HC Deb 17 May 1984 vol 60 cc491-4
3. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will institute an inquiry into police activities in the present coal mining dispute.

Mr. Brittan

No, Sir.

Mr. Dormand

Will the Home Secretary accept that I appreciate the difficulties facing the police in the carrying out of their duties? Is he aware that many of us are deeply concerned about some of the actions and some of the conduct of some of the police in the mining dispute? Some of my constituents, many of whom are known to me personally as good, solid, respectable citizens who would not dream of using violence in any circumstances, have been subjected to unwarranted force and abuse. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman further aware that there is a widespread fear that there is now a de facto national police force, fostered by this Government for the restriction of personal and political liberties? In those circumstances, will he reconsider his decision not to institute an inquiry?

Mr. Brittan

There is no question of a national police force. A number of people unrelated to the Home Office and representatives of Opposition parties have visited the national reporting centre and seen what is going on there and how it is being used by the police to provide reinforcements at the request of chief constables and in no other way.

I know that the hon. Gentleman would wish to pursue in the proper manner allegations of unwarranted force and abuse. I hope that if he feels there is material on which to found a complaint against any member of the police force he will follow the statutory procedure, and the matter will be considered carefully. I know also that the hon. Gentleman, who seeks to exert a responsible influence in these cases, will wish to condemn and deplore incidents of violence and intimidation, and I am sure that he will do so.

Mr. Raffan

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his announcement last Friday of financial assistance to those police authorities covering the miners' dispute will still leave the North Wales police authority facing a severe financial crisis? In the first instance it will have to find 50 per cent. of the product of a penny rate — £316,000 — and that will consume not only its entire contingency budget of £200,000, but eat substantially into the main budget. Surely it cannot be right for the people of north Wales to have to pay even in part for the policing of this dispute.

Mr. Brittan

A contribution from the Government in the ordinary way of over 50 per cent. —50 per cent. through the police grant and any further money from the rate support grant—plus the further payment of 40 per cent. of any additional expenditure over the penny rate, is by any normal standards an extremely generous and reasonable response, which has been welcomed by most people.

Mr. Concannon

In spite of the heavy rhetoric that took place at the beginning of this Question Time on both sides of the House, is the Home Secretary aware that we have good, solid citizens in Nottinghamshire who like their civil rights as well and are fed up with the intimidation, the damage and the threats to their families that are taking place? I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Labour party for condemning that yesterday. I hope that the House and the trade union movement will condemn it as well.

Mr. Brittan

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the great proportion of the House believe in peaceful picketing, which if carried out would mean that the police would have a small job to do? Will he further accept that if six people talked to one that would be a discussion, but if 600 did so it would be coercion? The job of the police is to stop coercion, and the sooner Mr. Scargill stops 600 people coercing other people, the less work there will be for the police, with no need for an inquiry.

Mr. Brittan

I agree.

Mr. Barron

Is not the request for an inquiry justified in one or two cases? One is the pro forma used in the Nottinghamshire coalfield, which has been heavily criticised in the Police Federation magazine, a copy of which I have, and the broad widening of the conditions of bail during the dispute, which if they were taken to their limit could put people under house arrest. That has restricted people moving about even in Yorkshire. The other case arises from the fact that Chief Inspector Bob Lax, a representative of the South Yorkshire Police Federation, said that he was not sure that his members were carrying out the law in relation to road blocks and felt that the matter should be cleared up by an inquiry.

Mr. Brittan

In any case where it is suggested that the bail conditions that have been imposed are unreasonable, it is always possible for them to be tested in the courts. Bail conditions are imposed by a court and that is the right arena in which they should be investigated. Similarly, if any police officer or individual member of the public has doubts about the legality of any action, as opposed to any other aspect of it, that again is, classically, something which the courts, not the Government, determine.

The pro forma is simply a convenient form to show circumstances which have arisen in many cases which, if the policeman finds that it reflects the facts of a particular case, he may use. If the facts of a particular case about which he wishes to make a statement are different, he will, of course, not follow the pro forma.

