Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Norman Baker: I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for replying at such length. To be fair, the amendment is not worded very well; I probably drafted it late at night. It would have a different effect from the one that I wanted. It would allow someone to refer on a complaint, which is not what I intended. When the process has been exhausted, I want people to have the right to contact the IPCC and say that they were not happy with the result, and ask the commission to reconsider it. The commission may undertake a cursory examination. It may say that it had examined the evidence and that it was satisfied that the matter was dealt with properly.

The Under-Secretary, Conservative Members and I all want the same thing. The hon. Gentleman referred to winning public confidence in the system, and that is what I am trying to achieve. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath referred to a small minority of vexatious persons who will use the system and clog it up. I agree with him. We all repeatedly receive letters in our postbags and visits in our surgeries from the same people. At least, that happens to me. I understand that, but the difficulty is that those people, if refused the right to contact the IPCC direct at the end of the process, will then say, ''Oh, this process is useless. I believed that matters would change, but all that has happened is that the police investigated the matter. The investigation was not carried out independently. It is a stitch-up.'' I am confident that it will not be, but people will say that.

I was seeking a way in which people could have the last gasp and resort to the IPCC at the end of process. If people are unhappy with their dealings with the local council, they can contact the ombudsman. He may say that he is happy with the council's decision, but, in those circumstances, at least people know that such matters have been considered independently. That is what I am trying to achieve.

Mr. Ainsworth: Whether or not the complaints have been dealt with locally or formally, there is nothing to stop a complainant contacting the commission. That provides an incentive to the force to deal with the

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complaint appropriately and to try its best to satisfy people. The schedule provides the back stop for which the hon. Gentleman is asking, without the need for his amendment.

Norman Baker: I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for saying that people can write to the IPCC. He did not say that it would necessarily consider such complaints. That is perhaps the missing half of the equation. Nevertheless, I accept that the amendment is badly drafted and I have been able to raise my concern. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 111, line 36, at end insert—

    '(c) the need to secure, preserve and promote public confidence in the independence of the system of dealing with complaints against police officers.'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss amendment No. 247, in page 115, line 9, at end insert—

    '(9) The Commission shall take into account the need to secure, preserve and promote public confidence in the independence of the system of dealing with complaints against police officers.'.

Norman Baker: The amendment relates to investigations and subsequent proceedings under part 3 of schedule 3. Paragraph 15(3) states:

    ''In making a determination—''

on the form of an investigation—

    ''under sub-paragraph (2) the Commission shall have regard to the following factors—

    (a) the seriousness of the case; and

    (b) the public interest.''

The amendment would add a third criterion for consideration:

    ''the need to secure, preserve and promote public confidence in the independence of the system of dealing with complaints against police officers.''

In a way, the amendment explains the reason for setting up the IPCC. Its purpose in many ways is to promote public confidence in the independence of the system for dealing with complaints against police officers, so the amendment is bang in the middle of what the Government are seeking to achieve. I think that we should add those words to the Bill, because although a case may come before the commission that is not regarded as particularly serious in a criminal sense and in which there is not an immediately obvious public interest, it might be important to proceed in a particular way to give the public confidence in the system's independence. Amendment No. 247 is consequential on amendment No. 6.

Mr. Hawkins: I shall be brief. I rather agree with the hon. Member for Lewes, and it would do no harm to add his sub-paragraph (3)(c) to the Bill. I simply wonder whether the widest possible definition of the words ''public interest'' in sub-paragraph (3)(b) might incorporate the meaning of the words in the amendment. Nevertheless, just in case it is necessary to be specific, I shall listen with interest to what the

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Minister has to say. As the hon. Member for Lewes rightly said, the purpose of setting up a truly independent body is to try to ensure the factor that he sets out in the amendment.

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Member for Lewes will be surprised to know that I agree with him, too. He talked about the ''purpose'' of the IPCC. I understand the difficulties of opposition and of trying to see where there are potential gaps in clauses, but I refer him to clause 9(1), which deals with the general functions of the commission. It states:

    ''The functions of the Commission shall be . . . to secure that public confidence is established and maintained in the existence of suitable arrangements with respect to those matters and with the operation of the arrangements that are in fact maintained with respect to those matters''.

Clause 9(1)(d) deals with exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman raises, so we believe that it is covered. He is right to say that it is central to the functions of the IPCC, but it is covered in the Bill. Having pointed that out, I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

Norman Baker: When the Minister began, I thought for a moment that he was going to accept the amendment, but there we are—one lives in hope. I understand what he says. My point is indeed covered earlier in the Bill, and it had also occurred to me before I tabled the amendment that it could be covered by the phrase ''public interest''. However, I thought, and still think, that it would be useful to spell the matter out at this point, because it relates specifically to the form of an investigation, rather than the general functions of the commission. Nevertheless, I shall not press the amendment to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Ainsworth: I beg to move amendment No. 154, in page 115, line 40, after 'authority;' insert—

    '(aa) to every person entitled to be kept properly informed in relation to the subject matter of the investigation under section (Duty to provide information for certain persons other than complainant);'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 155 to 167 and Government new clause 11—Duty to provide information for certain persons other than complainant.

Mr. Ainsworth: One of the key objectives of part 2 is to increase openness in the police complaints system by providing for the maximum disclosure of information to complainants subject to a sensitivity test. There might, however, be circumstances in which a person, for example the relative of a deceased person, does not wish to make a complaint. As the Bill stands, that person would have no entitlement to receive information about the progress of the investigation into the conduct of those whose actions allegedly led to the death of their relative.

The Government believe that any person who has suffered serious injury or the death of a relative should automatically be treated as a complainant for the purposes of being kept informed. The amendments enable that to happen.

We want to extend the principle of the maximum possible openness for complainants to all people who

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have a legitimate interest in a case. The police will have to keep specific people, such as relatives of those who have died allegedly as a result of police misconduct, informed to the same degree as complainants. The Secretary of State will set out in regulations the relatives who should have the right to be kept informed, but obviously they will be those who are closest to the deceased.

New clause 11 will allow the police or the IPCC to be proactive about keeping any people whom they consider to be legitimately interested informed about the investigation without such people having to make a complaint first.

Mr. Paice: The Under-Secretary will not be surprised to hear that we are more than happy with the principle of transparent sharing of information, which the amendments and new clause will bring in. However, our discussion relates to the previous amendments because my concern is to ensure that the process of keeping people informed does not become so burdensome that it detracts from the principal purpose of achieving a proper investigation.

I ask the Under-Secretary the people whom he envisages will be considered as relatives. As my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath said earlier, the sad situation is that people can be awkward and take up much time by wanting to know every dot and comma of progress, and that detracts from the progress of the inquiry. We are discussing not the outcome of the inquiry, but its progress. The principal objective is to get the progress going and to maintain it rather than getting too bogged down by telling all and sundry about it.

I was especially worried about new clause 11(2)(b), which mentions

    ''a relative of a person whose serious injury is the alleged result from that conduct and that person is incapable of making a complaint''.

Obviously, somebody would have made a complaint because otherwise there would not be an investigation. There is a case for limiting the number of people who may ring up to ask how the inquiry is getting on. Will the Under-Secretary give us more detail about how narrow the criteria will be?

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