HC Deb 20 May 1976 vol 911 cc1780-818

'(1) Where a complaint is made by or on behalf of a person accused or convicted of a criminal offence about the conduct of a member of a police force in relation to his arrest, charge or prosecution, the chief officer of police to whom the complaint is made shall, if so requested by or on behalf of the complainant, send to the Police Complaints Board a copy of the complaint if made in writing or of the record of the complaint if made orally.

(2) The Board shall thereupon consider whether the complaint contains allegations which, if they were made out in whole or in part, would in the opinion of the Board cast serious doubt on the validity of any conviction of the complainant for a criminal offence.

(3) If the Board is of the aforesaid opinion it shall so inform the chief officer of police and the complainant and shall require the complaint to be investigated upon the conclusion of any trial then still pending, and before the hearing of any appeal therefrom (if any such appeal be then pending) and the Board may, if it thinks fit, require the investigation to be carried out by an officer of another police force of such rank as the Board shall direct.

(4) If the Board is satisfied that the subject matter of the complaint cannot be adequately determined by the court of the complainant's trial and that justice to the complainant cannot therefore be done unless the complaint is investigated before the trial, it shall (if so requested by or on behalf of the complainant) require the complaint o be investigated forthwith and shall so inform the chief officer of police and the complainant.

(5) The report of the investigation shall be rendered direct to the Board and if the Board is of the opinion that it is necessary or expedient in the interests of justice that further investigations should be made the Board shall require such further investigations to be carried out as it thinks fit and the report thereof (hereinafter called the supplementary report) shall be rendered direct to the Board.

(6) Any such investigation shall be completed and the report thereof rendered to the Board regardless of any pending disciplinary proceedings against or prosecution of any member of the police force concerned or any other person or any appeal therefrom.

(7) On receipt of the report (including any supplementary report) the Board shall send to the complainant, to any court before which appeal by the complainant may then be pending, and to any prosecutor acting in such an appeal, a statement of the facts disclosed by the investigation and copies of the statements of any witnesses interviewed in the course of the investigation, with the exception only of such facts and statements as, in the opinion of the Board, should be excluded in the interests of national security or the prevention or detection of crime'.—[Mr. Whitehead.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Whitehead

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

I am particularly grateful that the House should be able to debate the new clause and those matters which we raised on the last day of the Committee proceedings on 1st April. I look forward with interest to what the Parliamentary Secretary will say about the consultations which have been undertaken and the exact statistics of previous proceedings in which investigations under Section 49 have been brought into evidence between the first conviction or charging of complainants and subsequent proceedings on appeal.

Substantially, what we tried to do with a similar new clause in Committee was to consider the comparatively rare category of complaints against the police in which the complaint is essentially related to matters like the falsification of evidence and the suborning of witnesses—grave in themselves, but especially grave in that they would lead, perhaps, and sometimes of necessity, to the wrongful conviction of the complainant before the court.

As we said in Committee, the category of complainant dealt with here is precisely of that kind of person who does not know his rights under Section 49 as others know them, and will probably know them even better once the Bill becomes law. This is a small category of people who are themselves, perhaps, somewhat disreputable and are known to be disreputable, and, therefore, to be the kind of people against whom a certain animus, conscious or unconscious, might prevail on the part not only of the police but sometimes of the courts.

For these reasons, we feel that there should be a right for at least a request to be made that the board shall be able to investigate the substance of such a person's complaint before the legal proceedings of appeal in which he has been involved are concluded.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)

The hon. Gentleman is describing a rather odd category of people, towards whom, he says, there is a certain animus, not only among the police but in the courts. Is he talking about Martians?

Mr. Whitehead

I am talking about a certain category of people to whom I will refer more specifically, if the hon. Member can contain himself.

I said when introducing the Second Reading of the Private Member's Bill on which this is to some degree based that nothing could stand against its time; but if anything has found its time it is what, in this week of all weeks, should be the principle, that there are matters to be investigated, matters still before the court, when there has been an allegation of malpractice of one kind or another by the police. In the last 12 days we have had a number of significant concessions by the Government that justice was not done in what are now quite famous, or notorious, cases.

I referred to two or three of these cases in the Standing Committee proceedings. We have had the release and free pardon of Patrick Meehan who is quoted in newspapers today as saying he was framed by the police, or perhaps even by the Special Branch, because he was involved in the escape of George Blake from prison. That may or may not be the case, but Meehan at the time of his original arrest and trial made a number of allegations about the nature of the evidence against him and the way it had been acquired, and protested his innocence vehemently during the whole of that period of time and since, a period which can never now be given back to him, the time he was in prison for a crime he did not commit. Nothing, and no form of money provided at the instance of my right hon. Friend or any other agency in this country, can compensate him for the period of mature, adult life that he has lost in prison.

In the Standing Committee proceedings I referred to the Luton murders. I did not at that stage refer to them by name because I knew the matter was under investigation by the Home Office, but my right hon. Friend yesterday quite correctly —and I applaud him for it —referred back to the Court of Appeal the question of the two men who were convicted in the Luton murders, Mr. William Davis and Mr. Patrick Murphy. Again we can see that this is precisely the kind of situation where, if they had been able to have their complaints against a certain officer investigated between the time of their initial conviction for the murders and the hearing of the appeal, a miscarriage of justice might not have taken place. I say "might not" because I must not prejudge what the Court of Appeal may decide in this instance, but I applaud my right hon. Friend's action in referring this case back, I believe for a second time, to the Court of Appeal.

I have referred, though not by name. because there has been a substantial amount of Press and television publicity over the last week on it, to the case of Bruce Brown, the third case I raised in Standing Committee when we were originally discussing the need for these procedures. Bruce Brown was sentenced for his part in a bank robbery. He was refused leave to appeal and is at present in prison. A number of statements have been made about this case. There have been complaints about the way in which the evidence against him was prepared and the way in which a large amount of money, the proceeds of the robbery for which he was charged, disappeared —it is alleged, at the instance of two police officers who have now left the force. All this, I would submit, has caused grave concern. In the case of Bruce Brown two separate complaints were made to the A10 Division of the Metropolitan Police.

I refer to this case specifically because in the Standing Committee my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said the Government had considered, as an alternative to the clause as framed, a way of allowing a complainant at least to have the results of a Section 49 inquiry laid before the court before that stage. That may be a halfway house, and is what this new clause is proposing.

Let us suppose that had already been in effect at the time of the Bruce Brown hearing. Two separate sources of complaint about the behaviour of these named policemen went to the A10 Division of Scotland Yard. A policewoman —a woman of impeccable reputation—Mrs. Joan Angel, complained formally to New Scotland Yard about the way in which art informer, who had brought about the arrest and identification of the suspect in the case, had been treated. Mrs. Angel complained that the reward money had been paid not to the informer but to a nominee of two police officers. I have here an affidavit from her concerning the case. Mr. Brown's wife approached the A10 Division at New Scotland Yard and made a certain number of complaints, supported by tape recordings, about the behaviour of a particular police officer. Those matters were investigated by A10, but none of this was placed before the court at that stage. It was not admitted in evidence. The actual A10 investigations have not been published.

There is here some evidence of a miscarriage of justice. This case has certainly attracted widespread public comment in the Sunday Times, on London Weekend Television and elsewhere. In this case the man is now in prison and these two police officers have now left the force, one having been required to do so. though neither has been charged with any offence at all. I accept, therefore, that the only way justice will come to be done in this case is by a public inquiry, which I would support, and for which I call in this case.

