HC Deb 16 April 1985 vol 77 cc218-32

10 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Giles Shaw)

I beg to move, That the draft Police (Anonymous, Repetitious Etc. Complaints) Regulations 1985, which were laid before this House on 4th April, be approved. It may be for the convenience of the House if we take also the following two motions:

That the draft Police (Complaints) (Mandatory Referrals Etc.) Regulations 1985, which were laid before this House on 26th March, be approved. That the draft Police (Complaints) (Informal Resolution) Regulations 1985, which were laid before this House on 26th March, be approved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Yes, that will be convenient.

Mr. Shaw

We are debating this evening three of the six statutory instruments required to allow the Government to bring into force part IX of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 on 29 April 1985. The six instruments fall into two groups.

The first is made up of the Police (Discipline) Regulations 1985, the Police (Discipline) (Senior Officers) Regulations 1985 and the Police (Complaints) (General) Regulations 1985. They were all laid before the House on 2 April, having been made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on 28 March. They do not need the approval of the House and are therefore not before us at present.

The second group is made up of the Police (Complaints) (Informal Resolution) Regulations 1985, the Police (Complaints) (Mandatory Referrals Etc.) Regulations 1985 and the Police (Anonymous, Repetitious Etc. Complaints) Regulations 1985. They have been laid before the House in draft-form and, before they can be made, the drafts need approval by resolution of both Houses of Parliament. It is these latter regulations which are before the House this evening and for which I am asking the House's approval.

The six regulations will be complemented by the Police (Appeals) Rules 1985, which will deal with appeals to the Secretary of State by police officers against the decision of their chief constable, or against the decision of the police authority in the case of senior officers, and which will be laid before the House on 18 April. Together with the Act itself, they will provide a new and, in the Government's view, a much improved framework for the investigation of complaints against the police and for the determination of disciplinary proceedings against police officers of all ranks.

Part IX of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act will abolish the Police Complaints Board and establish a new Police Complaints Authority. It is only right—I am sure that the House will agree with this—that I place it on the record that the Police Complaints Board is not being abolished for any failure on its part. Far from it. Within the powers which the relevant legislation gave it, the board has done a thoroughly professional job of examining with an impartial eye complaints and investigation reports and chief constables' proposals for disciplinary action against officers whose behaviour had led to the complaint. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree that Sir Cyril Philips, the chairman, and his colleagues and their predecessors at the board have done an excellent and worthwhile task and laid an invaluable foundation on which to build.

The new authority will have two main functions. It will take on the valuable job at present performed by the board in looking at complaints investigation reports to determine whether appropriate disciplinary action is being taken. As a new and important task, however, it will be required to supervise the investigation of complaints of the most serious kind and will have power to supervise the investigation of complaints of slightly less seriousness. I shall refer shortly to the draft Police (Complaints) (Mandatory Referrals Etc.) Regulations, which deal with such matters.

I remind the House that Her Majesty has been pleased to appoint the former Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, Sir Cecil Clothier, as the authority's first chairman. Sir Cecil will, of course, be well known to many of us, and I have not the slightest doubt that the energy and firmness that he showed in his former post will prove to be of the utmost value in his transfer to the no less intricate and sensitive area of complaints against the police. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has, in addition, already announced that Admiral Bell of the present board and the right hon. Roland Moyle will support Sir Cecil as his deputy chairmen. He hopes to announce the names of other members of the authority shortly.

I do not wish to pre-empt that announcement, but I can assure the House that they will bring a wide spread of experience and expertise to the work. Two are lawyers, and of those one is a barrister with a long career in business, the other a solicitor and part-time supplementary benefit appeals tribunal chairman. Two have long experience in industrial personnel management. Two have a background in community and race relations. We have an ex-Army officer and a ship's master with fleet administration experience. One is, like Admiral Bell, formerly a member of the Police Complaints Board. Add to that breadth of experience a commitment to work full time with the authority, and I am convinced that they will make up a very strong team indeed.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The Minister has not said anything about the geographical spread and the locations from which the members have been drawn. Will he assure the House that they will not all be London based?

