HC Deb 04 May 1976 vol 910 cc1205-29 'The Authority shall ensure that complaints by the public against members of the police force are dealt with under the same procedures as those applicable to police forces maintained by local authorities'.—[Mr.Beith.]

Brought up, and read the First tune.

10.27 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

With this we are taking Amendment No. 7, in Clause 4, page 4, line 11, at end insert: '(4) Any complaints by members of the public against Authority Constables in respect of the powers exercised by them under this Act shall be subject to the same complaints procedure as is for the time being in force for police forces maintained by police authorities'.

Mr. Beith

I am glad that this apparently obscure Bill has aroused wider attention that it attracted on Second Reading, and I hope that hon. Members will give thought to the serious issues raised by it, particularly those which Mr. Speaker has wisely selected for consideration.

I apologise to the Minister and other hon. Members who served on the Committee on the Bill for my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) being unable to be present at the only sitting which the Committee held. Some of the amendments which were moved then were, therefore, unable to be dealt with by him at that time. I know that the Minister has comments he wishes to make on the amendments, and I hope that he will have the opportunity to do so tonight.

The clause, which has support wider than that of the Liberal Party, is designed to deal with an unsatisfactory aspect of the Bill. Any complaint by a member of the public against the Atomic Energy Authority force is much harder to pursue than is a complaint against the civil police, for there is none of the recourse, none of the formality and none of the safeguards which are available in the complaints procedure under the Police Act.

The independent element, which the Government are now seeking, with our support, to introduce into the police complaints procedure, has a degree of formality, and a large number of safeguards in the system of registration, which goes far beyond anything the Atomic Energy Authority's force now has. The Minister himself, in reply to me on a previous occasion, said of the complaints procedure: In addition to the constabulary's own internal procedures for handling complaints from the public the AEA Constabulary is subject to the jurisdiction of the Authority's management and to the civil police if any offence is suspected"—[Official Report, 25th February 1976; Vol. 906, c. 18.] Of course, we all are. But on other matters there is only a limited management responsibility. It is seriously inadequate. This House has decided that even the procedures under the Police Act applying to civil forces are insufficient and that we should go beyond that. The House has gone a considerable length, and will receive and consider on Report a Bill designed to introduce an independent element into the procedures.

But the discussions at that stage revealed something which is rather significant, namely that the Atomic Energy Authority did not wish to see the procedures for its own police force improved in this way. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said specifically that the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority police are more reluctant to co-operate on a voluntary basis with the kind of new scheme which the Government themselves will provide not only for ordinary local authority police force but for other police forces maintained by nationalised industries and by other bodies. It is particularly this reluctance in accepting the principle of providing an independent element in the complaints procedure which calls for a far clearer assurance than we have had so far.

We know that it is now the Government's intention that there will be mandatory provisions in the Police Bill to make sure that forces of this kind will come under such a procedure. However, I am suspicious from what has been said so far about the Atomic Energy Authority's attitude, I suspect, even at this stage, that the Authority will be lobbying that it should not be included in any such procedure.

We are seeking a clear indication from the Minister that it is his wish and intention that the procedure by which a member of the public can register a complaint, however rare a thing it may be, and have it investigated when it relates to a constable from the Atomic Energy Authority's force, shall be no different in essential particulars and in the safeguards and independent element it provides from the system by which he will have recourse against a local authority police officer or a police officer from the Metropolitan police force.

It is impossible to conceive why a force such as the Atomic Energy Authority force should not be subject to the same safeguards, particularly when the whole purpose of the Bill is to provide safeguards for an armed force—a force, unlike any of the other nationalised industries' police forces, and one which carries arms in certain situations and in places where it is in contact with the public and not simply with employees of the authority. These may not be the most frequent circumstances but they may give rise to serious difficulty, and a system for public complaints ought to be provided in the same way as in the case of the civil police force. No hon. Member can let this part of the Bill proceed any further unless he is absolutely certain that by one means or another that would be the case.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I should declare at the start that I have a connection with the Police Federation—[Interruption.] I am sure that hon. Members opposite, who have their connections with bodies of workers, wil! believe that the House is frequently the better for being able to hear those who have intimate knowledge of the bodies of employees who are affected by legislation.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham)

The hon. Member is the official voice of the police.

Mr. Griffiths

Of course, if the hon. M. ember persists in that vein, he will be impugning his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who for a number of years held precisely the same post as I hold. He served very well and I was glad to follow in his footsteps.

I wish to support the new clause, with which is associated my Amendment No. 7. The central point is simple. The Atomic Energy Authority police will be called upon to work in conjunction with the civil police. That is a point on which the Minister, both in his speeches and in his correspondence, has laid much stress. Therefore, from time to time, a member of the ASA police and a member of the civil police will carry out duties together.