Looking ahead to the future and discussing such cases, one comes back to the question asked by the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies). We can see that there is a category of complaint exemplified by some of these cases which have been very much in the public mind over the last week or two, and on which we can on Report legitimately press the point embodied in the old New Clause 7, now before us as New Clause 3. We can ask my hon. Friend to say, in replying, what he has been able to do, not merely in the consultations which he undertook to carry out with police authorities but also by way of new procedures, allowing a complaint in particular circumstances, where such complaint is neither frivolous nor malicious, nor a rogues' charter as mentioned by the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) in Committee, but is a serious matter which could bear on justice in a case before the court. Will he say how he will allow such complaint to be investigated in the future before that stage?

I should particularly like to ask, first, how far have these consultations proceeded? Knowing what we know about the snail-like pace of consultations in preparation for this Bill and through the various working parties set up, I should like to know if thus far he has been able to get an adequate process of consultation and reply from the various police authorities concerned, and whether there is still the wide divergence that there was, at the time of the Committee proceedings, between the practices of the Metropolitan Police with the A10 Division and the practices of a number of other forces which do not have even this system of investigation of a complainant's allegation that the evidence brought against him by the police is the result of serious malpractice.

Thirdly, could my hon. Friend tell us how many such interventions there have been invoking the existing Section 49 procedures, never mind what we are now suggesting should he ipso facto the role of the Complaints Board? How often is it possible to have this kind of serious complaint investigation under Section 49, not after a complainant has had his initial case and appeal heard, and in some cases, like that of Bruce Brown, has had leave to appeal turned down and is in prison? How often has there been a Section 49 inquiry before a complainant has actually been consigned to prison after the failure of his appeal? Unless my hon. Friend can tell me of a significant number of such cases in instances where there is grave cause for concern about present malpractice, I would suggest to him and to the House that the principles embodied in New Clause 3 should be put into the Bill. In fact, that is the best way of rectifying a system that has led in some cases —I accept that they are isolated instances, but isolated and scandalous instances —to grave miscarriages of justice.

7.0 p.m.

I should be very interested to hear what reaction my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has had from the police and the police authorities to the notion that there should be a more widespread inquiry under Section 49, as he appeared to concede in principle in Committee, or even what reaction he has had to the proposals that my hon. Friends and I have put forward for this investigation to be carried out in some cases by the Police Complaints Board. I am not happy at all with the proposal that it should be only as a result of a public inquiry or a special investigation by the Home Office under Section 50 that we get an investigation of this kind of scandalous situation—which is comparatively rare but all the more scandalous when it arises—and innocent men, released from prison.

I hope that I have said enough, mentioning just a few cases—there are others that I could have mentioned, including some that are in the public eye at present —to indicate that there is serious cause for concern here and that there are some areas of complaint that must be investigated before the complainant has gone through all the courts and has finally been consigned to prison.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Let me say at once that the Government are not unsympathetic to the concept underlying the proposals put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). I concede, as I did in Committee, that there can be a problem when the same or similar issues arise in the context of criminal proceedings, on the one hand, and in the context of a Section 49 complaint against the police, on the other hand. The Government would like to tackle the problem if they possibly could.

Perhaps I may explain in some detail some of the difficulties. It may avoid some of the traditional interventions that occur during my speeches. I hope that hon. Members will bear with me, because a very important principle is involved.

The problem tends to arise most acutely, as I think my hon. Friend would agree, in a small number of rather difficult cases. However, I think that I would be misleading my hon. Friend and the House if I were to give the impression that any major change in procedures is likely to be possible in the near future. There are many difficulties of principle and practice in the way. Also—if 1 dare mention this —there are resource constraints in the present climate of restrictions on recruitment of manpower and on Government expenditure.

When we discussed this matter in Committee I dealt with some of the major difficulties. I dealt with them in the context of this very clause. I said then, and I ought to make it clear now, that the Government do not see any role for the Police Complaints Board in this matter. The board's job is to provide an independent element in the handling of complaints against the police. It cannot provide a remedy as such for the complainant, and it cannot and must not intervene in criminal proceedings. Any changes can and should, more appropriately, therefore, be dealt with by administrative action.

Secondly, I explained the problems—they are considerable problems —about carrying out Section 49 investigations while proceedings are pending. I explained some of the real practical problems which affect both the police and the accused. The investigation must usually begin with the complainant being interviewed and questioned as to the details of his complaint, and a statement must be taken from him, provided that he desires to make a statement. Such an inquiry involves an examination of the complainant on matters touching upon the offence with which he has been charged, an offence which is still subject to determination by the court. Such an investigation is open to criticism—indeed, criticism by the complainant —in that it facilitates or may facilitate the obtaining of incriminating evidence from the complainant and the exposing of his defence to the pending proceedings. That is a serious difficulty that the House must face.

Further, if the interview is to be carried out properly, and in the way that the police do carry out their interviews, it might involve the identification of witnesses whom the defence propose to call. The investigating officer, if he is to do his job properly, will need to interview those witnesses, if the investigation is pursued, with a view to taking statements from them.

A further objection to the complainant being interviewed is that he would require to be cautioned before being questioned. Many complaints are made by accused persons, in and out of court, that they are not properly cautioned. Any statements made by the complainant and any possible witnesses would be available to the prosecuting solicitor for use by the prosecution. To caution the complainant in those circumstances could inhibit him from supplying any information, and might be regarded by him as having the effect of discouraging him from pursuing his complaint.

For those reasons the Government think it inappropriate that, in other than a small minority of exceptional cases, investigation of a Section 49 complaint should precede the trial of a related criminal charge. I hope that the House will accept that those are serious practical difficulties.

Assuming, therefore, that we are looking for some way of increasing flexibility —and there ought to be increased flexibility—between trial and appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal, the third major difficulty is to devise some means of isolating the minority of cases, in which there is a genuine possibility that the investigation of the Section 49 complaint may bring forward evidence relevant to the accused's guilt or innocence on the criminal charge, from the many cases in which this is not so.

It should be recognised that, if there is movement here, a great many people will be tempted—it is naive to pretend otherwise—to make a Section 49 complaint as a means if for no other reason, of getting a second look at their conviction, even if the complaint has no merit. If it becomes the general practice to have a second look at everything, any arrangements that could be devised with the best of intentions could well become unworkable. Indeed, the people who would suffer from this would be those who have a genuine grievance.

Assuming that the genuine cases can be isolated from the rest, there will be a need to identify and put forward relevant information arising in the course of the investigation in a form which the Court of Appeal can handle, and to limit what is put to the court to only that material which is relevant to the question of guilt or innocence of the accused. This will require time and expertise on the part of those who evaluate and present the evidence.

That said, my right hon. Friend has explored with the police organisations the proposal that there might be advantage in rather greater flexibility in carrying out Section 49 investigations between trial and appeal than it seemed to us had occurred under the present arrangements. The position at present is that discretion on this matter rests with chief officers except to the extent that a further investigation is requested by, say, the Court of Criminal Appeal itself or the Director of Public Prosecutions. I can tell my hon. Friend that the inquiries that my right hon. Friend has carried out confirm that there is some variation in practice. In certain parts of the country, notably in London, there is greater flexibility at present than, perhaps, my hon. Friend may have realised.

