HC Deb 15 December 1971 vol 828 cc650-73

12.58 a.m.

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

From the great potential and hopes of Concorde it is my distasteful task now to bring the House back to what is without doubt a very sordid and disgraceful episode in our national life. There is today in London a network of spies and informers operating under the directions of the Government of the Republic of South Africa.

There are citizens and residents in the United Kingdom who are conforming to the laws of this country but who are under surveillance by agents acting on behalf of a foreign Power. There are legal, law-abiding, peaceful organisations operating in this country which have been infiltrated by spies and informers, and there are premises occupied by these legal and peaceful organisations which have been broken into and from which documents have been stolen.

Over the last few months, in conjunction with a number of my hon. Friends, I have been investigating some of these activities, and I have seen and spoken to men and women who live in an atmosphere of fear. They are fearful that their 'phones may be bugged. They are fearful that they may be subjected to bugging in their own premises. They are fearful that they are being watched and are being followed by agents acting on behalf of South Africa. But above those fears, the people whom I have seen and with whom I have spoken have the fear that they cannot go to our police to ask for protection, because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that in this country we are co-operating with the security services of the South African Government. These fears may not be fully justified—I hope that the Minister will be able to give some assurance on this point—but they are real for the people I have seen.

One of the purposes of this debate is to give the Home Office the opportunity to give a clear statement to all those who are here as refugees from South Africa that they are entitled to the full protection of the law in this country against those who are interfering with their liberties. There are many South Africans, black, white and coloured, and no doubt other people as well in this country who have been approached by agents in the pay of the South African Government. I want to give the House some examples of the methods which have been used by these agents on these innocent people in an attempt to get them to undertake activities in which they would rather not participate.

The classic example is an approach to a former South African citizen living here with a message from a friend or relative back in South Africa. A meeting is arranged to pass on this message and once the contact has been made gentle pressures are applied to turn the person concerned into an informer. It is done on the basis that, by making this contact, it has been possible to demonstrate that the long hand of the Bureau of State Security can even reach out to this country and touch these people.

Another method is to promise a review of the no-return passports that many of these South African citizens hold. They are also promised that, if they will act as informers and their co-operation is fruitful, there will be a well-paid job back in South Africa for them.

There have been extensive inquiries into many of these leads that have come into our possession—inquiries not only by hon. Members but by the Press and television. I pay tribute to the many fine and brave journalists whom I have met who have worked on these inquiries, in particular to the Observer newspaper for the part that it has played in exposing these malpractices.

This evening, on the B.B.C. programme "24 Hours", there was a full deployment of the researches that the B.B.C. had undertaken into this business. It was a very fine programme and I am sure that the House will feel indebted to those responsible for it and for the detailed research involved.

It has been clearly established that a spy ring exists and that the name of one of the men who organised it on behalf of the South African Government is known. It is a spy ring that operates from the South African Embassy in London, which has had British citizens acting as controllers, which has established a network of informers and which has infiltrated organisations in this country hostile to the régime in South Africa. There is one British citizen in particular, an ex-member of the British South African Police, who returned to this country under orders to set up this network. His name is John Fairer Smith, and his activities have extended to political, commercial and economic espionage. He is the man who recruited and, for some time, controlled Norman Henry Blackburn, the spy who was convicted and sentenced in 1967 to five years imprisonment for his part in stealing Cabinet papers dealing with Rhodesian sanctions.

Blackburn has been interviewed during this month and has confessed that he organised infiltrators into organisations in this country and kept surveillance on people in this country on behalf of John Fairer Smith who was acting for the South African Government.

I should like to make one or two quotations from statements which have been made by Mr. Blackburn. He said: I infiltrated organisations such as the A.N.C., Z.A.P.U. and S.W.A.P.O. I forget the names, but most of these kinds of organisations—Amnesty International, Anti-Apartheid. I had people in them working for me.… I did not pay them myself. They would go and collect the money. Fairer Smith did that side of things. He would arrange for them to be paid. Dealing with the carrying out of surveillance of people in this country, Blackburn goes on: I carried out surveillance on individuals personally. It was very boring actually. You would keep watch on them for a while, which hotel they were staying in, try to get in with the receptionist, sit in the bar and try and meet them. You can always start a conversation with someone in a bar. That is as good a place as any. It starts off with the weather. The usual procedure was to drop a hint that I was sympathetic towards African nationalism. He then deals with his activities in recruiting informers: Before we recruited people to help informing for us we checked up on them first to see if they liked girls, what sort of life they led. If they led a fast life they would need money. Sometimes it would take weeks to check up on them. Following and following. I would find out where they were drinking and then drink at the same place. Sooner or later the chance would come for a talk. He goes on again to incriminate John Fairer Smith, because he says: Fairer Smith always told me where (which organisation) to go to (for spying). I did not work on my own initiative. He would tell me he wants somebody in there, somebody has left. I used to act on my own initiative (in other ways) if I saw something interesting. The activities of this man, Fairer Smith, were not just confined to political espionage, because, having survived the Cabinet papers scandal, he set up a company to run other spying activities in this country. In August, 1968, he registered a company called Argen (Information Services) Ltd., later to have its name changed to Argen (Business Consultants) Ltd. He has been closely involved in political, economic and commercial espionage, and has an espionage network which stretches out into Europe. His activities have involved the operation of the I.O.S., Gramco and the Real Estate Fund of America.

