICIAL REPORT of those debates. He will have seen that many similar amendments were proposed in Committee, some more far-reaching and some less far-reaching than those he now proposes.
Those debates were very interesting because they showed, as today's debate has again shown, how delicate and complex are the problems. I think that every hon. Member who spoke then and probably almost every hon. Member who has 984 spoken today would recognise, whichever view he has taken of the matter, that there is also a good cause for the opposite view.
Probably in the nine years since those debates there has been a slight trend of informed opinion, including that of chief constables and police officers, in the direction of making the provisions that the Bill proposes, although the hon. Gentleman will have noted that in 1964, even though Members on the Labour Opposition side of the Committee voted against the Government's view and for the establishment of independent tribunals, the right hon. and learned Gentleman who led for the Opposition, Sir Frank Soskice, now Lord Stow Hill, who became Home Secretary a few months after the Bill was passed, did not when in office make any attempt to amend the law as embodied in Section 49. I make no criticism of him for that, but merely draw attention to it as showing that it is a matter on which it is easy to hold divided opinions and very difficult to arrive at a conclusive solution.
I commend to the hon. Member for Derby, North the wise remarks made on the subject in the Committee by the late Mr. Chuter Ede, a former Home Secretary, who said, as an illustration of the dilemma that the Committee was in:The Secretary of State has two roles, and only an archangel could perform both of them He has to maintain law and order and, at the same time, the traditional liberty of the subject. While one or other can be reasonably well performed, to perform the two simultaneously is a task that is beyond the wit of man."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 11th February 1964; c. 654–5.]That may have been an unduly pessimistic statement of the Home Secretary's dilemma, but it very properly underlines what a serious problem faces us.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Soref) eloquently pointed out, the Home Secretary, as guardian of law and order, has an obligation to sustain the morale, confidence and discipline of the police. It was argued when the matter was last debated that as a disciplined force the police, like the army or any other disciplined service, must be responsible for its own discipline, and therefore must conduct its own inquiries into infringements of discipline. In fact, the police is not strictly speaking on all fours with the army or any other armed force. My right hon. Friend the Member 985 for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) brought that point out.
In normal circumstances the police is in much closer contact with the public than are the armed forces. I stress the phrase "in normal circumstances", because we are confronted with agonisingly abnormal circumstances in Northern Ireland, where the army has taken over the performance of police duties. If we were to press the analogy between the army and the police in such a situation, we might well come to the conclusion that soldiers, like policemen, should, for example, be made individually identifiable by bearing an individual number or other distinctive mark. Although that idea would certainly be resisted, it is not totally absurd, because very probably if soldiers were identifiable in that way it would be possible to dispose of most of the complaints against them in Northern Ireland as bogus a great deal more easily than it is now. In other words, it would be helpful as a protection for the troops.
Although I do not intend to press that analogy, and wish to talk merely about the normal rôle of the police, I would argue similarly that the additional subsections to Section 49 of the 1964 Act proposed by the Bill are welcome because they would give more protection to the police.
My experience of the existing system of investigating complaints when I was at the Home Office was that it is exceedingly rigorous. That may not be apparent to the public, and I welcome the fact that under the Bill it would become more apparent to them. The truth is that it is very rigorous. If anyone has any right to feel hard done by under the present procedure it is the police officer who is under investigation.
I recall many cases that came to me when I was at the Home Office. In those days they could only be cases arising within the Metropolitan Police Force. I recall no case in which I felt, after carefully re-examining the evidence, that there had been the slightest inclination to cover up a black sheep in the police force. I recall only one case in which I felt that justice had not been done under the existing procedures of investigation and disciplinary action. That was one in which disciplinary action was taken 986 against a senior officer of the Metropolitan Police Force on grounds that I judged to be inadequate, but there was nothing that I could do about it.
§ Mr. Ernie Money (Ipswich)
My hon. Friend said that the present system was rigorous for the officer being investigated. Does not he agree that it is also extremely rigorous for the officers who have to do the investigation? Any allegation of any kind, however small, must be investigated by an officer of the rank of superintendent or above, and a vast amount of time is taken up in that way.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
That is perfectly true. It is a point that has been made in the debate already, and one to which I shall return.
One of the merits of the Bill is that it would provide a safeguard for police officers against the kind of over-severe discipline of which I have spoken. I feel fairly sure that it would not lead to any more adverse decisions against police officers under investigation than occur now. But, to use the phrase that has frequently been quoted, justice would be seen to be done instead of being done in camera.
On the other hand—here I come on to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) has just raised—there is a risk that too much time might be taken up in investigating frivolous and trivial complaints, the time not only of police officers, as is already the case, but also of the tribunals that would be set up under the Bill. There are people who deliberately gum up the machinery of investigation by endless frivolous complaints. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), in a most imaginative speech, had much to say on that point.
When I was at the Home Office there was the tragic case of a sergeant in the Metropolitan Police Force who was convicted of planting bricks in the pockets of people whom he arrested at demonstrations. At any rate, in one case he was convicted—[Interruption.] I am not concerned with what happened to him subsequently; it was undeniably a tragic case, as the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) is well aware. What happened subsequently was that the Home Office received a flood of letters 987 through hon. Members from convicted criminals in jails all over the country, every one of whom it seemed had at some stage in his career encountered this unfortunate sergeant and had had evidence planted on him. I believe some kind of safeguard is written into the Bill against the abuse of the proposed procedure by frivolous and trivial complaints.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
I remember the Challoner case. Let us bring the matter up to date. Supposing a man at his trial says that a policeman has planted the gun on him but he is sentenced to imprisonment and a year afterwards still claims that the gun was planted. Supposing that subsequently the police officer in the case is found guilty on other complaints and admits that he planted the gun. Surely the chief constable should not then refuse to let that evidence be given either to an hon. Member or to the prisoner. Yet that is happening now.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
It may be that it is happening now, but the hon. Gentleman is advancing criticism of the present system. We are debating a proposal for a revised system, and I am to the best of my ability trying to support it. At the same time, I repeat that there must be a safeguard against the abuse of the procedure. I suggest to the hon. Member for Derby, North that he study an amendment put down in 1964, during the Standing Committee consideration of the Police Bill, by Mr. Charles Royle, now Lord Royle. I will give him the reference—it was on Standing Committee D of 11th February 1964. Lord Royle proposed, in relation to a similar procedure, the following additional sentence:Under this section the chairman of the tribunal shall have discretion to refrain from submission of any appeal to the tribunal on grounds of triviality."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 1lth February 1964: c. 648.]Given the procedure already in the Bill for the choice of the chairman of the tribunal, it would be acceptable to include an amendment on those lines giving him such discretion. It may be that the hon. Gentleman has it in mind also that under Clause 3 some such provision could be put in Section 49B(2) which gives the Secretary of State power to prescribe procedures by regulation. Although I think that it would be a mistake probably to leave too great a weight of 988 responsibility on Section 49(B(2), where matters can be made explicit in the Bill, they should be.
I have one or two questions which I think the hon. Gentleman will want to deal with in Committee. The Bill contains no provision for legal representation before these lay tribunals. He should make it clear whether he does or does not desire that there should be a right of legal representation. He did not elaborate on Clauses 1 and 2 in much detail, and I regard Clause 1 as otiose, unless some explanation is given of the reason for it, because Secretaries of State are appointed to look after the public interest and it hardly seems necessary in every case to make an express provision in an Act of Parliament that they have to make provision for the public interest. A man should not be Secretary of State unless that is his intention.
In Clause 2, it would be useful to have an indication of the authority which is to decide that the making of a report public would be contrary to public interest. Is it to rest with the chief constable, or the police authority, or the Secretary of State?
With these minor comments on points of detail, I welcome the Bill. I recognise that this is a difficult and perplexing subject, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will either give the Bill a fair wind or furnish us with very good reasons for opposing it.
§ 1.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) because I can develop the point I made in my intervention in his speech. The American tourist says, "I think all British policemen are wonderful". I agree with that sentiment, provided we leave out the word "all". I think British policemen are wonderful but I also think that, like Members of Parliament and civil servants and the English, Irish, Scots and Welsh, there are good and bad among them. There are some among them who might not be quite as good as the others.
There is another point on which I am sure the House will agree. Hon. Members on both sides have what they feel to be the right and the duty to criticise both Ministers and Departments when they feel justified in doing so. They 989 may or may not be so justified. They may or may not be putting forward a good point. But one of the things about our parliamentary democracy is that if a Member sincerely believes in what he is saying he should have the right to say it.
I am pleased to have the opportunity of supporting the Bill because I was viciously attacked by the Police Federation. I told my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) that I would be referring to this matter. In its journal last December, the federation published an article which was 99 per cent. untrue, and it knew it to be untrue. Not only was it put in vicious language; it was circulated to hon. Members. It was done with malice aforethought. It was done with the specific purpose of trying to shut me up because, wrongly, the federation thought that I was anti-police. It was nearly a privilege case, and a near-contempt.
