HC Deb 01 July 1969 vol 786 cc385-98

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. McCann.]

10.36 p.m.

Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)

I welcome this opportunity to raise on the Floor of the House the grievance of my constituent, Mr. John S. Taylor, of 45, Bromefield, Stanmore, against the Airports Authority police at Heathrow Airport, London. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Board of Trade, for being present to hear my representations, and I hope that he will be able to bring relief to my constituent and satisfy the House about the manner in which the airport police will carry out their duties in future.

This is a case which not only involves injustice to my constituent, who has been treated disgracefully by the authorities at London Airport, but raises wide issues about the administrative control of the airport police and the protection of the citizen against arrogant abuses of power by airport constables at all Airports Authority airports.

I shall show that Mr. Taylor, a taxi driver, was harassed, abused and assaulted by a constable in plain clothes after asking, quite properly, in entirely understandable circumstances, to see the constable's police identity card. I shall show that those in authority over the constable failed to exercise a proper degree of supervision and failed to investigate Mr. Taylor's subsequent complaint about his treatment in a manner which commands public confidence.

I shall show that Mr. Taylor was denied meaningful assistance by the Metropolitan Police, to whom he turned for help. I shall also show that he was led to believe by the airport police that there would be a hearing into his complaint at which he would be present, that there was no such hearing and that he merely received an ungrammatical letter couched in the language of "double speak".

On the evidence I shall put to the House, it is legitimate to draw the conclusion that the airport authorities have tried to hush up this matter. If that is so, then I hope that this debate will give them a better understanding of the facilities which are open to the citizen to seek to have his grievance against powerful forces ventilated in this House through his Member of Parliament.

The case came to my notice on 28th April last, when Mr. Taylor wrote to me in the following terms: As a member of your constituency I would like to bring to your attention an incident which took place at London (Heathrow) Airport on 26th April 1969 at approximately 4.15 p.m. concerning a police constable ' Hurley' of the British Airports Authority Constabulary, who whilst in plain clothes did (1) fail to produce his police identity card when requested, (2) order me to leave Heathrow Airport without giving any reason whatsoever, and (3) did physically assault me whilst in the waiting room of the British Airports Authority Police Station at Heathrow. The situation occurred as follows: On the aforementioned date I was standing with my taxi cab, which was third on the rank, at No. 2 Building when I was addressed by a man in plain clothes whom I had never seen before, and asked why I was not wearing my badge (at the time in question I was dressed in shirt and trousers, the badge being attached to the belt of my slacks and plainly visible). I asked the man who he was, to which he replied, 'I am a police officer.' I pointed out to him that my badge was being worn and then asked him to produce his identification card. He refused to do so and then to my astonishment ordered me to leave the airport; I saw that there was a uniformed sergeant in the vicinity and I asked him to come over and clarify the position. The sergeant informed me that the man was a P.C. Hurley, but still no warrant card was produced. I was then asked by the plain clothes man for the copy of my cab driver's licence and told that if I refused to give it to him I would be arrested. I replied to the uniformed sergeant stating that if he, the sergeant, wished to see the copy I would show it to him or produce it at the police station but not to a man who claims to be a police officer and fails to produce any form of identification. Hurley still wanted to arrest me but the sergeant managed to persuade him to get into the back of my cab so that I could produce the copy of my licence at the police station. The journey was uneventful and on arrival I asked the desk sergeant if I could see a senior police officer, to which he replied that I should go into the waiting room where he would attend to the matter. Whilst standing half in, half out of the door, the man since identified as P.C. Hurley forcefully tried to push me in and said 'Get in there, you.' The desk sergeant then intervened and pacified Hurley, asked me if I would 'please take a seat' and then went away, re-appearing shortly with Police Inspector Gurney, to whom I narrated the episode which had previously taken place and informed him that I intended to lay a complaint against P.C. Hurley. On terminating the interview I was yet again confronted by P.C. Hurley who cautioned me and said 'Anything you say may be' etc. etc. I asked him what the charge was and was told: (a) not wearing my badge; (b) refusing to show a copy of licence; (c) refusing to leave the airport when ordered. Mr. Roebuck, sir, believe me, I left the airport in disgust that such a form of Nazi bullying and gangsterism is allowed to exist in England. I made straight for Edgware Police Station where I intended to lodge a complaint and was informed there that they could do nothing about this as in fact the airport police are a private body answerable only to the British Airports Authority. Sir, I beg of you to use your position to try to get some form of action taken on my behalf as I find this situation not only disgusting, but, I must confess, more than a little frightening.

