HC Deb 16 December 1982 vol 34 cc469-70
9. Mr. Norman Atkinson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how often the Metropolitan Police make low-flying helicopter patrols at night-time using searchlights; and if he is satisfied that all measures are taken to prevent unnecessary nuisance to London residents.

Mr. Raison

We understand from the Commissioner that, subject to operational needs, the Metropolitan Police normally seek to limit night-time helicopter patrols to the early evening of Mondays to Fridays. The helicopters are subject to minimum height restrictions at night, but most flying is carried out at well above the minimum in order to reduce aircraft noise. The searchlight is used only when an incident has occurred or where a search is being carried out. The Commissioner assures us that every effort is made to minimise the disturbance to the public.

Mr. Atkinson

Does the Minister appreciate that a low-flying aircraft between a ceiling of 1,000 ft and possibly as low as 600 ft using searchlights for the purpose of identifying people down below is a tremendous annoyance? Does he agree that as it is not possible, even with the latest equipment, to take photographs or to identify people at that height, there is little justification for this tremendous annoyance caused to people when a helicopter is circling above them for up to 15 minutes?

Mr. Raison

I understand that the searchlight can pinpoint a suspect while keeping the pursuing officers out of its beam or illuminate a wider area. It is used only when an incident has occurred or when a search is being carried out. The commissioner assures us that this equipment is both necessary and effective and that every effort is made to reduce disturbance to the public.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people in London consider the use of the helicopter as a great and much needed enhancement to the powers that the police should have in combating crime? Are helicopters used in a rescue role?

Mr. Raison

I am not sure, but almost certainly the answer is "Yes".