HC Deb 07 June 1976 vol 912 cc954-1036

5.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department (Mr. Arthur Davidson)

I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 6, leave out from police) to 'he' in line 7.

Mr. Speaker

With this we may take the following amendments:

Amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 6, after 'police)', insert: 'or a preliminary report that the complaint was trivial or vexatious and not worth pursuing by investigation'.

Government Amendment No. 10.

Government Amendment No. 20, in page 2, line 35, at end insert— '(3) Where by virtue of subsection (2)(a) above, subsection (1) above does not apply in relation to a complaint, the chief officer of police shall, after the conclusion of the disciplinary proceedings (including any appeal to the Secretary of State), send to the Board—

  1. (a) a copy of the complaint and of the report of the investigation under the said section 49; and
  2. (b) particulars of the disciplinary charges preferred and of any punishment imposed.
(4) Where in the case of any complaint the documents mentioned in subsection (1) above are not sent to the Board before the expiration of such period as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State under section 5 below (whether because the investigation has not been completed or for any other reason) the chief officer of police shall send to the Board—
  1. (a) as soon as possible after the expiration of that period, a copy of the complaint; and
  2. (b) when he sends that copy and, in accordance with any provision made by the regulations, from time to time thereafter information as to the stage reached in dealing with the complaint;
but the obligations imposed by this subsection shall apply only if and so long as the case is one to which subsection (1) above applies or could apply and where a copy of the complaint is sent to the Board under this subsection no further copy need be sent under that subsection.
(5) References in this section to a copy of the complaint shall, in the case of a complaint made orally, be construed as references to a copy of the record of the complaint'.

Amendment (a) to Amendment No. 20, at the end of subsection 3(b), after 'imposed', insert: 'but no case of a complaint sent to the Board under his subsection shall be subject to the powers of the Board as set out in section 3 or 4 below '.

Amendment (b) to Amendment No. 20, in subsection (4), after second "Board", insert: and to the accused officer".

Government Amendment No. 21.

Mr. Davidson

These amendments have a twofold purpose. They make a new provision under which the board will see the cases which otherwise would not have been submitted to it.

The amendments also provide an alternative to the time limit on the investigation of complaints which was introduced by the Standing Committee into Clause 2(1).

The effect of the new subsection (3) is that even though, under the provisions of Clause 2(2)(a), a complaints case does not need to be submitted to the board in accordance with the provisions of Clause 2(1), because disciplinary charges have been preferred in respect of the matter or matters complained of and these have been admitted by the officer concerned, the board will still have an opportunity to see the papers at the end of the case.

The amendment is designed to remove the fears expressed in Standing Committee, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) that the board might be precluded from seeing certain cases in which it had a legitimate interest. Its effect, therefore, is to allow the board to see cases which, under the present provisions of Clause 2, it would be precluded from seeing. In such cases the board has virtually no Clause 3 functions to perform because the only issue to be decided is that of punishment and it is agreed that this is solely a matter for the chief constable. To meet my hon. Friend's concern, we propose in the amendment that the board should, nevertheless, see what perhaps in a convenient shorthand term I may nickname "exempted cases".

There will be no question of the board reopening the case if only for the purpose of avoiding any risk of double jeopardy. That is why we propose that such cases should be sent to the board only after the disciplinary proceedings, including any appeal to the Secretary of State, have been concluded. But I have no doubt that the board will find it useful to have information about these cases in connection with its interest in complaints generally. Moreover, should there be a rare case in which its study of the papers reveals cause for grave concern, the board will be able to make a special report to the Secretary of State and the police authority concerned under the provisions of a later Government amendment to Clause 7 which I hope will be accepted.

As the report sent to the board under the amendment will be for information only, we thought it right to keep to a minimum the amount of information to be sent to the board. All that is required is a copy of the complaint, a copy of the investigation report, and particulars of the disciplinary charges preferred and the punishment imposed. This, therefore, will be only a very small addition to the work of the police in what is likely to be only a small number of cases.

I turn now to new subsection (4) and the related amendment to page 2, line 6. There was strong pressure from both sides of the Committee for some form of time limit on the investigation of complaints to be written into the Bill. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department accepted the principle of the Committee's view but asked that an amendment stipulating a three-month time limit should be withdrawn on the undertaking that an appropriate Government amendment would be put down at a later stage. The Committee preferred, however, to insert the words appearing in lines 6 and 7 on page 2. This amendment is technically defective and the Committee, moreover, decided not to adopt a parallel amendment, discussed at the same time, which was designed to provide for an interim report if, in fact, the investigation had not been completed within three months. There is no doubt that the amendment is defective and that Clause 2(1) clearly cannot be left as it is.

We fully accept that complaints against the police should be dealt with as quickly as possible in the interests of all concerned, and all police forces have made special arrangements to ensure that this is so. The changes in procedure proposed by the Committee, moreover, to dispose quickly of anonymous and repetitious or trivial complaints should help to speed up the process generally. But some complaints—I am sure hon. Members will appreciate this—may be very serious indeed, amounting to allegations of criminal offences by police officers and may, therefore, involve a protracted criminal investigation.

Moreover, a substantial proportion of complaints arise from incidents between a member of the public and the police and could lead to that member of the public being charged before the courts. Where this happens, and the complainant himself is facing criminal proceedings, the House will know from earlier discussions that it is not normally possible, or in the interests of justice, for any full investigation of the complaint to begin until those proceedings have been completed. That is the most important and common single reason for what may seem without such an explanation to be a long delay in dealing with a complaint. While, therefore, the imposition of a time limit might cause no difficulties in most cases, there is no general time limit which, in practice, would be applicable to the variety and circumstances of all complaints.

We are, nevertheless, anxious to meet the Committee's wishes so far as we can although it will be apparent from what I have just said that it would be impracticable to leave an arbitrary time limit on the face of the Bill. There must be provision for different circumstances and it is for this reason that we propose, under the new subsection (4), to proceed by way of regulations. The details in any case would need to be worked out in consultation with the police representative bodies, among others, and to proceed by way of regulations will enable this to be done. On the basis that regulations are necessary, we accordingly propose, as a first step, the deletion of lines 6 and 7 on page 2, to the extent indicated in the amendment.

New subsection (4) makes the alternative provision which then becomes neces- sary. We propose that the police should be required to make a first "interim" statement to the board in all cases in which at the end of a period specified in regulations under Clause 5—perhaps three months—they are not ready to submit the papers to the board under the provision of Clause 2(1).

We do not think that it would be sensible to require further "interim" statements at regular intervals thereafter in all cases. If criminal proceedings were the cause of the delay in beginning investigations into a complaint, unhappily it might be many months before the outcome of the criminal proceedings was known, and further interim reports would serve no useful purpose since the position as regards investigation of the complaint would be unchanged. It is therefore proposed in new subsection (4)(b) that provision should be made in the regulations for the various circumstances in which further interim reports would be required.

The interim report will take the form of information as to the stage reached in dealing with the complaint". This information might be, for example, action suspended pending the trial of the complainant or some witnesses still to be interviewed", together with such brief supporting particulars as might be necessary. But there can be no question of directing the police to produce an analysis of the results of the investigations, if any, carried out so far. This would not only add considerably to the burdens of the police but might endanger the important principle which I mentioned just now, namely, that the investigation of complaints must be left to the police.

5.30 p.m.

As is made clear by the amendment to page 2, line 37, the board's power under Clause 3(1) to ask the police for additional information about a case will not apply to the interim reports envisaged under the new subsection nor, of course, to the reports envisaged under subsection (3) but this will not preclude informal inquiry as to the reason for any delay or, in the extreme case, a formal report to the Secretary of State under the proposed amendment to Clause 7 about a grave matter—for example, what may appear to be inordinate delay in dealing with a complaint.

The new subsection deals only with reports to the board. In drafting it, the Government considered carefully the question of sending reports and the relevant papers to the officer complained of and to the complainant. That is something about which the House obviously has strong views. The difficulties, however, are considerable. The main difficulty is that in some cases it might be contrary to the interests of justice to inform a police officer or a complainant of the stage reached, particularly in an investigation. On occasion it might hamper the investigation of a criminal offence for the suspect to know what stage the investigation had reached. For example, further witnesses might need to be interviewed. Then again, there are cases in which corruption has been alleged in which a police officer should not see a copy of the complaint while the matter is being investigated.

I accept that these difficulties would arise in only a small number of cases.

Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)

On a point of information, I cannot understand how, in either of the cases that the Minister has mentioned, which are both criminal cases, the board comes into the matter at all. Because they are criminal cases, they lie outside its ambit and go straight to the DPP. They would not be subject to the board's scrutiny because they have that criminal content.

Mr. Davidson

We have had long discussions about that and no doubt we shall have them again a little later. I accept that these difficulties would arise—

Mr. Alison

With respect, the Parliamentary Secretary cannot quite brush aside this matter. To attempt to do so merely means that he has not quite understood the nature of the Bill.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

That is not surprising.

Mr. Alison

The Minister is saying that in certain procedures in the Bill in relation to complaints before the Police Complaints Board, information cannot be given to the police officer who may be the subject of the complaint because criminal issues may be at stake. That is his point, but he appears to be misunderstanding the Bill fundamentally. There has been no dispute from either side, certainly not from his own side, that any complaint which has a potential criminal element—certainly corruption, the other example he mentioned, would be an example of that—did not go anywhere near the board. It is not within its ambit. It would necessarily go, under the exceptions provided for in Clause 2, to the DPP.

Mr. Davidson

Yes, but after the case has gone to the DPP, it will eventually go to the board, so the board will eventually receive the complaint and the results of the investigations into the complaint.

Mr. Alisonrose

Mr. Davidson

I have given way.

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman has not answered the point.

Mr. Davidson

The hon. Member will no doubt make his point. He might let me finish dealing with the amendment. I have a feeling that he will have plenty of time, as the night goes on, to develop his points.

Mr. Alison

I must ask the Minister to give way on this, because he has not dealt with the point at all.

Mr. Davidson

No, I think that I had better—

Mr. Alison

It will simply waste time if he does not give way.

Mr. Davidson

I think that it is wasting time if I do give way at this stage. The hon. Gentleman will be replying to my speech very early in our deliberations and I will deal with the point later, I can assure him.

Mr. Alison

I would ask the Minister to deal with this point now—

Mr. Davidson

I am sorry. I am dealing at this point with the amendments. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will reply and then no doubt I shall have an opportunity to reply to his reply and it will all be made clear. He must not rush things. He will have plenty of time.

As I said, I accept that these difficulties would arise only in a small number of cases, but unfortunately we saw no satisfactory way of defining them for the purposes of a statute or regulation. It is clear that chief officers should have complete discretion not to send copies of interim reports to complainants or the police officers complained of when it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so.

In these circumstances, my right hon. Friend proposes to deal with this matter by means of official guidance to chief officers of police. Chief officers at present already deal as helpfully as they can with inquiries about progress from any of the interested parties to a complaint and it should not be difficult, therefore, to work out with chief officers and others who are closely concerned an agreed policy under which chief officers, whenever possible, would send copies of the proposed interim reports to the police officers and complainants concerned as well as to the board. As for giving copies of complaints to the police officers concerned, this question arises on a later amendment—No. 28—and it may be more convenient to deal with it at that time.

I hope—although it does not appear to be the case—that I have satisfied the House about the correctness of these amendments. I hope that they will be accepted. Naturally, I shall listen with great interest to what the Opposition have to say.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

As the Minister said, these amendments cover several reservations which were voiced from both sides in Committee. We appreciate the Government's efforts to meet some of the points which came up, but in a number of respects, including the present amendments, they have fallen far short of what we had hoped.

Government Amendment No. 6 relates to time limits, which we discussed at some length. The three months' limit was inserted at the wish of hon. Members on both sides—indeed, it was only the Minister and three of his hon. Friends who voted against the proposal—and we were given to understand that there might be an alternative proposal at this stage. But there is none. We are not necessarily wedded to three months if there is an alternative, but none has yet been offered.

The hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, winding up the debate in Committee, undertook to look at the matter with a view to doing something on Report. She said, I hesitate to put in a time limit, but I undertake to put one in."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A; 3rd February 1976. c. 369.] In fact, neither she nor her hon. Friend has put one in. Instead, they have taken the time limit out, against the wishes of most hon. Members in Committee.

I appreciate that Government Amendment No. 20 implies that in certain circumstances a time limit can be made by regulation, but it was certainly the wish of most members of the Committee that some limit should be built into the Bill. I had hoped that we would be given some indication of what the Government had in mind about regulations. The Minister used the phrase as much as three months". Whether that was an illustration or a firm indication of the form that the regulations would take I was not clear.

In any case, Amendment No. 20 covers only the cases in which the details of the complaint have to be sent in by a certain time and not the memorandum called for in Clause 2(1)(b). Without that memorandum the board can take no action, so Amendment No. 20 will not get us very far.

On a number of occasions, reference was made in Committee to the difficulties which a policeman suffers when he has the shadow of these proceedings hanging over him, in some cases for months, and to how demoralising it must be for him and his family, particularly when such a relatively small proportion of complaints are substantiated. It is common knowledge that certain people make a habit of collecting police numbers and putting in complaints. They are not substantiated, but months elapse between a complaint being made and the outcome being made known. That is not fair to the police officer and his family. In one case within my knowledge, although it may be exceptional, 18 months elapsed. It is this sort of consideration which has been in our minds in discussing this aspect.

I accept that it is not possible to complete all inquiries within three months, but it is highly desirable that there should be some definite and firm pressure on those concerned to keep things moving. The Standing Committee was not happy about the vague undertakings given by the Minister and wanted a time limit written into the Bill. I hope that the House will now support us in that view.

Amendment No. 20 states that even where a charge is admitted the papers shall be sent to the Police Complaints Board. Why? We have already established that any serious cases—what might be described as "first-class cases"—will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions where a criminal element is involved, and that the bulk of the remainder, the "second-class cases", are not substantiated. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) has noted, the Bill will deal only with a tiny proportion of the cases. But the whole point of Amendment No. 20, which we seek to clarify, is that although a charge may be admitted the papers will still be sent to the board, to no purpose whatever. There is nothing that the board can do about it. The process is simply adding to the paperwork and there is a danger of bureaucracy simply running riot in the board, as we have pointed out before.

Our Amendment (a) to Amendment No. 26 is self-explanatory. It would lay down that copies of the papers if sent to the board should also be sent to the officer concerned. If there was a difference of opinion between my hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary a few moments ago, it was surely over the right of the police officer to know the state of play, as it were, in his case. The Parliamentary Secretary's argument on the instances he mentioned, where the papers would be sent to the DPP if any criminal element was involved and the case would not be within the purview of the board, does not stand up. It is surely reasonable that the police officer concerned in a complaint should know exactly what the position is in his case.

Amendment No. 7 seeks to write into the Bill an undertaking given by the Parliamentary Secretary in Committee. In Committee, hon. Members on both sides accepted that there was need for some sort of filtering mechanism to prevent the machinery from being burdened, if not clogged up, with what the hon.

Gentleman himself has described as frivilous, vexatious and idiotic complaints. We do not use the word "idiotic" in the amendment as there might be some doubt as to its parliamentary standing. But the point is that anyone can walk into a police station and say "I have a complaint", although he may not realise that it then becomes a "Complaint" with a capital "C" and has to go through the complaints machinery. It is an official complaint.

I referred in Committee to the rather odd complaint made by a gentleman about the manner in which a certain woman police constable smiled at him. We have heard of instances of differences of opinion between neighbours—an argument about the fence, for example—where someone has put in a complaint to the local police authority because the neighbour with whom he was in dispute happened to be a policeman. In Committee, my hon. Friends instanced a number of similar cases. It is common knowledge that the system is abused, and I have previously referred to the possibility of mass complaints.