I remain, yours faithfully,

J. S. Taylor."

The House will agree that that is a most disturbing letter for an hon. Member to receive from a constituent.

I asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to give the matter his attention, but he took the view that it was one which concerned the Board of Trade rather than the Home Office. To a great extent, of course, that is true, but in my submission it is also an issue which concerns the Home Office. The House will recall that Mr. Taylor stated that he complained to the Metropolitan Police at Edgware that he had been assaulted at London Airport, and was told, in effect, that they had no authority to intervene. I cannot, in the absence of further argument, accept that interpretation of the duties of the Metropolitan Police. Mr. Taylor was complaining that he had been assaulted, and it is a convention, for obvious reasons—to prevent vendettas and people taking the law into their own hands—for such allegations to be pursued by the police rather than the victim.

It is true that the airport is private property and that by Section 10 of the Airports Authority Act 1965 the Authority has power to appoint constables to police its property, but is it really maintained that this precludes the Metropolitan Police from investigating any alleged breach of the law by airport constables at London Airport? What if one of them committed a murder or took part in a gold robbery? I hope that the House will be given some clarification of this important point.

I am happy to say that, on the receipt of my general inquiry on Mr. Taylor's behalf, my hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Board of Trade sent me a courteous letter on 9th May, stating that the Airports Authority police were already looking into the matter. He added: I have asked the Authority to let me know the result of their inquiries and to ensure that you receive a copy of their reply to Mr. Taylor. I will write to you again at that time should further comment seem necessary. That was an entirely satisfactory interim reply, of the helpful nature one associates with him.

However, when by 19th June I had heard no more, I telephoned my hon. Friend's private office and asked for consideration of the matter to be expedited. It most certainly was—and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for this—because the following day I received a letter by hand from the Deputy Chief Constable of the Airports Police. But my pleasure at the celerity of this response evaporated when I read the contents. This is what the letter said:

"Dear Mr. Roebuck.

I understand that Mr. William Rodgers, Minister of State, Board of Trade, promised that you would receive a copy of my letter to Mr. J. S. Taylor, of 45 Bromefield, Stan-more, Middlesex, who recently complained about the conduct of an officer of this constabulary.

A letter was handed to Mr. Taylor on Wednesday, 4th June, 1969, informing him of the results of the investigation, but the same day Mr. Taylor supplied the names and addresses of two additional witnesses in support of his complaint. These witnesses have now been interviewed, but their testimony does not materially affect the issue and I am arranging for Mr. Taylor to be told of this.

I regret the delay in concluding this investigation and enclose for your information, a copy of my letter to Mr. Taylor."

The contents of the letter dated 3rd June, 1969, to Mr. Taylor may well be regarded with some hilarity by students of the art of evasion. This is what it said:

"Dear Mr. Taylor,

Complaint against Police Officer

I refer to my letter of 29th April 1969 and to a subsequent statement which you made to Chief Inspector Mitchison of this Constabulary in connection with the above.

The matter has been investigated by a senior police officer and I have now received his report. From the evidence available, I am satisfied that the Constable discharged his duties to the best of his ability and without any intent to either assault you or cause offence.

However, it seems that he was somewhat over-zealous and that he did not discharge his duties with that degree of tact and courtesy which one would expect from a police officer otherwise you would not feel a sense of grievance at his actions. I, therefore, intend that he shall be very carefully briefed as to the manner in which he deals with members of the public in future.

I should like to take this opportunity of thanking you for bringing this to my notice and express the hope that the incident will in no way impair the good relations which have hitherto existed between you and members of the Police Service.

Yours faithfully,

Deputy Chief Constable."

Can the House be told what on earth is meant by the sentence From the evidence available, I am satisfied that the constable discharged his duties to the best of his ability and without any intent to either assault you or cause offence."? Apparently Mr. Taylor's complaint that he was assaulted and was caused offence is unchallenged. How can the Deputy Chief Constable's confidence in his man be reconciled with the statement that the constable is to be very carefully briefed as to the manner in which he deals with members of the public in future "? And what about the constable being in plain cloths and refusing to show his identity card? By what authority did the constable threaten to arrest my constituent? It is true that under Section 9 (6) of the Airport Authority Act, 1965, a constable may, without warrant, arrest people for having infringed the byelaws. But what byelaws had my constituent contravened? He was there pursuing his lawful employment, and his good faith is demonstrated by the fact that he approached the uniformed sergeant and offered to produce any form of identification should it be requested by a person who could prove that he was duly authorised to seek it. I hope that the Minister will agree that we cannot have people going around demanding information from citizens upon pain of arrest without first demonstrating their authority to make such a demand.