§ Mr. Stanbrook rose—
§ Mr. Lewis
No, I will not give away. The object of the article was to try to shut me up because the federation thought that I was unjustifiably criticising the police. Whether I was or was not, the fact is that a Member of this House is entitled to criticise and is justified in saying anything in this House, subject to Mr. Speaker's deciding whether it is in order, and that hon. Member has then to put up with the cut and thrust of debate.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock): rose—
§ Mr. Lewis
No. I will not give way. The Home Secretary wishes to speak. I gave notice to the paid representatives of the Police Federation and he could have been here to deal with this. I suggest that the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) reads the journal, and I may discuss it with him. The article said that I was unfairly attacking the police. I was not. But even if I were, the point is that hon. Members must have the right to say what they believe.
§ Mr. Cormack
Hon. Members have that right, but because they also have a great deal of privilege they have the duty to be responsible in what they say.
§ Mr. Lewis
That is true. But if one wants to put forward a complaint against 990 a civil servant or a Minister, provided one produces facts and figures as evidence one is entitled to do so. What I have done in the past—and I repeat it here—is to put forward prima facie evidence showing that a minority—and it is no doubt a minority—of police officers have been guilty of offences. I have given chapter and verse. Hon. Members know that I have been running a campaign pointing out that almost 50 per cent. of the vehicles on the road are unlicensed. I have been pointing out that the police have refused to take action about this. I have about half a dozen instances of police officers in uniform driving their own private unlicensed vehicles. Is this getting at the police?
When I produce such evidence, am I to be attacked because my constituents claim that they are being unfairly treated? We know what the drill is for these things. I have been in the House for 28 years, and this is not a party political point. One takes the matter up with the local officer and gets nowhere. So one takes it up with the Home Secretary who refers it back. There is a so-called investigation but no one sees the report. 'The police officer concerned decides that no action will be taken. He writes to the Home Secretary, who agrees with the police officer. The Member is informed and then it goes back to the complainant.
I do not think that is good enough. I know from personal experience of occasions when the police have roughened up innocent people. It has happened to me. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh. It may be laughable, but it has happened to me. Let me refer to the case of a young, mentally backward boy—known by the police to be backward. He was taken to the police station and shabbily treated. Evidence is now available and capable of being proved by the investigating police officer that this boy was roughed up in the police station. The medical evidence of the police surgeon is here and the three plain clothes officers are named.
The Director of Public Prosecutions has the papers and agrees. What happens? No action is taken. Why? Because the Director says that as the boy did not pick out which one of the three officers roughed him up he does not think that he can take any action. He does not think he can take action because there might 991 have been other police officers in the station at the time.
The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Soref) rightly said he deplored those demonstrators who roughed up the police. If one anti-nuclear weapon demonstrator roughs up the police and there is any doubt about which person it is out of three or four then, rightly, the three or four are charged. All I am saying is that it is not good enough to tell the mother and father of this boy that their son was roughed up, that the police surgeon and the investigating officer confirm it, but that because the boy is backward and cannot pick out which of the three officers was responsible no action is to be taken.
§ Mr. Money
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the complicating factors —and I am particularly glad to be able to put this in the presence of the Home Secretary—is the rule applied by the Commissioner of Police that if an officer is to be seen either for the purpose of defending solicitors interviewing him in respect of a criminal action or by solicitors for a potential plaintiff he cannot be interviewed direct by the solicitors but only by a superior officer before any material is made available to the lawyers concerned?
§ Mr. Lewis
No. I am saying that there may be various excuses for the police but this Bill will at least provide the opportunity for independent investigation which will help legitimate policemen but show up the minority, such as Sergeant Challoner.
I have half a dozen similar cases, which I can quote. Let me deal with the case of Detective Inspector Ronald Larby. Again this is factually true. Detective Inspector Ronald Larby, of the Essex police, was accused of planting a gun on a criminal. Of course it can be said that if a criminal makes a charge against a respectable police officer the judge is naturally entitled to accept that the odds are a thousand to one that the criminal is telling a lie and that the police officer, who is of good standing, is completely innocent. What happened? The accused man said at the time of the trial 992 —and repeated 12 months afterwards, when he was in prison—that the gun had been planted.
A newspaper article appeared in the Sunday People. It had a full page picture of this police officer and said that he was having an affair with a woman. He admitted having sexual intercourse with the woman. This attracted publicity, and he eventually admitted planting this gun. There was a so-called investigation undertaken by police officers from this man's station. They found him guilty of some police misdemeanour. We do not know what it was. He then vanished. He was told to leave the police force and he voluntarily resigned. The police could not trace him, but I could.
The man in prison wanted to obtain evidence to help him with his appeal, but the police refused to let him have it. I took it up with the Home Secretary, who also refused. He said that the police must decide whether to provide the evidence. The police decide whether they enforce the law. They decide whether they will tell the Home Secretary, and whether the Home Secretary shall do this, that or the other. In nine cases out of 10 the Home Secretary decides to do what the police advise him to do.
This is true, because in this case if the police were compelled to behave in the same way as the ordinary individual there would be a different situation. I can give chapter and verse of certain actions being taken by the police when it suits them and no action at all when it does not suit them. I have given the Home Secretary five instances of the police breaking the law and no action being taken. One case concerns a policeman driving without a road fund licence and possibly without insurance. At least the Bill gives the opportunity of referring these cases to an independent board to see how many complaints are justified.
In another case—and I have the medical evidence to substantiate it—a young man was roughed up by the police. I have the doctor's evidence in my hand. I have statements sworn before a solicitor and commissioner for oaths. The boy received multiple injuries—concussion and abrasions to his face, neck, front of chest, right side of chest, right loin and both forearms. At the trial the police claimed that they were attacked. Sergeant 993 Harris had one knock on his ankle and a little bit of a bruise on an ear; that was all. The following week in my local newspaper I saw a picture of Sergeant Harris, proudly taken with four or five other police officers who were amateur police boxing champions. This huge boxing champion was supposed to have been savagely—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Yes. The custom of the House is that all hon. Members are responsible for the veracity of what they say.
§ Mr. Lewis
I am glad to hear the intervention of the hon. Member for Cannock. We have heard the other side of the picture, but I am producing evidence, which the hon. Member can see—I will lay it on the Table—of a case concerning a sergeant who was an amateur boxer and whose photograph appeared in both of my local newspapers—I know a bit about boxing; I have done it myself—and a young man who received all these injuries, whereas the amateur boxer sustained hardly any damage at all. I find that strange. Yet it has been said that there was no roughing up.
Perhaps there was no roughing up, but there was no means of conducting an independent investigation on a proper basis as is provided for in the Bill. Therefore, in the interests of creating a genuine system of independent investigation, I hope that the Bill will be passed. If there is any possibility of the Home Secretary's procrastinating, I hope that my hon. Friend will try to ensure that the Bill receives a Second Reading and is passed.
§ 2.2 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Robert Carr)
I apologise to the House for my absence during the early part of the debate. I had to attend a meeting of Ministers. Unforunately, I shall have to leave before long to attend another ministerial meeting.
Normally with a Bill of this kind I should have left matters, with the greatest confidence, to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, who has listened to the whole of the debate and has 994 reported to me what has been said. However, I have an announcement of policy to make which I thought both the House and the police at all levels would think was of such importance that it should be made personally by the Home Secretary. That is why I thought it right to intervene in the debate, although, unfortunately, my Cabinet duties force me to show some apparent lack of courtesy to the House for not being present throughout the debate.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) on using the opportunity provide by his good fortune in the ballot to introduce a Bill on a matter of such importance to the public and the police. It is of the utmost importance for the maintenance of freedom and of that degree of law and order on which our freedom ultimately depends that the police should enjoy, and have the right to enjoy, the confidence of the public and to be constantly strengthened by public support and co-operation. It is no accident that those who seek to undermine our society also often seek to besmirch the reputation of the police and to destroy the trust which they enjoy from the public.
The police in Britain have always held a special place in our society. They have enjoyed a rôle and status which I think we can say with some pride and truth is different from, and higher than, that of the police in almost any other country. This is a very precious thing in our society, and we must always seek to safeguard it. I regard it as one of my chief roles, as Home Secretary, to sustain and support that position and reputation. I want the police to be "our" police and not just "the" police.
As Home Secretary I must stand up for the police—for the 999 out of 1,000 police officers of all ranks who do their work for us with outstanding integrity as well as courage and a very high sense of duty. However, if I am to do this and to carry conviction with the people in doing it, I must be able with confidence to tell people that the rare black sheep among the police forces will be sought out and dealt with without fear or favour and without any suggestion of matters being covered up. This will help not only the police but, above all, the 999 policemen who are the white sheep of the force and on whose behaviour and high 995 standards the standing of the police depends.
Before I come to the issues of the Bill, it is both fair and important for me to make clear that complaints against the police are already dealt with thoroughly, and the procedures have been strengthened in the last two years. I shall say something about the need for strengthening them more, as the Bill suggests.
But it would be wrong for us, either among ourselves or to the public who may listen to what we say, to give the impression that the Bill or action of the kind suggested in it is necessary because there is a casualness or incompleteness about the way in which complaints are dealt with. As far as I can discover, the way in which complaints against the police are dealt with in this country sets a standard which is probably higher than that in almost any other country.
