Police Complaints Panel
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.I have to make it clear from the outset that this new clause was put down to allow the House to debate again, in Scottish terms, the need for a police complaints procedure. When I went to the Clerk of the House to put down an amendment to the police complaints procedure, I took with me a copy of the Bill which my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) introduced when he was Secretary of State for Scotland but for which he could not obtain the support of the Liberal party and the House. Therefore, it was withdrawn. The Clerk of the House said, probably quite rightly, that to put down a Bill as a new clause was not within the rules. He therefore asked me to truncate it, and that is exactly what I have done. The new clause lays down the principles which were contained in the Bill. I accept that on its own it is insufficient to become law. A commitment would be needed that the Government accept the principle, and they would then have to introduce a new clause at a later stage. 4.45 pm It is important that the principle of a police complaints procedure in Scotland should be established. This matter was raised during the passage of what is now the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. Many hon. Members said that they did not like the new clauses relating to detention or the new powers of stop and search. We still do not like those powers. However, they would be less abhorrent if there were some means by which the matter could be considered by a body other than the police. If a policeman steps out of line and a complaint is made about his actions by a member of the public, there ought to be some means by which the complaint can be looked at independently of the police. Complaints of this nature now go to the deputy chief constable, and when it is alleged that a criminal offence has been committed the normal practice is for the complaint to be sent to the procurator fiscal. However, those who make complaints are interviewed by the police before the matter is sent to the procurator fiscal, and in some cases the complaint is withdrawn. In other cases there is need for a disciplinary procedure because policemen have not acted within police rules. Therefore, it is essential for those cases to be investigated by a body that is independent of the police. This is not, as is so often alleged, meant to be an attack upon the police, but the police are unbelievably touchy about it. I believe that 99·9 per cent. of Scotland's policemen do their job well, obey the rules and often have to carry out their work in very difficult circumstances. However, there are those who do not operate within the rules, and it is in the interests not only of the public but of the police that the investigation of those cases should be handled by a body that is independent of the police. I have never understood why chief constables and the Police Federation are so opposed to the setting up of an independent body. The members of the inquiry would be appointed, not by the National Council of Civil Liberties or by the Scottish Council of Civil Liberties, but by the Secretary of State. They would not necessarily take the side of the complainant. As sensible people, they would take an objective view of the matter, which would be in the interests of the police. The argument that has always been advanced against having a police complaints procedure in Scotland is that Scotland has an independent prosecution system, whereas prosecution in England and Wales is a matter for the police. It is argued that because the procurator fiscal is the prosecutor there is no need for a police complaints procedure in Scotland. However, an independent prosecution procedure is to be introduced in England and Wales, but the police complaints procedure will not be abolished. On the contrary, it is to be strengthened. The Home Office believes that an independent prosecution system and a police complaints procedure should go hand in hand in England and Wales. If that is so in England and Wales, why on earth is it not so in Scotland, so that when complaints were made by the public about the police they would feel that their complaints had been properly investigated? It would also mean that the public would have greater respect for the police. Because of the few "bad eggs", that is not always the case now. I commend the new clause to the House.
I am pleased to be able to take part in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) on the new clause. I remember vividly our debate on what is now the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. Indeed, it was the passing of that Act that makes this measure more necessary then ever. I am sorry to hear that an attempt to introduce it in a properly structured piece of legislation was prevented because of the Liberal party's cold feet.We now have an opportunity to do two things: first, we can look back on that Act, which considerably increased police powers; secondly, we can look back at the events of the past year and a half in Britain. It would be wrong to ignore the nature of the disputes on the picket line over that period and the behaviour of some police. It is fortunate that England and Wales have a police procedure which prevented some of the community anger. Anyone who has been to the coalfields of England will be aware of not just the picket line and miners' anger but the community anger about some of the events that took place. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to know how many complaints were proceeded with. It would be interesting to know how many complaints were made in Scotland over the past year and a half. I recognise that the aggro in Scotland was less than it was in England and Wales, but how many complaints were dealt with successfully? That is part of the background that has worried some of us. I never believed that I would switch on a television set and see some of the events that we saw at Orgreave. The veneer in which we have taken pride in the past is not so deep as we might have hoped. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and I speak as a former Minister in charge of law and order, and therefore the police, in Scotland. The best security for the police against unjustified complaints is a police procedure which is above question to deal with complaints. We have been told that Scotland does not need such a procedure because of the existence of the procurator fiscal structure. We were told in 1980 that there was insufficient money, but now we are told that the legal structure makes it unnecessary. That is not the case. The only way in which we can be sure that the community will be satisfied is by a structure, independent of the police force, in the form of a panel to which people can have recourse when necessary. Without that, even the procurator fiscal does not provide the necessary knowledge that complaints have been fully investigated. We all know from letters that we receive that people make complaints about police behaviour, or indeed, about matters which do not effect the police, which the procurator fiscal does not take up. The suggestion is that a secret organisation has kept things below the counter. The only way to solve that problem is to ensure that there is open discussion in which people can have some faith. Moving away from the events of the past year and a half and the anxieties to which they have given rise, one must look at the 1980 Act, which considerably extended police powers of search, investigation and arrest. Complaints often arise from aggro at the time of arrest, holding or search. It is often difficult to establish the truth. It is often easy to make undisciplined and sometimes unfounded accusations. Such accusations cannot satisfactorily be dealt with if the people who make them are informed that there will be an investigation through the same police force that gave rise to the complaints in the first place. There is no comfort in the fact that a deputy chief constable, or someone at whatever level, will come from another area to investigate. To the people the police are the police, and that is all there is to it. I want to underline strongly my hon. Friend's points. Not least of the aspects with which we are concerned is to ensure that, like Caesar's wife, the police are above suspicion if an accusation is rejected. There is no doubt that there has been a decline in mutual trust, particularly between young people and the police, such as has occurred so bitterly in the mining communities. I should never have believed that those to whom I have spoken in, for example, Yorkshire would have spoken about the police in the way in which they have done. Clearly, trust has broken down, yet we do not even have the comfort of a separate complaints procedure to deal with matters. Even if the Minister were to reject the argument that there is a major case, in the sense of a mass of accusations, and even if he were satisfied with the present procedures, although I do not see how he can be, there is a case for re-establishing the mutual trust that once existed. That can come only with an independent police complaints panel, as outlined by my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend has been apologetic about the nature of the new clause. It is simplified but it is not too bad a structure, and it is one upon which we can build. I hope that the Minister will accept it in principle and give us the comfort of knowing that the Government intend to treat the matter seriously and come forward with legislation. I am sure that my hon. Friends will give him every support to get such a measure through quickly.