5.45 p.m.

We had a number of debates on this issue in Committee. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to frivolous complaints. He told the Committee: The Board would be able to decide whether or not those complaints required further investigation. A preliminary report would be sent by the police that in their view they regarded the complaint as trivial or vexatious and not worth pursuing. They could stop their inquiries there, send their report to the Board, and it would be up to the Board to decide whether or not further investigations should be made. The Board might well agree with the police on the facts disclosed by that preliminary inquiry that there was so little evidence to suggest any sort of complaint at all, disciplinary or otherwise, that it was not worth pursuing. We certainly hope to devise a procedure which would cover that sort of situation."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 26th February 1976; c. 730.] If the Government have devised such a procedure, it does not appear in the Bill or in any amendment on Report, and therefore we seek to close the gap with our own amendment, which I hope will have have the support of the House.

Sir Bernard Braine

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims). In Committee, hon. Members on both sides worked hard and long to improve what was, I think most of us would agree—and I will be charitable about it—a singularly ill-drafted Bill. The Government's amendment now seeks to dispense with an amendment agreed in Committee by hon. Members on both sides after long and careful debate. That amendment required the chief officer to send his report of an investigation to the Police Complaints Board as soon as possible but certainly within a period of three months. The only exception was where disciplinary charges had been preferred. Our concern—shared across the Committee—was that, as a result of a complaint being laid by a member of the public against him, a police officer should not be left in doubt and suspense and in anxiety and fear for an unnecessarily lengthy period of time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), who represents the Police Federation, and I, who have been privileged for the past 10 years to be an adviser to the senior police officers, the Superintendents Association, told the Committee in considerable detail something about the facts of a police officer's life. The Home Secretary told us on Second Reading that the last recorded number of complaints against the police was 17,000 in one year, of which 90 per cent. were unsubstantiated. Clearly, therefore, when a complaint is made against a particular police officer—and he will know in his heart whether he is guilty or not—he should not be left in suspense for a longer period than is necessary. No doubt he will have been suspended by his chief officer. He will be under a cloud. His family will have to endure the possibility that, at the end of the day, their breadwinner will be dismissed the force. As likely as not, he will be reinstated, but the harm done to him cannot then be undone. At the same time, it was right and fair that we should provide machinery which ensures that a member of the public who has reason for complaining against the action of a police officer should be heard, and heard by a body independent of the police—on that there was no argument, and there are many good reasons why that should be inserted into the Bill. We were wise, therefore, to insist on the inclusion of a three-month time limit. Yet the Government now suggest that we should accept their wishy-washy amendment which does not honour the promise given in Committee that the matter would be dealt with properly here.

In Committee the Minister said: I hope hon. Members will accept the undertaking that there should be a time limit but that limit should be left to me."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 3rd February 1976, c. 369–70.] We now see the result—an amendment which is totally unacceptable. The House should reject it out of hand. In place of the clear and precise wording which was approved by the majority of the Committee, we have imprecise wording and a time limit which is to be the subject of a regulation which is not yet made. Too much in the Bill is to be left to the making of regulations at some unknown time in the future. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds and I had to keep on asking whether the Home Office wanted police co-operation because without it a complaints machinery is unworkable. The Government must give precise undertakings about consultations with the police staff associations about the making of Regulations.

Moreover, the amendment makes no reference to a maximum period. This should be a matter for Parliament and not one to be left to Ministers. Throughout the Committee I was strongly critical of the powers that we were being asked to give to the Home Secretary and I gave numerous warnings about undermining the authority and credibility of chief officers. We are dealing here not with the Salvation Army or some other voluntary association, but with the police service, where everything depends upon the authority, credibility and public-spiritedness of the chief officer and the quality of the men under his command.

At a time of rising crime and increasing terrorism we must be careful not to undermine the authority of the chief officer or the morale of the police. My doubts on the subject have prevailed because we agreed that the issue is almost without precedent in the history of Parliament. We agreed that the Home Secretary was the most unsuitable Minister to appoint members of the complaints board. There are many reasons for that which I will not go into, although the day is young and we may yet have to sit until the early hours of the morning.

The weaknesses still remain in the Bill and I do not entirely share the generous and charitable view of my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst. Those weaknesses should be exposed. My doubts prevailed because we decided in the end that the Home Secretary should not be the appointing officer, although the Committee was not sure who should be put in his place. I thought that it should be the Lord Chancellor and some other hon. Members had ideas about the Ombudsman. We all agreed that the one person who should not take on that responsibility is the Home Secretary who is himself a police authority. We agreed that the Home Secretary should not appoint members of the complaints board.

In the last day or two there has been an example of just how dilatory and wrong-headed the Home Office can be on matters which touch upon police discipline and morale. I am a little hesitant about bringing the matter up but what I have to say must be said in the public interest. I refer to the appalling decision of the Home Secretary to require the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire to reinstate in the police force of that county a police officer who was dismissed early last year because of gross indecency with young boys. I understand that the officer concerned has resigned today.

I cannot think of a decision which is more calculated to undermine the confidence of the public in the police and the Home Office or to undermine the power of the chief officer himself to deal with a matter of that kind.

I am advised that the Police Superintendents' Association views the decision with shock and horror. I see from today's The Times that Sergeant Edward Loughlin, the secretary of Bedfordshire Police Federation, said yesterday: We are horrified and appalled at the Home Office decision. Members of this force cannot see how they can work alongside a man convicted of such offences and do not want him back". I cannot think of an action which is more calculated to undermine the morale of police officers or to undermine the confidence of the public. The interesting thing about that decision—which is relevant to the amendment—is that it took the Home Secretary 16 months to force that deci- sion upon the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

I should like to say a few words if the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has finished his point about the Home Secretary. The hon. Gentleman has raised the matter although it seems irrelevant to the amendment.

Sir B. Braine

It would be wiser if the Minister waited until she heard the rest of my argument.

Dr. Summerskill

I should like to say something about the matter because my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is not here to speak for himself.

Sir B. Braine

It is open to the hon. Lady to say anything she likes. The House is eager to hear a defence for the decision. There is nothing to prevent the Minister from commenting.

Mr. Alison

Where is the Home Secretary?

Sir B. Braine

I should like to know where the Home Secretary is. I expected to see him here, because it is his Bill and he is responsible for it. I am talking of a decision that he made. I shall not withhold my comments because the Home Secretary has seen fit to absent himself from discussion on a Bill that is of major importance to the police. Where is he?

Mr. John Stonehouse (Walsall, North)

The Home Secretary is going to Europe —to Brussels.

Sir B. Braine

It is not for me to provide an explanation for the Home Secretary's absence. The Minister will have every opportunity to reply to my remarks, which are relevant to the amendment. There is nothing to prevent her from replying in detail later to everything that I say. But she has encouraged me to go into the matter in more detail than I had originally intended.

If The Times is correct, seven police officers yesterday expressed concern at the reinstatement of a constable who was dismissed early last year because of gross indecency with young boys. It was said that they believe that this could set a dangerous precedent.

6.0 p.m.

The whole purpose of the Bill was to promote greater confidence by the public in the machinery for investigating their complaints against the police. I do not think that it is disputed that the vast majority of the complaints made under the existing arrangements are trivial and cannot be sustained. That does not mean that there is not a case for improving the machinery to provide a sifting process so that genuine and serious complaints can be made against the police by members of the public. We are entitled to know that the police are not judge and jury in their own case.

On that issue there was never any division in the House. We were in complete agreement that there should be an independent element in the hearing of complaints against the police. All that we urged was that police officers should not be exposed to double jeopardy and that there should be no undue delay in such complaints being properly investigated.

The report in the Bedfordshire case, which was dealt with under the existing disciplinary arrangements, went to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and there followed a prosecution and conviction. Does anyone in the country think that the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire would have been justified in retaining in the force a man who had interfered with children? If any hon. Member thinks that the officer acted wrongly, I hope that he or she will say so.

What is the first thing children should be taught about the police by parents and teachers? It is "The police constable is your friend. If you are in difficulty, if you want information or help, you can always trust a constable." I submit, therefore, that the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire was acting in accordance with the highest traditions of his force and with a due sense of responsibility to the public when he dismissed the man.

The Home Office took 16 months to decide what should be done about the man's appeal, at the end of which it overruled the chief officer—incidentally, costing the Bedfordshire police authority £5,000 in arrears of pay. If there had not been that delay, the cost to the ratepayers would have been less. I hope that every ratepayer in Bedfordshire will note how that case was handled by the Government. It had arisen in February 1975, and the Home Office did not notify the Bedfordshire police of its decision until 26th May this year.

I return now to the amendment. The Minister responsible for the delay and for the appalling decision at the end of it is the Minister who now seeks to take out of the Bill the requirement that in the case of an investigation the report should be sent by the chief constable to the complaints board in three months or less. That is a precise requirement, but we now have this wishy-washy provision seeking to put the responsibility on a Regulation that has not yet been made.

I want to say with all the responsibility that I can summon up that this is un-accceptable to the police service and the general public, and it should be unacceptable to the House. I do not know how the matter will turn out, but I trust that the maximum fuss will be made about it in another place. The amendment should be thrown out.

Dr. Summerskill

As I said earlier, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department will reply to the debate if he catches the eye of the Chair, but I should like to remind the House of a few facts of the situation concerning Police Constable Betteridge. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), who raised it, referred to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Under the Police Act 1964, as under previous Police Acts, a member of the police force in England and Wales who is dealt with for an offence against discipline may appeal to the Home Secretary. On an appeal, the Home Secretary may make an order allowing the appeal, dismissing it or varying the punishment. He is not required to give reasons for his decisions on appeal, and it is long-standing practice not to do so.

On average, about 40 appeals a year are made to the Home Secretary. In taking his decision he acts after appropriate advice, including that of his legal advisers and Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary. A primary consideration for the Home Secretary in such cases, as for any appellate authority, is to ensure that all relevant considerations have been fairly and properly taken into account in the disciplinary hearing by the chief constable concerned.

In the case of Police Constable Betteridge, the Home Secretary's decision to vary the punishment imposed by the chief constable followed an appeal, one of the grounds of which was that medical considerations had not been given due weight in the hearing. After careful consideration of all the circumstances, my right hon. Friend decided that he could not uphold the punishment of dismissal. However, this did not preclude consideration by the chief constable and by Mr. Betteridge himself of the suitability of his continuing as a member of the force. Mr. Betteridge has now formally resigned.

Mr. Stonehouse

I intervene briefly to support some of the observations about the need to speed up the procedures for dealing with complaints against the police. I was very impressed by what the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) said about the Bedfordshire case. Although I accept that it is for the Home Secretary to make a final decision after an appeal has been made, I do not think that the Under-Secretary's intervention has dealt with one of the serious points, namely, the length of time taken to deal with the matter, which was 16 months. That was an incredible period, bearing in mind that what mattered at the end of the day was the medical evidence, which surely would have been available to the Home Secretary and his advisers within weeks of the appeal.

I agree about the need to use sparingly the machinery for making complaints. Incidentally, I am sorry that the House has been virtually deserted during the discussion of these important points. The Government Benches have been almost completely empty. Apart from a number of Ministers and their PPSs, there is not, and there has not been during the recent speeches from the Opposition Benches, one Labour Member present. In view of the time—it is only 10 minutes past 6 o'clock in the evening, not 10 minutes past 6 o'clock in the morning—it is deplorable that so few Labour Members are taking an interest in the Report stage of this very important Bill.

I believe, along with those who have already spoken in the debate, that the position of the Home Secretary in relation to the checking of the complaints made against members of the police force is crucial. Delay in considering a complaint against a policeman is vital. Bearing in mind the length of time taken in considering the Bedfordshire case, for which there has as yet been no satisfactory explanation, the House will not be persuaded that the length of time should be a matter for the Home Secretary and his advisers. I share the view that a clear time limit should be established within the Bill.

In the matter of complaints against the police it is very important that a balance should be struck. It is important that members of the public should have an opportunity to make legitimate complaints against the police, but it is also extremely important that members of the police should be protected against frivolous and vexatious complaints which may be made against them by members of the public who are not interested in seeing that justice is done but who have a particular axe to grind and whose relatives or friends might be pursued by the police.

Reference has been made to the need to have a filtering process, and I should like to examine that matter for a moment. We, as Members of Parliament, know that many members of the public, including our own constituents, come to us with frivolous complaints against Ministries, Ministers, civil servants and municipal employees, and we have to act as a filter to determine what are serious and what are not. Very often we have the disagreeable job of telling a constituent that we cannot pursue his inquiry because we do not consider it serious enough. There are members of the public who take a contrary view, and such persons may go on and on for a long time pursuing what are bees in their own bonnets.

If the Police Complaints Board is to be burdened with complaints of that sort, there may be an enormous build-up of petty complaints. The serious and legitimate complaints that are made against members of the force, and with which the Police Complaints Board should be dealing, may not be dealt with, because of the weight of trivialities that the board has to deal with. Therefore, there needs to be some filter.

I suggest that the filter might operate in this way. A complaint may be made initially to members of the police force, who have a duty to pass it on to the Police Complaints Board. If those members of the police force—whoever they are—who receive the complaint initially feel that it is not a justifiable complaint, because it is obviously trivial, they should be empowered to give a quick reply to the person in question indicating that he should have another opportunity of pursuing his complaint but that it should not automatically go to the Police Complaints Board, because it could clutter up the board with trivialities.

If the system by which complaints are made to the ombudsman were adopted, a situation could arise in which, if a member of the public complained and his complaint was rejected initially by the police authorities, he could then pursue the matter through a Member of Parliament, who would consider the full case presented to him, and could then decide that, notwithstanding the initial objection of the police force to the matter being passed automatically to the board, it could go forward. In that way a protection for members of the public could be provided, and there would be an opportunity for the Police Complaints Board to avoid being cluttered up with needless complaints which would prevent its doing the job that it ought to be doing.

6.15 p.m.

No fewer than 17,000 complaints a year are made against the police, and many of these are frivolous and unnecessary. However, it turns out that about 10 per cent. of them are justified. Although 1,700 complaints in a year is not a very large figure, it is not, on the other hand, insignificant. We should ensure that the board has a full opportunity to investigate those complaints that are likely to be substantiated at the end of the day. If, as a result of the publicity that this measure will give to the opportunity of members of the public to make complaints to the board, the number of complaints were to rise from 17,000 to about 30,000, the board might be so overwhelmed that the really significant and important complaints were not properly investigated for a long time. That would be regrettable, because, as hon. Members have said, it is a very distressing experience for any professional person, and certainly for a member of the police, to have a complaint hanging over him. It can be as distressing as any other experience.

We ought to bear in mind that the police do a difficult job. Although a number of them may be bent and corrupt, and may need to be dealt with very firmly, the great majority are doing an honourable and worthwhile job in circumstances that are sometimes tedious, and, indeed, extremely dangerous. I do not think that we should create a system that would make their job more difficult, or would produce anguish for them in the performance of that job. That is why I support the case for investigating legitimate complaints speedily, so that they can be dealt with and got out of the way as soon as possible. I also believe that there should be careful consideration of a filtering system to avoid the Police Complaints Board being cluttered up with a lot of stupid complaints which it should not have to deal with in the first place.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Before I call the next hon. Gentleman, Mr. Speaker made it quite clear that a series of amendments is being discussed at the same time as the amendment that has been moved. They are on the list of selection.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)

In the circumstances, may I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department whether he intends to reply to the question raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) and Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), and particularly on the question of his own words "vexatious, idiotic and trivial complaints?"

