§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are about to debate one of the two items of legislation that ought to have been brought before the House as Bills rather than by Order in Council. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) has a clear idea of the changes that would be required to put the RUC on the same footing as its counterparts in Great Britain, but the Government have deprived the House of any opportunity to debate separately, vote on and remove those offensive variations. For that reason, with great regret, we have to regard participation in this debate as a mere sham. Anything that we might say in the course of the debate would not alter one comma of the order. For that reason, we shall confine ourselves to voting against the motion at the end.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
I beg to move,That the draft Police (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, which was laid before this House on 16th December, be approved.The purpose of the order is to introduce new procedures for dealing with complaints against the RUC which are broadly in line with those which apply in England and Wales, but supplemented by additional measures which take account of the particular sensitivities of policing in Northern Ireland.
In considering these measures, the House will recognise that the members of the RUC, with commendable spirit and dedication, continue to carry out their duties in a professional and impartial manner, and in a way that demonstrates their commitment to the maintenance of law and order and to the defeat of terrorism. They have also shown tremendous courage in the face of a vicious and continuing terrorist campaign. So far this year nine policemen have been murdered; the whole community owes them an immeasurable debt of gratitude, as it does to all the men and women of the RUC, particularly those who have lost their lives over the past 16 years. Of course, the House sympathises most sincerely with their families. The RUC is, and will remain, the linchpin of the Government's law and order and security policies.
However, the difficult circumstances of policing in Northern Ireland, the pressures faced by the RUC and the varying degrees of community tension, combine to strike at the basis of the relationship between the police and the public. As a result, there are many occasions on which that relationship faces greater strain than it would under more normal circumstances. Where that leads to disputes or disagreement, and where the conduct of police officers gives rise to legitimate cause for complaint, I believe it is vital, in the interests of all concerned, that complaints are properly investigated—and seen to be so—in a way with which both the police and the public can be satisfied.
Those of us who recall the debates about police complaints procedures that took place in this House during the passage of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 will no doubt also recall the principles upon which the complaints system for England and Wales is based, but I think that it would be appropriate at this stage 812 briefly to remind the House of those principles, because they apply equally to the system that is to be introduced in Northern Ireland.
The Government remain convinced that the best way to deal with complaints against the police is through a procedure that can command support from the public and in which the police can have confidence. Above all, the procedure must not only be effective; it must be accountable. By that I mean that, while the responsibility for carrying out complaints investigations must remain with the police whose experience and training best fit them for the task, the conduct of the investigations must be subject to the control and direction of a public body, with effective and extensive supervisory powers, that is independent of both the police and the Government.
I believe that the procedure for handling complaints that is contained in this order and that is based on these principles will make a substantial contribution towards the development of effective policing in Northern Ireland. It will provide reassurance to the public that the investigation of complaints will be both thorough and effective; it will help to strengthen police morale by being impartial and fair; and, perhaps most important of all, I believe that it can enhance the relationship between the police and the public by helping to foster a climate of mutual co-operation in which the police can become better placed to serve and protect the interests of the whole community.
I turn now to the detailed provisions of the order, which are couched in terms with which Members of this House will already be familiar. However, while the proposed system for Northern Ireland closely resembles that which operates in England and Wales, it contains additional provisions that I will mention as they arise.
Article 2 deals with interpretation, and in particular provides that the order is to apply to the regular RUC, full-time members of the RUC reserve and, unlike the current arrangements, to the part-time RUC members as well. In Northern Ireland, the part-time reservists carry out a wide range of operational duties in support of the regular force. Indeed, the general public and terrorist organisations do not usually distinguish between one category of member and another. Therefore, I believe it right that all members of the RUC and its reserve should come within the scope of the new arrangements.
In line with the provisions in England and Wales, the order adopts the concept of "appropriate authority", which in Northern Ireland will be either the police authority or the Chief Constable, but it departs from the British procedures by allowing a complaint to he made by a third party on behalf of a member of the public without the complainant's written consent. Of course, the third party should have the complainant's verbal consent, but since the police will wish to interview the complainant himself early in the investigation they can test the veracity of his complaint at that time and need not proceed with the case if the complainant does not wish to substantiate it.
That is the current position in Northern Ireland, and the police, together with a number of interested parties who responded to our proposals are content to let it stand. Given that the police in England and Wales have been given discretion to act upon a complaint without checking whether or not the third party has obtained the complainant's written consent, I firmly believe that, on balance, it is more important for complaints to be recorded 813 and investigated promptly rather than to protect the interests of a third party who might register a complaint on another's behalf.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Will my hon. Friend confirm that, when the question of allowing an aggrieved person to have a complaint made on his behalf without his written consent was considered by the Standing Committee on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, the Committee threw it out and that it is no longer part of the Act governing the police in England and Wales? Will he also confirm that thereby he is making an exception and departing from something that this House considered and rejected in respect of all other police forces?
§ Mr. Scott
I respond in two ways. First, the existing procedure in Northern Ireland is operated perfectly satisfactorily by the RUC. Secondly, Home Office guidance to the British forces specifically states:Discretion should be exercised before asking a third party for evidence of the original complainant's written consent to his passing on a complaint. In particular, where a solicitor indicates in forwarding a complaint that he is doing so on instructions from a client, the complaint should be treated without challenge as having been made by the client direct to the chief officer.That is specific, and I repeat the first sentence:Discretion should be exercised before asking a third party for evidence of the original complainant's written consent to his passing on a complaint.Of course, we consulted the RUC about this matter because we knew that it had been discussed in the House, and as a result the Deputy Chief Constable indicated that he agreed with our assessment of the current position. We consulted him in the following terms:In the light of various comments received on the Consultative paper, it has been concluded that the proposed requirement for written authorisation when making a complaint on behalf of another would be widely perceived as a retrograde step. No written consent is required at present in such circumstances and there is no evidence to suggest that this requirement would substantially reduce the number of malicious and frivolous complaints. The disadvantages in adding this requirement to the present system could well outweigh any hoped for advantages.The Deputy Chief Constable agreed with our assessment of the current position and our intention to retain it. We were therefore right to introduce this modest difference in practice between what happens in Northern Ireland and in England and Wales.
Article 3 establishes the Independent Commission for Police Complaints for Northern Ireland and abolishes the Police Complaints Board for Northern Ireland and schedule 1 provides for the constitution, membership and administration of the commission.
