HL Deb 10 December 1986 vol 482 cc1147-8

2.50 p.m.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many policemen are deployed at weekends at News International, Wapping; what has been the approximate cost to date and who is responsible for meeting it.

The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, the number of officers deployed on any particular occasion is an operational matter for the police and varies according to the perceived need. During last weekend a total of 712 officers were deployed at Wapping. I understand from the commissioner that the additional cost of policing the dispute up to the end of October has been estimated at £4.730 million. The cost will be met from the Metropolitan Police Fund.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that extraordinary reply, but I should like to ask him whether he is aware that a large number of police stations in inner London are now bereft of men to do the proper job of looking after local crime because of the demand upon manpower at Wapping at the weekend. I know of one police station which had only six policemen on duty last Saturday because the remainder were at Wapping. The cost that the Minster has just announced is absolutely staggering. I should like to ask why it should be borne by the Metropolitan Police rate or by anyone else. Why should not the people responsible for the dispute pay for it?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the need for police officers to be deployed at Wapping is regrettable and must have an effect upon the service which the police are able to provide elsewhere. With regard to the cost of the operation and the reason why it should not be levied on those who cause the dispute, your Lordships will be aware that police costs in areas open to the public are met by public funds.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister whether he is aware that there is already a precedent. Football clubs which have police protection today have to pay the bill themselves. Why should not Mr. Murdoch and his company, who have created the dispute, pay the £4½million?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the difference is that within a football ground the football club is responsible for the police costs. Outside a football ground, which is the situation at Wapping, the public are responsible for police costs.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, is not the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, aware that Mr. Murdoch did not start the dispute? The union started it.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, from the Government's point of view it is a matter between the employers and the employees.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the Minister aware that whoever may have started this dispute the level of violence both in Wapping and in the surrounding streets has now reached an unacceptable level? Is he also aware that many hundreds of police officers have been injured in the course of this dispute, and at the moment lorries carrying News International newspapers are being attacked on the highways? I am sure the Minister realises the seriousness of this situation and I should like to ask what is being done to deal with it.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the Government are very conscious of the terrible situation which has been occasioned by the violence. I regret to note that following the last Question on this matter which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, initiated on the 17th October, the level of violence has not reduced.