Mr. Arthur Davidson

The hon. Gentleman is very kind. It is, of course, my intention to reply to all the points that have been made, and I shall certainly do so. I must tell the hon. Gentleman, contrary to what he appeared to think in his intervention almost at the beginning of my speech, that I have his points well in mind. They will be dealt with, and I can assure him that when the time comes I shall reply very fully.

Mr. Aitken

I was not entirely surprised by that procrastinating response. The linguistic gobbledegook of the Government amendments, especially Amendment No. 20, only confirms that what this Bill is creating is an expensive over-bureaucratic legal contraption, which might have been invented by Heath Robinson or the cartoonist Emett.

The Parliamentary Secretary got himself lost in his own self-created Hampton Court Maze in his own amendments, and he was devastated by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash, who showed only too clearly that the Parliamentary Secretary did not understand the moments at which and the cases in which the Police Complaints Board would come into operation. I look forward with great relish to his reply—which I see I am now about to get.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

The hon. Gentleman is not about to get my reply. He will get my reply at the end of his speech. I am astonished that the look of blandness on my face appears to him to have been a look of devastation. I do not recall having been devastated.

Mr. Aitken

I am only too pleased to revise my wording: for "devastation" read "incomprehension".

I was not surprised that, following this monumental piece of legislative incompetence, which will create an expensive Whitehall monster for which there is no proved public demand, there were Press reports at the weekend to the effect that Sir Robert Mark, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, is contemplating resignation as a result of the Bill. It is noticeable that there has been no denial of those reports, particularly in view of Sir Robert's willingness to speak out on most topics. Therefore, a Home Office Minister must make a statement about those Press reports. If it is true that, because of this Bill, the most brilliant head of the Metropolitan Police since the days of Peel is on the verge of resignation, it would be a national tragedy. We demand a statement to reassure the House on that point.

I turn to the specific amendments, the most distressing aspect of which concerns time limits. The right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) drew attention to the complete absence from this debate of Labour Back Benchers. He might have been able to draw attention to that fact with even greater emphasis had he been aware of the demand for a cut-off period, on a three-monthly basis, brought into the Committee's purview by Labour Back Benchers, now so noticeable by their absence.

In view of pressure exerted in Committee, a categorical undertaking was given by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. I must remind the hon. Lady once again of her own words. In Standing Committee, when referring to the specific question of a timetable and a cut-off period, she said: I hope hon. Members will accept the undertaking that there should be a time limit but that limit should be left to me."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 3rd February 1976; c. 369.] That was a firm undertaking, and I emphasise that it has not been honoured. We wish to know why it has not been honoured. In the absence of adequate reasons, I shall advise my hon. Friends to vote against these amendments.

The worry about the need for a time limit was brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East, namely, that police officers should not be left in anguish with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads for many months. We heard about a recent case in which a man was left worrying about his position for a period as long as 18 months. That is a valid point and it has not been adequately answered. The absence of any definite honouring of the undertaking to which I have referred is reason enough for us to vote against these amendments.

I wish to refer to Amendment No. 7, which seeks to exclude trivial or vexatious complaints. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department used the words "frivolous, vexatious and idiotic complaints". The large proportion of complaints against the police fall into that category. It is certainly clear that the number of trivial complaints will multiply as a result of this Bill. The hon. Lady prophesied that the number of complaints would increase from a figure of 17,000 last year to an estimated 25,000 in 1977. It was implied that part of this increase would be due to the mere existence of the board and to the fact that the public would be aware that such a board was in business and was available to complain to.

I believe that complains will multiply because of the changing rôle of the police service from its traditional law enforcement rôle to its increasing community service rôle. This conflict between the rôle of police force and police service can give rise to complaints which in themselves are trivial. We have heard about the complaint against the woman police constable who smiled. I have heard of complaints by people who have not been given a cup of tea when at police stations. We need to find some way utterly of excluding that kind of complaints from the board. The right hon. Member for Walsall, North said that some form of quick reply was needed so that trivial complaints should not clutter up the board. He put forward the ingenious suggestion that Members of Parliament might act as a sieve. I hope that the Government will give careful consideration to that proposal.

I refer finally to the characteristically trenchant speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East, who mentioned the case of Police Constable Betteridge, the Bedfordshire constable who was dismissed following a conviction for an indecent assault, and who was reinstated on the direction of the Home Secretary following an appeal, with full back pay—although we understand that he has since decided of his own [...]olition to resign from the force.

That case shows that there are real fears that there will be an unacceptable degree of political interference with the police service. The Home Secretary knows that there are fears that the decision may have been a political one. I am prepared to accept that that was not the case, but public anxiety certainly exists on that score. How much greater will the fears be that this Bill will be the Trojan horse that lets political interference into the internal disciplinary processes of the police service when the Government are seeking to bring into existence a board consisting of nine Prime Ministerial appointees. None of us can be complacent about that situation, even having heard the hon. Lady's explanation of the facts of the case and even accenting entirely what she said.

Sir Bernard Braine

My hon. Friend said that the hon. Lady had explained the facts. She did not explain any facts at all. She told the House that it is the custom and procedure in such cases for reasons not to be given. That in itself gives rise to serious doubts indeed. I hope that the House will not be left in doubt as to why in this grave case the Home Secretary saw fit, after 16 months' delay, to override the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire. There is grave disquiet not only among the public but also among police officers. We are entitled to have an explanation, and I hope that my hon. Friend will insist on one.

Mr. Aitken

I share my hon. Friend's disquiet about the delay. The one fact given by the hon. Lady was that there were medical reasons for the golden handshake given to the constable. However, whatever those medical reasons, the psychological effect on the general public and in terms of confidence in the police service is serious. It will be much more serious, because it will not be the Home Secretary, whom we all respect as a man of honour, who will be making these decisions; they will be made by a politically appointed Police Complaints Board, which will have the power to overturn decisions of chief officers.

What concerns us about these amendments is that no machinery has been created to dispose of frivolous and vexatious complaints at an early stage. In addition, we deplore the fact that the firm undertaking given about time limits has not been honoured. Because that undertaking has been broken, I shall advise my hon. Friends to vote against the amendment.

6.30 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

I am intervening briefly to deal with one or two points that have been raised by the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken). We do go round in circles on this Bill. The hon. Gentleman was saying, in a most eloquent, agreeable and flattering way, that he was worried about the power being removed from the Home Secretary and placed into the more political hands of the Prime Minister. As I recall it, this was done entirely in response to pressure from both sides, particularly from the Conservative side, in Committee.

Mr. Aitken

The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. I was saying that the danger was that this political interference could be seen to be falling into the hands of Prime Ministerial appointees. The danger would have been there had there also been Home Secretary appointees.

Mr. Jenkins

I do not think that comes very powerfully from the lips of the hon. Gentleman in view of the attitude taken in Committee. I assure the House, if assurance is needed, that during the two periods for which I have been Home Secretary—now longer than any other period since Lord Butler held the office —there has not been any question of political interference with the police. There has been no question of political interference in relation to the case raised by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine).

I have a difficult statutory duty which is narrowly defined and which imposes on me, as a result of the Police Act 1964, following previous Police Acts, a duty to act in an appellate capacity in relation to police disciplinary charges. I am not quite sure of the position of the association which the hon. Gentleman represents, but the Police Federation attaches considerable importance to the fact that there should be this appellate capacity and that the word of the chief constable should not be final in these matters. On a recent occasion the federation expressed to me its strong view that my functions in this respect should not be carried out in a perfunctory manner and that I should not automatically endorse what chief constables do.

I endeavour to carry out this quasi-judicial function with the greatest degree of quasi-judicial responsibility that I have. I can assure the House that I do not act—although the ultimate responsibility is mine, or the responsibility of any who hold my office—without full legal and professional police advice from within my Department. What I have to be sure about is that the hearing has been properly conducted and that everything has been appropriately taken into account. The statement that my hon. Friend read out on my behalf this afternoon makes this clear. I regret the delay. It was too long. The case ought to have been dealt with more expeditiously. I do not, in difficult circumstances, regret any other aspect of the matter, although I think that the solution that has emerged, which is one I always believed would emerge, has been the right one.

Sir Bernard Braine

The right hon. Gentleman was out of the Chamber when I said what I felt I had to say. There are two aspects of this matter. No one disputes the right hon. Gentleman's exercise of his appellate jurisdiction. He is a fair-minded man and would certainly consider the matter most carefully. The aspects that concern the House, and that are relevant to this Bill, are as follows: first, here was a case of a police officer convicted of gross indecency of one kind or another. It took 16 months for the appeal to be considered. Why was there such a delay? Secondly, does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that some explanation is owed to the public and the police service about why a police officer who had been convicted of that kind of offence and who stands in a particular position of trust where the public, and children in particular, are concerned, should have been reinstated over the head of the chief office of police?

Mr. Jenkins

The question at issue was not whether this man should continue to serve but whether, since the hearing did not in my view take account of all the necessary considerations, he should be given this considerable punishment of dismissal, with the loss of all his rights in addition—having taken medical evidence into account—to the light sentence, a suspended sentence I believe, which the court chose to impose. We hear a great deal about double jeopardy and double punishment. We have to take this into account. The man concerned is no longer in the police force. That is a satisfactory outcome

I am inhibited in this matter. I have to exercise this function in accordance with precedents stretching back over 50 years. It is not the case that the Home Secretary gives reasons for his decision. Perhaps this is not wholly satisfactory. Perhaps in times when people expect to have reasons given we cannot depend upon authority exercised, as I am perfectly convinced it was, with total impartiality and propriety. Perhaps people feel that reasons ought to be given. I will consider this for the future. There may be certain difficulties.

The hon. Member for Essex, South-East has paid me the compliment of saying that I am fair-minded. I know that he, too, will be fair-minded and will realise that I cannot break a precedent of 50 years in an off-the-cuff reply during a debate. This is a duty which the Home Secretary has to discharge and which is discharged about 40 times a year. It is a difficult duty, and one for which I cannot lay down a new course off-the-cuff. I shall consider whether it would be fair to give reasons for the decisions that are reached.

I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman really wishes to lay stress on his last point, that of overruling the chief constable. This is a duty specifically laid upon the Secretary of State for the Home Department by the Police Act 1964 and previous Police Acts. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that this should never be done he is saying that there should be no appellate authority in respect of disciplinary charges against police officers beyond their chief constables. I am sure that, whatever its reaction to a particular case may be, this would not be remotely welcome to the Police Federation. It would be most antipathetical to the point of view that it takes. I very much doubt whether it would be acceptable to the association of senior police officers that the hon. Gentleman represents.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Does the right hon. Gentleman not appreciate that in the eyes of the public the net result of this is that this man has been given the odd £5,000 reward for his extremely unpleasant behaviour?

Mr. Jenkins

In trying to exercise justice, it is often the case that one has to do things which in the eyes of the public may not appear to be wholly reasonable. The view I take is that in view of the circumstances of the hearing the man's dismissal, with the loss of all rights, was not an appropriate punishment. There is no doubt that this is wholly within the duties laid upon me. They are not pleasant or easy duties, but as long as they are laid upon me and I have to discharge them I propose to do so in accordance with what I believe to be the rules of natural justice.

Sir Bernard Braine

The right hon. Gentleman has dealt with one point but not with the other. The House understands that it cannot argue with him about the reasons for his decision not being given. I am grateful to him for saying he will consider whether, in future, some explanation can be given in such cases. This has been one of the most extraordinary decisions any Home Secretary has made. The other point is why, if there were all these factors, it has taken 16 months for the Home Secretary to reach his decision. He has left everyone in doubt—the man, the police service, the Bedfordshire police authority and those members of the public who were aware of the danger to their children.

Mr. Jenkins

There has been no question of danger to children in Bedfordshire. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, whom I respect, will not use emotive words of that sort. The man has not been in the police service during the period and there is now no question of his return to the service. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not muddy the issue with emotive phrases of that sort. I have said that I believe that the period taken was too long. I regret that. It should have been done more expeditiously. We are sometimes accused of acting too precipitately in such matters and sometimes of acting too slowly. There were certain difficulties.

I do not for a moment agree that it was one of the most extraordinary decisions taken. One of the considerations that I have had fully in mind was whether the hearing was properly carried out, bearing in mind all the considerations that should have been before it. That is the core of the duty which I have to perform in this respect. I regard the carrying out of that duty as even more important than the immediate effect it may have on the public. That is the essence of any appellate function and I know of no appellate body, which confronted with circumstances in which it is not satisfied with a hearing, would not act.

I turn to the second point raised by the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken). He asked about the position of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The commissioner has made it clear that he would prefer a different Bill. However, he would not want the same sort of Bill as the hon. Member wants. One of the difficulties is that everyone prefers a different sort of Bill. I have very great respect for the views of the commissioner and I have called them in aid before, and he believes that there should be an independent element in complaints against the police. He put forward his views on this to the working party in 1973, but the scheme he proposed was not acceptable.

Representatives of the Police Federation claimed that the sort of scheme that the commissioner put forward involved the risk of double jeopardy, which is what I am trying to avoid. It is easier to disagree than to reach an agreement upon a scheme which is completely acceptable to all. The current Bill does not breach any principles to which police organisations attach importance—it certainly does not involve double jeopardy. The chief officers, including the commissioner, accept that this Bill's proposals provide a basis for a workable scheme, which would not undermine them. The commissioner prefers his own scheme, but other police bodies do not prefer it, and indeed, have considerable objections to it. In so far as we have made certain changes to the Bill in response to hon. Members opposite in Committee, these have made the commissioner more suspicious of the Bill rather than more welcoming to it. Therefore, the Opposition are not in a position to say that I have moved away from the commissioner on this matter.

The commissioner would obviously prefer a different Bill, but I can assure hon. Members that he has no plans to resign before his normal retirement date.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

It would be helpful if my right hon. Friend could amplify the question of the time limits. Will he tell us what time limits he expects to introduce in Regulations made under Section 5?

Mr. Jenkins

I hope that the period will be about three months. I do not wish to be bound absolutely, because I did not hear that part of the debate, but my right hon. and hon. Friends did deal with these points earlier and I have tried to deal with the two specific and immediate points raised by the hon. Member for Thanet, East.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

It is difficult to come in at this late stage of a Bill, especially as I have not had the benefit of being a member of the Committee, and I do not claim any special knowledge in this tricky area. However, I wish to make a few laymen's comments and ask a couple of questions.

As hon. Members of this House our experience of handling complaints is fairly wide—wider than in any other profession, because we receive many complaints every day. But in my 17 years as a Member of this House I have received only two complaints about the police, which is a remarkable tribute to them. One was about the Metropolitan Police and one about the Gloucestershire Constabulary. In both cases I was satisfied that an appropriate investigation was made into these complaints, but it was the manner of imparting the findings of the chief constable that caused my concern. In both cases the chief constable said he had investigated the complaint and found it to be groundless, fullstop. That is what gives rise to pressure for a complaints board. It may well be that justice is being done, but one does not know it is being done and does not have any evidence to substantiate that.

I have considerable sympathy with the Home Secretary, who exercised his appellant function in relation to PC Betteridge, or Mr. Betteridge as he is now. There we have an example of at least an appeal being heard. But even now my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has no knowledge of whether or not the Home Secretary was right to take this action, because the facts of that case have not been made public and probably should not be made public under the present state of the law.

