HC Deb 27 June 1979 vol 969 cc439-55
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement to the House on the events that occurred at Southall on 22 and 23 April 1979.

I have now received and considered the report from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis that my predecessor requested.

That report did not and could not deal with the inquiry now being conducted by Commander Cass into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Blair Peach. His investigation is continuing and the outcome will be submitted to the coroner and to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Nor did the Commissioner's report deal with individual complaints against the police. These will be dealt with in accordance with the statutory procedure; that includes a reference to the Police Complaints Board, which may, if it thinks fit, make to me a special report on any matters which by reason of their gravity should be brought to my attention.

I have placed in the Library of the House a factual account of the disturbances. My statement will deal with the conclusions of the Commissioner's report and the lessons to be drawn from the incident.

There were two reasons for expecting violence on this occasion. The first was the National Front's decision to hold a meeting in Southall on 23 April. It is the Commissioner's view that from the moment the National Front was given permission to hold an election meeting at Southall town hall there was a real threat of serious public disorder. Many of those whom the Commissioner subsequently interviewed argued that the meeting should not have been allowed to take place. But the law does not allow election or other meetings to be banned on public order or any other grounds, nor does it permit a local authority any discretion in making premises available for election meetings on the ground that the views likely to be expressed are offensive.

The second reason was divisions within the Asian community in Southall. Despite the deep apprehension of the local Asian community, there were, in the days preceding the disturbances, useful and continuing discussions between the police and community leaders. Regrettably, however, the preparations for opposition to the National Front meeting revealed a growing difference of view between the young Asians and their elders, which, as events turned out, was easily exploited by extremist elements, not all of them from Southall, some of whom seemed determined to bring about a confrontation with the police.

I should like to deal with the main criticisms levelled against the strategy and tactics of the police. First, it is said that there were too many police on duty. The Commissioner rejects this. I share his view. It is difficult to conceive that any number significantly less than the 2,750 deployed could have handled the situation better. Information available to the police in advance indicated that there might be several thousand demonstrators, and indeed some 3,000 are estimated to have taken part. Moreover, it has been and will remain the Commissioner's policy, which I fully support, that defensive containment by numbers of police on foot is more likely to be successful, and is certainly more within our traditions, than deliberate, offensive tactics by smaller groups equipped in the style of some foreign police forces.

Secondly, it is said that the special patrol group should not have been deployed at Southall. The Commissioner does not accept this. Nor do I. It formed only part, and that a very small part, of the deployment at Southall. As the Commissioner made clear in his recent annual report, the special patrol group is used on a wide variety of tasks, including crime and traffic, as well as public order. Indeed, most of its arrests in 1978 were crime arrests. A mobile reserve has considerable tactical value, but its work needs to be kept under review and the Commissioner has asked the Deputy Commissioner to conduct an examination of the group.

The Commissioner has told me of his proposals for restoring and improving relations between the police and the local community in Southall. He will also be making renewed efforts to attract more Asians from the area as regular or special constables. He intends to review his whole community relations organisation and, where necessary, will allocate further resources to it.

The events in Southall inevitably raise questions about the adequacy of the law in relation to public order. I have already indicated to the House that I wish to consider whether changes in the law are required. The Government are, therefore, undertaking a review of the Public Order Act 1936 and related legislation. I shall welcome the views of Members of this House and of interested organisations. On any matters touching the Representation of the People Act 1949, there will be consultation with the parties in the normal way.

In conclusion, I should like to emphasise certain general points. The Government firmly set their face against extremist organisations, whether to the Left or Right, which seek to divide society and exploit racial tension. All who live in this country are equal before the law and should be treated as such. Anyone, private citizen or policeman, who breaks the law should be brought before the courts and, if found guilty, properly punished. If the police find it impossible to maintain public order under the existing law, it is for Parliament to decide whether and how a new balance has to be struck.

