HC Deb 24 June 1982 vol 26 cc415-7
1. Mr. Farr

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what reforms he proposes to improve the system of complaints against the police.

5. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to publish a White Paper on reform of the police complaints procedure.

10. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has yet arrived at a decision regarding the recommendations in the Scarman report of an independent element in the police complaints procedure.

18. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further consideration he has given to the creation of a wholly independent system of investigation of complaints against the police; and if he will make a statement.

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

The Government are now considering the recommendations in the Home Affairs Select Committee's report on police complaints procedures, published on 9 June. We shall announce our conclusions as soon as practicable.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call first those hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Mr. Farr

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his reply, but, during his deliberations, will he bear in mind that in October 1974 the Conservative Party election manifesto stated that we would bring into effect an independent element on complaints against the police? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is a widespread view throughout the country that that is necessary?

Mr. Whitelaw

Most certainly. Since that date the Labour Government introduced a Bill purporting to do much the same, but that measure has been found to be unsatisfactory.

Mr. Meacher

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept Lord Seaman's view that anything short of an independent system of investigation will be regarded as little more than cosmetic and will do nothing to restore public confidence? Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, in the absence of a Crown prosecutor system, an independent assessor will overcome none of the present problems arising from the police investigating themselves, such as a secret police report not shown to the complainant and the Director of Public Prosecutions not having direct access to the complainant? Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that only an independent ombudsman will fully overcome those constraints?

Mr. Whitelaw

The Select Committee on Home Affairs looked at all these matters, and the majority report did not agree with the hon. Gentleman's conclusions.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Home Secretary accept that there is real worry among the population on the question of the police examining themselves? Most people believe that real democracy demands that the general public should have their representatives assisting in any complaints procedure. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that was at one stage accepted by the Police Federation and later withdrawn?

Mr. Whitelaw

I agreed to consider the Select Committee's report. Again, the majority report does not wholly accord with the hon. Gentleman's views. I also agreed to consult all the police organisations. When I have done that and fully considered the report, I shall bring proposals to the House.

Mr. Hooley

Is the Home Secretary aware that it is in the interests of the police that there should be a completely independent system for inquiring into complaints? In the light of the revelations now appearing about corruption in the highest levels of the police, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is vital for public confidence to have a completely independent system to deal with complaints against the police?

Mr. Whitelaw

On what is best for the police, it must be remembered that it is also right that chief constables should have the right to deal with any problems of discipline among their own officers. Otherwise, the much vaunted accountability of chief officers, which is very important, would simply not be there. There are serious complaints, but, in view of the vast number of contacts satisfactorily carried out between the police and the public, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not make too much of this matter.

Mr. Edward Gardner

I welcome the possibility of a new independent authority to deal with complaints against the police, but will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is no one more able than the police themselves to investigate all allegations of misconduct, whether against members of the public or of the police? Moreover, does my right hon. Friend agree that to restrict the police in this duty would be to insult their general and high reputation for fairness and impartiality?

Mr. Whitelaw

We shall have to consider all these matters, but I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for underlining the point that I made. In view of the amount of contact that there is between the police and the public, it is remarkable how much support there is for the police and how few complaints there are.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does the Home Secretary accept that to remove the police from potential allegations of partiality and to restore public confidence in them it will be necessary to implement a totally independent system of investigating the police, as recommended in the minority report of the Select Committee signed by myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs)? That minority report, not the majority report to which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded, gained overwhelming support in the media and in the country as a whole.

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman falls into the trap that perhaps he might accuse me of falling into—namely, reading only those things that suit one's case. If so, he has not read those newspapers that did not agree with him. There is always an opportunity to take such a selective approach. The hon. Gentleman talked about restoring public confidence in the police. I very much resent the word "restore". There is already a large measure of public confidence in the police.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

Does my right hon. Friend accept that events such as next week's proposed rail strike are likely to increase to a dangerous level the number of complaints against the police? Will he consider easing the parking restrictions in central London and elsewhere to allow the commercial life of the capital to continue?

Mr. Whitelaw

That matter does not arise on this question. If, alas and unfortunately, there is industrial disruption next week, matters such as those that my hon. Friend has in mind will be carefully considered.