Article 4 outlines the preliminary steps to be taken by the Chief Constable on receipt of a complaint and is in line with the procedures that apply in England and Wales. Article 5, which sets out the procedure for investigating complaints about the conduct of an officer of the rank of chief superintendent or below, is again in line with the procedures that exist here. However, because the order can apply only to the RUC, it cannot include a provision requiring a chief officer of another United Kingdom police force to comply with a request from the Chief Constable of the RUC to provide an officer to conduct a formal investigation. Nevertheless, since Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary has undertaken to arrange for 814 the provision of investigating officers, in response to requests from the Chief Constable, I am confident that such appointments will be made as and when necessary.
Article 6 deals with the investigation of complaints against senior officers and, once again, is in line with the provisions that exist here. The "appropriate authority" for senior officers is the Police Authority for Northern Ireland.
Article 7 deals with the reference of complaints to the commission. Here we have supplemented the Great Britain procedures by providing that all complaints that require formal investigation must be referred to the commission within a period to be specified in regulations. The commission will therefore be able to exercise, at an early stage, its obligatory or discretionary powers of supervision. In addition, regulations will provide that copies of all complaints that have been resolved informally will be sent to the commission so that it will have a full and complete picture of the entire complaints process.
Article 8 deals with the reference of other matters to the commission — in particular, its involvement in "public interest" matters. Perhaps it would help the House if I explained these provisions and the purpose behind them in some detail. Article 8(1) allows the appropriate authority — either the Police Authority for Northern Ireland or the Chief Constables to refer a non-complaint matter to the commission if it considers that it ought to be referred because of its gravity or exceptional circumstances. Such matters will not be the subject of a specific complaint, but might concern allegations about the conduct of police officers coming to light through reports in the media, or as a result of internal police disciplinary inquiries. The provision is completely in line with that applying in England and Wales and gives the commission power to decide whether it should supervise the investigation. The benefits of this system have been highlighted by the Police Complaints Authority in Great Britain, which, in its first report, noted that on 72 occasions chief constables had invited it to supervise the investigation of matters into which the police themselves had initiated inquiries though under no obligation to refer them to the Police Complaints' Authority in the first instance.
However, article 8(2) is an important supplement to those powers and does not apply in England and Wales. It gives the Secretary of State, or the Police Authority, power to refer a non-complaint matter to the commission if they believe it is desirable in the public interest that the commission should supervise the investigation.
Again, the alleged misconduct of an officer will not be the subject of a formal complaint but may have occurred in circumstances which have aroused widespread public disquiet, sufficient to warrant the commission's involvement. But, unlike the previous provision, judgment about the seriousness of the matter and an assessment of the need to safeguard the interests of the public will rest with either the Secretary of State or the Police Authority and after consultation with the Chief Constable. The power will not be used solely in response to media pressure, and I would expect that even in the face of such pressure many cases would not warrant the use of the power. Good judgment will be essential and decisions to refer the matter to the commission will be taken only in the most exceptional cases and after a careful assessment of those factors which, in terms of seriousness or "public interest", not only warrant the commission's obligatory involvement but set 815 the matter apart from those non-complaint cases which the Chief Constable would ordinarily have been expected to refer under article 8(1) and where the commission's involvement would have been discretionary.
The combined effect of the powers given by this article, together with those given to the commission by article 9 will, in my view, provide a much more effective alternative to the existing power given to the Chief Constable and the Police Authority by section 13 of the Police Act (Northern Ireland) 1970. That provides for the Chief Constable, at his own discretion, or at the direction of the Police Authority, to refer a specific complaint, affecting or appearing to affect the public interest, to a tribunal for consideration. However, the powers to convene a tribunal have been used only once, and the tribunal proved totally inadequate as a means of investigating a specific complaint. It had no power to subpoena witnesses, take evidence on oath or call for the production of documentary evidence, and was therefore unable to obtain evidence which would warrant criminal or disciplinary proceedings against the police officers concerned.
It was clear, therefore, that there was an overriding need to protect the interests of the public in complaint and, indeed, non-complaint matters. During the consultation period which followed publication of the proposals for reform the Government were urged to retain the section 13 tribunal and to strengthen its powers by providing that it could subpoena witnesses, call for the production of documentary evidence and take evidence on oath.
However, the Government rejected this course of action for two principal reasons. First, even in a strengthened form the section 13 tribunal would have remained no more than an inquisitorial tribunal which, to get at the truth, would have had to grant witnesses immunity from prosecution. Its findings would have been unlikely to have resulted in the prosecution of individual officers and its value as a means of reassuring the public would have been minimal.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Government took the view that the credibility and public standing of the new commission would be seriously undermined if more than one body was given powers in relation to complaints investigations. That is why those powers have been concentrated in the hands of the commission, which will be able to apply its extensive and effective surpervisory powers to the investigation of both formal complaints and non-complaints matters. I believe that these measures will serve to increase the effectiveness of police investigations into complaints and will, in turn, provide a greater opportunity not only to reassure the public that the truth has been discovered but to ensure that police officers who commit disciplinary or criminal offences will more readily be brought to book.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Would an inquiry such as the Stalker inquiry be necessary in the future, or would the commission undertake that work if such a situation arose?
§ Mr. Scott
It is impossible to speculate about that, but I believe that in matters where general public concern is being expressed in Northern Ireland this would be one way of dealing with those matters, and perhaps the most effective way of dealing with them quickly and effectively. 816 However, in the particular circumstances of any case it would be for the Government of the day to decide what action they thought was most appropriate.
Article 9 deals with the supervision of investigations by the commission and specifies the types of case in which the commission must exercise its supervisory powers and those in which it may do so at its discretion. The supervisory powers given to the commission are in line with those given to the Police Complaints Authority in England and Wales. The commission will be able to approve or disapprove the choice of investigating officer even when one has already been appointed. It will be able to keep in close touch with the investigation throughout its course. It may require the Chief Constable to provide additional resources to the investigation and, finally, it will be required to issue a statement saying whether it was satisfied with the conduct of the investigation. These powers are exactly the same as those given to the PCA here.
Article 10 specifies the steps that are to be taken after the investigation; and, again, the procedures are fully in line with those which exist here. As regards senior officers, the Police Authority has a duty to refer the report of an investigation to the Director of Public Prosecution, except where it is satisfied that no criminal offence has been committed. As in England and Wales, the power of the Chief Constable to decide whether a member should be charged will relate only to minor criminal offences. However, there is a safeguard in this to which I will refer in a moment.