The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis informs my right hon. Friend that in the Metropolitan Police District investigations, not necessarily arising only out of Section 49 complaints, have on occasion taken place between trial and appeal in the following circumstances: first, when information about police documents or the examination of exhibits has been requested by the appellant, either direct or through the Registrar of the Court of Criminal Appeal; secondly, at the request of the trial judge; and, thirdly, because matters came to the attention of the police, quite outside the context of any complaint or request by the appellant, which threw doubt on the validity of the conviction.

Mr. Whitehead

Specifically on this point about the Metropolitan Police—in intervening, I shall confine myself to precisely this point—I accept that there is greater flexibility in the Metropolitan Police and that the A10 investigations take place, but in the case which I mentioned, where it was a police officer, Mrs. Angel, who complained of the activities of two other policemen and alleged malpractices, the A10 investigation was said to be inconclusive, and no action was taken then or later against those officers. How else is it possible, other than by recourse to an ex post facto independent procedure, for such a complainant to receive any satisfaction?

Mr. Davidson

I accept that there is a difficulty, and I have never hidden that fact. Obviously I cannot comment on the facts of individual cases.

The Commissioner has informed my right hon. Friend that in some cases, where the Metropolitan Police have had doubts about whether it was proper to continue with an investigation prior to the hearing of an appeal, they have written to the Registrar of the Court of Appeal explaining why they considered that the investigation should take place forthwith and stating that, unless the court objected, it would go ahead. There is certainly no automatic investigation at the option of the defendant, but the current practice in London appears to be that the prosecuting solicitor or counsel is informed of any relevant complaint and of its nature and that he decides when an investigation should take place, seeking advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions in cases of difficulty.

There does not seem to be the same flexibility in other parts of the country, and some of the police organisations at any rate are reluctant to move further in this direction. They fear confusion and complication if the investigation of a complaint proceeds at the same time as criminal proceedings and think that this might have a prejudicial effect on their members. My right hon. Friend proposes, however, to continue his discussions with those concerned, with the intention of exploring whether the practice presently adopted in the Metropolitan District might be more generally adopted. I should like to make it clear, however, that if there were to be this greater flexibility, the defence would have to be prepared to provide access to their witnesses for the purpose of the Section 49 investigation.

It is, of course, necessary to consider how best any relevant material arising from any police investigation shall be made available to the Appeal Court. It is true that, under Section 23 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, the Court of Appeal has wide powers to receive evidence, but if greater flexibility in the present arrangements concerning police investigations proved possible, the Government would need to consider whether any consequential modifications in present procedures would be necessary with regard to the ways in which relevant evidence arising from the investigation could be brought before the court. This needs to be looked at very carefully, and my right hon. Friend will be looking at it further in the context of the consultations to which he has referred.

7.15 p.m.

As I said, my right hon. Friend has had his preliminary talks with the police representative organisations. He has had discussions with officials of the DDP's office with the Court of Appeal. These discussions are continuing. It is a difficult matter. I have great sympathy with what my hon. Friend is trying to put forward, as, I am sure, has everyone. It would be quite wrong for someone to be convicted on perjured evidence and languish in gaol as a result. I hope, however, that the practical difficulties to which I have referred, in what, I hope, has been an excusably lengthy speech, will cause my hon. Friend at least to realise that the Government are very serious about their consultations, and that, in the circumstances, he may feel inclined not to press his new clause.

Mr. Whitehead

Can my hon. Friend say whether the consultations will be completed before the Bill has gone through the House of Lords?

Mr. Davidson

I am afraid that I could not possibly say that.

Mr. Aitken

In the soporific atmosphere now pervading the Chamber, the impression may be getting abroad that this clause—and, indeed, the whole Bill—is somehow uncontroversial. It is about time that it was clearly said that the whole Bill is the 1976 equivalent of the groundnuts scheme. It is incredibly expensive, excessively bureaucratic, administratively unworkable and absolutely irrelevant to the first duty of the police, which is fighting the war against crime.

When I heard the Parliamentary Secretary speaking of the difficulties which would be encountered because of the human and financial resources which the clause involved, it struck me that he might well have thought of that before introducing the Bill, because it is more germane to that than to this clause.

There are a number of very basic and solid objections to the clause, and they can be summarised in this way. First, it will usurp the power of the courts. Secondly, it will be an open invitation to anyone charged with a criminal offence to obfuscate the whole issue by alleging a number of outrageous complaints which will have to be investigated and assessed by the Police Complaints Board. It is a fairly standard off-the-shelf reaction among certain criminals to claim, when accused of a criminal offence, that they were beaten up by the police, that confessions were forced out of them, that "verbals" at the time of arrest were invented or that evidence was "planted". I do not say that actions of that kind never occur—indeed, this would be a bad week in which to do so—but they are extremely rare in relation to the number of times that allegations of that kind are made.

If such allegations are made, invariably they are brought up in the courts and listened to carefully by a judge and jury. The fundamental objection here which the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) appears to have overlooked is that the courts themselves listen carefully to allegations of this kind and they assess them and decide them.

Suddenly we are told that the Police Complaints Board is to be mightier than the courts. Hard cases make bad law and bad new clauses. We are in danger, if we accept the new clause, of creating a camel to strain at one or two gnats.

There are numerous routes by which a genuine case where injustice has been done can be investigated and can be remedied. One well-known remedy is for the case to go back to A10. I am at the moment handling the case of a Mr. Westbrook. A10 is investigating its original investigation. The alternative is the one adopted by many hon. Members of taking cases direct to the Home Secretary. But this small and isolated number of cases for which there are remedies are not so numerous that we have to bring into existence this gigantic new apparatus and give new powers to the board to cope with them. As I say, this would be usurping the power of the courts.

I found myself in considerable sympathy with the Parliamentary Secretary when he spoke of the great difficulties involved in carrying out Section 49 investigations in the course of criminal proceedings. He was right to say that a defendant's own defence might well be revealed and prejudiced in advance. Above all, he was right to say that a great many defendants would be tempted to use a Section 49 investigation by the board as a means of delaying their own convictions and of trying yet another bogus escape route, even when there was no merit in their complaints.

In Committee the hon. Member for Derby, North originally used the phrase "a rogue's charter". The original user of it was not my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims). In fact, that is exactly what the clause could become.

Mr. Whitehead

In Committee I was quoting the words of "Dogberry" in a police magazine. I do not claim any authorship of "a rogue's charter".

Mr. Aitken

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. It is true that the phrase was used in the interrogative sense. The hon. Gentleman may have been quoting from another source. However, the phrase emerged not from the lips of my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst but in a quoted form from the lips of the hon. Member for Derby, North.

It is correct to say that the clause could become a rogue's charter. It could be an invitation to a "regular" to create a smoke-screen to delay criminal proceedings. We should rely on the good sense and the good justice of our courts. I reject the suggestion that there is a category of persons towards whom both the police and the courts have a hostile animus. That is why I asked whether it was a reference to Martians. I cannot think of any earthly category of persons to whom all the judges and all the police are universally hostile. I accept that there may be individual personality clashes and difficulties, but to say that there is one large category of persons who form a hated group is nonsense.

