§ 11. Mr. Carrington
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the proposed police authority for London; and if he will make a statement.
§ 14. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the future political control of the Metropolitan police.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
I have already received representations about that subject from a large number of hon. Members. As I announced on 23 March, I propose to establish new police authority arrangements for the Metropolitan police. I will develop my proposals in more detail over the next few months and set out more details when I publish my White Paper.
§ Mr. Carrington
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the size and complexity of London means that the Metropolitan police have to be controlled differently from the way in which other police forces are controlled? Does he accept that, however unsatisfactory it may be for the Metropolitan police to be controlled by the Home Office, the establishment in London of a police authority along the lines of police authorities elsewhere is not the solution?
§ Mr. Clarke
I think that London needs a police authority and that the arrangement whereby the Home Secretary is in theory the police authority for London is not adequate if we are to hold the Metropolitan police to account, as happens with other police authorities, and if, as I have said in answer to previous questions, we are to assist them by giving clearer guidelines on priorities and so on. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is no good regarding the Metropolitan police force as if it were just another provincial police force. It is much bigger and has many special duties connected with being in the capital. It certainly should not simply be handed over to local government as the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) suggests. Considerable thought about the sort of police authority that London needs is necessary.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many of us feel that there was far too little consultation on the matter before he announced his proposal? We feel that greater London has special problems—it is the seat of government and has a huge diplomatic community—and special arrangements should be made for it, but we remain to be convinced of the need for the new proposals.
§ Mr. Clarke
With respect to my hon. Friend, the purpose of making the statement was to have a consultation process and to listen to the views of my hon. Friend and of many other people who have an interest in the Metropolitan police service. In modern times, the Government spend their entire time consulting on proposals, which is a good thing; I have no doubt that in the end it tends to improve the quality of decision taking. We are getting so used to leaks, guesses and misreporting in the newspapers that it is thought quite improper if the Minister ever says anything by way of announcement of intentions without having talks with the world and his wife about it first. I have now put out my proposals for consultation and I will set them out in more detail in the light of what my hon. Friend and others have already said to me when, in the summer, I produce a White Paper that will pave the way for further discussions.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Many of us welcome the proposals by the Secretary of State for a new police authority for London, although we would clearly wish to go that much further than he. Nevertheless, it is a welcome step. Can he tell the House his thoughts so far about the basis on which elected councillors will go on to the police authority? Since he did not answer the question when he made his original statement, what thoughts does he have about the future of the City of London police force within the compass of the new London authority?
§ Mr. Clarke
The hon. Gentleman and I are agreed that London needs a police authority and that it is time to change the arrangements whereby the Home Secretary is the police authority. Remembering the hon. Gentleman's record on the Greater London council and the many things that he has said about police over the years, I very much doubt that it will turn out that we agree on anything else at all on this subject. I am now considering the membership of the police authority and listening to all views from all sides, and I will announce my proposals in more detail when I produce the White Paper. I have no proposals to make at the moment about the City of London police.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Recognising that the Home Secretary's authority has not always covered itself in glory in protecting members of the diplomatic community and the royal family in the past, can he assure us that further contracting-out groups such as have been active earlier this week in safeguarding prisoners will not be given responsibility for either the diplomatic community or the royal family?
§ Mr. Clarke
I am happy to have the opportunity to assure the hon. Gentleman that I have no intention whatever of contracting out or placing in private hands fundamental police duties that require the powers of a constable. Reports to that effect in the newspapers are completely wrong. I do not believe that it is a proper use of a trained police officer to sit in a taxi handcuffed to a harmless prisoner who is being conducted from prison to a court, which is what most court escorting services amount to.
At the moment, under the old arrangements, large numbers of prisoners appear to escape, and the present rate of escape is not out of the ordinary. I hope that we shall make the service more effective by concentrating on its provision by a specialist service. I also trust that we shall release police and prison service manpower for more important duties—tackling ' crime and looking after prisoners.
It is absurd for the Liberals to join the Labour party in its obsession with saying that the most trivial tasks of a policeman or a prison officer must continue to be done by a public sector employee because that is what the public sector trade unions keep demanding.