It is extremely valuable that the hon. Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) have given us the opportunity to discuss this important subject. I speak not from any practical knowledge of events of the past year, nor, indeed, would I want to do so, because that would introduce a different issue from that of complaints generally with which we want to deal.I have been chairman of a joint police committee in Scotland. Therefore, I am entirely supportive of the outstanding work that the police do day by day, week by week, year by year throughout Britain. But I must accept that every now and again constituents come to one's surgery with what, in their view, are complaints against the police, whether the result of a specific action or just general harassment of their lives. One may be able to deal with their case, perhaps by asking them to think again, but at the end of the day their only redress is the present procedure. The procedure is carried out effectively and fairly by the chief of police, or whoever he may depute, but when the result of the inquiry is known the constituent concerned almost inevitably feels aggrieved that his case has been tried by the police. The nub of the argument is whether that is fair justice. Should a complainant go away with a feeling that he has had hard justice? I know that we have the satisfactory procurator fiscal system, and I am glad that England is falling into line with that procedure, but it is worth making the point, so fairly made by the hon. Member for Paisley, South, that it might well be in the best interests of the police if an inquiry were carried out by an independent body. Ninety times out of 100—perhaps 99 times out of 100—police officers will be cleared if they have carried out their duties within the regulations. If that is so, the inquiry will exonerate them; but, more importantly, the independence of the inquiry, clear of a police officer as "judge", will mean that those who complain are much more satisfied. I hope that when my hon. Friend replies he will say that he intends to give this matter more detailed consideration. If his consultations produce a view similar to mine, I hope that it will be thought worth introducing the necessary legislation. This is not in any way a criticism of the police, for whom I have the highest regard. It would be in their interest to be clear of criticism from the public. Any subsequent inquiry would be seen to be independent, so the complainant would have no reason to continue to feel aggrieved.
I welcome the opportunity provided by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) to debate this important issue. He said that when the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) was Secretary of State he introduced a Bill that could not proceed because it was blocked by the Lib-Lab agreement. I was not a Member of the House at that time, so I do not know why that happened. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it has always been the policy of the Liberal party, both in Scotland and in England, that there should be an independent police complaints procedure. I can only assume that the Bill fell on questions of detail.As the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said, all hon. Members receive complaints from constituents about police handling of certain cases. Such complaints often relate to cases in which people feel the police should have intervened, but did not. Although hon. Members discuss these cases with chief constables in great detail, and are subsequently satisfied that the police have acted properly, nevertheless our constituents are unhappy that the matter has been investigated by the police—even though the investigators are independent of the police officers involved in the original incident. They believe that, to some extent, the police protect their own. Therefore, it is important for the sake of the police to have an independent body to investigate complaints. If there is to be an independent police complaints panel, there should also be an independent force to investigate the complaints. I do not think that the hon. Member for Cathcart is suggesting that the three members of the panel should carry out the investigation. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) put forward that view during the passage of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and I understand that that view was supported by the Police Federation. The Government said that it was not possible because of lack of manpower. If we apply our minds to the problem, we will find that it is not as great as might initially have been perceived. Such an independent force could comprise ex-policemen and others who have the necessary skills and qualities for investigative work—for example, former Customs and Excise officers. If we accept the proposal in principle, I am sure that there will be no difficulty in finding people for the investigatory force. That will supplement the important independent nature of the panel. It is useful to have such a debate and I look forward to the Minister's reply. I hope that he will be positive. If the new clause is not an acceptable way to proceed, I hope that he will outline the positive steps that the Government will take to provide for a more independent investigation of police complaints in Scotland. We must remember that England and Wales have made significant advances during the past two years.
