HC Deb 29 June 1972 vol 839 cc1655-6
27. Mr. Kilfedder

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation making it an offence for persons to congregate or loiter in an area where a disaster has taken place and an emergency situation exists.

Mr. Maudling

I doubt whether that would be the right way of tackling the problem, but I shall consider the suggestion when I have the reports which I have asked the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to prepare on the recent accidents at Eltham and Staines.

Mr. Kilfedder

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the two recent disasters—one a railway crash and the other the BEA aircraft crash at Heathrow—brought forth a horrifying situation in which people who can only be regarded as ghouls came to the scene of the tragedy and got in the way of the emergency services? Should not something be done to ensure that the police and ambulance men are not prevented from bringing succour and aid to the injured and to people in grave danger of death?

Mr. Maudling

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It is deplorable when large crowds of sightseers make it difficult for ambulances and the fire services to get through. We are urgently examining with the Commissioner the question of what can be done. I do not think my hon. Friend's suggestion would help because the police already have power to proceed against people for obstructing the highway. To create an additional offence of congregating would not help.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

We appreciate the difficulties about legislation on this issue but there is grave public concern. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered asking the authorities in charge of the BBC and independent television whether, when there is a serious accident in an urban area, they would consider delaying news flashes for half an hour to enable the police to ring the area so that rescue services can get to it? Will he bring to their attention the undesirability of showing on the television screen pictures of people who are gravely ill or dying?

Mr. Maudling

I have already written to the chairmen on the first point, which is very valuable, and I shall certainly add the second.