§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Douglas Hogg.]9.34 am
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Leon Brittan)
I welcome this opportunity for a debate on policing in the metropolis. As police authority for the Metropolitan police, I am regularly—and rightly—questioned by hon. Members on a wide range of matters relating to the force. That is an essential aspect of my accountability to this House. I meet separately hon. Members with constituencies in the Metropolitan police district; and I have recently discussed their concerns directly with them. They have also had the opportunity to discuss these matters with the Commissioner personally. But the House itself should also from time to time have the opportunity to debate the key issues.
This debate takes place at a time when the Metropolitan police have entered a period of intense change. The changes now being brought about are the most significant and far-reaching that the force has experienced in recent years. Their purpose is to increase the effectiveness of the force at all levels over the whole range of its tasks—to renew and cement public confidence in, and co-operation with, the police; to improve the prevention and detection of crime; to ensure that the best possible use is made of resources and, in short, to provide a better service to the public.
I hardly need remind the House of just how important that service is. Just over three weeks ago a peaceful demonstration in St. James's square turned into a nightmare. The police were suddenly faced with a situation as dangerous as it was complex. Their response was swift and well judged. Over 11 long days and in the face of understandable feelings of outrage at the senseless murder of a colleague, officers conducted themselves with outstanding efficiency and necessary restraint. The quality of service that they rendered in St. James's square could not have been bettered by any force in the world.
The Metropolitan police have, of course, always had a high reputation for their success in dealing with major incidents and with the most serious and sophisticated criminals. The House is, I know, concerned that the force should be equally successful in its efforts to protect Londoners from other crimes — assaults, burglaries, robberies. The commissioner has made it clear that he attaches the highest priority to dealing with these categories of crime.
Last year saw some encouraging signs—for which full credit must go to the commissioner and his force. The figures for notifiable offences in 1983 showed a welcome drop of 4 per cent. overall below those for 1982. The fall 1204 in the number of some categories of recorded offences was larger—robbery and other violent thefts, for example, fell by 5 per cent. and auto crime by no less than 9 per cent. Clear-up rates improved and the numbers arrested rose.
But the scale of the problem represented by the statistics remains formidable. In 1983, over 650,000 notifiable offences were recorded by the force. Moreover, I would remind the House that these figures do not include the very large number of offences that are not reported. Nor do they include reported incidents which after investigation—sometimes lengthy and time-consuming — are not substantiated as criminal offences.
And the nature of the problem is as formidable for the police as its scale. The incidence of crime—especially but not exclusively in the inner city—is affected by many factors over which the police have little or no control. A large proportion of crime is random and opportunist in nature. Unfortunately, it follows that the chances of criminals of that kind being caught red-handed are very slim, and in the anonymous conditions of the city victims can rarely identify suspects or name witnesses. We should all frankly acknowledge that there are limits to what the police can do. But if the facts must be faced they ought not to be a cause for despair, but rather for new thinking and a new determination.
For the public the message is clear. The truth is not that the police can do nothing, but that they are critically handicapped if they do not receive the whole-hearted support and co-operation of the community they serve; and by support for the police I mean not merely a pious affirmation of the importance of their role, but real practical help with the day-to-day policing task.
For the police the message is equally clear — a renewed and stronger emphasis on crime prevention in co-operation with the public, and the intelligent and resource-conscious application of improved methods of crime detection. The police need to win active support, not for public relations reasons, but in order for them to do their job effectively.
The commissioner's recent report to me contains abundant and convincing evidence of new thinking and a sense of purpose. Public services are sometimes accused of resistance to change and new ideas, and of insensitivity to public pressures and demands. Such an accusation could not with justice be levelled at the Metropolitan police. It is still only some 16 months since the commissioner presented proposals to meet objectives agreed with my predecessor.
Let me remind the House of what those objectives were. The first was to tackle crime, including street crime, and burglary, in co-operation with other agencies including local government. The second was to meet the vital objective of maintaining public order and preserving the peace in the capital. The third was to stimulate the involvement and co-operation of local communities in dealing with problems in their societies. The fourth was to ensure that the organisation of the force was appropriate to the new emphasis on local consultation and well geared to achieving results in modern conditions.
In not much more than 12 months very significant steps have been taken to modernise the force and make it more effective. Officers have been returned to the beat to work that is now more challenging and productive and better supervised. A system of planning has been introduced throughout the force. Methods for dealing with street crime in particular have been introduced that are both more 1205 sharply focused and more sensitive to the need to avoid alienating innocent members of the public. Improved management has enabled public order to be maintained with fewer resources. Progress has been made in establishing a secure framework for public co-operation. Consultative groups, crime prevention panels and victim support schemes have been formed and neighbourhood watch and property marking schemes have been introduced on an impressive scale. A summary of the commissioner's report is available to many hon. Members and there are copies of it in the Library. I should, however, like to single out elements of it.
The first element is the successful effort that the commissioner has made to return men to the beat. Last year over 750 uniformed constables were added to divisional strengths in order to improve ground cover. The Government and I as police authority attach the greatest importance to this shift in the deployment of manpower. It is on the streets that constables in particular can best exercise their preventive and community policing roles. It is there that Londoners want to see them and there that they can best cement relations with the public and enlist their co-operation; and it is on the streets that they can best achieve the detailed and sympathetic understanding of their community that will enable them to enforce the law in an effective and sensitive manner.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the neighbourhood watch scheme. Is he confident that it will develop into a real success or is he worried that it may be subject, as so often happens, to an initial flare of enthusiasm which wanes thereafter? Does he believe that it will be a sustainable programme?