All these activities are surely worthy of a full-scale investigation by the Home Office. I believe that the Minister tonight needs to give a clear undertaking that he will cause an investigation to take place into the activities of this man in his political, economic and commercial espionage.

I turn briefly to the involvement of the South African Embassy in London in all this. I believe, and the documents that I have bear this out, that South African diplomats have been involved in the spying. There is evidence that Blackburn's controller at the time of the theft of the Cabinet papers was a South African diplomat. That is certainly Blackburn's claim. In the part of his statement dealing with that he refers to the period just before his arrest and says: I was working with someone directly at South Africa House…. I never went to South Africa House or Rhodesia House. I made my contacts with the officials at South Africa House in this way: every month we would arrange for me to meet the next month, and if it was urgent I had a number to ring. He"— that is his contact— was after the same kind of information. So there is clear, positive evidence on the statements by Blackburn implicating Fairer Smith and the South African Embassy in London.

I turn next to the strange case of Keith Wallis, a known South African agent who was found dead at the foot of a ventilation well early in 1970. The coroner's verdict was that it was accidental death. There are people who still feel uneasy about that verdict. They speak—and again it is recorded in the documents that I have—of missing property, a gun, a camera, a tape recorder, of passes that he carried and of signs of disturbance in his flat immediately it was opened after the finding of his body. The suggestion has been made that The police dropped this inquiry like a hot potato after contacting South Africa House. I do not want to overstress the Wallis affair, and I make no comment on it other than to ask the Minister whether he will undertake to review the evidence in the matter so that those of Wallis's friends and acquaintances who still have doubts in their minds about the circumstances of his death can be reassured.

I realise that there is a necessary reluctance to discuss matters involving the interests of our own national security or our own security forces, and the difficulty the Minister faces in replying to a debate like this. But I am satisfied, and I am sure that the House will be satisfied, that the activities of men like John Fairer Smith and the South African secret police in this country are of sufficient public concern to be raised in an open manner in the House. On 11th November I asked the Home Secretary …if he is satisfied that no officer of the Metropolitan Police has given assistance to agents of the South African Government engaged in the surveillance of residents of the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement. The reply was: Any such assistance would be contrary to instructions. Liaison between the Metropolitan Police and the South African authorities is limited to criminal matters and the protection of individuals and property."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1971; Vol. 825, c. 222] I want the Minister to clarify that answer when he replies. Which individuals are really entitled to protection by British Police—the spies, or those who have been spied upon? I know that the answer of the House will be that it is those who have been spied upon by the agents of a foreign Power who are entitled to the protection of our police. Whose property is entitled to protection? Surely, the answer must be that it is the property of lawful organisations such as the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the Society of Friends and the Young Liberals, all of whose premises in recent months have been subjected to break-ins and the theft of documents.

Finally, will the hon. Gentleman spell out clearly, when the Home Office refers to criminal matters as being the basis upon which this liaison can take place, just what it means by "criminal matters"? Is it referring to those things which are criminal under the laws of this country, passed by this Parliament? Or is it referring to the laws of the Republic of South Africa? Everyone knows that it is almost a crime to be a Christian in South Africa. We want it spelt out clearly just what is meant by "criminal matters". I believe the evidence is strong, and I am prepared to make available to the Home Secretary the evidence that I have, so that he can cause the necessary inquiries to begin. I will make it available subject only to the pledge I have given to some of the people I have interviewed—that in no circumstances will I disclose their names. That was the condition upon which they came forward and spoke to me.

The activities here of people like Fairer Smith and by the Bureau of State Security must come to an end. They are unacceptable in this country and I think the House will join with me in calling upon the Minister to set up a full inquiry so that these practices can be exposed and stopped.