We cannot allow the powers of the courts to be usurped in this way. We cannot allow a rogue's charter to be established. The House should reject the clause.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I cannot say that I am puzzled by the remarks of the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken). Throughout the Committee, having supported the measure on Second Reading, he attacked the whole Bill rather than making detailed points. To take up his remarks about the House becoming soporific, it seemed that he was himself in danger of going to sleep and that he wanted to make his Third Reading speech at this stage.

Having heard the reply of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, there are those of my hon. Friends who may be very disappointed. The history of the demand for an independent board and an independent system of inquiry into complaints against the police did not arise because of the way in which perhaps 99 per cent. of complaints have been dealt with over the years. Most people feel that for the vast majority of complaints that are made the present procedure is perfectly all right. The demand that grew up for an independent inquiry into complaints against the police occurred because of the small number of cases that disturbed people. It is those cases, some of which have been referred to tonight, that produced the campaign for this measure.

That is the way in which the Bill or the Act, as it will become, will be tested. The question will be asked "Does it meet the requirements of those who pressed for it?" I feel that we have marginally improved the way in which we deal with the vast majority of complaints, but we have not made a significant alteration. When we consider the serious complaints, I feel that the Bill fails to grasp the nettle. I know that there is a problem, but we must do something about the very difficult complaints. In my view it is not worth having this measure unless we do so. If we fail to take that action, there will be an ongoing campaign to make the Bill effective in the really difficult cases.

If there is a complaint against the police, it is important that it should be investigated as quickly as possible. One of the major problems in the present procedure is the amount of time that elapses. I am sure that no one in the House can think back to events that took place 12 months ago anything like as clearly as they can recall events that took place recently. That is one of the major elements in any investigative procedure. It is vital that investigation should start quickly.

We have been told that there is the difficulty of costs. I suggest that it is much more important that we should spend the money on the difficult cases, in which there can be a major miscarriage of justice, instead of spending marginally to improve the way in which we administer the minor complaints.

Much emphasis is placed on the period after the first court case and before an appeal. Surely at that stage there are few of the difficulties that have been suggested in the interviewing of witnesses. Most of the witnesses will already have put forward their evidence in the first court case.

Notwithstanding the failure of the Government to give specific undertakings, I think that the House would be well advised to accept the clause and to strengthen the Bill in an area in which there has been a major campaign—namely, the area of the very difficult cases which can result in a serious miscarriage of justice. I hope that the House will accept the clause.

Mr. Hooley

It is probably common ground that, although all offences which can be committed by policemen in the course of their duty are unfortunate and are to be deplored, the most serious offence that a policeman can commit is one which leads by its nature to the conviction and sentencing of an innocent person. That is surely the most damaging and deplorable action that anyone can take, quite apart from a policeman. To perpetrate action, or to omit action which he should properly take, as a result of which an innocent person may be convicted of an offence as serious as murder or robbery with violence, for example, is surely the most damaging behaviour. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Mr. Whitehead) and others of my hon. Friends are right to press that point home now as they did in Committee

The hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) said that such cases are not numerous. Again, I think that that is common gound. That rather reduces the hon. Member's objection to having a procedure for dealing with those cases. We are not suggesting any extra machinery or special machinery. The Police Complaints Board will exist when the Bill is enacted. We are not suggesting the establishment of another complaints board or another set of machinery. The Police Complaints Board will be three and the staff will be there. It will be available to do its job and to deal with the difficult cases, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, are not numerous. It is common ground that they are not likely to be numerous, but they will be serious.

It seems to be assumed by the Government Front Bench and by the Opposition that the Board must go into a thorough investigation of any complaint that is made. That is not so. The clause states: the board shall…consider whether the complaint contains allegations which, if they were made out…would in the opinion of the board cast…doubts on the validity of any conviction". The board is not bound to come to that conclusion. I accept that it might seem to certain people who are on trial that this is a technique for evading conviction or postponing the evil day, but it is clear from the clause that there is no automatic right of investigation of any complaint of this nature that is made. All that it provides is that there will be a right of complaint to the board. However, the board will decide whether the nature of the complaint is such that it could cast serious doubt on the validity of a conviction.

Mr. Aitken

The hon. Gentleman appears to be suggesting that the process by which weak complaints are to be sifted from serious ones will be quick and easy. The clause states: the Board shall thereupon consider whether the complaint contains allegations which, if they were serious". Any allegation per se which involves the planting of evidence, must, by its very nature, involve a serious investigation by the board. An allegation of a sort which might result in a difficult conviction has only to be made for the whole complaint to be seriously considered. It will not be a short process.

Mr. Hooley

I am not saying that it will necessarily be a short process. That is a matter that the board will determine. I am saying that there is no automatic right of investigation. If a complaint is produced, whether it is good, bad or indifferent, it does not mean that the board must thereupon investigate it. The board must consider whatever facts are presented, but it is not forced to go into a detailed investigation in every case. The board is free to exercise its own judgment.

7.30 p.m.

It has been suggested that the board will in some way be usurping the functions of the courts to determine innocence or guilt. I do not think that that construction can be placed upon the new clause. At the end of the day, when the board has investigated the complaint—not crime—its only duty is to make its findings available to the prosecution, the court, the complainant and, presumably, the defence. What action the court then takes or what weight it places on the results of those findings is for the court alone. The board has no further standing in the matter thereafter.

However, it is important that the board shall have brought to the light of day the nature of the complaint or malpractice, if any, and have given the prosecution, the court, the defence and all concerned full knowledge of the facts. That procedure is reasonable and does not require extra machinery. It does not put special burdens on the system as such. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be more forthcoming than he has been so far on this idea.

Mr. John Loveridge (Upminster)

I did not have the pleasure of listening to the Committee's deliberations. Therefore, it is with some trepidation that I intervene in the debate. I do so because of my interest in the argument deployed by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) in favour of the new clause. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, there must be a good deal of sympathy with that argument in the House.

Why have a separate board to investigate complaints if it is not to be effective in even a few cases? The board's knowledge could possibly help justice in those few cases in the event of appeal.

I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) said about the natural temptation for criminals to make false accusations against the police. Speaking as a magistrate, I think that courts generally take that matter into account as well as the natural wish of the police to secure a proper conviction. Therefore, what my hon. Friend said is right in almost all cases, but there will be the protection of the court and, in the end, of the appeal, so that justice will be done.

I recall one case—a rather childish case, and I shall not burden the House with the detail of it—about a melee during the course of which a policeman's helmet was knocked off and kicked away. The two police officers who gave evidence against the defendant were proved by the defendant to be utterly incorrect in what they said. There was no question of perjury. The defendant was in the peculiar position of having been a police officer for many years. That fact was not known to the two police officers at the time of the arrest. Therefore, the defendant was able to bring before the court evidence of a special nature from his own knowledge which demonstrated that he could not have commited the small crime with which he was charged. In that case justice was done and he got off. After the case. I wondered what would have happened if that man had not had the special knowledge that he gained by having been a policeman.

The question may be asked, how would that affect this issue? Had a complaint been laid and investigated in advance of the matter being brought to court, I dare say that the chief officer in charge would have applied to the court to withdraw the case as the police did not wish to present further evidence. As it was, the defendant knew that he was on strong ground because of his special knowledge and that he would be acquitted, as he was. That is the kind of case, though not of great consequence, that could be affected in the way proposed in the new clause.