§ Mr. Brittan
I think that it will be a sustainable programme. I agree with my hon. Friend that, as with all new initiatives, there is a risk of the initial enthusiasm waning. My hon. Friend gives a salutary warning of the need to maintain the momentum. The commissioner will be well aware of that and we as parliamentarians must keep the matter under review.
It is not enough simply to return officers to the beat. The vital resource that they represent must also be used more effectively in tackling crime. They must be deployed in the places where they are most needed; be given the guidance and supervision necessary for the proper discharge of their duties; and the status that they deserve. We cannot afford the sort of aimless patrolling which the Policy Studies Institute rightly criticised. Beat officers need a sense of purpose to play their full part in the attainment of properly established objectives, determined after detailed consideration of local problems.
The measures that the commissioner has taken are designed to do just this. The manpower available to the force is now being allocated on the basis of high, moderate and low incidences of street robberies, street disorder and burglary; and the decisions are being taken not by headquarters but by the deputy assistant commissioners in charge of the four areas in the Metropolitan police district who are fully conversant with local problems.
To improve front-line supervision, 116 sergeants were redeployed in 1983 to divisions from central departments. In addition, a further 30 uniform and CID sergeants were released for operational duties as a result of the 1206 rationalisation of divisional crime squads; and 50 sergeants employed on non-operational duties were replaced by civilian staff or constables. Besides being allocated on a more rational and systematic basis, beat officers have been drawn fully into the planning process and their work is now an integral part of the effort to attain locally assessed objectives. Consistent with their status and local knowledge, they have also been given the new responsibility of investigating some burglaries.
The second area that I should like to mention is that of co-operation with the community and other agencies. This is fundamental to the commissioner's strategy and I whole-heartedly support his efforts to establish a framework through which it can be achieved. As Home Secretary, I place particular importance on the continuing development of consultation. It is vital that Londoners should have the opportunity to feed in their views on policing and to discuss and criticise. It is essential if the police and the public are to work effectively together that there should be mutual confidence, understanding and common goals.
The first consultative group which my predecessor set up in Lambeth has been widely praised for the contribution that it has made to improving relations between the police and the local community and to reducing the disturbingly high level of crime in the area. I believe that the key to its success lies in its structure and membership. The group is widely representative of the local community. Its members include representatives of the police, the borough council, local Members, GLC councillors and many minority groups and organisations. Yet it is dominated by no single element within it. This independence from domination has given it a credibility within the local community which has made it the focal point for discussion on local policing matters.
I have also been greatly encouraged by the progress made elsewhere. Groups have been formed, or are in the process of being formed, in many parts of London. There have certainly been difficulties. Some boroughs have shown little enthusiasm for consultation. I can understand the desire of these councils not to disturb already good relations between the police and local people, but I am convinced that consultation is necessary everywhere.
Some other councils have tended to take the view that consultation will be effective only if it exists within the council's own committee structure. I believe that the Lambeth group and others have shown that view to be quite mistaken. Discussions with these councils on the remaining points of practice and principle that divide us are continuing and I am optimistic of their outcome.
At the same time, I must make it perfectly clear that I shall not be prepared to allow those who wish to use consultation to further their political ends to stand between the police and the community. Whatever machinery is established must reflect the existing constitutional arrangements for policing London, and I stand firmly behind the principles set out by my predecessor during last year's debate.
To ensure that there is no misunderstanding, these principles are explicitly incorporated in the guidance that I intend to issue to the commissioner when consultation becomes statutory. When that happens, the commissioner will, of course, have a statutory duty to establish consultative arrangements in accordance with my guidelines throughout the Metropolitan police district. In discharging that duty he will be obliged to consult local authorities. I very much hope that they will respond 1207 constructively. It would be unfortunate were the commissioner to be forced to go ahead without the co-operation of a local authority. But let there be no mistake: when the Bill becomes law, that is what would have to happen.
Consultation is, of course, only a part of the framework. A good deal of effort has also gone into the formation of crime prevention panels. There are now 18 panels in the Metropolitan police district, most of which have been formed as a result of the commissioner's initiatives during the last year. More are planned. These panels are a valuable source of new ideas for crime prevention and allow local people, including — and I believe this is of the utmost importance—business men and women, to become personally involved in crime prevention activity. Such activities are supported by the professional expertise provided by the force crime prevention department. That department has many specialised officers based on divisions, is active in disseminating crime prevention advice and guidance to the community and pursuing local initiatives designed to meet the needs of local areas. The same initiative has gone into the vital area of victim support. There are now 27 schemes designed to provide the care and support that the victims of crime so badly need operating in the Metropolitan police district. A further six schemes are at an embryonic stage of development and 10 more are in prospect.
Co-operative effort is the key to crime prevention—co-operation not only between the public and the police, but between citizen and citizen, neighbour with neighbour. The force has devoted great energy to the development of the neighbourhood watch and property marking schemes, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), and are immensely encouraged by the response of the public. There are now at least 350 neighbourhood watch schemes operating in the force area. More are planned. The establishment of so many schemes in a short time is a remarkable achievement and the willingness of so many people to join them is indicative, I believe, of the growing confidence of Londoners in their police. Results are already beginning to show. In one early scheme, established at Hurlingham and visited by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, the effects in the short term have been very impressive. The watch area had one of the highest burglary rates in Fulham division in 1982. In the latter part of last year, when the scheme started, there was a 50 per cent. reduction in all burglaries, and a 52 per cent. reduction in all major crime. That compared with a reduction of 21 per cent. in major crime in the division as a whole.
I turn now to the detection of crime. It is right that the public and the House should acknowledge the real difficulties with which the police are faced in their attempts to detect crime. Those difficulties served to underline the need to direct effort and resources where the chances of success are greatest and to improve methods of detection.
