§ 3.16 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)
§ Lord GARDINER
My Lords, on this Motion, may I say that I am in favour of the Bill being read a third time, but as since the Report stage we have all read in the papers that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has now referred the Luton murder case to the Court of Appeal for the third time—which I think is a record—I wonder whether on this Motion, or on the Motion that the Bill do now pass, my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich will be able to tell us how his negotiations with chief constables are proceeding.
§ Lord HALE
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, for rising to speak, because it enables me to do so without those inhibitions which normally confront me. I had thought of asking the House whether this was the appropriate time for me to speak, if ever, and if there were any unknown Rules of the House which precluded this or made it undesirable—whether they would now forbid the bans or forever hold their peace. However, in view of the fact that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, has spoken, with rather more than my usual brevity and certainly with all his normal clarity, there are one or two things I should like to say and will try to say as briefly as I can.
On Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, made a speech which showed not only his normal great interest and ability but also a prophetic appreciation. He said that after the torrent of words that had poured over this Bill, without much effect, in view of the position the House was in, this odd little patch on the body politic, which of course, deals with a matter in isolation which ought to be dealt with under a collective system—
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend 437 for giving way. I wonder whether we could discuss both these issues on the Motion, That the Bill do now pass, which I understand is the appropriate time. My noble friend will have the opportunity of making the point he is endeavouring to make on that Motion if he will allow the present Motion to be carried.
§ On Question, Bill read 3a.
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 10, line 21, leave out subsection (1) and insert:
("(1) Where a member of a police force has been acquitted or convicted of a criminal offence he shall not be liable to be charged with any offence against discipline which is in substance the same as the offence of which he has been acquitted or convicted.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Amendment I should like now to propose to the House is one which arose as a result of the debate at the Committee stage when the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, raised a question on Clause 11 of this Bill. Clause 11(1) is designed to guard against a particular form of double jeopardy; namely, that an officer having been tried for a criminal offence should not then be charged with a disciplinary offence which is in subtance the same as the criminal offence.
§ During the Committee stage objections were raised to the present form of words, and the purpose of this Amendment is to meet those objections while retaining the original purpose of the subsection. In moving an Amendment to this clause in Committee, the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, expressed his concern that Clause 11(1) perhaps went too far in guarding against double jeopardy, by preventing a chief officer, in a case which had involved criminal proceedings against the officer concerned, from taking action in respect of the disciplinary aspects of the same case, although without prejudice to the principle of no double jeopardy. The noble Viscount gave as an example an officer who, although acquitted on a charge of bribery and corruption, might 438 nevertheless have handled money or property by methods which contravened the discipline code.
§ The noble Viscount's concern was that Clause 11(1) appeared to prevent the chief officer from very properly preferring the disciplinary charge of failing properly to account for, or to make a prompt and true return of, any money or property received by him in the course of his duty. We have no intention of preventing the bringing of a disciplinary charge in the circumstances described, and we have therefore put down this amended form of words to remove any doubt which may have arisen. The main purpose of the Amendment remains the same; namely, to avoid double jeopardy. I would close by thanking the noble Viscount, and indeed the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for having raised this question.
My Lords, I think we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for taking so much trouble over this matter and probing into it so deeply, and for producing something which, quite frankly (and I shall not keep him hanging on any longer) is satisfactory, at any rate to me. I think it is probably satisfactory to my noble friend Lord Colville. I thank him very much indeed, and, in order to remove any anxiety, may I say that I shall not be moving my Amendment.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)
§ Lord HALE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for indicating that before he speaks I may be permitted to say a few words. I was almost tempted to say "a few more". One is confronted by a situation in which this Bill has gone through without any adequate discussion on one matter. I think the noble Lord is very honest, very able, and realises, and we realise, that there is a dilemma, in that there is an absence of Home Office responsibility at the 439 moment. Most of the discussion has gone on on the basis of chief constables—the distinction and the honesty of chief constables. The Royal Commission went round the country trying to suppress the facts about chief constables as far as we could. We not only knew that two were under serious prosecutions at the time, and one or two were under report, but had difficulty in tracing some who had given themselves three months' leave on the Riviera and whose watch committee said, "We didn't know we could stop them".