In any other matter, such as a complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner or a complaint before a court in a civil action, the evidence is made public, and those involved have knowledge of the facts, the evidence, and the relevant considerations. Perhaps the trouble with complaints against the police is that this is not possible. We have an unbalanced situation in which an aggrieved constable can appeal to the Home Secretary, but an aggrieved complainant has no such appeal at all. In the two constituency cases which I mentioned, when I received the answer from the chief of police in each case there was no further avenue that could be explored if the grievance still existed in the mind of the complainant. Is this the right way to proceed?

My own view about the Police Complaints Board is that the very secrecy surrounding its deliberations will nullify its effect. At the end of the day the board will give the same answer as that which I received from the chief constables —that the complaint was groundless and has been dismissed. The crucial question is, how justified is the need for expanding the reasons for dismissing or accepting a complaint, and what special considerations are there in relation to the police? What makes them so special that it is not possible to give more facts and evidence in public?

I can conceive that there may be cases or complaints where it is positively not in the national interest that too much should be divulged. Certainly that is so with matters of security, or with bombings, or when spying is involved. But the vast bulk of complaints against the police are not about these matters, and therefore one wants a procedure which allows the public, or at least the complainant, to be given more information.

Sir Bernard Braine

My hon. Friend is making a most interesting submission, but does he not concede that the vast majority of people would accept that in matters of security, secrecy should be maintained? But where the safety of children and young persons is concerned there is not a father or mother in the land who does not feel deeply about the matter. Whatever reasons there may be for not giving a public explanation of this case, to overrule a decision of a chief officer to dismiss a man who he thinks has failed in his trust as a guardian of the law where young people are concerned is a most serious matter which concerns the nation as a whole.

Mr. Ridley

I do not want to get involved in a particular case, because I know too little about it, simply because we have not been given the full information. If this case had not gone before the police network and, ultimately, the Home Secretary, but had instead gone to the courts, a great deal more would have been known about it. There seems to be here a genuine parallel between the amount of information made available in court as opposed to that made avail- able under the procedure we are considering today. My first plea therefore is that the secrecy, not the higher appeal, may well be the real problem.

This procedure will destroy the authority of chief constables to a very great extent. I imagine that every convicted or disciplined policemen will appeal to the Home Secretary just as Mr. Betteridge did, and that every unsatisfied complainant will try to get to the complaints board. In those circumstances the chief constable will merely be a sort of postman passing on the complaints up the line. He will be rather like we Members of Parliament who refer complaints to Ministers or the Parliamentary Commissioner.

Mr. Stonehouse

The hon. Member has made an unfair suggestion. Most hon. Members study any complaint made to them to see whether they are passing a justifiable complaint to the Ministry concerned. I do not think that we automatically pass on everything that is put to us.

Mr. Ridley

I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps some of us exercise that function a little more rigorously than our constituents like, but that is a different point. In our capacity for passing on complaints we do not investigate them; we merely see whether they are serious enough to be referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner. The right hon. Member sees a Member of Parliament as a filter, and he is absolutely right. That is an extremely important function, which cuts down the number of complaints which officials and the Parliamentary Commissioner have to consider. To put the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police or a chief constable into that position would be totally wrong. Hon. Members are in no way involved in management. We are representatives of our constituents. To turn a chief constable into a filter or a first court from which everyone would appeal to a higher court would be to destroy his authority in the force.

I have not followed the proceedings on the Bill with any great care, but I think that the procedure in it is misconceived. We need to open up consideration of complaints against the police and to make a better report available to complainants or to hon. Members. Why not allow hon. Members to perform the same function for the police as they perform for the Parliamentary Commissioner? Why not allow them to be the filter and trust them by showing them the report? There may be something in it that should not be made public or be made available to the complainant. I have found that my constituents accept my word. When I write back to them saying that I have taken their case to the Minister and he has convinced me that the constituent is wrong, I find that my word is usually accepted. Often I am not at liberty to disclose information given to me by the Minister which shows why the constituent is wrong, but I assure them that as an independent-minded person I believe that the Minister is acting properly. Only occasionally is my word not accepted, and then only by persons who make it their professional business to complain.

Until justice is seen to be done in this matter I do not believe that any number of boards, tribunals or other bureaucratic set-ups will allay public worries about the behaviour of the police, or reduce the number of complaints, which would be the ideal, so that everyone was as lucky as I am, and had only a small number of complaints against the police. We would be better off, but to get that trust the police must deal more openly with complainants rather than setting up this appeal court to go over the heads of chief constables, which could do great damage to their authority in their respective forces.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

In fairness to the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) who is so anxious to hear my reply to what he regarded as a devastating intervention—that was not my assessment of it—perhaps I could answer the point briefly. He seemed to imply that because a complaint had a criminal element and therefore went to the Director of Public Prosecutions it would not eventually come to the board. We have had this argument over and over again. Let me explain it once more. The hon. Member said that I showed incomprehension in my face. I could not comprehend that the hon. Gentleman, at this late stage, cannot understand the Bill.

A complaint is made and is then investigated. Until it has been investigated, no one, not even the hon. Member, whose wisdom is very great, can tell whether it will prove to be a criminal matter. Only the police through their skill and investigation are in a position to reveal that. Therefore an interim report may well be needed under Amendment No. 21. If the matter proved to be criminal it would go to the Director of Public Prosecutions. After the Director's decision was known the case would go to the board to consider any disciplinary matter. As the hon. Member knows, disciplinary matters can arise out of the same offence but not based on the same facts. That is why an interim report is necessary in those cases, and that is why —since there may be a lengthy investigation—it may not be fitting, proper or even possible to impose a time limit.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Alison

The Minister's reply was most uncharacteristic. His concentration on the Bill is generally such that he gets straight to the point, but for some mysterious reason he seems to have missed the point of this debate.

The point of Amendment (b) to Amendment No. 20 is that when a matter is to be sent to the board, details should also be sent to the police officer concerned. The Minister said they could not be sent to the officer because he could not be told about matters which were subject to criminal investigation. I do not dispute that. Our argument is based on what the police regulations provide. I notice the Minister is looking with alacrity to the Box for advice.

Mr. Davidson

The hon. Gentleman has misconstrued the movement of my head. I have not looked at the Box during the whole debate.

Mr. Alison

Perhaps that is the trouble. I was putting an optimistic construction upon the fact that the Minister has a profound aversion to looking at me. I do not blame him for that, but I had hoped that it was because he was looking at the Box.

The famous Home Office Circular No. 21 says that in cases where a complaint amounts to an allegation that an officer has committed a criminal offence, he need not immediately be informed of the complaint if this might impede investigation of the alleged criminal offence. I understand and accept that it would be improper to lay before a police officer details of an investigation to establish whether there had been a criminal act. It would be crazy to alert the police officer concerned that he was being investigated. Amendment (b) to Amendment No. 20 does not envisage that details should be sent to the officer while an investigation is being conducted into a criminal action. This is entirely outside the range of what we propose.

I advise the Parliamentary Secretary to get hold of a copy of this crucial Home Office circular which he was good enough to make available to hon. Members on the Standing Committee. Paragraph 12 says that unless a chief officer is satisfield that no criminal offence has been committed, he must send a report of the investigation into the complaint to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

While an investigation is going on into the alleged criminal activity of a police officer, it would be wrong to tell that officer about it. He may cover his tracks. But when the investigation has been completed, a chief officer must send the case to the DPP unless he is satisfied that no criminal offence has been committted.

By definition, this means the investigation is over and there could be no question of alerting a police officer at that stage. A decision would have been reached whether to send the case to the DPP and when it is sent, the investigation is complete. Whether the case goes to the board is not the hare I am chasing. That is irrelevant. When a case goes to the DPP, it means that the investigation has been completed and it is possible at that point to tell the officer concerned about the complaint. He cannot skid off, be alerted or cover his tracks.

I do not think the Minister has taken the point. He seemed to think we were trying to deal with the case which, after going to the DPP, is sent to the board. This is water under the bridge. We have argued this point before and we are satisfied that the Government do not know their own minds. They are in a state of confusion and we do not wish to compound confusion further. There is enough uncertaintly about the Bill already.

The point we are making is crystal clear. When an investigation into an officer's misdemeanour is completed, he should be informed. Subsection (4) of Amendment No. 20 includes the necessity to tell the board what stage police procedure in a case has reached. It must by then be established whether it is a case for the DPP and it seems elementary justice that the policeman concerned should also be told.

I hope that the Minister will look again at this matter. I know that he has the greatest sympathy for the position of officers who could find themselves under great strain. Perhaps the Government could introduce an amendment in another place to deal with this point. If an investigation is complete, there is no danger that an officer will cover his tracks. He should be given the same chance as the board to hear about the progress of the case. It would be unfair if he were left out.

The Minister has also not dealt adequately with the amendment relating to trivial or vexatious complaints. Despite his protestations and his choicest use of adjectives and nouns which have reverberated around the House since the Committee, the Minister has not told us on the Floor of the House what proposals the Government have to sift out the unimportant complaints so that the board is left only with major complaints. Will it be done by regulations? Something must be done to ensure that the board is not encumbered with irrelevancies. Our amendment is straightforward and I hope that the Minister will accept it.

Under Amendment No. 7, a chief officer has the opportunity to report to the board that he believes a complaint to be trivial or vexatious and not worth investigation. The board does not necessarily have to accept that report, but the amendment gives the Minister the opportunity to fulfil his commitment. A complaint can result in two courses of action. The first is that the complaint is trivial or vexatious and not worth investigating and a chief officer can report accordingly to the board. This is perfectly reasonable. In nine cases out of 10, the board will accept that recommendation. It will save a whole bureaucratic operation and reduce the case load and the amount of paperwork. If the Government are not prepared to accept what we put forward—it would perhaps amount to one case in 100 a year—as a reasonable way of determining the reasonable and the unreasonable, we are prepared to consider their propositions, but the Minister has not produced a positive proposition to that effect, or sought to argue against the validity of the amendment. In the light of this debate I hope that there will be a reconsideration about advising an officer when an investigation is over and doing something to strain out the trivial complaints.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Amendment proposed—

Mr. Alison

I have made a substantial plea to the Parliamentary Secretary—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am in the middle of putting the Question.

Mr. Alison

As you have not completed the oracular oration, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I had started doing so. Once I start to put the Question I must finish doing so.

Mr. Ridley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that you have not actually put the Question, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely any hon. Member is allowed to rise to seek to catch your eye—

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call Mr. Alison.

Mr. Alison

I merely wanted to say to the Minister that I am capable of repeating my arguments in order to gain a further response from him. I am capable of doing so without being in the least tedious or repetitious if that is what he wants. I am willing to repeat my arguments to make certain that he has taken them on board. If he prefers me not to repeat the arguments again, I hope that he will be kind and courteous enough to deal with the two matters briefly so that we can reach a decision on whether to vote for the amendment. At present we do not know whether the hon. Gentleman will be able to help us in another place. We do not know what he will be able to do about Amendment (b) to Amendment No. 20 to which I have specifically referred. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will respond briefly so that we can get on with the Bill, otherwise I am bound to take up these matters again.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Of course I am willing to deal with the points that have been raised. I was not aware that I had finished speaking at an earlier stage. I assumed that the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) was making one of his lengthy interventions. If he makes a check I think he will find that I had not finished. It has always been my intention to deal with these matters.

If the hon. Gentleman casts his mind back he will recall that it was the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) who moved the amendment. Naturally, I have not had an opportunity to reply to it as I have not yet replied. However, I am about to do just that.

It is true that in our discussions in Committee there was general agreement that time should not be wasted on a complaint which did not justify pursuit either by the police or by the board. Equally, it was apparent that there was room for dispute as to which complaints came into the category of trivial, frivolous or vexatious, not to mention that classic phrase "the idiotic". For that reason we believe that such complaints must be referred to the board and it must not be left to the police alone to decide whether to pursue them. That is the point that I made in Committee.

7.15 p.m.

On the other hand, as I said in Committee, we are concerned that there should be no waste of time or effort. It is the Government's view that an investigation under Section 49 may and should be as extensive as, and only as extensive as, the nature of the complaint justifies. However, in the sort of case to which the hon. Member for Barkston Ash has referred, there must be some preliminary investigation to decide that a complaint is trivial. Most policemen would agree that it is not always possible to ascertain from a statement or record of a complaint how serious or trivial it may be. That is an argument that I put forward in Committee and is not a new point. A matter which may appear frivolous may, upon investigation, prove to have extremely serious implications. That is the purpose of the investigation, and that is what the police are skilled in doing. That is why we respect their investigative powers.

It is equally true that a few preliminary inquiries may show that a complaint is a matter of extreme triviality. In that case, I see no reason under the provisions of Section 49, or under the Bill, why the investigating officer should not pursue his inquiries only so far as is necessary to establish the triviality of the complaint. He would then produce a report on what he had discovered. On receipt of such a report the chief officer would send it to the board for its agreement that the matter had been satisfactorily handled. It would be open to the board to seek more information from the police if it felt that the case had not been properly handled. We regard that as an essential safeguard, but in the majority of cases we expect the board to endorse the view of the investigating officer and the deputy chief constable.

As I have said, there is no difference of principle. But in our view we cannot, as the amendment seeks to do, preclude all investigation of a trivial complaint. It is the investigation, however brief it may be, which establishes whether a matter is trivial. Nevertheless, we agree that the investigation in such a case should be no more extensive than the complaint merits. We shall draw the attention of chief officers to these matters in the guidance that we issue.

It could well be that in the light of experience some trivial or vexatious complaints would lend themselves to a more objective classification. Regulations under Clause 5(1) could provide for them to be treated in the same way as anonymous or repetitive complaints. The board would still need to agree that a complaint was one that fell within the prescribed class, but the procedure envisaged in these special cases would save a great deal of time both for the police and the board.

Mr. Stonehouse

Before the Minister sits down—

Mr. Davidson

No. I have dealt with these matters at great length and I have given way repeatedly. I have answered the matters that have been raised, and in all the circumstances, though I have great sympathy with what the hon. Member for Barkston Ash is seeking to do by way of the amendment, there is no difference of principle involved. I ask the House to resist the amendment on the ground that it is unnecessary.

Mr. Stonehouse

Before the Minister sits down, may I ask—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I was under the impression that the Minister had sat down.

Mr. Ridleyrose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am not quite sure what the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) wishes to do. He has already addressed the House once.

Mr. Ridley

I am seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Unless the House gives leave—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—the hon. Gentleman has no right to address the House on a second occasion. Amendment proposed—

Mr. Douglas-Mannrose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I was under the impression that the hon. Gentleman had made a fairly substantial contribution to the debate. If he has the permission of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"] It seems that the House has a very definite view on the subject.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I am only seeking—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Amendment proposed—

Mr. Alison

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With great deference to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I must point out that the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) has not yet spoken in this debate once.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is a little difficult to differentiate between a speech and a fairly lengthy intervention. I was under the impression that the hon. Gentleman had made an intervention on more than one occasion. I am also under the impression that the House is of a view that it would like to get on with the business.

Mr. Ridley

On a further point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely the House cannot be interpreted as the group of tricoteurs below the Gangway. Also, surely—[Interruption.]—only those in the House should be allowed to object to leave being granted.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

As long as one hon. Member objects to the proposal that the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) should have permission to address the House—

Hon. Members

Who is he?

Mr. Douglas-Mann

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it a rule of the House that a very brief intervention—it was clearly an intervention as it consisted of about two sentences—can be counted as a speech prohibiting a Member from speaking subsequently? I wish to make a short speech because I wish to evoke a response from the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison). The hon. Gentleman's amendment does not make sense, and I wish to clarify that point. I believe that it is in order for an hon. Member to make an intervention in another Member's speech and still speak himself, and I have made only one intervention.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

My difficulty is in defining an "intervention". Rightly or wrongly, my impression was that the hon. Gentleman had done more than make an intervention. In those circumstances, I do not think that it will be doing him any harm if I put the Question.

