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Police (Complaints And Discipline)

Volume 932: debated on Monday 16 May 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

9.45 p.m.

I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Police (Complaints) (General) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 578), dated 28th March 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th April, be annulled.

It will be for the convenience of the House if we discuss with this the following motions:

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Police (Copies of Complaints) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 579), dated 28th March 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th April, be annulled.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Police (Discipline) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 580), dated 28th March 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th April, be annulled.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Police (Discipline) (Senior Officers) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 581), dated 28th March 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th April, be annulled.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Police (Amendment) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 582), dated 28th March 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th April, be annulled.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Police Federation (Amendment) Regulations 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 583), dated 28th March 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th April, be annulled.

May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether I speak first in praying against the regulations or whether the Minister explains them beforehand?

I hope that the Under-Secretary will find that there are sufficient speakers during the course of this short debate on the regulations to enable her to obtain a little advice from her officials on the specific points I shall raise, because I appreciate that it will be difficult for her to be able to deal with my queries directly I have concluded my speech.

The regulations are extensive and complex. It will be necessary for me to ask a number of questions seeking explanations and assurances. It is a pity that the Government should be in a hurry to implement details of the Police Act 1976 which many officers from Sir Robert Mark, lately Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, downwards find at best irrelevant and at worst counter-productive and obnoxious in terms of the efficient performance by the police of their duties.

To add insult to injury, the piece of bureaucracy now being set up under these regulations incurs and entails an open-ended and unspecified public expenditure commitment about which the Government have shown none of the scruples which they exhibit so relentlessly and uncompromisingly over police pay. Would that they would reverse their priorities and seek a contented police force before an expanded bureaucracy. Alas, that is not the way they are looking at the question.

I now turn to the regulations and deal first with Statutory Instrument No. 578. Can the Minister elaborate on the circumstances mentioned in Regulation 4, under which, in certain circumstances, the Complaints Board need not forward a complaint to the chief officer, particularly where it is against the complainant's wishes that the complaint should be so forwarded? It seems a rather curious and, perhaps, a rather serious situation that, if a complaint happens to be routed via the Board, there are circumstances in which the Board need not bring the complaint to the attention of the chief officer. What then becomes of the chief officer's statutory duty under Section 49 of the Police Act 1964 to cause an investigation to be made, and particularly under Section 49(3) of that Act, under which chief officers may have cause to refer an investigation to the Director of Public Prosecutions?

It seems a very serious matter that it is possible now to route to the Board a public complaint which could in certain circumstances get no further and, indeed, perhaps result in no proper investigation being made.

While I am still dealing with Statutory Instrument No. 578, perhaps I could also ask the hon. Lady to consider the matter of time lapse, where an investigation appears to be dragging on somewhat. The question of time lapse is considered in Regulation 5 on page 2, and in Regulation 6, on page 3. Under Regulation 5 the chief officer of police has to make quite certain that if four or more months have elapsed since he received the complaint he goes through a certain procedure to bring the Police Complaints Board up to date about what is happening and why it is taking so long, but there is no reference here to what should be said to the wretched police officer who is the subject of the complaint.

Can the hon. Lady say why it has not been spelt out that the police officer who is the subject of the complaint should also be told, after a lapse of four months or more, what is happening and what the delay is, and why it should be only the Board that is so informed? It seems particularly heartless that the bureaucratic body should be so informed when the wretched police officer who is the subject of a complaint and may be subject to suspension of pay is not included.

I have an idea that the guidance given by the Home Office in this matter may actually suggest that the police officer should be quietly told what is going on, but I do not see why it should not be spelt out in the Regulations. It is much more important than informing the wretched bureaucracy about the delay.

It is quite possible that the Board itself may cause delay in the consideration that it is giving to complaints handed on by the chief officer. Here we come to Regulation 6. It is rather ironic for anyone who reads these regulations to find that the first half of page 3 is taken up with a detailed specification of what the police shall have to do about bucking up and making quite certain that they give up-to-date information about the progress of the case, and so on, but that Regulation 6, relating to the functions of the Police Complaints Board, simply tells us that the case must be dealt with by the Board
"without undue delay and shall take such decisions as appear to them appropriate for the purposes thereof as soon as is practicable".
Why on earth, again, is the wind tempered to the poor shorn lamb of the bureaucracy? Why should the Police Complaints Board be allowed to get away with the bland, all-embracing, unembarrassing reference to proceeding
"without undue delay"
"as soon as is practicable"
whereas practically two pages of the Regulations are taken up with telling police officers how essential it is that they should make haste, and so on? Again it seems to me quite unreasonable. I hope that the hon. Lady will comment on that matter.

I come now to Statutory Instrument No. 579; the second in the order that I am taking them. I wonder whether the hon. Lady, looking at Regulation 3(1) on the front face of this single-page Statutory Instrument, will say why, in a circumstance in which no disciplinary charges are to be preferred—this is spelt out in the last four lines on the page—the police officer has to take an initiative in requesting a copy of the complaint. Why should it not be sent to him automatically?

After all, a copy of the complaint made by a member of the public is sent to the police officer automatically in cases where disciplinary charges are to be preferred. That is spelt out clearly in Regulation 11 of Statutory Instrument No. 580. Where, however, no disciplinary charges are to be preferred, apparently the officer has to take the initiative himself in writing to the chief officer concerned in order to obtain details of the complaint which has been made.

It is no answer to that query to refer to the possible prejudicing of criminal investigation or proceedings which are pending, to which reference is made in Regulation 3(2) of Statutory Instrument No. 579, under which the chief officer may refuse to comply with a request that a copy of the complaint be sent to the constable or officer accused if
"he is of the opinion that to do so might prejudice any criminal investigation".
Surely that is a red herring in this context, because if a criminal investigation is going forward there can be no proceedings under the discipline regulations until the reference regarding possible criminal charges has been made to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the charge is disposed of. There are two quite distinct and sequential steps here in terms of time. There is the question of possible criminal proceedings, and only when that has been disposed of can a possible disciplinary charge arise.

There can, therefore, be no inhibition upon the chief officer in sending to the officer concerned details of the complaint under the discipline regulations because there might be a criminal dimension to it. The criminal dimension must by definition have been disposed of before the disciplinary question can arise.