Article 11 outlines the steps that are to be taken where the accused has admitted the charges. Article 12 deals with the powers of the commission to direct reference of reports to the DPP. Both are in line with the procedures adopted for England and Wales, the latter providing the safeguard which I mentioned earlier, where, if the Chief Constable decides that a member should not be charged with a minor criminal offence, the commission may overturn his decision and direct him to refer the matter to the DPP.
Articles 13 to 17 are in line with the arrangements for England and Wales and I will not go into them here.
Part III of the order begins with article 20, which amends section 26 of the Police Act (Northern Ireland) 1970 and provides powers to make discipline regulations for reserve constables. The Secretary of State already has powers under section 25 of the Police Act 1970 to make regulations governing disciplinary matters for the regular force and, therefore, the existing regulations will be amended to take account of the changes which have been adopted in England and Wales. The amendments will cover the procedures of disciplinary hearings and of appeals from such hearings, and will provide that punishment by dismissal, requirement to resign or reduction in rank will not be imposed on an officer of chief superintendent or below unless he has been afforded the opportunity to be legally represented. In addition, the appeals procedures will be statutorily regulated in line with Great Britain.
Since it is our intention to revise the discipline regulations, we have given careful consideration to the issue of discriminatory behaviour. As the House will recall, discrimination on the grounds of racial origin has been made a specific disciplinary offence in England and Wales. We thought it appropriate to introduce a similar offence in Northern Ireland, but that it should be broadened to take account of religious belief and political opinion. We 817 addressed this issue in line with the extensive anti-discrimination measures which have applied across the board since the Northern Ireland Constitution Act was passed in 1973. This made it unlawful for all Northern Ireland Government Departments, any local body, a range of authorities, boards and public bodies to discriminate on religious or political grounds. In effect, therefore, rather than singling out the police, we are seeking to ensure that in the exercise of their duties the police are subject to the same constraints as the members and staff of other public service organisations in Northern Ireland. However, in response to representations from the Police Federation, we have agreed to give further thought to the wording of this offence and will consider it again when drafting the regulations in question.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
I should like to get one matter clear. My hon. Friend is saying that it is part of the public law that all other civil servants in Northern Ireland should not discriminate. Of course, that is true. However, that law applies equally to the police no more and no less than to any other public servant. Why does my hon. Friend think that that should be extended, uniquely in the case of the police, in their discipline regulations?
§ Mr. Scott
Parliament, having decided on its approach to matters on this side of the water, decided to make discrimination on the gound of racial origin a specific disciplinary offence. Public opinion in Northern Ireland would have found it surprising if, in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, we did not include a similar offence in terms of religious or political discrimination which are more relevant to the situation in Northern Ireland. However, in response to representations from the Police Federation, we have agreed to give further thought to the wording of the offence and we will consider it again when drafting the regulations. There will be every opportunity for the Police Federation, and other interested bodies, to be involved in the consultative process on those regulations.
Article 21 of this order follows the procedures adopted in England and Wales and gives the constituent sections of the Police Association — which includes the Police Federation—specific representative rights at disciplinary proceedings, or on an appeal from such proceedings. Again, in line with the provisions that exist here, article 22 prevents a member who has been charged and either acquitted or convicted of a criminal offence from being charged with a disciplinary offence which is in substance the same. It also provides that no statement in the course of informal resolution of a complaint may be admissible in subsequent criminal, civil or disciplinary proceedings unless it consists of, or includes, an admission relating to a matter that falls to he resolved informally.
Article 23 follows the procedures adopted here by providing for the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the Chief Constable about the discharge of his functions under this order and otherwise in connection with discipline. It also requires the commission to have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State on matters affecting the preferring or withdrawing of disciplinary charges. The guidance we intend to issue will be similar to that issued by the Home Office.
Article 24 deals with the constitution and proceedings of the Police Association and allows the Secretary of State, after consultation with the association, to make 818 regulations enabling the association or any of its sections, which includes the Police Federation, to make rules regarding its constitution and proceedings. Again, that is in line with the provisions that exist in England and Wales and follows the recommendations of Sir Edmund Davies in this respect.
Article 25 allows the Chief Constable to investigate complaints against traffic wardens and for the Police Authority to deal with such complaints. Articles 26 and 27 set out the various amendments and repeals. Schedule 1 deals with the constitution and membership of the new commission and schedule 2 with repeals.
In bringing forward this legislation, I am conscious of the considerable measure of support for the RUC which already exists within the law-abiding community in Northern Ireland, and that the RUC, by upholding the law in an impartial but effective manner, continues to strengthen its acceptability throughout the community. However, attitudes to policing, which have at times been coloured by events of the immediate or distant past, continue to be influenced by those who, for political purposes, would seek to create and exploit divisions in the community by bringing a political dimension to policing where none exists; and by lawless elements who wish to diminish and undermine the effectiveness of the RUC to create an unstable environment in which their own brand of subversion might flourish. Against that background, it is important for the whole community in Northern Ireland, and not least for the police themselves, for support for the police to be developed and strengthened in a responsive and positive manner.
However, it is also important to recognise that an effective procedure for handling complaints against the RUC will not, of itself, cure all the real or imagined ills that affect the relationship between the police and the public, and that no matter how effective the police investigation may be, nor how closely supervised, it must nevertheless operate within the constraints of the ordinary criminal law. Police officers suspected of committing criminal or disciplinary offences must have the same rights and privileges as members of the general public who may be suspected of breaking the law. As the Police Complaints Authority in England and Wales stated in its first report:No one is the less a citizen for being a policeman and every police officer is entitled to a citizen's rights. These include being presumed innocent of crime or indiscipline until the contrary is proved. The standard of proof prescribed by law is the same for both criminal and disciplinary charges; they must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt".Nevertheless, every citizen has a right to expect that those whose duty it is to uphold the law will do so in a way that reflects the considerable trust and responsibility that is placed upon them. While the vast majority of police officers already fulfil that expectation, those whose behaviour gives rise to legitimate cause for complaint must expect their conduct to he thoroughly but fairly investigated in order that appropriate remedial action can be taken. That is in the wider interest of the force itself. I firmly believe that these measures strike the correct balance between the need to protect the interests of the public and the need to safeguard the rights of the police, and I commend them to the House.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
In response to the Minister's comments about the order, I should like to say first that I agree absolutely with him that where 819 there is a divided community, such as we have in Northern Ireland, where there is a problem with policing, if only people would face up to it, and where there is a historical dimension to that problem, it is essential from the policing and public points of view that there is a complaints procedure that will stand up to scrutiny and that will be seen by the entire community to be effective, fair and just. It should be effective, fair and just not only to the complainant, but to the person against whom the complaint is made.