I welcome the new clause tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan). I am especially pleased that it has attracted a great deal of support from the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). It also received a cautious welcome in principle—although there was some criticism of the detail—from the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). Indeed, there appears to be an all-party consensus that we need some form of independent investigation of the police.Like other hon. Members, I wish to state clearly that I have a great deal of respect for the police. Leaving aside the special tension of the past 12 months, it is nevertheless true that there are now greater tensions in society than for many a long day. The police are often at the sharp end when trying to deal with social tensions. It is in the general interest that there should be confidence between the public and the police. When I was a boy, policemen were represented not, perhaps, as PC Plods but as nice, couthy characters, very friendly, who could be approached on all sorts of matters. If one sometimes got into difficulty, the policement might administer a clip on the ear and say, "Go home." The relationship between the police and the public today is quite different from when I was a boy. I have experience of the police force both as a former member of Aberdeen city council and as a Member of the House. Successive chief constables have always said, "We do not want any bad eggs in the police force because that is not in our interests. We want to root them out. If that person is so bad that he should not be in the police force, we will get rid of him. If it is someone who has difficulty relating to the public, we will deal with it by training, discussion and identifying particular problems." Chief constables certainly believe that for the good of both the police and the public no member of the police force should be antisocial, in the widest definition. During my 15 years in the House I have not had many complaints about police misbehaviour or malpractice, although I expect I get my fair share. I am not anxious to encourage that. Some of the complaints have been justified. I shall not today, as I have done previously, go into detail because I do not want to identify policemen who have been disciplined. There is no point in raking up matters to their discredit. The worst case that I have had to take up with the chief constable—an allegation that neither he nor I could believe could possibly be true—was found to hold some truth following an investigation. Three policemen had to leave the force, and they were shown the door with great resolution. That happened more than 10 years ago, but it shows that the police will take action when serious cases are proved. This debate is not an exercise in police bashing—it is an attempt to restore the previous tradition of good relationships between the police and the public. All hon. Members who have spoken have said that it would benefit the police to have an independent investigation. I have had discussions and disagreements with trade union representatives of the police. I know that when a letter from me arrives on the desk of the chief constable and is fed through the system, some members of the police force are not exactly pleased. Some of the things that I understand have been said about me would not bear repeating in the House. The police should understand that we are putting forward this proposal not only because of the awkward squad—people who make frivolous or malicious allegations—but because we believe it will be of as much benefit to the police as to the public. When a complaint has been substantiated and disciplinary action has been taken, or if a case goes to the procurator fiscal and a policeman is prosecuted and found guilty, people are not dissatisfied with the way in which it has been handled. The problem arises when someone makes a complaint, which is investigated by the police, who say that there is no substance in it, that there was a misunderstanding, or that it was the fault of the complainant for being aggressive either verbally or physically. In such cases people say, "We are not satisfied that the matter has been given a proper hearing." Many of us who have been concerned for a long time with the complexities of society and the different ways in which authority, in its broadest definition, impinges on the lives of ordinary people, have been arguing for a wider complaints procedure. Largely as a result of such debates, we now have a Parliamentary Commissioner who can independently investigate complaints against the state. I know that there are limitations on his powers, but there is at least a procedure whereby someone aggrieved about a decision of public administration can have his complaint investigated thoroughly. The same is true of the National Health Service, although its commissioner is also limited in the sense that he cannot investigate matters of clinical judgment. Some of us may argue about that, but I realise that this is not the place to do it. Nevertheless, in general, the Health Service Commissioner system works, and people understand that it is another attempt to protect the ordinary citizen from big bureaucracy. There is also a Local Government Commissioner. Many of us know from experience how local government has grown in size and complexity. It deals with so many matters that impinge on ordinary people's lives that we decided—it was generally accepted—that we needed an independent complaints procedure so that an individual might have his grievances considered carefully. The Local Government Commissioner system also works extremely well. In some cases, the same person may do the job of Parliamentary Commissioner, Health Service Commissioner and Local Government Commissioner, but they are three separate offices. Their one failing is that they have no power to compel an offending authority to accept their recommendations and remedy the grievances. In the vast majority of cases, when a complaint is investigated, the commissioner recommends a course of action and the authorities carry out those recommendations. But if they decide to be obdurate and say, "We will not accept this," nothing can be done about it. One of the special attractions of new clause 3 is paragraph (f), which states that the decision of the panel must be complied with by the deputy chief constable. That must be right. I have always believed that if an authority is investigated and found to be at fault, not necessarily because it acted deliberately but because of maladministration or error, the recommendations of the panel should be binding. Therefore, if it is found that a complaint against the police is justified and the panel recommends some action, the police should comply with it. Public confidence in the police would be greatly enhanced if we had an independent complaints procedure. It is is long overdue. Others in the House may have a better memory of events than I, but I recollect that when the idea of a police complaints panel or an independent investigating system was first discussed in the House, it caused great controversy inside and among parties. The idea was welcomed by no one. Now there is agreement in almost all parties and, although I have no authority for saying this, I believe that we have gone through this argument so often and examined its merits with such care that even the chief constables would not bitterly oppose it. I am still not sure whether representatives of police officers would accept it, but gradually even they are beginning to understand that it is in their best interests. They are there to serve the public, not the state, and the public will be best served by a good police-public relationship and by enhancing public confidence in the police. I hope that the Minister will show his approval of the principle and accept it, or ensure that amendments are introduced in the other place. The Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Govan has probably stood the test of time and would be a good way of going about it. The Minister will have the full support of the House if he does so. I commend the new clause to the House.