The commissioner's strategy is designed to achieve both those ends. Methods developed to deal with organised and specialist crime have been adapted and brought into use against burglars and street robbers. Area intelligence and surveillance units have been introduced and are now operating successfully in all four areas. Their function is to obtain the information on which arrests can be based: to ensure that all the available information is 1208 carefully analysed; and that action is precisely targeted. Those new methods have been backed by the better management of detective resources.
I look forward to the commissioner's evaluation of those new methods. It is too soon to say how great an impact they will have. But I believe, with the commissioner, that last year's improvement in the clear-up rate, combined as it was with an increase in the number of offences cleared up, gives grounds for cautious optimism that, together with the many other measures which he has introduced, worthwhile results will be achieved.
Those results are needed over the whole spectrum of crime, but nowhere more than in the area of drug abuse. In line with the objectives he agreed with my predecessor, the commissioner has in the past year focused a good deal of effort on tackling burglary and street crime. Those are the offences that public surveys have consistently identified as being of particular concern to the public and it is right that significant resources should have been devoted to dealing effectively with them. I believe that the public is now becoming equally concerned with the evil of drugs in our society.
The need for continuing firm action by the police to tackle drug trafficking is self-evident, and I shall fully support the commissioner's measures in that area. The Government for their part will be pressing ahead with their strategy to combat drug misuse not only through police action but by reducing the supply of drugs coming into this country from abroad; by tighter controls on drugs produced and prescribed here; by making legislative provision adequate to ensure that drug trafficking is both dangerous and unprofitable; and by improved care and rehabilitation for those who are the victims of this evil trade.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
Does the Home Secretary recognise that there is a connection between addictive drugs, especially heroin, and street crime and burglary? The pressure of the price of drugs leads to crime. Will the commissioner concentrate on addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine rather than take the easy course and pick up people with a little bit of cannabis, which is much less harmful than the terrible addictive drugs that drive people to crime?
§ Mr. Brittan
I agree that the greatest menace is that of trafficking in the more serious drugs.
I come now to the management and organisation of the force. One of the first of the commissioner's acts upon taking office was to set in train a detailed and comprehensive review of the structure of the force. That review is now well advanced and will be completed next year. Meanwhile, real progress has been made towards the introduction of the more corporate management style the commissioner wishes to see. The major achievement here has undoubtedly been the introduction of a force-wide planning system. That has enabled the force to consider its objectives and priorities at all levels in a systematic and coherent way.
Such consideration is vital if resources are to be properly managed. But equally significant has been the open and consultative way in which the plans have been drawn up. The Policy Studies Institute report revealed all too clearly what can happen when police managers become removed from those they supervise. The 1209 commissioner has moved swiftly to close the damaging gap which the authors of the report identified. The new strategy has depended on the experience and insight of officers at the sharp end of policing.
So much for the better use of resources. I shall now say a word about the resources themselves. The strength of the Metropolitan police has increased by almost 4,700 officers since 1979. I have authorised an increase of a further 200 police posts this year, and, in accordance with the high priority I attach to civilianisation, I have raised the civilian staff ceiling by almost 300. The cost of the force to public funds in 1983 was some £660 million.
From time to time criticisms are made in this House of the additional cost of policing in London compared with elsewhere. Simple comparisons of the costs of different police forces are very misleading, for several reasons. The additional expense of living and working in London is inevitably reflected in levels of pay and allowances and in accommodation and transport costs that are significantly higher than elsewhere.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
Does the Home Secretary agree that his remarks about the additional costs of providing a police service in London apply equally to providing an education service in the ILEA area and to the services provided by the GLC and those London boroughs which the right hon. and learned Gentleman's colleagues constantly denounce as profligate overspenders?
§ Mr. Brittan
Not necessarily. I do not accept for one moment that there is a straight read-over. Obviously certain costs can be applied equally, but others cannot. The Metropolitan police undertake additional duties, both national and international. Those duties are not undertaken by provincial forces. There is no comparison between that and the work of the education or social services which, broadly speaking, are doing the same important task as their colleagues outside London.
The additional tasks of the Metropolitan police include royalty and diplomatic protection, Interpol, counterterrorism, the National Indentification Bureau, the policing of state occasions, the protection of the Palace of Westminster and the policing of major demonstrations. Those extra factors require a heavy commitment of resources. They are either not performed by other forces, or are carried out by them on a much smaller scale than in London.
All this requires a higher police-to-population ratio in London compared with elsewhere, with consequently increased cost. In addition, many of the essential support services which are provided in the Metropolitan police by the 15,000 or so civilians employed by the force are elsewhere provided by local authority staff or by the Home Office. Having said that costs are inevitably and legitimately higher in the capital than elsewhere, we should not be diverted for one moment from the task of ensuring that costs are kept down. It is a central and essential part of the commissioner's strategy to ensure that they are, and it is an equally central and essential part of my work.
§ Mr. Dykes
On the subject of the enormous costs of demonstrations—which have grown, both domestic and foreign—while this House would presumably not be in 1210 favour of any intrinsic limitations on freedom, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether, bearing in mind the tremendous extra cost and traffic disruption and the general dislocation that occurs, we should consider putting a greater limitation on the use of specific roads in central London for this purpose? Will he consider the idea of an area of Hyde park being designated for the purpose of mobile as well as stationary demonstrations?
§ Mr. Brittan
The balance between the disruption and costs incurred by demonstrators and marchers and the traditional right to engage in such demonstrations and marches is at the centre of the review of public order on which I have embarked. I shall certainly take into account my hon. Friend's suggestion.