Following the receipt of the letters from the Deputy Chief Constable, I telephoned my hon. Friend's office with a message to the effect that I was not satisfied that there had been an adequate inquiry. I also complained of the Deputy Chief Constable's delay in sending me a copy of his letter to Mr. Taylor of 3rd June. My hon. Friend, in a letter dated 25th June, offered the following explanation of the Deputy Chief Constable's dilatoriness: I understand that, as a result of their inquiries, the Deputy Chief Constable wrote to Mr. Taylor on 3rd June, explaining the conclusion to which they had come. This letter was delivered by hand the following day, Wednesday. 4th June. However, Mr. Taylor then supplied the names and addresses of two additional witnesses in support of his complaint and very properly the Police decided that these witnesses should be interviewed to discover whether the previous conclusion would stand. It was because of Mr. Taylor's action, which effectively re-opened the inquiry, that the British Airports Authority did not send me at the time—or send you—a copy of their letter to Mr. Taylor of 3rd June. Quite reasonably, they felt that you would be interested in their final conclusion. I understand that in fact they wrote to you on 19th June, saying that, having interviewed the witnesses, their testimony did not materially affect the issue. I have since received a copy of this letter to you.

I told Mr. Taylor of this over the telephone, and as a result of what he said about the conduct of the investigation I asked him to let me have a statement in writing. I have not time to go into the statement in full, but he said that he went to Heathrow Airport on the understanding that he would there be participating in some sort of hearing, but there was no hearing. There was only the letter dated 3rd June, which I have already read to the House. So far as the question of witnesses is concerned, it is my constituent's claim that he gave the names of the witnesses before he went to Heathrow Airport. There is here a complete conflict between what my hon. Friend is saying—no doubt on the basis of what he was told—and what my constituent says.

In his letter of 24th June my hon. Friend very kindly suggested that it might be possible for further talks with the Chief Constable or the Chief Executive of the Airport Authority, but I thought it more appropriate to come to the House and raise this matter. In this connection I draw attention to the Third Reading speech made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation on 22nd January, 1965, in col. 648 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, which clearly indicated the House would continue to take an interest in all that went on with the Airports Authority.

I maintain to my hon. Friend that the House is entitled to know, as a result of all this, just how the police force at London Airport is run. How can a citizen with a grievance against an airport constable get it investigated satisfactorily? What advice has the Board of Trade given to the Authority? Will my hon. Friend, as a result of this case, give fresh advice?

A citizen with a complaint against a member of the Metropolitan Police or a police force run by a local authority has a statutory right to have his complaint investigated. Will the President of the Board of Trade now consider issuing a directive to the Airports Authority requiring it to establish a similar procedure?

I am proud of my constituent, Mr. Taylor, for bringing to attention an important matter affecting our civil liberties. He should be congratulated on refusing to be browbeaten. He has acted in the best traditions of our democracy in declining to be pushed around outside the law. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree to some further inquiries into the case.

One cannot consider the facts of this matter without wanting to sound the the warning, "Facilis est descensus averno…". I ask the Minister to recognise the potential dangers of the situation which I have described and take appropriate action. My view is that a shake-up at London Airport is needed.

It was, I think, Sir Ivor Jennings, in a popular work on the English constitution, who once distilled the Englishman's right not to be pushed around without lawful authority in the well-known phrase of the London bobbie, "Oi, you can't do that there 'ere." I ask my hon. Friend to say just that to the authorities at London Airport: "Oi, you can't do that there 'ere—and particularly to a constituent of the hon. Member for Harrow, East."

10.52 p.m.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. William Rodgers)

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) is assiduous on behalf of his constituents, and at no time more so than this evening. However, the rule for his constituent is the rule that we apply to all: did I feel that his constituent had a grievance, I would be concerned not only about the individual liberty of one man but about the liberty of all citizens.