I should like to preface my remarks by saying that I should not like my comments on this—I want to make several points—to be construed, in any way, as police bashing. They are certainly not that. Nor should I like them to be seen as a way of providing ourselves with the machinery for witch hunts. I certainly do not want that because I know how counter-productive that can be. I have seen it over the years. However, I have also seen the way in which a proper means to process complaints can eat into the attitude that exists in a community, which eventually will come to see policing as a problem—not in a political context, but in that of a divided community, where policing is essential for a stable and just society. That is the end towards which we must work, and this is one of the means of doing so.
I have criticisms of this procedure, but I shall not dwell on them for too long, because many of them are self-evident. First, I am neither happy nor convinced that the proper machinery for a police complaints procedure involves the investigation being performed by the police. It is essential, especially with the tensions and divisions that exist in the north of Ireland, to have an independent investigative body. That body should be independent of the police if it is to make the sort of investigations which, of necessity, must be made in most cases. At the end of the procedure, it must at least be said that there was an independent investigation. We should not have clouds hanging it over as has happened in the past, when the accusation has been made immediately, "How can one expect justice when the police are investigating the police?" That would be a fundamental flaw.
This order would be good for a normal society and it would certainly be an advance on the complaints procedure that exists. However, in a divided society and in one that has the problems of the north of Ireland, the order has a crucial and fundamental omission and one that, in the last analysis, will have a detrimental effect on the working of the entire procedure. It is a mistake to have eliminated altogether the section 13 tribunal, to which the Minister referred. A section 13 tribunal with judicial powers could cope with many of the problems much more satisfactorily, from a public point of view. However, it would also have the teeth and the ability to deal with certain circumstances affecting the public interest. I have my doubts about whether the new procedure will do that.
I should like to make a brief point about the means of making complaints. The first and obvious point relates to the place where the complaint is made. It may seem basic, but the vast majority of the complaints that are made against the police are made by people who are dealing with a reasonably small issue, not with the type of issue that will hit the headlines, not the Samuel Devenney type of issue or the John Stalker type of issue. It is a small issue which may revolve round personality clashes or something much 820 more serious. But that person must go into a police station to make the complaint and I remind the House that police stations in Northern Ireland are not what they are here. In most circumstances they are almost fortified camps. The person is invariably young or from the other side of the tracks and he must enter what he will regard as an alien environment. He is then expected to place his hope and trust in the complaints procedure.
I have gone with young people to police stations to make complaints and it is no joke for such young people to go into an interrogation room and make a complaint. That does not lend itself to confidence in the process or begin to help a young person have confidence in the procedure. I ask the Minister to look into that as it is crucially important in making the complaint.
The Minister referred to complaints being made through a third party—either a public representative or a clergyman or solicitor. Unfortunately, the order implies that a complaint can be made only to the police. That is not written into the order, but is tucked away in the explanatory document on page four, section 16. A third party complaint system should be included in the order because it is crucial, especially in the north of Ireland where it is important that someone besides the aggrieved person can make a complaint.
In its letter to hon. Members the Police Federation for Northern Ireland states that a third-party complaint system isprobably the ultimate in mischievous busy-bodying.I believe that it will work in the opposite direction. A responsible person advising an aggrieved person will at least be able to evaluate the position and may make a direct contact with the police outside the complaints procedure and iron out the problem. Therefore, far from being busy-bodying, the involvement of a third party may be a positive step and could greatly benefit all concerned.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument. Does he agree that the aggrieved party would have to consent to the intervention of the third party, whether a clergyman or some such person? How does he propose that that consent should be demonstrated—in writing or merely orally?
§ Mr. Mallon
Page four of the explanatory document does not require that consent, and for good reason. Often people coming to my clinics to complain say, "I do not want an official complaint because if I submit one, they will lean on me."
§ Mr. Mallon
Yes. A person wanting to make a complaint to the authorities feels vulnerable. I have seen that. Young people are especially vulnerable when they take complaints themselves. But if the complaint is made through a third person the aggrieved person's position is safeguarded.
I am not convinced that the Chief Constable should have such wide powers. Essentially, it is the Chief Constable who will decide how the complaint is to be processed. There is always a subjective element in human relationships and that subjective element could be to the disadvantage of the police officer or of the complainant. However, I have grave reservations about that.
I note that the new commission will have the power to investigate any complaint that it decides to investigate. I would like to see this amended because it seems to give an 821 inordinate power to the Chief Constable, both in relation to complaints made against men in his force and in relation to the public.
The crucial element of the whole procedure is the supervisory powers. It is crucial that those supervisory powers are there. Having said that, I would like to see an independent body for investigative purposes, if there is not to be one the extensive powers to supervise and investigative complaints must exist. It must be supervision in the broadest sense of the word. It must not be a passive type of supervision. It must be supervision in a very active sense.
Members of the commission must be at liberty to monitor at close hand every stage of the investigation, to intervene if they see fit, and to direct the course which an investigation should take. There should be no bureaucratic or other obstacles placed in their path. Public confidence in the impartiality and effectiveness of the new procedure will suffer from any perception that the new commission has been prevented from carrying out its statutory role. People in the north of Ireland, from whatever part of society they come, will not take this new procedure seriously unless they are satisfied that it and the new commission will be empowered to scrutinise investigations in a way that has not existed before.
I am glad that some of the commission's powers are specified. Articles 9(5) and 9(6) empower the commission to approve or veto the appointment of an investigating officer. Subject to regulations made by the Secretary of State, it may impose requirements in respect of an investigation. However, while those two articles are welcome, the order is silent on the specifics of the supervisory role open to the commission. There is much to be said for allowing the commission to adopt its own flexibility and to create its own means of operation. But it would be undesirable if, in the absence of specific detail in this order, it was used later to attempt to justify attempted limitations of the commission's role.
I note the report of the British Police Complaints Authority and the implications made in it. I also note the scope of the investigations. I simply ask the Minister to confirm that an officer of the new complaints commission in the north of Ireland will have the same powers to accompany an investigating officer to interviews and to the scene of incidents and to attend interviews of the investigating officer with complainants and with other witnesses? The answer to that is either yes or no, but it is crucially important.