I turn to the commissioner's plans for 1984. The same considerations — the better use of resources and harnessing community co-operation—will continue to underpin the commissioner's strategy over the coming year. The key is consolidation and development. There will be further improvements in the use of manpower; the development of consultative arrangements will be vigorously pursued; further improvements will be introduced in methods for detecting crime; and a range of performance measures will be developed—something to which I attach the greatest importance.
At the same time, close attention will be paid to the quality of service to the public. Good behaviour on the streets is particularly important. If public confidence is to be strengthened, officers must behave with professionalism at all times. In his report to me, the commissioner frankly acknowledges that there is evidence, particularly in the Policy Studies Institute report, that his officers do not always honour the contract that he wishes to see established with the people of London.
But if the Policy Studies Institute report showed evidence of misbehaviour, its very commissioning, and the commissioner's open and constructive response to it, is, I believe, clear evidence of the desire of the force to ensure that, where they are justified, the criticisms are met. Racism, whether of word or deed, is unacceptable, and I know that the commissioner is determined to eradicate it. The inter-departmental group that he established to consider the report and ensure that its lessons are learnt throughout the force will be meeting shortly to finalise the recommendations on racism that it will be putting to the commissioner's policy committee. That group has had the benefit of the experience and advice of members of the ethnic minority communities.
The discipline code is, of course, available and capable of dealing with the sort of misbehaviour revealed by the Policy Studies Institute report. It will be used. But the commissioner is convinced, and I agree with him, that negative sanctions are not enough: positive guidance is required. To provide this, the commissioner will issue in the coming year two documents which I believe will be seminal in the development of modern policing.
The first is a restatement—the first since 1829—of the corporate aims and philosophy of the force. This document, which I have discussed in detail with the commissioner, sets out the fundamental aims and duties of the force in modern conditions. It emphasises the need for the police, in upholding the law, to be vigilant in respecting the rights of individual citizens and to co-operate openly and constructively with the public in preventing crime.
1211 The second document, which is designed to complement this restatement of policing principles, is a code or handbook of professional conduct. This will be issued to all officers in the force. Its aim is to translate the principles into practice, to give officers down-to-earth help and advice on the handling of difficult day-to-day policing tasks involving the exercise of individual discretion, and to inspire a commitment to the highest professional standards.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
I do not want to be too unkind to the Home Secretary, but I am sure that the House is pondering on the purpose of this morning's debate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has reached what is probably the most important part of his statement today, and that is the issuing of a code of professional conduct. Will he assure the House that it will be the House of Commons which debates this issue, for he is presenting it as though it will be the commissioner's guidelines, code of conduct, code of ethics or whatever it is to be called? The commissioner is designing it when, if police democracy is about anything, it should be about the Home Secretary setting down the guidelines within which a code of behaviour is established and which must be practised by the police.
§ Mr. Brittan
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has problems and difficulties, but I do not think that the House generally will find the purpose of this debate remotely baffling. It is for me to give an account of the policies which the commissioner and I, as police authority to whom the commissioner reports, are following, to explain the problems, to indicate progress and to point to the future. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the House having an opportunity to express its views, I should have hoped that he would find it within him to welcome the fact that this debate provides just that chance for the House.
§ Mr. Brittan
I said that I would not give way.
I am about to answer the second point that the hon. Gentleman raised, and he must contain himself with more patience than he has hitherto shown.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about whose responsibility it is to issue a document is that it depends on the nature of the document. I should have thought that it made perfectly sound sense that when one is talking about, for instance, the second document—the handling of day-to-day policing tasks; the translation of principles into practice—it is in accordance with the professionalism expected from the police, as from any other body, that that should be the prime source of that document.
As for the first document—the restatement of the corporate aims and philosophy of the force, perhaps the more strategic document—I said that I had discussed that in detail with the commissioner. It is his document, but I have discussed it in detail with him and it seems to be that that process of discussion, and the fact that I shall be able to give it my support, reflects in a sensible way the right relations that exist between the Government and the commissioner.
1212 I have no doubt that opportunities will exist for the House to express its views on those matters. Therefore, if we approach these issues in a practical way, the constitutional position and, above all, the interests and needs of the people of London—which is what it is all about — can march together and not in opposite directions.
The commissioner will be seeking public comment on both documents in due course, and public comment includes the views of this House, if it chooses to avail itself of the opportunity to give those comments. I believe that the documents deserve, and will receive, a whole-hearted welcome from the public.
In opening this debate I have attempted both to outline the main elements of the commissioner's strategy and to indicate the ways in which these elements cohere; and I have described the positive help and guidance which the commissioner is concerned to give his officers. But police officers, especially those whose task—often stressful and unpleasant—it is to police the streets of the inner city, need more than the help of their seniors and colleagues. No policing strategy, however well directed it may be at the problems of crime and disorder that afflict London, can succeed without the positive help of us all.
The police are not perfect, and we should not expect them to be. Mistakes will be made for which they will rightly be criticised. But we must never forget, as recent events have again so tragically reminded us, that the job the police do on our behalf is difficult and dangerous, personally and professionally testing to the highest degree. In discharging their vital task, the police have a right to expect that our criticisms of them should not be withheld but should be constructive. In this spirit, I believe that the very great efforts the force has made to improve the quality of service it offers Londoners deserves the fullest support of the public and the whole House.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
We debate policing in the metropolis at a time when the work of the police in our capital has been displayed to literally hundreds of millions on television screens throughout the world and has not been confined to local interest. The Opposition offer their congratulations to the Metropolitan police on the bravery and skill that they demonstrated during the tense and potentially dangerous siege of the Libyan embassy. We repeat our condolences to the force at the loss of one of its number, Yvonne Fletcher, who was brutally shot down in cold blood by a criminal sheltering under diplomatic immunity.