Mr. Shaw

The new authority will be London based. It will have a permanent membership, as I have said, which will be drawn from various parts of the country. It is, however, open to the authority in due course to consider the possibility of regional offices for regional work and, on the investigative side of the authority's work, travel into the areas concerned will take place.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Perhaps I missed what my hon. Friend had to say, but how can he tell us about the background of the chaps without naming them? Is there a constitutional difficulty? Can he tell me whether any of them has a background in police work?

Mr. Shaw

My answer is in two parts. First, we would wish to announce the team when it is complete. I have spoken of those who have so far accepted my right hon. Friend's invitation to serve. Secondly, it is not the intention that they will have been involved in police work. We are dealing with an authority which seeks to have complete impartiality and independence in dealing with the work that is brought before it. My hon. Friend will agree that in the case of the Police Complaints Board many such people gave substantial and distinguished service to the handling of police complaints while that board existed.

The second innovation of part IX of the Act is the introduction of a system to provide for the informal resolution of complaints which, while they require examination, can nevertheless be handled in a way which stops short of reaching the full complexity of a thorough formal investigation, with all that that entails. The draft Police (Complaints) (Informal Resolution) Regulations 1985 will deal with that.

Thirdly, the Act provides a more formal framework of responsibility than exists at present for the investigation of complaints against senior police officers, that is to say, those of a rank higher than chief superintendent. Except where a complaint against such an officer has to be referred to the Police Complaints Authority on the ground of its seriousness, that new procedure is not before the House tonight. It is set out in the Police (Discipline) (Senior Officers) Regulations, to which I referred briefly earlier.

Finally, there is an improvement in discipline procedures, of which I should remind the House. This is the provision in the Act for officers of chief superintendent rank and below to be legally represented at hearings where they face the three most serious punishments available to a chief constable — dismissal from the force, requirement to resign or reduction in rank. Again, the provision and the way it will work are not before the House tonight but are part of the package of measures which will come into force on 29 April.

The Police (Complaints) (Informal Resolution) Regulations will apply to those complaints which do not require the full complexity of a formal investigation. I have deliberately avoided using the word "trivial" about complaints, as the complainant regards any complaint as serious. However, the House will agree that many issues can be described as small and of lesser importance than those which would require the full examination procedure. However, it is only fair to recognise that positions arise in which a member of the public is left angry or concerned enough about a police officer's actions to want, not so much to trigger the full complaints procedure as to draw them to the attention of someone in authority and to seek an explanation or possibly an apology. The informal resolution regulations have been designed to that end.

A further prerequisite to informal resolution is the Act's requirement that the complainant must give his consent to the use of the informal procedures. That means that even if the police are perfectly satisfied that a particular complaint might be informally resolved, it is in the last resort open to the complainant to decide whether to accept that form of resolution. If he wishes, a full investigation of the complaint can be made. I stress that the complainant must be satisfied that this is the system which he wishes to use and that informal resolution is both sufficient and satisfactory to him. If he is not so satisfied, the full investigative procedure can be carried out.

On the draft Police (Complaints) (Mandatory Referrals Etc.) Regulations, I remind hon. Members that section 87(1) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act already requires referral to the Police Complaints Authority of all complaints alleging that the conduct of a police officer resulted in the death of or serious injury to some person. "Serious injury" is defined as a fracture, damage to an internal organ, impairment of bodily function, a deep cut or a deep laceration. The instrument before us deals, first, with other types of complaints which must be referred to the authority. In these cases, however, it will be left to the authority to decide whether or not to supervise the investigation of the complaint.

The White Paper "Police Complaints and Discipline Procedures", which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary laid before the House in October 1983, indicated that there would be a category of complaints below the most serious group which would be required to be referred to the authority for discretionary supervision. This category would consist of complaints alleging corruption, less serious cases of assault having resulted in actual bodily harm and other serious cases reflecting adversely on the reputation of the police service. Draft regulation 4 of this instrument fulfils that undertaking.