Will an officer of the commission be able to discuss with the investigating officer the plan of the investigation and to advise on the general lines of the inquiry? Will the officer be able to arrange that statements taken from witnesses or evidence collected are submitted for scrutiny? Will the officer be able to insist that the investigating officer will submit interim reports to the commission and to him? Will the officer be free to decide that witnesses should be reinterviewed or that witnesses who have not previously been interviewed by the officer charged with the investigation should be interviewed? Will the officer be free to decide what evidence should be collected that has not previously been collected or that a line of inquiry should be pursued that has not previously been pursued? Those are specific questions that arise directly from the report of the Police Complaints Board in Britain. We must have specific answers to those questions because they are crucial to confidence in this procedure and its workings.
822 When this order has been discussed and adopted, I hope that the community in the North of Ireland will have a clear and unequivocal statement of support for the new procedures from the chief constable of the RUC and from the Police Federation for Northern Ireland. I have always maintained that the resolution of the problem of policing and all its attendant problems depends on an honesty and a realism that are not just one-sided. Honesty and realism must apply across the board. The proposals in the order have no chance of working unless we get such an unequivocal statement from the chief constable of the RUC and the Police Federation for Northern Ireland. I ask them specifically when this order comes into effect to give such an unequivocal guarantee of support.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I approach this order with feelings that are very close to despair. Throughout the debate and in their opening speeches my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office spoke about the need to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary. They paid tribute to the courage of the force and recognised the difficulties of the task in which it is engaged.
To put it plainly, the order is a kick in the teeth to the ordinary men and women in the Northern Ireland police service. They deeply resent it. Ministers have met me and the Police Federation for Northern Ireland on a number of occasions and we have exchanged inordinate numbers of letters. Throughout the months of long negotiations to which I have been a party, not by one comma or one scintilla have the Government sought to meet the genuine concerns expressed to them by the federation on behalf of the men and women of the force. The Government have been totally obdurate and their obduracy is deeply resented.
I have been involved in the matter of complaints against the police for a very long time. The legislation that touches upon it has been debated in the House on innumerable occasions. I do not wish to go over what happened in the distant past, but I must say that with some notable exceptions hon. Members representing Irish constituencies who took part in the earlier debate and who have decided on their own best judgment not to take part in this debate have a good point.
This order ought to be brought before the House as a Bill. There ought to be a Standing Committee to examine all the clauses in the Bill and I o debate them and vote on each point. That Standing Committee should be able to examine those areas of the order that materially depart from the legislation agreed by the House for England and Wales.
This order is offensive in that, in significant ways, it changes the arrangements for the police in Northern Ireland in a fashion that the House rejected when it was sought to apply them to the police in England and Wales. No one knows that better than the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell).
The Police Federation of Northern Ireland wants the arrangements that affect its discipline and complaints procedures to be, as far as possible, analogous to those that apply to the other police forces in England, Wales and Scotland. That is as it should be. We expect the police in 823 Northern Ireland to behave as a British police force should—impartially, and without regard to sectional interests. Broadly speaking, that is what they are doing.
Yet the Government are seeking to apply arrangements to the police forces of Northern Ireland that are different from those that the House is willing to accept for England and Wales. There should have been a Bill and Standing Committee, and the House should have been allowed to debate and vote on those matters in which the Government are departing from the legislation on which the order was founded.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I do not intend to make a speech, but I share the hon. Gentleman's high regard for the RUC. I understand the depth of feeling with which we approach the subject. I have received a letter from the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which raised three specific points; two of them have been satisfactorily answered by the Minister.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman, not untypically, is not in the picture. My hon. Friend the Minister has been helpful in saying that he is again considering whether to introduce a discipline regulation on the grounds of political or religious discrimination, but that is not contained in the order. That would have to be brought forward separately, as a separate change in the discipline regulations.
If the hon. Gentleman had done his homework, he would have known that his intervention was wrongheaded. He does not know what he is talking about. The matter that he has raised is not in the order.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
That may be. The hon. Gentleman has been good enough to read the Police Federation's representations on that point, but he is mistaken. We are not debating that point; we shall debate it on another occasion.
I rest my case on the procedural point. It is wholly wrong for the House to be asked to take or leave an order of this type, parts of which clearly deviate from matters to which the House has agreed elsewhere. We have no choice: either we vote for the whole order, or we vote against it. I find that difficult, because I support some aspects of the order, and want to reject others. But because of this procedure, I have no opportunity to do so.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)
Is the hon. Gentleman sure that we shall have an opportunity to debate the regulations?
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
I am by no means certain of that, but I live in hope. It would be perfectly scandalous if the Government tried to introduce a new regulation based on political and religious discrimination, which would be a major departure from police discipline regulations in the rest of the country, and tried to get it through without a debate or vote. That would be monstrous. I hope that the Opposition will ensure that that does not happen.
§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
The hon. Gentleman is right to state that the Secretary of State is not obliged to bring those regulations to the House. It might be appropriate for the Minister of State to say that he will do
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
I am almost taking that for granted. As the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) raised the subject, I must say that the fundamental reason why it would be wrong to introduce into the discipline regulations of the police in Northern Ireland the notion that political discrimination shall henceforth be a discipline offence is that that would introduce politics into policing for the first time. It is clearly part of the present law, of the oath of office taken by every police officer, and of the present discipline code, that such officers should not discriminate on any grounds.
If we now introduce the adjectival type of discrimination that is called political, the inevitable consequence will be a demand for its introduction on this side of the water, too. For example, during incidents such as the miners' strike and the Wapping dispute, people would jump up and down and say that the police were using political discrimination because they had acted in a particular way towards one group or another. To try to police impartially on that basis would be nonsense. The Government are wrong-headed in this instance, and it is all part of their overall approach to the order. I apologise if I have wandered slightly from the substance of the debate.
When the issues that we are considering were first raised, I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I did so as far back as October 1986, when I pressed upon him three main principles. First, I stressed the desirability in the order that would be made to release the federation as far as possible from the leading strings of the association. The association is dealt with in a couple of places in the order. I regret to say that my right hon. Friend has failed to do that. He has done a number of things that are objectionable to the police but he has failed to do that which they requested of him. For as long as the association is in place, there is no way in which the federation, which is a constituent part of it, will be able to run its own affairs. It will not be placed in the same position as the Police Federation for England and Wales. The opportunity that was provided by the order should not have been missed.
Secondly, I asked in my letter that there should be opportunities for the federation on occasion to deal directly with the Secretary of State. That is what happens on this side of the water. The opportunity has not been taken in the order to free the federation in Northern Ireland from the association, thereby enabling it to have the access that is enjoyed on this side of the water.