The principle that any grievance should be independently investigated is increasingly accepted in society. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was right to refer to the Parliamentary Commissioner, the Health Service Commissioner and the Local Government Commissioner, but the principle has been extended beyond that. In Scotland, it has been accepted in relation to complaints against the legal profession, and Mrs. Joan MacIntosh's role as an independent ombudsman to whom the public can refer complaints is a recognition that the principle is constantly being extended. In the private sector, it has been extended to insurance, so that we now have the independent investigation of complaints against insurance companies. The principle is almost beyond party controversy. The only defence against extending it to the police that has been mounted by the Government is that, to some extent, Scotland already has it with the independent procurator fiscal system.However, in my constituency experience, the procurator fiscal system has not been wholly satisfactory in meeting the perceived need for an independent investigatory power. First, several complaints do not raise issues of criminal behaviour and are therefore not appropriate to be referred by the chief constable to the procurator fiscal. Many relatively nit-picking grievances against the police, and certainly issues of discipline, can give rise to the greatest sense of unfairness. That is not new. Indeed, the most celebrated case of a complaint against the police not being satisfied by the existing system occurred in my constituency. My predecessor, the late Sir David Robertson, raised in the House the famous Waters case, which led eventually to the setting up of a public inquiry. The fact that it was treated in such an inflated manner caused considerable damage to the police force. It was a serious complaint, but not so serious as to require such a massive response. I was told subsequently that it had even affected police recruiting. That is why I believe, with others who have spoken, that it is in the interests of the police to accept the desirability of an independent element in the investigation of complaints against them. I favour an independent element, not a wholly independent system of investigation and judgment, because I believe that if the police complaints system is to command the confidence of the public, it must be effective. To be effective, it will require the complete and wholehearted co-operation of the police in conducting the investigations. It is not wholly practical to establish a force to police the police. Although I concur with the view that there must be an independent element in the investigation, as well as in the panel to which the new clause refers, we must recognise that if investigations are to be carried out in depth and effectively, and if a wall of silence is not to surround the complaint, the investigating body must command the confidence and support of the police and be recognised as performing a function which the police, in their professional interests, would wish to be properly discharged. Like others, I believe that the police do a remarkably good job in Scotland. Few complaints are made, considering the number of times that the police are in contact with the public. The police are the last defence for the citizen against the breakdown of the rule of law and sometimes they have to use force or make a measured response to unruly behaviour. That is bound to lead to complaints on some occasions. The consensus on the subject has moved considerably since we last debated it in the House when we considered the Criminal Justice Bill. This week, a new police complaints body has been set up in England and Parliament is considering the introduction of an independent prosecution service for England. In England the Police Federation is calling for a totally independent system of investigating complaints against the police. That call has not yet been echoed in Scotland, but thoughtful policemen increasingly are of the view that there is much to be said for involving outsiders in examining complaints against the police. The new clause provides us with a valuable opportunity to raise the issues and for the Government to make a positive response. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) has direct experience as chairman of a police authority and the Government cannot ignore his contribution. All political parties are clearly of the view that the time has come for the Government to make a move. We seek, not a rush into uncharted territory, but a considered and careful response from the Government.
After what has been said today it will do the Minister no good if he merely digs in his heels and says that he is satisfied with the present position which has prevailed for some time. After the contribution by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), the Minister must now appreciate the widespread agreement that there must be an independent element in judging complaints against the police.My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) talked about respect for the police, but this issue is not about respect or disrespect for the police; it is about the public being confident that their complaints against the police will be fairly investigated and that the outcome of that investigation will be satisfactory to the complainant. The outcome might be different from that which is expected, but the complainant must be satisfied that his complaint has been properly and impartially investigated. It is important to emphasise that chief constables should take no part in such investigations, because at the end of an investigation the chief constable is responsible for disposing of the case and determining any punishment. I wish to set the record straight about what happened in 1978–79 when the Labour Government sought to introduce a Bill to deal with the problem. The Bill was never introduced. It was drafted and discussed across the parties, but that was under a minority Government and it was made clear that there was no majority in the House for enacting such legislation. It is important that the Minister should understand the events which led to the drafting of that legislation. In Scotland the Police Advisory Board meets regularly and the Minister probably chairs it, as I did, from time to time. I took the matter to the Police Advisory Board and with the exception of the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents' Association, both of which are represented by statute on the board, a substantial majority was in favour of introducing such legislation. The board comprises people from all walks of life, such as James Scotland, the principal of Aberdeen college of education and a playwright. Once the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents' Association realised that a majority of the board was in favour of such legislation and that the then Government were anxious to go ahead, they helped with the drafting. Whether they were reluctant to help is beside the point. The Police Federation represents officers up to the rank of inspector and the Police Superintendents' Association represents all ranks except assistant deputy chief constables and chief constables. It cannot be said that the police have always dug in their heels against independent investigations. Talk about what happens in England clouds the Scottish issue. Comparing the English and Scottish systems does not help. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) mentioned the element of independent prosecution to be introduced in England, but in the past the police have prosecuted in their own cases. Complaints against the police, which currently go to the procurator fiscal in Scotland, will continue to be referred to him even if we set up an independent element for investigating complaints against the police. It is important to emphasise that. The new clause is not an attempt to take away the reference to the procurator fiscal. I should not be in favour of it if it were. Cases that presently go to the procurator fiscal properly go to him. We must consider the danger of double jeopardy. I would be the last person to approve a system that put police officers at risk of double jeopardy. No hon. Member who has contributed to the debate would favour such a system. 5.30 pm The Labour Government's proposals, which were never put into a Bill, were that when a person was visited by a police officer after making a complaint he should not be asked whether he wanted to go ahead with the complaint but should merely choose whether he wanted the complaint investigated by the assistant chief constable—the existing arrangement—or by an independent panel. When the panel had investigated a matter, the complainant could not say that he was dissatisfied with the panel's decision and wanted the matter investigated by the assistant chief constable. We want to avoid that possibility and the new clause would avoid it. The existing system of investigating complaints against the police could continue in parallel with an independent system. We should not dismiss that possibility. I hope that the Minister will not simply say that the Government are satisfied with the existing position. I am sure that all hon. Members know of cases of constituents telling us that they want to make a complaint against the police. When we write to the deputy chief constable, he sends a chief superintendent—never anyone below that rank—who is always in uniform, to interview the person concerned, not about the complaint, but about whether he wants to pursue it. On many occasions I have had phone calls from desperate people—usually women—complaining about the police, and within two or three days they come back and tell me that they do not want to pursue the case. Subsequently, I have received a letter from the assitant chief constable or a deputy chief constable telling me that the woman has been interviewed, has changed her mind and is satisfied. Will the Minister give us a commitment to take this matter to the Police Advisory Board and bring forward proposals for an independent element in the investigation of complaints against the police? The independent element in investigations of complaints has spread far and wide. It already exists in the insurance industry, the legal profession, local government and the National Health Service. We cannot be like ostriches and stick our heads in the sand and pretend that nothing has changed. Events have moved on, and there has never been a better time for Ministers to encourage the people of Scotland by assuring them that there will be a thorough examination of the matter, with the possibility of introducing a Bill. I should prefer a Bill, rather than the new clause, so that we could set up a detailed and properly thought out system to give the Scottish people confidence that their complaints will be properly examined. The police could avoid much ill will if, now and again, chief constables admitted that their officers were wrong and sent letters of apology. In 14 years of representing constituencies throughout the central region, I have yet to receive a letter of apology from the police, even in cases where it was obvious to the blind that the police were in the wrong. Part of the problem is that chief constables always seem to think that their officers can do no wrong. That is not true in any walk of life.
