HC Deb 05 December 1985 vol 88 cc413-4
4. Mr. Tony Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions he has had with the chief constable of Greater Manchester about the use of plastic bullets.

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend the Minister of State discussed the availability of plastic baton rounds with the chief constable of Greater Manchester and the chairman of the police authority when he visited Manchester on 18 November. Both the chief constable and the chairman, together with the chief constables of West Midlands, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire and the chairmen of their police authorities, are due to attend a meeting at the Home Office this afternoon to discuss the matter with my officials.

Mr. Lloyd

Given that the Home Secretary has told the House that he values the relationship between the police and the public, does he accept that the Government and police response to the economic and social disaster in our inner cities of ever more authoritarian policing is inappropriate, because it alienates the public on whom good policing depends? As my constituents risk being killed by these extremely dangerous weapons, is it not right that Parliament should be allowed the opportunity to debate the issue before plastic bullets are released on to the streets of Greater Manchester or elsewhere?

Mr. Hurd

I hope that it will never be necessary for the police to use plastic baton rounds, on our streets. Earlier this year we had disturbances which were fierce beyond any precedents. When a chief officer of police concludes that he needs plastic baton rounds, and Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary agrees, it is right that they should be available. If the Opposition disagree with that proposition, they have a remedy in their hands.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

While I share my right hon. Friend's hope that those bullets will never have to be used, does he agree that in the end the chief constable is responsible for protecting the members of his force in carrying out their duties and responsibilities? Will he therefore ensure that chief constables get every support in making any reasonable request for any equipment that they feel they need for that purpose?

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. We are dealing with the protection of both police officers and peaceful citizens. No hon. Member would feel that it was right for the police to be exposed to the sort of attack that they endured at Tottenham without having some recourse, where necessary, to this type of protection.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does the Home Secretary accept that the vast majority of people in Greater Manchester do not want plastic bullets to be used, and are worried about the information that they have received about their use in Northern Ireland and the loss of life and injuries that they have caused? One of the major lessons from Northern Ireland is that if plastic bullets are to be used, the police must be extremely well trained in their use. At present, the problem in Greater Manchester is that there is no proper policing because of the number of policemen who are undergoing training. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is crazy to train policemen to use plastic bullets, which we all hope will never be used, rather than having policemen on the beat, giving the service that the people of Greater Manchester want?

Mr. Hurd

That is a rather confused supplementary question. The hon. Gentleman first says that training will be necessary, and then complains that it is taking place. It is easy to produce the figures for those killed by plastic baton rounds in Northern Ireland, but it is not so easy to produce the figures for those whose lives have been saved by them. Plastic bullets are much less dangerous than live bullets.

Sir Edward Gardner

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Police Act 1964 makes it clear that the responsibility for the control and direction of police forces remains with the chief constable? Does he further agree that that principle deserves his utmost support?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, and I have made that clear.