Metropolitan Police

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7 May 1981.

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Photo of Mr William Van Straubenzee Mr William Van Straubenzee , Wokingham

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that there was widespread support for his statement that recent attacks, and indeed attacks generally, upon the police are attacks upon the community which they represent and of which they are part? In view of the widespread support among the vast majority of law-abiding people in this country for the work of the police, will my right hon. Friend reflect—perhaps not this afternoon—on whether there might be ways in which that support could from time to time be expressed in a tangible form towards police officers and their dependants?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The truth is that frequently when tragedies have affected the police public response in raising money to help the widows and so on has been remarkable. I am very grateful for that because it shows strong support for what the police seek to do. I believe that the best way in which the community as a whole can support the police is to give them encouragement and to work with them. They will find that as there are more policemen—and I am glad to say that more are being recruited—it will be possible for more of them to be on the streets and to get to know the people in an area. If the people respond to that, that is the best way forward for all of us.

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South and Finsbury

Does the Secretary of State realise that the new policy of getting large numbers of police back on the streets, on foot, in many parts of London is made difficult and sometimes impossible by the need for commanders to supply large numbers of police for the policing of demonstrations and the like? Will he bear that factor in mind when he reviews the need for an increase in the establishment of the Metropolitan Police?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

The hon. Gentleman seemed at first to be arguing rather on the other side with regard to marches and demonstrations. I am grateful for what he has said. Marches and demonstrations place a considerable load upon the Metropolitan Police. For example, I believe that there was no Easter leave for any member of the Metropolitan Police this year. The House might well reflect on that. We should be extremely grateful to the police, and I believe that we are. It is also true that when they are taken off normal duties to police demonstrations and marches they have to be taken from the areas that they would normally be policing, which does harm in those areas. Those are extremely valid points.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the figures that he has given indicate that the strength of the Metropolitan Police is at a record high? Does he accept that there is widespread support for the movement of policemen back to the beat? Does he also accept that the figures reflect the carrying out of an important election promise that will have widespread support throughout the country?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Yes, they are record figures for the Metropolitan Police. The force is, however, still some 2,500 below the authorised establishment. If we proceed as we are doing at the moment, and the training school at Hendon is working to capacity, we should make that up within the next two years. That will be very helpful for the Metropolis and for getting more policemen back on the beat. I am grateful for the unanimous support of the House for that development.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

If the Metropolitan Police is 2,500 under strength, how quickly does the Secretary of State hope that that shortage will be made up and how far is it preventing what he rightly wants, namely, policemen on the beat taking up the full responsibility for curing vandalism and so forth?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I said that I hoped that it would be possible to get up to establishment within two years. As I made clear, I believe that the limiting factors are not only the capacity of the training school, but also the very large number of young policemen and thus the imbalance between older, more experienced policemen and young ones, which has its own dangers on the streets as well. We must get that balance right, and we are seeking to do so.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Stretford

Bearing in mind the importance of avoiding any waste of police time while, at the same time. providing the maximum protection for members of the public, may I ask my right hon. Friend, in the light of the disturbing and increasing tendency in recent years for letter bombs to be sent through the post, to introduce legislation at the earliest possible opportunity requiring the senders of all packets and parcels to put their names and addresses on them, as is required in the United States? Will he meanwhile encourage that to be done on a voluntary basis?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

Clearly, letter bombs being sent to public figures is a very bad development which is wholly to be deplored. All of us in the House should be extremely careful in handling our own post. I trust that all hon. Members will be so. Despite all the dangers, efforts are not nearly strong enough, even now. We have ourselves to blame if things go wrong, so we must take great care. As for my hon. Friend's proposals, I am afraid that I have no such plans. I think that there would be great difilculty in enacting such legislation.