Mr. Crouch

Will my right hon. and learned Friend say something about the police and the photography? A constituent of mine who is a prominent official in the National Union of Mineworkers has complained to me about his members having their photographs taken while on picket. I told him that I had often seen his picture on the television alongside Mr. Scargill and that I did not know what he was worrying about. Will my right hon. and learned Friend comment on the police and their cameras?

Mr. Brittan

Very often it is difficult to identify people who may have done, or are suspected of doing, particular things, and I think that taking a photograph in many circumstances is a reasonable thing to do.

Mr. Alton

Will the Home Secretary consider again the use of the Police Complaints Board as a way of investigating these complaints? Does he not agree that this highlights again the need for an independent police complaints procedure?

Mr. Brittan

I agree that improvements are necessary in the means of looking at complaints against the police. It is for that reason that we have substantially changed the present arrangements in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, by setting up an extremely powerful Police Complaints Authority, which will be able to supervise in as much detail as it wishes the investigation of any complaint against the police. It is exactly because of the understandable concerns expressed not only by the hon. Gentleman but by hon. Members on both sides of the House that we are revising the arrangements in this rather radical way.

Mr. Stokes

Will my right hon. and learned Friend inform the Opposition that they must have more common sense and moderation in this matter? The British police force has acted with great restraint and good sense. To realise that one has only to compare its activities, which are generally supported by the whole country, with those of some of the police forces on the Continent, which adopt a far tougher stance against law breaking.

Mr. Brittan

My hon. Friend is right. I think that those involved in this matter have to ask themselves whether it is right for them to engage in action to such an extent as to necessitate a police presence on such a scale in order to prevent breaches of the law. I think that those who continue doing that bear a heavy responsibility. I can assure the House that the last thing in the world that anybody wants—whether the police officers concerned, or anybody in Government—is to have to deploy police power for so long and on such a scale, but it is necessary because of the action that is being taken by others to seek to deny people their basic rights.

Mr. Mason

In refusing an inquiry, do I understand that the Home Secretary is absolutely satisfied that everything that the police have done so far—stoppages on the highway, activities against the pickets in Nottinghamshire—has been within the law?

Mr. Britian

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that no Minister could possibly say that he was satisfied that everything was absolutely right on all occasions on an operation of this scale. What I am saying is that, if one takes into account the opportunities to challenge in the courts, any alleged illegality, and the opportunities to challenge by the complaints procedure any alleged impropriety, I do not believe that there is anything left that calls for an inquiry.

Mr. Eggar

Further to the point made by the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that he is extremely concerned about the harassment of miners' families, and the criminal damage done to miners' cars and to their property? Is my right hon. and learned Friend completely satisfied that there are sufficient police resources to prevent this kind of incident?

Mr. Brittan

I think that my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this aspect. I cannot believe that any decent person in the country, for example, would approve of actions such as stealing paint, daubing it on doors and windows, and pouring the reminder over a litter of kittens so that one of them died. That is simply barbaric. The police are now deploying their forces in the way that I indicated in the answer that I gave to the first supplementary question in order to give effective protection as far as possible against intimidation, because plainly that is a priority that has now been identified.

Mr. Kaufman

Why is the Home Secretary so complacent and one-sided about this matter? Does he not acknowledge that it is in the interests of the police that an inquiry should take place, in view of the allegations that have now been brought by many responsible people, by my right hon. and hon. Friends this afternoon, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason), a former Secretary of State? Allegations have been brought about the creation of no-go areas, the prevention of freedom of movement, intrusive and oppressive photography of people, pro forma documents of the kind that my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has mentioned, and the gross misuse of the Riot Act. All these are matters that need inquiring into. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has condemned violence and intimidation. When will the right hon. and learned Gentleman be a Home Secretary and show justified concern, instead of being a Tory party hack?

Mr. Brittan

The right hon. Gentleman should contain his wholly synthetic indignation. He was notably long on rhetoric and short on facts, and might perhaps have acquainted himself with the fact that the Riot Act was repealed in 1967 — just for starters. He should also realise that although he has paid lip-service to the condemnation of violence, I think that that is about as far as it goes. In calling for an inquiry while not specifically dealing with the incidents of intimidation that I have drawn to the attention of the House, he is not exactly doing justice to the office to which he aspires.