When some incident takes place which gives rise to complaint against the way in which those police officers, whether civil or AEA, have conducted themselves, the procedures to be followed should apply to both those officers in the same way, and a member of the public, who may not be as wise as hon. Members in distinguishing between the two, should be quite clear that the complaints procedure is the same for both.

It would be wholly unjust and somewhat absurd if two police officers, one civil and one working for the AEA, were to become involved in a fracas with a member of the public—it could be the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Kerr)—who then wished to complain about their behaviour, and the extraordinary situation were to arise that only in the case of the civil police officer, who in the end has the final responsibility, was there all the apparatus that the House is now laying on the police service under the Police Bill. There would be the obligatory reference to the Police Complaints Board, the consideration of the evidence brought by the hon. Member or the complainee and the prospect of adjudication by the tribunal.

If the House wishes to have an independent element, so be it, but it cannot be right for the civil police officer to be subject to those procedures—and, incidentally, those embarrassments—while the AEA officer, working, armed, alongside him, is not. That is unjust as between one police officer and another, it is confusing to the public and it will simply create friction in an area where above all it is undesirable.

I am sure that the Minister is sympathetic to this point, and I hope that he will take it on board and do something about it. But if his Department had taken the trouble to consult the police properly before bringing in the Bill, these matters would have been dealt with, and dealt with properly.

I am sorry to say that, in Committee, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said: … there was extensive consultation with the … Chief Police Officers, both in England and Wales and in Scotland. It was against that background that the Police Federation was, I am sure, made aware of the implications of the Bill".—[0fficial Report, Standing Committee B; 27th April 1976, c. 17–18.] I must tell the hon. Gentleman that there was no consultation whatsoever with the federation, which, I remind the House, is not a voluntary body. It is a statutory body, set up by Parliament, to which every policeman belongs. This statutory body was not consulted in any way.

The Minister should apologise for that statement. He should recognise that the many detailed points which will fall to be dealt with tonight would have been settled, and settled much more effectively, if the Home Office and the Department of Energy had taken the trouble to consult the body of men, the trade union, if one likes, who have to carry out most of the work.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East )

Do the Atomic Energy Authority constables belong to the Police Federation?

Mr. Griffiths

No, they do not. But this whole matter pertains precisely to the work of the police and, as the Minister will surely make clear, the AEA constables, when carrying out their duties under the Bill, will fall under the ulti- mate command and responsibility of the chief police officer of each force in whose area they operate. The point is that we are seeking here to make the civil police and the Atomic Energy Authority police work effectively together. In order to do that it is very important that where complaints against their conduct arise, matters should be equal for both forces and cases should he proceeded with in the same way.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I support the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) in the new clause and amendment.

I hope that in his reply the Minister will bear in mind an important point. It is important particularly for those of us who were involved in the Second Reading and who, therefore, have not come to the Bill out of the blue but have been interested in it from the start. For those who were not members of the Committee, it is somewhat disquieting to read the replies to the various debates on clauses in Committee. On several occasions the Minister, particularly the Under-Secretary of State for Energy, said that he would write to Members in answer to points that they had raised. Those of us who were not members of the Committee do not have a clue what the answers are. That is a very important point in relation to what we are dealing with now.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Alex Eadie)

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads the Official Report of the proceedings in Standing Committee most carefully. As to members of the Committee who raised points. I think that his hon. Friends will confirm that I carried out precisely what I said I would do. I wrote personally to hon. Members who raised points in Committee. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the points I have tried to make.

Mr. Monro

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said, he would have known that I was not complaining about that. I said that hon. Members who were not members of the Committee have no idea about the answers that have been given. The hon. Gentleman has written to certain hon. Members. As far as I am aware, that is confidential. Those of us who are interested in this subject have not been informed of the answers to questions put in Committee to the Ministers. It is not that Ministers did not do what they said they would do but that the procedure was wrong in relation to Parliament. That is the point I am making —nothing more or less than that. The House has not been informed of the answers to points raised in Committee because the Government did not reply in Committee.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds have put the matter very clearly. The two constabularies— if we may refer to them thus—should be on an exactly equal footing. This matter concerns my constituents as it concerns those of other hon. Members. I hope that eventually there will be parity in the complaints procedure. I hope that the Government will accept that what has been put forward is perfectly clear and fair, and that the Minister will accept this valid amendment.