There was an apocryphal story (not quite apocryphal, but perhaps sufficiently so to permit me to say there is perhaps a touch of doubt about the precise presentation) of the borough in which every Sunday morning the chief constable and most of the senior officers of the police force occupied the first row in the church, and a gang of skilled safebreakers, who contributed lavishly to church charities but always undertook never to break any safes within the borough, occupied the second row. This raised some questions which were in a sense rather outside our terms of reference in detail.
What I am concerned about—and I will try to put it as briefly as I can—is, how is all this now going to be handled? I am told that the noble Lord on the Front Bench will be making regulations. It may be that the Home Office will then be in different hands. But the things we do not know are what are the duties of the police, and what is a breach of duty. We are told that anyone who cares to read Docherty will find in point of fact, in typical English fashion, that everybody who touched Docherty muffed it. Everyone, young and inexperienced police officers, did not apply the rules of examination. A gifted policewoman, who really did make a good job, failed to obey the instructions contained in Home Office Circular No. "What's its name", and when asked why she had not she said she had never heard of it; and nor have I. The solicitor certainly failed to care for his client with that zeal which a solicitor should; the learned counsel admitted that he had to take difficult decisions, and possibly took the wrong ones, and most people agreed with him; the judicial officer refused legal aid—indeed even to the point that the Court of Appeal who did not grant a new trial, 440 though not attacked quite so clearly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Devlin, in his brilliant and able report, occasioned some regrets in the minds of the investigating committee that they had remained so closely bound by the procedure adopted soon after the passing of the Act of 1909. I understand that, in spite of the provisions, there is no obligation on the police to investigate an alibi. It is a matter for their judgment. The only obligation is that if they do decide to do it they have to notify the defending solicitor.
May I just give one single case to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to try to explain this, and I put it from memory. If you get a case in which a number of people are arrested for creating a disturbance and finally charged with carrying an offensive weapon on the strength of the fact that they have each got almost mathematically proportioned pieces of brick-ends in their pockets, most of them pacifists; and if they say they never carried brick-ends and these were planted on them by the police at the station; if they are convicted, and if there is then an independent investigation, and finally some of the police officers admit that they planted the pieces of brick-end but say they did it on the instructions of a gifted detective inspector, who is well known, well publicised, a man of dominant, powerful personality with a considerable amount of successful achievements to his credit, what is the procedure for a young policeman when he is told to plant something? To whom does he report it? If it happens to be the detective chief constable who told him to plant it, what does he do then?
When he is brought up before the disciplinary tribunal and is told that he is entirely responsible because it has now been found that this detective inspector is suffering from schizophrenia and has been retired on a full pension in view of his previous distinguished record, what is the procedure for the young police constable then?
In view of the possibility of situations like that happening, will the noble Lord at least give an assurance that when he considers making all the regulations on this he will give very considerable attention to these problems—who is at fault when a policewoman fails to read a document she 441 has never heard of and which is necessary for the performance of her duty; and whether it is the person who is in charge of the force or the constable who, in very difficult circumstances today, is called upon from day to day to make decisions. Finally, my Lords, if information comes forward which makes possible the arrest of a suspected very dangerous criminal who is about to board a ship or climb into an aeroplane, who is the officer who takes the decision to arrest without warrant and who is the officer who is normally caned upon to "carry the can"?
§ 3.30 p.m.
My Lords, I am not at all sure that I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, that we should send this Bill further on its way. I cannot recall ever having seen a Bill with so few friends that has got so far as this one; it has no real admirers so far as I am aware, and those who are not against it appear to be supporting it on the well-known principle of preference for the devil they know. That is not a very great recommendation for it. There is no Party difference here, and I think there is agreement in all parts of the House and in the country that if we can find a good way of introducing an independent element into the procedure of dealing with complaints against the police, we should go forward and in the end legislation will be necessary. But in my view it is hardly responsible for the Government at this time to press on with this Bill, bearing in mind its background. To do so would not be responsible at any time, but least of all at times like today when Parliament is so clogged up. Noble Lords will remember the strictures of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone on Second Reading, and I hope that we will hear from him today. I should like to think that he would feel it proper to lead us into the Lobby against the Motion which is before the House.
