HC Deb 27 February 1958 vol 583 cc544-7

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, for what reason police dogs were used to control crowds demonstrating in Whitehall after a protest meeting against nuclear weapons on 17th February; whether it is now the policy of the Metropolitan Police to use dogs in these circumstances; and who is responsible for giving the order that dogs should be so used.

104. Mr. EDELMAN

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department in what circumstances he authorises the use of police dogs for the purpose of controlling crowds.

106. Mr. ROYLE

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, by what authority police dogs were taken to Downing Street following the mass meeting in Westminster on Monday evening, 17th February, when representatives of the meeting sought to interview the Prime Minister.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what are the regulations governing the use of police dogs in the Metropolitan area, with particular reference to the control of crowds.

114 and 115. Mr. FRANK ALLAUN

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) why police dogs were taken to a demonstration in Central London connected with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament on Monday, 17th February;

(2) why police dogs are being sent to trade union and other meetings in the Metropolitan area.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I will, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, answer Questions Nos. 99, 104, 106, 112, 114 and 115 together.

It has never been the policy of the Commissioner to use police dogs in dispersing demonstrators, and none was, in fact, used in dealing with the demonstrators in Downing Street on 17th February. When a call for reinforcements was sent out those who responded from one police division included two dog handlers with their dogs. They had not been ordered to attend and were at once directed into a doorway where they remained throughout the operation, the dogs being held strictly on their leads. I am informed that no police dogs have been sent to trade union or other meetings in the Metropolitan Police District.

Mr. Stonehouse

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, which will help to relieve public anxiety after the disturbing events of ten days ago in Whitehall, may I ask him to confirm that when large crowds congregate in Whitehall only foot police will be used and that the police will confine themselves to controlling the crowds rather than trying to provoke them?

Mr. Butler

It is the normal practice of the Metropolitan Police to control the crowds and not to provoke them, and it is not the normal intention to use dogs in dispersing demonstrators. I hope that my Answer will have indicated that this was no change of policy whatever and that the presence of these dogs was entirely fortuitous and that they were then sent home.

Mr. Royle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us in the House will not regard his Answer as helpful? Is there not a sinister suggestion in the presence of police dogs at public demonstrations? Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that there is a very great difference between the use of police dogs at public demonstrations and their use for breaking up criminal gangs? Is it not a fact that these dogs were a really sinister suggestion to anyone who was present in that demonstration in Whitehall, and also at a trade union gathering in the North of England?

Mr. Butler

The hon. Member's supplementary question is very helpful, because he has differentiated between the use of police dogs in dealing with demonstrations and their use in other police work. I accept that. It is the exact position.

The hon. Member has already referred to the use of police dogs at Carrington, in Cheshire, of which I am fully aware. This is not, of course, a matter for the Home Secretary, but for the Chief Constable of Cheshire and the local authority. The presence of this dog was entirely fortuitous, and it was not used. I understand also that this dog attracted certain other friendly dogs, which created an altogether exaggerated impression of the use of dogs on this occasion. I hope that the House will accept my Answer as being quite clear.

Mr. Allaun

How can the Home Secretary say that this was fortuitous when several dogs were sent to the meeting of trade unionists in Manchester and whose presence can be confirmed by trade union officials? Does he not feel that the sending of police dogs to a trade union meeting is more likely to provoke trouble than to prevent it?

Sir P. Agnew

Before my right hon. Friend replies—

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Sir Peter Agnew.

Sir P. Agnew

Does not this go to show, on the evidence which has been given to the House, that the dog is a gregarious animal and often comports itself in its affairs much better and more peacefully than human beings do?

Mr. Butler

Although the case in the North of England is not my responsibility, and we must be quite clear about that, I have ascertained that the dogs' presence was fortuitous. As far as I know it is not the object of any police authority to use dogs in dispersing crowds, or in attending trade union meetings.

Mr. Gordon Walker

The Home Secretary used the phrase earlier that it was not the "normal intention" of the police to use dogs in these political meetings. Could he elucidate that? The use of the expression "normal intention", in an answer to a supplementary question, could imply that there was some conceivable intention to use them. We all want to draw this distinction, which the right hon. Gentleman drew, between the use of dogs to break up gangs and such things and the use of dogs in attendance at political meetings. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can give us a categorical assurance that it is not the intention of the police that dogs should be used for the latter purpose.

Mr. Butler

The observations made by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) represent the facts, namely, the differentiation between demonstrations and what might be the use of dogs to deal with gangs. The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) has confirmed the opinion which I should like to express and which was conveyed by the hon. Member for Salford.