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

I should like to express some support for the new clause and amendment, but I should like first to put on record a view as a member of the Committee dealing with the Bill. When the new clause that we are discussing was presented on the Notice Paper in Committee, in the names of Liberal Members, it was not called because no Liberal Member attended the Committee, despite the fact that the Liberals divided the House on Second Reading. The tragic debate last night highlighted the need for fair representation of minority parties, but if their Members do not turn up in Committees at the appointed time they have no excuse for not incurring the abuse of the House.

Mr. Beith

The hon. Gentleman's colleagues, the hon. Members for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) and Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost), did not attend the Committee, no doubt for good reasons. When a party has only one Member on a Standing Committee, this can be even more difficult.

Mr. Hannam

Surely the debate last night was to ensure that minorities have places in Committee. If they put down amendments to divide the House on Second Reading, surely it is their responsibility to attend the Committee. No reasonable excuse has been given for the absence of the Liberal Member who was supposed to have attended the Committee.

10.45 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has specialised knowledge of police matters. I hope that the complaints procedure which he has proposed will automatically be applied to the authority's special constables.

In Committee, the Minister intimated that there was no need for -Arch an amendment. We await his reassurance on that matter. We could not be happy if the same complaints procedure, whichever procedure is finally arrived at, were not apply to the civil police. If it is not to be applied to the civil police, we shall feel compelled to support the amendment.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

I should like, first, to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) concerning the Committee. I join the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) in taking the strongest possible exception to criticism of a Standing Committee of this House having only one sitting and therefore depriving the Liberal Party of an opportunity to make its points. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that Committees ought to be kept going until the Liberal Party finds it convenient to attend, I assure him that no one on either side of the House will support that point of view.

There is no point in the hon. Gentleman professing innocent injury. The hon. Gentleman made a critical statement about the Committee having had only one sitting and that the Liberal Party was therefore deprived of making its points. If he would care to check tomorrow—or probably the day after as it is now after 10 o'clock—he will see that that is what he said.

Mr. Beith

I hope that the Minister will also read in Hansard what has been said. The reason I criticised the Committee for having only one sitting was that some of his hon. Friends and the official Opposition might have had more to say and more criticism to make about the Bill than was, in fact, the case.

Mr. Ewing

It may be that Labour Members—I cannot speak for the Opposition—can say what they have to say in a constructive way and in a shorter time than the Liberal Party, who speak in a destructive way and for a longer time.

There is absolutely nothing between the Government and the hon. Members for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), Exeter, and Dumfries (Mr. Monro). The Government are, if anything, more anxious than they are to ensure that the complaints procedures which apply to civilian police forces should apply to the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has already given an assurance that Clause 6 of the Police Bill will be extended to cover the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary, and that constabulary has accepted that it will be covered by that clause. In this respect, the complaints procedure which will in future apply to civilian police forces—the Police Bill will include this provision, because my hon. Friend has given this undertaking—will also apply to the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary. If there is a difference between both sides of the House, it is probably only as to the legislation which should contain that provision.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

How will the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary operating in Scotland be covered by the Police Bill which at the moment applies only to England and Wales?

Mr. Ewing

I expected that point to be made. The procedure for complaints against the police in Scotland is different from the procedure in England and Wales. As my hon. Friend is aware, there is an independent element in complaints against the police in Scotland, because the procurator fiscal decides on prosecutions and various other aspects of complaints. That is not the position in England and Wales.

Therefore, the Government's intention, as the former Secretary of State intimated in the House recently, is to introduce an independent element into procedures for complaints against the police in Scotland as well, albeit in a slightly different form from that for England and Wales, primarily because we hove this different system whereby the procurator fiscal is involved.

Mr. Monro

The Minister is misleading the House. The procurator fiscal comes in only if a complaint is substantiated. Is not the normal procedure in Scotland that the chief constable deals with a complaint in the initial stages?

Mr. Ewing

The hon. Member for Dumfries is being unusually lax and does not appear to have done his homework. The procurator fiscal merely decides whether there is a case to take to court, and the court makes a decision.

If a complaint against a police officer in Scotland requires a reference to the courts, it is not made by the police, as it is in England and Wales, but by the procurator fiscal, who can also decide not to refer the matter to the court. An independent element exists in that respect. We intend to introduce an independent lay element into the complaints procedure and this will become clearer as the legislation is introduced. The only difference remaining between us concerns the particular legislation in which that provision should be contained. I am sure—

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I am grateful for that assurance. But the Police Bill has not yet reached Third Reading. It is a complex bill and could be altered. There is no certainty that Clause 6 will remain as it is. it is not proper for the House to dispose of matters affecting the Atomic Energy Authority Police, as it will tonight, by the Minister simply saying that it will be subject to the same complaints procedure, without that being inserted into the Bill we are now discussing.