1.17 a.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Nottingham, South)

The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) will forgive me if I do not follow exactly the points he has raised but deal with one or two other aspects of the Metropolitan Police.

When we tot up the costs of the Metropolitan Police, we usually talk about the costs of the C.I.D., of traffic and of patrols. I draw attention to another cost —the growing cost to the police involved in the handling of complaints by the public. This is now, I believe, tying up an increasing number of policemen to an extent that the matter is becoming one of real concern.

It is important to be clear about this question at the beginning. No one wants genuine complaints to be dealt with in any other than a full and fair manner. It is fundamental to a police force in a democracy that such fair and full investigation of serious complaints by the public against the police should be made. It is fundamental because all policing depends upon the general consent of the public—in other words, the public must have confidence that serious complaints will be dealt with impartially and mistakes will be corrected. That is why I welcome the new system of handling complaints which the Home Secretary announced in a reply to a Question from me on 2nd December and which partly and in a very important detail concerns the Metropolitan Police.

I think this proposal, which has not been given full recognition yet by the public and the Press, marks important changes in the system of handling complaints. First, it means that in future the Director of Public Prosecutions will be able to ask for more inquiries to be made in cases involving a possible prosecution; secondly, they mean that, in the case of the Metropolitan Police, serious complaints will now be investigated by officers from outside forces. These are genuine and important advances in the system of handling complaints and I believe they meet legitimate criticism which had been made previously of the old system.

The public must consider whether there is something it can do in return. We have to ask whether the time and money spent in investigating complaints is necessary. We complain too much about our police forces. It is difficult to come to any other conclusion after looking at the figures. According to the report of the Commissioner last year 3,500 members of the public made complaints against the Metropolitan Police, only 200 of which were ever substantiated. Almost 95 per cent. of complaints were unproved. London is not alone. In the rest of England and Wales, of 7,400 complaints only 900 were substantiated, leaving 90 per cent. unproved. I do not claim that in some of these unsubstantiated complaints there was not a genuine sense of grievance. Undoubtedly some were justified in making complaints but in that total there were some which should never have been made. Some have been made maliciously, some in the hope that the police would be deterred from bringing proceedings. Far too many are by any definition, purely trivial—allegations of a policeman smoking on duty or of minor incivility. This sounds trivial and it is, yet it takes up the time of the police and costs money to investigate. Every complaint has to be investigated and in those cases everyone's time is wasted.

We expect a good deal from our police force, perhaps too much at times. The police are sorely pressed and their basic task must be, as it has always been, to detect crime and preserve public order. Trivial, unjustified complaints hinder that process. There must never be any question of the serious complainant being prevented from voicing his objections, but the trivial complaint devalues the currency. It would be no bad rule that everyone considering making a complaint against the police should ask themselves whether the complaint is necessary.

It is remarkable how undocumented is the pattern of crime in Britain. The experience and example of the Metropolitan Police is an important indication of what can be done to correct that situation. Most of us deplore the growth of crime in London and elsewhere, but it is remarkable how sparse are the figures about this. This is not an academic point, because it determines our attitudes and policies. It allows generalisations to be made of the kind showing that the increase in crime we have seen in the last 20 years is mainly accounted for by the fact that there has been a steep rise in trivial crime. Recent research at the Cambridge Institute of Criminology shows that the increase in crime has not arisen from an increase in trivial crime so much as from a more than average increase in the number of serious crimes, such as robbery. The research done by the Cambridge Institute of Criminology also shows that crime outside London has been increasing at a faster rate than in the capital. The Metropolitan Police have a very serious problem to deal with, but we should not assume that only they have to deal with it.

The fact that generalisations which under-estimate the increase in crime can be made shows the pathetic inadequacy of the statistics on crime. One gap in particular concerns the cost of crime. It is almost unbelievable, but there are no official figures available which show the financial cost to this country caused by crime. We confidently spend millions of pounds each year on fighting crime with only the sketchiest idea of the scale of financial loss we are dealing with.

I give one example taken from the Annual Report of the Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police. Robbery has increased dramatically in the last 10 or 20 years. It has become a major problem in a city like London. It is regarded as a crime of great seriousness because it carries with it the element of violence. Yet all to few forces tell us the cost of robbery. The Metropolitan Police is a very honourable exception, because it tells us that last year the value of cash and property stolen in the Metropolitan Police area amounted to £2,800,000, of which only £250,000 was recovered.

It might be considered relevant in our policies on the police and how we deploy the police and combat crime to understand that in London last year the robbers made a tax-free "killing" of just over £2½ million. But if we ask for the corresponding figure for the rest of England and Wales, as I have asked, we are told that this information is not available.