My experience is different from that of my hon. Friend. When the police have found that a complaint was justified, the chief constable has written to me and often written personally to the complainant. I should not like it to be thought that the position described by my hon. Friend is universal.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because, if his experience is different, I should not like it to be thought that what I have said about chief constables applies throughout Scotland. However, my experience makes me wish that, just now and again, chief constables would admit that their officers were wrong and would apologise. I leave it at that.I hope that the Minister does not give us a head-in-the-sand reply, but will assure the people of Scotland that this matter will be dealt with in a way that its importance deserves.
I apologise for arriving at such a late stage in the debate. I shall be brief and raise only one point. I should have preferred to be able to give the Minister notice, but the matter relates to confidence in the police and to the independent investigation of complaints.I know that the Minister is aware of the circumstances surrounding the matter that concerns me, because he and the Secretary of State were courteous enough to arrange a meeting with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) to discuss the matter. As a preamble, I stress that public confidence in the police is extremely important. I go out of my way not to encourage casual or easy criticism of the police or unnecessary complaints. However, I pass on genuine complaints and pursue them as vigorously as I can within the existing structure, though I feel strongly that an independent element in the investigation of complaints is necessary. Hon. Members will recall the controversy and delay that surrounded the publication two years ago of the Scottish Office report on sexual assaults. It appears—my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart can confirm this—that part of the problem was that, following a heated meeting at the end of March 1983, it appears that an attempt was made by senior officers of Strathclyde police, including the deputy chief constable, to discredit the Scottish Office research unit that had produced the report. That serious allegation was made to my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart and me by senior officials of the Scottish Office. The conclusions reached by the research officers in their report—about the treatment of victims and about other aspects—were challenged by the police. At the end of the day, when it became increasingly clear that the points ut forward by the deputy chief constable and senior police officers could not be substantiated, an internal inquiry was carried out by the chief constable. There was no independent inquiry and no opportunity for an investigation outwith the context of the police. The result of that internal inquiry was simply a letter of apology—admittedly, it was a clear admission that there was nothing to substantiate the allegations against the researchers—and internal discipline by the chief constable, which amounted to a personal reprimand of the senior police officers concerned, although we are not sure whether that included the deputy chief constable. My hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart and I were assured by the chief constable that none of the detail of that internal discipline will appear on the records of the police officers concerned. Is it not strange that an internal inquiry resulted in such a mild reprimand, when a serious allegation had been made, challenging the integrity of reputable Scottish Office researchers and attempting to stop the publication of a Scottish Office report? That must undermine confidence in the police. Accordingly, I have today tabled a question for written answer urging that a person be appointed to carry out an independent inquiry into the allegations. There clearly was a heated dispute between senior Scottish Office officials and the Strathclyde police. Continued co-operation between the police and the Scottish Office is important. Research projects are taking place now, and there will be future research projects, and co-operation is necessary in those undertakings. The Scottish Office and Members of Parliament must feel sure that there will not be a repetition of that type of case, with the police, on the flimsiest of evidence—because they do not like the conclusion of a report—challenging the integrity of researchers. I hope that the Under-Secretary will agree that the least that should be done is to appoint an independent person—someone who has the confidence of the police and the Scottish Office—to carry out an inquiry, to report to the Secretary of State and to ensure that that report is published.
Having represented Bo'ness for the time when it was in Central region, I appreciate the significance of the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) in relation to his constituency.Having listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said, I wish to put on record my thanks to the West Lothian police for their endeavours in cases raised by me. In fact, I have no need to contact the chief constable other than in exceptional circumstances. I approach the chief superintendent, David Scott, who—because there is an understanding between us—sends an appropriate policeman, depending on the case, to find out what the trouble is and to get at the truth of the matter. My experience has been that the Lothian police have looked sensitively and sensibly into any point that I have raised. I may be naive about that, but I do not think so.