It seems to us unreasonable that there should be two standards in this matter, that the police officer should automatically receive a copy of the complaint if charges are to be preferred but that if charges are not to be preferred he has to take the trouble of writing off to the chief officer for it. In such circumstances, the chief officer may exert influence or unofficial pressure on him not to press for a copy of the complaint.

We know that the reason why the police officer wants to get hold of a copy of the complaint is that he may in future want to take civil proceedings in slander or libel. Why, therefore, should he not be allowed automatically to see the complaint where there is to be no disciplinary charge preferred?

As I say, I hope that the hon. Lady can disentangle the irrelevant references to criminal proceedings in this context made in Regulation 3(2)(a) of Statutory Instrument No. 579.

My hon. Friend will have noticed from the explanatory note that where the deputy chief constable is of opinion that there might be the slightest possibility of a criminal matter he will be required, without discretion, to refer it automatically to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In such cases, probably covering a large number of complaints, the Board would not come into it at all, so that that is otiose.

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for underlining the point that there is a clear requirement under Section 49(3) of the Police Act 1964 to refer an investigation to the Director of Public Prosecutions first of all if there is the slightest possibility—

without discretion—if there is the slightest possibility that a minor traffic or other offence may be technically criminal. It has to be sent to the Director, and as a result of that very act of reference it passes out of the ambit of the Police Complaints Board. I hope that the hon. Lady has taken the point and can reassure us.

I turn now to the third in this series of Statutory Instruments, No. 580, the substantial and bulky regulations entitled "The Police (Discipline) Regulations 1977." I should like first to raise a point about references to the Director of Public Prosecutions under Section 49(3) of the 1964 Act to which I have referred. There is little, if any reference to the DPP in this Statutory Instrument, and I should like to know whether the hon. Lady can fill in the rôle of the DPP in these regulations.

Regulation 8(1) on page 4 says:
"The decision whether or not the member subject to investigation should be charged with an offence shall…be taken by the chief officer concerned after considering the report of the investigating officer."
It is after considering the report of the investigating officer that one has to read in there, although no reference is made to it, that the chief officer will refer the case to the DPP if there is any scope to do so.

However, the hon. Lady will know that there is no mention of the possible reference or the prior reference of an investigation to the Director of Public Prosecutions in Regulation 11(1) on page 5. We read there that where a police officer is charged with an offence he has to be supplied with a whole bundle of copies of statements or bits of evidence that will enable him to set up his defence and decide how he will answer the charge. One of the things that is not included here is whether any reference of his case has been made to the DPP. He must know whether a reference has been made to the DPP so that he can decide whether he thinks that a case of double jeopardy has arisen and he has been unfairly charged on a matter that has already been referred to the DPP.

He needs to know at least that the statutory procedures under Section 49 of the Police Act 1964 have been carried out and the question of criminal charges has been considered, but there is no reference in Regulation 11 to the information with which the police officer has to be furnished about whether the case has been routed via the DPP or whether consideration has been given to that possibility and has been decided against. It would be helpful to the police officer to know whether Section 49(3) of the Police Act 1964 has been properly complied with. I hope that the hon. Lady can arrange, either through guidance or in some other way, to make certain that the police officer is told about this.

There is a second question that I should like to raise on Regulation 11(1). I wonder whether the hon. Lady would be kind enough to elaborate the meaning, import and purpose of the phrase contained in Regulation 1(1)(b). There we read that the police officer is to be supplied with copies
"of the report, allegation or complaint on which the charge is founded (or so much thereof as relates to the accused)".
That is rather a disconcerting situation, because it implies, at least prima facie, that a kind of limited report about the nature of the complaint—a bowdlerised copy of the original complaint—may be in order for the officer who is under charge. Such a bowdlerised or limited complaint would be in order if part of the complaint related to a general charge against police procedures or against police administration at large and not to the conduct of an individual officer. If that wider charge is included in the complaint, it is reasonable to cut off the bits of the complaint that relate to the general charges and send to the officer only that which relates to his individual conduct.

It is not satisfactory if that which is to be excluded from the report sent to the accused under Regulation 11(1)(b) includes a possible serious libel made against the officer and amounting to a criminal charge which has been looked at by the Director of Public Prosecutions and ruled by him either not to be susceptible of a charge or one which should not be pursued in the public interest.

If the portion of the report containing a serious libel which the Director has ruled should not be the subject of a criminal charge is chopped off the document which is sent to the accused, this is a detriment to his right to take proceedings in a matter which may amount to slander or defamation. If the words in brackets in the sub-paragraph mean that it is permissible to detach, exclude or censor certain allegations made about the individual officer, it is unacceptable. I hope that the hon. Lady will give us assurances on this matter.

Turning to page 14 of Statutory Instrument No. 580, I should be glad if the hon. Lady would help us on a question arising on Schedule 2(6)(c). There is a phrase there which has given rise to grave disquiet in the police service. I understand that Regulation 7(4) of the Police Federation Regulations 1969 says:
"Without prejudice to any arrangement for informal consultation… the Federation may make written representation to the chief officer or the police authority."
To cut through the technicalities, I understand that the existing practice is that the Federation is empowered—by precedent, tradition or regulation—to enage in informal consultations with the chief officer or a police authority about matters which profoundly disturb it.

Schedule 6 states that an
"offence is committed where a member of a police force—
(c) without proper authority"—
those are the words which have given rise to doubt—
"makes representations to the police authority or the council of any county".
The question on which we want assurance is whether the phrase "without proper authority" overrides the hitherto unfettered freedom of the Federation to engage in the informal consultations which are spelt out in the earlier Police Federation Regulations. We hope that the phrase in Schedule 2(6)(c)
"without proper authority, makes representations to the police authority"
does not destroy the Federation's existing well-established rights to engage in informal consultation. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) agrees that it is important to have this matter cleared up.

I am sorry to tell the Under-Secretary that I must now switch her attention back to page 8 in the same Regulations and refer to Regulation 16(8), which refers to the confidentiality of questions about whether a decision was reached unanimously or by a majority. The hon. Lady will note that the operative phrase there is in the last two lines of the paragraph:

"the decision may be a majority decision but it shall not be indicated whether it was taken unanimously or by a majority."