I appreciate what the Parliamentary Secretary said about the grave technical difficulties which would ensue for the police and all concerned with these cases if the new clause were accepted. Will the hon. Gentleman, through his Department, try to ensure that the administrative procedures about which he spoke are checked thoroughly so that, where there is any element of doubt, there can be some delay, if necessary, to enable defending counsel to have any information at the conclusion of an inquiry which might help the defendant? I think that is the proper way to handle these matters. Of course it will not satisfy everybody, because it will not be visible to the public at large. None the less, if the Home Office will try to ensure that that is done, I think it would be the most satisfactory way to deal with the matter.

There is another aspect. If a police officer is convicted of perjury—I am not specifying a particular case—where such perjury would have changed the outcome for the defendant, are any procedures applied to past cases in which that officer has given evidence and secured convictions? Are past cases looked into to make sure that no previous instances of perjury have occurred thereby giving rise to wrongful convictions?

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I am glad to have had qualified support from the hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Loveridge) for the new clause. The provisions of the clause, whether accepted in their entirety or not, lie at the heart of an effective police complaints procedure.

Mr. Loveridge

I should like to put the record straight. I did not feel able to support the clause for the reasons which I gave. I supported the principle behind the clause. I said that it had my sympathy.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support of the spirit of the clause, if not the entire wording of it. I accept that the provisions of the clause require parliamentary draftsmanship, notwithstanding the respect that I have for the draftsmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead).

I was disappointed by the complacency with which my hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Secretary viewed the proposals in the new clause. It is implicit in what he and the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) said that there is an overwhelming probability that a man who is charged is guilty of a criminal offence, so that it is not worth investigating his side of the case first.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

indicated dissent.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

My hon. Friend shakes his head, but it is implicit that if a man is charged with a criminal offence it is not worth investigating his contention "Not only did I not do it, but the two police officers who are accusing me of it are lying. They know that I did not do it, but they are doing this for their own purposes." I accept that in very many cases people put forward that kind of allegation when it is not true. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend must accept that this happens—people are prosecuted by the police in circumstances in which the police are perjuring themselves.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

My hon. Friend interrupted me several times, so he must allow me to make the briefest intervention in his speech. He is wrong to say that I am complacent. My reply was anything but complacent. Of course I acknowledge—anyone would—that there are cases where the police behave improperly and cases involving corrupt officers. But my hon. Friend must not think that the postition is easy and accuse other people of being complacent. It is a very serious problem indeed.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I withdraw the word "complacent". But even if my hon. Friend's attitude is not complacent, the effect of his actions confirms the complacency with which the authorities view the situation. When we have a position in which a man is charged with a criminal offence in circumstances in which he can produce evidence tending to show that the accusations are false, and that the evidence the police present in seeking his conviction is false, or was "planted" or secured in an improper fashion, it is right that not only the defendant's case should be investigated but the prosecution's case should be investigated as well.

My hon. Friend has practised as a lawyer, as I have done. He must know that there are a considerable number of cases—admittedly it is a minority, but it is still a significant number—in which the police, having made an arrest for one thing, find out they have made a mistake and produce something else in order to get a conviction. I know of at least two cases in which this has happened and in which it would have been highly desirable to have had an investigation into whether the accused was properly charged before the case actually came to court to be heard. In cases like this, very often by the time the defendant has been acquitted and awarded costs the trail has gone cold. It is impossible to establish which police officers were in the station at the time, who was responsible for the assaults and who was responsible for altering the evidence. These matters require investigation from the outset.

7.45 p.m.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Robert Mark, announced the other day that 400 police officers had been required to leave the service over the past four years. It is difficult to suppose that a substantial number had not had complaints made against them. It is difficult to imagine that, even with the procedures that we have in the Bill, these cases will be effectively solved. What we need is a more uniform procedure for ensuring that, where there is reasonable ground for suspicion that the evidence which is to be presented to the court is not true, or there are reasonable grounds for suspicion or perjury, planting of evidence or bribery, there should be an investigation at the beginning, while the trail is still warm and it is possible to find the information.

Mr. Alison

But there is bound to be an investigation if a complaint is made. This is a serious criminal charge, and it does not need a new clause to initiate an investigation as long as a complaint is made.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

The practice varies very widely in different parts of the country. In some areas if there is a serious allegation it is investigated straight away. My hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Secretary indicated that in certain circumstances that is the practice in London, for example. But certainly in the past, and even now in many parts of the country, such allegations can be made, but not until the case is finally over is there an investigation; and even then it is dependent on the luck of the draw, on whether the jury has believed the complainant or the police, because if the defendant has been convicted there is little likelihood of a serious investigation. The complaint has gone by default.

Mr. Alison

The hon. Member is talking about allegations. I am talking about complaints. If a complaint is made by a chap that the police have committed perjury, planted evidence or been involved in bribery, Section 49(3) of the Police Act means that axiomatically an investigation must follow.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

It does not follow immediately. There is nothing in that section which requires an investigation to be made immediately. Very often the investigation is not made immediately and frequently it does not really take place at all, if the complainant has been found guilty. Only in exceptional cases does it take place while criminal proceedings are pending. The attitude is usually "Wait for the court case to be finished, and then we will investigate. "That is not a satisfactory situation in circumstances where there is a reasonable ground for thinking that the police might be perjuring themselves, that they might have been bribed or that they might have planted evidence.

I realise that there are difficulties with the procedures. The number of cases in which an allegation is made falsely vastly exceeds the number in which it is made justly. I accept that. We need a device to sift out the categories of complaints. I suggest that, where such a matter goes to the board, the board should attach importance to whether or not the legal representative of the defendant says that in his opinion, and in the light of investigation, he was firmly of the view that it was a matter which required investigation before the court case. The board should be much more ready to direct that an investigation should take place.

The board has no absolute duty to investigate. It is correct that the board must require the chief officer to carry out investigation of the allegations—this is the very minimum required. Only under subsection (4) would the board specify that the matter required to be dealt with before the court proceedings were heard and that the full machinery should be put into effect. The board has a substantial discretion under the clause.

As the Bill stands, without some procedure for ensuring more effective means of investigating the allegations of criminal behaviour on the part of the police prior to the hearing of the court case against the complainant, we shall continue to have miscarriages of justice. Anyone who has practised in criminal courts cannot be unaware of the tendency of police officers, once they "know" that a defendent is guilty, to indulge in "bending" of the evidence, which is considered legitimate to secure a conviction on someone they "know" is a villain. That is understandable when one considers the problems that the police have in dealing with crime, but it is something which we cannot tolerate, and the House should not accept its perpetuation.

Without something along the lines of this new clause, the Bill is not effective to prevent serious miscarriages of justice. The provisions in the new clause would need to be used carefully and with discretion, but I urge the Government to consider introducing a further amendment at a later stage, if the clause is not carried tonight, to ensure that there is a more uniform procedure for investigating these matters before the court case.

There are cases in which the burden of proving the guilt or innocence of the defendant or the police is fairly evenly balanced. There are even cases where police are involved in criminal activities and seek to discharge their guilt on to the defendant in criminal proceedings. There is a very grave danger that the jury will accept the perjured evidence of the police and not the true evidence of the defendant. I accept that it does not happen frequently, but it happens and we must have a procedure in those circumstances for investigation to ensure that it is avoided.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I have listened carefully to the hon. Member both this evening and in Committee and I have some sympathy with his anxieties. I hope that he will accept, however, that in his anxiety to deal with a very few cases of bent or perjuring policemen he is in danger of creating a very much greater evil in placing large numbers of policemen improperly at risk.