Thus, a chief officer of police in this country is required by statute to record any complaint against a member of his force by a member of the public so that it is on the record, and, having recorded it, he must have it investigated by a senior officer. He is required to ensure that the investigating officer is serving in a different division or branch from the officer complained against and that there are no other grounds which might cause his impartiality to be questioned. Moreover, in appropriate cases, the investigating officer is from another force.
Unless the chief officer is satisfied that no criminal offence has been committed, he must—not may—send the investigating officer's report to the Director of Public Prosecutions in all cases, including traffic offences, and not just in a few serious cases. The Director then advises whether criminal proceedings should be brought. If they are not brought, it is for the chief officer to decide whether any disciplinary offence might be involved, even though not a criminal one, and whether he should take any further disciplinary action.
Moreover, a general oversight in the handling of complaints is exercised by the local police authority in various parts of the country, and the local police authority is required by statute to keep itself informed as to the manner in which complaints are dealt with. Also, a general 996 oversight is kept by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary, who give special attention to the working of the complaints procedures in the course of their inspections.
There are further safeguards. The Home Secretary may call for reports from chief officers on any matters connected with the policing of their areas and may cause a local inquiry to be held. The police discipline regulations prescribe a code of discipline for police officers and a procedure for dealing with offences against this code. There is also provision in the Police Act 1964 for appeal by police officers to the Home Secretary in cases in which punishments are imposed.
All this adds up to a formidable set of procedures for ensuring that complaints are properly dealt with. I think that that needs to be put on the record because it really is a comprehensive set of procedures.
Yet, in spite of all this, I would like to see, as would the hon. Member for Derby, North and the sponsors of the Bill, some further improvement, and some further reassurance for ordinary people—for the public. The more the public can be reassured, the more the police will be supported and strengthened, and the more the 99 honest policemen of the highest integrity will have their reputation enhanced and will have a sense of belonging and of being part of the community—as I say, a sense of their being "our" police and not "the" police.
I, personally, have long held the view that the introduction of an independent element into the police complaints procedure is essential. Of course I am aware of the difficulties. I know that my predecessors, of both parties, who have considered this proposal and turned it down in the past did not do so lightly or casually. In spite of all the difficulties, I am convinced that we must find a way of overcoming them and, after studying a number of proposals, including the recommendation that the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration made to this House last summer, I have concluded that the most promising line of approach is an ex post facto review on Ombudsman lines.
Accordingly, I intend to enter into consultations with the police service and with the police authorities with a view 997 to working out and introducing arrangements with an independent element for ex post facto reviews of the handling of complaints.
I want to make it clear that in these discussions there will of course be a thorough examination of the apprehensions which I know are felt by members of the police service and police authorities. I can give the assurance that whatever scheme is finally agreed there will be no question of a police officer's being put in jeopardy twice in relation to the same offence, or of any undermining of the chief officer's responsibility for discipline. As I say, the consultations will be full and thorough. I can promise that to all those concerned. But I shall also want to start them quickly and get on with them urgently. I assure the House of that.
On the first of the points I mentioned a moment ago, it is a principle of equity and a basic element of our judicial system in this country that no citizen should be put in peril twice for the same alleged offence, and we cannot have a lower standard of justice for police officers than that which we rightly insist upon for all citizens. Therefore, the necessity for avoiding the danger of double jeopardy is rightly a matter of great importance to all police officers. It really is of the greatest importance for the fruitful outcome of the consultations on which I am about to embark that they should feel that the Government and the House of Commons realise and accept that principle, as the hon. Member for Derby, North made clear he does.
§ Mr. Peter Archer
Clearly, we ought to accept that double jeopardy is to be avoided. So that we are clear about it, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he means that if an inquiry concludes that a police officer was wrongly acquitted of the same offence by the original inquiry, no disciplinary action will be taken? Is that what he means?
§ Mr. Carr
Yes, I think it must mean that. We must recognise that. It is no good pretending otherwise. I said that it would be an inquiry with an independent element, on Ombudsman lines. I think that the great merit of this is that it ensures that cases can be looked at, even though ex post facto, by this body 998 with an independent representation on it —and this constantly exposes to us and to the public as a whole the standard of complaints procedures which are going on. Although it may seem unsatisfactory, it is not possible to jog back and judge the same case twice over, and I believe that if the exposure shows that there was nothing wrong it will increase the confidence of the public. On the other hand, if the examination and exposure shows that something is wrong there will be enormous pressure on the police to raise their standards. That will apply in those few cases where the review shows that standards are not as good as they should be.
§ Mr. Abse
Does this not really mean that the public are being told by the Home Secretary that they are to have a form of appellate procedure, the result of which is that when a police officer has been found guilty no action will be able to be taken against him at all? Since with the appellate procedure in existence civilians are placed in jeopardy twice, why should the police, who would be judged in the first place in a secret conclave, expect this special exemption?
§ Mr. Carr
I really cannot accept that as a true description of the present system. Do not let us forget the role, for example, of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and that that is a strongly independent element in the situation already. The Director of Public Prosecutions has no connection with the police. He is independent, too, of the Government, for that matter. That can easily be forgotten.
I want to be fair with the House about what I am promising and what I am not. I do not want to mislead them. What I am promising is consultation leading, I trust, to the introduction, as a matter of as much urgency as we can achieve, of the ex post facto review. This, I know, will not satisfy everybody. It may not satisfy the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), judging from what he has said. What I am suggesting, I believe, goes as far as this Bill seeks to go, and as far as the minority report of the Royal Commission some years ago sought to go. It is a pretty revolutionary introduction, and goes against all the resistance to this sort of proposal which hitherto we have had in this country.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and for coming as a Secretary of State to our Friday club. Can he say—since this appears to be what he is saying—that he accepts the basic principles of the Bill, if not necessarily all the small print? What kind of timetable does he envisage before some kind of statutory tribunals, whatever we like to call them, are brought into effect?
§ Mr. Carr
I think I would be wrong at this juncture to promise particular dates. It would not be responsible for me to do so. However, I want to re-emphasise my desire to make progress quickly, subject to the need for full consultation. Although I cannot responsibly give any particular dates, my aim would certainly be to be able to report to the House agreement on a viable scheme before the end of this year, with a view to an immediate beginning on its implementation. In other words. I cannot promise that anything will be working by the end of this year, but I hope to be able to report to the House that a viable scheme has been agreed before the end of this year. I promise the House that once a viable scheme has been agreed we shall not say that we wish to start implementing it some long number of years ahead. My intention would be to begin its implementation as soon as a I possibly can, after agreement.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
The right hon. Gentleman has said that there will be consultations with the police and with the Police Federation. Will he, as would be usual, consult anyone who may want to put ideas forward?
§ Mr. Carr
Yes, indeed; I can confirm that. It will not only be the police and all the associations representing the various levels within the police forces; it will also be the police authorities; and it will also, as the hon. Member said, be anybody who may wish to put ideas to me about this. I do want to get on with it, but the consultations must be full. I cannot rush the consultations, in the sense of allowing them to be incomplete. I want to tell all those who will he involved that I wish to start on it quickly and get on with it urgently.
Another point which we shall have to take into account is that the actual investi- 1000 gation into complaints must continue to be carried out by a police officer. I know that there are those who are reluctant to accept this but, quite apart from the important considerations appropriate for the maintenance of a disciplined service, one has to come down to practical realities. One has to recognise that there are not enough people outside the police service with the necessary knowledge and expertise in police methods and problems to investigate the 15,000 complaints which have to be looked into every year. Quite apart from any argument about the principle of what should happen in a disciplined service, the hard practical reality is that investigation must continue to be carried out by a police officer.
There are two other important points I wish to mention. First, there must be full recognition of the independent element in the complaints procedure which is already provided by the Director of Public Prosecutions. When there is any question of the possibility of a criminal offence having been committed, the matter has to be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and it is his decision whether to prosecute. These are wholly independent decisions about which my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is answerable to the House and on which he can be questioned in the House. In some cases—for example corruption—my right hon. and learned Friend has himself to sanction any prosecution These independent and impartial decisions of my right hon. and learned Friend and the Director of Public Prosecutions cannot be made the subject of review by any outside body, any more than they are at the moment in any other field.
Secondly, if the Director of Public Prosecutions decides that there is insufficient evidence to justify a criminal prosecution, it is out of the question to substitute a similar disciplinary offence on the identical evidence, because it would be wrong for disciplinary action on a particular alleged offence to be based on a lower standard of proof than would be required in the courts. This does not mean, however, that there may not be cases in which the misconduct falls short of being criminal but in which there is still ground for proceedings for some related offence—for example, neglect of duty—under the Police Disciplinary Code.
1001 As will be clear from what I have said, I am in considerable sympathy with the broad objectives which the hon. Member for Derby, North is seeking to achieve by his Bill. The question which the House has to ask itself this afternoon is whether now is the moment to proceed with legislation. I say quite openly that I do not believe that it would be right to legislate at this moment. The new arrangements of the kind I have announced have to be worked out in the closest consultation with the police service authorities and after listening to any other views that people may want to put to me. It is of the utmost importance that the new scheme should have the support and confidence of the police service as well as of the public.