That is unsatisfactory from the point of view of the accused officer. For example, in deciding whether to pursue an appeal to the chief constable or the Secretary of State it becomes relevant to him to know whether the decision on his case was taken unanimously or by majority.

Suppose that one-third of the membership of the tribunal was against the verdict. It is relevant to the accused officer that he should know that, because it would no doubt influence his decision as to whether there might be good cause for him to appeal. If, however, he is not to know whether the verdict was reached by unanimous vote or by majority vote, he will have to give himself the benefit of the doubt and refer everything to the Secretary of State on appeal.

My hon. Friend is on an important point. A minority of one against the decision may well be the chief officer, the chairman of the tribunal. Surely that is all the more reason why the officer complained against should know, because if it should turn out that the man who was on his side, as it were, was his chief officer, who would have to apply the discipline even if he did not believe in the verdict, it would be pertinent to the decision as to whether there should be an appeal.

My hon. Friend has underlined even more starkly why we should have this further protection or reassurance to the accused officer.

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether there are parallels for what he is suggesting in the case of any other tribunals, boards or assessors? There is certainly none in the Home Office.

There is no precedent for this peculiar body. It is a one-off situation introducing a new dimension into the handling of complaints by the public against the police. Whatever the precedent or otherwise, there is intrinsic merit, in the context of this new procedure, for making sure that the officer concerned has at least some specific information.

I do not know whether the hon. Lady will be able to deal with this substantial number of specific points. These are matters of vital importance to the police service. Individuals will be profoundly affected in the context of the police disciplinary regulations involving suspension, loss of pay or promotion and all sorts of other personal hazards. It is, therefore, vitally important to get the answers to these points. I understand the hon. Lady's difficulty in providing complete answers tonight, but that is part of the difficulty of our procedure in dealing with delegated legislation. I hope that she will give serious consideration to these matters and write to us about them if she cannot reply to them tonight.

One way out of the difficulty could have been by the hon. Gentleman giving me notice of the points he intended to raise.

I applied my mind to considering these matters and all the possibilities only at the start of today, and the hon. Lady would not have been able to read my writing in the form in which I considered them. No doubt she will be able to give us some answers in the debate, but I hope she can reassure us that she will write to us on the points she is not able to deal with once she is able to see Hansard for today, although that may be many moons away. We want reassurance on these points.

I ask the hon. Lady to look at Statutory Instrument No. 580. Regulation 22 (6)(a), referring to the evidence to be considered by the chief officer before passing judgment, states that
"he shall have regard to the accused's record of police service as shown on his personal record and may receive evidence from any witness whose evidence would, in his opinion, assist him in determining the question".
This is a rather unsatisfactory proposal. The chief officer, before he decides what punishment to pass, can call in an anonymous and unspecified witness on the character of the accused. Why is there this coyness and anonymity about the witness being called in to give evidence of character? Surely the individual's name should be made available to the accused so that he knows who is giving evidence about him. This information should be made available to the accused in the statement and other items in Regulation 11(1) that are sent to the unfortunate person. This is most unsatisfactory.

The unknown witness may be hostile. He may be the chap's last employer or someone with whom he has had a row. The accused should be told if the chief officer is to take evidence from some other witness. In the proceedings, the evidence of witnesses is given in open court and is seen and heard by the accused officer. He knows who has produced it. The same principle should apply to references to his character.

On the last but one of the Statutory Instruments—No. 582—some explanation is needed for the layman. Am I right in assuming that, following the ending of a period of suspension relating to a potential or actual disciplinary offence, the officer gets back the pay that he lost during the suspension period? I understand that that is broadly the impact of the instrument—that, if he is suspended pending an investigation, when he returns to duty following the period of suspension, regardless of the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings, he will recoup what he has lost in pay during the suspension.

What will happen in cases not just of disciplinary suspension but suspension in the light of a possible criminal charge but one that fails to materialise either through insufficient evidence or because the Director of Public Prosecutions decides that he will not pursue the criminal charge in court? In these circumstances—with no charges brought in the end—does the accused officer get the same treatment as he would have had on a disciplinary charge?

The last instrument—No. 583—which is mercifully short, has its punchline in the last paragraph. This regulation enables Police Federation funds to be used in cases where an officer is libelled or slandered and the libel or slander, statement or alleged statement, appears to the committee
"(a) to relate to his conduct as a member of a police force, or
(b) to disparage him in the office of constable or otherwise to cast doubt upon his fitness to be a member of a police force."
I want an assurance about a dispute that might arise between a police officer and a member of the public resulting in a complaint raised in a non-duty situation. There could be a case in which there was a dispute between neighbours. A policeman might have a row with his next-door neighbour over something that was nothing whatever to do with his police duties or his actions in the context of his uniformed or other official duties. Is it possible for Police Federation funds to be used where a libel or slander arises in such a situation? Prima facie it does not seem, according to the specification in subparagraphs (a) and (b) at the end of the Statutory Instrument, as if Federation funds can be used except in incidents in the course of duty.

As I understand them, however, the police discipline regulations overflow into the private civil life of the police officer, so that under regulations he can be charged with a disciplinary offence even when he is not doing something in the course of his police duties. It seems absolutely essential that the use of Federation funds should go pari passu with that and extend at least as far as the disciplinary regulations. I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to give us some assurances about that.

I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the hon. Lady, for the difficulty with which we are faced in asking questions about this complex set of regulations. I assure the hon. Lady that if I had been able to send her a typescript in advance I should willingly have done so. I appreciate her difficulty. However, I hope that she will do all she can to deal with these questions and to follow up with a letter all the points that she cannot cover this evening.

10.16 p.m.

In the previous debate, Mr. Speaker, I erred and strayed somewhat in having undertaken to speak for 12 minutes but, due to a number of interventions I spoke, I think, for 17 minutes.

You will be pleased to hear, Mr. Speaker, that, although I had it in mind earlier to speak at some length on these regulations, in view of the great lucidity with which my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) has taken the House through this labyrinth of very difficult regulations I shall be able to reduce my speech by at least the six minutes by which I erred in the earlier part of the proceedings. I hope, therefore, that I shall at least atone somewhat for my earlier failure.