Regulation 5 sets out the powers of the authority to impose requirements in relation to investigations. A further proviso is included to ensure that the authority cannot, through inadvertence or pure ill luck, impose a requirement which would adversely affect the admissibility of evidence at a criminal trial or make adequate evidence hard to obtain. Finally, the regulation requires the authority to consult a chief officer before imposing any requirement as to the resources that he should make available to an investigation and to have regard to any representations that he might make.

The draft Police (Anonymous, Repetitious Etc. Complaints) Regulations are a re-enactment of part of the Police (Withdrawn, Anonymous Etc. Complaints) Regulations 1977. The part relating to withdrawn complaints is now to be found in the Police(Complaints) (General) Regulations, which are not before the House. The remaining parts will allow the authority to dispense with the requirement that a complaint should be investigated in certain circumstances. The first is where a complaint is anonymous. The second is where a complaint is substantially the same as a previous complaint and contains no fresh allegations. The third is where it is not reasonably practicable to complete an investigation.

As I have explained, the three sets of draft regulations need to be viewed as part of the wider system of procedures which offer a fair and workable approach to complaints against the police. I commend them to the House.

10.12 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

The Opposition have serious reservations about the complaints procedure introduced by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, but within that context we do not wish to quibble with the three instruments. They are satisfactory within the context of the Act, although the Act itself is far from satisfactory.

I have never understood why the Government chose yet again to become involved in such a complex method of dealing with complaints, although the present system is better than the previous one, which had the unenviable record of being disliked by everyone. Nevertheless, when I spoke at a Police Federation meeting the other week a diagram showing the operation of the procedure was produced which made some of the diagrams produced by the GLC and the metropolitan counties in relation to the Local Government Bill look like minor jigsaw puzzles and showed a number of ways of resolving complaints to be both convoluted and unnecessary.

I have always believed that there is much to be said for simply introducing the existing ombudsman system, which would have the advantage of allowing Members of Parliament and councillors outside London to take up complaints in the first instance. If the complaint was satisfactorily resolved at that stage, there would be no further involvement and one of the instruments before us would not be needed. Cases which could not be satisfactorily resolved between the chief constable and the Member of Parliament or councillor could be referred to the ombudsman, as in the case of complaints relating to housing, social services or taxation. Following the Second Reading of the Prosecution of Offences Bill today, there is a further safeguard in the ability to turn to the independent public prosecutor if criminal behaviour by a police officer is alleged.

All in all, there could have been a far simpler and less complex system than the one put before the House in connection with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, but, within the context of the legislation to be brought into effect on 1 April, I have no quibbles.

I welcome what the Minister said about the appointments. I personally welcome the appointment of Roland Moyle, who used to be a Member of this House. I welcome the others too, but I do not know them. I knew Roland Moyle when he was a Member of the House, and I am sure that he will do an excellent job. I do not doubt that the other members whose appointments have been announced will also do a good job.

If the Minister has not finished compiling his list, I ask him to consider making the body as wide as possible so that it reflects as accurately as possible the structure of society. The Minister was right to say to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) that people involved with the police should not serve on the board. I do not believe that they would wish to do so.

There would be a case for including a trade unionist or someone with similar experience. I also hope that the fact that half the people of this country are women will be recognised. There should be some female representation. The ethnic minority groups will have a great deal of concern about the police complaints body and I strongly urge the Minister to ensure that they are represented on the committee. I hope that the Minister will make use of this opportunity.

I hope that in due course we will have a complaints procedure that is far simpler and less convoluted, and which will be fully accepted by public and police alike. I suggest that the Government should consider a system such as I have outlined tonight.

10.17 pm
Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I, too, welcome what my hon. Friend has told us about the status of the new police complaints authority. Nothing could more clearly show the importance that Government and Parliament attach to it than the fact that the chairman is to be appointed by the Prime Minister and will be no less a person than the former Ombudsman, Sir Cecil Clothier. Having worked with them over the years, I should also like to pay tribute to Sir Cyril Philips and to Admiral Bell. I am delighted that Admiral Bell is to continue as deputy chairman of the authority. I also agree with those who knew him in this House that Roland Moyle will be an admirable member of the new authority.