I appreciated the remarks of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), as will the police, because while in this debate hon. Members have not sought to diminish confidence in the police, they will appreciate that the police often feel that a number of hon. Members are sometimes less than fair to them. That is why the remarks of the hon. Member for Linlithgow will be appreciated not only in his area but more widely.The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said that he had not managed to give me notice of the point that he raised. Perhaps I should congratulate him on managing to raise this issue because, as he is aware, it was not the subject of a complaint made against the police at that stage. As he said, it related to a number of discrepancies between material seen by researchers and material available in the police office, and that was the matter under investigation. It was an internal investigation relating to three minor discrepancies only. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the reasons for the discrepancies were patent on looking at the various documents. They related—certainly in one instance, if I recall correctly—to the difference between what was effectively, on the one hand, a statement that had been taken down and recorded and, on the other, a precognition. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman suggested that those discrepancies were anything other than that. The hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that had the matter been dealt with in a different way, a different conclusion would have been reached. Having looked into the matter, having satisfied myself that the discrepancies were explainable, and the Scottish Office having received an apology from the chief constable, I believe that that is the end of the matter. It was perhaps unfortunate that the matter arose at the same time as the police, as they legitimately can, were expressing their views on the substance of the report. Their views in that respect were not a matter for investigation, nor should they have been. They were reactions which the police were entitled to give us at that time. In raising the matter, the hon. Gentleman has not provided any evidence or information to suggest that any further action requires to be taken. Indeed, I suspect that on reconsidering what he said, he will see that he has, in a sense, blown up a matter that has been dealt with effectively and to the satisfaction of all the parties concerned.
If the truth is as the Minister says—that there were only minor discrepancies in three reports, and he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and me an opportunity of reading those reports—how does he explain the fact that such a heated meeting took place at the end of March 1983—and both sides described it to us as heated—that there was then an attempt to substantiate the criticisms of Strathclyde police to the effect that the report should not be published; that there was then an internal inquiry by the chief constable, who told us that he put other things aside to carry out that inquiry; and that there followed a letter of apology and disciplinary action against senior police officers? Will the Minister explain the matter further, as the two issues do not seem to equate?
I do not see in what way the hon. Gentleman says that they do not equate. Obviously, when there was a difference of opinion which had led to certain views being expressed, it was important for that difference to be sorted out. Under the procedures which were adopted, the differences were investigated, the discrepancies were discovered—as I said, they were patently explicable—and a letter of apology was then sent. I believe that that was the correct way to go about it, and the apology was accepted by the Scottish Office as a conclusion to the matter.Hon. Members will recognise that we are going over well-trodden ground. As they have pointed out, the issues with which the new clause is concerned have been debated on a number of occasions over the years. I appreciate what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) said, that he himself appreciated that his new clause, as drafted, was not capable of being sustained by the House, but that he saw this as an opportunity to debate the principles behind it. I concede the sincerity of the views that are held on both sides of the House on this matter. I do not think that I need to go into the details of the procedures in Scotland, because they have been gone over on many occasions, and were referred to by several hon. Members who spoke in the debate. However, let me say that there are two distinct strands. First, complaints from which a criminal offence may be inferred must, by law, be referred to the regional procurator fiscal for investigation. At present they amount to about 55 per cent. of all complaints dealt with, so that on average more than half and arguably the most serious complaints are already subject to independent scrutiny. I do not think that that will be disputed. I was a little puzzled by the comments of the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan), because I could not gather whether he was suggesting—I trust that he was not—that the system of procurator fiscal investigation was anything other than independent.
The point that I was making was much more simple, but crucial. It is not enough for the law to be right. It has also to be seen to be right. I regret to say that most people would tend to regard even a reference to the procurator fiscal as no substitute for a known public panel such as is suggested in the new clause. People regard the procurator fiscal as in some way a part of the great mystery of the legal process. That is what I was dealing with, and that is the important matter to which the Minister should address his mind.
The hon. Gentleman is raising far wider issues about the independence of the prosecution system in Scotland. If he wishes to suggest that the system is not independent, he should establish his grounds more clearly. It is not only a matter of those particular complaints being investigated by the procurator fiscal. Where there is an inference of any criminal offence, it is required that the matter is considered by a Law Officer as well. Complaints can even go to the top of the Crown Office. I find it hard to accept from the hon. Gentleman that there is anything in this part of the system that he could regard as anything less than equitable and independent.
I do not see how the Minister fails to understand this. Because he is part of the system, he thinks that the entire population of Scotland are part of the system. They are not. They do not know how it works. They know that there is a mystery and that there is a man called the procurator fiscal to whom the matter is sent and then discarded. That is all that they know. We are dealing with people who get into difficulties and who do not understand the mysteries of the legal trade. I know that the Consevative party is full of advocates and so on, but that is not very much to our comfort.The Government must not hold that mystery to themselves. Why can they not establish an outside body or panel, with lay people of some intelligence, who are not involved in the mysterious apparatus of the procurator fiscal? That is what we are saying. Law and justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done, and be understood in the process of being done. That is not the case when the matter is referred to the procurator fiscal and, with respect to the Solicitor-General, even to a Law Officer, and then discarded. The system must be opened up, be seen, be understood and thereby be accepted.
If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there is not enough understanding or information on how the system works, I shall deal with that in a moment. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General informs me that in all those cases a full letter of explanation of how the system works is sent to each person.
Will the Minister give way?
I shall give way in a moment, but hon. Members must allow me to develop my arguments a little.
It is a very important matter.
Very well. I give way to the right hon. Lady.
This is a rather small but crucial point. If a Member of Parliament writes to the procurator fiscal raising some questions of doubt about particular cases, a letter comes back from a Law Officer saying that the Law Officer replies to all letters written to the procurator fiscal. There is no way that an individual can get a reply from a procurator fiscal. Even a Member of Parliament cannot get such a reply.