The Minister said that there were different procedures in Scotland and England. But all the Atomic Energy Police, whether at Dounreay or Winfrith, must be subject to the same procedure. If the Minister is correct, there will be three different procedures—the Scottish procedure for civil police, the English procedure for civil police and another for the Atomic Energy Police. The Minister cannot mean that.

Mr. Ewing

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is over-complicating a relatively simple matter. As junior Minister responsible for police matters in Scotland, I understand that the Police Federation will be far happier if provisions covering complaints against the Atomic Energy Police are contained in the Police Bill rather than in this measure. I accept the possibility that the House may change the Police Bill. We would then have to come back to the matter. But we are entitled to anticipate that the Bill will be successful in its progress. I therefore suggest that the provision for dealing with complaints against the Atomic Energy Police should be contained in the Police Bill. If there is a difference between us it is only relatively minor against the background of the major issue of the whole matter of complaints against the police.

I want briefly to define the situation in Scotland and in England and Wales. The Atomic Energy Authority constabulary would be not only under a different system working in Scotland but under a different legal system. That is one of the historic differences between the countries. We continue the requirement of corroboration. A policeman on his own cannot charge someone. The evidence must be corroborated. Anyone working in Scotland, whether an authority constable or not, would be subject to that totally different legal system. There is no point in denying that in this respect there would be a slight difference.

The easiest way for the House to deal with the question of complaints against the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary is to accept the assurance given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department that Clause 6 of the Police Bill would be extended—

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Not to Scotland.

Mr. Ewing

We shall deal with the Scottish position as it arises.

My hon. Friend gave the assurance that the Police Bill would be extended to deal with complaints against the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary. I am convinced that the Police Federation will be much happier with that than if the provision were included in this Bill.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

When does the hon. Gentleman expect a police Bill dealing with Scotland to be brought before Parliament? The question of timing is involved in the argument tonight, and is of the essence. The Minister has spoken of the Police Bill covering England and Wales, and Clause 6, amended or unamended, which is likely to cover the position of the Atomic Energy Authority police. We do not know when there is likely to be a similar Bill before Parliament for Scotland. In the meantime, from the passage of this Bill, the authority police will be armed and they will come into contact with the public—we hope not in an emergency. Complaints could arise particularly as they may not have—

HON. Members

Too long.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)

This is very important for Scotland.

Mr. Wilson

They will not be accustomed to dealing with members of the public in the same way as are the members of the regular police.

Mr. Harry Ewing

The House should see the whole matter in its proper perspective. In the past 10 years there has been only one complaint against an Atomic Energy Authority police officer. We are not dealing with something that happens every week.

I repeat the point that I made to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) on Second Reading. Atomic Energy Authority constables have always escorted these loads. There is an important difference, in that the escorts will now be armed, but they have always come into contact with the public in Scotland and England. I grant that the major difference now is that they will still come into contact with the public but that they will be armed. That is a major difference. But it does not mean that that will give rise to public complaint whereas in the past there has been no cause for public complaint about the conduct of the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary or about the manner in which those men have gone about their duties. These are highly professional and well-trained men. They are trained by a regular police force, the Dorset Constabulary. They are not novices. The House should understand that we are not dealing with a new situation apart from the fact—albeit the important fact—that the men are to be armed.

I come back to the principal point of my argument—

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

My hon. Friend's argument, that there have not been occasions for complaint, is not a valid argument for saying that there will not be grounds for complaint. The amount of material transported is increasing and there is increasing public concern about the extent to which the police may be performing their duties.

I am concerned that when we were discussing Clause 6 we had a response from the Minister to the proposal that the Bill should extend to special constables, transport police, and so on. If it is to be dealt with in that Bill, fine, but we have no amendments and I am not satisfied about what is being said about the determination to ensure that there is an effective procedure for complaints concerning the police. My hon. Friend is saying that this will not happen and that it is not important, but that is not good enough.

Mr. Ewing

I am not saying that it is not likely to happen. I am merely putting the record straight about what has happened in the last 10 years. It is a fair point that in the last 10 years there has been only one complaint against the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary. I am not drawing conclusions and saying that the next 10 years will not produce more than one complaint.

All I am saying is that we are not dealing with a situation in which complaints are raised on anything like the same scale as with the civilian police. By the nature of the duties of the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary, and by the nature of their work and the restricted area in which they move, it is bound to be a different situation. We are not dealing with a situation where Atomic Energy Authority constables will be involved to the same extent with the public as are the civilian police. The House must surely accept that.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I take the Minister's point that there is nothing like the same problem, but the record of the last 10 years is totally irrelevant to the Bill, which creates new powers—the right of the Atomic Energy Authority police, previously confined to 15 miles outside the installations, to act on suspicion, to go to any place in the country and for the first time to pursue on suspicion, arrest on suspicion and take into detention on suspicion. That is an entirely new situation. The second new power is that they are to be armed with pistols and, if need be, with sub-machine guns. The volume of matter to be transported and requiring to be guarded is also much greater.

