HC Deb 11 March 1980 vol 980 cc1153-7 3.31 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Metropolitan Police Acts, the Police Acts 1964 and 1976, and certain other enactments; to reorganise the Metropolitan Police; to prescribe a National Police Agency, and a Greater London police force; to establish a Greater London police authority; to establish a separate police complaints investigative agency for England and Wales; to establish and to extend the powers and duties of police authorities, and the responsibilities of chief constables thereto; to remove justices of the peace from membership of police authorities; to redefine the relationship between police authorities and county councils; and for connected purposes. After more than 10 years of almost continuous investigations it is now clear that corruption among a small but, I am afraid, continuing minority of the detective force of the Metropolitan Police has now become institutionalised. Each investigation—from the one conducted by The Times newspaper 11 years ago, through those by Sir Robert Mark down to "Operation Countryman"—far from ending the cancer of corruption has exposed another and more serious layer, to the damage of the morale and reputation of the overwhelming majority of the police force in the Metropolitan area and in England and Wales generally, who are honest, tolerant and hard working.

It has also caused damage to the confidence of the public in the police, to the sole benefit of criminals, both within the police force and more particularly outside it, who are able to use the deteriorating reputation of the police to make allegations of corruption and to throw doubt on the testimony of wholly honest officers.

The first investigation by The Times concerned relatively lowly detective constables and detective sergeants. Since then, investigations have progressed up the scale. Despite the fact that during the last 10 years 800 officers from the Metropolitan force have either been dismissed or have retired early as a result of complaints—altogether, 1,100 in the country as a whole—there is now an "Operation Countryman" investigation, which is investigating the most serious crimes alleged to have been committed by police officers that we have seen since the end of the last century.

According to The Guardian, the retiring chief constable of Dorset, Mr. Arthur Hambleton, who was in charge of "Operation Countryman" until a few days ago, said that: He was absolutely staggered to find so many officers involved". He added: They do not go to assistant commissioner level. They go to a very high rank". The implication was that they went at least to the rank of chief superintendent. It is clear that police corruption has now become institutionalised within the Metropolitan force. It is equally clear from the saga of investigations that the kind of ad hoc investigation that is being run under the auspices of "Operation Countryman" is inherently unsatisfactory. It is of a temporary nature, and corrupt officers appear to believe that if they can string things along for a sufficient period, and if they obstruct inquiries for a sufficient period, the momentum of the inquiry will be lost and officers who have built up experience within "Operation Countryman" will go back to their home forces, as a result of which those corrupt officers will get off scot-free. That appears to be exactly what has been happening at the moment.

Part of the Bill seeks to remedy that situation by providing that the investigation of serious complaints of crimes committed by police officers should be made by a permanent and separate police complaints investigative agency. It should be permanent, to avoid the stonewalling that we meet at present and to ensure that skills that are built up in one investigation are not lost in another. It should be separate, because it remains an indictment of the present system that justice cannot be seen properly to be done when the police are investigating themselves.

There is no better case in support of a separate investigative agency than that advanced by Professor Goodhart in his minority report on the Royal Commission on the police in 1962, when he wrote: Unfortunately, even though the chief constable may be scrupulously fair, this will not answer the major criticism against the present system, which is that it violates the basic principle of justice that no man shall be a judge in his own cause.". Professor Goodhart went on to quote what Lord Campbell said in the case of Dimes v. Grand Junction Canal Company, which was: It is of the last importance that the maxim that no man is to be a judge in his own cause should be held sacred. And that is not to be confined to a cause in which he is a party, but applies to a cause in which he has an interest.". My proposal is to establish a separate and permanent agency, which would be staffed by people with police experience and also by lawyers. I believe that it is wrong that the Director of Public Prosecutions should have been placed in a position in which he had to allocate lawyers to work on "Operation Countryman", which can only compromise his independence and impartiality. However, I recognise the need for there to be a legal input into such investigations.

While the complaints procedure is important, and has been much debated in this House, I do not believe that our debates about it should obscure the wider and even more important issue of the general accountability of the police in our society; whether local communities and their democratically elected representatives ought to have some say in determining the general policing policies of their area; whether the local community should have a say about policemen being on the beat or in panda cars, and whether policing should be of a reactive type, as it is in Greater Manchester, or community policing, as it is in Devon.

The Police Act was designed to make police forces more accountable. Indeed, the Home Secretary of the day, the then right hon. Henry Brooke, said that: The Royal Commission thought…that chief constables are not at present adequately accountable. I agree".—[Official Report, 26 November 1963, Vol. 685, c. 84.] He sold the Police Act to the House on the basis that it would make police authorities more accountable, but the truth is that far from police forces becoming more accountable since 1964 they have become less. That has been compounded by the amalgamation of forces into fewer and larger forces and by the development of a new breed of assertive chief constable.

Therefore, this Police Bill takes in the earlier provisions of the Police Authorities (Powers) Bill, which I introduced last November, which proposed to give police authorities the power to decide general policing policies, subject to important safeguards under which the chief constable, if he objected, could appeal to the Secretary of State.

The Bill does two other things in respect of police authorities. It removes JPs from the membership of police authorities. The fact that JPs are part of the membership is an historic hangover based upon what was supposed to be a temporary compromise in 1888. It also proposes to give county councils more say over the financing of police authorities, because at present police authorities effectively set the rate of the police force without recourse to the county council to which they are supposed to be responsible.

The last proposal that I wish to mention concerns the reorganisation of the Metropolitan Police. The proposal is for the Metropolitan Police to be split into a national police agency and a Greater London police force. I put that proposal forward tentatively and only in the context in which police authorities are given more powers to determine policing policies for their areas. I do that because the irony is that the Metropolitan Police force happens to be more accountable through the Home Secretary and Members of Parliament than other police forces.

I do not wish to propose a Greater London force based on the present structure of police authorities, which would result in less accountability. None the less, I believe that experience has shown that in the Metropolitan area there is insufficient contact between police officers and the community and that there is insufficient accountability by the police through local representatives. That can be remedied only by having a Greater London police force responsible to a local and democratically elected police authority.

If we were to establish such a force the national function of the Metropolitan Police would have to be placed within a national police agency, which would remain responsible to the Secretary of State.

It is clear that the Police Act has not worked as was intended in 1964 and that the police are now less accountable than they were. I am sad to say that they are more detached from their communities, Because I support the police in their difficult job and because I want to see an improved relationship and an improvement in the consent of the public for the police force, I believe that the time has come for a fundamental reassesssment of the relationship of the police with the community. I believe that there should be a reassesssment of the mechanisms for controlling the police and for holding them to account. My Bill seeks to do that.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jack Straw, Mr. Frank Dobson, Mr. Alfred Dubs, Dr. Oonagh McDonald, Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk, Mr. Allan Roberts and Mr. Ron Leighton.

  1. POLICE BILL 129 words
Forward to