I end with this plea. Will my hon. Friend the Minister of State say whether steps can be taken to remedy the very serious gap in our knowledge of this very important matter? If steps are being taken, what are they and when may we expect the results of them?

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South-West)

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that he has given only one example of many differences of practice between the Metropolitan Police and the police forces in the provinces? Even on such basic matters as the practice of fingerprinting and photographing those charged with offences, there is a completely different practice as between London and areas outside London. Crime, which is a national problem, is being combated on a different basis as between London and the provinces.

Mr. Fowler

There is a great deal of truth in that. I have sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says, but if he will excuse me I will confine myself to the question of the gathering of information. We must have certain basic information if we are to put forward policies to tackle the situation. I have confined myself to robbery because that is perhaps one of the more dramatic examples, but one can make the point that robbery is not the only example. The Metropolitan Commissioner in his Annual Report also tells us the value of property stolen otherwise —in burglaries. Again, I would suspect that if one were to ask what our comparable national figures are one would not be given any answer, because that information is not available. So we have the extraordinary situation that it is left to private organisations such as the Security Gazette and the British Insurance Association, for example, to make noble attempts to try to fill the gap in information and to give us some estimate of what the cost of crime in this country actually is.

All I am saying is that crime is often, perhaps too often, dealt with in an emotive way, and what I am asking for is basic information upon which we can judge how serious the situation is. All the evidence has been to the effect that that situation is very serious, that the situation has grown rapidly worse throughout the 1960s, and that it has been serious crime—or crime which the hon. Gentleman and I would find no difficulty in defining as serious—which has increased most.

What I am asking the Government to do is to treat the question of crime as serious—I know they do already—and to follow this policy through and to collect the kind of information which would be useful not only to them in formulating their policies but to us so that we can have intelligent and informed discussion on how we can tackle crime and what priorities the police forces should have.

In conclusion, I would ask my hon. Friend now to tell the House what action is being taken in this field. If no action is being taken, I would urge the Home Department to follow the excellent example already being set by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

1.33 a.m.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

I wish to make one or two observations on the interesting remarks of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) before coming to the main ob- ject of my speech. In so far as he has argued that there is a woeful lack of research into so many aspects of crime I am entirely at one with him.

As for his arguments concerning complaints about the police and the machinery being applied for investigating the complaints, I am afraid that I cannot share what I regret to say appeared to me to be a somewhat complacent view of the position. It is very difficult to sift out the trivial and the unjustified from the serious. What may to the police be trivial and unjustified may not be trivial and unjustified to the complainant. Therefore, if we are to retain a substantial measure of confidence between the public at large and the police we must be very concerned indeed that a person who feels he has a justified complaint can in fact air it. I know it is true that there is a large number of trivial complaints, and a number of malicious complaints, but how, without carrying out some form of inquiry, can we determine which are the true and which are the false? I do not believe that the machinery which the Home Secretary announced the other day is as satisfactory as the hon. Gentleman has sought to suggest. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) said on that occasion, it still retains a situation where the police are judges in their own cause, and a number of us are not satisfied with that position.

However, I do not propose to enlarge further on that because I want to refer—

Mr. Fowler


Mr. Davis

I hope the hon. Member will forgive me for not giving way. I really wish not to detain the House unduly long.

I want now to refer to the enormously valuable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). The House and the country will be indebted to him for the disclosures which he has made tonight, and for the help he has given to the mass media in revealing the sordid and squalid state of affairs which he described.

My hon. Friend presented a detailed factual analysis which, at the very least, raises a powerful prima facie case deserving—indeed, demanding—a full-scale inquiry. He has depicted a frightening story, with evidence of intimidation, of harassment, of corruption, of theft, and worse, exercised by the South African security forces, not in South Africa but in this country, against people who have sought sanctuary here from oppression in South Africa.

The allegations show a certain forbearance on the part of the Metropolitan Police in carrying out inquiries and in dealing with the alleged outrages. Why have the police in London taken no action? Did they not have the information, information which the mass media had, and which my hon. Friend had? Why did it not come to their notice, or, if it did, why did they do nothing about it? These are pertinent questions, and I am sure that the Minister of State will deal with them and not evade them, for evasion on a matter of this kind would be no service to democracy and justice in this country.

The people who are the subject of these alleged outrages are liberals, in the main, people who have come to this country believing that it is a sanctuary from South Africa. Of course, they would be described as Communists by the South African Government. I suppose that that Government would describe even the Minister of State as a Communist; they are capable of almost anything.

