HC Deb 12 April 1984 vol 58 cc518-21
10. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many coal mining pickets have been arrested in and around the coalfields since the miners' dispute began; and if he will make a statement.

14. Mr. Eastham

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the maintenance of public order during the coal miners' strike.

Mr. Brittan

Between 14 March and 10 April. 897 people have been arrested for offences connected with the dispute. These figures available centrally do not distinguish between miners and others or identify the precise place where the arrests were made.

As to the maintenance of public order during the dispute, the position remains substantially as stated in my speech during the debate last Tuesday — until this morning. I understand that this morning large crowds gathered outside the offices of the NUM in Sheffield. The police estimate that there were between 1,500 and 2,000 people, many of whom were noisy, and some of whom were violent. The police were present in large numbers to maintain the peace and to prevent or deal with offences. My latest information is that six police officers were injured and 25 people arrested.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Home Secretary confirm that among the hundreds of pickets who have been arrested, considerable numbers have been arrested for using the word "scab" in relation to other workers? Does that not compare violently with the fact that on Monday night in my constituency, at Cresswell, a 12-year-old girl on her way to an ambulance class, as she was passing the police buses, was told by a policeman to "eff' off? Is it not time that there was some even-handedness from the police and the Home Secretary, and is not the incident to which I have just referred also a breach of the peace?

Mr. Brittan

I have no reason to believe the accuracy of what the hon. Gentleman has said——

Mr. Skinner

Here is the name and address.

Mr. Brittan

—but if he wishes to make an allegation of that kind in a proper form it will, of course, be looked into.

Mr. Eastham

Is the Home Secretary aware of the serious allegation that the police are using agents provocateurs among the strikers, thereby causing unnecessary unrest? As the Home Secretary, should not the right hon. and learned Gentleman take some action and take the police in hand?

Mr. Brittan

As I made clear in the debate, there is no evidence whatsoever of what the hon. Gentleman has said—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes there is."] In the proper sense of the world, agent provocateur means someone who instigates someone else to commit a criminal offence. That is the proper use of the phrase, and I have seen no evidence to suggest that any policeman has instigated the commission of an offence. The presence of plain clothes police officers is quite a different matter, and the phrase agents provocateurs should not be used if that is what the hon. Gentleman means.

Mr. Howard

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that in March 1974 the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), as Secretary of State for Employment, commended to the House the rule on picketing laid down by the NUM during the 1974 dispute, which limited the number of pickets in any local situation to six? Would it not help to reduce the conflict between pickets and police in the coalfields in the present dispute if, in 1984, the union were to lay down the same rule?

Mr. Brittan

I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. If that wise advice, which came from the union itself, were followed today, a lot of the trouble that we have seen would be avoided.

Mr. Ashton

Are not the chief police officers now totally in control of industrial relations? Does the Home Secretary agree that they have decided not to use the Tebbit and Prior Acts but instead to arrest the 900 and to take them to court, thus making the matter sub judice, thereby controlling the picket lines? Surely that is totally against the will of, and resolutions passed by, this House?

Mr. Brittan

It would be difficult to make a more inaccurate statement than that. The so-called Tebbit and Prior laws are not in the hands of the police. They are civil laws, and whether they are used or not is a matter for the civil agencies and not for the police. The question is also strikingly inconsistent with what the hon. Gentleman and others said in the debate on Tuesday. On Tuesday, I was accused of being in control. Today, it is the chief of police. Hon. Gentlemen ought to make up their minds.

Mr. Ashton

Who is in control?

Mr. Nicholls

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that one of the consequences of the amount of policing which violent picketing makes necessary is that other areas of the country cannot be policed effectively? Is it not true that any increase in crime which may follow from that must be the direct responsibility of hon. Members on the Labour Benches?

Mr. Brittan

There is no doubt at all that the use of large numbers of police in this dispute has imposed a strain upon police services, but the areas from which police have moved to the mining areas have been able to meet that strain. Tribute should be paid to the police for ensuring that that is so.

Mr. Barron

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House how many of the alarming number of people who have been arrested and charged during the dispute have been arrested close by the plainclothes policemen who have been infiltrating the picket lines?

Mr. Brittan

That information is not available.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one great problem for the police is that the miners' leaders have made it clear that they will hold the law in contempt? If Scargill and his crew agreed to abide by the law, would not the job of the police be easier, and would not people be able to go about their lives in peace? The situation is not the fault of the police; it is the fault of those who wish to break the law.

Mr. Brittan

I entirely agree that the presence of such large numbers of policemen is made necessary entirely by the fact that if they were not present there would be mass disorder and intimidation.

Mr. Kaufman

Who is in control? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain where accountability lies? There is a national reporting centre in New Scotland Yard, for which he is responsible. That control room is controlled as a result of orders given by the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers. Forty-three police forces are co-ordinated by him without any reference to the elected authorities of the 43 police forces. The president's only accountability appears to be to the executive of the professional association — the trade union—of which he is the temporary president.

Mr. Brittan

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the national reporting centre, which he has visited, is a mechanism whereby the chief officer of police in one county is able to call on assistance from his brethren in other counties. That reporting centre is simply a clearing house for obtaining assistance. The right hon. Gentleman also knows from an answer that I have given that in every case assistance has been given at the request of a chief constable who has asked for it. Furthermore, the right hon. Gentleman knows that the handling of such issues is an operational matter over which the chief constable of the area concerned has control. That is something that was warmly applauded by the House on Tuesday.

12. Mr. Peter Bruinvels

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last met the Association of Chief Police Officers to discuss the role of the police during the miners' dispute.

Mr. Brittan

On 27 March, on behalf of his colleagues in England and Wales, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers reported personally to me on the whole range of police operations in relation to the miners' dispute. On 29 March I discused the cost of the operations in Nottinghamshire with members of the police authority. The chief constable was present.

Mr. Bruinvels

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Will he convey the deep thanks of the House to the Association of Chief Police Officers for the way in which police throughout the country have managed to make it possible for miners who wish to go to work to exercise their right to do so? Will he also convey the sympathy of the House to the 57 police officers injured to date, and, finally, will he look at the cost—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has asked two questions already.

Mr. Brittan

I am sure that the House would like to express its appreciation of the fine job that the police are doing in difficult circumstances. I cannot imagine that it would be in any way a matter of controversy to say that the House would wish to express its sympathy to those police officers who have been injured in what has happened so far.

Mr. Nellist

How often has the civil contingencies committee met to co-ordinate the work of the Association of Chief Police Officers in the national recording centre in the arrest of 900 miners who are attempting to save their jobs and the living standards of their families?

Mr. Brittan

The answer is not once.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that miners who work at the Littleton colliery in my constituency have been in touch with me to ask me to pass on to the Home Secretary their appreciation of the work of the Staffordshire police?

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. I assure the House that that expression of appreciation is by no means unique.