I have to take issue with the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), who implied that people should, as it were, be appointed to the authority by constituency. He believes that a member of an ethnic minority should be appointed, a trade unionist, a woman and so on. I understand the need for a broadly based authority that will enjoy public confidence. However, the worst that could happen would be that the members of the authority had to vote according to their constituency interest. That is the opposite of what is sought, and I am sure that that is not the hon. Gentleman's intention. The selection of those who are to serve in a quasi-judicial role should reflect their personal integrity, experience and authority and not the fact that they represent a body of opinion that may have a certain attitude to the police service.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith said that it would be inappropriate for a former police officer to serve on the board. His anxiety was that, because of his connection with the police service, such a person might be inclined to vote his ticket. The same logic must be applied to the remainder of those who are to be appointed. I hope that there will be no conscious decision to select people as representatives. They must stand on their own merits.

I am not a total admirer of the new police complaints system. I have been involved in the matter for far too long —since the 1976 legislation, which was introduced by the late Dr. Summer skill on behalf of the Labour Government. It was a disaster. We knew that it would not work. A further effort did not work satisfactorily, as Sir Cyril Philips was good enough to say in his triennial report. We now have a third attempt. The system is immensely complex, and I shall confine myself to the informal resolution procedure.

The police service already has an informal resolution procedure. Anyone who wants to make a complaint can go to a police station and if there is a sensible sergeant there —there usually is—he will try informally to resolve the complaint. It is my experience that in seven, and possible nine, out of 10 cases, the complainant is upset at the time because of an incivility, a misunderstanding or excessive officiousness on the part of a police officer and there is an informal resolution because the sergeant or inspector explains the situation.

We are now importing, under the guise of an informal resolution, a rather structured and formal procedure. It will require some paperwork, which is spelt out in the regulations. The complainant must have the informal procedure explained to him and he will then have to consent to it. Knowing the police service, that will have to be in writing. Almost implicitly, the complainant might imagine that, by agreeing to an informal procedure, he is abandoning his right to take the matter further. There might be a problem there.

Similarly, the officer will have to give his consent. It would be extremely odd if the consent of the complainant had to be sought but the wretched police officer's did not. I understand from the detailed consultations between the Police Federation and Home Office officials that the consent of both parties will have to be obtained. That will not always be easy. Police officers are sometimes on rest days, they might be away on a course or even on a picket line. There will be problems in getting the consent of the officer in question.

I understand that an honest third party will have to be found, although, surprisingly, that is not mentioned in the regulations. That third party will have to sit in while the informal resolution procedure takes place. I cannot recall the name that has been given to the outside party in the Criminal Evidence Act 1984, but a member of the good and great in the local community will be asked to sit in on the conciliation procedure to ensure that all is well done. I must not complain about that, but I assure my hon. Friend the Minister that experience will work out as I am suggesting. There will be some formality in what was previously informal. That is regrettable. The House has agreed that that should be so, and it would be wrong for me to go back over it, but I am worried about how the informal resolution procedure will take place.

My hon. Friend the Minister said that when a chief officer of police deals with a police officer under the discipline regulations and exercises his great power to sack, demote or change severely the career of that officer, there will henceforth be a right of access to a lawyer That is right. It was a hard-fought battle through more than one session of the Committee stage of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. At the end of the day the police service as a whole is glad that Parliament agreed to that. There is, however, the question of the cost. At the moment the costs are to be borne by the voluntary funds of the Police Federation. I am not certain whether that would sit well with the Opposition. They might take the view that in trade union matters it should be dealt with differently, but it was part of a bargain entered into between those of us who were involved in the matter and the Government. The Government were reluctant to see a lawyer introduced, but eventually, when there was no majority on the Committee to get the Bill through without that provision, the arrangement was that the Police Federation could have a lawyer, provided that the lawyer was paid from voluntary funds.