What causes a number of us great anxiety is that it has been conceded by the Home Secretary that there is a good deal of liaison between the police of this country and the South African police. My hon. Friend drew attention to the Home Secretary's Written Answer on 11th November. It was not that he referred to the South African police; he referred to the South African authorities. What did he mean by "authorities"? Does that term include the security forces of South Africa? What was meant by "criminal matters"? To which law, South African or British, do we look for a definition of crime in that context? So one could go on. My hon. Friend raised many points in that connection, and I need do no more than underline them.

What is particularly frightening—there is further evidence of this to which my hon. Friend did not refer—is that a good deal of the evidence against people who have been prosecuted in South Africa—perhaps "persecuted" would be more appropriate—seems to have been garnered in London. The Dean of Johannesburg himself said, referring to the visit of two British police women at his trial, that it indicated co-operation between the British police and the South African police, and he thought that it was far too close. Why were they there at all? How would they benefit from their attendance at the trial? If there is a degree of liaison and co-operation in the study of criminal methods, why do we have to liaise with the South Africans of all people? We know only too well the way in which the South African police operate. We know the sort of tortures they use and how they get confessions. What have we to learn from them? Do we liaise with the Russian secret police? Of course we do not. Why should we liaise with the fascist police of South Africa?

I turn to another practice which has caused me and some of my hon. Friends anxiety, and that is the practice which seems to be developing of illicit leaks to the Press by the police of certain investigations that they are making. It is a monstrous injustice that, when a man is detained so that inquiries can be made, there should be a leak to the Press of the identity of that person or of the nature of the inquiries until a charge is preferred. The Minister of State will know to what I am alluding. Grave damage can be done to the character of a person who may be impugned quite wrongly. There can be only one explanation of how the Press manage to get information of this kind and that is by leaks from the police.

If, for example, a man of some fame is detained, no doubt a journalist gets on to the police station and asks, "Is there any news tonight?" That information is disclosed to him, because it is a story. One cannot blame the journalist; it is his job to ferret out information; but I do blame the police if they are implicated in that sort of situation.

Mr. Fowler

I do not know the details, but I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is making a serious allegation against policemen. I should have thought that everyone would know what he is talking about. Has he any evidence to substantiate the charge he is making?

Mr. Davis

I am making a demand for an inquiry.

Mr. Fowler

On what evidence?

Mr. Davis

It is indirect evidence. Of course, it must be indirect evidence. If a man is detained for inquiries to be made at the police station, nobody would know about it except the police force and the man concerned, and no one would know the nature of the inquiries. Who, then, would have imparted the information to the Press?

Mr. Fowler

One obvious answer to that is that someone else involved in the accident or incident might think it was worth while to ring up the Press.

Mr. Davis

That could not have been the case in the circumstances to which I am alluding. What happened took place, as it frequently does, within the confines of the police station. I demand an explanation for this activity and I ask for an inquiry. This is an improper practice, if it exists, and I hope that the Minister of State will take this matter seriously.

I have to some degree made complaints about the police, but I do not want it to be thought that, whenever one makes complaints or demands an inquiry, one necessarily has a dreadful idea of the police. Indeed the reverse is the case so far as I am concerned. It is my experience, both in my professional job and as a Member of Parliament, that we are very fortunate indeed in our Metropolitan Police. Naturally, there are bad police officers, just as there are bad doctors, bad solicitors, and even bad Members of Parliament. And it is right that when they are found not to be doing their duty, they should be exposed. But if one makes allegations which are deserving of inquiry that does not mean to say one holds the whole police force in contempt.

I wish to turn to the subject of race relations, which is becoming an important function of the Metropolitan Police. It is a vital requirement that they should be increasingly involved in this problem, since it affects the immigrant community and the children of those who came here some years ago. In my constituency we have achieved remarkable results. There is a close liaison, as the Minister of State well knows, between the police and the immigrant community in Hackney, and it has been achieved as a result of hard work by the police, the local authority, the Community Relations Council and its officers. But I am not satisfied that this situation prevails throughout the whole of the metropolis. There can be no doubt that this is one of the most vital areas for further work and research by the police.

It is recognised by the police that there is considerable suspicion in the immigrant community of the police and vice versa. It is no use turning a blind eye to this problem. It exists. Unless we are able to cause this situation to become eroded, we are in grave danger of racial difficulties in the future—immensely more difficult than they are at the moment. We have to establish that the police and all those involved in the administration of the law—whether they be magistrates, judges, solicitors and barristers—are fair and are seen to be fair and are taking a direct interest in the problems of the immigrant community.