I suppose that this is part of the passion for legislation which all Governments tend to share, and this one the worst I have known. Noble Lords will remember that in the debate yesterday the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough mentioned this excess of legislation from which we have suffered recently and from 442 which we are still suffering—I think he meant to show how self-defeating it frequently is.
If we reject the Bill we are not, I believe, making it impossible for some form of independent element to be introduced. Here the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, disagrees with my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley, who is a former Home Secretary. They have different views. I admit that when in another place Lord Carr spoke three years ago of introducing some first steps administratively, he had more in mind an Ombudsman-type of procedure than the Board that is written into this Bill. However, I cannot believe that if we could do the one, we could not go some way towards doing the other. In this sort of field, where there is a will there is a way; sadly, it is always possible too to find arguments, both at the start and at the last minute, why things should not be done.
I cannot believe that some such plan for an independent element could not be substituted for the Bill. Lord Harris was kind enough to send me a letter about this, and he will agree that it arrived very late in the day and that I had only nine hours—or nine hours of daylight, anyway—to study it, and that that was not long enough to follow up the various points he made. I still feel that it would not be irresponsible for us this afternoon to reject the Bill, and I base that statement on words used by Lord Carr in another place on a similar Bill in 1973 when, speaking against the desirability of overhasty legislation in this field, he said:I am satisfied that I can begin the arrangement on an experimental basis without legislation. The time for legislation will be when we have had the experiment in being for a reasonable time and have learned by experience, but until then we want flexibility."—[0fficial Report, Commons, 23/2/73; col. 1003.]That is, surely, a more responsible line and I should like to feel that it is not too late to follow it today.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Lord HAILSHAM of SAINT MARYLEBONE
My Lords, in view of the invitation which has been almost extended to me by my noble friend Lord Inglewood, I will make a few short and impromptu comments. I agreed with a 443 very great deal of what he said, and I do not withdraw a word of what I said on Second Reading. I believe that this approaches the problem in a muddled and ill-thought-out way and that it is an unnecessary and undesirable piece of legislation, and even at this stage the Government would be well advised, for the reasons which I gave, to take it away and think through the problem afresh.
However, I could not adhere to my noble friend's conclusion that it would be wise at this stage to reject the Bill. I think that that would be very widely misunderstood; it would he supposed, rightly or wrongly, that we were opposing the principle of an independent element in investigating complaints. Even if one got over that, or did not care about it—and either would be a relevant possibility—I believe that the House should reject a Bill in toto only if important considerations of a very fundamental kind are at stake, and I cannot believe that this Bill comes into that category. We have spent a lot of time on the Bill, though I do not think we have improved it very much. I expressed the view on Second Reading that given the framework which the Government, rightly or wrongly, have adopted, it is almost impossible to improve it. However, I would deprecate an attempt to reject it at this late stage of the Bill, for the reasons I have given, although I thoroughly agree with the strictures on its wisdom which my noble friend pronounced. I certainly take that view and I hope that on reflection my noble friend will not find it necessary independently to press the matter to a Division.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I will begin by dealing with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and then I will come to the points of detail which have been made. In Committee, Lord Inglewood, speaking on the Motion, "Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?" proposed an alternative scheme. I suggested to him that, even at that very late stage, if he wished to table an Amendment we should of course consider it, but—and I hope I made it clear at the time—I recognised the very real difficulties of trying to create another, alternative scheme. We have had perhaps dozens of alternative schemes in this matter of dealing with complaints 444 against the police, and I was not at all surprised that the noble Lord did not put his Amendment down, although I replied to his letter to me by explaining why I thought the proposals he made in Committee were not appropriate for a Bill of this sort and why the idea which he put forward was objectionable in principle, not only so far as the Government were concerned but from the point of view of a very substantial section of public opinion.