Mr. Sims

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) simply intervened in the Home Secretary's remarks very briefly, and the matter that we are now discussing is one in which the hon. Gentleman was very much involved in Committee. He has not yet had an opportunity to address the House on this matter, although in Committee he and his colleagues voted on the same side as the Opposition.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

In the circumstances, if the hon. Member has made only a brief intervention, my impression was wrong. I call the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that if you examine the record tomorrow you will find that what I have asserted is correct.

My point relates to Amendment (b) to Government Amendment No. 20. With respect to the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), Amendment (b) does not make sense. I am not saying that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has not answered the hon. Gentleman's last intervention adequately. I am saying that he has not answered it adequately yet again. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman to consider this matter. If Amendment (b) were carried, would it not have the effect that where a case was under investigation by the Director of Public Prosecutions, the copy would have to go to the police officer complained against, because that investigation would still be carrying on for a three-month period, or whatever it is, and a report must go to the board even though the complaint is still under investigation.

The amendment is in the wrong place. The appropriate place would be in subsection (1). I sincerely trust that the hon. Member will not press the matter to a Division.

Mr. Alison

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has quite taken the point that the police regulations lay down, He must send to the Director of Public Prosecutions a report of an investigation into a complaint. References to the DPP imply that an investigation has been completed. Furthermore, there can be no reference to the board under the relevant subsection (2) until the conclusion has been reached whether it is a DPP case. Therefore, whatever happens in relation to the board, it must have been in the context of a completed investigation.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

This is the sort of dispute that is unlikely to be resolved across the Floor of the House. It is a pity. I am sure that I am right in this matter, as I was in my contention with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The effect of the amendment would be to ensure that a police officer was alerted to the fact that a possible criminal offence was being investigated. It would be quite crazy for the Opposition to press that matter to a Division.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment proposed: No. 7, in page 2, line 6, after 'police)', insert: 'or a preliminary report that the complaint was trivial or vexatious and not worth pursuing by investigation '.—[Mr. Whitelaw.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

Division No. 158.] AYES [7.25 p.m.
Adley, Robert Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Onslow, Cranley
Aitken, Jonathan Gray, Hamish Oppenheim, Mrs Sally
Alison, Michael Grieve, Percy Osborn, John
Arnold, Tom Grist, Ian Page, John (Harrow West)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Grylls, Michael Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Awdry, Daniel Hall, Sir John Pardoe, John
Banks, Robert Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Pattie, Geoffrey
Beith, A. J. Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Penhaligon, David
Bell, Ronald Hampson, Dr Keith Percival, Ian
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Hannam, John Peyton, Rt Hon John
Berry, Hon Anthony Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Biffen, John Hastings, Stephen Prior, Rt Hon James
Biggs-Davison, John Hayhoe, Barney Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Blaker, Peter Heseltine, Michael Rathbone, Tim
Body, Richard Hicks, Robert Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Higgins, Terence L. Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Bottomley, Peter Hordern, Peter Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Howell, David (Guildford) Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Braine, Sir Bernard Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Rifkind, Malcolm
Brittan, Leon Hunt, David (Wirral) Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Hunt, John Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hurd, Douglas Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Bryan, Sir Paul Hutchison, Michael Clark Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick James, David Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Buck, Antony Jenkin, Rt Hon P.(Wanst'd & W'df'd) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Budgen, Nick Jessel, Toby Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Bulmer, Esmond Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Sainsbury, Tim
Burden, F. A. Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Scott, Nicholas
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Carlisle, Mark Jopling, Michael Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Shelton, William (Streatham)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Kaberry, Sir Donald Shepherd, Colin
Clark, William (Croydon S) Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Shersby, Michael
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Kershaw, Anthony Silvester, Fred
Clegg, Walter King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Sims, Roger
Cockcroft, John King, Tom (Bridgwater) Sinclair, Sir George
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Kitson, Sir Timothy Skeet, T. H. H.
Cope, John Lane, David Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Cordle, John H. Latham, Michael (Melton) Speed, Keith
Corrie, John Lawrence, Ivan Spence, John
Costain, A. P. Lester, Jim (Beeston) Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Crawford, Douglas Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Critchley, Julian Lloyd, Ian Sproat, Iain
Crouch, David Loveridge, John Stainton, Keith
Crowder, F. P. Luce, Richard Stanbrook, Ivor
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) McAdden, Sir Stephen Stanley, John
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) McCrindle, Robert Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Macfarlane, Neil Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James MacGregor, John Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Drayson, Burnaby McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Stokes, John
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Madel, David Stonehouse, Rt Hon John
Durant, Tony Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stradling Thomas, J.
Dykes, Hugh Marten, Neil Tapsell, Peter
Emery, Peter Mates, Michael Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Eyre, Reginald Mather, Carol Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Fairgrieve, Russell Maude, Angus Tebbit, Norman
Finsberg, Geoffrey Mawby, Ray Temple-Morris, Peter
Fisher, Sir Nigel Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Mayhew, Patrick Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Meyer, Sir Anthony Townsend, Cyril D.
Fookes, Miss Janet Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Forman, Nigel Mills, Peter Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Miscampbell, Norman Viggers, Peter
Fox, Marcus Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Moate, Roger Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Freud, Clement Monro, Hector Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Fry, Peter Montgomery, Fergus Walters, Dennis
Gardiner, George (Reigate) More, Jasper (Ludlow) Weatherill, Bernard
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Morgan, Geraint Wells, John
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Wiggin, Jerry
Glyn, Dr Alan Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Winterton, Nicholas
Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Mudd, David Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Goodhart, Philip Neave, Airey Younger, Hon George
Goodhew, Victor Nelson, Anthony
Goodlad, Alastair Neubert, Michael TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Normanton, Tom Mr. W. Benyon
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Nott, John Mr. Spencer Le Marchant.

The House divided: Ayes 230, Noes 290.

Abse, Leo Evans, John (Newton) McNamara, Kevin
Allaun, Frank Ewing Harry (Stirling) Madden, Max
Anderson, Donald Faulds, Andrew Magee, Bryan
Archer, Peter Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Mahon, Simon
Armstrong, Ernest Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mallalieu, J. P. W.
Ashley, Jack Flannery, Martin Marks, Kenneth
Ashton, Joe Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Marquand, David
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Atkinson, Norman Foot, Rt Hon Michael Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Forrester, John Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Maynard, Miss Joan
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Meacher, Michael
Bates, Alf Freeson, Reginald Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Bean, R. E. George, Bruce Mendelson, John
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Gilbert, Dr John Mikardo, Ian
Bidwell, Sydney Golding, John Millan, Bruce
Bishop, E. S. Gould, Bryan Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Gourlay, Harry Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)
Boardman, H. Grant, George (Morpeth) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Grant, John (Islington C) Molloy, William
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Grocott, Bruce Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Bradley, Tom Hardy, Peter Moyle, Roland
Bray, Dr Jeremy Harper, Joseph Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Hart, Rt Hon Judith Newens, Stanley
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Noble, Mike
Buchan, Norman Hatton, Frank Oakes, Gordon
Buchanan, Richard Hayman, Mrs Helene Ogden, Eric
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Heffer, Eric S. O'Halloran, Michael
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Hooley, Frank Orbach, Maurice
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Horam, John Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Campbell, Ian Howell, Rt Hon Denis Ovenden, John
Canavan, Dennis Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Padley, Walter
Cant, R. B. Huckfield, Les palmer, Arthur
Carmichael, Neil Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Park, George
Carter, Ray Hughes, Mark (Durham) Parker, John
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Parry, Robert
Cartwright, John Hughes, Roy (Newport) Pavitt, Laurie
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Hunter, Adam Peart, Rt Hon Fred
Clemitson, Ivor Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Pendry, Tom
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Perry, Ernest
Cohen, Stanley Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Phipps, Dr Colin
Coleman, Donald Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoin) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Janner, Greville Prescott, John
Concannon, J. D. Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Conlan, Bernard Jeger, Mrs Lena Price, William (Rugby)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Radice, Giles
Corbett, Robin Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) John, Brynmor Richardson, Miss Jo
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Johnson, James (Hull West) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cronin, John Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Jones, Barry (East Flint) Robinson, Geoffrey
Cryer, Bob Jones, Dan (Burnley) Roderick, Caerwyn
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Judd, Frank Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Kaufman, Gerald Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Dalyell, Tam Kerr, Russell Rooker, J. W.
Davidson, Arthur Kilroy-Silk, Robert Roper, John
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Kinnock, Neil Rose, Paul B.
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Lambie, David Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lamborn, Harry Rowlands, Ted
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Lamond, James Sandelson, Neville
Deakins, Eric Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Sedgemore, Brian
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lee, John Selby, Harry
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Doig, Peter Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Dormand, J, D. Lipton, Marcus Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Litterick, Tom Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Duffy, A. E. P. Lomas, Kenneth Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Dunn, James A. Loyden, Eddie Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Dunnett, Jack Luard, Evan Silverman, Julius
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Skinner, Dennis
Eadie, Alex Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Small, William
Edge, Geoff McCartney, Hugh Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) McElhone, Frank Snape, Peter
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) MacFarquhar, Roderick Spearing, Nigel
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Stallard, A. W.
Ennals, David Mackenzie, Gregor Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Mackintosh, John P. Stott, Roger
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Maclennan, Robert Strang, Gavin
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Strauss, Rt Hn G. R.
Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Swain, Thomas Walker, Terry (Kingswood) Williams, Sir Thomas
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W) Ward, Michael Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Watkins, David Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)
Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E) Watkinson, John Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW) Weetch, Ken Wise, Mrs Audrey
Thorne, Stan (Preston South) Weitzman, David Woodall, Alec
Tierney, Sydney Wellbeloved, James Woof, Robert
Tinn, James White, Frank R. (Bury) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Tomlinson, John White, James (Pollok) Young, David (Bolton E)
Tomney, Frank Whitehead, Phillip
Torney, Tom Whitlock, William TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Urwin, T. W. Willey, Rt Hon Frederick Mr. Ted Graham.and
Varley, Rt Hon Eric G. Williams, Alan (Swansea W) Mr. David stoddart.
Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: No. 8, in page 2, line 8, after 'subsection (2)', insert: 'and section (Complaints that may involve criminal proceedings)'.—[Mr. Arthur Davidson.]

Mr. Alison

I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in line 8, after 'below', insert: 'send to the complainant in question, and if so requested by the complainant'. The effect of this important amendment would be to introduce what we regard as a fundamental improvement in the Bill. It would provide the opportunity for the complainant, the aggrieved citizen, to have a key rôle in triggering off the complaints machinery.

The machinery for remitting complaints to the Police Complaints Board is provided in subsection (1)(a) and (b), and further in subsection (2). This procedure would, if the amendment were accepted, be subject to the veto, as it were, of the aggrieved person who originally made the complaint. In the first instance he would receive the report of the investigation and would himself decide whether, in his view, it merited further investigation by the secondary review body, the Police Complaints Board.

It may seem a little clumsy that we should require that the chief officer should send to the complainant the items set out in Clause 2(1)(a) and (b), for in any case, as I understand the position, the complainant would receive quite a lot of information automatically, because he would be told whether a disciplinary charge was to be levelled. He would in practice have the opportunity—as has been the case in the past—to attend disciplinary hearings. I do not dispute that if our amendment is accepted it may be desirable at a later stage in the progress of the Bill to refine and to limit the amount of information that is to be sent to the complainant under the subsection. It would obviously not be necessary for a memorandum about the full range of material set out in paragraph (b)(i) (ii) and (iii) to be sent to the individual complainant, but he should receive enough to enable him to decide whether or not he himself was confident that the matter had been properly investigated, and whether or not he wanted the police complaints machinery to be brought into action on his behalf.

We do not pretend that this is a perfect watertight amendment as it stands. It is a paving amendment which, if accepted in principle, the Government would have no difficulty in tailoring into the broad procedures proposed under the Bill. I would argue the merits, as we see them, of introducing the principle that seems to be almost inherent in any rational complaints machinery, which is that if the complainant, the aggrieved citizen, the man or woman, feels that there is something fishy about the way in which the complaint has been handled, or about the relations between himself or herself with a particular police constable, that individual should have a direct and primary rôle in triggering off the whole machinery of investigation into his complaint.

It sounds obvious and sensible enough, when one sets out the principle, that a chap on whose behalf and in respect of whose misgivings the Police Complaints Board will be set up should have a primary role in setting the machinery in motion. I do not think that, in priciple, many people would be prepared to dispute that it was extremely rational and sensible that this should be the case.

We are, after all, dealing with a police complaints Bill, that is to say, a Bill designed to set up machinery to see that not only is justice done but is seen to be done in relation to a specific registered complaint in a book kept at the police station and registered and placed on paper in the context of a named identifiable citizen who has made the complaint. That is what we are dealing with. We are not dealing with the provision of a kind of broad supervisory machinery, set up to ensure that some kind of generalised set of regulations or standards is maintained, irrespective of whether or not they could be in breach at any particular moment.

We are not trying to set up a sort of inspectorate of schools' equivalent, an HMI equivalent, or a hospital advisory services' equivalent—bodies whose broad function is to exercise a continuous, albeit bureaucratic, surveillance over a particular field. They are not necessarily triggered off, or activated, by something having gone wrong. Their responsibility is keeping a general eye on things. We are concerned with a Police Complaints Board and a situation in which something in the name of an individual aggrieved citizen has been registered as having gone wrong. That is what this is all about. We are not concerned with a sort of general inspectorate. We are, in principle, dealing with a scheme that must be closer to the Ombudsman concept in philosophy, that is, a body set up to deal with a specific complaint by a particular individual about which he or she is quite conscious.

Can anything be more ludicrous, if we follow the Ombudsman analogy, than that the Ombudsman procedure cannot be triggered off by the complaint of a particular aggrieved citizen, but only by a hit of the bureaucracy? What would happen if Sir Idwal Pugh had his remit drawn in such a way that he could not receive any complaint from the individual but had a duty to look at every conceivable sort of eventuality that might give rise to a complaint by an individual citizen? It would mean he had to spend a great deal of time poring over the Government books but he could not be activated or triggered off by an individual citizen.

7.45 p.m.

This would be ludicrous in respect of the Ombudsman. He sits back waiting for the chap who has been the victim of maladministration to come and tell him what it was. This must be the rationale of a complaints procedure based upon a specific complaint, yet it is precisely this that we are deprived of by the Bill. We are providing for a bit of machinery which can be activated only by the bureaucracy and which explicitly and deliberately disbars any triggering off by the individual complainant.

It is almost unbelievable that we should have devised such a piece of machinery, but we have. We have set tip a bit of machinery the avowed purpose and aim of which is to reassure public opinion about the way in which a particular complaint is handled and to ensure, in the Home Secretary's often reiterated phrase, that "justice is seen to be done". Yet the Government bring forward a procedure, set out in Clauses 2 and 3, which places arbitrary powers in the hands of the bureaucracy to decide which complaint needs a detailed scrutiny investigation and which should be made subject to a tribunal, and to which particular complaint a disciplinary charge should be preferred. All of these are subject to arbitrary bureaucratic discretion without any reference at all to what an individual complainant may think.

The Bill is reprehensible and seriously at fault above all in this respect, that the very machinery which the Government are bringing forward to try to show people that justice is seen to be done will have exactly the reverse effect. By depriving the individual citizen of direct access to it, and by making it impossible for the individual citizen to be the prime mover of the whole system going into operation, I think that this will lead to a situation in which the complainant may smell a rat even more than he would under the existing set-up.