The Police Federation is to be complimented on its work in this direction. It has carried out important studies into race relations problems. But one of the serious handicaps that has to be faced is that there is an inadequate number of coloured police officers being recruited to the Metropolitan Police and to other police forces. It is often said one has to maintain standards—and of course, that is true, particularly in regard to the police force—but it should not be harder for a coloured boy to be admitted to the police force than it is for a white boy. It is a sad fact that in London we have only a handful of coloured policemen. I know that the Minister of State is concerned about this.

Why do we have this situation? It is true there is a misguided conception among a number of immigrants that if one joins the police, one is siding with the enemy as a sort of Uncle Tom. I do not believe this is the view of the overwhelming majority of the immigrant community, but it is a view that is expressed from time to time, and this presents a difficulty. It is also true that competition from better paid and less demanding work is a deterrent to recruitment to the police. Police officers have to work long hours and over weekends and enormous burdens are imposed on them. The inescapable conclusion is that not sufficient is being done to dispel these illusions and to recruit suitable people from the immigrant community to the police forces. I am not satisfied that equal standards are applied. It would certainly appear easier for a white boy to enter the police force than for a coloured boy in certain instances.

The Police Federation is right to say that coloured police officers should not work predominantly in coloured areas, but once they are recruited in much greater numbers than is happening today one will establish a greater feeling of confidence in the immigrant community about the police—and this is extremely important. I should like to pay a tribute to the working party on the training of police in race relations. Its work has been of immense value. From the very first a police officer should be instructed about the background, ethnic and religious, of those with whom he will be working. The training must not end after the probationary period has been concluded. We must take account of the changing patterns of society. There must, therefore, be a continuous process of education.

Many police officers take every opportunity to meet and to socialise with the immigrant community. But it must be a dialogue. We sometimes make complaints about the inadequacies of the police in this. But the Police Federation has pointed out two very salient factors. Unless the community as a whole makes a determined effort to ensure that there is equality of job opportunity and of advancement, unless the community as a whole ensures better housing conditions in the deprived areas, particularly London, whatever they can do to effect better relations will come to nought.

So it is not simply the responsibility of the police of the Community Relations Councils. It is the responsibility of Parliament and the whole country. If we do not realise this we are going to face a most serious problem in the future.

1.52 a.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Richard Sharples)

There are few who would disagree with the constructive words with which the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) concluded his speech. But perhaps I might turn first to the speech of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. James Wellbeloved). He was good enough to let me know beforehand of the subject he intended to raise, and I am most grateful to him. Because of the lateness of the hour I had the opportunity to watch the television programme "24 Hours" and I had some idea of what he was going to say.

I am sure he understands that the matters which he has raised fall partially in the sphere of security and partially in the sphere of what might be described as criminal activities. He appreciates, as he was good enough to say, that security matters, as the Prime Minister pointed out, are not discussed in this country in public. I have no intention of discussing the security aspects this evening.

Criminal matters are dealt with by the police and by the courts under the criminal law, and it is the duty of the police to enforce the law, irrespective of those concerned. I have every confidence in the police that they carry out their duty with absolute impartiality in matters of this kind.

It is the duty of members of the public —and that includes Members of Parliament in their public capacities—to pass on information which may come their way, whether it be information of a security character or information which should be passed on to the police in respect of criminal matters. In respect of criminal matters, there is an obligation on those who make allegations to be prepared to come forward themselves and to give evidence in the courts of law. Unless that is done and evidence is presented upon which the police are able to take action, it is not possible for cases to be brought before the courts.

The hon. Gentleman raised matters on Questions which have been answered earlier in this House about liaison with the South African police forces. I can repeat the assurance which has been given before that the liaison between our police and the South African authorities is limited to criminal matters and the protection of individuals and property. I emphasise that by "criminal matters", I mean criminal matters as we understand them in this country. The police have a duty, of course, to protect embassies and all foreign nationals who may be in our country.

As for the criminal law, perhaps it would be helpful if I gave the House one example of what I mean by co-operation. I am sure that hon. Members will recall the co-operation and valuable assistance given by the South African police in the successful conclusion of the Richardson case. It is essential that there should be co-operation between all police forces on matters of that kind. But the position is exactly as described by my right hon. Friend in reply to the hon. Gentleman's Question on 11th November.

I turn now to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler)—

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, is he now arguing, in saying that he has completed all that he intends to say this evening in reply to the profoundly important case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved), that at no time is it possible or has it been possible in the past for hon. Members to raise matters concerning the infiltration of the agents of a foreign Power into lawfully established organisations in this country? The issue in such a case is not the security of the country. Is the hon. Gentleman propounding the extraordinary doctrine that hon. Members can never ask questions on such matters?