But whatever the law may be, it is the duty of the police to uphold and enforce it impartially. That is what they were trying to do in Southall in very difficult circumstances. In my view, no police force in the world does it better. We ask much of our police in carrying out the duty that we lay upon them. I believe that we in the House owe them a reciprocal duty of wholehearted support.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

In view of my announcement, prior to the general election, of my intention to publish the Commissioner's report to me on the Southall demonstrations, I welcome the report and statement. I echo the praise that the Home Secretary gave to the police and our method of policing.

I was often asked to behave as though I were a Minister of the Interior instructing the police. That would be a mistake for anyone. It is for the police to carry out the laws that we pass in the House.

I read the report carefully in the past two or three hours. In view of the matters raised, especially about Southall—where are implications for other parts of the country—we should have a chance to debate the Public Order Act and electoral law.

I shall restrict myself to two or three points. I know that there are a dozen points that should be raised and that we should have the chance to raise in a proper debate.

I agree that there is a need for a mobile grouup. I know what the Home Secretary said. The group is used for traffic and crime purposes. Therefore, such a group is necessary in most police forces. However, it is right that there should now be an inquiry in the way suggested.

The Home Secretary explained that the police inquiry by Commander Cass is continuing. The situation may have changed in the past five weeks. I was concerned about the reports in the newspapers. I quote one from the Daily MirrorAt least three people have claimed that they saw … a clubbing.

Any persons with such evidence should go to Commander Cass and be prepared to stand up in court and justify what they say. That is why Commander Cass is conducting his inquiry.

The right hon. Gentleman has no doubt been asked about a public inquiry. I read carefully the report of Lord Scarman. I also looked at a letter—it is a public document—that he sent to my predecessor. Lord Scarman said: It would be a pity therefore if after every headline-making demonstration the public should get into the way of expecting a public inquiry. Such inquiries are no substitute for effective complaints procedures, or for the ordinary courts. Parliament passed section 8 of the Police Act 1976—the police complaints procedure legislation. Under that provision, Lord Plowden may set up an inquiry to make a special report to the Home Secretary. It is necessary that those who complain should go to him Otherwise section 8 of that Act—which we passed in response to the Scarman report—will not be capable of being implemented and properly carried out.

I agree with all that the Home Secretary said in response to this worrying problem that arose at Southall some weeks ago.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am naturally grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's clear expression of support for many of the matters on which he, after all, is better qualified to judge than I or anyone else present.

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we hold a debate on the public Order Act. Debates are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends—as they frequently used to remind us when the roles were reversed—have had their opportunities.

I should greatly welcome the opportunity to hear the views of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House on public order matters and the conduct of our elections and democratic procedures.

I hope that many people who may feel that they were witnesses to the incident being looked into by Commander Cass's inquiry will follow the right hon. Gentleman's advice. Commander Cass is a most experienced investigator. He has inquired into many cases and uncovered mistakes in a clear way. He will make an extremely thorough report. However, he needs the co-operation of all those who have information to give him.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a public inquiry. He is correct in saying that Parliament passed the Police Act 1976. Under section 8 there is an opportunity for the police complaints board to proceed. That would be a proper way of proceeding.

Mr. Bidwell

May I reinforce the call made by my right hon. Friend the previous Home Secretary for an early debate on these matters?

The London borough of Brent refused, even in the circumstances of the election period, to allow the National Front to meet. An injunction that was taken out since by that authority failed. The attitude of the Inner London education authority also buttresses the call for a debate in the House of Commons to see how far a local authority may go.

Although an inquiry is proceeding, 170 Members of Parliament from several opposition political parties called for a judicial inquiry. I was involved in the Red Lion Square events as well as these. I understood what Lord Scarman said. However, I draw attention to the statement made by the Minister of State, Home Office in reply to my Adjournment debate, in which he acknowledged that the circumstances gave rise to more violence in the period of the general election than any other event. That could be argued as justifying something special which could be accounted for only in a judicial inquiry.

The open provocation of the National Front, helped by a local authority under Conservative control, requires a public inquiry. I welcome that part of the Home Secretary's statement that dealt with the continuity of the inquiry and the manner in which he described it.