With respect to my hon. Friend, he has jumped many fences in a short time. I confess that I am in some difficulty. Whereas he has spoken no doubt with the authority of his constituent behind him, he has also spoken with full freedom to disclose what his constituent has thought proper. By contrast I have wider obligations. I am not free to disclose what his constituent may have said, as I understand, in confidence. I am not free to describe in detail the inquiries which took place. Alas, I am not free to defend P.C. Hurley against the accusations which my hon. Friend has felt it necessary to make against him. I have obligations to issues of confidence and relations of a statutory kind. For this reason, I hope he will appreciate that if I do not say that I believe he has been wrong in all cases, I do not thereby necessarily agree with any of the statements which he has made.

While the issues which my hon. Friend has raised are important, I hope that no one will believe that Mr. Taylor was, as my hon. Friend said, harassed, abused and assaulted without better evidence than that brought forward by my hon. Friend. Certainly, in my view, he was not browbeaten. There was no Nazi bullying and gangsterism, which are the words used by my hon. Friend—

Mr. Roebuck

I did not use them. Those are the words of my constituent.

Mr. Rodgers

They are the words which my hon. Friend used, and upon which he put his own special authority. I am not prepared to let it go on record that I accept any of the remarks about P.C. Hurley or any other people involved.

I express my regret that, whereas my hon. Friend has been free, quite rightly, to raise this issue, he has put me in a position where I cannot adequately defend men whose character may require a proper defence. This is because of the relationships of confidentiality, which, within the rules of order, make it impossible for me to disclose the details of the report which was made following Mr. Taylor's complaint.

I only hope, however, that the purpose of this Adjournment debate has been in part achieved. My hon. Friend has certainly laid matters before us that deserve looking at, even though there might not be an immediate reply to them. I can give him the undertaking now that if he has said things that require further investigation, I shall look into them and give him a considered reply. That having been said, I hope he feels that he has got some matters off his chest about which he feels very strongly.

My hon. Friend has been concerned with three related matters. First, he has complained, at least in passing, that the whole question has not been dealt with efficiently by the Board of Trade and, I think, by implication, by me and my own officials. Second, there was the substance of Mr. Taylor's complaint, particularly at the outcome of the investigation. Third, he posed the whole question of what we should now do, which involves the powers of the Board of Trade in relation to the British Airports Authority constabulary.

I need not proceed very far tonight on the first point. I should have been happy to discuss the question with my hon. Friend had this been his wish. But he felt that he wanted to bring the matter to the Floor of the House at an early date rather than examine with me in more detail whether justice has been done within the Act. My hon. Friend would agree that we can only require that individuals should work within our statutes. If the law is wrong, it is for my hon. Friend and myself to change it, not to blame others for acting on the law as it is. I say to him, with respect, that at times instead of complaining to me about the law and saying that he intends to change it, he has complained about those who have acted within the law according to the rules laid down by Parliament.

May I go back over a little of the history? At the time we received my hon. Friend's letter, which came to us via the Home Office on 2nd May, Mr. Taylor had written direct to the British Airports Authority. At that stage, when my hon. Friend got in touch with me, the Chief Constable was already having the matter looked into. Nevertheless, the Authority said to me that when its inquiries were complete it would let me know the outcome and would ensure that my hon. Friend received a copy of its reply to Mr. Taylor. In my letter to my hon. Friend of 9th May I concluded that I would write to him again at the time I heard from the British Airports Authority should further comment seem necessary. I stress my final phrase, because I did not commit myself in that letter, as I think my hon. Friend thought, to write irrespective of the circumstances and whether or not any further comment appeared to be required.

This is how the matter stood when my hon. Friend telephoned my office on 18th June and then again on 20th June. At that stage, on 20th June, he had received a letter from the Deputy Chief Constable about which he has complained tonight. With that letter from the Deputy Chief Constable was a copy of the letter which he had written to Mr. Taylor, dated 3rd June. My hon. Friend apparently complained, not to me personally, at the time about the position and talked, as he has this evening, of a cover-up job. He said this evening that the British Airports Authority has tried to hush up this matter. This appears to have been his view from about 20th June. At that stage he said that if he did not hear from me further he would raise the matter on the Adjournment. I wrote to him, as he has now said, on 23rd June—

Mr. Roebuck

On 25th June.