Even if at this juncture I felt able to advise the House about the small print of the Bill, I do not believe that the consultations could take place in the right atmosphere if within the timing of the Bill during the next two or three months those involved felt that they were under the pressure of legislation and the details were having to be written in legislative form at this stage.
§ Mr. Money
The whole House will have been deeply impressed by what my right hon. Friend said. Will lie give the House an assurance that before the matters which he has mentioned are implemented there will be no question of legislation being brought before the House to implement the highly contentious recommendations of the Criminal Law Reform Committee which have given such great concern to the Bar?
§ Mr. Carr
My hon. Friend is leading me on to another big and important subject. I cannot off the cuff give undertakings of that kind. I am prepared to give the undertaking which I first gave as Leader of the House and subsequently confirmed when I became Home Secretary, that no legislative proposals on the recommendations referred to by my hon. Friend will be brought forward until the House has had a full debate upon them and made its views known. But I am now asked to peer into the future and try to calculate which Bill might come before another Bill at some unknown time ahead—and it would be rash for anyone standing here to give a firm time-table off the cuff.
§ Mr. Fowler
The general review which my right hon. Friend has promised will be generally welcomed on both sides of the House. Will it include a review of the investigating process of complaints, and will consideration be given to an extension of the investigation branch scheme now run by Scotland Yard?
§ Mr. Carr
Yes, I give my hon. Friend that assurance. I express a personal view, as the police authority for the Metropolitan area, that the special division of the Metropolitan Police to which my hon. Friend has referred is a big move forward. After overcoming some initial suspicion I believe that it will give as much extra satisfaction to the police as to the public.
The proposals in the Bill are a major departure from a long and hard-established police tradition, and I think it would be unwise to legislate at this moment. We must change attitudes and opinions at all levels of the police. Those attitudes have shown some change, and that is why I feel confident in making this statement today. But there are still real fears and doubts which need to be carefully discussed.
I do not believe that it would be fruitful for the consultations to go on against a background of legislation currently going through Parliament, when we should be asked not just to confirm a principle but to write in the small print and the detail. Flexibility is necessary at this stage and until we have gone through these consultations we cannot be sure, even in theory, exactly what legislative provisions we should have.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
Within the scope of his discussions with all the interested parties, will the Home Secretary consider his own position in answering to this House on the activities of the police at large, and not simply for the police within the Metropolitan area?
§ Mr. Carr
That is a very much wider point which raises constitutional issues, I should like to think about it, but it would be wrong for me to give a firm "Yes" to that at the moment. I promise to think about it further. If I were to get involved in that I might disappoint the House by not being able to come forward quickly with schemes. Very big constitutional issues would be raised which 1003 might lead to working parties and consequent delay. I do not reject the idea straight away, but I should be equally wrong to say an easy "Yes" to it.
The first reason why I advise the House not to proceed with legislation now is the need to give flexibility and opportunity for consultation without those who are involved feeling that they are under legislative pressure or under pressure in the next month or two to spell out in the fine print of the Bill exactly what form the proposals should take.
My second reason for giving this advice is that it is possible to go ahead with this experiment without having legislation. If we could do nothing without legislation we might take a different view, but after careful consideration I am satisfied that I can begin the arrangement on an experimental basis without legislation. The time for legislation will be when we have had the experiment in being for a reasonable time and have learned by experience, but until then we want flexibility.
My aim is to work towards an agreed scheme which ensures that the complete procedure is, and can be shown to be, fair to all concerned, to be impartial and effective, and to contain at this ex post facto stage the independent element or which people have asked. On that basis, I invite the House to endorse my proposals to proceed in this way.
From what I have said, I hope that the hon. Member for Derby, North will realise that I have a great deal of sympathy with what he is seeking to achieve in the Bill. When I ask him to withdraw his Bill and for the House to agree to that. I do not do so from any lack of sympathy, because we must be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter to a point of focus. Like all good democratic processes, it has perhaps forced a Minister to act a few months sooner than he would otherwise have acted.
§ 2.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
The whole House is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary for coming to the House to make an important statement of principle. It marks a radical change of view in the Home Office. For that reason we thank him for his attendance. I have some comments to make, 1004 and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to remain until I have concluded.
I begin traditionally by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) on his good fortune, but in respect of my hon. Friend such congratulations are otiose. His good fortune in the ballot is almost legendary. If the ballot were not under the auspices of Mr. Speaker, I would think that there was something wrong with the way in which it was conducted. However, I particularly congratulate my hon. Friend on his wisdom in choosing such an admirable vehicle for legislative experiment.
This is an important issue on which at this time it is right that we should recollect the efforts of a former member of Parliament, Mr. Ben Whitaker, who long campaigned for an independent element in the police complaints procedure. I hope that he will feel some satisfaction with what is happening today. At any rate, his efforts have been amply followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby. North.
In discussions which verge on law and order there is always the danger that one may be driven too easily to adopt an extreme standpoint, and it is right that we should try to maintain a balance. To judge by the way some Conservative Members speak—and I was struck by the remarks of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Soref)—law and order seems to be some kind of Clause 4 in the Conservative constitution. It is not. It is the essential prerequisite of any civilised society. We in our turn want to find ways of promoting law and order just as does any other civilised society. We may differ about the way in which the object is achieved, but there can be no dissent about the object itself.
We strongly support the place of the police force in maintaining law and order. They are entrusted by the public with an essential task, which has to be performed not only with efficiency but also with integrity. It is right that the public endowing the police with this power should also be assured that they use the power wisely and well. It is not enough to know that the procedure is fair. It must also be seen to be fair, and it appears that there is no division on that matter in the House this afternoon.
1005 I agree with everything said by the Home Secretary on this matter in his speech. We, too, want to be able to reassure the public that the investigations made into their complaints are scrupulously fair. Having read the report of the Select Committee on Race Relations, I was most struck by the care and time taken by the investigating officers in looking into complaints. I have personal experience of a long trial at the Old Bailey in which men with long criminal records complained about police investigations. Throughout most of that long trial Scotland Yard Complaints Branch officers sat in court listening to the case so that every possible point that could be taken was heard by them and so that later, if necessary, they could investigate it. That seemed to show a degree of integrity in following up complaints which the public would wish to know so that they could be reassured. I am sure that this happens, but the difficulty is that the public do not know that it happens. We must provide a procedure which helps them to see what happens and to give them confidence in the system.
The question is whether this is the right way to go about the job. The Select Committee pointed to three possibilities—first, that there should be a lay investigation; secondly a police investigation with lay participation; or thirdly, some kind of independent review with lay participation. This Bill chooses the latter course, as did the Select Committee, although I note the proviso which was made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler). That also seems to be the way in which the Home Secretary approaches this problem. I am not sure that it is necessarily the right one. I found myself in considerable agreement with the hon. Member for Nottingham, South.
The difficulty lies in the point about double jeopardy. Section 49 of the Police Act is the villain of the piece. It refers to any complaint from the public and then says that those complaints should be investigated and that the chief officer should then make a decision whether they disclose a criminal offence. If in his view they do not disclose a criminal offence, he passes the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Director then has 1006 to decide whether, in his view, there is a criminal offence. In other words, Section 49 is directed at the possibility of there being a criminal offence. If after both those people have decided that there is no evidence of a criminal offence the chief officer decides that none the less there may have been a breach of discipline, disciplinary proceedings are taken. Proceedings are taken, not under Section 49, but under earlier Police Act provisions, and so undoubtedly the police are in jeopardy.
But in the earlier investigation, up to the point of the chief officer or the Director taking a decision about whether proceedings should be instituted, they are never in jeopardy in the real sense of the word because neither the chief officer nor the Director is making a decision about whether a criminal offence is proved. The only organisation that can make that decision is the court. It is in that sense that the officer is in jeopardy. If then it becomes a disciplinary matter to be dealt with by the chief officer and he makes a decision about it, then they are in jeopardy. Because of the way in which Section 49 is implemented, if an investigation produces a set of facts on which subsequently the chief officer may decide to move in terms of discipline, then the two things have become merged. This is what worries the Police Federation most of all—if an independent review is introduced may not a policeman, having been found not guilty in disciplinary proceedings, be subject to double jeopardy in the sense of the independent review body saying that there is a case to answer on disciplinary proceedings? I do not think that the independent review body could put policemen in double jeopardy in relation to criminal offences; because they have never been put in jeopardy. This mixture of the two is at the root of the difficulty.
The real element of lay participation that would guarantee fairness is in the investigating process itself. One difficulty is that no one but the police knows enough about police techniques to do a satisfactory job of investigation. However, it would be possible to use ex-police officers, or even seconded police officers in a different capacity which was seen to be completely distinct from the police.