I want to put this point precisely to my hon. Friend. If as a result of the Police Federation using its own voluntary funds the lawyer demonstrates that the chief officer is wrong, and that he has unjustly brought a charge that could lead to dismissal or demotion, what happens then? Are the funds of the Police Federation still to be at risk, even though it has demonstrated that the chief officer was wrong? That would be contrary to the case in all other courts of law and would be unjust. I hope very much that the Police Complaints Authority, which is to have an oversight of all complaints that are made by members of the public against the police, will have no less an oversight of those cases where police officers are brought before their chief officers under discipline and are treated badly. What is sauce for the civilian goose ought to be sauce for the police gander. I mean by that that there should be an even-handed approach.

I remind the House that discipline in the police service can be onerous. There is no lonelier man than a young police officer brought up before his chief, who has virtually absolute power over him and who could, until the introduction of a lawyer was agreed, operate like Captain Bligh of the Bounty, with an inconsistency between one police area and another that is not very much short of scandalous. In circumstances where a police officer has been wrongly treated, the Police Complaints Authority should have a duty and power to oversee that injustice as well as any injustice that is done by the police to members of the general public. I ask my hon. Friend to comment on that.

In regard to anonymous complaints I am glad that an order is being introduced. All that it does for practical purposes is to allow the new Police Complaints Authority to operate in exactly the way that the Police Complaints Board did.

I conclude with a general point. We have gone through a year or so in which the police service has been castigated more severely perhaps than at any other time. Throughout the miners strike large numbers of people in police authorities condemned their own men; large numbers of people in important trade unions alleged that the police service is a brutal, national, political force imposing trade union law. Even in the House we have had bitter exchanges. Against that background, when the House comes to consider the new arrangements for complaints against the police it should recognise that the Government are demonstrating by these orders and by section 9 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act that, far from our having a police service that is non-accountable, we have a police service that is being made to account more than than any other police service in the world. It should be recognised that what Government are doing here on behalf of civil liberties of the police themselves gives the lie to all of the allegations and objurgations that have been made against the police service over the past year.

I cannot say that I welcome all these orders. I accept them as part of the package that was concomitant with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

10.30 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is known as the spokesman for the police interest. I do not pretend to that position. There is a duty on hon. Members to uphold both law and order — as the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis says in the new Metropolitan police handbook—and the rights of the citizens. What I have to say on these regulations comes within that context.

I share the scepticism expressed by the spokesman for the other main Opposition party, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley). Although the new authority will be better than the present one, it will not be good enough. A system which appears to be the Establishment at work will not succeed in gaining public confidence. We do not want on it members who represent their vested interest and vote accordingly, we want people who will examine appropriately the many different complaints that are made through the channels set up under the authority, and who can increasingly gain the confidence of the communities, which they are meant to look after.

I welcome the appointment of the new chairman, who has a good track record. I welcome also the appointment of the other main members, but I have a specific suggestion. It comes from the practical experience over a relatively short time— the two and a bit years that I have been an hon. Member—of complaints against the police recorded and brought to me. It is vital that, of all the groups in the community, our young people have confidence that the police act properly. It is vital that they can be confident that the way that the police are examined produces an impartial, publicised, efficient, quick and effective adjudication.

We all know that the court system produces some correct and some incorrect results at the end of trials. If the solicitor and counsel do a good job—they do not always—people are well represented, and juries fulfil their duty and convict where they should and acquit where they should. However, we all know of occasions where the system has failed because it has not even begun to address the real latent complaint behind the complaint brought against the police.

I can give an example to illustrate that general complaint. Two weeks ago, I was sitting in my office in the Norman Shaw building on Friday afternoon. The House had just risen. My constituency is near by, and so my constituents, like those of other London Members, feel that they can get to their Member of Parliament to get him to act quickly in an emergency. I had four phone calls within the space of half an hour from adult constituents complaining of police behaviour in Surrey docks during the arrest of one teenager. The complaints did not come from his family, who were away from home at work. They came from people coming home, meeting their children from school and so on—the neighbourhood. One after the other, and independently —I checked this—they attested to the fact that the police had over-reacted.

At the moment, that case is being considered. It has not gone through the procedure yet, because I advised that it should not. I advised that it was better that I should, as I did that afternoon, phone my chief superintendent, to raise with him the concern, then ask the constituents involved to write to me, go and see them myself and seek to establish what had gone on. I asked why there had apparently been an unnecessary over-reaction to someone who may or may not have been misbehaving—that is an issue to be resolved—but who was clearly dealt with in a way that the community found unacceptable.