§ Mr. Scott
Article 24 deals with the constitution and proceedings of the association. It enables the association or any of its sections—that includes the federation as an individual body—to make rulesrelating to its constitution and proceedings".That is exactly in line with the procedures that apply in England and Wales. As for access to Ministers, my hon. Friend knows that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are always ready to meet the federation.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
My hon. Friend continues to use that bromide. In the preceding debate I referred to a number of specific recommendations that the federation made in respect of body armour and helicopters, for example. My hon. Friend knew nothing about them and he did not refer to them in his reply. My hon. Friend does not become involved in real discussions with the federation. Instead, he goes through a stately pavan in which he appears to listen, but he takes no action. His sort 825 of consultation amounts only to that. It is exactly the same as that of the Chief Constable, who had the effrontery to say recently that he did not consult the federation before making a gagging order on the chairman because he knew that it would not agree. That is his sort of consultation, and it is similar to that of my hon. Friend.
I shall turn to some of the provisions in the order that cause great offence. The allowing of complaints to be founded against police officers on behalf of third parties without the written consent of those parties is an issue that was debated carefully by the Committee which considered the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, as it then was. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), who will speak from the Opposition Front Bench, will recall the debates that took place in Committee.
The Committee came to the conclusion that it would be unjust to a police officer to allow any third party who wished to move in on the act—a busybody, a prattler, a meddler—to pick up someone's alleged complaint and run it through the machinery of the police system without at least ensuring that the aggrieved person was sufficiently serious about his complaint at least to sign his name or make his X on a document authorising the third party to complain on his behalf. That elementary justice impressed both sides of the Committee, and I was grateful to Labour Members as well as to my Conservative colleagues for making the case and convincing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The existing provision was washed out of the Bill before the measure, which applied to England and Wales, was enacted yet this is to he introduced in Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend suggests that it is just a minor change. It is a fundamental change, because it will allow any third party who wishes to make a name for himself in the press, to show his community that he is vigorous on their behalf, to pick up any tittle-tattle, or a malicious or frivolous complaint that might have been made in the heat of the moment and then withdrawn. He can run that complaint on behalf of somebody else, even though that other party has, on cool reflection, decided not to pursue the complaint. The Police Complaints Board has found that approximately 70 per cent. of complaints made against police are withdrawn by the complainants because they have come to the conclusion, when they have cooled down a bit, that they have no complaint to make.
This will be a busybodies' charter, allowing third parties to complain against police officers. I remind the House that, once a complaint is made, police officers are suspended, they go on no courses, their pay can be cut and their wives and families are under a cloud for a considerable time; all on the undocumented, second-hand complaint of a person who does not have to get the written agreement of the person on whose behalf he is complaining. That is unjust and the Government should not introduce this.
If we had had a proper Committee stage of a Bill, I am sure that the result would have been exactly the same as it was in the case of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act: all parties, having examined the case, would have thrown it out and the Government would have agreed. But, unfortunately, the Northern Ireland Office runs what is in effect a dictatorship. It can take this House for granted, because it can make orders of this kind and there is no way that we can effectively debate and amend them. Consequently, my hon. Friend is getting away with an injustice to the police and none of his bland words will 826 make any difference. He has succeeded in imposing this on Northern Ireland police because of their unique position, but he will not impose it on police in England, Wales and Scotland. They will go to the aid of their colleagues in Northern Ireland, through whatever lawful course is open to them, to resist this to the end. We will get it changed one way or the other, because it is unjust.
The second matter I raise is one which my hon. Friend slid over by saying again that it is not an important change. The chief officer, the new complaints authority or the Police Authority of Northern Ireland will be able to take up what are politely called non-complaint matters because there is public interest. I do not object to the Police Authority, the complaints authority, the commission or anybody else raising a matter of obvious public interest, but I am concerned that too often it is media-led.
Most of us have seen in recent weeks how the media have seized on a matter and made a great song and dance about it; therefore, pressure is created. My hon. Friend, in correspondence with me, has said that where there is pressure of this kind it will be appropriate under this new order that the matter should be looked into. The obnoxious phrase contained in the order is "any matter" affecting the conduct of a police officer.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that I am objecting to article 8(2), which is the means by which it will be applied differently in Northern Ireland. The House must face the fact that a police officer is just as much a citizen as anybody else. My hon. Friend in his reply used some splendid words about police officers being treated no differently from anyone else. That is not the case. A police officer is always under discipline and he is always, theoretically at least, on duty.
The phrase "any matter" means in practice that the police commission, the complaints commission and the Chief Constable may deal with those issues which are the private business of police officers in their own homes. It is the universal encyclopaedic power of the Secretary of State and of the commission to deal with any matter that is an intrusion upon the civil liberties of police officers. We do not have that on this side of the water; we do under article 8(1) but not under article 8(2). My hon. Friend has not studied the order carefully. This will allow the commission to deal with the private lives of police officers in a fashion that I regard as intolerable.
There is much I could say, but the hour is late and other hon. Members wish to speak. I wish to remind the House of two things. My hon. Friend, who has been in his job for a long time—he may feel that it has been too long—is regarded as an expert on police matters. I am not, but I take a keen interest in them. I do not think that my hon. Friend has a clue about what discipline can be like for young police officers in the circumstances of Northern Ireland. A young police officer who is charged by the assistant commissioner and who is dealt with by the Chief Constable is the loneliest man on earth. He can be arbitrarily transferred, bullied or treated in a way of which my hon. Friend has no idea. My hon. Friend's notion that somehow or other fair is fair and it all works out in the end is rubbish.
I know as of now that at a closed meeting of the federation not long ago a young sergeant expressed 827 himself about the agonies of the duties that he had to carry out. As a free man, he is entitled to express himself as a federation representative in a closed meeting. There was a leak of what he said. In fact, there was a tape. The Chief Constable found out about it. That man is now on a discipline charge because he said things in that closed meeting of the federation that the Chief Constable did not like. The Chief Constable used the ominous phrase "discreditable conduct". That can mean anything.
Police officers do go wrong. Sometimes they bully and sometimes they are guilty of using excessive force. We do not want those people in the police force. But the police are just as much bullied as bullying. There is injustice to police officers as well. What my hon. Friend is doing tonight is making that much more likely and much easier. It is deeply resented.
