§ 3. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on the deaths and serious accidents resulting from police car accidents.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Giles Shaw)
A road accident involving serious injury or loss of life, whether to police officers, members of the public, suspects or criminals being pursued, is always tragic and a matter for great regret. Police drivers are trained to a high standard, and it is a basic tenet of training that no emergency is so urgent as to justify an accident.
§ Mr. Bennett
Does the Minister accept that there is a conflict about the number of accidents that have occurred, in that there have been between 20 and 30 deaths in the past 12 months as a result of accidents within the terms of the question? They are all tragic. Is it not time for a full inquiry into police processes to ascertain whether they always follow the rules which they are given and must observe in chases? Can other measures be taken, such as making the public more willing to secure their cars, to try to prevent many of these accidents happening?
§ Mr. Shaw
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to the co-operation of the public, which I fully endorse. The central statistics cover all accidents from the slightest to those involving injury or death. In 1983 there were 17,000 accidents, from the slightest to the most important. I have asked that we maintain central records of accidents involving serious injury or death. The Metropolitan police figures show that in 1984 there were no accidents following emergency calls, and I suspect that that is an improvement.
§ Mr. Beaumont-Dark
Is my hon. Friend aware that we are relieved to hear him say that the same laws apply to the police and to the fire brigade as to anyone else? Is he further aware that in my constituency last weekend four people's lives were written off by the fire brigade going to a fire in a warehouse and not to them? Surely it is not fair to leave these decisions to the drivers of police or fire brigade vehicles. They tend to do what they are told, as they should. Should not the police and the fire brigade adopt the view that drunks, break-ins and warehouse fires are not as important as saving the lives of innocent people? Surely the time has come for the police not to speed just to stop a drunk, when innocent lives are often lost.
§ Mr. Shaw
My hon. Friend is straying a little far in assuming that the police have such precision of knowledge in relation to the person they are pursuing and that fire brigades have similar knowledge about the incidents to which they are called. I accept that the House—my hon. Friend is not alone in being concerned—recognizes 510 that in any pursuits, whether the police are pursuing a vehicle which may have been stolen or which may or may not be driven by a drunken person, they have a hazardous task. It is our duty and their duty to ensure that they do not hazard life.
§ Mr. Soley
I welcome the Minister's commitment to more accurate figures in future. Many people are deeply disturbed about the numbers of accidents, and the Policy Studies Institute has much to say about the possible reasons for them. The police training manual states that no accident and no call is so urgent as to justify an accident. Is the Minister saying that that manual is to be reconsidered and rewritten? Will he give a commitment to the House that the manual will be maintained, that an inquiry will be made into accidents which take place, and that the Government will tell the House what they intend to do in the light of the inquiry?
§ Mr. Shaw
No hon. Member, least of all myself, would be able to act as a judge in relation to the many incidents to which the police are required to respond. Many which are thought to be in the emergency category turn out in due course not to be of that nature. However, all the police respond to a given call. I understand that the hon. Gentleman wishes to maintain the highest possible standards in training and execution, and that must mean taking better note of the statistics to which we have been referring.