HC Deb 09 July 1981 vol 8 cc566-8
6. Mr. Michael Brown

Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will ask the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to issue guidance to police divisions on policing methods in conditions of potential racial friction.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am sure that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is already well aware of the need to ensure that policing methods adopted in various parts of the Metropolitan Police district are appropriate to local conditions.

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he confirm that the police are instructed to enforce the law equally in all parts of the metropolis, regardless of the proportion of ethnic minorities?

Mr. Whitelaw

That is within the operational discretion of the Commissioner. The answer is "Yes" to the question whether any general directions would ever be given to the Commissioner.

Mr. Hattersley

If the Scarman tribunal makes specific recommendations regarding what the question calls policing methods in conditions of potential racial friction", can we be certain that the Home Secretary will see that police forces inside and outside the metropolis accept those recommendations, and will he provide the resources to make sure that they can be carried out?

Mr. Whitelaw

I cannot tell what Lord Scarman will report, but, when he does report, I shall certainly consider most urgently with the Commissioner and with chief constables throughout the country the implications of that report. I am most anxious that we should deal with the problems of policing in many areas by means of that report. I undertake to do that.

Mr. William Shelton

Although the recent riots are probably not racial in origin, does my right hon. Friend agree that the time may be coming when the Government must consider the installation of riot police in different uniforms from those of the present police, so that any obloquy occasioned by quelling a riot would not fall on the regular police force?

Mr. Whitelaw

I very much hope that we can avoid setting up two police forces. I believe that would be a mistake and would lead to great difficulties. On the other hand, I have made it clear—and I was glad that the House as a whole agreed with me—that policemen involved in dealing with riots should be properly protected. I undertook to make sure that protective headgear would be provided. I am glad to say that between 1,700 and 1,800 helmets are now available. Three hundred helmets were used in Manchester last night, and they proved particularly effective. That is a matter of importance.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Does the Home Secretary realise that his original answer to this question was totally inadequate? The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis will not change his policing methods simply as a result of the kind of blandishments that have been used in the past. Yet every indication, particularly in Handsworth, where the chief constable of the West Midlands made a change about four years ago, shows that changes in police methods are crucial in getting racial peace and harmony in the area. If that had been done five years ago, we should probably not have had the trouble in Brixton.

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not accept that for one moment. I have great confidence in the Commissioner. I am entitled to discuss these matters with him when Lord Scarman reports. By so doing, I believe that together we can reach a sensible solution. I do not accept in any way the aspersion on the Commissioner which I think was implied in the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

In any guidance that my right hon. Friend may send out to anyone, will he invite the elected members of local authorities to avoid at all costs stirring up any more racial difficulties at this moment for the police service? Is he aware that, whatever the causes and whatever role race, unemployment or anything else may play in these tragic circumstances, it does not help if elected members of local police authorities go into areas and suggest that those arrested for breaches of the peace should be released before they are brought before courts?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is enormously important that chief officers of police, in carrying out their operational duties and the operational requirements put upon them, should be absolutely free of political control. I wholly deplore any idea, as would seem to be implied, that political control had been exercised on chief constables. It would be against our constitution and against everything that I understand that the Labour Party and the Conservative Party have always felt. The operational control of the police is a matter for the chief constables concerned. I stand firmly by that, and I hope that their officers will be given full support in the difficult tasks that they have to perform at this time.

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