The Police Federation never wanted these regulations. Indeed, its members generally opposed them. The Federation accepted them and, of course, will play its part in carrying them out, on three understandings. The first is that there will be no double jeopardy. The second is that the Federation will be able to use its funds responsibly to pursue those who make malicious or frivolous allegations against police officers which later turn out to be unfounded. The third is that officers who are complained against will receive copies of the complaints in order that they may take action to defend their good name. I say at once to the Government that I believe that in general terms they have honoured these undertakings, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady and her officials for having done that.

The three or four points that I want to make are also technical, but I hope they can be brief. I refer the hon. Lady to Statutory Instrument No. 583. This was the last one dealt with by my hon. Friend, and I underline his point. Frequently a police office can find himself complained against because of a domestic or family row. There may, indeed, be an argument over a garden fence. There may be a case where a person who has, let us say, criminal propensities is determined to get the police officer for reasons of vengence or general dislike. In those circumstances, not only a police officer but his wife and, indeed, his children can get caught up in a very ugly neighbourhood situation. The chief officer of police, under the very stern regulations that exist in regard to the discipline of police officers, may take the view that the officer's conduct has been unbecoming, has brought discredit on his uniform, or has been generally unacceptable to the traditions of the police service.

I should like to hear that Statutory Instrument No. 583, which enables the Federation to use its funds in respect of the two sorts of cases mentioned at the end of Regulation 2, will allow the use of those funds for an officer to defend himself in the sort of situation that I have described. I do not ask the Minister to answer this tonight, but I hope that she will reply in writing so that the Police Federation, for which I speak in this matter, will be able to consider her reply.

Another point I want to make concerns Statutory Instrument 578, and in particular Regulation 5(1). This point was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash and concerns the progress of reports. It is obviously important that the new Police Complaints Board should get a move on, and one of the fears that I have had throughout is that whereas police officers may well be spared double jeopardy, they may find themselves in protracted jeopardy because of the length of the time taken by the new Board in considering charges against them. It may well be that a man could be left suspended from duty with the finger of suspicion pointed against him while the old engine of bureaucracy churns away. If justice is to be done, it is right that it should be done speedily. A man cannot go on waiting for ever.

The Government have gone some way in this Statutory Instrument, and, as the Minister promised in Committee, it certainly puts pressure on the police officers concerned to deal with the matter as quickly as possible. However, according to Regulation 6 the Board is required only to deal
"without undue delay and shall take such decisions as appear to them appropriate for the purposes thereof as soon as practicable".
The pressure is on the police service but not on the Police Complaints Board. That is wrong, and I hope that the Minister will deal with it.

Another point I wish to make concerns Statutory Instrument No. 578, which deals with the complaints register. It is referred to in Regulation 7 on page 4. A new register is to be kept in, I suppose, every police station, or, at least, every force headquarters. Who will keep it? What will be contained in it, and what will be its status? Will it be entirely confidential, or will a matter in the register be taken out and possibly held against an officer on all subsequent occasions when the question of punishment arises? It is important that we should know where the responsibility for the register will be and what will be the nature of its contents.

I also wish to ask about the copies that will be made of the complaints. I shall be brief because my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash dealt with these questions extremely well. However, I find it difficult to understand why there may be some doctoring, editing, bowd-lcrising or selecting of a complaint against police officers. Every hon. Member knows well how easy it is to select from a document or newspaper report a particular part that proves one's point; we are all experts at doing that. We frequently hear the riposte, "Let us hear the whole of it, and let us hear the context". It is a proper tradition of Parliament and courts of law that one should produce the whole of a document if one is using part of it to establish a complaint or argument.

In this case, the police officer complained against may find that he has access only to such part of the general complaint as his chief officer believes is relevant to him. However, the officer concerned may take the view that all of it is relevant to him. The chief officer is in a position that he may withhold certain portions of the complaint if he thinks that it might prejudice other, criminal proceedings or even simply another investigation that is being pursued. The chief officer may withhold a portion of the complaint on the ground that he believes it to be in the public interest to do so. I stress this point more than any other to the Minister and also to you, Mr. Speaker. It is a proper tradition in this country that only Ministers of the Crown should determine what is the public interest. Only Ministers accountable to this House should be able to take the decision, on the ground of public interest, to withhold information.

The intention is that a chief officer of police should make the initial decision not to divulge information against a man on the ground that he thinks that the public interest may be damaged. I accept the principle and realise that there may be issues of State security or matters perhaps even touching upon the conduct of the Government themselves on which the Metropolitan Commissioner, with his knowledge of the Special Branch and the CID, may properly take the view that it is not in the public interest to divulge information against a police officer. However, if he does that on the ground of public interest, that public interest should be determined by the Home Secretary.

Since this point was made in Committee, the Government have moved some way and now virtually require a chief officer who decides to withhold information in the public interest to be backed up by the Home Secretary. However, the provision is not clear enough, and it should be expressly stated that a decision to withhold such information should be made by a Minister accountable to Parliament and by no one else.

Regulation 3(2)(b) and the addendum to Statutory Instrument No. 579 leave the public interest undefined. If it is to be judged by an officer of police, this House had better make sure that it is defined. If it is to be determined by a Minister we may properly leave things as they are. However, a decision must be taken and I hope that the Minister will at least refer to this point in her speech.

I am totally opposed to the new Complaints Board, but I am sure that we all want it to work now that we have got it. Members of the Police Federation do not like the Board, but I am sure that they will co-operate with it, especially if they can see that the Government are anxious to ensure that the anxieties of police officers should be dealt with. Much will depend on the tone and manner in which the Board applies the new law.

If one-tenth of the mental effort and intellectual ingenuity that went into the Committee stage of the Bill and its preparation in the Home Office had been devoted to settling the problem of police pay, we should not be in such difficulties now. If the same sum of money as the Board will cost—about £1 million a year—were available for fringe benefits for the police, we could have settled many of the pay policy difficulties quite easily. However, these are irrelevant matters. I hope that the Minister will reply to some of the points I have made.

10.29 p.m.

