HC Deb 19 June 1975 vol 893 cc1647-9
3. Mr. Bates

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is yet in a position to make a statement on his proposals for a new procedure in cases of complaints against the police.

26. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has now completed the process of consultation concerning his proposed legislation on police complaints.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

The consultations have now been concluded. I am making some changes in the details of my original proposals in the light of the views which have been expressed. I intend to make a further statement before the Summer Recess.

Mr. Bates

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply and for giving us an idea when he will announce his proposals. In formulating those proposals, will he bear in mind that many hon. Members wish to ensure that there is an independent element throughout the complaints procedure and that it is not used merely as a last resort in certain investigations? As this is a matter of some importance, will he ensure that his final proposals are made in the form of a statement to the House and not merely in a Written Answer or in some other way?

Mr. Jenkins

Yes. The principles underlying the scheme I put forward last July were that an independent element, in the form of a statutory commission, should play an effective part in the procedure before a decision is taken on disciplinary action, and in certain cases in the hearing of disciplinary charges. These principles will be maintained. At the same time, I am anxious not to have too heavy or costly a bureaucratic structure. The principles I have outlined will be maintained, and I think that, as I made a statement to Parliament last July, it would be appropriate for me to do so orally on this occasion.

Mr. Whitehead

While appreciating that the 11 months of discussion are at last over, and being grateful for that, may I press my right hon. Friend further on the timetable for legislation to implement these proposals? What possibility is there that this can be done within this parliamentary year and, most particularly, by the time that the counterterrorism proposals are taken off the statute book in November?

Mr. Jenkins

I do not think that there is any possibility—I am surprised that my hon. Friend should think that there was—that this legislation could be carried through in the course of this parliamentary Session. But I can assure my hon. Friend that it is one of my highest priorities for next Session.

Mr. Jessel

Will the Government try to avoid giving the impression of facilitating or encouraging complaints against the police? Does the Home Secretary accept that Government and Parliament ought to do everything to encourage the police and boost their morale in carrying out their very difficult duties?

Mr. Jenkins

Yes, of course, and I endeavour in all possible ways so to encourage the police. But it has now been accepted on both sides of the House, from the time when the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr) announced a scheme—a scheme somewhat different from mine—for an independent element, that the position would be that it was desirable that justice should be seen to be done as well as it is, in most cases, I believe, being done at present, and that the position of the police in the legitimate discharge of their duties would be strengthened rather than weakened by this.

Mr. Crawshaw

My right hon. Friend will be aware that much of the disquiet that arises is caused because of the suspicion of secrecy. Will he say whether the new proposals allow for perhaps one or two independent observers to be in at grassroots investigations? The suspicion is that there is a certain amount of whitewashing before the investigation takes place, and perhaps an independent board of people selected from the local community could restore its confidence. I believe that the police are being maligned when it is unnecessary.

Mr. Jenkins

I think that quite often they are being maligned when it is unnecessary, though I think that occasionally, as with any service, there are matters which need to be brought to light. My hon. Friend, of whose knowledge in these matters and whose support of the police and other public authorities I am well aware, may, on reflection, think that it would be fairly cumbersome to introduce a board of this sort or a committee of citizens right from the beginning. It would be almost impossible to proceed in these circumstances with any effective investigation or any effective application of police discipline. It would be very cumbersome—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I assure my hon. Friends that if we could not have the police investigating any complaint when made against a police officer without having a committee of people brought in from outside right from the beginning, it would be very difficult. But what I wish, and what I have announced, is that the independent element shall play an effective part in the procedure before a decision is taken about disciplinary proceedings. In other words, it will be there from a very early stage.