HL Deb 27 July 1998 vol 592 cc1190-1

3.5 p.m.

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will review, in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the use of CS spray by police forces.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, CS has been scientifically evaluated to a level similar to that which would be required for a new pharmaceutical drug and has been found not to present any significant threat to human health. CS spray enables officers to deal with violence directed at themselves or others by using a lower level of force than the alternative—hitting someone with a baton. Guidelines on its use are kept under review by the Association of Chief Police Officers with support on technical matters from the Home Office police scientific development branch.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of the case of the 66 year-old man who tried to park his car on a double yellow line to deliver his invalid wife to the hairdresser? He was sprayed with CS gas, arrested and put in a cell for six hours. While one appreciates the use of CS spray for a defensive purpose, is it not inappropriate to use it as a control mechanism? Is the Minister also aware that the Police Complaints Authority—I declare an interest as a member of that authority—dealt with over 254 complaints? Its opinion is that in many cases the use is neither justified nor appropriate.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am aware of the case in question. In fact the Bedfordshire police took the view that the officer in question had acted outside the guidelines. They had to bear in mind the constraints of Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 which provides that someone may only use such force as is reasonable in all the circumstances. Because the Bedfordshire police took that view, they referred the case to the Crown Prosecution Service. A prosecution was initiated; the officer was acquitted.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns

My Lords, cricket has already been mentioned in your Lordships' House today. I am aware that the new football season is a mere 13 days away when Arsenal will play Manchester United in the Charity Shield at Wembley. Can the Minister say how many police forces carry CS spray into football grounds? Were any problems experienced during the last football season in situations where crowd safety must be the prime consideration?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I cannot say how many police forces use CS gas in football grounds or at any other sporting event. It is a matter for the operational view of a chief officer of police. Every police force in England and Wales bar two uses CS spray.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, bearing in mind that there is still a tendency for increased crime, and for people to attack policemen who are doing their duty of protecting individuals or the community, can the Minister indicate whether there is any alternative to CS gas? There does not seem to be one on the table at present.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, my noble friend is right. Numbers of assaults on police officers in England and Wales rose from 14,840 in 1995–96 to 15,488 in 1996–97. If one expects police officers to uphold the law, one has a duty to give them the reasonable but lawfully controlled tools to do the work. The alternative is to use a baton and, as I said in my original Answer, that may involve more force and more disagreeable consequences than CS spray.

Earl Russell

My Lords, is the Minister aware of any research on the effect of CS gas on people suffering from mental illness or those taking psychotropic drugs? If the Government are unable to discover any such research, will they ensure that some is commissioned?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I know of no specific research related to the two categories identified by the noble Earl. I can only repeat that it has been evaluated to the same level as any new pharmaceutical drug and was found not to present any significant threat. If the noble Earl has any particular instance in mind, of course, as always, I should be more than happy to research it and write to him.