HC Deb 18 November 1982 vol 32 cc401-3
5. Mr. Campbell-Savours

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will set up a new inquiry into corruption in the Metropolitan Police.

7. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied that there has been no obstruction of Operation Countryman.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am satisfied that an inquiry would not be justified. With regard to Operation Countryman, as I stated in my reply to a question by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on 21 October, I have concluded that there is no evidence of obstruction of a kind which would have prevented those concerned from doing their job.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

May I take the Home Secretary's mind back to the "World in Action" special programme during the Summer Recess, in which three former chief constables, all eminent men in their field—Mr. Hambleton, Mr. Alderson and the former chief constable of Cumberland, Mr. Frank Williamson—maintained that the Countryman inquiry was obstructed by officers at Scotland Yard? Is the Home Secretary telling the House and the country that those eminent men were all misleading the nation on British television? If he is not telling us that, will he give us the full inquiry that everyone demands?

Mr. Whitelaw

I do not wish to get into personal arguments with former chief constables, but I am bound to say that Mr. Hambledon had said earlier that he had not been obstructed in any way. If he cares to retract that statement subsequently—

Mr. Christopher Price

He changed his mind.

Mr. Whitelaw

Yes, he changed his mind, but there must at least be questions about what faith one places in the judgment of someone who says at one time that he was not obstructed and says subsequently that he was. One is entitled to take that view. I am convinced that there was not obstruction. I have been into all the details very carefully, and I have been into all the work being done inside the Metropolitan Police to deal with any possibility of corruption. I am satisfied that the work is being done and will prevent corruption in the future.

Mr. Winnick

Is the Home Secretary aware that there is a great deal of public disquiet in the country at large, not just in London, as a result of the disturbing remarks made by the former chief constable who headed Operation Countryman? Nothing that the Home Secretary has said so far will clear up that public disquiet.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that hon. Members are not raising the matter with any wish to engage in police baiting or anything of that kind? It is in the interests of the police force that the allegations should be cleared up, and the only way that that can be done is by a thorough inquiry.

Mr. Whitelaw

I should not in any way suggest that the hon. Gentleman is police baiting in what he is saying. I must decide what is the best way to prevent corruption in the Metropolitan Police and, at the same time—as the hon. Gentleman said—do what is best for the police and for their morale. I have concluded that it would be wrong to have an inquiry. It is right to back the new commissioner, the deputy commissioner and the assistant commissioner for crime. A great deal has been done in recent years to root out corruption in the Metropolitan Police. They have my full confidence in doing so. I want them to get on with the job.

Mr. Flannery


Mr. Stanbrook

Are not the allegations against the police thoroughly reprehensible, in that they represent a generalised smear on a fine body of men whose record is very good indeed?

Mr. Whitelaw

I agree with my hon. Friend. Generalised smears are no good. I give Labour Members credit for not indulging in generalised smears. I trust that they are not doing so. I agree with my hon. Friend that if they were it would be unsatisfactory.

I have to judge the best way to root out and deal with corruption in the Metropolitan Police. I have given my view that the right way forward is to back the new commissioner and his senior officers in what they are doing and not to make fresh inquiries into the past. That is my judgment and I stand by it.

Mr. Hattersley

As the police authority for London, will the Home Secretary say why he answered "No" to the principal and primary question about setting up a new inquiry into corruption in the Metropolitan Police? Is it because he does not believe that corruption exists at a level that would justify an inquiry, or is it because he thinks that corruption could be better pursued in a different way?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is because I believe that the right person to pursue corruption is the new commissioner, together with the deputy commissioner and the assistant commissioner for crime. I have confidence in them. If I were to set up another inquiry I should look as if I did not have confidence in them. I have confidence in them and that is why I am determined to back them.

Sir Frederick Burden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that efficient police officers who show themselves capable of dealing effectively with the most villainous criminals are liable to have their honour impugned by those criminals in order to gain an advantage? Therefore, is my right hon. Friend not right in assuming that the vast majority of our police force are honourable men, doing their duty, and that it is wrong for the House constantly to harass them?

Mr. Whitelaw

I agree that there is always the problem in such cases that some evidence comes from people with dubious records. That is inevitable. That is why it is difficult to form the right judgment.

The view of the House is clear. I am grateful to the House and to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). We must root out corruption in the Metropolitan Police, and we must decide on the best way of doing that. I have told the House the way in which I think it should be done and I hope that the House will back me.

Mr. John Wells

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is only recently that ladies have been allowed in the Box and the Gallery, but I have never before noticed people holding hands and so on.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has sharp eyes.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

In deciding what happened at a crucial meeting between Mr. Hambleton, the deputy commissioner, and the Director of Public Prosecutions, is not the Home Secretary relying almost entirely on the accounts given by those two men? Had he had any personal contact with Mr. Hambleton to decide what actually happened? Until the truth about that meeting is clear we can never be wholly satisfied.

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, but I have given my view that, with the new commissioner, it is my duty to look to the future rather than constantly hark back to the past. I intend to look to the future, and I believe that I shall be fully backed in doing so.

Mr. Christopher Price

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that answer, I beg to give notice that I shall seek leave to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.