Some of the information that my hon. Friend has been passing to me and to the federation and some of the things that he has said tonight are misleading. He originally claimed that the Government had accepted Lord Scarman's amendment. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough knows that Lord Scarman's amendment on the racial offence, which he supported, was rejected by the Government on three-line Whips in Committee and on the Floor of the House. For my hon. Friend to have stated in writing that the Government accepted it is not the truth. At the end of the day, because we were up against the buffers in that we were rising for the last election, the Government had no choice but to scupper the whole Bill or accept what the House of Lords had done. To suggest that the justification for a political religious offence in Northern Ireland is that the Government had accepted Lord Scarman's amendment for England and Wales is wide of the truth.
I take these matters seriously and I study them carefully with the police. Perhaps the Minister knows what he is doing, or perhaps he does not, but he has signed letters to me that have been positively misleading. He has no business to have done so.
The order has some provisions which I cannot oppose, so I cannot vote against it. But it has many provisions which are deeply offensive to the police service and they make my hon. Friend's rhetoric about support for the police sound very hollow. Tonight he has done a disservice to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and the men and women of that force will for a long time associate his name personally with the damage he has done to their lives.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Rightly or wrongly, I did not follow the advice of my party's Whips, and voted against the Anglo-Irish Agreement. In the time available tonight, I shall raise two specific matters relating to policing.
On 30 April, I asked the Prime Ministerif she will refer to the Security Commission recent allegations relating to the conduct of the late Sir Maurice Oldfield."—[Official Report, 30 April 1987; Vol. 115, c. 202.]The Prime Minister referred me to the answer that she had given to the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker). The Prime Minister's answer was ambiguous. It asked more questions than it answered. I am certain that the friends and family of the late Sir Maurice Oldfield are distressed at the ambiguity.
828 There is rather more to the matter than meets the eye. MI5 has been circulating a so-called gay story—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. I find it difficult to see what connection there is between the hon. Gentleman's remarks and the Police (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. I hope that he will address himself to the order.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It refers to the handling of complaints. We are discussing Northern Ireland policing, are we not, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
The story was commented on in Oldfield's biography by Richard Deacon, and it dismissed the Pincher story out of hand, as indeed does Sir Maurice Oldfield's biographer, Anthony Cavendish. When Oldfield was liaison officer——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is difficult to see any connection between the hon. Gentleman's speech and the order. If he cannot make the connection much more clear, I must ask him to resume his seat.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not want to be out of order, but I thought that this was an order on Northern Ireland policing.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The order's purpose is to establish a police complaints procedure in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
I have some sympathy for my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). He was seeking to make points on complaints in Northern Ireland as they related to past incidents. He has made a point tonight, and it may be taken up elsewhere.
I shall refer briefly to the remarks of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths). Of course the hon. Member knows, as I know, that we sat together through 59 Standing Committee sittings on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. When Mary Queen of Scots died, there was a certain name upon her heart. Possibly when we pass on, it will — [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) corrects me. It was Mary Tudor. He is perfectly right. That is what happens when one comments extemporaneously from a standing position.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
It is an interesting point. At that time, Calais was fully integrated with this country, sending two burgesses to the House.
§ Mr. Bell
The burgesses are still in the House. They are standing outside in Victoria Tower gardens as Rodin's "Burghers of Calais".
I shall relate the fact that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and I sat through 59 Standing Committee sittings on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, which became an Act of Parliament in 1984, to the intervention made by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). It is perfectly right that, in any other situation, the speech made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds would have been of such persuasiveness that a Government would have had to re-examine the matter. His points were based on obvious knowledge of the case and would have persuaded enough Committee members, 829 and certainly enough hon. Members, to urge the Government to examine it again. We are not in that situation. We are faced with a lengthy and complicated order dealing with complaints and discipline procedure. We are dealing with the objections of the Police Federation, which must be taken into account. As the hon. Gentleman said, they are on the sharp end, yet we have no way of discussing the issue in any great depth. The debate must terminate at 11.40 pm. I have some sympathy with the points that he made, and with his description of the order as a curate's egg. I must, therefore, bow to his judgment and his views on the matter, as an hon. Member who has studied it with great care.
However, we are all in the same position. There are no serried ranks here who could have been persuaded and could have overturned the Government's proposal. All that can be said in favour of the order is that it does not arise out of the Anglo-Irish Agreement—a point that was made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) in an earlier debate — but from a consultative document published in April 1985 at the behest of the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is now Home Secretary.
As the explanatory note makes clear, we are dealing with a police force that commands the support and confidence of the public whom it serves, and whose aim is the maintenance of law and order and the combating of crime. It was, I felt, rather unfortunate that the Unionist Members who were here earlier sought to intervene so often in my speech, and prevented me from making a number of points that I had wished to make about the chief constable's annual report on the police work that takes place in Northern Ireland. It is a very interesting and constructive document, and it shows many of the positive aspects of the work done by the police—not only in relation to law and order but in the combating of crime, and in seeking to bridge the gap created by the sectarian divide.
Let us now return to the context of the order, and its relationship to the laws of the United Kingdom. We have said before—and we say it again—that as long as the Northern Irish people wish, in their majority, to stay a part of the United Kingdom, they should be governed as far as possible in accordance with the laws of the United Kingdom as those laws apply to England, Scotland and Wales. At the same time, as the Minister of State said earlier, we must somehow deal with the sensitivities of Northern Ireland which are special to the Province. In dealing with these orders, we must always strike the balance between establishing whether they go far enough to conform satisfactorily with the laws of England, Scotland and Wales, and at the same time deciding whether they deal with the peculiarities of Northern Ireland and Northern Irish life as we know them. We must make a value judgment on whether the order meets our criteria.
I was minded to think that it might do so, but I am less minded following the intervention of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. At some future time—not tonight, because of the shortage of time—there will have to be a lengthier explanation of what the order is about, how it will be applied and—this question was put earlier by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) and was referred to by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds—how we shall deal with the regulations on discipline when they are forthcoming through the Secretary of State.
830 Let me end my short speech by saying that, while we have no intention of dividing the House on the issue, we must make a comment that has all-party support. It may be the last time that we can make it in these circumstances. In a new Parliament, whichever party wins the election, there must be a different way of debating Northern Irish business in the House and in Committee. In one sense, we are fortunate: in the original timetable for this week, we had another order to debate, on industrial relations in Northern Ireland. We should be thankful for small mercies. However, there must be changes in the procedures of the House to enable us to give proper credence and analysis to orders such as this.
Perhaps the Minister will be able to respond to the issue raised earlier, on whether the regulations that will be coming forward will be debated in the House, or at least debated as a statutory instrument, or whether there can be consultation on the matter that meets the requirements of those who have to enforce the law in Northern Ireland. As I said earlier, they are the people at the sharp end. They deserve our support, and they deserve not to feel any sense of injustice that may arise out of the order. All I ask the Minister to say is that after the general election there will be an opportunity for the House to deal with these matters in greater depth.