It is important that the House should get this matter into perspective. Of course, there are police officers who perjure. But I ask hon. Members to accept that for every police officer who may perjure there are hundreds of old lags who perjure against the police. In our anxiety to deal with the minority of policemen we should not forget the danger of opening the door to a much greater number of perjuries against the police.

The new clause is ingeniously drafted, and under it the man under accusation would be able to make certain allegations and, I believe, to start to interfere with the course of justice. There is also the case of the man already convicted and in most cases already in gaol. I accept that people have been wrongly convicted on perjured or bent evidence.

The greater danger—and here I rely to some extent upon my constituency experience—is that many men, having been quite properly convicted on the evidence and sent to gaol, will lie in their cells nursing a grievance and spending much of their time writing letters making accusations against those who have secured their conviction. On many occasions they write to their Members of Parliament. There must be very few hon. Members who do not regularly receive letters from convicted felons.

To those who write them the letters seem perfectly reasonable. But they are based upon grievance and upon the fact that none of us finds it easy to accept their guilt, even when a court has properly found them guilty.

While I have a lot of sympathy with the clause, I believe that it will open the door to a much greater danger. Perhaps I may illustrate what I mean. There is, first, the case of the man who, while accused, wishes to make an allegation which would trigger off the hon. Gentleman's clause. One recent example of this was Mr. Norman Scott. I hope that I need say no more about that. That is an illustration of the kind of charge which can be made by a man under accusation in a court, a charge which may do immense damage.

The other case is what I would call the Colonel Cheeseman case. Wild charges have been made by that gentleman. Let us suppose that he had been before a court of law under accusation. As drafted the clause would enable the whole procedure to be activated, not so much by the evidence, but by the seriousness of the allegation, and there could hardly be more serious allegations than those made by that gentleman.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

The hon. Member has cited two examples, neither of which entails complaints against the police. But, to take a more realistic example, does he agree that if these wild complaints to which he is referring had been investigated before the cases came to court, there would be much less opportunity for the defendant to say that the police officer had been perjuring himself?

Mr. Griffiths

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I chose those two cases because that kind of irresponsible charge, securing the widest possible publicity and often for the worst possible reasons, can be made. The clause is virtually a charter for many old lags putting forward precisely that sort of charge, not because they necessarily feel that they are aggrieved but because they had determined in advance that the police officers who arrested them would have to be made to pay.

Many police officers, especially in the Metropolitan Police CID have suffered the experience when arresting or even cautioning a man with a well-known criminal record, and who may have been in gaol before, or being told "You arrest me and I will do you for assault". That is a common reaction these days of men who are investigated.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

In raising the Scott and Cheeseman cases, which I agree have many lessons for this House, is not the hon. Gentleman commenting far more on the methods and ethics of our Press and other media and the way in which they treat unsubstantiated evidence than he is about the Bill? Can any old lag, attempting to activate the clause, create the sort of publicity—which is the real problem—which arose in the Scott and Cheeseman cases?

Mr. Mikardo

Perhaps I may put a similar point. The hon. Member will have had letters from constituents saying that if he does not do something about particular cases they will write to the newspapers about them. There are many people who believe in making a stink in the Press because they have no other recourse. They are sometimes wrong in that action. The provision of some other recourse, as is proposed by the clause, would decrease, not increase, the Scotts and Cheesemans.

Mr. Griffiths

Does the hon. Member believe that the board would be a substitute for the statements of accused people in open court? In practice, frequently the accused person would have some outburst in open court and the matter would then have to go to the board. If the hon. Member has some secret way in which he could ensure tnat those accused would only make their outburst to the board and to no one else, he would have a point. But that is not the case. Under the clause the board would be required to act where these outbursts were made in open court, with all the attendant publicity. That is why the clause is dangerous and why the Government are right to resist it.

8.0 p.m.

Subsection (4) virtually puts the board in the position of impugning the competence of the courts, because if the board is not satisfied that the subject matter of the complaint can be adequately determined by the court, it can require the complaint to be investigated. It requires that the complaints board can decide that a court of law, when holding a trial, cannot do its job. We should not set up a statutory body with that responsibility.

The drafting of subsection (7) is extraordinary. It says that when the board has caused an additional investigation to take place and has got the result, it shall supply a copy of those results only to the prosecutor. I do not understand that. If the new material has any validity, it should be supplied to both the prosecutor and the defence.

Mr. Whitehead

Is it not clear that subsection (7) provides that the board shall send it to the complainant and the prosecutor?

Mr. Griffiths

I understand that, but it is extremely important that a copy should go to the police. That is not covered. After all, the complaint will be against a police officer.

If the Government accept the clause, they might amend it accordingly. But it is important that we do not have a piece of drafting which is only approximately right. It has to be dead right. It is not.

The Minister said that it would be necessary to exclude all those cases where the board concluded that the handing over of supplementary evidence would affect the interests of national security or the prevention or detection of crime. If the board acted in that way, it could compromise investigations in which the police were already engaged, and I am sure the Minister does not want to do that. He has recognised that there could be matters of national security but he has blown a hole in his case because, as he said, further investigation must not compromise the work that the police may be doing on some related investigation. He reduces the situation not quite to absurdity, but he makes it ineffective. That matter needs to be considered and the Bill does not deal with it.

When a man is charged, issues might emerge in the trial that should be investigated. The Government are right to reject the new clause and one of my hon. Friends put his finger on it when he said that in practice it would become a rogues' charter. None of us wants that.

Mr. Christopher Price

I come to the Report stage as an innocent of the Committee. At that time I was down the corridor doing something else. To that extent I have not been privy to the long discussions on this subject in Committee.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) made a reasonable speech which could, in the final resort, lead to a compromise. The cases which might be embraced by the courts involving national security or sensitive, continuing investigations will represent a small minority of the cases which the clause is intended to embrace. The clause attempts to do a job, the need for which the House has always beeen conscious. In cases where a miscarriage of justice has taken place, the clause will cut down the time spent in gaol by those people who are eventually freed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) was right to say that the problem involves not just the absolutely corrupt policeman. It is a problem of over-zealousness. It concerns the policeman who is absolutely certain of someone's guilt and who considers it right in his book—sometimes condoned by his superiors—to bend the evidence so that a "guilty" verdict is reached. Over-zealousness is a greater danger to the image of British justice than the type of corruption which the House and Sir Robert Mark have been so enthusiastic in attempting to eliminate.

My interest arises from a case involving three of my constituents which became known as the Confait case. They were arrested in March 1972 and convicted in October 1972. They were not constituents of mine at that time because I was then taking a rest from the House. Their appeal was finally heard in June 1973 and they were acquitted in October 1975 on a reference by the Court of Appeal after two police investigations. Those three innocent youngsters, two of whom were mentally retarded, spent three-and-a-half years in gaol after being convicted on charges of murder, manslaughter and arson—crimes which they could not have committed—having gone through all the processes of the courts with highly-paid barristers defending them.

That case illustrates that our processes of law, although not bad, are not perfect. We must never become complacent and feel that whatever verdict a court or the Court of Appeal decides must of necessity be right. More information from a responsible board about the processes which concern the police would improve the administration of justice rather than retard it.