Mr. Rodgers

On 25th June, my hon. Friend is quite right. On 23rd June the position was that I knew no more than my hon. Friend about the position. I was under no commitment to write to him unless further comment seemed necessary. But my hon. Friend was pressing me for something in writing. In other words, his position was the same as mine, but I had not undertaken to write to him unless there was a further development which it seemed proper for me to take up with him.

As my hon. Friend will know, I was in the House for most of Monday and Tuesday of last week. He and I voted five times in the Division Lobby. During that period, however, he did not raise the matter with me further. I felt at that time that it might have been courteous and helpful on his part had he felt able to talk to me and sort out some of the complexities—

Mr. Roebuck

Come off it! I did not have the opportunity to see my hon. Friend on that occasion. Why does he not deal with the arguments which I have produced instead of handing out all this spurious nonsense?

Mr. Rodgers

If my hon. Friend will allow me to continue—there is little time left to me. I understood that he was concerned about the matter, and I should have been happy to discuss it with him. I was at the House at a time when he could have done so but, clearly, he felt it better to proceed as he has done. As he has said, I can have no complaint against him, and I have no complaint at the method he has chosen.

As my hon. Friend will appreciate—I know that he is fairminded—he has spoken tonight very firmly on behalf of his constituent. He has fulfilled his obligations. He must recognise, however, that I have obligations to some of those whom he has felt it right to criticise on this occasion and who, being public servants, are not in a position to reply to the comments which he has made.

The second main point with which my hon. Friend is concerned is the way that the British Airports Authority dealt with the matter. The Authority has, very fairly, sought to keep my hon. Friend informed.

Mr. Roebuck


Mr. Rodgers

On 3rd June, the Authority wrote to Mr. Taylor, as my hon. Friend knows, and had it in mind to deliver that letter to Mr. Taylor to explain the outcome of its inquiry so far. It was at that stage, however, that Mr. Taylor produced the names of his additional witnesses. My hon. Friend said that Mr. Taylor claims that he put forward the names of the witnesses at an earlier date, but I have the letter to the Authority, dated 3rd June, in which Mr. Taylor said: Please excuse the delay in my forwarding to you the names and addresses of the two witnesses below. In other words, it was only on 3rd June that Mr. Taylor wrote to the Authority and supplied these further names about which the Authority could inquire.

Quite rightly, therefore, at that stage the B.A.A. wrote neither to myself nor to my hon. Friend, because it felt that the inquiry was still open and saw itself under an obligation only to inform myself and my hon. Friend when its inquiry was complete.

So we come to the letter of 19th June, when the Deputy Chief Constable said that he was arranging for Mr. Taylor to be told the outcome of the second stage of the inquiry. It was at that stage that arrangements were made for Mr. Taylor to be seen by an inspector who would personally explain to him the position.

I am satisfied that all the proper procedures which are laid down by statute and by regulation under the statutes have been followed. Mr. Taylor's inquiry has been looked into with very great care. I am sorry that my hon. Friend does not like the letter that the Deputy Chief Constable wrote to Mr. Taylor. I thought it was a courteous and helpful letter and a genuine attempt to explain the outcome of the inquiry to exonerate the person concerned from the larger complaint made against him but to admit that there had been some misunderstanding, some falling short.

I should like that letter to go on record were there time. I think that most people would judge that it was a good letter and one which fairly conveyed the outcome of the inquiry which the Deputy Chief Constable had made. That was, of course, the letter of 3rd June, but, as I have said, it has not proved possible to make contact with Mr. Taylor since to give him the final outcome of the matter.

I understand that on 20th May Mr. Taylor said explicitly that he did not intend to take civil action and was prepared to leave any decision to the discretion of the Chief Constable. Under the statutes and regulations, if Mr. Taylor is not satisfied it would be recourse to the courts which he would choose, but he made clear before the inquiry was undertaken that he would be satisfied to leave it to the discretion of the Chief Constable. My hon. Friend says that that is not now his view. I must put it to him that if Mr. Taylor wishes to pursue the matter he is free to raise it with the British Airports Authority and free to take it to the courts.

That is how the position now stands. I find that there is no advice that I can reasonably give, but I ask my hon. Friend to believe that all the proper procedures were gone through in a meticulous fashion; all Mr. Taylor's complaints were examined; the British Airports Authority did what it was required to do under statute laid down by this House and the position of the British Airports Authority is not in substance different from that of police forces ultimately responsible to the Home Office.

Any further remedy, therefore, falls to Mr. Taylor in the courts—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at six minutes past Eleven o'clock.