With my intimate links with the founding of the Parliamentary Commissioner and his office and the reviews that took 1007 place of the early stages of his work when I was on the Select Committee, I confess that my preference is for something of that nature. We cannot undermine the chief officer's responsibility for discipline and the Director's responsibility for preferring proceedings. Equally, the Parliamentary Commissioner cannot take decisions that the Minister or the Permanent Secretary in the Civil Service Department concerned has to take. All that the Parliamentary Commissioner does in his investigation is to find the facts and make his recommendation, but it is only a recommendation. In the end it must be implemented by the Department itself.
If the Ombudsman or somebody of that nature were to undertake this independent review, he could establish the facts and pass the case back to the Director or the chief officer saying, "Look at this matter again because it seems that the facts were not sufficiently clear before." That would guarantee an essential element. If the investigation could be conducted initially, not by the police force, but by the Parliamentary Commissioner's special staff recruited from ex-police officers or seconded police officers, there would not be any question of double jeopardy.
In looking at the matter afresh the Police Federation and the chief officers might consider this alternative as a way of guaranteeing fairness. It would give that confidence.
In the early stages of the experiment for a Parliamentary Commissioner the Civil Service was very distrustful about the new element that might be breathing down its neck. It is now fair to say that, as a result of the way in which the first two Commissioners have conducted their work, there is considerable confidence in Whitehall in the fairness with which they do their work, even though they have on occasion been critical. This has come about in large measure because the first two Commissioners were in a sense gamekeepers turned poachers. They knew the ropes and were able to see the sensitivities of those they were investigating.
If my suggestion is right, it might be that whoever was responsible was himself an ex-police officer but independent in the sense that he was no longer committed to the police force. That would 1008 overcome the difficulty of double jeopardy which I recognise is of real concern to the police.
If for reasons of the historical continuity of this argument—that we can go only one small step at a time—we are committed only to the review procedure, there are difficulties about the Bill which it may be can be sorted out in Committee. One difficulty is that it is clear that under Clause 3 my hon. Friend intends that the police officer himself should have a right of appeal to the tribunal. By reason of the nature of Section 49 of the Police Act, it may be that he will not, however, in practice, because what Section 49 suggests is the possibility of criminal proceedings. When that has been discounted, either by the chief officer or by the Director, a plain rejection is sent both to the complainant and to the police officer.
No police officer will appeal against a rejection of proceedings on the bald statement of either the chief officer or the Director, and he does not know what the result of the investigation of facts has been at that stage. What he wants to complain about is if, after that, the chief officer takes disciplinary proceedings against him and certain facts are elicited with which he disagrees.
Under Clause 3 it would not be possible for a police officer to appeal to the tribunal against disciplinary proceedings of that nature. They are dealt with under a separate section of the Police Act. It is therefore essential that the police officer should have a right of appeal to the tribunal and that should be guaranteed in any kind of procedure. That clearly must encompass the question of disciplinary proceedings as well as the possibility of a criminal offence. This is one of the matters which would have to be considered in the Committee if the Bill were to be sent there.
I hope I have said enough to show that the Opposition welcome the principle of the Bill. They would prefer that it went forward as a Bill. I leave that entirely to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North to decide. The hon. Member for Ormskirk suggested that the police were opposed to the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), who does such sterling work in the House for the Police 1009 Federation, has indicated, the Federation welcomes the principle of the Bill, though it has some reservations about whether it would put policemen in double jeopardy, and on that the Federation would want some assurances in Committee. That in itself is a considerable advance on which the Federation is to be congratulated.
With all those provisos and cautions, I leave the final decision to my hon. Friend. Because we accept the principle of the Bill we shall vote with him if he wishes to put the Bill to a vote.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald King Murray (Edinburgh, Leith)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) on his initiative in introducing the Bill and I welcome the constructive offer made by the Home Secretary this afternoon. I hope that my hon. Friend—it is for him alone—will see fit to accept the Home Secretary's offer.
As the first Scottish speaker in the debate I want to say a few words about the Scottish position. When my hon. Friend indicated that he wished to introduce a police reform Bill and that he would like it in principle to apply to Scotland, I had very earnestly to consider on his behalf whether such a provision was necessary in Scotland, because we have a considerably different system of prosecution and relationship between prosecutor and police from that which operates in England and Wales.
It appeared to me on reflection that there was an area of common ground which might be covered by my hon. Friend's tribunal and which could usefully be covered by an appropriate equivalent procedure in Scotland. Accordingly, I am responsible for the drafting of that portion of the Bill—Part II—which applies to Scotland and which proposes a police ombudsman. I am rather gratified by the fact that the Home Secretary appears to have been convinced of the validity of the argument in that direction.
It is probably unfortunate that the course of the debate has been such that we have not heard a Scottish Minister say what will happen for Scotland, nor have we heard any Scottish speakers bring out the fact that the situation in Scotland is 1010 different. I think it is useful for English and Welsh Members to learn something about the different state of affairs in Scotland. I could not conceal a wry smile when the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Soref) talked about the difficulties which would be introduced by having a lawyer or an independent person to investigate the police, because this happens daily in Scotland. The procurator-fiscal is an independent legal gentleman; he is totally independent, and investigates complaints made against the police if such complaints should be made.
Many of the difficulties which hon. Members from Engand and Wales have canvassed in the debate turn out on examination to be quite insubstantial when one considers the way in which these things are done in Scotland. The Scottish application part of the Bill, in a nutshell, proposes that there should be a police complaints commissioner for each region and for the smaller island areas. The Bill does not expressly suggest that there should be a deputy, but it is obvious that there should be machinery for a deputy for the more hard-pressed areas of Scotland such as Glasgow.
All I think I need say, as I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North will accept the Home Secretary's offer, is that it seems to me that the system of tribunals which he proposed for England and Wales would be unduly pompous and top-heavy for the comparatively favourable situation which we already have in Scotland.
It is right that I should underline the difference between the situations in Scotland and in England and Wales. I think I can put it shortly. Having done so, I shall be able to support the Bill and I urge my hon. Friend to accept the Home Secretary's offer.
In England and Wales when a criminal offence is committed the police interrogate suspects. It is the police who decide whether there should be a prosecution; it is the police who decide who is to be prosecuted, what charges should be brought, what witnesses should be called, and, apart from serious crime, it is the police who prosecute. In contrast with that, in Scotland when a criminal offence is committed it is the police who investigate. They report to the procurator fiscal. He is an independent, 1011 legally-qualified prosecutor not connected with the police force, paid on a Civil Service basis, under the general supervision of the Lord Advocate and not under the Minister responsible for the police.
I should point out that many hon. Members have expressed disquiet about something which causes me serious disquiet also. I understand that the working party was set up to investgiate the procedure for police complaints in October 1970—I hope I shall be corrected if I have got the date wrong—and that this high-powered working party referred to certain Scottish officials who were able to help in the inquiry. I understand that the report was in the hands of the then Secretary of State for the Home Department in December 1971. That report has not been published. I share the disquiet expressed by many hon. Members that proceedings of this kind, involving matters of so much public concern, can go on, as it were, behind closed doors.
I hope the Home Secretary will take note of the disquiet expressed on this matter and that he will fulfil his promise in the sprit of what I understood him to say, and will bear in mind the urgency necessary in inquiries of this kind. I suggest that he takes very seriously the state of affairs in Scotland and the possible contribution which Scottish procedures, which work effectively, may make in helping to improve affairs in England and Wales.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
We have reached the stage in this Bill when clearly the assurances given by the Home Secretary will more than likely be echoed by the Scottish Minister who I believe is liable to catch your eye very shortly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Therefore, it is pointless to speak about Part II of the Bill when the Bill is likely to be withdrawn.
It is nevertheless an odd situation in which one finds oneself, when at the end of the debate there has been no debate whatsoever on Part II. If I am right in assuming that the reply of the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office, may bear some similarity to what the Home Secretary said, and if there eventually emerges legislation, I ask the Under-Secretary to let us have two separate Bills. Let the 1012 Scottish matter be dealt with in the Scottish Grand Committee where it can be properly, thoroughly and exhaustively debated if necessary, rather than have this betwixt-and-between situation which is hardly satisfactory for anybody.
I wish to address my second point to the Under-Secretary, and here I am assuming what he is liable to say in reply to the debate. It is important that we should have the fullest consultation, because although the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) indicated the width of the consultations which he had undertaken and the satisfactory outcome of them, this situation was not paralleled in Scotland, and there was not really effective consultation in the way that the hon. Member for Derby, North, described.
I am not necessarily complaining about this to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray), who was helpful to me personally in indicating what he intended to draft on to the main body of the Bill, but nevertheless this was late in the day and, although it was possible to raise it at one of the quarterly meetings of the executive, this was not the same as an exhaustive consultation by a special committee established for that purpose.
Incidentally, if it had been decided to send the Bill to Committee as a result of a vote today it would have created a difficult situation. One understands that Part I is acceptable. On the other hand, most of the Federation in Scotland are dubious about Part II. So one is almost torn in two, and this is a situation that could have been avoided.
My last point is to echo what the hon. and learned Member for Leith said to the Home Secretary before his departure, when he recommended the Home Secretary to consider the Procurator-Fiscal system in Scotland. The English, God bless them, have a great concept of the might of their law, to which they frequently refer as "British justice". But I think Scottish justice has a good deal to commend it also, and certainly in this field. Certainly, in this particular matter —it was the basic reason, I think, why the Police Federation was dubious about Part II—there is, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, an independent person on the ground able to investigate complaints. That was the principal reason 1013 why the Federation felt that a commissioner as well would be a third bite at the cherry.