We are with the Minister in his purpose, but he should not say that, because there have been few complaints in the previous 10 years when they were confined in area and not allowed to arrest or detain on suspicion, there will be no future problem. Of course there may be.

Mr. Ewing

At the risk of tedious repetition, I again say that I am not basing my argument on what happened in the last 10 years but merely pointing out the constabulary's record in respect of complaints by the public against the force in the last 10 years.

I recognised, in answer to the intervention by the hon. Member for Dundee, East, that we arc dealing with major changes. I have recognised that, and the House must accept that I have been exceedingly fair in the manner in which I have recognised the serious nature of the questions with which we are dealing. It is not an unimportant matter. That is why the Government have gone to the trouble of consulting the AEA Constabulary Association to get from it its total agreement to being included in the procedures which will be implemented in the Police Bill, whatever they may be. The Police Bill will make specific reference to the inclusion of the AEA Constabulary in its provisions, whatever they may be at the end of the day.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

My hon. Friend has given us some useful assurances about England and Wales, via Clause 6 of the Police Bill. But he showed some concern about the position in Scotland. He indicated that he was thinking of some sort of lay element within the complaints procedure in Scotland, with its different system. Can my hon. Friend enlarge on that? What specific arrangements does he envisage for improving the position in Scotland so that the AEA police in Scotland are brought into line with the parallel situation under Clause 6 of the Police Bill?

Mr. Ewing

You would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I spoke about prospective legislation coming forward, probably in the next Session. The House has to accept that AEA constables operating in Scotland have always been subjected in the past and will be subjected in the future to a different legal system—

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

They will have guns.

Mr. Harry Ewing

Other people go about Scotland carrying guns. We are all concerned about the free access which people appear to have to guns. We recognise that the AEA constables will be armed. That is why we are anxious—

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There appears to be an innuendo in the remarks of the Minister, and I think that it is disgraceful if there is, because we are all concerned about people eliminating guns, not increasing the number, as the Government are seeking to do.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

I did not notice any reference or innuendo which was out of order.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

It was an innuendo, and the Minister should apologise.

Mr. Harry Ewing

To reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), there are certain safeguards. There are more safeguards in Scotland at the moment than exist in England and Wales in respect of complaints—

Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)

I bet.

Mr. Ewing

If there are to be continual interruptions, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I appeal for your protection.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not need the Minister to protect me. I have a gun.

Mr. Ewing

I was not seeking to protect you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was asking you to protect me.

There have always been greater safeguards in the Scottish system than in the system employed so far in England and Wales, and the changes which are to be made in the system for dealing with complaints against the police in England and Wales will ensure that there is an independent lay element. That is what the new system is to be all about.

We have discussed this point with the AEA Constabulary Association, and we have its categorical assurance that it accepts that it will come under the complaints procedure in the Police Bill, however that Bill may emerge from this House.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ewing

No, I shall not give way.

Mr. Gordon Wilson


Mr. Ewing

I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman.

I hope that the House will accept that the best way to proceed is to include that provision in the Police Bill. It is on that basis that I ask that the clause be rejected.

Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)

Although I appreciate that the Under-Secretary does not wish to give way, I hope that he will allow me to make this point in the expectation that he had not finished his speech. As a great deal of the proceedings rest on the difference between England and Wales on the one hand, and Scotland on the other, could he indicate whether he has been in contact with Inspector Donald MacLean, the Chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, about the considerable anxiety which was shown at the annual meeting of the federation recently? The House would be reassured if it were felt that consultations were proceeding with the police, taking account of the different status of Scotland relative to other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Ewing

The Secretary of State attended the Police Federation annual meeting at Peebles on Thursday last week, and he heard Inspector MacLean make that speech. My right hon. Friend took note of what was said and went out of his way to reassure the Police Federation that the matter was in hand.

It has been said before, and I repeat. that the consultations we have had—and certainly I have conducted consultations in Scotland with the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland)—have been with the chief constables. There was an exchange of letters between the Police Federation in England and Wales and the Secretary of State for Energy, and the reason—and the House will have to accept it—that there have been no consultations with the Police Federation is that the status, duties, and powers of police constables are in no way altered by the legislation.