Some of the evidence given at Yvonne Fletcher's inquest this week reinforces our demand for an inquiry into all the circumstances of this disturbing affair. I find it extraordinary that after nearly a month the Metropolitan police have been unable to trace the officer to whom on 17 April Mr. John Sullivan passed on the warning of the presence of guns and the danger of fighting. Even if the shooting could not have been prevented at that late stage, more effective preventive measures might have been taken.
There is a mysterious and disturbing incompatability between statements of the Home Secretary and of Commander William Hucklesby, the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, about the number of persons suspected of the murder.
1213 The Home Secretary told the House last week that the policeare of the view that it is likely that the murder was committed by one of two people who were in the bureau.It is to be noted that Commander Hucklesby told the inquest yesterday:As far as I am concerned, all 30 are still suspected and our inquiries are still proceeding to identify which of them fired the shot.
§ Mr. Brittan
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in suggesting that there is a conflict. I have followed up the report and checked the position and I can assure him that there is no discrepancy. I was careful to distinguish to the House the difference between material that could be brought before a court and that which could not be. As I said, there was no evidence that could be brought before a court bearing on any one person. Therefore, the hunt or search continues and all must be regarded as suspects. However, on the basis of material which could not be brought before a court, the views of the police on the probable identity of the murderer were what I stated. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, after checking, that remains the position.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I find that even more baffling. The Home Secretary has repeated his reference to what he said on 1 May. He said:The police remain of the view that there is not sufficient evidence to sustain a prosecution against any individual.That is understandable. However, he continued:None the less, they are of the view that it is likely that the murder was committed by one of two people who were in the bureau."—[Official Report, 1 May 1984; Vol. 59, c. 196.]
§ Mr. Kaufman
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that that is correct, but it is not what Commander Hucklesby told the inquest yesterday. He said:As far as I am concerned, all 30 are still suspected and our inquiries are still proceeding".
§ Mr. Brittan
I am sorry that there is this problem in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. Inquiries continue against all 30. I said that the view of the police, on the basis of information which would not be sustainable before a court of law, is that the murder was committed by one of two persons. That is a view or a suspicion, but it is not evidence. I was clear in saying that. That remains the view of the police but it is only a view, which can be supplanted or displaced by further information and evidence. It is for that reason that the commander was right to say that the inquiries continue in relation to all 30. It is important that there should not be any misunderstanding. I have taken the opportunity of checking the matter, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is the position.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I agree that it is important that there should not be any misunderstanding. He has sought to clear up any misunderstandings that there might be, but I have to say to him, in the best of good faith, that he has not succeeded. That being so, I must repeat that only an inquiry can clear up these matters, and many others, which continue to cause serious public disquiet.
Great attention must be given to the episode at the Libyan embassy, for it carries a great lesson for us all. That episode was a recent, dramatic, tragic and distasteful occurrence in our capital, but for most of the time the 1214 policing of the metropolis is a more domestic matter. We have studied with interest the report prepared by the commissioner and the crime statistics for 1983, which were published recently. We are naturally gratified at the reduction, however small, in notifiable offences recorded last year. However, that reduction, welcome as it is, does not disguise the fact that crime in our capital remains a scourge of disturbing dimensions.
Even last year, the 4 per cent. overall reduction in crime cloaked a 5 per cent. increase in offences of violence against the person. Over the past five years, the period in which Conservative Governments have held office, we find that crime in London has increased by ominous proportions. The overall total of 659,180 is up by 16 per cent. Crimes of violence against the person increased from 14,727 to 17,707, a rise of 20 per cent. Burglary, one of the most widespread of crimes, increased from 121,127 to 152,620, a 27 per cent. increase.
London's crime rate is far more serious now than when the Prime Minister, a London Member, took office on a platform of law and order. There is much more crime in London and the fight against it is substantially less successful than when the right hon. Lady became Prime Minister, when she made lavish promises about how she would combat crime. The number of arrests has declined by 8 per cent. and the percentage of crimes cleared up is down from 21 per cent.—itself not a very impressive level—to only 17 per cent. Under this Government, the clear-up rate of crimes in London has fallen by 24 per cent. In these circumstances, it is amazing that the Home Secretary should congratulate himself on a minute improvement in the clear-up rate since last year.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell the House what proportion of the totals to which he has referred is auto crime? It is misleading to consider a broad total without taking into account the clear-up rate, for example, of auto crime.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Auto crime is a separate heading, as the hon. Gentleman will see if he refers to the relevant reports. The fact is that the crime clear-up rate for London is lower than in any other police force area in the country. It is more than three times worse than in Cheshire and Lincolnshire, and it is between twice and three times as bad as in the other metropolitan areas.
It is true, and welcome, that police strength in London has risen substantially, but figures winkled out of the Home Office by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) show that the clear-up rate per policeman of crimes in the metropolis is worse, and often substantially worse, than in any other police area in the country, with the single exception of the City of London. In 1982 each London policeman on average cleared up precisely four crimes. Crime in London under this Tory Home Secretary is far worse than it was under my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees).
Of course, our police force as a whole seeks to fight crime with all the vigour of which it is capable, and in that fight it will have the support of every Londoner. It needs also the confidence and trust of every Londoner, because it is impossible to fight crime without the co-operation of the population as a whole. It must be said that some occurrences do not help in winning that confidence and 1215 ensuring that co-operation. The wanton rifling of the possessions of the journalist, Mr. Duncan Campbell, after he had been involved in an accident aroused serious and justified concern, as did the raid on the offices of Green-peace, which was not so much a search, more a fishing expedition. I hope that the commissioner will ensure that his force is not in future involved in such excrescences. The police should regard it as their role not to violate civil liberties but to uphold them.
