HC Deb 16 December 1982 vol 34 cc463-4
1. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the use of CS gas and plastic bullets by the police.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

In recent months I have received requests or inquiries about different aspects of this matter, to varying effect, from 26 right hon. and hon. Members, two Members of the European Parliament, and a number of organisations or members of the public.

Mr. Canavan

In view of the fact that 14 people, seven of them children, have been killed in Northern Ireland by rubber and plastic bullets and hundreds more seriously injured, and the reports that even some chief constables are opposed to the use of plastic bullets and CS gas, is it not about time that the Government implemented a complete ban on such lethal weapons throughout the whole of the United Kingdom? Otherwise, the Home Secretary will be faced with another humiliating defeat, this time in the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr. Whitelaw

What happens in Northern Ireland is not a matter for me. The answer to the second part of the question is "No, Sir".

Sir John Biggs-Davison

I imbibed CS gas to the full when a cannister was hurled into the Chamber just where I now stand, although the carpet has been changed since. Is not CS gas a legitimate and relatively humane anti-riot weapon?

Mr. Whitelaw

It has been made clear that the various weapons, if used, would be used as weapons of absolutely last resort. It is wrong, and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has said so, to leave the police without any weapons of last resort. That is the position.

Mr. Snape

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the ordering of the use of CS gas and plastic bullets by police forces is a proper subject for discussion and agreement between chief constables and the relevant police committees, particularly in metropolitan areas, rather than for the somewhat arbitrary decision of the Home Secretary?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is not a question of an arbitrary decision by the Home Secretary. The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is "Yes". With regard to the Metropolitan Police, I shall first discuss any such questions with the Commissioner. I am answerable to the House and will answer questions immediately. I have been prepared and have welcomed the opportunities to talk to London Members of all parties in the House. At such meetings as I have had, I have been prepared to discuss the problems involved.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

While agreeing that these dangerous instruments should never be used, except as a last resort, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is aware that certain police authorities are not allowing their chief officers to procure this equipment and that—

Mr. Canavan

Quite right too.

Mr. Griffiths

—therefore training and the compatibility of services when they must work together in riot conditions are put at risk? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is national consistency between police forces on this matter?

Mr. Whitelaw

I promised the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that I would give him full details of all the circumstances relating to all the police authorities. In answer to my hon. Friend, I can tell him that I am getting the full information and I shall present it to the House. It is an important subject, and I am pleased to respond to what was said both by my hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman.