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Mr. Straw: Of course I agree with the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I return to the subject of the policing decisions that were taken, which is, understandably, of concern to Members on both sides of the House. I say to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that when the police were faced with people of that kind, whatever tactics they had used, and whatever numbers and weaponry had been available to them, no policing arrangements in the world could have prevented those people from carrying out violence if they were determined to do so. There are many examples in other countries of occasions when the police have used greater force--weapons, cannon, water cannon, tear gas and much else besides--and greater damage, not less, has been caused to innocent bystanders, the police and property. That is, sadly, the reality that the police had to deal with.
Of course I very deeply regret the disorder that occurred. Obviously none of it affected me personally, but much of it affected friends and neighbours who live in or near the area where I live, in Kennington and elsewhere
It is my judgment, and I cannot repeat it often enough, that from the Commissioner and his colleagues right down to the officers who were literally in the front line yesterday--most were wearing riot gear, but they were facing a frightening situation--we have police officers of the highest professionalism. After events such as those of yesterday, which I believe were properly and effectively policed, we should express our gratitude to those police officers for what they have done.
Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea): Does not my right hon. Friend find it incomprehensible and inexcusable that a small minority of well organised anarchists--if that is not a contradiction in terms--should have resorted to violence to achieve their political objectives only three days before they will have a chance to test their opinions at the ballot box? They would have been better advised on Monday to gather support for their views among the voters of London than to engage in random acts of violence that did no credit to their cause.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): May I say how welcome is the Home Secretary's support for the Metropolitan police, particularly as many will have been drafted in from outer London and foregone their weekend and leave entitlement to serve in difficult circumstances? As for the future of policing in London, if by some mischance the Metropolitan Police Authority does not work well and does not provide sufficient support to the police service, will the Home Secretary reconsider the legislation, and if necessary return to the House to resume the powers that he currently holds?
Mr. Straw: I think that we ought to try the new arrangements first. My recollection is that the decision to establish a Metropolitan Police Authority had the approbation of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I make it clear again that the mayor will not be the police authority; the authority will be composed of 23 individuals. Twelve will be elected members of the Assembly, but they will be appointed proportionately to the party balance in the Assembly. Seven will be independents, one of whom will be appointed directly by me, six will come from a shortlist approved by the Home Office, and four will be justices of the peace appointed by a process that involves the Lord Chancellor.
Whoever is elected mayor, the police authority should be a responsible and realistic body. Of course, as with any other change in the law, if that turns out not to be the case, it will be for the House and the other place to decide on a change either backwards or forwards.
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): I thank my right hon. Friend for making it clear in his statement that he was referring to the situation in Manchester as well. That sends an important message to people from outside
My right hon. Friend will be aware that people in Manchester yesterday, who were going about their lawful business of shopping and taking their families out, will have been grateful for the presence of the police, who were determined to ensure that criminality did not affect them more than was inevitable because of the actions of a minority who, like those in London, were determined to disrupt the city centre.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), I think that we should all condemn those who waste so much police time and so many police resources on such operations. As my right hon. Friend made clear, the answer to such demonstrations is adequate policing such as that in Manchester, not the knee-jerk reaction of an attempt to prevent demonstrations of any kind.
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I underline the fact that police outside London, as well as the service in London, had to bear some of the brunt of what happened yesterday. As well as paying tribute to the Metropolitan police service, the City of London police and the British Transport police, I pay particular tribute to the Greater Manchester police, who had to bear a serious burden yesterday and acquitted themselves very well.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): I accept that the policing of demonstrations in London is kept continually under review by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and by the Home Secretary, but when reviewing what happened 24 hours ago, will the right hon. Gentleman ask Sir John Stevens to consider especially the effect that the presence of extra police in central London had upon policing in other parts of London, and the possible consequences in terms of criminal offences being committed outside the area in question? I do not deny the Commissioner the right to decide how many police officers to employ, particularly in a demonstration that he was forewarned was likely to lead to violence, and I recognise what the right hon. Gentleman has said about some police being called in from outside the Greater London area, but will he consider the possibility of encouraging Sir John to have the power to appoint special constables to police normal areas when a big demonstration takes place in the centre of London, and to draw in more police from outside the Metropolitan area?
Mr. Straw: I should have said earlier to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) that the overwhelming majority of the police officers available yesterday to the Commissioner were Metropolitan police officers, although there had been arrangements for mutual aid from some of the home counties. The hon. Gentleman's second point is an important one; I shall write to the Commissioner and take it up with him.
Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): Many of us will welcome my right hon. Friend's support for the police. Does he agree that it is important that we do not undermine their actions with hindsight? We should all bear in mind the courage that police officers showed on our streets yesterday in protecting both property and life.
Mr. Straw: As my hon. Friend says, hindsight is a wonderful commodity. However, it is never available to the police in situations such as yesterday's demonstration. As well as going to New Scotland Yard yesterday and talking to the Commissioner and all his senior colleagues during the operation, I saw the Commissioner this morning. He has assured me that he is devoting considerable resources to the criminal investigation into the offences that took place yesterday. He and all his officers understand the importance of securing the perpetrators of the offences, including the desecration of the Cenotaph and the damaging and daubing of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill.
We have already added considerably to the powers available to the police--that was one of the complaints made by some of the protesters yesterday. I make no apologies for adding to the powers of the police. If the Commissioner or the Association of Chief Police Officers puts forward proposals for additional powers, we shall consider them carefully.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Given the increasingly dangerous situation in Montenegro, and the difficulties that our forces in Kosovo are experiencing, have there been any requests from either the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office for a statement on the situation in the Balkans?