My contribution will be brief and will concentrate on the disciplinary matters affecting senior officers in Statutory Instrument No. 581, and especially Regulation 11.

The Minister will be aware that the conduct of the Chief Constable of Lancashire, Sir Stanley Parr, has been under investigation recently by the Chief Constable of Hampshire, a man of some repute. Sir Stanley Parr's report was leaked by the Press and many of us regarded that as unfortunate. The Press report has not been disputed. In the evidence submitted by the Chief Constable of Hampshire he expressed grave concern about a road accident in which two women were killed. That was his area of greatest concern, yet when the matter was reported to the police committee of Lancashire and the committee decided to set up an independent tribunal the issue was not reported to the tribunal. There are many other hazy features. Various issues have been raised at Question Time, especially the association between members of the police committee and the chief constable who has been under scrutiny.

I am made immensely anxious because, apparently, nothing has been done to take remedial action. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has indicated that, as he represents the final area of appeal should the case go against the chief constable, he cannot intervene at this stage. If my right hon. Friend cannot intervene, to whom do we turn to expose, explore and remedy the situation? If the police committee is not referring vital evidence that was thought to be of supreme importance when the inquiry was conducted, and if that is not to be laid before the tribunal, how can we be sure that justice will be done?

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has referred to the withholding of information. Surely I have given an exact example. Information is being withheld from what is suggested to be an independent tribunal. I have had no opportunity to pursue the matter apart from correspondence, and over a long period I have had no reply. At Question Time we cannot pursue the matter beyond a supplementary question. I am taking this opportunity to ask whether it is intended to remedy the situation whereby evidence is not fully supplied to an independent tribunal when a senior officer is concerned.

10.32 p.m.

I hasten to assure the Minister that I do not have an even finer-tooth comb than do my hon. Friends. I add my comments to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I do not have my hon. Friend's association with the police but I was interested in the Police Bill's passage through the House.

My hon. Friend's reference to public interest merits further and closer examination. It seems unfortunate that there is no definition of public interest and that the decision should apparently lie with the chief officer. It does not need a great deal of imagination to realise that there may be circumstances in which a chief officer may rest upon the provision to preclude his giving a copy of the complaint to the officer who asked for it. I should have been happier if public interest could have been more clearly defined and some criteria laid down or, happier still, as my hon. Friend indicated, if it had been decided that the final decision should rest with the Secretary of State and not that the Secretary of State should merely be asked to agree with a decision already taken by a chief officer.

What is the mechanism to be applied? Presumably there will be some way in which the Secretary of State will be told that a complaint has been laid, that the officer concerned has asked for a copy and that the chief officer has refused to comply with the request. Presumably the chief officer will indicate to the Secretary of State why his reasons are in the public interest, otherwise the Secretary of State will be rubber-stamping the chief officer's decision.

Perhaps my hon. Friend will be interested to know that the matter is clearly set out by the Home Office in its guidance, which suggests that it is a rubber-stamp system. The relevant paragraph states:

"Any request for the Secretary of State's consent"—
that is, for the withholding—
"should be forwarded…to the Assistant Secretary, F2 Division, Home Office, Queen Anne's Gate and should include (a) a copy of the request made by the officer for a copy of the complaint; (b) a copy of the complaint…and (c) the reasons for the chief officer's opinion that the request should be refused".
It would seem that the issue is dealt with at a pretty low level in the first instance.

My hon. Friend adds weight to my point. I seriously invite the Minister to have another look at the provision. This is a matter that was discussed at some length in Committee. A number of us felt it important that an officer against whom a complaint is made should have the safeguard that he can ask for a copy of the complaint and that such a copy should be withheld only in the most exceptional circumstances. Subparagraph (b) does not meet that point. If the passing on of a complaint is against the public interest, the decision should be taken by the Secretary of State alone.

10.35 p.m.

In view of the lateness of the hour I shall be brief. Since I have been involved for four and a half years in the campaign for this legislation and the setting up of the Police Complaints Board, it would be remiss of me to enter too carping a note or fail to congratulate the Government on eventually bringing the Board into existence.

I am not wholly satisfied with the composition of the Board. I am sure that its members are honourable and distinguished. We wish them well. Whether they represent the widest possible spectrum is another matter. I leave that thought in the Under-Secretary of State's mind and I shall not pursue that line of argument. I wish to give the Board a fair wind. I do not wish to go further into my private feelings about the span of the appointments.

I wish to discuss three issues, two of which have been touched upon already. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) mentioned the chief constable and the serious report about his activities which has not been acted upon. An inquiry was conducted by a chief officer in another county under existing procedures. I am here not to discuss the status quo but to discuss what will happen once these Statutory Instruments are implemented.

What would happen in the event of similar investigations made under Regulation 17 of Statutory Instrument No. 581 relating to charges against senior officers if there had been a statement as to charges being proved and recommendations about punishment? If the police authority concerned decided to dismiss the findings of the Board and take no further action, would that not lead to a clash between the police authority and the Board? Who would then prevail? Would the Home Secretary initiate a further investigation, or would that be the end of it? If it were the end of the matter, we would see the same lacuna as is causing such disquiet in Lancashire.

I support the final remark made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). The hon. Member and I have had many a set-to on this matter, but in pressing for this legislation it has always been our concern that since some complaints against policemen would be frivolous or malicious the policeman concerned should have the fullest possible access to all the charges against him and to the information that is laid. If he does not have it, justice is not properly done.

We do not have that precisely in the rather vague wording of S.I. No. 579 in the regulation which has been quoted. Regulation 3(2)(a) provides that the chief officer may refuse to comply if he is of the opinion that it is a matter which might prejudice any criminal investigation. No one would dispute that. But that is a wide category. If we go further, we find that the chief officer may decide
"that it would otherwise be contrary to the public interest",
without any reference to the DPP, and that information should not be made available to the officer concerned. That causes me disquiet.

I do not go as far as to say that I always trust the Home Secretary of the day to be infallible when making a decision about the public interest. I disagree with the decisions on Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball. I can envisage circumstances in which I might disagree with the Home Secretary that it was in the public interest that information should not be given to a police officer against whom a complaint had been made. The House should be the judge. The House can judge only if that decision is one which rests upon the Home Secretary of the day and is taken by him, not if he is simply asked to authorise or rubber-stamp a decision taken about what the public interest should be by the chief officer concerned. I hope that we shall have clarification on this point, which has been made by three out of the five hon. Members who have spoken.