It is important that we establish the basis of the complaint. I understood the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) to say that it was his understanding of the new clause that it was in no way supposed either to duplicate or to replace the present procurator fiscal system because it was regarded as independent. If the right hon. Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) is saying that the difficulty is not whether it is independent, but that it is insufficiently understood, giving rise to a feeling that it is a part of the establishment so that people are suspicious of it, that is different from saying that as a system it is wrong because it is not acting independently.I hope that the hon. Member for Paisley, South takes the same view as the hon. Member for Falkirk, East and, indeed, as the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), to judge from the nods that he has been giving me. I understand that the new clause is not critical of that part of the complaints procedure.
We know that 55 per cent. of all complaints go to the procurator fiscal anyway, which is good. However, there is a difficulty. I know of a case that was raised well over 12 months ago. I shall not give the details of it, but each time I write to the chief constable to ask what is happening he says that the case is before the procurator fiscal and he is awaiting his reply. I do not know what the outcome will be, but I guarantee that if the procurator fiscal decides that it is not a case for prosecution, my constituent will feel that there has been a conspiracy, during which 12 months have elapsed. We are anxious to make it absolutely clear that the procurator fiscal is independent. How do we deal with the question that I have raised?
I understand that the outcome is eventually made known, and the complaint may relate to the time that that might take. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General reminds me that in many of these cases there is a requirement to wait, for instance, for the outcome of another trial that might be taking place. Therefore, there are circumstances in which delays are inevitable. The hon. Gentleman was trying to make my speech for me. I shall not be drawn into that, except to say that I hope there is a general acceptance that the independent scrutiny is correct.I referred to two strands. The second is complaints which imply that a disciplinary offence may have been committed, and which are investigated under the direction of the deputy chief constable of the force. Such investigations are undertaken by an investigating officer who is at least of the rank of inspector and wholly unconnected with the matter under investigation. Such complaints could cover matters such as discreditable conduct, neglect of duty and so on. In a sense, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) strengthened that side of the system by suggesting that the police themselves are keen to root out what he called bad eggs. That is right. There is no incentive for them to maintain in the police force officers who, at the end of the day, will bring the police force into disrepute. Therefore, there is generally an impetus in that direction. The hon. Member for Paisley, South asked particularly about complaints arising out of the miners' dispute last year. In reply to a written parliamentary question on 14 December 1984 I informed the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown):
I do not have any more recent figures, but, given the date of that answer, it is unlikely that they are very much higher than that."I understand that 23 such complaints have been received by the police."—[Official Report, 14 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 621.]
Can the Minister tell us the outcome of the complaints?
Without notice, I would not be able to do so. The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question about numbers. I hope that I have managed to answer that.The real issue facing the House is whether the existing procedures are inadequate. Listening to the debate, it has been my impression that there are strong feelings—there have been in all the previous debates—but that there are no substantive facts to show that the system is working inadequately. The hon. Gentleman knows the view that has been taken by the Government on several occasions, not only in debate, but in written answers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on 15 December 1983 that we had looked carefully at the matter, and
I remind the House that the Home Affairs Committee report, House of Commons No. 98-I of 1982–83, did not point to any shortcomings in the Scottish system. Although the Committee concentrated on arrangements in England and Wales, it took evidence from Scottish witnesses and had something to say about Scottish procedures. Paragraph 42 states:"concluded that no case has been made out for introducing radical changes to the present arrangements."—[Official Report, 15 December 1983; Vol. 50, c. 530.]
6 pm Paragraph 43 continues:"A system of local Crown Prosecutors modelled on the Procurators Fiscal would provide the most promising framework for the investigation of complaints against the police, and we would favour this solution from among the various options we have considered."
I think that that is a fair commendation of the present system in Scotland which we cannot afford to ignore today."If we could be certain of the establishment of a Crown Prosecutor system in England and Wales within say, the next five years, we would not find it necessary to suggest major alterations in police complaints procedures in the meanwhile."
Does the Minister accept that those comments related to matters currently referred to the procurator fiscal? The hon. Gentleman has understandably made considerable play of the fact that the new clause refers to the important but more limited area of potential disciplinary offences by policemen. The Home Affairs Committee considered the Scottish scene and drew parallels in a very different context. A lawyer might argue that the Law Society of Scotland is fairly ruthless and efficient in dealing with complaints against solicitors, but I am sure the Minister will agree that that is no argument for saying that there is no point in having a lay observer.
I accept that. To justify the hon. Gentleman's case, however, we need substantive facts to show that the present system is not working. I appreciate that hon. Members have strong feelings about this, as the debate has shown, but no substantive facts different from those put forward in previous debates have been brought forward today to suggest that the Government should change their attitude.
What does the Minister regard as a substantive fact? He has heard the opinions of Members from four different political parties, including a former Minister of his own party, who was chairman of a police committee. If opinion does not weigh with the Minister, what kind of fact does he regard as persuasive? Do we have to bring to his notice all the dissatisfactions that we have experienced and on which we drew in making our case? We did not think it appropriate to drag all those instances into the debate, because of the potential embarrassment to the individuals involved. What does the Minister mean by facts? Has he an open mind? Will he accept the view of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East that the matter should be referred to the Police Advisory Board?
The Government have taken the view, which I am arguing again today, that the present system works. I came to the debate to hear whether there were any specific instances in which the system had not been working, especially since 1983.After the Select Committee reported, we issued a consultation document seeking comments on recommendations which had implications for Scotland. Although it did not specifically canvass views on changes in the basic complaints structure, the evidence suggested overwhelmingly that the present procedures were operating satisfactorily. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear in his written answer, we therefore concluded that the case for radical change had not been made. My right hon. Friend went on to say, however, that specific areas had been identified in which improvements could be made and in which guidance was desirable. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) made the valid point that the system required some rectification in terms of the information provided about the way in which the system worked because there was a good deal of misunderstanding and in some cases, as I know from my constituency experience, no understanding at all of what the system actually entailed. For that reason, we issued a circular to chief constables and police authorities last summer.