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's close involvement with and interest in the matter. I answered his right hon. Friend's point about the debate. All Members of Parliament will be welcome to use all means for the expression of views on this unhappy affair. Apart from a debate, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to express his views to me at any time I shall be pleased to receive them.

As to the wider point of the public inquiry, a great many actions have already been taken. I have placed in the Library a factual memorandum on the Southall events. That is a matter of record. Commander Cass's inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Blair Peach's death are proceeding. The police complaints board is the proper place for individual complaints against the police.

If Parliament is to consider further a Public Order Act review and the Representation of the People Act, the actions I have referred to are a quicker and better way of dealing with the matter, than a public inquiry.

As to the law in the Representation of the People Act, I gave the legal position, as I understood it, as a result of clear legal advice.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I gave the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) extra latitude because the disturbances arose in his constituency. I hope that the House will co-operate now and ask questions.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Since my right hon. Friend and the House in general know of my interest in the police service, may I on its behalf very warmly welcome the inquiry into the Public Order Act, the Commissioner's own inquiry into the role of the special patrol group, and also the robust attitude that my right hon. Friend has adopted?

I have one question to put to my right hon. Friend. Is it not a grotesque slur on the men of the special patrol group, who do this difficult job for us, to suggest that they are motivated by either racial or political attitudes? Ought it not to be said that we are grateful to them for the way in which they conduct this difficult task with considerable skill and fairness?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because it needs to be said that the work of the special patrol group should command the support of this House. Perhaps those hon. Members who wish to criticise it will have observed from the Commissioner's annual report that the group made a record number of 2,804 crime arrests and 1,362 other arrests during that year, and agree that this shows that in many cases it has been a very powerful weapon against rising crime in this country.

Mr. Jim Marshall

May I refer the Home Secretary to his statement that the law does not allow election or other meetings to be banned on public order or other grounds and point out to him that the National Front—as he knows—looks upon a meeting as an excuse, because its main interest is really to march through areas with high immigrant populations? It is the deliberate intention of the National Front to provoke violence and racial disharmony. Does the Home Secretary agree about the need, with haste, to strengthen the race relations legislation to prevent marches of this kind, which are a direct provocation of racial violence and racial hatred?

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman will be the first to appreciate that the events in Southall arose not from a march but from a meeting. What I have said about a review of the Public Order Act certainly incorporates any consideration of the matters that the hon. Gentleman has put forward.

Mr. Alton

Will the Home Secretary make some comment on the inconsistencies that have arisen because of the different rulings that have been given by various local authorities to the various National Front groups? Brent council, as mentioned earlier, refused to allow the National Front to use a local hall. Many other local authorities have been placed in a dilemma because they have been given different rulings. I hope that the Home Secretary will sort this matter out very quickly. I hope also that he will take into account the grave problems that are caused in areas where there are racial tensions, and therefore ban National Front meetings from halls owned by any local authority.

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this was a meeting, under the Representation of the People Act, in which a duly nominated election candidate was taking part. As I understand the Act, that is something that has to go forward. If we wish to change the law, it will be a matter for all the parties in this House, but that was the position in this case.

In all parts of this House the views of the National Front are deeply hated. The truth is that at the general election the Front was shown to be deeply hated also by the broad mass of the British people. We have to remember the value of letting the democratic process sometimes take its course.

Mr. Wheeler

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the Commissioner of Police upon the correct deployment of the police officers on that occasion? Will he also note that 97 of them were injured, and inquire as to their well-being? Does he agree with me that a smaller number of police officers would have resulted in greater violence and more breaches of the peace?

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that one has to have regard very properly, as my hon. Friend has said, to the fact that 97 police officers were injured, and that this is a serious matter. It is also serious that, as a result of disturbances, 64 members of the general public were injured. This is another factor that has to be taken into account. I said in my statement—I stand by it—that I believe that the deployment of a large number of police in their traditional role was the right way to proceed. I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. I was also grateful to the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who also supported that deployment of the police.

Mr. Cryer

Does not the Home Secretary acknowledge that there is a gap in the legislation here? One local authority, Brent, received legal advice that it was perfectly proper to refuse a public meeting. Does he not agree with me that it is proper for a local authority during an election campaign to refuse a meeting which is not a public meeting? The National Front is very selective about the people that it admits to a meeting to hear its candidates.