I do not want to say too much about this case because an investigation into it has been started, although now suspended. But I am convinced that in this case, had there been the type of investigatory procedures that are contained in the Bill, my constituents would not have spent so long in custody. It would have reduced public expenditure and effort. It would have prevented television programmes which, unfortunately, publicly cast doubt on the processes of law and the standards of our police. All that would have been prevented because the investigations would have taken place quietly without the unfortunate and appalling blaze of publicity which made it difficult for the police, difficult for the boys and their families and was expensive.

I also believe that once such a process was seen to be working in a responsible way many policemen, particularly senior policemen, would welcome it. The policeman involved in the Confait case went on to carry out two very controversial investigations. I believe that the force generally would be assisted by such a process, especially when doubts were raised about matters involving particular policemen. The accusations would not hang over them for such a long time.

Mr. Aitken

The hon. Gentleman may well be right, in that in 1 per cent. of these difficult and unhappy cases the police would be assisted. But is it a right price to pay for the 99 per cent. when the police, far from being assisted, would be virtually swamped by all kinds of new procedures which, as the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out, would diminish their manpower resources and generally make them much less effective?

Mr. Price

I take the point that the Opposition are making, that every time Parliament introduces new processes and procedures it is not clear for a year or so after they have been working just what the reaction will be. One can go back over the years and read the debates about the terrible things that it was said would happen if we did certain things.

Mr. Hooley

The Ombudsman.

Mr. Price

That is a case in point where nothing happened. An even better example is our introduction of a lay observer to look over the activities of solicitors. He has received so little publicity that so far as I can see nobody goes near him. I wish he had a bit more publicity.

Although I understand the genuine fears of the ordinary policeman that this sort of procedure might subject him to pressures and difficulties which might impede his work and that of his colleagues, I believe that the procedures outlined here would not generate a rush of complaints, that the board would act responsibly, and that when the procedures had been running for a few years they would aid the administration of justice and of the police. Everybody would then wonder why we had not carried out the reform before.

I realise that there may he flaws in the drafting, but I appeal to both my hon. Friends—one of whom is well aware of the case which I have just outlined— to respond sympathetically to the new clause. Many of the speeches by Opposition Members have not been in the absolute terms that we so often hear on this sort of Bill. There is a real possibility of a traditional parliamentary agreement on how we should deal with the matter. If the Bill went forward ignoring this problem, an important and sizeable gap in it would remain.

Mr. Mikardo

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary should not be surprised—and I am sure that he is not—by the extent of the identity of outlook between the two sides of the House in general, if not in detail, on the provisions that the Bill should have. That identity of outlook existed during the whole of the long proceedings in Committee. It became more and more apparent as time went on.

8.15 p.m.

The reason is that all of us who were involved were agreed, first, that the present arrangements for investigating cases against the police would not do, and, secondly, that that situation would continue so long as complaints against the police were investigated by the police. That would still be so, even if every investigation were meticulous to 110 per cent. Even if justice were done to 110 per cent. in every investigation, it would not be seen to be done.

Without public confidence in them, the police cannot do their job properly. Without it, the task of the police, already very difficult, becomes almost super-humanly difficult. Confidence will not be established until there is a method of investigating complaints against the police which carries public confidence.

The job of the House today, just as it was the job of the Committee, must be to assess how far the Bill, as amended, and as it would be amended further if the new clauses were agreed to, goes towards the objective of ensuring confidence in the police by the public.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary objected to the suggestion that he was being complacent. I did not hear his speech, and I apologise to him for that. I am sure that he was not being complacent in it, but the Government are being complacent if they think that the Bill will satisfy the demand from which it originally stemmed.

The Bill is being put through the House because the Government know that the present arrangements are not good enough, because they know that public confidence in the police, which they and all of us desperately need, does not exist and will not exist without a radical change, The need is admitted.

Mr. Aitken

The hon. Gentleman is being a bit of a Rip Van Winkle when he says that there is no confidence in the police. There was a time, about six years ago, when there were grave grounds for concern about the Metropolitan Police, the major attention-gathering force in this country. But while the hon. Gentleman has apparently been asleep there has been a major clean-up by the present Commissioner, and many of the fears which inspired the Bill have diminished, to such an extent that we are all chasing after a white elephant.

Mr. Mikardo

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's gazing at my white hair and the other evidence of my advancing years and thinking of me as a Rip Van Winkle—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The hon. Gentleman has still got his nappy on.

Mr. Mikardo

—but I have not lost my memory. The best answer I can give the hon. Gentleman is to extend to him, which I do cordially, an invitation to do a little pub crawl with me one night round the East End of London. It is not absolutely identical with the Isle of Thanet, although many of my constituents spend a couple of weeks every year in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. But I invite him to have a pub crawl with me and to talk to the chaps in the pubs—I do not mean crooks but ordinary people. He would find out for himself that, with all the changes which he and I and the whole House and many other people know about, there is among many sectors of the population still a feeling which is expressed in their common phrase that "The police look after one another." That arises because there is no belief that complaints against the police are fairly investigated.

I believe, together with other hon. Members, that in the overwhelming majority of cases this charge is wrong. But where hon. Members opposite make a mistake in their attitude to the Bill—it was evident just now in the intervention of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet and in part of the speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths)—is in thinking that it does not matter that some injustices are done because it happens in only a small minority of cases. The whole of the British legal system—one might go further and almost say the whole of the British way of life—is constructed round the concept of looking after the small minority, looking after the individual. It is better that 10 guilty men should go free than that one innocent man shall be condemned.

It is no good, therefore, saying that here we are looking after only 1 per cent. of the cases, as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said. We have to remember that 1 per cent. of the cases accounts for a lot of people. One man rotting in gaol when he is innocent is one too many. If it were only one in the lifetime of every one of us—

Sir Bernard Braine

The hon. Member is always fair but I think he is departing from his usual standard of fairness. I assure him that no one on this side of the House, and no Member of my party in Committee, could possibly have given the impression that all is well in this regard, or that we can afford a single case of injustice if it can be avoided. Will not the hon. Gentleman concede that I at least, representing senior police officers, have said on the Floor of the House and in Committee, not once but many times, that the police service as a whole warmly welcomes the idea of a truly independent element being introduced into the investigatory procedure?

Mr. Mikardo

I know that the hon. Gentleman has said this, and so, too, has the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who speaks with considerable authority about the views of another section of the police. So, too, have other hon. Members. But we have to concern ourselves with the way in which that general good will works in practice. It is no good being in favour of something in theory if we then propose practical measures which do not solve the problem.

It is our view that the Bill as drafted does not solve the problem. Indeed, this was the view of many hon. Members opposite in Committee. As everyone will recall, we were getting so near to each other that it was becoming a matter of both Back Benches against the Government. On both sides we were saying that the Bill was not good enough. I do not think that the changes resulting from our protests are sufficient to alter that view.

My remarks are based on an observation by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who said that the 1 per cent. of cases in which something would otherwise be wrong would be put right, but that this would be at the cost of a very much larger number of cases which would be phoney. I accept that. Nobody who has been a Member of the House and had correspondence about these matters could be in any doubt that there will be many false accusations. There have been many made in the past, and no doubt many more will be made. But I repeat that the whole of the British constitutional system is based on the protection of the individual in the odd case.

We have all seen cases going through the courts—there is one such lengthy cause cèlébre at the present time, although I had better not say which it is—which every hon. Member would regard as open and shut cases. We spend a huge amount of public money, the time of a learned judge and of learned counsel, and a huge amount of the time of police and witnesses, because of the nature of our system of justice.