The criticism is specific. It does not reflect my view of the general behaviour of the police in Southwark. In general, they do a very good job and I intend no reflection on the generality of police work. However, the Minister knows that there are occasions when that sort of incident needs careful investigation. It is vital that we have available people who are experienced and impartial enough to ensure that those who are most vulnerable and most aggrieved if the system does not work — the categories who will persuade us that we need to revise the system again if it does not work—will be looked after properly.

The largest such group is the young—the adults, legislators and parents of the future. I do not say that there must be an 18-year-old or a 21-year-old on the authority, but the PCA must make it its business to ensure that young people feel that they are being understood. The list of the great and good do not always understand the need for that.

Although I welcome only parts of the proposed procedure, I particularly welcome the informal resolution procedure. I disagree with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds because I believe that it is vital that there should be a category of complaints that can be dealt with in a way that avoids the long bureaucratic delays that occur in the present system.

I hope that the new procedure will not get bogged down in bureaucracy, but, above all, I hope that when people go to a local police station to make a complaint they will be made clearly aware of the procedures and rights open to them, as they are in other areas, such as civil rights and welfare rights. I hope that it will be made clear to people that once they decide to invoke the law to help them, certain things flow from that. For example, a case becomes sub judice.

There is a failing in the system. I did not serve on the Committee on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) represented my party — so I did not participate in the debates on the system, but I find that people either do not use the procedures and feel aggrieved because they do not know their rights or their chances of being upheld, or they launch into the system and find that it takes over the complaint and their chance to do anything about it is suppressed. That happens especially if there is a long delay. Even if there are no criminal charges and no trial, a long delay means that the effective remedy is not achieved. The Minister will know the phrase, "Justice delayed is justice denied."

It is important that the PCA has the staff and experience to allow efficient redress, particularly under the informal resolution procedure, where the police and the citizen agree the solution. That is the better method.

The second set of regulations relate to the mandatory referral upwards of matters of importance. The most important are obviously allegations of assaults—actual bodily harm and so on. The authority must deal with those cases.

I hope that, as in other areas of Ombudsman-type adjudications, we shall have a periodic presentation of facts to the public, through reports and other channels. We should have a proper assessment of how the law deals with matters such as self-defence. A complaint of assault by a police officer often arises out of an arrest and the self-defence that a citizen feels he is entitled to use. That is a difficult matter for the courts.

When there are referrals upwards, I ask that there is soon established a clear set of guidelines which make the practice of the authority compatible with criminal law and the criminality of those forms of assault, and where people know that if they are arrested in circumstances in which they believe that the police have overstepped the limit, they can properly present their case, with any appropriate evidence.

The example that I cited earlier was a case in point. People may witness what they believe to be an instance of the police overstepping the mark. That must be looked at by the authority. Perhaps matters of assault could be dealt with separately from other matters so that there is a quickly established procedure and people know that they can go to an experienced person in the authority who deals with these matters. It is a specialist area of importance, to which the House has decided the authority should have particular regard. I ask that the authority arranges its affairs so that people know exactly how it will deal with complaints, that they will he properly dealt with and that all the evidence will be considered and adjudicated upon.

The Minister will remember that during our debates in Committee on the Local Government Bill only a month ago we discussed how it was appropriate, and the methods that could be employed, to ensure that during inquests the families and others involved had the opportunity to present their case properly. The Minister accepted that there was great dissatisfaction with adjudication in inquests on both matters of fact and allegations. I ask that the authority immediately takes on a special responsibility, when dealing with mandatory referrals of assaults against persons, to establish a clear code of practice and a clear method of dealing with them which encompasses all the evidence and reports back to the aggrieved and other interested parties.

