HC Deb 05 June 1980 vol 985 cc1656-8
6. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will advise chief constables to extend training in riot control to all officers, and to increase Special Patrol Group manpower and supplies of equipment for the control of riots and terrorist attacks.

Mr. Whitelaw

I would prefer to await the outcome of the review of arrangements for handling spontaneous disorder which I announced on 28 April.

Mr. Winterton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us on the Government Benches very much support the Special Patrol Group? Does he agree that its work is vital for the maintenance of law and order? Does he further consider that it is significant that the vast majority of those bodies or individuals who seek to criticise the SPG also seek to undermine the institutions of our country, and that many of them, including the Anti-Nazi League, have been taken over by the Socialist Workers Party.

Mr. Whitelaw

The only point I have ever made is that I believe that the SPG to be a most important mobile reserve of police which has done a considerable job in the Metropolitan area. I strongly support its continuance. Some changes have been made recently by the Commissioner. I think that they are right. The basic work of the SPG is of enormous importance.

Mr. Bidwell

Does the Home Secretary agree that it is misleading to put a question in this bracket, so as to equate the policing requirement for dealing with civil disturbances arising from racist Fascist activity with that for dealing with terrorism and similar problems? Does he agree, that while the inquest on Blair Peach did not pinpoint any one officer as being guilty, it gave rise to questions about behaviour and about weaponry kept in police lockers? Will the right hon. Gentleman keep the use of the Special Patrol Group on occasions of civil disorder of that kind under continuous review? Does he agree that there is a certain contradiction in what he said earlier——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has taken long enough for two supplementary questions.

Mr. Whitelaw

I think that it would be wrong to make comments which could be used later in judicial proceedings which may yet well arise as a result of that incident. I would not wish to do so. However, I believe that the verdict of the inquest is one on which everyone concerned should sensibly stand and I would not think it right to reopen the matter in any way. Of course, there is need in all these matters for community policing on the one hand, which is very important, and on the other hand there is the need to deal with spontaneous disorder, which requires a different form of policing at the time, which is something that we all have to accept.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will the Secretary of State clarify what he meant when he referred to the possibility of future legal actions? Would he agree that this matter of recruitment to and training of the Special Patrol Group and any similar bodies is far too important to be treated in anything other than a very impartial and calm manner? Has the right hon. Gentleman any comments to make now, or can he tell the House when he will have comments to make, on the riders attached to the inquest verdict in the Blair Peach case—a rather surprising verdict in the view of many—because those riders made comments upon the SPG? Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to have any statement to make to the House about consequential action in the light of those riders?

Mr. Whitelaw

I merely referred to what I have read in the press about talk of judicial proceedings on both sides.

The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that these matters were considered very calmly, because several months ago the Commissioner announced some changes in the organisation of the SPG which actually met completely the riders put by the jury at the inquest.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that a police officer, whether he be a member of the SPG or anything else, is entitled to just the same presumption of innocence as any other citizen, and that the morale of the police generally has been badly affected by the trial in the headlines and the aspersions on the SPG without evidence?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am bound to agree with what my hon. Friend says. I think that the right answer is to abide by what was said at the inquest, to realise that we have already taken the action that was necessary and to let the matter be closed there.