It was felt—rightly or wrongly—that the consultations conducted with the Chief Police Officers' Association were sufficient to ensure that the Police Federation was kept informed of the proposals the Government intended to introduce in this legislation. I hope that I have said enough to reassure the House on this matter.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

I did not intend to speak, but the Minister refused to allow me to intervene. The Bill gives the Atomic Energy Authority certain powers, and the Minister mentioned that its police force was a professional body which had been trained by the Dorset police force. I am sure the Dorset police force is an entirely professional body, but its knowledge of Scottish law must be minimal, and I cannot see what training it could give that would be worth anything at all in dealing with the public in Scotland.

Reference has been made to the powers of arrest and placing in custody on suspicion. These are substantial powers which are interpreted differently in Scotland as from England, because there is a different legal system in Scotland with different rules about arrest, and keeping people in custody. These relate to the rights of individuals. There is also the other side of the complaints system which relates to the rights of the public in relation to a body with substantial powers.

What type of training is given to the Atomic Energy Authority police to enable them to pursue in Scotland the powers and duties given to them by the Bill? Unless they have a training from police officers and lawyers in Scotland about the different aspects of the legal system there, they may well act outside their powers and cause offence to the Scottish public and the Scottish police force.

As I understand it, the Scottish Police Federation was not consulted in any way about the Bill. I am sure that had it been consulted it would have made the point that I have raised tonight.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Harry Ewing

I explained that the training of the Atomic Energy Authority police by the Dorset police was in the use of weapons to bring them up to police standards in that respect. They return to the Dorset police at three-monthly intervals to ensure that they maintain those standards. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) is a lawyer so perhaps he can confirm that it is not necessary to understand Scots law in order to be able to fire a gun.

Mr. Wilson

I am grateful for that explanation and of course I accept what the Minister said. But what sort of training in police procedures is given to the Atomic Energy Authority police to enable them to carry out their duties in Scotland? I take it that most of their training is given according to certain general principles which are more suitable for England than for Scotland.

Mr. Ewing

The Atomic Energy Authority constabulary will not hold any offender under arrest. Its members will arrest and hand those concerned over to the civilian police who will detain whoever commits an offence. The Atomic Energy Authority police do not possess legalised cells or any such facilities to detain people. The mere fact that someone can be arrested immediately establishes that a crime has been committed or is suspected of being committed, and that becomes a matter for the civilian police.

There is a clear definition of the powers and duties of both constabulary authorities, and when someone has been arrested he will be handed over to the civilian force. As the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr Eldon Griffiths) said, there will be a suspicion that a crime has been committed, and that becomes a matter for the civilian force.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The Minister has made his point plainly in his concluding remarks. Where people are suspected of having stolen fissionable material or of attacking an installation, it might fall to the Atomic Energy Authority police to arrest on suspicion or to prevent the attack. They would then hand the offenders over to the civilian police to carry on the case from there. But does. that not reinforce—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Is this an intervention? The hon. Member has already made a speech.

Mr. Griffiths

I understood that I had leave to speak.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call Mr. Beith.

Mr. Beith

We have travelled some way since the Second Reading of this Bill and some assurances have been given—

Mr. Griffiths

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that this debate was about new Clause I and my Amendment No. 7. I understood that I was called in order to let the Minister —who had completed his speech—know whether I wished to press my amendment to a Division or to withdraw it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have misunderstood the position. There have been many lengthy interventions tonight and I thought the hon. Member was making another. I was wrong in my judgment. If it were not an intervention, the hon. Member had no right to take any further part in the debate.

Mr. Griffiths

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I recognise that yours is the authority and that you must decide—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am being guided by the Standing Orders of the House.

Mr. Griffiths

I understand that you are following our Standing Orders, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House is now debating my Amendment No. 7 in conjunction with new Clause 1. The Minister and the House will wish to know whether I intend to press the amendment to a Division or to withdraw it. Surely it is the custom of the House that, before indicating which of these courses I wish to follow, I should have an opportunity of explaining my reasons. I am, of course, subject to your ruling.

Mr. John Cope (Gloucestershire, South)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House is debating new Clause 1 and discussing with it Amendment No. 7 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). My hon. Friend may require the leave of the House to speak again and I am sure that it would be the wish of the House that he should be given permission [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]. I understand, from the reception that my remarks have received, that my hon. Friend would be given leave to speak again in this debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not know how the hon. Member has interpreted the wish of the House in this matter. I saw no evidence of it. We are discussing new Clause 1 and taking with it Amendment No. 7 in the name of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), who has already taken part in the debate-presumably discussing both his amendment and the new clause. He has made his contribution.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) moved the new clause and he has a right to reply. However, if the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds feels that he has not made his point on the amendment sufficiently, I am prepared to allow him to take part in the debate again, with the leave of the House.

