I understand from the Commisioner of Police of the Metropolis that since 1 April eight officers have left the group at their own request, two have resigned from the force and five have been transferred to other duties.
Does the Home Secretary agree that one of the merits of the general British system of policing is that local policemen deal with local matters and have to live with the consequences of their actions? Does he accept that the special patrol group represents a concept that is wholly alien to that basic merit of the British system, in that it frequently moves into an area, causes a great deal of trouble and, whatever chief officers of police or the Police Federation may say, causes a great deal of discontent among local policemen, who have to live with the consequences of the actions of the SPG?
The principle of local police is a right and proper one, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, I believe that the SPG has made an extremely valuable contribution to the effective use of the force's scarce manpower resources. The evidence of what it has done, and the way in which it has dealt with crime in different areas, has been very valuable indeed.
Does my right hon. Friend not see a discrepancy between his ability to give an answer to question 8, concerning the time that has passed since April, and his inability, in reply to question 1, to give the figures for armed robberies seven months ago? Is it not time that the Home Office began to look into the procedures by which the assessment of figures can be speeded up? At a time of increasing crime it is ridiculous that we cannot produce figures that are more up to date than seven months ago.
I note my hon. Friend's point. It is important to realise the enormous expenditure of resources to provide all the statistics, both for the House and for the country. It cannot be done quickly without a considerable expansion of resources.
Will the Home Secretary take note that since the brutal murder of Blair Peach a large number of people throughout the country are very much afraid of the special patrol group, especially if they have seen it in action, as I have, repeatedly? Would he not expect the best elements of the special patrol group to leave en masse in view of what has just happened and the fact that we all know that a whitewash is on the agenda after that murder?
It would be quite wrong of me to follow the hon. Gentleman in some of his accusations. Commander Cass's report went to the Director of Public Prosecutions on 16 July. The coroner's inquest has been adjourned until 11 October. In those circumstances, I cannot possibly comment, but I do not for one moment accept some of the hon. Gentleman's strictures.