HL Deb 16 April 1973 vol 341 cc891-5

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider appointing local independent panels to consider complaints against the police, when made through recognised bodies such as community associations.


My Lords, the Police Act 1964 provides that where a chief officer of police receives a complaint against the police from a member of the public he shall cause it to be investigated, and, unless satisfied from the report of the investigation that no criminal offence has been committed, send the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary does not intend to propose changes on the lines suggested by the noble Lord in the arrangements for investigating complaints but, as he announced on February 23, he is consulting the police service and police authorities with a view to working out and introducing arrangements with an independent element for ex post facto reviews of the handling of complaints against the police.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Viscount, particularly for the last part of his remarks, may I ask him this? Would it not be better if there were an independent inquiry, as he has possibly indicated, into these complaints? Is he aware, for example, that a London community association doing very good work under difficult circumstances has made 40 complaints in six months? It has not received one reply from the High Commissioner, and it has never received a reply recognising any foundation for complaint. This particular association vets all complaints before it forwards them to the police.


My Lords, the most profitable thing to do is to continue with the discussions that my right honourable friend initiated as a result of the speech that he made in February. There are various problems about this matter. There is the pure volume of complaints there is the degree of expertise which is involved inside the discipline of the service which has to be taken into account. I am sure that the noble Lord will recognise this. As for the community associations, I would welcome details of unrequited requests, but so far as I know a complaint from a community organisation, or any other organisation, would ordinarily be investigated in the normal way, subject to the complaint's being confirmed by the individual concerned. That may be the sticking point. If the noble Lord would like to tell me details I should be glad to know them.


My Lords, will the noble Viscount confirm that, while there will always be individual lapses in a large body of men, we have the best police force in the world and the British public have every confidence in the police force?


My Lords, the police force is not something I deal with day to day, but I have seen a number of the reports that they have prepared as a result of complaints of this nature. I am immensely impressed and I am glad to have the noble Lord's confirmation that this is more widespread than my own experience.


My Lords, would it not be some protection to the police, and remove a lot of suspicion, if all inquiries were made by an independent body? Does the noble Viscount remember that an Amendment along these lines was moved in another place during the passage of the Police Bill?—in fact, I think I moved it. Is it not time that we caught up with this?


My Lords, this whole matter was fully discussed in another place on the Second Reading of a Private Member's Bill on February 23. It would repay noble Lords to study the debate, in the course of which my right honourable friend made the announcement to which I have already referred. It is not quite as simple as the noble Lord, Lord Royle, suggested, but the exploration that I mentioned is now going ahead.


My Lords, the noble Viscount spoke of consultations between his right honourable friend and the two organisations within the police force. Could the noble Viscount say whether it is the Home Secretary's intention to discuss these matters with other recognised bodies in this field? Although one takes the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King (and I am certain all of us would approve of what he said), if there is any question of doubt it should be examined by an impartial body. Would the noble Viscount consider with his right honourable friend whether the degree of discussions could be widened beyond that within the police force?


My Lords, I do not think I shall bring down coals of fire on my head if I say that representations on this subject would be very welcome. Whether it would go to the extent of full involvement at every detail of the discussions I cannot promise, but those discussions are going on with the Police Service and the police authorities. If others wish to make representations on this without saying what the detailed involvement would later be I am sure this would be welcome.


My Lords, in the light of what the noble Viscount has said, that he would welcome representations, could he make that more widely known than just within your Lordships' House so that if an organisation desire to make representations they know they will be welcome?


Yes, my Lords, I will consider how this can be done. I will see how this ought to be properly handled. I cannot believe in principle that there is anything wrong in what I have said. I will see what I can do about the noble Lord's suggestion.


My Lords, in the consideration given to this matter will note be taken of the fact that within the Police Service a terrific amount of time is spent on investigation of these complaints, some of which are serious, but some of which are entirely frivolous? As as an example, on one occasion a complaint was made because a policeman dropped a toffee paper while walking over Westminster Bridge. Would the noble Viscount take into account the time that is being spent in the Police Service in investigating such matters?


Yes, my Lords, this was part of the volume, and, indeed, I now add the triviality of some of the complaints, all of which engage both police and theoretically any other body that might be set up.


My Lords, did I correctly understand the noble Viscount to say that after inquiries into an alleged complaint against the police the matter is automatically passed on for examination by the public prosecutor? If such is the case, I take it that the Law Officers of the Crown—the Attorney General, for example—would have had some reason for examination before the matter went to the public prosecutor.


No, my Lords. What I said—and I do not blame the noble Lord, Lord Slater, for not having followed the whole of my Answer—was that, unless the result of the police investigation was that no criminal offence had been committed, the report was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is not sent to either of my right honourable friends the Law Officers it goes to the D.P.P.


My Lords, I appreciate the general tenor of the noble Viscount's reply, and is be aware that I did not wish to imply any general criticism of the police? Nor did I wish that this matter should be related only to the non-white population. Is he aware that within the police force there is a considerable desire that there shall be independent inquiries which would justify the attitude that they have taken?


My Lords, I am grateful for the points that the noble Lord has made. I am aware of all of them and it is on the last point particularly that we should wish to have the views of the police forces who take a great deal of trouble on the immigrant side and on the general public relations side. They are also anxious to see that all their procedures are beyond suspicion in every respect.

Back to