It is, as I say, odd to find oneself engaged in a debate which is almost not a debate. Perhaps the most efficacious thing to do is to sit down, with no more than the closing observation that the management of the debate has the look of a cunning device by Mr. Speaker to ensure that, when hon. Members rise to speak, they have little to say.
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I offer the usual congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) on his good fortune in the ballot and on his choice of topic, but I am doubly grateful to him for allowing me to be a sponsor of the Bill and for accepting the suggestion that an independent review tribunal system for complaints against the police in Scotland should be part of it.
I recognise, as the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) did, that there are difficulties in dealing with a United Kingdom Bill when there are two systems of police, two systems of complaint, and two systems of law. However, failing luck in the ballot for a Scottish Member who would have a good enough place to put forward a separate Bill for Scotland, we had to decide either to let the thing go by default for lack of opportunity or to take the opportunity here to air the question.
By and large, we have in our Scottish police forces first-class men doing a first-class job. It is important that there shall be no erosion of public confidence in the integrity of the police, and, perhaps even more important, that there shall be no erosion of the belief of Members of Parliament in the integrity of the police. Speaking from my experience, I assure the House that I have had many discussions over the past 2½ years with the chief constable and deputy chief constable of Aberdeen and I am satisfied that they are doing all they can to ensure that the reputation of the police force is extremely high.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will point to another difference between Scotland and England. In Scotland, chief constables are fre- 1014 quently most forthcoming when one inquires about complaints regarding the police, and they do not brush off such inquiries, as appears to be done elsewhere.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is a good point to make. There is a close discussion on these matters. Nevertheless, when an official complaint is lodged, perhaps by a Member of Parliament on behalf of a constituent, at the top of the letter in reply, in red letters, appears the phrase, "Private and Confidential". This means that public information is not forthcoming. Perhaps this is not so bad—I do not say that this is necessarily so—if the police say that there is no case to answer. But where there has been a case to answer—I have one in mind which is subject to appeal by a police officer, so I shall not comment on it—the public are not able to get the facts, and difficulties are created.
It is worrying that, if a complaint is found to be unjustified by the chief constable, there is no other way to tackle the matter. It is not satisfactory because, although the majority of people do not make serious allegations of abuse of police power, if one goes to the Secretary of State and asks him to conduct an investigation, he simply goes back down the tree.
I believe that the offer made by the Home Secretary, if a similar pattern is followed in Scotland, will go a long way towards restoring what damage there has been to the image of the police in Scotland. I do not regard the Bill as in any sense an anti-police measure. It is an attempt to strengthen the bond which ought to exist between police and public. I hope that we shall develop a satisfactory procedure, that the consultations will be fruitful, and that effective action will be taken soon.
§ 3.4 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)
I welcome and endorse what has been said by the three hon. Members from Scotland about our confidence and that of the public generally in the integrity of our police. During the period when I have been responsible for police matters at the Scottish Office, I have found no cause for anyone to say that the public at large find ground for complaint. I believe 1015 that there is general confidence and I believe that it is right for us to re-emphasise that confidence today. I do not believe that any part of the debate today has sought in any way to undermine the confidence of the police. We are all seeking to strengthen that confidence which the public have in the police.
However, I welcome this opportunity to say a little on the Scottish aspects of the subject and I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in congratulating the hon. Member on raising this subject as a result of his place in the ballot. I also congratulate him even more warmly because his Bill recognises that there are certain differences between England and Wales and Scotland in the way in which complaints against the police are handled. I pay tribute to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray) for his part in the Bill and the recognition that he has shown for this difference.
It would be helpful if I took the opportunity of explaining what happens in Scotland because, although there is a great deal of confidence in the police in Scotland, too infrequently is it spelled out precisely what the position is on complaints. My right hon. Friend referred to the procedure in England and Wales, and in many respects our procedures are similar.
In Scotland, as in England and Wales, every complaint against the police by a member of the public must be recorded, and it is the statutory duty of the police authority and of the Inspectorate of Constabulary to keep themselves informed about the way in which complaints are dealt with in each force. For this purpose the Discipline Regulations require that the action taken on every complaint must be recorded. The Scottish regulations lay on the deputy chief constable the responsibility for the oversight of disciplinary inquiries and he has a particular responsibility for appointing the investigating officer, who need not be drawn from the same force. In many cases they are drawn from a different force.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, like the Home Secretary, can arrange for local inquiries to be held into matters connected with the policing of any area. Moreover, Scottish chief constables must, if requested, provide my right hon. 1016 Friend or the appropriate sheriff, magistrates or police authority with a report on any matter concerned with the policing of the area. So far I have dealt with the position which is in many ways identical to that in England and Wales. However, as the hon. and learned Member for Leith pointed out in his speech the most important difference between England and Scotland relates to the role of the procurator fiscal.
As the House knows my right hon. and learned Friend, the Lord Advocate, is responsible for prosecutions in the High Court and the Sheriff Courts, and prosecutions in the Sheriff Courts are conducted by the local procurators fiscal under the general control and direction of the Crown Office. Where a complaint is made against a police officer from which, in the words of the regulations,it may reasonably be inferred that a constable has committed a criminal offencethen, even if there is no evidence in substantiation the allegation must be referred to the fiscal. It is perfectly appropriate for such a complaint to be sent direct to the fiscal by the complainer, which was the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Leith. The fiscal is himself responsible for the investigation of complaints suggesting that there may have been a criminal offence: he may—and generally does—see the witnesses himself, and he obtains where necessary the advice of the Crown Office.
It is this peculiar rôle which I commend to my hon. Friend's south of the border. I believe that we have a greater independent element already built in than in England and Wales. Equally, I make no apology for spelling it out in detail, I do not do so with the attitude of the "Unco' guid", but this is a case where we can claim to do better than south of the border.
The main criticism of the present arrangements is that the police are judge and jury in their own cause. Such a description is seriously misleading. There is no doubt that there are policemen, as there are people in all walks of life, who would like to conceal the offences or indiscretions of themselves and, sometimes with misguided loyalty, of their colleagues. But they know that they are particularly vulnerable to complaints.
1017 They know that the rules require all complaints to be recorded. They know that failure to record complaints is bound, sooner or later, to come to the notice of their superiors, the inspectorate or the police authority, and that the punishment for such failure is severe. They know, too, that all serious complaints go outside the force to the fiscal and that he is in no way bound to accept the results of police inquiries into such complaints. I find it very difficult in these circumstances to accept that the present procedure is, as some have described it. "an inside job".
In his report for 1971 the Chief Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland refers to the statutory duty of the inspectors to satisfy themselves that complaints are properly investigated. He says:We find that all Chief Constables and Deputy Chief Constables take this duty very seriously indeed and go to considerable lengths to satisfy themselves regarding the worth of a complaint. We"—that is, the inspectors—are satisfied that the investigation and disposal of complaints against the police are thorough and objective.Here I come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes), whose interest in the matter I know. As the House is aware, there is an appeal to my right hon. Friend from any decision by a chief constable following disciplinary proceedings whereby a finding of guilt has been recorded against a policeman. As part of the process of considering such appeals, the full documentation in the case is submitted to my right hon. Friend. Although such cases are not numerous I can say confidently, on the basis of the papers submitted in connection with them, which I see, that the police go to enormous lengths to investigate complaints and that the punishments awarded very clearly bear out the view of the Inspectorate that chief constablesrightly expect a higher standard of conduct than is expected in many other occupations".All hon. Members pay tribute to the police, with that higher standard expected of them.
I shall now refer briefly, because I know that the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith took a great deal of trouble over the Part of the Bill with 1018 which he is concerned, to two aspects of the Bill that are of interest in the Scottish situation. First, it is proposed that the Commissioner should be empowered to examine and review decisions of the Crown authorities not to prosecute a police officer who has been the subject of a complaint. Happily, the consideration of such cases forms a small part of the work of the Crown authorities. But the principle involved is very large, and I think that if the hon. and learned Gentleman reflects on it he will agree that it is not acceptable that the Commissioner should have the unique power to bring under review decisions not to prosecute in particular cases. I mention this point because it was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in response to an intervention. It is important to get it right in relation to any question of whether a commissioner might be involved in relation to the position of the Crown authorities.
I return again to the role of the procurator fiscal in response to a point put by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston). I am not backpedalling on my praise of the procurator fiscal system, but we have to be careful about the extent to which we extend his role. The Bill proposes, in effect, that it should be the duty of the fiscal to examine all complaints, whether or not a criminal offence is alleged. Presumably this would include, for example, allegations of negligence or discourtesy. I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that to bring in this kind of thing is not really appropriate to the functions of the fiscal.