This year, we are in an especially good position to examine the Metropolitan police, to assess their strengths and to scrutinise their weaknesses. We have available for study not only the commissioner's annual report but the remarkable survey of London policing by the Policy Studies Institute. It is amazing that only passing references were made to this important document in the Home Secretary's complacent and turgid speech. If he goes through his speech, he will find a handful of references—perhaps three—all of them obiter references, to that document. At no stage did he pull from that document the serious matters to which it refers.
The previous commissioner deserves great credit for having been willing to subject his force to this impartial and objective scrutiny, and the present commissioner merits commensurate credit for responding so rapidly and, to a certain degree, positively to what the PSI report reveals. Some of the disclosures of the PSI report are matters for enormous worry for all who care about the standing of the Metropolitan police force. The strengths are there, and it is important to acknowledge them, but the shortcomings include defects that demand a remedy.
The report deals in great detail with the practice of stop and search which is to be perpetuated and extended nationally in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, which we shall resume debating on Monday. The report acknowledges what it regards as the usefulness of stop and search, but the facts it cites must create strong feelings of doubt and misgiving about the current practice, let alone its extension.
The Policy Studies Institute points out that, during a twelve-month period, 16 per cent. of Londoners—one in every six—were stopped by the police one or more times. That means that more than 1 million stops were made in London. The PSI report states that those stops resulted in the detection — I use the word "detection" very carefully—of some 100,000 offences a year. That figure certainly sounds like a justification of the practice. It seems that only 3 per cent. of the stops led to an arrest, and we do not know how many of those arrests resulted in a charge and how many charges led to convictions. It may well be that 1 million stops led to only a tiny fraction of those stopped being convicted of offences. It is undeniable, in the words of the report, that current practice runs a serious risk of causing offence to innocent persons.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham South)
Some of us discussed that point with the commissioner and we understand his sympathetic attitude to the public. Is it not a fact that, although the advantages and fruits of this understood and, in some circumstances, necessary police technique are quantitatively and statistically available, and although those benefits are not very great, as my right hon. Friend points out, the qualitative damage to the relationships which the Home Secretary rightly espoused in his generalised speech is unquantifiable and damaging? 1216 In many cases, the police are ignorant of the effects of those searches, however courteously accomplished, on the public, especially the young.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I agree with my hon. Friend and am coming to the matters on which he has intervened.
The PSI report is very disturbing in its revelation that the police often exceed their powers. It is essential that the commissioner should respond to the recommendation that stopping practices should he linked to far more purposive policing methods. I welcome the commissioner's acknowledgement thatno excuse can be made for the boorish, inconsiderate officer who sees the task of stopping a suspect as a way of arbitrarily imposing his authority.The safeguards of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill against such behaviour, and worse, are far from adequate, and there is no guarantee from the evidence of the PSI report that even those inadequate safeguards will be observed when the Bill becomes law.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The situation could be worse, unless there is a firm determination to enforce the safeguards and to discipline officers who seek to evade them.
Nowhere are the dangers inherent in the indiscriminate use of stop and search powers more obvious than in the effect on young West Indians. What the report says about the police and West Indians is more disquieting than anything else in these bulky documents. It is extraordinary that, in a speech lasting about half an hour, the Home Secretary did not find it possible to refer to those matters.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I was listening. I shall refer to a tangential matter to which the Home Secretary referred. I shall do so in a manner that is short of praise
The report states:Within certain groups, the chance of being stopped in a twelve-month period is well over 50 per cent., and a high proportion of these groups have been stopped several times in that period. There are three demographic characteristics that are strongly related to the likelihood of being stopped: age, sex and ethnic group. Young people, men and West Indians are far more likely to be stopped than others, and young West Indian males are much more likely to be stopped than any other group … In terms of the proportions stopped, the difference between West Indians and white people is not very striking (24 per cent. for West Indians, 17 per cent. for white people); but the mean number of stops is nearly three times as high among West Indians as among white people, because West Indians who are stopped at all tend to be stopped repeatedly. Also, the proportion of people who have stopped when on foot is nearly four times as high for West Indians as for white people.The report goes on to provide the staggering statistic that63 per cent. of West Indian men age 15–24 have been stopped".That compares with 44 per cent. for whites which, heaven knows, is sufficiently disturbing.
The effect on the relationship of the police with young West Indians is damaging, and the report demonstrates that. The report states:Nearly half of encounters between police and West Indian men are 'negative', compared with 18 per cent. for white men. Police encounters with young people tend strongly to be `negative', and a very high proportion of encounters with young West Indian men (63 per cent. for West Indian men aged 15–24, compared with 35 per cent. for white men in the same age goup) involve the person being treated as a suspect or offender. These findings are extremely important in helping to explain the critical view of the police among young people generally, and young West Indians in particular.1217 The report shows that a solid majority of young West Indians think that the police exceed their powers to stop peple. The report continues:A much higher proportion of West Indians than of white people or of other groups are critical of police conduct. The biggest differences between the view of West Indians and white people are in relation to excessive use of force on arrest, unjustifiable use of violence on suspects held at police stations and fabrication of evidence.The summing up of the PSI report commissioned by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is:The lack of confidence in the police among young West Indians can only be described as disastrous. Sixty-two per cent. of them think the police often use threats and unreasonable pressure in questioning, 53 per cent. that they often use excessive force on arrest, 56 per cent. that they often unjustifiably use violence on people held at the police stations, 43 per cent. that they often fabricate evidence and 41 per cent. that they often make false records of interviews.Some of that behaviour is undoubtedly caused by racism among the police. The PSI survey said:Although it has less effect on policing behaviour than might be expected, the level of racial prejudice in the force is cause for serious concern".The report recommends that theforce should make a major effort to stimulate explicit discussion and thinking about the ethnic dimension in policing at all levels in the organisation.The police response acknowledges thatThere is a disastrous lack of confidence among West Indian youth.The police accept that something will have to be done about it, but no satisfactorily precise proposals are made to remedy a position that the police admit to be disastrous. In those worrying circumstances, it is all the more deplorable that the Government obstinately refuse to implement the recommendations of Lord Scarman that racially prejudiced or discriminatory behaviour should be included as a specific offence in the police discipline code, and that it should be understood throughout the police that the normal penalty for racially prejudiced behaviour is dismissal.