Another point concerns Statutory Instrument No. 578, and hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that I am here concerned for the rights of the complainant rather than those of the policeman complained of. I would draw my hon. Friend's attention to Regulations 4 and 6, because in both of them there is a slightly and unnecessarily vague wording where the question of the withholding of information again comes forward, this time in the case of the complainant rather than in the case of the officer complained of.

Regulation 4 states:
"Where the Complaints Board have received a complaint against a member of a police force, they shall transmit it to the chief officer appearing to them to be the chief officer concerned unless they are satisfied that to do so would be contrary to the complainant's wishes"—
I can understand that—
"or, in all the circumstances, unnecessary."
I should like to hear from my hon. Friend what "unnecessary" actually means. Is this a draftsman's way of saying that it is so frivolous or irredeemably trivial that the complaint need not be passed on, or is there more to it? The complainant will believe that the information should be passed on and that the? complaint should be laid before the chief officer, and he will want to know clearly why this has not happened. The complainant will not want to refer to Regulation 4 in its present form.

My final point concerns a rather similar matter, the question of the function of the Complaints Board regarding disciplinary charges. Regulation 6(2) lays down the procedures to be followed. It states:
"Where the chief officer concerned has not preferred disciplinary charges and the Complaints Board accept his decision".
In the vast majority of cases, where disciplinary charges have not been put forward the Complaints Board will accept the decision. But that can be the end of the matter only if it is crystal clear to the complainant that it has very good grounds for so doing.

But Regulation 6(4) states:
"The Complaints Board shall be relieved of the duty of notifying the complainant as mentioned in paragraph (2)(b) or (3) if compliance therewith appears to them to be not reasonably practicable."
What on earth does that mean? We should hear more about the practicality of passing on a very basic piece of information to a complainant who by the nature of events will be very sure indeed that as he sees it his complaint is not being taken particularly seriously. If these procedures are to work, it is essential that both the complainant and the police officer complained of should know that every possible means of giving them access to the information about the nature of the complaint, and what is happening to it at all stages, is provided. If that does not happen, these procedures will fall under the same suspicion and the same perhaps misapplied hostility as is attached to many of the investigations under Section 49.

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the overwhelming number of cases will actually be laid before the DPP because he has to take cognisance of even trivial or minor matters? The DPP has never given reasons for his decision not to take proceedings. The Attorney-General merely says that he has decided not to do such-and-such and so-and-so without divulging the reasons. It is unlikely that the Government will concede that in this case.

I accept that the DPP does not do this. I am not sure that it has always been right that the DPP should not give reasons. But we are talking here of disciplinary decisions by chief officers, which presumably antedate, and do not predate, reference to the DPP.

10.45 p.m.

I have some experience of those who make complaints against the police. That is why I want to know why, if a chief officer of police is brought before the tribunal, he is entitled to be represented by himself, by counsel or a solicitor, or by a member of the police force selected by him, but a non-senior police officer can be represented only by a member of the police force selected by him. A complaint against an ordinary police constable could easily be a serious matter. I should be grateful to know the reason for this differentiation.

10.46 p.m.

I have been asked I do not know how many questions. I shall try to answer as many as possible, and I shall write to the hon. Members concerned about any that I do not answer when I have been able to study the Hansard report of the debate.

We are discussing six sets of regulations which have to be approved by Parliament so that the new procedures under the Police Act can come into operation on 1st June.

It may be, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is your advice that I need as well as the Minister's. On the Order Paper, below each of the motions relating to Statutory Instruments Nos. 581, 582 and 583, there is the text

"The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments have not yet completed their consideration of the Instrument."
The Minister wants these instruments to come into effect on 1st June. I do not think that there is any dissent about that. However, when we have completed our consideration tonight, do the instruments go back to the Joint Committee? What happens, in the light of what appears on the Order Paper, if the Joint Committee decides that there is something defective? Does the instrument concerned come back to the House for us to consider it again? I should be obliged for your help, Mr. Deputy Speaker, since this matter is of relevance to the police service.

I think that the answer is that it is entirely a matter for debate whether the instrument should in its present form be annulled. All that the hon. Member and his hon. Friends are doing at present is praying against the instrument.

Statutory Instrument No. 578, the Police (Complaints) (General) Regulations, provides for the detail of the actual handling of complaints under the new procedures. Regulation 4 requires the Complaints Board to forward to the appropriate chief officer of police any complaint which it receives unless the complainant does not want this or it is unnecessary—for example, because a copy has already been sent to the police. The regulation follows an amendment which was made to the Bill in Committee.

In reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), I can tell him that the statutory duty on the chief officer to investigate a complaint applies only when he receives it. The Complaints Board will tell the complainant that it cannot investigate a complaint and will try to get the complainant's agreement to pass it on to the police. If he does not agree, it will be investigated.

The hon. Lady says that if the complainant does not agree, it should be passed to the Board—

I am sorry. In that case it will not be investigated.

Regulation 6 requires the Board to notify the complainant when it accepts the chief officer's decision that no disciplinary charges should be preferred in respect of a complaint. This procedure, assuring the complainant that his complaint has been the subject of an independent scrutiny, was an intrinsic part of the original scheme. The Home Office has advised chief officers to tell police officers about the progress of the case where possible. I ask hon. Members to note paragraph 43 of the guidance notes available in the Library. We hope that the Board will be expeditious in its handling of reports. Chief officers have been advised to tell the Board if something is particularly urgent. With regard to letters to the Board—

The hon. Lady has jumped rather rapidly from Regulation 4 to Regulation 6. Regulation 4 was the point about the complainant not wishing the complaint to be passed on to the police. The hon. Lady has not quite answered my point, which has given rise to some disquiet. Suppose that it is a complaint, prima facie, of some substance and the complainant decides that he does not want it passed on to the police. It is a rather anomalous situation, with the Board left holding the complaint, which it cannot investigate, and cannot pass on to the police for investigation. It is nevertheless a serious complaint. The vacuum situation seems unsatisfactory.

