HC Deb 05 November 1959 vol 612 cc1196-9
31. Mr. G. Jeger

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what expense to public funds was involved in the damages and cost awarded to Mr. Gerald Garratt against the Metropolitan Police.

37. Mr. Lipton

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what amount has been paid out of public funds in respect of damages and costs arising from the case of Garratt v. Eastmond.

Mr. R. A. Butler

No damages were awarded by the court to the plaintiff in this case. A sum of £300 was paid into court on behalf of the defendant without admission of liability. The plaintiff, with the consent of the court, took the sum out in satisfaction of his claim. The bill of costs has not yet been received.

Mr. Jeger

Is this settlement at the expense of the policeman concerned against whom the action was taken, or does that amount come out of public funds, that is, at the expense of the taxpayer and ratepayer?

Mr. Butler

The latter represents the situation.

Mr. Lipton

Will we be informed in due course how much has had to be paid by way of costs out of public funds?

Mr. Butler

Yes, if the House wishes the information, the best way would be to put down a Question.

32 and 33. Mr. G. Jeger

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what disciplinary action is proposed by the Metropolitan Police arising out of the High Court case of Garratt v. Eastmond;

(2) to what department of the Metropolitan Police Police Constable Eastmond has been assigned; and to what extent this assignment brings him into contact with the public whilst on duty.

Mr. R. A. Butler

The Commissioner of Police, who is the disciplinary authority, informs me that he has decided that no disciplinary proceedings should be instituted. It is not his practice to disclose the disposition of the officers of his force.

Mr. Jeger

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware of the fact that numbers of newspapers have carried reports of previous cases in which this policeman has had to be reprimanded for his attitude towards the public? Is not this one of the reasons which is bringing the police into disrepute—regrettably—with the public, and ought not the Home Secretary to be prepared to look into this man's record with a view to revising his views?

Mr. Butler

As anybody who has served on a police authority of any sort knows—I am the police authority for the Metropolis—there are limits to which I can go. This is a matter which falls essentially within the power of the Commissioner. As he has decided this, I will support him.

Mr. Paget

Does it not seem a little odd that upon the one hand the Crown is advised to pay damages for a civil wrong alleged against one of its servants and on the other hand the advice is that the servant has not done anything wrong?

Mr. Butler

The hon. and learned Gentleman has the great power of bringing matters together in one sentence, but it is not quite as simple as that. There would not be Questions in this House if there were not a certain amount of disquiet about this case, with which I sympathise.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that we get a really extraordinary situation if, in a police force for which he has personal responsibility to this House, an act takes place by an individual member of the force which justifies the police authority in paying substantial damages to a citizen and yet we have no inquiry at all, no disciplinary action against the man who must, on the result of the case, have acted in a way which justified the award of some damages?

Mr. Butler

The payment was made into court without admission of liability. That is, of course, the technical thing that happens on these occasions. I have great experience of the wisdom of the Commissioner in these matters. The matter has been referred to him. He has taken this decision. As I have said, I support him in the decision.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Would the right hon. Gentleman not realise that there is very great disquiet about this matter? A lot is known about this case and similar cases in connection with this man The right hon Gentleman has, after all, responsibility to the House in this field. Does he not agree with the recent article in The Times that this is more than a simple case before the courts that it has a very wide public importance because it concerns the action of a police constable in his official capacity and. secondly, because the money was paid out of public funds? Therefore for two reasons it is a matter of great public importance for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible to the House.

Mr. Butler

I did not deny that I was responsible to the House. I said that I accepted the responsibility in the matter. I said that Questions would not have been put down if there had not been disquiet, which I fully understand, but I am afraid that I cannot carry the matter any further.

Mr. Gaitskell

Surely that is not very satisfactory. Why has the right hon. Gentleman reached this decision? I understand that there is a great deal of evidence that this officer has not behaved at all well on previous occasions, and it is very surprising that no action whatever has been taken about it. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain that?

Mr. Butler

It is, I think, a matter for discretion. As Secretary of State I am responsible for the Metropolitan Police Force and for the Commissioner. I have confidence in the judgment of the Commissioner. There is a great variety of facts in the case. The Commissioner has been into them. I have given all the relevant facts that I know to the House, and I am afraid that I must accept responsibility in the matter.

Mr. Jeger

In view of the totally unsatisfactory nature of the replies from the Home Secretary, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment as early as possible.