If the Home Secretary meant what he said this morning about the unacceptability of racism in the police, he would implement those Scarman recommendations without any further delay.
Another shortcoming revealed by the PSI is, in the words of the report, that the Metropolitan police forcediscriminates unlawfully against women applicants under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.The report continues:We have reason to believe that it is 'unofficially' force policy to keep the proportion of women in the force down to about ten per cent.The report demands that the force should bring its selection policy into conformity with the law.
The police response frankly admits that it has a 10 per cent. quota for women, and that there is sexist behaviour in the force. Once again, while the diagnosis is accepted, no satisfactory cure is proposed.
§ Mr. Brittan
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that I made public the fact that that has changed and that that so-called quota has been dropped?
§ Mr. Brittan
Not in the response papers. I made a separate statement announcing that the commissioner had responded in that way.
§ Mr. Kaufman
One of the problems with the right hon. and learned Gentleman is—I would not say it in any carping spirit in these circumstances—that he is curiously secretive in the way that he communicates with the Opposition on matters that he publishes. He published a paper this week, and so far the Opposition have not been sent a copy of it. If he wishes us to be fully aware of every paragraph that he utters, he might observe the usual courtesy, which his colleagues in the Department of the Environment have observed over the past three years, of sending the Opposition copies of his statements and documents that he publishes.
The PSI report is useful in providing facts, instead of guesswork, about policing methods in London and the effectiveness of those methods. It shows that the ratio of time spent by the police patrolling in vehicles is twice as great as the time spent patrolling on foot. Londoners favour foot patrols, and they are right to do so. The report's findings show that foot patrols are more effective than vehicle patrols as a way of directly observing crimes being committed, and that an officer on foot is more accessible than one in a vehicle to members of the public who want to report an offence directly. In contrast, the relatively high proportion of arrests made by vehicle patrols is in response to radio calls, and, most significant of all, 34 per cent. of arrests arise when an officer responds to a call or direct approach from a member of the public.
The report asserts what is plainly true and of the greatest importance in the fight against crime—the enormous importance of cooperation by members of the public in the detection of crime: one-third of arrests directly arise from a call or approach by a member of the public; in addition, initiatives by members of the public must in many other cases make it possible for the police to make an arrest later.It is reassuring that the police have come to the conclusion thatan officer's day will no longer be determined by some vague aim of preventing crime as a goaland that constables must be trained and tested in knowledge of a specified area and of the needs of the community within that area.
The maintenance of law and order is possible only if trust exists between the police and the public. The police themselves acknowledge that by asserting thatconfidence in the integrity of the police is an essential element in effective policing.They are not, however, sufficiently clear about how to achieve that objective. They acknowledge frankly that the police have not had a clear view of their role in society for a number of years—in simple terms, whether they are a force or a service.
It is essential that the police should clarify their identity and purpose for their own sake and that of the community that they serve, otherwise they will not receive the co-operation that they need to fight the crime wave that afflicts London.
Many Londoners do not feel safe in their city. The PSI report states starkly:There is a large body of opinion among Londoners generally, and among women in particular, that the streets of London are unsafe at night.1219 Of Londoners, 27 per cent. say that they have been the victims of some kind of crime during the past 12 months, and the report asserts:There is clearly a widespread feeling that the police are losing the battle against street crime and burglaries.The police must win that battle. Life in our capital city must not degenerate, as it has in too many American cities where it is not safe to venture on foot into certain sections after nightfall and sometimes in daylight, and where certain districts are no-go areas for law-abiding citizens.
The police have that major responsibility, but it is not their responsibility alone. It is the responsibility of Londoners and it is their duty to co-operate with the police in combating crime. The Government have their responsibility, because crime is bred by unhealthy social conditions, bad housing, a poor environment, poverty and unemployment. It is no good the Government creating the breeding grounds for crime and then asking the police to clear up the mess.
In London and throughout the country, the need for the maintenance of law and order depends not just on penal policy, but on economic and social policy. That is the lesson that the Government must learn.
§ Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)
I listened with great interest and much appreciation to the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I welcome what he said, despite the typically rather waspish comments of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). I was interested in what he said about Lambeth, and I want to speak for a few minutes about the interesting transformation that has taken place there since the Brixton riots a year or two ago.
The Home Secretary said that the police could do nothing without the whole-hearted support of the community that they serve. That is true. By the end of the riots in Brixton that whole-hearted support had broken down and no longer existed. There was evident hostility between the police and the community. If the police tried to arrest someone in Brixton and that person ran down the street and disappeared into a house, almost automatically a group of citizens would surround the house and bar the police from entering. There were almost no-go areas. The confidence of the community in itself had disappeared and the confidence of the community in the police had disappeared as well.
Extraordinarily, the situation has been completely transformed over the past two or three years since the riots. The community leaders should be congratulated. They have had a great part to play in that. I must also refer to my noble Friend Lord Whitelaw who took the initiative in implementing part of the Scarman report about the community police consultative group. I also want to mention Commander Fairbairn, who was appointed immediately after the riots, and Commander Marnock, for whom I have a great respect. He is doing an excellent job in increasingly less difficult circumstances.