I have not finished with Regulation 4 yet. Those were my preliminary remarks.

During discussions on the Police Bill a number of hon. Members took the view that someone with a complaint against the police should not necessarily have to make his complaint at a police station or write direct to the chief constable, which would be the normal course. They thought that it should be possible for a complainant to write to the Board if he preferred. There is no reason why this should not be done.

It must be remembered that the Board can take no action on a complaint unless it has first been investigated by the police. If, therefore, anything is to be done about a complaint which has been addressed to the Board, it must be forwarded to the police. Regulation 4 requires that this should normally be done. If the complainant makes it clear that he does not want his complaint to go to the police, the Board has said that it will explain to him that this means that it cannot be investigated. It will, naturally, be open to the Board to try to persuade the complainant to change his mind if it seems to be in the public interest that the complaint should be investigated.

Connected with this is Regulation 6. As I have said, it has been an intrinsic part of the new procedure that, where no disciplinary charges are to be brought as a result of the complaint, the Board rather than the chief constable should inform the complainant so that he knows that the Board has been involved. Regulation 6 allows the Board to amplify its notification with appropriate relevant information and explanations.

Chief officers have been advised that they should inform the Board of any relevant action other than the bringing of formal disciplinary charges which they have taken as a result of a complaint and say whether they wish this to be passed on to the complainant. We envisage that the police and the Board will be able between them to settle what the complainant should receive beyond the bare notification that no disciplinary action is to be taken—for example, in the way of an apology or an explanation of why particular action was necessary in the circumstances.

With regard to Regulation 5, the explanation for which I was asked is apparent, I think, from what I have just said.

I should like to press my hon. Friend a little further about Regulations 4 and 6 of Statutory Instrument No. 578. In what circumstances could the Police Complaints Board see it not reasonably practicable to tell a complainant why disciplinary action was not taken?

I think that the Police Complaints Board is left to judge each case on its merits, and we feel that the Board, in certain circumstances, may not want to pass on the information. I could give my hon. Friend some examples of certain circumstances, given time, but I think that there would be cases in which the Board might consider that it was not practicable to pass on the information, and this makes it possible for it to do that in rare, exceptional cases.

Statutory Instrument No. 579 is the Police (Copies of Complaints) Regulations. These provide for a police officer who is the subject of a complaint to receive a copy of that complaint on request once the case is closed, subject to rare exceptions. Several hon. Members have raised points on this matter.

The first point that I should like to make is that hon. Members have argued that a copy should be supplied at the close of the case to the officer automatically and not at his request. This would go further than the undertaking given by the previous Home Secretary in July 1975. It was put to us by the Association of Chief Police Officers that the complainant or a potential complainant might feel disquiet at the practice of supplying copies of complaints automatically and that it could act as a deterrent for the public to complain. An additional point made was that the automatic supply of copies would increase the amount of work and was unnecessary if the officer concerned was not interested in having a copy of the complaint. This was put to us by the ACPO. If nearly all police officers in fact request copies, in practice there may be very little difference between either formula.

With regard to the specific points on that matter raised by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), it is necessary to provide that the officer be given only so much of the complaint as relates to him, because it would be unfair to other people mentioned in the complaint to give the officer material which is defamatory of them but which does not affect his case.

The chief officer is the only person who can form a provisional assessment of whether providing a copy of a complaint would not be "in the public interest". It would not be wise to attempt to define in the Statutory Instrument the circumstances in which this could affect the public interest. The safeguard lies in the Secretary of State's oversight and his responsibilities to Parliament. The fact that the request is sent to an official of whatever rank, does not show that the ultimate decision will necessarily be a rubber-stamping.

I think that I can appreciate the apprehensions of hon. Members, but I say again that what they are asking—an automatic copy, and not on request—would go further than the undertaking given by the previous Home Secretary and the representations that were made to us by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Can the hon. Lady deal with the curious anomaly that the sending of a copy of the complaint is automatic where a disciplinary charge is preferred, as provided in Regulation 11(1) of the regulations to which we shall come next, but it is not automatic only where a charge is not preferred? Why is there one law in one circumstance and another law in another?

I can only say that the reason is that put by the Association of Chief Police Officers. I have already stated the point which the association made. It complied with what the previous Home Secretary undertook to do, and for those reasons the Statutory Instrument has been worded in this way.

I am sorry to interrupt again, but, with respect, the hon. Lady is making a series of assertions and is not giving the House reasons. For example, she says that the chief police officers believed that it should not be done because it would cause more work. But the whole process causes more work at every level. That cannot be a good enough reason.

Next, the hon. Lady made the point that the chief police officer should not allow the full complaint to be made available because it might contain material defamatory of someone else apart from the officer complained against. But the reality of police work is that all officers are constantly in possession of allegations made—this is the very nature of police work—frivolous allegations, malicious allegations and allegations of all kinds. It is the duty of a police officer to try to distinguish one complaint from another in the action which he takes. It is not sufficient to say that, because ACPO took that view, the whole question of public interest should depend upon the discretion of the chief officer.

It is important that the officer should be given only so much of the complaint as relates to him, otherwise it would be unfair to people mentioned in the complaint if there were allegations defamatory of others which had nothing to do with the officer's case. Quite apart from what ACPO said, I think that that is a good justification for the provision in the Statutory Instrument.

Statutory Instrument No. 580, the Police (Discipline) Regulations, consolidates all the existing discipline regulations and applies to officers up to and including the rank of chief superintendent. My hon. Friends the Members for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) and for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) put certain points to me, and I must tell them that it would be wrong for me to comment on particular disciplinary proceedings or allegations against any police officer—this is a separate issue and I shall deal with it now—because my right hon. Friend is the appellate authority.

My right hon. Friend undertook on 31st March that when the disciplinary proceedings in which the Chief Constable of Lancashire was involved had been completed he would consider whether any more substantial changes were called for in the disciplinary arrangements for senior police officers. I remind my hon. Friends that the new procedures do not apply to senior police officers. In response to the other point put to me I refer my hon. Friends to paragraph 8 of the guidance, which is available in the Library.