I have already explained that the Discipline Regulations lay a clear duty on the police to report to the fiscal all cases where criminal conduct is alleged, and I have never received any complaints that this requirement is being ignored or evaded. Only those allegations from which criminal offences could be inferred are appropriate to the fiscal's responsibilities, and I am sure that this is right.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said he proposed to consult the police bodies and the local authority associations in England and Wales about the introduction of some form of ex-post facto review. While, as I have pointed out, there are differences in Scotland in the arrangements made for 1019 dealing with complaints against the police, the principle of an ex-post facto review, which would clearly represent a very substantial change, must clearly be examined in a Great Britain context. It is therefore the intention of both my right hon. Friends that the consultations about to be undertaken should cover the appropriate interests in Scotland. I assure the hon. Member for Inverness that we shall carry out the widest possible consultations—and here I pay tribute to him for his work as adviser to the Scottish Police Federation.
Perhaps I should summarise what I believe are perhaps the most important principles, which are fundamental to the type of consultations we are to carry out. In the first place, as my right hon. Friend said, in a disciplined force the chief officer must be the person responsible for discipline in his force. That must underlie the consultations. Secondly, a decision whether to prosecute for a criminal offence must be taken in Scotland by the procurator fiscal and in England and Wales by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Thirdly, if either of them rules against a criminal offence, it is in my belief out of the question to substitute a similiar disciplinary offence on the identical evidence. There obviously cannot be a lower standard of proof for the disciplinary offence. Fourthly, and very important, the investigation must be carried out by a police officer. When we reflect on the matter and on the availability of expertise, we must clearly accept that this is the correct way.
Fifthly, I would like to emphasise, in the Scottish context, the point that a police officer must not be put in jeopardy twice. This must be a principle of equity underlying all our consultations.
§ Mr. Ronald King Murray
The hon. Gentleman implied, perhaps inadvertently, that Part II of the Bill provided that the Police Commissioner could, as it were order criminal proceedings if the procurator fiscal had said that there were to be be no criminal proceedings. Perhaps he will look at the wording of the Bill. He will see that there is no such provision.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
The Home Secretary has made it plain that he hopes to have his investigations and discussions 1020 completed by the end of the year. He said it was his aim to institute an agreed procedure as soon as possible after the end of the year. Can we have the same assurance from the Under-Secretary?
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I willingly give that assurance. It is important, having started these consultations, to see that they are carried through to a conclusion as quickly as possible. We are all united in our desire to maintain law and order and to uphold the good name of the police. What is also important, and this underlay many of the speeches today, is that we should proceed on an agreed basis over such a vital matter. That is fundamental and it is in that sense that the issue of consultation is so important. The new scheme should have the support and confidence of the police service as well as the public if it is to be effective. It is on that basis that we propose to carry out our consultations.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernie Money (Ipswich)
After the important nature of the announcement by the Home Secretary it may be that the matters which turn in the debate will turn more on the nature of that statement than upon the Bill. Nevertheless the whole House pays a sincere tribute to the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) for having brought about a situation which has achieved this important and liberal development in our constitutional practice.
I want to raise a number of queries with my right hon. Friend, through the Minister of State, about how the envisaged system will be implemented. I refer first to the question of referral. The difficulty with the previous system for the investigation of police complaints was very well summed up by a letter which I received from a senior officer of police dealing with the hon. Member's Bill. After having paid considerable tribute to other matters in the Bill, he said:I remain a little pessimistic as to the outcome of the suggested changes to procedure as I cannot help but feel that some of the complaints which have highlighted this matter are from complainants who will never be satisfied unless their own point of view was totally accepted in every case.We all know, as constituency Members, the position with which we are faced by the determined and possibly firm believer in the justice of his own cause, who will 1021 never accept anything other than that the cause is right. I hope that in the circumstances a scheme will evolve whereby the system of complaints will not be swallowed up so that the police ombudsman —or whatever the parliamentary commissioner will be known as—has to deal with a vast number of complaints about an officer failing to tell someone the time when asked, or failing to wave them on at a traffic signal or something of that nature. I hope that a system comparable to that which exists for matters referred by Members of Parliament can be evolved. It is against that background of referral only that the scheme will become effective. I would be grateful for some sort of statement in due course from my hon. and learned Friend about the question of publicity and statistics.
One of the matters in the Bill about which I have some concern is Clause 2, which deals with the publication of police reports. In many ways this is the most difficult matter of all. Relationships between the police and public are, of their nature, bound to be a most sensitive sector. The police inevitably have more opportunity for abuse and to cover up abuse, but, at the same time, they are most likely to be subject to complaints which it is very difficult for them to refute. Therefore, a determined complainant, by means of constant complaints against an individual officer for whom he may have some spiteful dislike, could, on the principle of water running on a stone, cause great harm to the officer's career.
Merely to reduce the matter to statistics is the most dangerous and difficult thing of all. Statistics can be the greatest liars and could produce an almost meaningless situation as to the number of complaints as opposed to the gravamen of the complaints. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will announce to the House in due course that a system has been evolved similar to the present Parliamentary Commissioner system, that the general weight of the quality of complaints made will be annually considered by the parliamentary commissioner for police and that he will announce at the end of the year or at a suitable time possibly the total number of complaints.
In particular, I hope that he will make a report about the quality and seriousness of the complaints which he regards as 1022 being of significance, otherwise we shall be swallowed up in a mass of statistics which may be either totally unfair to the police or meaningless. The principle of justice being seen to be done will not become immediately apparent to the police.
I pass to the extremely interesting and significant points raised by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray) and by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office, about the differences between the system in England and the system in Scotland. As a part Scot who received part of his education in Scotland, I sympathise with and support the pride of Scottish Members in their system.
We are only slowly getting away from the most dangerous part of the traditional relationship between the police and the public. There are many buildings in this country which still have the words "Police Court" written on them. The Department of the Environment or the Home Office, whichever is directly responsible for dealing with the question of buildings—perhaps it is the Lord Chancellor's Department—might find it too expensive to replace the buildings, but we are only slowly getting away from the feeling that the police are acting in an all-embracing capacity.
Therefore, I strongly support what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Leith about the advantage in the procurator fiscal system of having a totally independent body and, taking it a stage further, a body which will act independently in court, because all practising lawyers know, particularly those of us who served our apprenticeship in the magistrates' courts, the extraordinary inbred atmosphere in many magistrates' courts, with the police inspector being well known not only to the members of the bench, on whom one hopes he will have no influence, but to the magistrate's clerk and others concerned. Coming in as an outside advocate, one feels that one is almost interfering in a private tea party. It is against that sort of background that possibly the greatest embarrassment which the police in England now have to face can be resolved.
Frankly, I was disappointed that my right hon. Friend could not give an assurance to the House this afternoon that 1023 the whole question of the implementation of the Criminal Law Revision Committee's suggestion could not be put back till such time as the House has heard that there will be an adequate and effective system for the investigation of police complaints. The implications of the suggested criminal law revision have been of deep concern to all members of the legal profession and to all those concerned with justice generally. I hope that what has been said on this subject by the Bar Council, the Criminal Bar Association and by other responsible bodies will be widely circulated and discussed in the House.
In particular, the real risk is that we have not grasped the nettle of just what we want in this country in the way of preliminary police investigation. Every practising lawyer in the House who practises regularly in the criminal courts knows that the bulk of all criminal trials is taken up with long arguments on what are generally referred to as the "verbals" —whether or not remarks were made by a defendant to a police officer. There is the famous definition of one distinguished detective inspector who, when asked in the Central Criminal Court what this was, replied that verbals are what was said freely and openly by a defendant to a police officer before the defendant had the benefit of legal advice. That is the easiest way of obtaining a conviction—by putting words into the mouth of a defendant at a time when he is most vulnerable.
It is against that background that we look at the question, how are we to face up to that point? Because it is on that point that the multitude of the really serious complaints against police officers are made. We have to face the question whether we want to adopt in due course juge d'instruction the system which exists on the continent, and whether our membership of the Community will lead us to that, whether we shall make mandatory investigation in front of a justice of the peace, or the use of tape-recorders, or some form of totally independent check.
I fully believe that it will be no use providing a system of checks and balances in the existing situation of possible criminal evidence being referred to the Director of Public Prosecution, or the situation, as envisaged in this afternoon's statement, of a police ombudsman to deal 1024 with other complaints, unless we grasp that nettle which, rightly or wrongly, seems to poison relations between the police and the public—grasp it firmly and deal with it effectively.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) in the debate. Even where one disagrees with him—and that is not always throughout his speech—interesting possibilities of disagreement are opened up. If I resist the temptation to follow up his arguments it is because to a great extent the details and the techniques have disappeared from the debate and will he discussed at a later stage.
I am tempted to take up what the hon. Gentleman said about the investigatory procedures. One day we may have to look at this subject in a wider context. This country is one of the very few which give such power to the police to investigate in the early stages, entirely unsupervised by any judicial authority. There are strong arguments both ways, but the decision we take as to whether to retain that system, if ever we take a conscious decision—will have wide repercussions.
What I have to say will be very different and much briefer than it might otherwise have been. I want principally to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) upon raising and bringing to a head an issue which has troubled the civil liberties organisations and the police authorities for a substantial period of time. I congratulate him, too, on what he has achieved today. If it does not sound ungracious in what is becoming an atmosphere of euphoria, I would comment that the necessity for a Private Member's Bill exemplifies what happens to many proposals on this subject.
