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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : As the House will appreciate, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) has made a series of important and serious

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allegations against a force, and I am sure that the chief constable of that force will give serious consideration to the points that she has made.

This debate gives me the opportunity to make clear the arrangements for handling complaints and allegations against police officers in England and Wales. It is essential that these arrangements--and the statutory responsibilities of the parties concerned--should be understood, for it is against this background that the case of Mr. Paul Dandy and the other allegations referred to by the hon. Lady must be seen.

The procedures for dealing with complaints against the police and with police discipline matters are set down in part IX of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the associated regulations. Where a chief officer receives a complaint against an officer of his force who is a chief superintendent or below, he is required to record it. If it cannot be resolved informally, the chief officer must arrange for it to be investigated formally. As the hon. Lady knows, complaints against senior officers are matters for the Police Complaints Authority. Certain complaints--for example, where death, serious injury or corruption are alleged--must be referred to the Police Complaints Authority.

Ms. Short : I am familiar with the police complaints procedure, so I hope that the Minister will not filibuster and simply describe that procedure. The questions that I have put tonight are far more serious than that. We understand the procedures and we have been through them, but they have failed. We have also discovered a pattern of widespread malpractice, which is what we want the Minister to address tonight.

Mr. Hogg : It is never my practice to filibuster, but it is my practice to give the House a clear understanding of the issues in such a case and the procedures that apply. That is what I propose to do now.

Certain complaints--for example, where death, serious injury or corruption are alleged--must be referred to the Police Complaints Authority. In other cases, the chief officer may, nevertheless, decide that it is in the public interest to refer the case. The authority is totally independent of the police and the Government. Its job is to see that a complaint is dealt with thoroughly and, above all, fairly. None of the members of the authority is a police officer or has ever been one. The authority has two main functions. First, it supervises the investigation by the police of serious complaints and others of an exceptional nature. Secondly, it has the final say about whether a police officer should be charged with a breach of discipline.

These powers are considerable. It is, for example, required to approve the appointment of the police officer conducting an investigation, and if it is not satisfied it may direct that another is appointed. Where the report of an investigation indicates that a criminal offence may have been committed by a police officer, it is for the chief officer to consider whether the police officer should be charged and, if so, to bring that before the Director of Public Prosecutions. In addition, the Police Complaints Authority may direct a chief officer to send an investigation report to the director to consider bringing criminal charges. It is entirely a matter for the director as to whether charges should be brought.

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The House will note from what I have said that my right right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has no part in these procedures. It would be quite wrong for him to be involved in such matters in view of the fact that he is the appellate authority in police discipline matters.

I turn now to the specific case of Mr. Dandy. The hon. Lady has outlined the circumstances of his arrest in February 1987 by the West Midlands serious crime squad, those leading to the decision by the prosecution to call no evidence against him and the dropping of the charges. Subsequently, as the hon. Lady has said, Mr. Dandy made a formal complaint against certain police officers. The complaint was referred by the chief constable of the West Midlands force to the Police Complaints Authority in accordance with the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The authority then supervised an investigation into the complaint--once again, strictly in compliance with the legislation.

After consideration of the investigating officer's report, the Director of Public Prosecutions decided--and it was his decision alone--that the evidence did not justify the bringing of any criminal proceedings against any police officers.

Subsequently, however, disciplinary charges were brought against three officers with the agreement of the Police Complaints Authority. They were dealt with by the chief officer under the provisions of the Police Discipline Regulations 1985.

Ms. Short : Will the Minister confirm that the officers were disciplined not for fabricating or forging a confession, but simply for having disposed of the original piece of paper and for nothing else?

Mr. Hogg : Broadly speaking, the hon. Lady is correct, but I do not have in front of me the exact provision of the discipline regulations under which the officers were charged.

Mr. Dandy's allegations were fully considered and dealt with by the proper authorities under the statutory provisions. Home Office Ministers have no part in this process and it would be wrong for me to comment on the outcome of proceedings that were clearly in accordance with established procedures and the statute.

The hon. Lady made a number of allegations that were more general in character. I understand that complaints from other members of the public about the West Midlands serious crime squad have been, or are being, investigated under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority. These investigations must take their proper course.

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I turn to the specific allegations made by the hon. Lady--specific in the sense that they were descriptive, although she did not, and I understand her reasons, identify the officers or give such close particulars that one could identify them. If people are alleging that there is serious misconduct in the force, and especially in the serious crime squad, they must go to the chief constable with specific allegations, backed by evidence. If they do that, the procedures, which have been established by statute, will take their course. That is the procedure laid down by Parliament to deal with matters of this kind.

If the hon. Lady is in possession of detailed allegations which, on the face of them, are credible and for which there is supporting evidence, I urge her to lay those allegations, together with the evidence, before the chief constable. If she does not wish to do that but the complainants do, I urge her to urge them to do so. I take advantage of my presence at the Dispatch Box to do just that. If there are serious allegations that can be substantiated, those complaints must be placed before the chief constable and the procedures that I outlined at the beginning of my speech, and for which, incidentally, I was criticised by the hon. Lady, will then operate. That is the proper way to proceed.

Ms. Short : There have been several complaints and there have been unsatisfactory outcomes in a large number of those cases. That is part of the problem. I shall, of course, encourage everyone to continue to use the complaints procedure, although our confidence in it has been deeply dented. However, Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary is housed at the Home Office and it has powers to ensure that police forces around the country operate up to standard. This matter is so serious that the inspectorate should be sent in and the West Midlands serious crime squad cleaned up. I hope that the Minister will respond to that suggestion.

Mr. Hogg : The inspectorate is not the proper method of dealing with problems of that nature, which involve allegations of specific misconduct against a number of named officers, as I understand it. The proper procedure is to adopt that which I have outlined. There is no other proper procedure. I urge the hon. Lady to do what I have put to her, and I urge those who have put complaints to her to do that which I have outlined to the House.

Home Office Ministers have no power to intervene. There is a thorough and fair system for dealing with allegations against police officers and it provides for an independent element in the form of the Police Complaints Authority. I am sure that if allegations are properly made, they will be examined in a fair and independent manner.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eleven minutes to One o'clock.

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