I was asked several other questions on Statutory Instrument No. 580. Two Opposition Members asked about complaints against policemen off duty. If the libel is such as to cast doubt upon an officer's fitness to be a member of the police force, he is eligible for assistance from the Federation.

Does the hon. Lady mean to draw a distinction between a civil libel and a criminal libel? If she does not, what is the distinction between a libel which falls into the category she has described and a libel which does not? How does one recognise the category into which it falls?

I was answering a question that was asked when the hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber, and I can see that he cannot follow my reply.

I now come to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Wilson) about legal representation for senior officers. This is a consequence of the fact that the case against an officer is heard by a lawyer and presented by counsel or a solicitor. This is not so in less formal procedures and disciplinary procedures against junior officers.

Questions were asked about Statutory Instrument No. 580, the Discipline Regulations, and Schedule 2, paragraph 6(d)relating to the canvassing of police authorities. This provision is not new.

A similar provision appeared in the discipline code attached to the Police (Discipline) (Amendment) Regulations 1967, paragraph 6. The other police organisations were not content to drop the provision, as the Federation suggested, because they thought that to do so might undermine the authority of the chief officer. But the Federation can raise any problems that it sees in the regulations in the forthcoming discussions on the Federation's constitution.

The hon. Member for Barkston Ash asked me another question about Statutory Instrument No. 580. This deals with discipline, and not with criminal matters, on which the police are subject to the ordinary law of the land. The regulations do not need to deal with criminal proceedings. Regulation 8 deals only with a disciplinary offence. The guidance deals with the relationship between investigations and criminal and disciplinary proceedings. The guidance is available in the Library. An officer will be told if the DPP decides not to prefer a criminal charge.

Regulation 11(1)(b) deals with matters and documents relevant to a charge for a disciplinary offence. The Police (Copies of Complaints) Regulations deal with provisions for copies of complaints where there is no disciplinary charge.

Regulation 6(1)(a)has been supplemented in the guidance—again in the Library—agreed by the Police Complaints Board and chief officers. Chief officers are especially advised that the evidence should be carefully prepared and, if the officer is found guilty, shown to him before it is given. This is also in the guidance, at paragraphs 23 and 24.

A question was asked on Statutory Instrument No. 582 dealing with suspension pay. An officer is suspended on pay whether the suspension is pending investigation of a possible serious criminal charge or a disciplinary offence. But he is not paid for any period he may be in custody. If he is ultimately cleared, he is paid in full.

I was asked one other question by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North. He has now left the Chamber, so I shall leave that.

I shall, as I said earlier, ensure that any questions that I have left unanswered are answered in writing. I ask the House to agree to these Statutory Instruments.

They implement the provisions of the Police Act 1976, and I ask for their full endorsement tonight.

Question put and negatived.

Does any hon. Member wish to move to annul any of the subsequent Statutory Instruments?

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have very kindly already taken some account of the curious phraseology attached to the later Statutory Instruments, namely:

"The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments have not yet completed their consideration of the Instrument".
I seek your guidance as to whether the approval of the regulations as presented will inhibit the rights or powers of the Joint Committee to make recommendations as to changes, because apparently there is a clash between two bodies with constitutional rights and duties.

As I understand it, all that the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends have done is to pray against the regulations in their present form. Subsequently they will be at liberty to take whatever action they wish. Does that help the hon. Gentleman?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does that mean that, notwithstanding that the regulations may be approved in the form in which they are presented tonight, it will be open to hon. Members to make representations to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments retrospectively to change them?

Always bearing in mind that the regulations do not come into force until 1st June of this year.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it not therefore be appropriate for the Under-Secretary of State to give an undertaking to the House that, if these regulations go through "on the nod"—;

but the Joint Committee makes criticism of them, the Government will provide further time for a motion to annul to be debated?

Although the hon. Gentleman was looking at the Under-Secretary whilst he posed that question, he was really addressing the Chair. His proposal is hypothetical.

The Hansard report of today's proceedings will be studied by the police service very carefully. It is, therefore, important that as and when the police obtain copies of Hansard they may understand clearly what the position is. Am I right in believing that there is no question of the regulations being passed tonight? Rather, the Opposition are seeking to pray against them, but if the Opposition's Prayer is unsuccessful, the regulations automatically come into effect on the date specified therein—namely, 1st June.

If I am correct in that matter, it means that between this date and 1st June, which is not a very long period, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments may take the opportunity of completing the examination which it has already commenced. During the three or four weeks remaining it would be open to the Joint Committee to find the orders technically defective. If that were so, may I ask the Minister through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether she would then withdraw the regulations, notwithstanding the fact that the Prayer will not have succeeded? However, in such an event the Joint Committee will be dissatisfied technically with the regulations.

The answer to that is that it would be up to the House itself to make the decision on this matter. The Committee's report would come to the House, and it would be up to the Government to decide what action to take in the light of the circumstances.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the Prayer is withdrawn and the Joint Committee makes a report recommending some change in the Statutory Instrument, under our present Standing Orders, unless the Government give time again, another Prayer cannot come on to the Floor of the House. We are asking the Under-Secretary of State, who is holding the fort for the Home Secretary, whether, if the Joint Committee produces substantive criticisms of any of these regulations, she will undertake that the Leader of the House will give time, since the Government control the time for negative motions, for another negative motion to appear on the Order Paper in the form of a Prayer. If she will not give that undertaking, the Joint Committee's functions are quite worthless.

The House has negatived the first Prayer. It would be in order, subject to what hon. Members say regarding the other Prayers, to let the matter rest. As I have said, should there be any matter which met with the disapproval of the House the House would find the opportunity to debate it.

Further to that point of order. Is it not the case that, once the House has decided to negative a Prayer, another Prayer cannot be tabled, under the rule that once the House has taken a decision it cannot reverse it? Surely, it is only if the Prayers are withdrawn that there can be a future occasion to pray against a Statutory Instrument. Therefore, my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) would be well advised to withdraw the Prayers rather than allow them to be negatived, because if he allows them to be negatived they cannot be re-tabled, even if the Government were willing to do so.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I take the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). If it will facilitate the effective consideration of these Statutory Instruments by the Joint Committee, I will, under your guidance, readily withdraw the Prayers or not move them in order to help the situation.