Mr. Griffiths

I shall make no further comment on this incident because we want to get on.

I am the least expert person here on the question of Scotland, but if the Bill is passed, AEA special constables in Scotland, England and Wales will have the powers contained in this measure. They will be able, on suspicion, to pursue citizens of any part of Great Britain, arrest them and detain them until the arrival of the civil police.

When this is done by armed men, there is a risk of complaints. The Minister has told us that those complaints will fall to be dealt with under Clause 6 of a Bill that has yet to be considered by the House after its passage through Committee. That is an entirely different piece of legislation. To put it mildly, there will be a hiatus between the enactment of the Bill and the actions that the new constabulary can take, and the coming into effect of the new Police Bill, as, when and if the House agrees.

Thirdly, an entirely different system of law will apply in Scotland. The Minister has told us that at some stage the Government will get around to introducing a complaints procedure in Scotland that will be on all fours with the procedure that applies elsewhere. That means that there will be three stages. First, if we enact the Bill, the powers will exist and the complaints can arise. Secondly. if and when the Police Bill is passed, the independent procedure will apply in England and Wales but not in Scotland. Subsequently, if the Government find time, something will be done about the Scottish procedure. To say the least, that is untidy.

I put it to the Minister, as a matter of simple, practical policing, that the movement of fissionable materials from one part of the country to another, and the risk of its being skijacked or hijacked for nefarious purposes, is not a movement that ceases at the borders of Scotland or Wales. Fissionable materials are picked up in one place—it may be in the South of England—and taken to another that may be in the North of Scotland. Is the Minister suggesting that the Atomic Energy Constabulary, riding shotgun, as it were, on the special conveyances, will climb off at the border of Scotland and that another posse will get on board? Of course not. The total transit of the fissionable material will be seen through by the first group.

As regards the courts, there must be a single system of law—namely, a complaints procedure that covers the whole transit of the fissionable material from one part of the country to another. That is essential from the point of view of the police.

I hope that the Minister will accept that to have different groups of police officers responsible for the same ultimate job, but subject to quite different complaints procedures vis-à-vis the public, is untidy and likely to produce friction between one force and another.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing


Mr. Griffiths

That is why I ask the Minister to accept Amendment No. 7, if not the new clause.

Mrs. Ewing

I think the hon. Member will find that that view is strongly supported by a II the police forces concerned.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Has the hon. Member finished?

Mr. Griffiths

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Has the hon. Member resumed his seat?

Mr. Griffiths

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Beith

I shall be fairly brief in addressing myself, not to the general issues which have been raised, which we now all know about, but to how far the Minister's assurances take us. I think that the hon. Gentleman has made a genuine attempt to give certain assurances, but I want to examine precisely what they amount to.

There has been a considerable improvement in the situation. When we first considered the Bill the Atomic Energy Authority was known to be hostile to the idea of having the same complaints procedure as other forces. The Secretary of State seemed to evince little or no interest in the matter and appeared to have no view on it. We have moved some way since then.

It seems that various Government Departments have got together. It appears that the Atomic Energy Authority now accepts the desirability of having the same sort of complaints procedure, and that the Secretary of State intends that it should be brought about. None of us would seek to impugn that intention, but that does not in itself represent an argument against including clear provisions in the context of the Bill that the two sorts of procedure shall be the same.

The new clause seeks to ensure that the complaints procedure is the same as that which is applicable to police forces maintained by local authorities. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has spelt that out in his new clause by saying that the procedure should he the same complaints procedure as that in force "for the time being" in civil police forces. That is implicit in my new clause, and that has particular relevance to Scotland. As regards England and Wales, it would not leave the Bill in any untidy state, or in any way dependent on any other Bill. It would secure, without the passage of any other Bill, that the Authority's police are on exactly the same footing as other forces from the moment of the Bill's enactment, whatever procedures are to be followed under subsequent legislation.

It is rather unsatisfactory that we should have to await the passage of another Bill to make this principle clear. It is unsatisfactory for us to have to use the new Police Bill to bring together private police forces and police forces generally, if i may use the shorthand term "private police forces" without a pejorative suggestion.

11.30 p.m.

For us to have to use a new Police Bill for that purpose illustrates the gap in the legislation governing these police forces. There is a huge gap to be closed. It is not merely a gap between the new independent police complaints procedure and existing procedures but a gap between the old procedure and the procedure used by these forces. Other police forces have clearly laid down procedures under existing legislation which do not apply to forces such as that of the Atomic Energy Authority. I see no reason why this measure should not have in it a clear statement that the procedures should be the same as those applying to other police forces. I hope that that principle will commend itself to the House and that the House will wish to register its view.

