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Complaints Against The Police

Volume 12: debated on Thursday 12 November 1981

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Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on her policy towards the reforming of procedures for complaints against the police.

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has informed the House, we are considering, in consultation with the Police Advisory Board, what changes in the present system may be necessary. A working group under the chairmanship of my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State is expected to report back to the board shortly.

Does the Prime Minister agree that it is essential that the police have the confidence of 99 per cent. of the population? Does she further agree that if that is to be achieved there must be effective democratic control and discussion of police policy, a simple procedure whereby minor complaints may be investigated and apologies given quickly, and, finally, a full, independent inquiry into major complaints against the police?

All of those matters are the subject of consideration in reports to the Police Advisory Board. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider them all together when they arrive soon.

Is not the first aim of those who wish to revolutionise society to undermine public confidence in the police? Does the Prime Minister therefore agree that, accepting that the police are not perfect, there is a powerful duty upon the Government to give maximum support to those who stand between the population and the forceful overthrow of law and order?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As I made clear in my speech to the House a few days ago, we give our unswerving and unequivocal support to the police in carrying out their vital duties to uphold law and order for all our sakes.

Does the Prime Minster also welcome the statement by the Police Federation, following the last exchanges in the House when strong views were expressed on both sides, that it now feels that it would be in the best interests of police-public relations if there were an independent system of inquiry into complaints against the police?

That is one of the matters that will have to be taken into account by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary together with a number of other reports at present in preparation, and also any recommendations that the Scarman report may make.

Will my right hon. Friend resist all suggestions for further democratic control of the police, which is merely a code word for Livingstonian interference with the police, and instead concentrate upon the real need to restore public confidence in a genuinely independent element in the police complaints procedure? Would not that best be achieved by setting up a police Ombudsman procedure?

My hon. Friend's point about an independent element in police complaints procedure is at present under consideration by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who will make a decision when he has received all the reports. With regard to democratic control of the police, the police must be absolutely free of any political control in making their operational decisions.