§ Mr. Scott
This particular form of legislation for Northern Ireland is not my responsibility. In due course there will be discussions about it, but let me make clear the factual position regarding the regulations that in due course will be made under the order.
Any secondary legislation that is made under this Order in Council will be dealt with according to the negative resolution procedure, and it will be for the usual channels to determine whether or not there is to be a debate on the Floor of the House. There will be extensive consultations with all those who have an interest in the drafting of the regulations.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) recognises that in discussing the shape of the order we are referring to a balance between the interests of the police and the interests of the public. Anything that tilted too much in one direction or the other would not be an acceptable way of dealing with complaints. I recognise my hon. Friend's connection with the Police Federation, and I expect him to fight for his corner on the Floor of the House, but I have a responsibility towards the whole community in Northern Ireland, as well as the one that I seek to discharge as effectively as I can towards the men and women in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I hope that any discussions that we have on the matter will be conducted on the basis of mutual respect and good will and not in the way that my hon. Friend dealt with his last few points.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) asked whether the Commission's powers of supervision are precisely the same as those that operate in England and Wales. I assure him that all the powers that are available on this side of the water will be made available to the Commission for supervising any investigations.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the places in Northern Ireland where people could register a complaint. They can complain by means of a citizens advice bureau, or a public representative—a Member of Parliament or 831 a friend—or direct to the Commission, or to the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. It is not necessary for a complaint to be registered at a police station. That will be covered by guidance, and in due course it will be issued to the public in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the role of the Chief Constable. He was in error, in that there is no subjective element in his role. Any complaint must be the subject of formal investigation and referred to the Commission, where the conduct complained of would, if proved, warrant a criminal or a discplinary charge. All formal investigations have to go to the Commission. That is covered by the order. If a complaint cannot be registered informally, it must in due course be made the subject of a formal investigation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds referred to this being a change. It is not a change. The order incorporates the practice that already exists in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. If a complaint is made by a third party, the police send an officer to interview the original complainant and ask him whether he wishes to stand by his complaint. If the complainant does not, that will be the end of the matter. Any statement made by the original complainant to the police would have to be signed, of course.
I think that my hon. Friend overestimates the difference between this arrangement for Northern Ireland and the practice in Great Britain. We have heard of one case today in which a Member of the House registered a complaint on behalf of a constituent. The force exercised its discretion, which is covered in the guidance, and did not check for written consent. A police officer then went to interview the original complainant, who did not wish to pursue the complaint. The police therefore took no further action in respect of that complaint. That is what happened with a British force and it is precisely what would happen in practice in Northern Ireland if such a step were taken.
The point of principle raised by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh is whether there should be a totally independent system of investigating complaints against the police in Northern Ireland. I know of no place in the world where such a system has operated successfully over a period. It was tried for a limited period in one force in Canada but was found to be unworkable in practice.
I believe that we have the balance right. To take away from skilled, trained detectives, able and practised in investigating complaints, assessing evidence, and so on, and to put it into the hands of a totally independent body in my view would not work in practice. The essential point is that those conducting the investigations should be accountable to a body that is independent both of the police force and of the Government. I believe that that is the right way to go ahead. To imagine that one could establish some totally independent body with totally separate training which could then investigate matters which are very much within the police family is, in my view, an unrealistic expectation.
I believe that it is right to leave the actual investigation in the hands of the police but to provide extensive supervisory powers — they were read out by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh in a series of questions, all of which I answered in the affirmative—to supervise the investigation, to decide the investigating officer, to ask for further evidence to be produced, and so on. I believe 832 that that kind of control and accountability by those carrying out the investigation and those whose duty it is to supervise it will provide the best balance in the interests of both police and public in Northern Ireland. I very much hope that the police and the public in Northern Ireland will give the new legislation a fair wind as I believe that it can operate very clearly in the interests of both parties, and I hope that that is how it will be seen to operate in due course.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I wish to ask a question about a specific complaint by the friends of the late Sir Maurice Oldfield. They feel that the position has been made quite impossible. The dead have rights in these matters and the innuendo has been left that Sir Maurice had some kind of homosexual relationship at the Highwayman inn in the North, although it is incredible to suppose how he got there when he did not even have a driving licence. All that smear and innuendo surrounding the dead should be cleared up far more satisfactorily than has been done by the Prime Minister's statement.
If the idea is that something happened above the loft in his flat, it should be remembered that there was electronic surveillance operating there almost the whole time and evidence that has come to me from Sir Maurice's bodyguards makes it clear that there could have been no such goings on at the time when he had those very sensitive jobs. Surely we owe it to the dead to clear their names completely and not leave ambiguous statements. All I ask is that this particular complaint should be examined seriously by Ministers.
§ Mr. Scott
I admire the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity in introducing these matters into a debate on a police complaints order, but they are not within my competence or responsibility. I admire the dedication which led the hon. Gentleman to raise the subject on behalf of the family of Sir Maurice Oldfield and I am sure that those who have competence in these matters will read what the hon. Gentleman has said and will determine what action may be taken.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 79, Noes 13.833
|Division No. 158]||[11.39 pm|
|Baldry, Tony||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Jackson, Robert|
|Beith, A. J.||Kennedy, Charles|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Key, Robert|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Cash, William||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Cope, John||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Lester, Jim|
|Durant, Tony||Lilley, Peter|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Lord, Michael|
|Forth, Eric||McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Malone, Gerald|
|Fraser, Peter (Angus East)||Marland, Paul|
|Galley, Roy||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Ground, Patrick||Mitchell, David (Hants NW)|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Needham, Richard|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Nelson, Anthony|
|Harvey, Robert||Neubert, Michael|
|Heddle, John||Norris, Steven|
|Hirst, Michael||Ottaway, Richard|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Portillo, Michael||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Powley, John||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Wallace, James|
|Rowe, Andrew||Waller, Gary|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Watts, John|
|Scott, Nicholas||Wheeler, John|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Whitfield, John|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)||Wood, Timothy|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Mr. Richard Ryder and Mr. David Lightbown.|
|Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Beggs, Roy||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)|
|Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)||Taylor, Rt Hon John David|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Maginnis, Ken||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Mr. Willian Ross and Rev. William McCrea.|
|Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. E.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the draft Police (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, which was laid before this House on 16th December, be approved.