HC Deb 16 February 1984 vol 54 cc369-71
8. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when the establishment for the Metropolitan police was last reviewed.

9. Mr. Peter Bruinvels

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last met the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police.

14. Mrs. Roe

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last met the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis.

Mr. Brittan

My last official meeting with the Commissioner was on 1 February when we discussed his recent report to me on his plans and priorities for 1984. As I stated in my reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) on 8 February about that report, I have told the Commissioner that the Metropolitan police will be allowed an additional 200 police officers in 1984–85, which will bring its establishment up to 27,115. The civil staff ceiling will rise to 13,750, an increase of 294.

Mr. Townsend

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware just how thin is the blue line in outer London when there is a major event in inner London? Will he add up the additional commitments that have come the way of the Metropolitan police since their establishment was last reviewed? Is he aware of the strength of feeling on the Conservative Benches that we should now jolly well get on with it and increase that establishment?

Mr. Brittan

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. Police manpower in later years is being considered, but my hon. Friend will want to take account of the fact that an adequate standard of policing for public order events in London was maintained last year, with 27 per cent. fewer officers being taken from their normal duties than in the previous year.

Mr. Bruinvels

Will my right hon. and learned Friend congratulate the Commissioner of Police on the excellent annual report, which shows a 4 per cent. decrease in notifiable offences and a 17 per cent. overall clear-up rate? When my right hon. and learned Friend next speaks to the Commissioner, will he consider discussing the civilianisation of more police officer posts and putting more police officers back on the beat?

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am sure that all hon. Members would wish to be associated with the tribute that he has paid to the efforts of the police in London and the success that they have achieved in reducing crime and increasing the clear-up rate. I have told the Commissioner that the civilianisation of posts which do not require the special powers and training of a police officer should continue to have high priority.

Mrs. Roe

Has my right hon. and learned Friend had discussions with the Commissioner about the undermining of the Metropolitan police by the activities of the police monitoring groups, of which there are now 15 or more operating in London, and which in the financial year 1983–84 were allocated £353,000 in grants by the Greater London council?

Mr. Brittan

I hear my hon. Friend's reservations about the value of such expenditure, but I think that the Metropolitan police, the House, and the people of London are robust enough not to be put off support for the forces of law and order by such efforts.

Mr. Frank Cook

When the Home Secretary last met the Commissioner, did he take the opportunity to ask him why, when officers of his force raided the premises of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth in order, rightfully, to take custody of a document which had previously been reserved, they took custody of documents related to the deposition of radioactive waste in Billingham, Cleveland? If not, why not? Will he ask them to return those documents, because that informtion may be vital in enabling that community to launch its opposition to proposals at any public inquiry that may ensue?

Mr. Brittan

To my certain knowledge, that community is pursuing that matter with great vigour. If there is any suggestion that actions taken were not in accordance with the law, that can be dealt with in the normal way.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Is the Home Secretary aware that expeditions of that sort, and the one involving Mr. Duncan Campbell, give rise to great concern that the police are going on general fishing expeditions in order to obtain information? Will he discuss that with the Metropolitan Commissioner and, after doing so, consider whether it is necessary to introduce further amendments to the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill to ensure that such general fishing expeditions do not take place?

Mr. Brittan

I very much doubt whether the question of amending the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill will arise from these matters. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is nothing in that Bill that should lead to the view that the position that the hon. Gentleman is anxious about will be made in any way worse. However, I shall certainly consider his points.

Mr. Dalyell

Does the Home Secretary know why the courts gave the police authority to rifle through the home and bicycle bag of Duncan Campbell?—[Interruption.] Oh, yes, rifle. If so, will he tell the House? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman know who knocked Duncan Campbell off his bicycle?

Mr. Brittan

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's second question is no. The answer to his first question is that I am not answerable for the actions of the courts. It would be a very dangerous step if the the House were to expect Ministers of the Crown to account for the actions of the courts, which are rightly independent. That independence is a bastion of our constitution.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the very welcome improvement in London's crime figures reflects in large measure the increased number of police officers on the beat, and that that in turn reflects the improved recruiting that has taken place due to the better pay arrangements made since the Edmund-Davies report? If so, will he at least give an assurance that the Edmund-Davies pay formula is not now at risk?

Mr. Brittan

I agree with my hon. Friend's analysis of some of the factors that have led to the improvement. However, I would add that the deployment and organisation of the police, under the leadership of the Commissioner, are also important. The system set up by Lord Edmund-Davies has continuing validity, and I welcome this opportunity of saying so.

Mr. Kaufman

Is the Home Secretary aware that his answers about those police raids are totally unacceptable? The right hon. and learned Gentleman seeks to shuffle off his responsibilities, but he is the police authority for the Metropolitan police. On what justification did the police seize those documents about dumping nuclear waste at Billingham, or photocopy the contact book of Mr. Duncan Campbell, and on what justification are they developing this dangerous tendency to go on fishing expeditions? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman inquire into those episodes and tell the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis that this is England, not South Africa?

Mr. Brittan

I do not think that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis needs any lessons from the right hon. Gentleman about what country we are in. The Commissioner has done the people of London a great service by reducing the level of crime. I have made it quite clear that the powers exercised by the police are challengeable in the courts if anyone suggests that they have been exceeded. The courts have the right to decide whether to grant warrants.