I hope the Minister will take this important point: I shall presently refer to some correspondence that I have had with her. She is always courteous in elaborating on the views of the Government in relation to correspondence. I think the Bill, as now drafted, may give rise to more misgivings and a greater public sense that justice is not done and has not been seen to be done. It is in that context that I am speaking. The hon. Lady will agree that where disciplinary charges are preferred in respect of a complaint this is not likely to be an area in which there will be wide public misgiving, because there is already provision—and as far as I know there is no intention of cancelling it—for the complainant to attend the disciplinary hearing. It is an existing police procedure that where disciplinary charges are preferred the citizen can hear the case himself or herself and, indeed, can give evidence and ask questions, and can be represented.

The bureaucratic machinery that we are setting up will neither improve nor detract from the sense of the individual complainant that his case has been properly looked into. Where disciplinary charges are preferred, not only do complainants feel that they have some sort of responsibility for their complaint; they can actually attend the hearing of it. We do not advance by one iota any of the existing benefits accruing to the citizen by what we are providing in this machinery.

The key situation, however, is that in which disciplinary charges are not to be preferred. Here I come to an important piece of evidence given to me by the Metropolitan Police and the hon. Lady. Just to give an illustration of the range of cases in which disciplinary charges will not be preferred, let me remind the House that, in the last set of statistics made available by the Metropolitan Police, for the year 1975, there were 2,500-odd non-DPP cases, of which only 55—or 2 per cent.—resulted in disciplinary charges being preferred. That means that 98 per cent. of cases that will be within the ambit of the board—

Mr. Douglas-Mann

We did not have the Bill then.

Mr. Alison

Let me finish the point. That means that 98 per cent. of the cases that will be within the board's ambit are cases in which no disciplinary charges had been preferred under the old regime. I took this point up in Committee, and the hon. Lady was kind enough to write to me about it. Her letter is dated March 1976—uncharacteristically, she forgot to be more precise—and is therefore still fairly close to the period covered by the proceedings on the Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) will note what his hon. Friend said in that letter, because I think that it will fill him with profound misgivings.

The hon. Lady wrote: We should be surprised if it is other than rarely that the Board's review of complaint cases will result in disciplinary charges being brought when the police have decided against this. If the existing number of instances in which the police decide to bring charges in non-DPP cases is as low as 2 per cent., the chances are that the "rarely" in the hon. Lady's letter may raise it to 10 per cent., 15 per cent. or even 20 per cent. But that still means that 80 per cent. of cases over which the complainant has any sort of leverage on the board, first, will not be made subject to disciplinary charges and, secondly, will be cases in which the complainant will have no means of scrutinising the basis for the board's decision or being able to reverse it.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

The hon. Gentleman is disproving his own case. The reason that it will only rarely be necessary for the board to intervene is that, with the knowledge that every case is being scrutinised, there will be very few cases in which the chief officer will make a wrong decision. When only a tiny minority of cases is referred to the board, the scope for decisions that will not stand up to scrutiny will be much greater.

Mr. Alison

We are talking about the principle—this is the whole justification of the board—of justice being seen to be done. We are talking about what will happen to the individual who is absolutely persuaded that evidence could have been produced in his case and disciplinary charges should have been preferred, who has a profound sense of personal injustice and a real sense of grievance and looks to the board to ensure that his case is singled out? He has no access, no means of triggering the process and getting his complaint to the board.

All that will happen is that the board will give the same sort of generalised, non-specific, unargued response to a mass of complaints that the police already give but with the vast disadvantage of a massive bureaucratic machine churning these cases backwards and forwards between the police and the board, with exactly the same result, that the board will rarely overthrow the basic decision made by the police. We all know why it will not: there is no evidence; they are unsubstantiated cases. That is the whole nonsense of this proposal.

Will this provision really secure that justice will be seen to be done? Of course it will not. The individual complainant will be just as disgruntled that he has no means of securing that his complaint is considered with particular care and attention—which would be the case if the Ombudsman dealt with the matter—as he would be under the old machinery. Since it is rare that the police decision will be overthrown, it is ludicrous to suggest that we are making a great leap forward in reassuring the public by this kind of complaints machinery. In fact, it will make the situation worse; the public will smell even more of a rat than they do already, because the Government are determined to lock up the whole thing in that very official body—the police or the Board—which they have reason to mistrust, as they think. That is the exact reverse of what would happen under the Ombudsman.

But in order fully to savour the extent of the Government's perversity in their absolute insistence on sticking to the bureaucratic method and not having a complainant-activated method, I want to bring to the attention of the House the raison d'être of the Government's philosophy. It would be difficult to conceive of a more typically Socialist, paternalistic, "the gentleman in Whitehall knows best" kind of ministerial pronouncement than that which I have now to lay before the House.

This is the hon. Lady writing to me again. This time she has had the courtesy to put the date on the letter—11th May. This is why, she says, a complainant-activated machinery is unsuitable in this field: Persistence on the part of a complainant does not necessarily correspond to the gravity of his complaint or its justification and we do not accept that all the more serious or justified complaints would necessarily be put to the Board under a complainant-activated scheme. We do not therefore think that a complainant-activated scheme would fulfil the main aims that the Government have in mind in introducing the new procedure. Is that not marvellous? Someone can make a complaint, but he cannot be trusted to understand its full import and significance. Once a complaint has been made, so sensational is this initiative that this precious jewel must be wrested from his hands and handed over to the bureaucratic machinery, to make sure that it is properly evaluated.

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that throughout the Committee stage and earlier it has been part of the Opposition case that we must have as good a method as possible of getting rid of or winnowing out the frivolous complaint? The kind of complainant activation that he is talking about will make it more difficult to treat these complaints as they should be treated.

Mr. Alison

I do not accept that for one minute. The complainant-activated machinery will be one in which, under the proposals that we have advanced and debated extensively and in the proposals that we put forward in Committee, a whole range of opportunities for communication between the police and the complainant would be introduced in an Ombudsman scheme, so a great deal of clearing out and clarification of purposes between the complainant and the police would be practicable. In this alternative scheme, a whole range of opportunities for informal disposal of the complaint would be available before the bureaucratic machinery was produced and the police had to send papers across the road at 10p a time to the bureaucratic board.

We believe that a complainant-activated machinery would have exactly the effect of isolating the cases, which must be the most important ones, which the complainants feel are serious and in which they have been let down. The Government's view is that once he has made a complaint, the complainant cannot be trusted to see it through, that the matter must be taken out of his hands in case he has uncovered something which is too important to be left to him.

Complaints against the police, in the Government's eyes, are too important to be left to the complainant. That is the prima facie attitude in the hon. Lady's letter. But the almost unbelievable perverseness of the Government is that, although they will not allow the complainant to activate the whole machinery, they will allow him to deactivate it. That is a staggering anomaly. There is a provision for a withdrawn complaint to have the effect of arresting the machinery.

In her letter, the hon. Lady said: In the second situation—a withdrawn complaint—the Board would still see the papers under the provisions of clause 2 unless a provision were made to the contrary. We do not believe, however, that the Board would have any useful function to perform if a complaint were withdrawn. That is why clause 5(1)(e) is in the Bill so that regulations may be made dispensing with any requirements under Section 49 or with the need to refer to the Board where complaints are withdrawn". The Government have tabled an amendment to put into Clause 2 to the effect that if a complainant withdraws his complaint the machinery lapses and does not roll. So, while the Government will not accept the principle that a complainant should have the right to decide whether his complaint should go to further investigation, they accept that he should have the right to stop the machinery running, which surely undermines the first principle. The Government accept that if a complainant lacks persistence and says that he wants to withdraw his complaint, the whole of the machinery can be deactivated by his absolute right to withdraw his complaint.

In effect, the Government are saying that the citizen must not be allowed to put the ignition key into the fire engine because he may fail to spot an important fire, and that the key must always be put into the fire engine by the bureaucracy. But they add that they will allow the citizen carte blanche to take the ignition key out if he wants to do so, whatever the risks of the fire. That is a ludicrous, perverse and contradictory principle. The Government are saying that they cannot trust the persistence of a complainant, but must have a bureaucratically-operated machinery which will allow the complainant to stop the machinery if he is lacking in persistence.

Our amendment, which would introduce the ability of a complainant to activate the machinery, is much more consistent than the Government's own approach. We believe that the complainant should be allowed the initiative and the positive rôle of activating the machinery, as well as the rôle of deactivating it. That is much more in correspondence with the aim of giving the individual citizen the sense that his complaint is being dealt with if he feels personally aggrieved. If, as is alleged, the public have the sense that justice is not always being done, and the Government want justice to be seen to be done, in order to avoid the vague miasma of uncertainty about the citizen's individual rôle the Government should accept our amendment, at least in principle, so that the Bill will provide what, we are told, the individual citizen really wants.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I appreciate that if it is the intention of the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) to keep the House sitting all night, it is necessary for him to be prolix, but it is not necessary for him to be disingenuous. In the circumstance, he is being disingenuous. As he knows, a number of us on this side who served in Committee on the Bill felt that a complainant-activated procedure, although it would have some disadvantages, would be worth while because it could be traded against far greater powers for the board, if the cases which the board were considering were restricted to those in which the complainant had activated the machinery.

If the hon. Gentleman had wanted a procedure of that kind, he had his opportunity on 16th March, when a sufficient number of my hon. Friends would have been prepared to vote against Clause 3 with a view to substituting a more effective procedure. But to introduce, at this late stage, when the structure of the Bill does not accord with it, an attempt to emasculate the essential provisions of the Bill is disingenuous. I believe that in my intervention in his speech I demonstrated the fundamental fallacy of his argument.

The reason why the Bill will work reasonably satisfactorily is that there will be a knowledge on the part of the officer dealing with an investigation that someone is looking over his shoulder. I know that such an officer will not like it, but someone else will be looking at the papers eventually and considering whether he has done all that he should have done. I appreciate that this will mean a vast number of cases going to the board and that not all of them will be looked at as they should be, but there will be that knowledge in the investigating officer that the papers will be looked at later.

Although I think that there could be copensating advantages in a complainant-activated procedure, the method offered by the Opposition amendment has none. In a great many cases, the complainant who has had his complaint investigated will decide, although he knows that it was justified, that nothing further can be done, knowing that for lack of evidence the Director of Public Prosecutions has decided not to institute proceedings or the chief officer has decided not to take disciplinary action. In such circumstances, a considerable number of complainants will say "To hell with it", and will not pursue the matter further, even though it should be referred to the Police Complaints Board.

The hon. Gentleman's reasoning would have been justified if the Bill had contained the wider powers which might have been substituted in place of Clause 3 in Committee, but he and his hon. Friends chickened out. They were not prepared then to seek a fundamental amendment. Now, they merely propose an amendment to emasculate the present provision.

The Bill has its merits. It is not as good as I would have liked it to be, but, all in all, I think that it will work reasonably well and perhaps pave the way for a more satisfactory Bill at a later date. To accept an amendment of this kind, which I think the hon. Gentleman proposed with tongue in cheek, would destroy much of the merit of the Bill, and I trust that even he will not wish to press it after he has seriously considered it again.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

This clause is one of the most absurd provisions of the Bill. It must have been conceived by people with little experience or knowledge of the workings of the minds of people who repeatedly come before our courts.

Even this Government would concede a law to be bad which would provide for the wasting of the time of police officers concerned in this complaints procedure, as well as that of the civil servants involved. Even this Government would consider a law to be bad whereby money was spent and time wasted unnecessarily. Even this Government would consider it a bad law which would perpetuate the worry and distress—which should not be just brushed away as of little importance—to police officers, their wives and their families by a procedure which drags on a complaint which in the end is either found to be unjustified or which nobody has any heart to pursue.

It is because the clause is likely to result in all of those features that it is utterly and completely objectionable to me. It seems to me absurd, because its consequences are likely to be so extremely and unnecessarily harmful.

I say that because in my experience, which I must again say has been of 14 years' daily practice in the criminal courts, one so often starts with a complaint against the police pursued in anger and fervour by a defendant which in time miraculously disappears.

I should like the Minister to tell us how many complaints which are originally registered are not proceeded with in the end by complainants over a reasonable number of years. If as I suspect from my experience the number is considerable, that adds strength to the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison).

There are a number of reasons why defendants change their mind in time. It may be that they originally raised a complaint against the police only because they believed that it would strengthen their defence. It may be that they thought that if they made a counter-allegation against the police it would underline the possible truth of their defence. It may be that they thought that if they made a counter-allegation against the police some juryman would think that there was more to the matter than met the eye and would take the view that, after all, if the defendant had actually gone so far as to complain about police behaviour through police channels there was probably some reason for so doing. If there was reason for doing that, then although the matter had not yet been proved to be true there was "no smoke without fire" and the police could not be completely relied upon or trusted.

However, in due course when the case is concluded—when the defendant is either convicted or acquitted— it is miraculous how the enthusiasm for complaining against the behaviour of the police in the case seems to evaporate. It may even be in many cases that a possible cause for complaint exists which has been exaggerated in importance in the early stages of the case in the complainant's mind when he feels persecuted, and in due time, as matters progress, the soreness—the sensitivity about what has happened—begins to disappear and a more common sense approach satisfies him that his first reaction had been exaggerated.

I cannot conceive that anybody who has had experience of dealing with clients in these circumstances, as I would expect the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) as a practising solicitor to have had experience—I am surprised that he opposes the amendment—would think that the clause will do anything other than proliferate the number of complaints and the hardship that goes therewith.

8.15 p.m.

The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) suggested in an intervention that it was important for us to winnow out frivolous complaints at the earliest stages. What more sensible way of winnowing out frivolous complaints could there be, applying common sense to these matters, than to say as it were to the complainant, "Do you really feel so strongly about this matter that you wish to pursue it through all its ramifications?", thus allowing him to decide that it was not a matter that he considered necessary to pursue?

I shall await with interest the Minister's answer, but I believe that a high proportion of matters which start off as complaints disappear in the fulness of time, and that adds strength to the point I make in commenting upon the intervention of the hon. Member for Derby, North.

The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden accused my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash of being disingenuous. It is I think he who is ingenuous. The hon. Gentleman seems to consider that there is something more worth while in this clause as it stands which, if it is left, will advance the purpose which the Bill encapsulates. I do not follow that. Nor do I follow his argument that the Bill would be emasculated if we removed that offensive element in the clause by accepting the amendment.

Surely the object of the exercise is to reassure the public and to let them feel that the police are not covering up for the misbehaviour of their members. The object of the exercise is to secure that an independent element is introduced so that there is no opportunity for injustice to continue.

I cannot see how that objective behind the Bill—and it is a spirit that I support, although for reasons which I will not go into on the amendment I think that the Bill is a dog's dinner—is interfered with by saying to the public—"You can have the reassurance of knowing that the person who complained does not now wish to pursue the complaint. That in other words, the complaint has no justification", or "The complaint has so little justification that the person who originally felt aggrieved no longer wishes to pursue it".

If we sought the common sense reaction of ordinary people we should learn that they would be satisfied by knowing that the person who is most closely affected and who has the most reason to be aggrieved has considered the matter and decided that he has no grievance worth pursuing. That would satisfy any ordinary member of the public and it would have the advantage of saving a vast amount of time, trouble and distress. It is very much a matter of common sense and surely there must be some limit to the absurdities of this Bill and the way in which its various clauses are put together. Anybody sitting down and studying the Bill's provisions and seeing the clause unamended some distance ahead from now, when the dust has settled, will ask himself whether we were out of our minds in allowing such a provision to go through.

I commend my hon. Friends for their foresight, perseverance and persistence in pursuing a common sense matter. But I am puzzled that so many Labour Members who in many other matters concerned with law and order manifest a substantial amount of common sense, cannot see the mischief in allowing the clause to pass unamended.