On the third set of regulations, the Minister quoted the guidelines set down in the schedule. I am aware that we are signatories to the European convention, which is right and proper. I do not hold the Nationalist sovereign view that we always get it right. Is it clear that these regulations have the same criteria as are applied when one takes a complaint to the European Commission? Certain categories of complaint are dismissed because they are repetitious, anomalous and so on. It is important that we are consistent, otherwise similar definitions, which in practice mean different things at different levels of what is a heirachy of appeal, give rise to problems. It is a practical question. It is not terribly important, but there are people who make complaints but do not wish to pursue them because they are anomolous. However, they raise important issues. I hope that we can be consistent at the lowest level of complaint under the regulations with what we do on the highest level of sovereign decision which is often taken for us by the European Court of Human Rights.

The scepticism which I voiced at the beginning of my speech does not mean that I and my colleagues do not wish the new authority every success. We have confidence that the regulations will give the new authority the confidence that it needs to be able to do its job. Whatever the details of the practice, I hope that these regulations and others will make it clear to the public what their rights are, that their complaints will be comprehensively investigated, that everybody who wishes to have a say may do so and be listened to sympathetically, however difficult that may be, and that there will be a speedy, comprehensive and—within the parameters of the Act—publicised report back to the aggrieved so that justice may be seen to be done as well as, I hope, being done.

10.45 pm
Mr. Giles Shaw

With the leave of the House, I will respond to the points that hon. Members have made.

I am grateful for the appreciation of hon. Members in all parts of the House for the work that the present police complaints board has done under its current chairman, Sir Cyril Philips, and for the broad welcome that has been given to the appointment—by Her Majesty, I remind hon. Members—of Sir Cecil Clothier to his new post as chairman of the new police authority. It is important that the House should give its general support at the outset of his task.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) drew attention to what he felt were cumbersome and complex regulations, but he did so in the context of suggesting that an ombudsman system should be applied to the police service in general. He will know that that was discussed during the passage of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, when it was agreed that the idea of a complaints ombudsman, as it were, should not be proceeded with.

We took the view, to which we still firmly hold, that the solution that we propose will provide a direct and efficient system that meets the needs. The House should recall that we are dealing here not just with the investigation of complaints from members of the public who have been aggrieved by police actions or activities, but also with the discipline side within the force. For example, it is inevitable that records will be kept and that there will be a degree of complexity, so reflecting the disciplined way in which police forces are run. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), as so often, was right to remind the House that there is a strict and extremely formidable code of discipline to which all police officers subscribe.

That aspect is also within the purview of the new police complaints authority on the disciplinary side of its work. Thus, there must be a structure, and inevitably it will be formal in print, though I assure hon. Members that, on informal procedures, every attempt is made to simplify matters to the point of great simplicity indeed.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds that there is no intention of involving a third party. It will be between a complainant and an officer, and it is hoped that such issues can have a very quick resolution indeed. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that one problem concerning the public's perhaps lack of confidence in the existing procedures is due to their time-consuming nature. It is inevitable, for example, that should civil proceedings intervene those proceedings must take place before there can be an adequate handling of a police complaint. We judge that the informal resolution procedure will be kept to the absolute minimum, in time and content and in the number of persons involved.

It is crucial that the House recognises that a great many complaints are capable of being resolved in such a person-to-person way. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds pointed out, that is the way in which many complaints are dealt with now. There is nothing new in that in principle. What is new is to set out clearly where the rights are and where the citizen can go to get the quickest possible resolution of a grievance. Of the 16,000 complaints currently handled, well over 2,000 come within a category known as "incivility." It is likely that many of those complaints could be resolved rapidly by a generous use of the informal resolution procedure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds was concerned about the costs of legal representation, particularly in cases where the Police Federation case was upheld and where, therefore, the chief officer's case was lost. I am aware of my hon. Friend's tenacity in this matter. He will be aware that the question of the payment of costs for the representation of officers acquitted was fully discussed during the passage of the Bill and that the Government took the view at that time that such a provision should not be included in the measure. I know that my hon. Friend thinks that there should be such a provision. The matter was considered, and it was agreed not to include the provision in the Bill.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

My hon. Friend is not putting the matter exactly correctly. The matter was not discussed because we did not contemplate the case where, because of the lawyer's intervention, the federation won its case and the chief officer lost his.

