HC Deb 03 July 1980 vol 987 cc1740-2
2. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received regarding his current review of the police complaints procedure.

The Secretary of State for the Home Deparment (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I have received a few representations from Members of Parliament and others about my consideration of the triennial review report of the Police Complaints Board.

Mr. Meacher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is intense dissatisfaction that complaints against the police are handled by the police themselves and not independently; that the police report, when completed, is not shown to the complainant so that he cannot assess its completeness or reply to any counter-allegation; and that the Director of Public Prosecutions, in deciding whether to prosecute cannot interview the parties concerned directly? For these reasons there is a complete breakdown of public confidence in the whole of the complaints procedure.

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Member has been guilty of some exaggeration in the past and I think he indulged in some exaggeration in his last remark. I remind the hon. Member that the Police Complaints Board was set up by Act of Parliament under the last Government. We are having the triennial review and I shall certainly consider all the matters that he has referred to. However, he should remember that Parliament set the board up as an independent element in the complaints system. His Government, whom he supported, did this, and it is only fair now to consider how it has worked.

Mr. Aitken

Will my right hon. Friend accept that most people seem to think that on the whole the board has done a good job in independently assessing complaints against the police? At the same time, when the review takes place will he consider narrowing the remit of the Police Complaints Board to those really serious complaints that have been complainant-activated—in other words, when the complainant himself asks that the board should consider it? This would get rid of the enormous waste of time involved in considering every single complaint whether it has been referred or not.

Mr. Whitelaw

I have undertaken to publish the report, and I shall do so before the Summer Recess. I shall make a statement on the reactions to that report at that time and then the House can consider how it wishes—if it wishes—to change the existing set-up.

Mr. Heffer

Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a great deal of disquiet about this matter and that there is a need for an independent body? Will he also agree that if the body were independent it would benefit the police as much as the general public? Then the police would know that such an independent inquiry had been carried out in their interests as well as the people's interests. For the sake of everyone concerned may I urge the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his reply?

Mr. Whitelaw

That is a rather strange remark. I have said that I will reconsider an Act that was passed by the hon. Gentleman's Government to set up an independent element of inquiry into the police. That is what his Government did. I am saying that we should look at the three-year report and then examine the changes that we want to make.

Mr. Alan Clark

Can my right hon. Friend give us any idea how much police time is taken in pursuing these com- plaints? Will he not agree that a very large proportion of complaints are found to be groundless, and in many cases are mischievous in origin? Is he aware that in some sections of the criminal classes it is almost mandatory to lodge a complaint against the police at the same time as pleading not guilty?

Mr. Whitelaw

There is a considerable amount of police time involved in some complaints—and I emphasise the word "some"—which turn out to be both trivial and groundless. On the other hand, there are serious and important complaints. I hope that when we examine the three-year report, we can sensibly and quietly differentiate between the two. It may well be that we should look at action on the serious and important complaints, and at the same time realise that too much police time is wasted on the trivial and unnecessary.