It seems more important to register a view in the case of Scotland because the situation is far more uncertain. At the moment there is no guarantee that the Atomic Energy Authority police force will have the benefit of any procedure, old or new, which applies to civil police forces in Scotland.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that at the moment, if a person is arrested in Scotland, Scots law immediately gives that person enormous rights? I will not discuss whether they are better than those given to such a person in England, but they are different. If there is a time lag before these new policemen pass an arrested

person into the custody of the other police, which law, English or Scots, will apply?

Mr. Beith

I have no doubt that the law will be the law of Scotland if the offence takes place in Scotland. I am not worried about the commission of criminal offences and the procedure for dealing with them.

Existing Scots law meets that point. What is of more concern are complaints by the public which are not about criminal offences. That is the grey area on which we had to spend a great deal of time in Committee on the Police Bill and which still causes a great deal of uncertainty in Scotland. The Government have recognised that there is a need to improve procedures for Scotland and have announced their intention of doing so. We do not know how long it will take the Government to produce and carry through the House a police complaints system for Scotland.

The Minister is in no position to give us that information, and we would not expect it from him. It seems that there will be a time when the Atomic Energy Authority police in Scotland will not be subject to any special complaints procedure. They will still be governed by the management type arrangement described earlier. I consider that to be particularly unsatisfactory and to be an added reason why we should make sure that the Bill contains a clear commitment that the same procedure should apply to the Atomic Energy Authority police as is applicable in England, Scotland or Wales to police forces maintained by the local authorities. I ask the House to support me in that proposition.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 17, Noes 150.

Division No. 120.1 AYES 11.34 p, m.
Bain, Mrs Margaret Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Thompson, George
Beith, A. J. Kilfedder, James Welsh, Andrew
Crawford, Douglas Monro, Hector Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Pardoe, John
Griffiths, Eldon Penhaligon, David FELLERS FOR THE AYFS[...]
Henderson, Douglas Reid, George Mr Stephen Ross and
Hooson, Emlyn Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Mr Cyril Smith
Anderson, Donald Bates, Alf Blenkinsop, Arthur
Armstrong, Ernest Been, R. E. Boardman, H.
Ashton, Joe Benn, Rt Hn Anthony Wedgwood Bray, Dr Jeremy
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Atkinson, Norman Bishop, E. S. Buchanan, Richard
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Prescott, John
Campbell, Ian Hunter, Adam Price, William (Rugby)
Cant, R. B. Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Radice, Giles
Carmichael, Neil Jeger, Mrs Lena Richardson, Miss Jo
Carson, John John, Brynmor Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Johnson, James (Hull West) Roderick, Caerwyn
Cohen, Stanley Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Coleman, Donald Kaufman, Gerald Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Concannon, J. D. Kerr, Russell Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Kinnock Neil Sandelson, Neville
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Lamborn, Harry Sedgemore, Brian
Crawshaw, Richard Lamond, James Selby, Harry
Cryer, Bob Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Litterick, Tom Silverman, Julius
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Loyden, Eddie Skinner, Dennis
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C) Luard, Evan Small, William
Deakins, Eric Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds W) Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Snape, Peter
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey McElhone, Frank Spearing, Nigel
Dempsey, James MacFarquhar, Roderick Stallard, A. W.
Doig, Peter McGuire, Michael (Ince) Stott, Roger
Dormand, J. D. Mackenzie, Gregor Strang, Gavin
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Mackintosh, John P. Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Duffy, A. E. P. Maclennan, Robert Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Dunn, James A. McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Tinn, James
Eadie, Alex Madden, Max Tomlinson, John
Edge, Geoff Mallalieu, J. P. W. Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Marks, Kenneth Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
English, Michael Marquand, David Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Evans, John (Newton) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Watkins, David
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Maynard, Miss Joan Weitzman, David
Fernyhouyh, Rt Hon E. Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Wellbeloved, James
Flannery, Martin Millan, Bruce White, Frank R. (Bury)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) White, James (Pollok)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Forrester, John Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton`
Freeson, Reginald Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
George, Bruce Newens, Stanley Wise Mrs Audrey
Golding, John Noble, Mike Woodall, Alec
Gourlay, Harry Oakes, Gordon Woof, Robert
Graham, Ted Ogden, Eric Wrigglesworth, Ian
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Ovenden, John Young, David (Bolton E)
Harper, Joseph Palmer, Arthur
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Park, George TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hooley, Frank Parry, Robert Mr John Ellis and
Horam, John Pendry, Tom Mr David Stoddart
Howell, Rt Hon Denis

Question accordingly negatived.

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