In July 1969—and I am becoming sufficiently long in the tooth in this House to recollect it—an early day motion was set down principally by the officers of the National Council for Civil Liberties group in the House, and was signed by 167 hon. Members. That motion was principally responsible for discussions which led to the establishment at that time of the joint departmental committee. Shortly afterwards Justice established a working party to review and 1025 bring up to date what to some extent it had already said in the Whyatt Report and to the Royal Commission on the Police in 1962. That working party reported in January 1970. Again, it was widely discussed. The report went somewhat further in its recommendations than do the proposals in the Bill. The report wanted not merely an independent tritribunal but an independent investigator. Some of the difficulties that might arise from that proposal have been discussed earlier in the debate.
I should declare an interest. I am a member of the Council of Justice and of its executive, and I am prejudiced in favour of its recommendation, although I appreciate that there is scope for discussion and consultation about them.
Towards the end of 1970 it became noised abroad that the joint working party was about to report. There were inspired leaks to the better informed sections of the Press, and we were promised an important announcement soon. In the issue of The Times of 3rd November 1970 Mr. Peter Evans said:Whether the working party's report is to be made public is not yet known. But it would be unlikely for Mr. Maudling, the Home Secretary, to decide to keep secret a matter of such obvious public importance.Those of us who have suspected from time to time that The Times is privy to the Government's deliberations must regard that as counter evidence. There were no initiatives from the Government. I am not making a party point on this but a back bench point. I was wondering why so many of our civil liberties debates take place on Fridays and then the truth dawned upon me. It is that normally they have to depend upon back-bench initiative. I repeat my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North. I congratulate him, too, for the moderation with which he introduced the Bill. It has become obvious that the sponsors are not getting at the police and are not concerned to make their task more difficult. It is easy to make irresponsible and unfounded allegations against the police when one finds oneself in a spot, just as it is easy for an authority which is responsible for answering to make indignant denials. Perhaps for that reason we require some investigatory procedure which has the confidence of the public. 1026 If the police are constantly looking over their shoulders because they are afraid of complaints, they will be impeded in carrying out their work—but they will be impeded very much more if they lose the confidence, and therefore the co-operation, of the public.
We live in an age when, quite properly, the public are more and more concerned about being satisfied that what is done in their name is properly done, and to be able to bring their grievances to somebody who has the ear of the authorities. Hence, in public administration we have the Parliamentary Commissioner. We are also talking about an Ombudsman for local authorities. I think the time will come when we shall require some kind of Ombudsman for the consumer, and we may find a need for a human rights commission in this country. This is all part of the same syndrome. If it means that the public are becoming less likely to accept the mere say-so of the authorities than they were a few years ago, it is a syndrome to be welcomed. It produces its problems, particularly for legislators, but we should not complain about that.
There are a number of difficulties in all these proposals. They have been dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) and by other contributors to this debate. We may have to make our representations through our own official organisation and privately during the Home Office consultations and I hope that the Home Office will keep its ear open to all representations that are made. I hope that from time to time it will be possible for the Government to keep the House informed of the course of the consultations. I do not suggest that they should make a statement every time they have a conversation with somebody, but that from time to time we may be given a progress report and be able to make our own comments.
I believe the problem is to maintain various balances. We have to balance the community's interest in law and order and in the prevention of crime with the interest of individuals not to be harassed by the authorities. At the same time we must keep the balance between the police being allowed to get on with their job and the need for co-operation among members of the public based on public confidence in what transpires.
1027 I welcome the approach of the Home Secretary. Although he did not go as far as some of us would have wished, he indicated that he was now prepared to listen to what my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North wants to say on the subject and to do something about it. A balance must be kept between the need for the fullest consultation to ensure that all matters are based on agreement and the real need for urgency. I believe that those aims are not inconsistent.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)
I shall not make the speech I intended to make because I know that the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) wishes to reply to the debate and I do not wish to stand in his way. I congratulate him on producing this Bill—and upon doing so in a masterly and moderate speech, but I hope that if he does get the opportunity to reply to the debate he will seek to withdraw the Bill. I am in no way criticising the hon. Gentleman but am seeking to acknowledge the signal service he has afforded to the House in bringing the Home Secretary to the Dispatch Box to make one of the most significant statements on this subject for many years.
When the hon. Member for Derby, North wrote to me many weeks ago and invited my support for his Bill I found myself immediately sympathetic to his aims and objectives. It is essential that those who make, interpret and enforce the law should never appear to be above the law. The law itself must guarantee this absolutely. Although the Home Secretary spoke about an experiment, I sincerely hope that before long he will produce a Bill on this topic because legislation is needed. Legislative force must be given to any proposals. I hope too that when experiments are conducted they will not be confined purely and simply to the London area and I wish to stress that this is absolutely essential.
The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) made a typically vigorous and individual contribution to the debate. Although he introduced a slightly unfortunate note, he illustrated that there is a degree of disquiet in the country—a degree of disquiet that has certainly been increased by the number of convictions of police officers, some of 1028 them quite senior, over recent years—about 70 last year.
It will be a particular service to the police force itself—and there is no better police force in the world—when the ombudsman, or whoever he may be, is appointed and a Bill is finally introduced as a Government measure. All hon. Members who have taken part in the debate are deeply conscious of the tremendous contribution that the police force makes to our national life.
I was never more conscious of that than when, some little time ago, I accompanied members of my own police force for a whole evening and into the early hours of the next morning in Panda cars, patrol cars, and so on. On one occasion, we came to a large country house, deserted because the owner had recently died, but still full of valuable furniture. We saw a light in the window, and the two officers and myself, naturally completely unarmed, walked round the shrubbery, thinking that intruders had entered.
Two thoughts struck me: first, what would happen if violence ensued—but I must not digress—secondly, if there were any sort of fracas, how easy it would be in those circumstances for spurious and malicious complaints to be made. So often the complaints are spurious and malicious, and it is for that reason above all others that I welcome the initiative of the hon. Member and the intervention of my right hon. Friend. It is essential that when complaints are malicious and spurious, they should be shown up to be so.
We all know from the Grosvenor Square demonstration of a few years ago and from other more recent examples how often the police are put into a difficult position by those who try to provoke them into doing unfortunate things. I have given an undertaking to sit down in a couple of minutes and so I will not deal with this subject at length.
I should like to underline my support for the principles of the Bill and make an earnest plea to the hon. Member for Derby, North who, twice in successive years, has not only had good fortune in the ballot but has performed great service to the House and the country—to withdraw the Bill so as to enable my right 1029 hon. Friend to get on with his consultations without any fear of being circumscribed or hampered. As I promise to do, I hope that he will keep these matters under close scrutiny and review so that the experiment may be quickly introduced when the consultations are complete and so that, when the experiment has been conducted, appropriate legislative action may be taken.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I must ask leave of the House to intervene again.
In the light of his plea, I have only one remark to the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) and that is, following Lord Reith, "I hear you". I shall come to his suggestion about the Bill, but before doing so—and without introducing too saccharine a note—I should like to say that I am exceptionally grateful to the Home Secretary for an announcement that has clearly been a significant policy shift in this respect, marking, as he said, a major divide between himself and his predecessors of both parties.
The constructive intervention by the Home Secretary and his acceptance of the principles embodied in the Bill ought now to be followed by rapid action. I hope that the Secretary of State has noted that a number of hon. Members on both sides saw only minor and comparatively insignificant points of detail which needed to be amended in the Bill, so that the Bill could be turned into legislation.
My reservation about what the Secretary of State said is simply this: the process of consultation must not be over long. There has been consultation, particularly in the case of the police. There were secret consultations over a long period during the working party proceedings. Hon. Members on both sides hope that these consultations can come to a conclusion this year, whether it means this calender year or this parliamentary year.
I believe that more is needed than experiment and that what is needed, as the hon. Member for Cannock said, is legislation setting up statutory bodies. Precisely those areas which may be most reluctant to introduce the kind of review procedures we have in mind will be those that need it most.
It was right, and it was in accordance with the proper tone of restraint in which 1030 the debate has been conducted, that few individual case histories have been gone into in all their sometimes gruesome details. They are there. We know about them. We know that in cases where there has been manifest injustice it is right and proper that there should be statutory proceedings which will offer redress as quickly as possible. It is not in those areas that the willingness to institute experimental proceedings on a non-statutory basis will be found. That is the only reservation I have.
The House is agreed in principle. Lord Chandos once said to me, giving it as a reason why we should not join the Common Market—it was a very Conservative argument—"The English and the French never agreed because basic phrases could not be agreed. When the English said that they were agreed in principle, they meant that they would set out to do something on the basis of what was discussed. When the French said they were agreed en Principe, it meant the precise opposite."
I hope that we are agreed today in the English non-EEC sense of the word, on the need for urgent action.
In view of that, and expressing gratitude to all hon. Members who have supported me—notably Mr. Harper, who drafted the English section—and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray), I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.