HC Deb 22 July 1976 vol 915 cc1985-8
4. Mr. Beith

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent representations he has received from chief constables about the Police Bill.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Chief officers have recently reaffirmed their opposition to the new complaints scheme introduced by the Police Bill, and expressed anxiety—which I believe will prove to be mistaken—that some aspects of the scheme may undermine their authority.

Mr. Beith

Is there anything in the comments that the right hon. Gentleman has received which makes him feel that chief officers of police will not do all they can, once the Bill is law, to make the scheme work effectively? Is he as strong in his faith as we are that the scheme will redound considerably to the benefit of the police when the effectiveness of their own internal inquiries is demonstrated by it?

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that we look forward to working with him in his new post?

Mr. Jenkins

I thank the hon. Gentleman.

I confirm that it is my view that the Bill will enhance public confidence, which is already high, in the police. Secondly, I find it almost impossible to imagine that chief officers will not co-operate in working the Bill. I am fully confident that they will. It would be an extraordinary position if chief officers of police were to set themselves up as the main upholders of the law in their localities against the settled wish of Parliament.

There have been some divisions in Parliament about this matter. It has been difficult to produce the best result, but the Bill was carried without a Division on Second Reading and went through this House and the House of Lords. With a lot of cross-Bench support in the House of Lords, the Government defeated, which is not usual there, an amendment which might have been slightly more acceptable to the chief officers. I respect their point of view, but I absolutely discountenance any suggestion that they would not operate, as guardians of the rule of law in their localities, a Bill passed by both Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Walter Johnson

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that he has sufficient power under the Bill to control the decisions of chief constables? Is he aware that the Chief Constable of Derbyshire has completely ignored his advice and that of the police committee on the question of supplying police support for the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary accident flying squad?

Mr. Jenkins

I must remind my hon. Friend that the Police Bill has nothing to do with that proposition, about which he has spoken to me before. That would be a question not of police complaints but of my interfering in the operational discharge of a chief officer's duties. My hon. Friend has been to see me about this matter. I have taken account of his representations and have passed them on, but I am not prepared to interfere in these operational matters of chief officers of police.

Mr. Aitken

On the day when we are expecting the announcement of painful public expenditure cuts, will the right hon. Gentleman, even at this late stage, have second thoughts about the wisdom of spending at least £I million of taxpayers' money on a Bill which will only make it easier to make complaints against the police?

Mr. Jenkins

I do not agree with that figure. The sum will be very small indeed—much nearer £100,000 in the next financial year and then rising a little above that. I have no intention of allowing the Bill, which has gone through with a certain amount of travail, to be set aside by the opposition of the hon. Gentleman or even by that of any chief officer of police, however distinguished.

Mr. Whitehead

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government's action in resisting the amendment in the House of Lords is greatly to be commended? That proposal, put forward at the instance of chief officers, would have struck at the heart of the Bill. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, if chief officers go ahead with their threat to resign, though regretted those resignations must be accepted?

Mr. Jenkins

I am not aware of any threat to resign. The amendment debated in the House of Lords would have meant that the two independent members would merely have been assessors. It was defeated in the other place by a quite substantial majority. I think that the amendment would not have been in accordance with the views of the House of Commons generally or, I suspect, of many people in the House. The Bill will therefore return from the House of Lords with no amendments which I think we need resist.

Mr. Alison

The right hon. Gentleman earlier mentioned Dame Nellie Melba. Will he consider humming quietly to himself, between now and leaving for Brussels, that a policeman's lot is not a happy one, and leaving it happier by taking his Bill to Brussels with him?

Mr. Jenkins

I hardly ever hum, mainly because I cannot do so tunefully. But I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman suggests would be the right way in which to proceed. In every country in the world there has been a general desire to have an independent element for complaints against the police. It has been very difficult to achieve in practice, and the police, with all their many virtues, have always in the last resort resisted it very hard. There has been resistance by the police to such practices in other countries, although from the Police Federation here there was perhaps less than from some other bodies.

I would not claim that we have found the perfect solution, but I believe that it is as good a solution as we shall get for many years to come. We should now stick to it and put it into operation. I have every confidence that the police themselves, who above all ought to be law-abiding men, will co-operate in carry-the scheme into effect.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

How soon does my right hon. Friend expect the Bill to be in operation?

Mr. Jenkins

Some time in the first part of 1977.

Mr. Le Marchant

Is the Home Secretary aware of the confidence which everyone has in Derbyshire in the impartiality of the actions of the Chief Constable and other members of the police force at all times? The people of Derbyshire realise that, if the police cannot fulfil all the duties we would like them to fulfil, it is because the money is simply not available.

Mr. Jenkins

I am aware that there has been a considerable dispute about this in Derbyshire and that strong views are held on both sides. However, the way in which the police operate is not a matter for the Home Secretary or his Department.

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