HC Deb 21 June 1956 vol 554 cc1619-22
26. Mr. Anthony Greenwood

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied that effective steps are being taken by the Metropolitan Police to prevent the operation of race gangs in the London area; and if he will make a statement.

27. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further action he is taking to end gang warfare in London.

Major Lloyd-George

I am in close touch with the Commissioner of Police and am satisfied that the police are giving close and urgent attention to the prevention of crimes of violence.

Mr. Greenwood

Does the Home Secretary appreciate that, although he may be satisfied, there is mounting public disquiet on this score? Is he aware that yesterday there was a further case of razor-slashing in the West End, that in three recent cases at the Old Bailey there has been blatant perjury, that after one of the cases had been dealt with Mr. Justice Donovan had to be provided with a police escort, and that gangs of twelve or more men have paraded up and down outside the Central Criminal Court whilst cases were being heard? Is there any truth in allegations in the Press today that the police are being discouraged from visiting clubs in the West End in the ordinary course of their duties, and how long must the public wait before the activities of these squalid, cowardly, small-time hoodlums like Comer, Dimes and Hill are effectively curbed?

Major Lloyd-George

In practically every one of the cases that the hon. Member has mentioned it was action by the police which got those concerned where they are today. In one case—the Jack Spot case—the assailants were apprehended within hours. I think they got sentences of three and five years, respectively. [HON. MEMBERS: "Seven years."] There were two sentences of seven years yesterday. That was entirely due to the action taken by the police.

The House will realise that, although these men are known to the police, it is not possible just to round them up as one would take stray dogs to Battersea. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, I have seen responsible papers saying that it is my duty to put them out of harm's way. Am I to put people out of harm's way without charge or trial? [HoN. MEMBERS: "What about the Cypriot priest?"] That is a different thing altogether. What I did about the Cypriot was legal. If I had put him into prison without trial, it would have been illegal. I would not propose to do such a thing. There is no alternative but to use the police as they are used now in preventing people from committing crimes, and so far as we can see from the results in the last few days, they are doing extremely well.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Is the Home Secretary aware that if this ugly situation gets worse—and it is getting worse—the really serious consequence of it will be that the public will lose confidence in the police force? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That will be very much more serious. Is it not a fact that if really drastic instructions were given from the top the whole of this filthy business would be cleared up in a few weeks?

Major Lloyd-George

It is all very well to talk about giving drastic instructions from the top. It depends what they are intended to do. If they were intended to put these people out of the way, then it would not be possible to carry them out. This House would not allow one to do it. It is ridiculous to say that the public are losing confidence in the police. If these men were not apprehended the public would lose confidence.

Mrs. Braddock

Is the Home Secretary satisfied with the method of control and responsibility in the Metropolitan Police? Is he aware that it is the opinion in many quarters that control and decision are too highly centralised? In local areas where the police authorities have to deal with this matter, they have dealt with it, because lower down the scale people in the force have the authority to act in their own areas without having to wait too long to get official authority from the top. Will the Home Secretary look at the position of control and administration of the police in the Metropolitan area?

Major Lloyd-George

I will look at anything, but if there were any evidence that these people who commit these acts of violence were not being apprehended there would be some cause for disquiet. It is very difficult when there are these cases, as there are from time to time. We get cycles of these outbreaks. As the House will appreciate, it is an extremely difficult thing, because most of these men are known to the police, but it is very difficult to prevent crimes simply because one knows that a man is a criminal.