HC Deb 09 July 1975 vol 895 cc512-5
8. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will call for a report on complaints about the conduct of the police at the National Front meeting in Glasgow on 24th May; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Harry Ewing

I have studied carefully the report on the incident of 24th May which I received on 29th May from the Chief Constable of Strathclyde. The investigation of the complaints that have been made is, under present arrangements, a matter for the chief constable, subject to reference to the procurator fiscal in relation to those that involve criminal charges.

Mr. Canavan

I recognise that in general the great majority of the police on the great majority of occasions provide a first-class public service and that they do so very often in difficult circumstances, but does my hon. Friend realise that on this occasion allegations of police misconduct were supported by many responsible members of the public and the Press? Would it not be fairer to the public, to the complainants and to the police if complaints of this nature were made the subject of a public inquiry instead of putting the police in the rather invidious position of having to act as judge and jury in cases of complaint against themselves?

Mr. Ewing

I think that we should keep this matter in proper perspective. The approaches to my Department from the people to whom my hon. Friend has referred total only 19. The House will appreciate that there are many charges still pending and that these matters will be dealt with in the courts in the full view of public opinion.

As regards the position of investigation into complaints against the police, the House will appreciate that in England and Wales my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department is at present conducting discussions with the police authorities. We have an undertaking with the police representatives in Scotland that if we move in that direction we shall consult them on the matter of complaints against the police. There is to an extent an independent element in the Scottish investigation in that in any prosecutions that arise the procurator fiscal is the deciding factor.

Mr. Crawford

Is the Minister aware that one of those who took part in this disgraceful affair was a former Conservative candidate, and that the Conservative Party has done nothing to disown him?

Mr. Ewing

When I look at the SNP bench, I note that former Conservative candidates find themselves in the strangest places.

Miss Harvie Anderson

Is it not the primary duty of the police to protect people? Did they not do so very successfully on this occasion? Is it not a fact that the majority of people in Glasgow and the surrounding district are grateful for the way in which the police behaved on this difficult occasion?

Mr. Ewing

I do not want to be seen to be taking sides in the matter in view of the fact that court proceedings are pending, but the appreciation of the people of Glasgow, and the people of Scotland as a whole, as regards the way in which our police in Scotland go about their duties in preserving law and order must be placed on record. We have a duty to uphold that situation.

Mr. Buchan

Does not my hon. Friend agree that it is precisely because so many people accept that the police have been extremely good in the handling of public demonstrations in Glasgow—and many of the people who would admit that would be the demonstrators who were involved on the occasion in question—that something appears to have gone so wrong on this occasion, and that it would be in the interests of the police if there were to be a public inquiry?

Mr. Ewing

The Chief Constable of Strathclyde appointed the deputy chief constable of another police force to investigate the complaints that were made. These matters will be discussed in public when the trials that are pending come before the courts, probably in September.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

In view of the charges that are pending and in view of the disgraceful and uncalled-for sniping at the police today, will the Minister give us the simple figures and statistics, bearing in mind the allegations of police brutality? How many of the police received hospital and medical treatment after the event and how many of the demonstrators received such treatment? Does not the Minister think that it would help to give a proper indication of what happened if he would give us these figures which he knows and which are available?

Mr. Ewing

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should get over-excited about this matter. There is no indication in any of the questions that have been asked from either side of the House that allegations are being made against the police. As regards the hon. Gentleman's point about statistics, I could not answer that question without notice. It is not fair to ask such detailed questions without giving a Minister notice of the statistics that are required. I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that I shall write to him and give him the statistics if they are available.

Mr. James White

Bearing in mind the colossal job that the Glasgow police undertake and what they did on this particular Saturday night, does my hon. Friend understand that as a Glasgow Member I resent the fact that policemen who are normally on duty in my constituent were tied up at Kingston Hall in taking care of 13 members of the National Front?

Mr. Ewing

It has to be said that the use of police manpower is a matter for the chief constable and that the way in which he deploys his force is entirely up to him. Deployment should not be the subject of Government direction or intervention.