Lord Inglewood said that the Bill had been brought in as a result of some passion for legislation and he described it as one of the worst examples he had ever known. Considering that the noble Lord has been in politics substantially longer than I have, I am surprised that he should take the view that it is the worst example he has ever known. This matter has been debated in Parliament year after year in the last decade. Growing public anxiety has been expressed in both Houses about a system of dealing with complaints against the police where the police are seen to be judges in their own cause. It is appropriate today for us to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, because when he was Home Secretary he grasped this nettle, albeit as the result of a Private Member's Bill in another place, and set up a Working Party to consider what sort of complaints machinery should be created.
The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said that the real difficulty was that the Bill had very few friends. The trouble is that there are very few friends for any of the alternative groups of schemes that have been assembled by one interested party or another. What I have tried to make clear in our debates is that we have attempted to strike a fair balance between the interests of the public and those of the Police Service—the chief constables, the Superintendents' Association and the Police Federation—and to create a scheme which was just to all concerned. I believe that we have created a scheme which is just to all concerned.
As I pointed out, one of the most important single things—and I must make this quite clear, as I said at Report stage, having dealt with this matter for two years now and having dealt with the Police Service for that time—is that we should bring this debate to a conclusion. It is in nobody's interest that there should be 445 continued public unease about the machinery of complaints against the police. As I have said repeatedly and as, I am sure, is the view of the entire House, we have the best Police Service in the world: I want to make quite sure that that reputation is underpinned by a complaints machinery which ends this debate and creates greater public confidence than exists at the moment. I believe that this scheme achieves that.
I should like to make one other point to the noble Lord. This Bill received a Second Reading in the other place without a Division. It achieved a Third Reading by a majority of 74, and the noble Lord will be aware, as are we all, that that is rather larger than the Government's present majority in another place.
So much for the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. I should like to come now to the points made by my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner and by my noble friend Lord Hale. I cannot now recall whether I said in Committee or at Report stage, though I believe that it was at Report stage, that I realised that my noble and learned friend would come back to the charge on the matter of the consultations that we undertook to have on this matter. Certainly, they have not been concluded. It is the intention of my right honourable friend and the Home Office to push on with this matter as rapidly as possible. However, it raises fundamental issues. My noble and learned friend has rightly pointed out that there is a major difference in police practice in this matter between London and many areas outside. It will take some time to resolve these difficulties and, frankly, it has been impossible to do so in the limited time we have had since the Report stage of the Bill. However, we will push on with this as soon as we can.
So far as my noble friend Lord Hale is concerned, he asked what would be the situation following the passage of this scheme. I do not want to go through some of the more fundamental parts of the proposals in the Bill, but the situation once the Bill is on the Statute Book will be the following: if an allegation of criminal conduct is made against a police officer, it will, as now, be considered by an independent authority outside the 446 Police Service; namely, the Director of Public Prosecutions. In the case of an allegation that an officer has committed an offence against the disciplinary regulations of the force, the matter will go to an independent board appointed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.
I believe that a scheme of this sort will settle some of the anxieties, though there will undoubtedly be serious problems which will remain. To deal with the specific point raised by my noble friend Lord Hale, if a police officer is invited by a superior to commit an act which is an offence against the criminal law, it seems to me that his way through that particular difficulty is straightforward. He must report the matter to a senior officer. Although I am certain that it is necessary to change the complaints procedure as we are doing, I believe that it would be wrong to allow it to be believed that the Police Service would ignore an allegation of the kind made by my noble friend and would sweep an issue of that sort under the carpet. Of course, there is always a risk of an abuse of power in any disciplined organisation. But I repeat that, though we cannot ignore the fact that there are risks of such abuses of power in the Police Service as in any other aspect of our public life, we have reason to be proud of our Police Service. I am sure that that is the overwhelming view of the entire House and I believe that this Bill will buttress that reputation.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.