Mr. Sharples

I am propounding the doctrine which was well understood by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Prime Minister. It is clearly understood, and has been by successive Governments, that matters affecting security are not discussed in public and are not discussed in this House.

Mr. George Cunningham

The hon. Gentleman has used the phrase "security matters" several times. Will he tell us precisely what he means by "security matters", which he urges should not be discussed in this House?

Mr. Sharples

I am referring to matters raised by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford which, if they were proved, presumably would come within the realm of the criminal law. It is well understood that these matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised come within the realm of the security of the State. That is per- fectly well understood in the House, and I do not intend to add to or subtract a word of what I have said on that.

Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)

This is a very important matter. The Minister has told the House that there has been no co-operation and that there will be no co-operation between the police in this country, at an official level, with the South African police, save in relation to matters which are criminal matters under our law. Is he satisfied that there have been no infiltrations of the type mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and that there were no liaisons on a personal and individual level? Has this matter been fully investigated by the Home Office? Is the Minister saying that there is no substance in the allegations made in the Observer?

Mr. Sharples

What I am saying is that my right hon. Friend answered a Question on this on 11th November. This was referred to by the hon. Gentleman. The Question was: …if he is satisfied that no officer of the Metropolitan Police has given assistance to agents of the South African Government engaged in the surveillance of residents of the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement. My right hon. Friend's reply was: Any such assistance would be contrary to instructions. Liaison between the Metropolitan Police and the South African authorities is limited to criminal matters and the protection of individuals and property."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1971; Vol. 825, c. 222.]

Mr. Elystan Morgan

The Home Secretary has made it quite clear that no instructions were given which would allow this to happen at an official level. What I am asking is, did it happen, in fact, at an unofficial level?

Mr. Sharples

The hon. Gentleman knows, as does the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford—and I have not referred to this matter because the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford did not refer to it—that there was a constituency case of his, to which the hon. Member did not refer, and I do not intend to go into the details of that.

Mr. Clinton Davis

The Minister has alluded to certain matters as possibly official within the ambit of criminal prosecution. Has there not been sufficient prima facie evidence presented by my hon. Friend tonight to justify an inquiry into why no criminal charges have been preferred?

Mr. Sharples

No. It is as I said. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford has said that he will put forward the evidence upon which he has based his statements, and that is absolutely correct. That is the right way to do it. If he has evidence which he believes of something wrong taking place, the right course for him, which he has adopted, is to give that evidence to the responsible authorities. I am grateful to the hon. Member for offering to do so.

Mr. Wellbeloved

The Minister would surely wish to condemn any activities which involve agents of foreign Powers infiltrating lawful organisations in this country. Without asking him to comment necessarily upon the particulars I have presented to him, surely as a Minister he can say that the Government would deplore, condemn and stop that type of infiltration into lawful organisations in this country.

Mr. Sharples

Certainly, in so far as they are threats to the security of this country, one condemns them. Those are security matters. I do not intend to say any more about that.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

With respect—

Mr. Sharples

I am not giving way.

Mr. Buchan


Mr. Sharples

All right.

Mr. Buchan

Surely it cannot be confined to this definition of "within security". It is within the general standards and conduct of this country, and open, bona fide political and other organisations have been dealt with in this particular way. This is what the Minister is being asked to deplore; not whether or not it comes within general security matters. It is the political life and democracy in this country which is under challenge. I hope that the Minister will deplore this, as he has been asked to do.

Mr. Sharples

I stick to what I said. If there are threats to the security of this country, that is a matter for the security forces to deal with and is not a matter to be discussed in public. If, on the other hand, there are criminal matters supported by evidence, those are dealt with in this country not by public opinion but by the courts and the police in the proper way according to our laws. That is the way we deal with them and it is different from the way certain other countries deal with them.

Mr. John Mendelson

The Minister is condoning it.

Mr. Sharples

Not at all.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

The hon. Gentleman is trying to slide out of answering the question. We are concerned with infiltration by a foreign Government into the affairs of legitimate organisations in this country. The infiltration may not of itself be the matter of a criminal charge—or perhaps it is, in which case the Minister should say it is—and it may not seriously affect the security of the nation, but it should be stopped because it affects the security and well-being of people who have come to this country for sanctuary.