Does not the Home Secretary agree with me that those of us who criticise the special patrol group are not in any way making sweeping criticisms? He would surely agree that there is public concern that a person died during a police action, and that in these circumstances a public inquiry will assure the public that there is no intention of any sort of cover-up.

Mr. Whitelaw

On the matter of the Representation of the People Act and meetings, I must come back to the point that this was a meeting of a duly nominated candidate in the constituency in which he was standing. That is something that we have to take into account.

With regard to the special patrol group, of course it is fair for anyone to seek to criticise any organisation in our country. I happen to think that the special patrol group has performed an outstandingly good service. There may be times when mistakes are made. That is when the police complaints procedure comes into effect. That is when the disciplinary procedures and the courts also come into effect. I remind the hon. Gentleman that Commander Cass's inquiry into the unfortunate death of Mr. Blair Peach is proceeding. The report will go to the Director of Public Prosecutions and to the coroner. That is surely, under our law, the proper place for it to go.

Mr. Greville Janner

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that most of us feel that the democratic process must be respected, but that does not include the provision of facilities for the deliberate propagation of violence in a peaceful city? Most people in the city of Leicester fully agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) that when the march was held in Leicester it was good fortune that avoided the disaster that happened in Southall. Does the Home Secretary agree with me that that march should have been banned and that the power to ban it should lie with the Home Secretary, answerable to this House, and not with a local chief constable?

Mr. Whitelaw

The question of marches can be properly considered and must be considered in a review of the Public Order Act, but it does not arise from the Southall matter, because there it was a meeting and not a march.

Concerning the last point that the hon. and learned Gentleman made, I point out to him that my predecessor has a great deal more experience of this matter than I have. I would naturally listen to his views and, of course, to views from every part of the House. I have a good deal of doubt in my own mind whether it is right for a Home Secretary—inevitably a political figure—to exercise a political judgment of this sort. That is where my doubts would lie.

Mr. Brotherton

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that all political violence in this country is perpetrated basically by the National Front and other parties of the extreme Left? Will he remember also that Hitler was a National Socialist and not a National Tory, and point out to the people of this country that it is the extreme Left that commits these crimes of violence and that it has nothing whatever to do with the Right wing?

Mr. Whitelaw

I should like to repeat to my hon. Friend what I said in my statement. The Government and, I believe, the whole of this House, firmly set their face against extremist organisations—whether to the Left or Right—that seek to divide society and exploit racial tension.

Miss Joan Lestor

Is not the Home Secretary aware that the inquiry by the police taking place at this moment is a very narrow one, since it deals with the action of the police and the death of Blair Peach? I hope that he will not close his mind to the idea of a full public inquiry. Surely what we need is an inquiry that goes far wider than those two issues. The Home Secretary has constantly referred to the legality of the meeting that was held in Southall. It was never a public meeting. Neither he nor I would ever have been allowed into the meeting. The people who wanted to attend the meeting were given a police escort. All the circumstances surrounding the allowing of that meeting to take place, and what led up to it, including the injuries to police and public alike, will be seen by the public—and, incidentally, by the ethnic minorities in this country—to have been well aired only if the inquiry is seen to be fair and seen to be public.

Mr. Whitelaw

I simply refer the hon. Lady to the remarks of Lord Scarman, after the riots in Red Lion Square in 1975, in which he said that such public inquiries should be very sparingly used. I hope that it will be accepted that my factual statement, in which I have honestly given to the House the views of the Commissioner and suggested that we await the report from Commander Cass, which has to go to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the coroner, and also my offer to review the Public Order Act, through which many of the matters to which the hon. Lady referred would be finally settled, represent the best way of proceeding and are much better than indulging in a public inquiry.

Mr. Hastings

I agree wholeheartedly with what my right hon. Friend said about the National Front. Will he publicly recognise that the other side of this unpleasant medal is represented by the activities of this venomous "front" organisation, the so-called Anti-Nazi League?

