HC Deb 20 January 1998 vol 304 cc519-20W
Mr. Willis

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if he will repeal those sections of the Local Government Act 1992 which prevent the publication of internal discipline investigations by individual police forces; [23412]

(2) what plans he has to make public reports relating to investigations into the sexual harassment of women police officers at Harrogate Police Station in the early 1990s; [23362]

(3) what plans he has to introduce legislation to ensure that internal police disciplinary investigations are not automatically subject to public interest immunity; [23364]

(4) what plans he has to allow individual police authorities to decide whether to publish the finding of internal discipline investigations within individual police forces. [23363]

Mr. Michael

None of the information relating to internal police investigations is held by my right hon. Friend and its disclosure is therefore a matter not for him but for the police authority or the chief constable.

Public interest immunity arises only in the context of court proceedings. It does not arise as of right but requires there to be both a risk of harm if disclosure did take place and a balance between the risk of harm and the interests of justice. So far, the courts have accepted that the risk of harm in disclosing public investigation reports justifies their non-disclosure but the matter has to be considered in the context of each case.

The publication of information under the Local Government Act 1992 relates to information on standards of performance. The Local Government Act 1972 gives the public a right to certain information, including information about meetings held by the police authority. It is not a free standing right to inspect documents held by the authority. Where information does fall to be disclosed under the 1972 Act, there are exemptions which prevent disclosure about certain matters which includes information about particular employees/office holders.

The Government are considering extending the range of information available to the public. Their proposals were set out in the White Paper "Your Right to Know" which was issued for consultation on 11 December 1997.

We have made it clear that we wish to increase public confidence in the complaints and discipline system and we will consider how this might be done in the light of the report published last week by the Home Affairs Select Committee.