HC Deb 08 April 1976 vol 909 cc616-8
6. Miss Richardson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he was aware in advance of the contents of the speech delivered by the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis at Leicester on 11th March 1976; and if he gave his personal approval to the contents of that speech.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

I was aware of the contents of the speech before it was made. As I made clear to the House when answering Questions on 11th March, the Commissioner is not required to obtain my approval for his public utterances, and I make no objection to his exercising his right to speak his mind freely, even on controversial subjects. In return, the Commissioner does not expect me always to endorse what he says. As it happens, however, I thought that in this speech he set out fairly the limitations on the availability of military support to the civil power in Great Britain.

Miss Richardson

Having seen the speech, my right hon. Friend is doubtless aware that Sir Robert Mark revealed a change of practice, under which the use of the Army is no longer sanctioned by the magistracy; it is sanctioned by the Home Secretary. Can my right hon. Friend say under what statutory authority he exercises that power, and what parliamentary control there is over his exercise of it?

Mr. Jenkins

There is complete parliamentary control over me, as Home Secretary. Parliament can dismiss me or reduce my salary, as a lesser penalty, if it wishes. I would have thought it would be more satisfactory to my hon. Friend and the House that the circumstances—and they should be rare—in which the military is required to assist the civil power should be determined by a Minister responsible to the House rather than purely by the magistracy.

Mr. Townsend

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Greater London is fortunate to have such an outstanding Commissioner of Police as Sir Robert Mark? Does he also agree that if this distinguished man had greater support from some of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, the rising crime wave might be checked?

Mr. Jenkins

The main support that Sir Robert Mark needs is not from my colleagues but from me, and I believe he gets that.

Mr. Whitehead

In recent incidents of counter-terrorist activity in London, such as the Balcombe Street siege, the police and the civil power have effectively dealt with armed terrorists. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that there is no case for extending such operations to cover the Army?

Mr. Jenkins

I agree, in general, with what my hon. Friend says. It is desirable that the police should stick to the tried methods of patience and experience which they have used in the two siege situations with which they have had to deal in London. However, there are circumstances in which the Army might need to be used. Happily, they have not yet arisen in this country, but I cannot exclude such possibilities, and, if they arise, I would wish them to be dealt with by those with the greatest skill and expertise in these difficult matters.