Dr. Summerskill

After a Committee stage that lasted for 21 sittings, I cannot pretend that I have not heard the speech made by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) before, and it will not be the first time that he has heard what I am about to say.

We both recognise that by this amendment the hon. Member has brought into focus a major difference of policy between the Government and the Opposition on the nature of the independent element to be introduced into the present procedures for dealing with complaints against the police. Broadly speaking, the amendment points to a complainant-activated scheme, whereas the Bill sets out to provide a comprehensive review of all complaints, subject to certain exceptions defined either in the Bill or in Regulations to be made under it.

We have carefully considered whether the new scheme should be limited to complaints in respect of which the complainants themselves ask that they should be referred for consideration to an independent body, if only because we are anxious that any additional burden of work falling on the police should be kept to a minimum. If a complainant is apparently satisfied with the way in which his complaint has been dealt with by the police, we recognise the force of the argument that there seems to be no reason why it should be examined by an independent body.

But the arguments that have been adduced in favour of complainant activation have overlooked an important principle—namely, that a new procedure must not only satisfy so far as possible the individual complainant, but must also meet the more general public concern that there should be some independent element in the handling of complaints against the police to ensure that justice is not only done but is seen to be done. Persistence by a complainant does not necessarily correspond to the gravity of his complaint, or its justification, and we do not accept that all the more serious or justified complaints would necessarily be put to the board under a complainant-activated scheme. We do not therefore think that a complainant-activated scheme would fulfil the main aims that the Government had in mind in introducing the new procedure.

I shall now refer to two specific questions which were asked by hon. Members.

Mr. Lawrencerose

Dr. Summerskill

I want to refer to hon. Members' questions if the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) will allow me. An average of one-quarter of complaints received are not proceeded with.

The hon. Member for Barkston Ash made a fallacious assumption. It is not true that the board will be able to select arbitrarily cases that must be examined. It will have to examine all cases referred to it under Clause 2(1).

Mr. Alison

I am trying to follow the logic of the Minister's argument. The doctrine of persistence, the bureaucratic merits of persistence—the point contained in the leter which I read to the House—seems to be challenged by the principle of a total right of withdrawal which the hon. Lady has conceded. Why undermine the logic of persistence of the board with the absolute right of the complainant to withdraw?

Dr. Summerskill

Persistence does not necessarily correspond to the gravity of the complaint. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that the Government are trying to dissuade a complainant from persisting with a complaint. A complainant can press a chief officer as many times as he likes until the matter is settled. Many complainants might have a genuine case which deserves review but for various reasons a complainant may not wish to trouble the Ombudsman through the board. Under the Government's scheme the board will adopt an approach which ensures, on behalf of all complainants, that justice is seen to be done.

Mr. Lawrence

I follow what the hon. Lady is saying about the need to reasure the public. She has said that that reassurance would go if the complainant were allowed to activate a complaint. But surely the logic of that belief should extend to the situation in which a complainant is allowed to withdraw the complaint. Why is a complainant to be allowed to withdraw a complaint? That would not necessarily satisfy the public in its need for reassurance that a complaint is properly investigated. Yet the complainant is not allowed to activate the complaint. The two situations are as one and the same principle must be applied to activation as to withdrawal. If not, the Government must introduce an amendment to prevent the complainant from withdrawing a complaint.

Dr. Summerskill

Initiating a complaint and pursuing it, and the requirement by the general public and the complainant that the complaint is satisfactorily looked into, are more important than the withdrawal of the complaint. The withdrawal of the complaint is initiated by the complainant.

The Bill's purpose is to see that there is an independent element in the examination of a complaint. It seems to me that the emphasis should be upon that. That is how the Bill is formulated.

Mr. Alison

The hon. Lady is dodging the question. She is saying that the machinery for activation cannot be left in the hands of a complainant, because he may make a complaint which, in the Government's view, is so serious that it should be investigated, whether or not he wants to refer it for investigation. Therefore, persistence is one of the qualities that the board possesses but that the public may not possess. The public must not be allowed to activate the machinery, but they may deactivate it. However important the board may think it that a particular case should be investigated, in the interests of reassuring the public, it is still in the gift of the complainant to withdraw the complaint and deactivate the procedure. The Government cannot have it both ways. They must be consistent.

8.30 p.m.

Dr. Summerskill

I disagree about the emphasis that there should be in the Bill, The primary purpose of the Bill is that in the investigation of a complaint there should be an independent element. That is what the Bill sets out to provide.

We accept that there are differing opinions on this issue of principle. I think that the hon. Gentleman and I could argue for two days about complainant activation. Apart from that issue, there would be considerable practical difficulties in incorporating the idea of complainant-activation into the Government's scheme without encountering serious opposition from the police organisations on the grounds of double jeopardy, which the hon. Gentleman did not mention in his opening speech. We have discussed this plan with the local authority associations and the police representative bodies.

In my letter of 11th May I informed the hon. Gentleman that the police were particularly concerned about the risk of double jeopardy implicit in the hon. Member's plan. Even if the independent body would have no power to reverse any decisions already taken—for example, the decision not to prefer disciplinary charges—the fact that it would be able to comment adversely on the handling of a case might leave the police officer concerned under a cloud for the rest of his career.

Linked with the idea of complaint-activation is the proposal that the new body should have a kind of Ombudsman function—that is, it would be largely concerned with conducting an ex post facto review. As my right hon. Friend made clear in his statement on the new scheme last July, I do not believe that it is sufficient to have such a review. What is needed is an independent element that comes into operation after the investigation has been completed but before the final decision on the disciplinary aspects of the case is taken, so that the independent body can influence the outcome, if necessary. We believe that the exercise of an active rôle of this kind in the public interest will serve to remove the general feeling of unease that, at present, the handling of the disciplinary aspects of complaints rests entirely with the police themselves.

I mentioned earlier that the amendment had certain other consequences. One is that the complainant would receive a copy of the investigating officer's report. This is not only unnecessary but undesirable. It would be wholly wrong for the complainant to receive information about police investigations which might well deal with matters going beyond the complaint itself or the results of investigations into criminal activities. Moreover, even if it were conceded that the complainant should receive confidential police information of this kind it would be hard to resist the suggestion that the police officer concerned should also receive the papers in the case, although the amendment does not propose this.

Another question which the amendment raises is why the chief officer should tell the complainant whether he thinks that any disciplinary charges should be heard before a disciplinary tribunal. If the complainant decided not to ask that the complaint be referred to the board, it is not clear how the board could be asked to consider the need for a disciplinary tribunal. But I appreciate that those last two points are small compared with the point of principle which the amendment seeks to put into the Bill.

We discussed this for many hours in Committee. There appears to be no meeting place between the Opposition and the Government on this major point of principle. Both views are strongly held. I can only advise my hon. Friends to oppose the amendment.

Mr. Aitken

In an amazingly illogical speech the hon. Lady made one very logical and accurate point, that there is a major division of principle and belief between our two parties on this matter. That division can be summed up by saying that the Government believe that the gentleman in Whitehall knows best, whereas we believe that the individual knows best, certainly when it comes to deciding whether he wishes to crank into action the massive bureaucratic machinery of the Police Complaints Board on a complaint which he has started.

I do not know whether the hon. Lady and her ministerial colleagues follow the Top Twenty pop songs. If they do they may be aware that almost the best-selling record today is "I've Got A Brand New Combine Harvester" by a group called the Wurzels. It reminds me of the ministerial pronouncements we have heard in the debates on the Bill. Ministers are saying in effect that they have a wonderful new device, a brand new Police Com-plaints Board, which will automatically go combining its way through what are now estimated to be 25,000 complaints a year, hoping to harvest one or two important things in the public interest.

We very much doubt whether such a device is necessary, but we say that if we are to have one at least it should not operate automatically. Let it not be brought into operation at the whim of the bureaucracy. It is much better if it comes into operation at the desire of the complainant. That would save a great deal of unnecessary work for the board, a great deal of Civil Service time and manpower, and a great deal of public money. On those grounds alone, serious thought should be given to the benefits of a complainant-activated board.

I should like to say something about the costs, because we have been seriously deluded by the hon. Lady throughout the debates as to how much the board will cost the taxpayer. She has persistently said that it will cost no more than £300,000 a year.

Sir Bernard Braine

That is complete nonsense.

Mr. Aitken

As my hon. Friend characteristically remarks in a vigorous phrase, it is complete nonsense. However one does the sums, one reaches the conclusion that the board cannot cost less than £1 million to £2 million a year, and the figure may well be more.

Mr. Lawrence

If a quarter of the 25,000 complaints are not pursued—that is, the complainant does not think that pursuing them is justified—that comes to about 6,000. At even £50 per complaint, would not that amount to £300,000 in expense which could be saved?

Mr. Aitken

My hon. Friend has a quicker head for figures than I. I am sure that he is absolutely right.

It is one of the nonsenses of the board that it goes on looking at complaints which are in the process of being withdrawn. On the hon. Lady's own estimates, each member of the board will be required to examine eight and a half complaints per day, which is a physical and mental impossibility, considering that some complaints run into many tens of pages, if not hundreds.

I have some interesting figures on some of the complaints handled in the past year by the Kent police, in whose area my constituency is. I asked them to give me the costs of two complaints, both of which I knew something about because they originated in my constituency. One I considered to be minor and the other to be major. The minor complaint cost £797 for the wages of the investigating officer alone. The major investigation has so far cost £15,981 of which £5,400 was spent on the transcripts of evidence and the photocopying.

All these costs will multiply when we have a nine-member board staffed by 30 civil servants. One sensible way of cutting down the work load and the number of civil servants involved, and of reducing the level of public expenditure at a time when it is vital that public expenditure should be reduced, is to say that the machinery shall start only when a complainant really wishes it to start.

The hon. Lady has argued that the basic reason why she thinks it is so vitally necessary for the board not to be activated by a complainant is that although she recognises that the work of the police should be kept to the minimum, nevertheless she believes that it is for the public good that complaints should be looked at by the complaints board at the board's own whim and insistence because only the members of the board have the necessary persistence to study the complaints with the closeness which they deserve.

There is a great illogicality here, which was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) because, as he made clear, although a complainant is not allowed to activate this board, a complainant is allowed to deactivate it. Surely it is absolute nonsense to say that it is permissible for a complainant to press the "stop" button but it is not permissible for him to press the "start" button. It is an absolute and total illogicality in the hon. Lady's argument.

I should like to refer briefly to the speech by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) who said that our proposals would emasculate the Bill. That is not the purpose of these amendments, but it is our purpose to emasculate the work load, the public expenditure load and the Civil Service manpower involved. We believe that is a desirable and correct objective.

I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) made a very sound point when he said that the whole clause had been drafted by those who had little knowledge of the minds of people who come before our courts. I can support what my hon. Friend said with some information supplied by the Kent police. I have a letter from a chief inspector of the Kent police whose main job is to deal with complaints. He wrote: Over 65 per cent. of the complaints arose from situations where the police were detaining or had reported or interviewed alleged suspects and where quite frankly in my experience the complaints were made in the hope that it might be a counter to prosecution. I think that here we touch on what is a major weakness in this Bill. It can so easily become just an excuse for those who wish to use this complaints board as a new defence mechanism and as a defensive shield in the criminal troubles in which they may be involved.

My hon. Friend made a sound point when he drew attention to the number of defendants who change their minds about a complaint. He was quite correct. About a quarter change their minds after a quiet word with them about the absurdity of their complaints. We maintain that these people should have the right to say "We do not want this procedure to start ".

The hon. Lady spoke at length of general public concern about the introduction of the independent element into complaints against the police. Despite the many long hours we have all spent listening to these complaints in Committee and on the Floor of the House, I have yet to hear a scrap of evidence that large numbers of the public want a Police Complaints Board of this nature. I have yet to hear any sound and valid evidence to suggest that the public want to see between £1 million and £2 million of taxpayers' money spent on creating a mammoth bureaucratic empire to make it easier to complain against the police.

The hon. Lady made a speech in Bournemouth when she addressed a number of senior police officers and indicated that there would have to be financial stringency involved in restraining expenditure which the police quite rightly incur in their continuing war against crime. What an extraordinary sense of priorities whereby money is available to be spent on a board to enable complaints to be made against the police but is not to be available to enable the police to fight crime.

8.45 p.m.

One way of saving money and time would be to let the board be activated when the complainant wanted it to be. That would halve the work load, halve public expenditure and make Parliament's deliberations half as idiotic as they now are.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 222, Noes 289.

Abse, Leo Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Mackintosh, John P.
Allaun, Frank Evans John (Newton) Maclennan, Robert
Anderson, Donald Ewing, Harry (Stirling) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)
Archer, Peter Faulds, Andrew McNamara, Kevin
Armstrong, Ernest Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Madden, Max
Ashley, Jack Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Magee, Bryan
Ashton, Joe Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Mahon, Simon
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Flannery, Martin Mallalieu, J. P. W.
Atkinson, Norman Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Marks, Kenneth
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Marquand, David
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Foot, Rt Hon Michael Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Forrester, John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Bates, Alf Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Bean, R. E. Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Maynard, Miss Joan
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Freeson, Reginald Meacher, Michael
Bidwell, Sydney George, Bruce Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Bishop, E. S. Gilbert, Dr John Mendelson, John
Blenkinsop, Arthur Golding, John Mikardo, Ian
Boardman, H. Gould, Bryan Millan, Bruce
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Gourlay, Harry Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Graham, Ted Miller, Mrs Millie (Word N)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Grant, George (Morpeth) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Grant, John (Islington C) Molloy, William
Bradley, Tom Grocott, Bruce Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hardy, Peter Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Harper, Joseph Moyle, Roland
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Buchan, Norman Hart, Rt Hon Judith Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Buchanan, Richard Hattersley. Rt Hon Roy Newens, Stanley
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Hatton, Frank Noble, Mike
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Hayman, Mrs Helene Oakes, Gordon
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Heffer, Eric S. Ogden, Eric
Campbell, Ian Hooley, Frank O'Halloran, Michael
Canavan, Dennis Horam, John Orbach, Maurice
Cant, R. B. Howell, Rt Hon Denis Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Carmichael, Neil Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Ovenden, John
Carter, Ray Huckfield, Les Padley, Walter
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Palmer, Arthur
Cartwright, John Hughes, Mark (Durham) Park, George
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Parker, John
Clemitson, Ivor Hughes, Roy (Nwport) Parry, Robert
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Hunter, Adam Pavitt, Laurie
Cohen, Stanley Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Peart, Rt Hon Fred
Coleman, Donald Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Perry, Ernest
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Phipps, Dr Colin
Concannon, J. D. Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Conlan, Bernard Janner, Greville Prescott, John
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Corbett, Robin Jeger, Mrs. Lena Price, William (Rugby)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Radice Giles
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Cronin, John John, Brynmor Richardson, Miss Jo
Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Johnson, James (Hull West) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cryer, Bob Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Roberts Gwilym (Cannock)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Robinson, Geoffrey
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Roderick, Caerwyn
Dalyell, Tam Judd, Frank Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Davidson, Arthur Kaufman, Gerald Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Kelley, Richard Rooker, J. W.
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Kerr, Russell Roper, John
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Rose, Paul B.
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Kinnock, Neil Rose, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Deakins, Eric Lambie, David Rowlands, Ted
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lamborn, Harry Sandelson, Neville
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Lamond, James Sedgemore, Brian
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Selby, Harry
Dempsey, James Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Doig, Peter Lever, Rt Hon Harold Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Dormand, J. D. Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Duffy, A. E. P. Lipton, Marcus Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Dunn, James A. Litterick, Tom Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Dunnett, Jack Lomas, Kenneth Silverman, Julius
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Loyden, Eddie Skinner, Dennis
Eadie, Alex Luard, Evan Small, William
Edge, Geoff Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Snape, Peter
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) McCartney, Hugh Spearing, Nigel
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) McElhone, Frank Stallard, A. W.
Ennals, David MacFarquhar, Roderick Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Stoddart, David
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Mackenzie, Gregor Stott, Roger
Strang, Gavin Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Strauss, Rt Hn G. R. Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Walker, Terry (Kingswood) Williams, Sir Thomas
Swain, Thomas Ward, Michael Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W) Watkins, David Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Watkinson, John Wise, Mrs Audrey
Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E) Weetch, Ken Woodall, Alec
Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW) Weitzman, David Woof, Robert
Thorne, Stan (Preston South) Wellbeloved, James Wrigglesworth, Ian
Tierney, Sydney White, Frank R. (Bury) Young, David (Bolton E)
Tinn, James White, James (Pollok)
Tomlinson, John Whitehead, Phillip TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Torney, Tom Whitlock, William Mr. James Hamilton and
Urwin, T. W. Willey, Rt Hon Frederick Mr. Tom Pendry.
Varley, Rt Hon Eric G. Williams, Alan (Swansea W)

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: No. 10, in page 2, line 10, leave out from 'complaint' to 'and' in line 11.—[Dr. Summerskill.]