Will my hon. Friend answer this case? The chief officer is provided with a lawyer at public expense. The accused police officer is provided with a lawyer only voluntarily at the expense of the Police Federation. If the chief officer loses his case, his costs will be paid from the public purse. If the Police Federation wins its case, apparently it will not have the benefit of public funds. How can it be right to place a chief officer in a position where he receives money from the taxpayer—whether he wins or loses, whether he is right or wrong, whether he is just or unjust, whether he is venal or not—whereas when the officer using funds provided voluntarily by the Police Federation is acquitted and is seen to be innocent in every respect he is not given the same benefit that the chief officer gets, even when he is mistaken and is shown to be wrong?

Mr. Shaw

I take my hon. Friend's point. There is no question but that there is a disparity in the present arrangements. This issue was debated thoroughly in another place during the passage of the Bill. It was considered that there should not be special provision. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds says that that is an unfair arrangement. I put it to him that there has been a fairly steady evolution of the extent to which the members of the Police Federation can obtain legal representation and the use of facilities for the reimbursement of those costs. At the moment that is based on the federation's funds. The federation is a large and significant organisation which is able to do that. The same cannot be said of the chief constables. There are fewer chief constables. I shall take the matter on board for future discussion, but I am afraid that, within the context of these regulations and the Bill, that must remain the position.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey referred to the specialist role of the authority dealing with serious complaints. That authority has a special role, and there is nothing to prevent it from, for example, reporting to the Home Secretary about certain incidents or the characteristics of certain incidents that draw themselves to the authority's attention as requiring special treatment. It is not wise to assume that the authority will field specialists in certain categories of complaint. The authority will be composed of a chairman, two deputy chairmen and 10 members. About half that membership will deal with the discipline side and about half will deal with the investigative side. It would be difficult, because of those small numbers on the authority, to say that there would always be one person who would specialise in one type of complaint.

I assure the House that the authority will comprise people who have been appointed for their professional and relevant skills in handling these issues. It will not be composed of token representatives from either ethnic groups or geographical areas; it will be primarily composed of those who can discharge these duties on a professional level. The duties are considerable.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith asked about the representation of women on the authority. At the moment, three of its members are women. At least one authority member is from an ethnic minority group. But those people are not on the authority simply because they are members of specified groups. They are there because they bring relevant, professional expertise to the job.

The biggest distinction between the authority and the police complaints board is its professional full-time nature. That allows the chairman's role to become significant in maintaining and determining a standard by which the complaints and discipline procedures are dealt with.

Mr. Soley

I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that matter. No one was arguing that those people should be there merely because they were female, black, Asian or whatever. The argument that I used strongly—the Minister seems to have conceded this—is that there are plenty of people from those groups who have the professional ability to do the job. It is important that they are on the board. If that is what the Minister is saying, and I understand that it is, I welcome it.

Mr. Shaw

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.

In recommending the regulations to the House, I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds. We already have a highly professional police force and significant restraints laid upon the behaviour of members of that force by virtue of the discipline procedures. Chief officers already have a high degree of independence in the control and discipline of their forces. It is because of that that the police complaints authority and the regulations which analyse and set out some of its powers have to take in hand the reputation and high standards already established.

It is no part of the work of the police complaints authority to seek to undermine or, as it were, pull down the edifice of police discipline which has been established over so many years and which results in the United Kingdom force receiving a great degree of world-wide respect. We believe that the police complaints authority will take forward by a large measure the degree of public confidence to be attached to the police complaints procedure, to provide it in a way which is more accessible, ore understandable, and I hope speedier than that which presently obtains, but, above all, make it one which satisfies all parties—those who complain and those who observe the discipline code in the police. I ask the House to accept the regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Police (Anonymous, Repetitious Etc. Complaints) Regulations 1985, which were laid before this House on 4th April, be approved. That the draft Police (Complaints) (Mandatory Referrals Etc.) Regulations 1985, which were laid before this House on 26th March, be approved.—[Mr. Giles Shaw.] That the draft Police (Complaints) (Informal Resolution) Regulations 1985, which were laid before this House or 26th March, be approved.—[Mr. Giles Shaw.]