Mr. Sharples

Over the years I have heard allegations of infiltration into organisations by people from various quarters. I stick to what I said; that if there is infiltration which concerns the security of the country, then it is a matter for the security service and is not one which I am prepared to discuss in public.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler), in referring to the question of complaints against the police, spoke of the large amount of time taken up by the police, and often by senior policemen, investigating these complaints. I was glad that he welcomed the new system which my right hon. Friend has announced.

My hon. Friend wondered whether so many complaints were necessary. I agree with the hon. Member for Hackney, Central that people who feel that they have a genuine complaint against the police should not be inhibited from making it. I must, however, be frank and tell the House—I am sure that the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) had the same experience when he was in office—that a great many of them are trivial complaints involving very small matters indeed. But I have been impressed by the enormous amount of time and trouble that is taken by senior police officers in investigating these complaints.

There is an onus on the public, when considering making complaints, to take into account the amount of police time that is likely to be involved, including the taking of policemen away from dealing with matters of crime, to investigate their complaints.

My hon. Friend also referred to the question of criminal statistics and spoke of the need for a more sophisticated system of recording them. There is much in what he said, and I will consider his remarks carefully. He will appreciate that one must bear in mind the questions of cost and police time in completing these details.

There are difficulties involved in obtaining accurate figures of the cost of crime. It is not too difficult, by looking at the insurance figures and so on of what has been taken in the course of robberies, to arrive at a figure. However, when one takes into account the much larger sums that are involved in the creation of long companies and so on, it is difficult to arrive at a realistic figure of the cost of crime. I appreciate the point made by my hon. Friend, but I am sure that he equally appreciates the difficulties.

The hon. Member for Hackney, Central referred to what he described as an illicit leak to the Press of information concerning a certain case. If he will speak to me about it, or write to me, giving the details, I will certainly look into the case. It is always difficult to discuss personal cases across the Floor of the House.

Mr. Clinton Davis

I am grateful to the Minister of State for making that offer, but it is not an isolated case, and that is why I mentioned it. It is exemplified in the instance I gave, but one reads in the Press, unfortunately, of many other instances.

Mr. Sharples

What has struck me at the Home Office, where one is dealing with a large number of cases, is that practically every case is completely different. Only rarely does one find cases of the same circumstances or difficulty. But, as I say, if the hon. Gentleman has a particular case I will certainly look at it.

The hon. Gentleman referred also to community relations. I am sure that he will have read, as I did, the report of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, and will have noted the very high importance which the Commissioner places on the whole subject. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are now one commander and two chief superintendents at the police headquarters whose duty is concerned solely with community relations. Eighteen chief inspectors at divisions are also concerned.

It is not only the officers who have direct responsibility for community relations who are involved: every police officer, certainly in London, and, I think, in the country as a whole, has as one of his duties the maintenance of good community relations. Indeed, it is very often the ordinary policeman on the beat and not the community relations officer who can make as good a contribution as anyone. On this aspect, I was glad that the hon. Member paid tribute to the Police Federation. It has done a great deal of work, and should be complimented. I am glad that he also paid a tribute to the working party.

The hon. Gentleman knows my own views about the recruitment of coloured police. I have been saying for a long time that I wished there were more coloured applicants. It would not be right to have a lower standard for them; I am certain that that would be wrong, and it would not be in their own interests. The standard should be the same as for anyone else wanting to join. I have been into this matter very carefully, and my understanding is that exactly the same standards are applied to a coloured person wanting to join as to anyone else. Every chief constable to whom I have spoken, and the Commissioner himself, has told me that he is very anxious to have more coloured people joining.

I went yesterday to the careers exhibition at Olympia. If I may do a plug, I recommend every hon. Member who is interested to go. The police stand is quite excellent, and one of the things that struck me was the number of coloured boys taking an interest in it. This is very encouraging. I do not have a break down of the number who said they were interested but, speaking of them all and not just of the coloured youths, the number of young people showing an interest in making the police a career was very encouraging indeed.

Since this is the first time that we have had a debate about the Metropolitan Police for a long time and since it will probably be some months before we do so again, it would be appropriate, especially since he retires in April, to pay a tribute to the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, Sir John Waldron. No Commissioner has had four more difficult years, including the demonstrations culminating in the Grosvenor Square demonstration and the two great gangs, the Krays and the Richardsons, who have both been incarcerated. When one thinks of the amount of police effort and time which went into the solution of those cases one realises that we should pay tribute to Sir John and to those senior officers—some of whom are also due to retire soon—who have helped him.

I am very glad that we have had this short debate. I realise that it went slightly wider than the Metropolitan Police, and I will look into the other matters raised.