Mr. Whitelaw

As I have said already, all of us in this House should stand very firmly against extremist organisations—from whatever they come—which provoke violence in our country.

Mr. Skinner

As a member of the Anti-Nazi League, along with hundreds of people who are not necessarily associated with the political scene but who are engaged in other pursuits, such as stage and screen activities, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to have another look at the question that has been consistently raised from the Opposition Benches this afternoon, namely, the holding of a full public inquiry into this matter. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to ensure especially that those witnesses who were at the scene when Blair Peach was, they say, clubbed to death by the police are given a chance to give their evidence. Will the right hon. Gentleman also take on board the fact that there is a large body of opinion extending beyond the Anti-Nazi League and, indeed, the Labour Party, which wishes to see the special patrol group disbanded?

Mr. Whitelaw

First, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, whatever affiliations he may avow, would certainly not be one of those who would contemplate, agree with, or provoke violence on any occasion.

Mr. Skinner

You have done plenty on your side.

Mr. Whitelaw

Secondly, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that if there are witnesses, as he said, who can help in the inquiries into the death of Mr. Blair Peach, it is their duty, under the law of this country, to come forward to Commander Cass and give the evidence. It will then go—

Mr. Skinner

He is not trusted.

Mr. Whitelaw

If the hon. Gentleman does not trust Commander Cass, he should look at his experience and record as an investigator. The proper way is to proceed through the courts. If the hon. Gentleman believes that there are those who should be brought to the courts as a result of the death of Mr. Blair Peach, and if there are witnesses who believe that, it is their bounden duty to come forward to Commander Cass and give their evidence. That is the only sensible way of getting that evidence before the courts.

Mr. Proctor

As Mr. Blair Peach did not live or work in Southall, has my right hon. Friend formed a view on the question whether he belonged to that group of extremists about whom he spoke in his statement?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is not my job, in any circumstances, to form such a view, particularly as this is a matter for the inquiry under Commander Cass, which will go to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the coroner It would be utterly improper for me to make any comment on that issue.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

If hon. Gentlemen will co-operate with me and ask brief questions, I shall hope to call them all.

Mr. Soley

Does the Home Secretary agree that this whole matter goes much deeper than has been indicated? First, there is the problem of the feeling in ethnic minority groups that they do not trust the police. Following the events in Brick Lane and the publishing of the Home Office figures on the arrest of suspected persons, that feeling is understandable. Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, however well-intended this special patrol group was in its conception, it has become disastrous not only to race relations but also to the confidence of the public in the police?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the last point, from the evidence given to me and, indeed, from the evidence of the work of the special patrol group, I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman says. On the question of establishing good relations between the police and ethnic minority groups, I made it clear in my statement that the Commissioner is most anxious to achieve this. He said that he will seek to give further resources to his community relations organisations where necessary and he wants to attract more Asians from the area of Southall both as regular and special constables. I agree that everything must be done to improve relations and to remove unnecessary fears. We in this House have a considerable responsibility to try to foster good relations, because it is something that we can do.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Now that the Home Secretary has announced the important commitment to review the Public Order Act, does he not consider it advisable to suggest to those local authorities that have Private Bills before the House in which there are clauses restricting processions and demonstrations, and which vary from one authority to another, that they should drop those clauses and that, if legislation is thought to be necessary, we should have legislation that is consistent and uniform?

Mr. Whitelaw

On the whole, I believe that it is reasonable for those local authorities that have put these provisions into Bills to be allowed to continue with them. If, at a later stage, we decide to make a more general proposition for the whole country, very well. What I say to the hon. Gentleman is that those who constantly ask for efforts to be made to ban marches or to take action in advance of difficult situations must accept that if notice is not given to the chief constable beforehand it is extremely difficult for advance preparations to be made.

Mr. Spearing

In his opening statement the Home Secretary said that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis will overhaul community relations procedures. The Home Secretary emphasised that point, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley). I have found community relations officers courteous and efficient, but does not the Home Secretary agree that this aspect of policing is the responsibility of every member of the police force? In that regard, will he draw the attention of the Commissioner to representations made by Mr. Arthur Latham and others on these very points, prior to the Southall disturbances?