Mr. Arthur Davidson

I beg to move Amendment No. 11 in page 2, line 15, after 'the', insert 'matter or'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

With this we may take Government Amendments Nos. 13, 16 and 22.

Mr. Davidson

As the House knows, Clause 2(2)(a) gives effect to a particular feature of the new scheme, namely that the complaints board will not have to deal with a complaint where disciplinary charges have been preferred in respect of that complaint and the accused officer has admitted the charge. The only question remaining is the appropriate punishment for that officer and as this is a matter for the chief officer alone, the board will have no function to perform.

It was suggested in the debates in Committee that the Bill as it stands could enable the police to use this procedure to cover up a complaint. The accused officer could plead guilty to a relatively minor disciplinary offence when a more serious charge could and should have been brought, and the board could be kept in ignorance.

I do not accept that this sort of thing would happen or that bargains would be struck with policemen who had committed offences, but unless this amendment is accepted the suspicion that they could do so would remain.

Amendment agreed to.

9.0 p.m.

Dr. Summerskill

I beg to move Amendment No. 12. in page 2, line 15, leave out 'and his reasons for, or for not, doing so'.

and insert 'and, if not, his reasons for not doing so '. The amendment arises out of our consultations on the Bill. The requirement to give reasons for decisions to prefer charges does not appear to serve any useful purpose. The board will have no power to challenge such a decision by a chief officer and it should be evident from the charges themselves as well as from the accompanying documents why they have been brought. The board's only function in relation to such cases is to decide whether there are grounds for the charges being heard by a tribunal under Clause 4, and Amendment No. 14 will allow chief officers to say whether they consider that a tribunal is appropriate and, if so, why. The change does not affect the requirement for chief officers to give reasons for their decision in cases where they have not brought disciplinary charges.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 13, in page 2, line 17, leave out 'disciplinary charges in respect of those matters' and insert 'such disciplinary charges'.—[Dr. Summerskill.]

Dr. Summerskill

I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 2, line 19, leave out 'whether' and insert 'of any exceptional circumstances affecting the case by reason of which'. During discussions on Clause 2 in Standing Committee it was argued that, before reaching a decision whether a disciplinary tribunal should be held, the board, in so grave and complex a matter, should have the advice of the chief officer. We agree that this is highly desirable and the amendment accordingly makes the necessary provision.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Alison

I beg to move Amendment No. 15, in page 2, line 20, at end insert 'and—

  1. (iv) in respect of the disciplinary charges so referred, whether the accused officer has been provided with a copy of the original complaint and of any statements made by witnesses and by the complainant; and whether the complainant has been informed of his right to attend the disciplinary hearing'.
This is an exploratory amendment, by which we hope to establish the exact state and status, under the procedure in subsection (1), of the police officer who is subject to a complaint as between his chief officer, the complainant and the complaints board. The officer will have a great deal at stake. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said at one stage in our proceedings that there is such a thing as extended jeopardy. The whole of the machinery under subsection (1) will in some sense postpone the moment at which the officer complained against knows what his fate will be. He will know what it is to be if disciplinary charges have been preferred, which is the possibility envisaged in subsection (1)(b)(ii), because he will have been told about it.

We want to make certain that an accused officer has been put fully in the picture about a complaint. He has to make provision for his defence if there is to be a disciplinary hearing. The police regulations provide a chance for an officer to work out his defence.

It is not certain that the principle of avoiding the ex-post facto review that the Government are so anxious to stick to may not, in logic, necessitate the Government having to keep an officer at arm's length in respect of anything that he is told before the board has made up its mind. If an officer is told one thing in advance and the board decides something else, that is double jeopardy.

In the case of disciplinary charges being preferred, the board cannot rule that no other charges should be preferred. Once they have been preferred, the board can consent to their going to a tribunal.

We want to establish that an officer will be put fully in the picture before the board is brought into operation, and will be told, as far as possible, what he is likely to be in for. One difficulty is that he cannot be told if no disciplinary charges have been decided upon at that point.

If disciplinary charges have been preferred, or a chief officer intends to prefer them, the officer concerned must have been told before the case goes to the board. That is a great advantage for him. He is let off the hook. He knows where he stands and has the chance to make provision for his defence. But in the case where a chief officer initially decides not to prefer disciplinary charges, can the officer concerned be told about that? He is obviously told the details of a complaint when discliplinary charges are preferred, but is he informed in a case where the chief officer decides not to prefer disciplinary charges?

If the officer named is told that the decision was not to prefer disciplinary charges—which would be the rational thing to do—and this was overthrown by the board, it would apparently be a case of double jeopardy.

If the officer is not to be told when no disciplinary charges are to be levelled, it seems anomalous that the chap who is alleged to have committed an offence that leads a chief officer initially to prefer charges should have the chance to work out his case, while in the less serious case the officer concerned is given less opportunity to draw up his case. It is important that we should be quite clear exactly what the officer concerned will be told in advance of going to the board.

I hope that I have made the basis of the amendment clear. It is partly exploratory, but we want, if possible, a clear indication of the extent to which the wretched officer will be put in the picture about his fate.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

I appreciate the reasons behind the amendment. I agree that an officer who is the subject of a complaint and possibly disciplinary charges should be given as much information as possible about the complaint and about his possible fate.

I remind the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) that under the Police (Discipline) Regulations 1965 a member of a police force who is charged with an offence is required to be supplied as soon as possible with copies of his own statement, if he has made one, copies of the report, allegation or complaint on which the charge is founded, copies of any reports thereon, apart from the investigating officer's report, copies of any other statements by witnesses who are to be called, and copies of any other statements made to the investigating officer. The Regulations provide that the chief constable is to allow the complainant to attend the hearing when a charge arises out of a complaint.

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has said that this is basically an exploratory amendment. It seeks to require the chief officer, when referring a case to the board, to tell the board whether he has done what in any event he is required to do by law. There is no indication what the board might do if a chief officer were to tell it that he had not done what he was supposed to do, but perhaps that is not a point that I need to stress. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this is an unnecessary amendment. I assure him that his reading of the situation is correct. An officer is not told of the provisional decision not to bring disciplinary charges, but he is told of the eventual decision.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that in all the circumstances his amendment, while exploratory, is not necessary.

Mr. Alison

If I have leave to speak again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary said in a throw-away last line that the officer is not told of a provisional decision not to prefer disciplinary charges. That seems to be a rather unfair discrimination against the most innocent type of charged officer.

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that where a decision is made to prefer disciplinary charges—that is to say, a more serious and obvious offence—the officer is told of the decision? Indeed, the hon. Gentleman has referred to the part of the Police Act which provides for that. The officer is told of that decision and, well in advance, he has a chance to prepare his case. However, in a situation in which there is a provisional decision not to prefer charges, namely, the less serious type of offence, the officer is not told of that decision until the board is told about it. The board may say "We shall reverse the disciplinary charges", but where the provisional decision is not to prefer charges the officer concerned does not get the advance notice that the other chap receives.

That is the difficulty. I am not absolutely certain that I want to press the Parliamentary Secretary to speak fully and definitively on this matter, but I think that he ought to weigh up this point and consider whether officers are being fairly treated in this respect, and to consider the possibility of considering this matter at a later stage. Perhaps he would care to refer to the problem.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

I understand the points that the hon. Gentleman has been making. He is also concerned that there should be no risk of double jeopardy, and that is where the difficulty arises, because if a person were told that the provisional decision was not to bring disciplinary charges and then the board's decision—if I may use a convenient shorthand—were to prefer disciplinary charges, an element of double jeopardy would enter into matters. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point and I shall look at it.

Mr. Alison

In particular, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would consider inviting the Police Federation to consider which it would prefer—the element of double jeopardy inherent in giving early notice about no decision being taken or the opportunity that it might give to the police officer to prepare his defence in advance if he were given a clear indication as to where the likelihood of a charge lay. However, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman will at least look at this matter at a later stage.

In those circumstances, therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 16, in page 2, line 23, after first "the", insert "matter or".—[Mr. John Ellis.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Godman Irvine)

The next amendment is Government Amendment No. 17.

Mr. John Ellis (Brigg and Scunthorpe)


Mr. Alison


Mr. Arthur Davidson

Grateful as I am for that help from my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis), I do not think that I can be quite that informal, or that formality should be that informal.

I beg to move Amendment. No. 17, in page 2, line 26, leave out paragraph (b) and insert— '(b) where, in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State under section 5 below, the complaint has been withdrawn or the complainant has indicated that he does not wish any further steps to be taken; or (c) where the complaint is against an officer holding a rank above superintendent and, in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State under section 33 of the Police Act 1964, any disciplinary charges would be drawn up by a solicitor and heard by a person selected from a list of persons nominated by the Lord Chancellor.'

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we are to take Government Amendment No. 29.

Mr. Davidson

It has generally been agreed that, where a complaint is withdrawn or the complainant indicates that he does not wish to pursue it any further, the requirement under Section 49 to investigate the complaint should cease and that such complaints need not be referred to the board. As was mentioned in Committee, we had intended to provide for this in regulations under Clause 5(1)(e) but it has been argued that this is an important principle which should be made clear on the face of the Bill itself.

We accept the force of these arguments and paragraph (b) of Amendment No. 17 attempts to meet the point. It does so by excluding from the operation of Clause 2(1), which requires the chief officer to refer to the board any report he receives of an investigation into a complaint under Section 49, any complaint which is withdrawn or on which the complainant states that he wishes no further action to be taken. The two possibilities are included to cover the eventuality that a complainant may not want, by withdrawing his complaint completely, to appear to be admitting that there was never any justification for making it.

It will be noted that the opening words of the new paragraph (b) contemplate regulations dealing with withdrawal and so on. It is the intention that provision should be made by regulations under Clause 5(1)(g) to ensure that only an unambiguous withdrawal by a complainant who is aware of the consequences will be taken into account for the purposes of paragraph (b).

The new paragraph (b) deals only with reference to the board under Clause 2. But a complaint may be withdrawn before its investigation under Section 49 of the 1964 Act has been completed or, in an extreme case, before it has even started. To deal with this situation the regulation making power in Clause 5(1)(e) is retained to enable the requirements of Section 49 to be dispensed with. But the new paragraph (b) to Clause 2(2) will render the reference to the foregoing provisions of this Part of this this Act. otiose and, accordingly, it is proposed to omit these words from Clause 5(1)(e) by Amendment No. 29. That is merely a consequential amendment.

I hope that I have made clear the purpose of the amendment. It has been moved at rather more length than merely formally. I hope that the House will agree to it.

Mr. Alison

We welcome the amendment. It seems to be entirely in line with the principle that we advocate and have advocated consistently—that a good deal of initiative should lie in the hands of the complainant. If I appear to rub salt into the wound of the hon. Gentleman, who is representing the Government, it is because of the total illogicality of what they have provided. In a ministerial letter to me it was pointed out that Persistence on the part of the complainant does not necessarily correspond to the gravity of his complaint or its justification and we do not accept that all the more serious or justified complaints would necessarily be put to the Board under a complainant-activated scheme. As already pointed out, the Government are depriving complainants of the opportunity of pressing the bell to activate but making it entirely possible for them to deactivate the complaints machinery. But every movement towards giving power to the complainant is most acceptable to the Opposition.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I have a little apprehension about the amendment, particularly in regard to the proposed paragraph (b), because it is relatively easy for a police officer in certain circumstances to exert pressure on a complainant.

I recall a case some years ago in which a complaint was made—I believe with every justification—by the son of a publican. Immediately after the complaint was made, the publican found that his pub was visited every evening at two minutes past 11, and that constant checks were made to ensure that every aspect of the complex licensing laws was carefully pursued. This continued until eventually the publican persuaded his son to withdraw the complaint.

The circumstances in which complaints are made not infrequently give rise to the opportunity for harassment. Therefore, I am not at all sure that it is desirable or logical, having regard to the Opposition arguments, for complaints which have been withdrawn to be taken outside the purview of the board.

I appreciate that this is a late stage at which to ask the Government to consider this matter again, but the amendment has been put down on Report stage and was not before us when the Bill was discussed earlier. The amendment creates scope for abuse.

The constant stopping of cars and searching of people in the streets can bring about very great pressure for some of those who may have made a legitimate complaint. It is in circumstances in which a complaint is legitimate that the complainant is quite likely to be subjected to this sort of pressure. It seems to me undesirable that the board should be unable even to receive information about those cases where possibly a very justified complaint has been withdrawn in circumstances of the sort that I have mentioned.

I therefore ask my hon. Friend to reconsider whether in another place it might not be preferable to drop paragraph (b) of the amendment, as the scope for abuse would be such as to reduce very significantly the impact of the Bill. As hon. Gentlemen opposite have pointed out, it requires a deliberate action on the part of the complainant to withdraw his complaint.

I believe that the Bill would be better without this amendment, and I trust that my hon. Friend will at least give me the assurance that, before the Bill is pre- sented in another place, he will seriously reconsider whether this part of the amendment is desirable.

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman should not chicken out. Let us have a vote now in order to make the position clear.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 18, in page 2, leave out lines 30 to 35.

No. 20, in page 2, line 35, at end insert— '(3) Where by virtue of subsection (2)(a) above, subsection (1) above does not apply in relation to a complaint, the chief officer of police shall, after the conclusion of the disciplinary proceedings (including any appeal to the Secretary of State), send to the Board—

  1. (a) a copy of the complaint and of the report of the investigation under the said section 49; and
  2. (b) particulars of the disciplinary charges preferred and of any punishment imposed.
(4) Where in the case of any complaint the documents mentioned in subsection (1) above are not sent to the Board before the expiration of such period as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State under section 5 below (whether because the investigation has not been completed or for any other reason) the chief officer of police shall send to the Board—
  1. (a) as soon as possible after the expiration of that period, a copy of the complaint; and
  2. (b) when he sends that copy and, in accordance with any provision made by the regulations, from time to time thereafter information as to the stage reached in dealing with the complaint;
but the obligations imposed by this subsection shall apply only if and so long as the case is one to which subsection (1) above applies or could apply and where a copy of the complaint is sent to the Board under this subsection no further copy need be sent under that subsection.
(5) References in this section to a copy of the complaint shall, in the case of a complaint made orally, be construed as references to a copy of the record of the complaint'.—[Mr. Arthur Davidson.]

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