§ Mr. Sproat
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the role of the special patrol group.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Following the events at Southall on 28 April 1979, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis directed the deputy commissioner to review the special patrol group and consider its future role. That review has now been completed and the Commissioner has informed me that, in the light of it, he intends to make three main changes in the organisation and structure of the group. First, the special patrol group will be decentralised to the four396W areas of the Metropolitan Police district. This will reinforce links with the local community while still enabling the units to be brought together when the efficiency of operations makes this necessary. Secondly, length of service in the group will be limited to a maximum of four years: this will counter the risks involved in lengthy periods of service in a specialised unit. Thirdly, the Commissioner intends to increase the number of supervisory ranks, principally at chief inspector level.
I welcome, and fully support, these changes. The Commissioner firmly believes, and I share his view, that the special patrol group has played, and will continue to play, a vital role in policing the Metropolis. I should emphasise that assistance in maintaining public order is only a small part of the group's duties. Over the years it has played a major role in assisting local police commanders to deal with exceptional outbreaks of crime, vandalism and disorder, in searching for missing persons, in assisting the serious crime squad, in providing protective security and in dealing with emergencies of all kinds, including combatting terrorism. In all this work the special patrol group has been successful and, in particular, has made a notable contribution to the prevention and detection of crime. In 1979 the group, whose strength at 31 December 1979 was 183, made a total of 3,669 arrests.
I believe that the changes the Commissioner is making will enable the group to perform its necessary role as a mobile reserve more effectively in the future.