Mr. Whitelaw

Certainly. It is, of course, the responsibility of every police officer to follow the lead given from the top with regard to comunity relations work. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. Where there are individual complaints against particular police officers, they should go through the normal procedure, of going before the police complaints board. Regarding the general proposition about police and community relations work, I believe that in many instances—I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's reference to the good work of the police and community relations officers—there is a clear desire on the part of the police to improve their position in this area. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Commissioner will do his best to achieve that.

Mr. Sever

Does the Home Secretary agree that probably many of the difficulties that were occasioned recently, and on other occasions, such as during the Ladywood by-election and at Lewisham, occurred because there is a misinterpretation of the relevant section—I believe it is section 81—of the Representation of the People Act relating to the hiring of public halls which are within the control of the local authority. If the right hon. Gentleman studies that clause, I think that he will agree that it is capable of misinterpretation. If it were clarified in some way, to the effect that a hall could not be made available unles the meeting that was called to advance a candidature was made public, that might avoid one misconception. If local authorities were told that a hall could not be let to a political organisation preaching any form of racial hatred or racial discrimination, certain organisations such as the National Front and the British Movement would not be allowed to use the hall anyway. Will the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to this aspect of the problem?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has considerable experience in an area where there are clear difficulties. I shall certainly look into the points that he raised. Perhaps I should remind him that some of the aspects that he mentioned are matters that should be dealt with under the Representation of the People Act, which goes a good deal wider than any review of the Public Order Act that the Government can undertake. That must be a matter for all parties in the House, because any consideration of the Representation of the People Act strikes at the root of our whole democratic procedures. We have to strike the right balance between free speech and the dangers that can be provoked.

Mr. Winnick

Does it not make a mockery of existing race relations laws to allow thugs, be they connected with the National Front or the British Movement, to march or hold meetings, in areas where there is a large number of immigrants, with the sole purpose of causing mischief, racial aggravation, strife and violence?

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman wil appreciate that part of the purpose of having a review of the Public Order Act is to address ourselves to exactly the points that he is making, and a good many others besides.

Mr. Thomas Cox

Is the Home Secretary aware of the very deep fear that the Asian community now has? Does he really expect Asian people to stand idly by and do nothing about it when they see violence brought into the areas in which they live, and their families attacked? I impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the urgency of taking action against the National Front. I am sorry to say that, because of the fear that the Asian community now has, unless action is taken it will be forced to defend itself. The Asian people believe that in many cases the police take action not against the National Front but against the Asian communities that are trying to defend themselves.

Mr. Whitelaw

The record of the police in impartially upholding the law that we in Parliament lay on them is a proud one indeed, and I shall defend it.

It is the duty of everyone in this House to do everything he can to calm the fears of the Asian communities and to build up better relations between the Asian communities and the police, but I must say to the hon. Gentleman that there are times when other extremist organisations and individuals have moved in—as was much the case in this instance—who seemed bent on a confontation with the police and who did not seem to have the best interests of the ethnic minority groups at heart.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

The Home Secretary said today what the Minister of State said the other night, that the whole matter of local Acts that control marches is in some way to be looked at. We did not deal with this matter nationally in the 1936 Act. Indeed, when I was Home Secretary, and on the advice of the Commissioner, we did not have control of marches, in the sense of giving notice, in the whole of the Metropolis.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will consider dropping this aspect from private legislation that is coming through the House and that has been around for three or four years. There is no urgency, and I do not ask for an answer right away.

However, rather than dealing with this matter now, will the Home Secretary consider looking at it as a matter of urgency? It seems to me that we are engaged in an argument about a matter in respect of which many of us are agreed. What really divides us is the fact that there are differences in different parts of the country. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at this—no more—because I believe that it could save a great deal of trouble on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall, of course, look at the position. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the trouble is that some of these powers are included in Bills that I think have already gone through. That raises difficulties, but I shall look at the matter again.