What we do, in effect, is to write insurance premiums. Just as hon. Members insure their houses against fire, when they know that there is not one chance in 10,000 of their houses being set on fire, in our system of justice we also pay an insurance premium. This involves a great waste of money. Just as people's houses do not often catch fire, I can see at once that there will be a great waste of effort in respect of the Bill, but the whole business is one of the protection of minorities.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The hon. Member's complaint ought not to lie against the Opposition. We have here a massive Bill which will cost a lot of money to implement. What the hon. Member is saying is that in the respect to which he is referring it will not work. I agree with him. That is why I do not like the Bill. But let him complain to the Government. He ought to address his complaint to them.

Mr. Mikardo

My complaint is against the opposition to the new clause which has come from some hon. Gentlemen opposite, and from some of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I complain equally about both groups. They are both targets of my criticism.

My second point is that some of the objections put forward to the new clause, including those put forward by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, are valid only on the assumption that the complaints board will consist of a lot of halfwits. Serious and experienced people will be appointed to the board. They will be people who know how many beans make five. They will be people with as much knowledge as hon. Members of the House of the way in which old lags behave. They will be people who, once they have been operating for a short time, will develop a sort of case law and an ability to discriminate.

I put it to the House that if the board consisted of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and a couple of other hon. Members opposite, together with myself and a couple of my mates, it would not take us long before we came to know the real from the phoney, or the prima facie real from the prima facie phoney. I do not accept, therefore that there will be a great waste of time and effort over a lot of frivolous things.

Moreover, the establishment of what I would call "case practice"—it is a better term than "case law"—will soon be recognised. The people who complain frivolously—I have forgotten the name of the phoney colonel who was mentioned—will soon come to realise that it is no good going to the complaints board. They will know what sort of treatment to expect from it. The dangers in the clause seen by the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken are really far more apparent than real.

8.30 p.m.

The important thing to be remembered is that the Bill is in the interests of the police themselves. Those who spoke on behalf of the police in Committee said that so long as we were dealing with general theory, that was all very well, but in their resistance to our proposals they were not prepared to go the whole hog in making justice appear to be done.

I believe that the police need an effective Bill. The worst thing that can happen from the point of view of the police is that this Bill should be in an emasculated form. We all agreed that in Committee. After the board is set up, after a year there will be a public outcry and a demand for a proper system of investigation against the police. In other words, we shall go through all the traumas again—in the same way as we have been going through them for three years since my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) first started this hare involving the whole business of consulting police organisations and local authority bodies. No doubt the whole process will have to be gone through again if the demand is not satisfied by the Bill.

The Government are deluding themselves to a ridiculous extent if they believe that the existence of these provisions will bring an end to the public demand for a proper procedure for investigating complaints against the police. The Bill will not have that effect. We shall have to go through the whole process over again.

That is no good to this House. We must do our best with legislation to deal with a problem once and for all. Some- times we make a mistake, but we always try to do our best. If these matters are not dealt with once and for all, that is no good for the police. They do not want to go through this trauma again. The Government, via these provisions or through some parliamentary means, must produce stronger legislation, and certainly more effective provisions than those contained in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Loveridge) quoted a case in which a man who otherwise would have suffered succeeded in avoiding that fate only because of the fact that he happened to have special knowledge of police procedure. In Committee I quoted a case of a man who would have got it "in the neck" if he had not known the procedure for taking civil action against the police. He took that action and won damages against police officers who had lied to the investigating officer, and who eventually were disciplined as a result of that lie. The case reached the courts and the courts overturned the earlier findings.

But why should we rely on the accident that the odd person here or there happens to know the procedure, or indeed happens to have a member of Parliament at whom he can nag so that justice is done and can be seen to be done? If the Government want to ensure that there is a good procedure for dealing with complaints, they will have to accept a proposal such as that which has been outlined—or, if that proposal is found to be deficient technically, they will need to work out something else.

Sir Bernard Braine

I did not intend to speak in this debate, and I shall detain the House for only a few moments.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) is never dull but always interesting to hear, and there was a great deal of sense in his remarks. I must put on record that members of the police service, who in general feel that in the main the existing system of dealing with complaints is satisfactory and is conducted efficiently and fairly, welcome in principle the idea of an independent element when complaints against them are being investigated. They saw the sense of such a procedure.

For that reason I suspect that Conservatives were happy not to vote against the Bill on Second Reading. However, there were a number of important points of principle, and even matters of details, which were apparent to us then. The whole police service was worried about certain aspects of the Bill, but on Second Reading the practice is that if one accepts the general principle—as we did—one expects other matters to be put right.

I have never known a Bill in Committee that was so fundamentally changed and altered as was this. This was evidence of its ill preparation, poor drafting and lack of effective consultation. There was never any question but that the police service as a whole accept the principle and want the Bill, though not necessarily in its present form. Members of the police service certainly do not accept the proposals advanced by some Labour Members, and indeed it is obvious that the Government are not prepared to accept them.

At a time when the police have never been so strained in their duties on behalf of the public and when they face rising trends in crime, with threats of terrorism,

Division No. 150.] AYES [8.40 p.m.
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Silverman, Julius
Corbett, Robin Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Skinner, Dennis
Cryer, Bob Madden, Max Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Mikardo, Ian Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Noble, Mike Whitehead, Philip
Evans, John (Newton) Parry, Robert Wise, Mrs Audrey
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Hayman, Mrs Helene Richardson, Miss Jo TELLERS FOR THE AYES'
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Mr. Frank Hooley and
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Rooker, J. W. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.
Lamond, James Sedgemore, Brian
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Robinson, Geoffrey
Bates, Alt Hunter, Adam Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Bean, R. E. Janner, Greville Roper, John
Beith, A. J. Jenkins, RI Hon Roy (Stechford) Selby, Harry
Cant, R. B. John, Brynmor Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Cartwright, John Johnson, James (Hull West) Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) McCartney, Hugh Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Cohen, Stanley McElhone, Frank Small, William
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) MacFarquhar, Roderick Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Mackenzie, Gregor Spriggs, Leslie
Davidson, Arthur Maclennan, Robert Stallard, A. W.
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Millan, Bruce Stoddart, David
Deakins, Eric Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Dormand, J. D. Moonman, Eric Tinn, James
Dunnett, Jack Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Tomlinson, John
Eadie, Alex Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Tomney, Frank
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Ogden, Eric Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Faulds, Andrew O'Halloran, Michael Weetch, Ken
Grant, John (Islington C) Palmer, Arthur Whitlock, William
Hardy, Peter Pardoe, John Wriggiesworth, Ian
Harper, Joseph Peart, Rt Hon Fred
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Pendry, Tom TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Penhaligon, David Mr. James Hamilton and
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Price, William (Rugby) Mr. Ted Graham.

Question accordingly negatived.

it is imperative that there should be no misunderstanding about where the police stand in this respect. It is still our hope that the Government will listen to reason.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpem)

Order. The hon. Gentleman said he was going to be brief.

Sir B. Braine

I merely wanted to say, in the light of the remarks of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, that the House should not get the impression that there is any doubt about the attitude of the police to what is proposed in the Bill.

There is much in the Bill which is wrong and much needs to be done to improve it. I was about to say, when you rose so majestically, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the night is long and there may be many opportunities to demonstrate the truth of what I have said.

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

The House divided: Ayes 28, Noes 68.

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