The Minister has been most generous in giving way. Does he accept that the consultation document specifically ruled out changes of the kind proposed in the new clause? If the Government send a consultation paper to any group of people making it clear that matters A, B and C are not for consideration, the responses will reflect that preconceived attitude on the part of the Government.As for evidence that the system is not working, why did the vast majority of the lay people on the Police Advisory Board, who are closer than we are to general public opinion, take the view in 1978 that there should be an independent element?
I cannot answer questions about what happened in 1978 because I was not there and the hon. Gentleman was doing my job. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries said, it is important to appreciate that there is uncertainty about the system in the public mind due to lack of understanding. That is why we issued the circular to chief constables and police authorities in the summer. That circular gave guidance on the appointment of investigating officers and the circumstances in which they might be drawn from another force. It also emphasised the need to give complainants as full an account as possible of the outcome of the investigation. That is important in the light of what has been said by many hon. Members today.We also prepared a leaflet, in consultation with the police associations, explaining the complaints procedure for the benefit of members of the public who wished to lodge a complaint. The circular recommended that that leaflet be used by all forces so that anyone wishing to lodge a complaint would be given sufficient information about the procedure at that stage so that there would be no question of people not understanding it. In other words, since the last debate we have taken steps, albeit within the existing framework, to make certain necessary refinements. In my view, there is no point in making major changes of the kind suggested in the new clause purely for the sake of making them. The need for such changes must be shown, and I do not believe that such a need has been shown in this debate. I have certainly not been persuaded of the need for an independent panel. I do not believe that there is evidence of a widespread lack of public confidence in the present system or any reason to believe that public confidence would be significantly increased by the establishment of an independent panel. I believe that the public at large still repose a great deal of faith in the integrity and impartiality of the police service. That applies to the whole range of police activities. I have no doubt that the present procedure, with the independent procurator fiscal involvement in criminal complaints, serves the purpose well. For that reason, I cannot accept the new clause.
I have heard some long, dreary speeches saying no, but the contribution from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland today must have been the longest and dreariest.
It was all written out for him.
Yes, it was all written long before the debate took place, so the Minister could not have paid much attention to what was said in the debate. Members in all parts of the House—including Conservative Back Benchers and, indeed, the chairman of the Conservative group of Scottish Members—made the case strongly and clearly, but the Minister was still not prepared to change his mind.Specific details were not given in the debate, but if the Minister believes that the public at large—especially the large sections of society who are disadvantaged or unemployed—have enormous confidence in the police, he must be living in cloud-cuckoo-land. He should come and see the alienation in parts of Glasgow not just from the police but from authority generally. It is not good enough to say that there is enormous confidence in the police. That is not the case. The reply by the Under-Secretary of State is typical of the general secrecy in which the police and the Government like to operate. My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) was right to raise those aspects of the sexual offences report. This shows the way in which the police are prepared to bring pressure to bear to ensure that no criticism of them is published. The Under-Secretary of State made great play of the fact that the differences were minor. If the differences had been major, there could have been a genuine difference of opinion between the two sides. Two different reports could have been examined, mistakes could have been made and the differences would have been evident. But the differences were so minor that they appear to have been used deliberately by the Strathclyde police to discredit the whole report. The fact that the discrepancies were so small worries me. Minor differences appear to have been used to discredit the research. It is all right to say that one disagrees with the report, but it is disreputable to try to discredit those who researched the report. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will intervene and confirm what has happened in the following case. I have been told that researchers have investigated the way in which the provisions of the detention clauses of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 have been carried out during the past five years. I have been told that an interim report was prepared by researchers in the Scottish Office and that it has gone to the chief constables. I have been told also that, at meetings during the past few weeks, the chief constables have said that they do not wish that report to be published. They have asked the Scottish Office not to publish it and to cease monitoring the detention clauses. That interim report was not overly critical of the police. It did not say that they were misusing their powers. Because the report contains some criticisms of the police, the chief constables have said that it should not be published. Is that the case?
The decisions on whether to publish these reports and the last report are not matters for the police. They are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and me.
I did not suggest anything else. I used the word "asked", as the hon. Gentleman will see if he checks the Official Report tomorrow.
The hon. Gentleman said "said".
I said that the police are asking and saying that the report should not be published. I have been informed that, at a meeting last Thursday between officials and chief constables, an agreement was reached that the report would not be published and that monitoring would cease. Will the Under-Secretary of State say whether that is the case? Will the report be published, or will it not be published? Will the monitoring continue? If so, will hon. Members be able to table questions about the number of detainees and the numbers who have been charged, and so on? Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to answer my questions?
I understand that the first draft has been prepared, that it has been seen by the chief constables and that they have commented on it. As I said before, decisions on whether these reports are to be published are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, on my advice. Obviously, I cannot pre-empt those decisions before I have seen the draft report.
We shall be interested to note whether this report ever sees the light of day and whether monitoring continues.The reply by the Under-Secretary of State and the reaction of the police to research and reports show that they are so super-sensitive to any criticism that they create the type of problems about which we have talked. These actions make the public suspicious and make them feel that there is no proper way of getting at the truth. The police put up a wall of secrecy between themselves and the public. If they operate in that way, there will be further problems with public relations. Having said that, I accept that the clause is faulty. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.