How has that transformation taken place? There are a number of different factors, but I want to mention just two. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said, there is the community police consultative group which meets every other Tuesday at six o'clock. I wish that my duties here allowed me to attend more often. There are 30 or 40 groups in that consultative group. I have a list 1220 in front of me. In alphabetical order, it starts with the Afro-Caribbean Community Association and finishes with the West Indian Ex-Servicemen's Association, and includes, taken at random, the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen, the Inner London Probation and After-Care Service, the Lambeth Chamber of Commerce, the Market Traders Association, the South London Catholic Caribbean Chaplaincy, and a great many others. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, it also includes Members of Parliament, members of the GLC, and, of course, the police.
The major contribution that that group makes is that it leads to a community understanding of what the police are trying to do and a major understanding by the police of how the community is reacting. The community has the opportunity to contribute to the plans that the police make. Commander Marnock is nearly always present and explains what he is trying to do and consults and sometimes changes his plans. The community represented there do the same. It really is an excellent forum for discussion. When there are failures, as there always are at times, or misunderstandings, tensions are relieved because people know that they can talk about the problems at the next Tuesday meeting of the group. Another development—I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend is aware of it—is that members of the group are now going out on patrol with the police, perhaps all night. One member of the Streatham chamber of commerce, a lady, goes out on patrol at least once a week with a policeman.
Unfortunately, the only slightly discordant note is what seems to be the opposition of the leadership of Lambeth council to this group. I deprecate that very much. It has reached such an extent that the council has its own police unit. The House may be surprised to learn that the head of that police unit of Lambeth council is our ex-colleague, Miss Joan Lestor. I also regret that the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) saw fit to resign from the community group and is no longer a member of it. Nevertheless, that is a small discordant note. The general note is one of excellence and success and the group is much to be supported.
§ Mr. Dobson
I do not want to challenge the hon. Gentleman's sincerity in wishing to take part in the consultative machinery, but does he not accept that some London Members have a legitimate reservation? They feel that if they become involved in the consultation machinery they will be seen by members of the public who may wish to complain to them about the police to be in some way involved in the police process and therefore less likely to give proper and rigorous consideration to any of the complaints that they may receive, in the way, for example, that some people are reluctant to complain to councillors about what a council is doing because they know that the councillors served on the committee that took the decision about which they were objecting.
§ Mr. Shelton
That is one of the more extraordinary arguments that I have heard in my life. If there is any truth in it, all I can suppose is that the hon. Gentleman does not find people complaining to him about the Government since he is a Member of Parliament. In fact, the latent hostility shown by the leadership of Lambeth council—I cannot comment on the reasons of the hon. Member for Vauxhall—does not go back to what the hon. Member 1221 for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) is suggesting. It springs from the wish to have local control of the police. I do not impute that it wishes ill on our consultative group, but there is no doubt that the more successful the consultative group, the still weaker becomes the case for local control. I think that that is probably the motivation, not the extraordinary idea that the hon. Gentleman put forward.
§ Mr. John Fraser
The hon. Gentleman is really being unfair in using the word "hostility" in relation to the leadership of Lambeth borough council, which has regularly attended a police consultative group and responded frequently to demands for action. Sometimes the leader of the council has been present.
The hon. Gentleman must distinguish between frank comment and hostility. They are rather different matters. Frank comment and presence at that group is not hostility but co-operation.
§ Mr. Shelton
If the hon. Gentleman had listened, he would have heard that I said "latent hostility". May I remind him, because he too is a member of the group, that Lambeth council refused to continue to pay for the secretarial assistance for the group despite the vast number of different organisations. It was my right hon. and learned Friend's predecessor who, most unusually, found the money to pay for the secretarial support without which the group might well have foundered. I did not wish to mention that because it reflects badly on Lambeth council, but the hon. Gentleman obliged me to do so.
A second development is extraordinarily interesting. A panel of lay visitors has been set up and has prepared its first report "Visiting Lambeth Police Stations" which is dated April 1984. The House will know of the Labour party's desire that groups of people should have the right to visit police stations and talk to those detained. When it was first suggested, I must admit that I was uncertain and slightly hostile because I felt that it might be embarrassing. One might find oneself inadvertently arrested and in a police station when the door opened and one's neighbour entered as a lay visitor, and asked why one was there. One might prefer such a thing not to happen. This has not happened in Lambeth, where the scheme has been extraordinarily successful. In a smaller community, there might be that danger, but I think that I was wrong in the case of Lambeth.
The pilot scheme in Lambeth is about one year old. There are 20 accredited lay visitors of all types, ages, sexes and ethnic groups — a mixed bag. Since the scheme started, the lay visitors have been allowed, in pairs, to visit any of the five police stations in Lambeth, without prior warning, at any time of night or day. They are free to go to the cells, to the charge areas, to the detention rooms and to the medical rooms. At the end of the visit, they write a report. One report goes to the consultative group, and another goes to the Lambeth police.
During a period of eight weeks, the group made 36 unannounced visits to police stations. Of 119 people detained in those police stations, 84 wished to talk to the lay visitors, 15 did not give their consent, for whatever reason, and, in the case of the eight juveniles, because their parents were not present, the lay visitors had no right to speak to them. I am told, and I believe it to be true, that 1222 there has been a positive police response to the lay visitors. They have been welcomed by all ranks of the police, who have been co-operative and helpful.
In the reports, the lay visitors made some general and helpful criticisms. One relates specifically to juveniles. It is helpful sometimes for a juvenile to be able to speak to a lay visitor. However, when the parents are not present, the lay visitors cannot talk to juveniles. Consideration is being given to some improvement in that situation. They pick up many of the anxieties of those detained that their friends and relatives have not been advised of the detention sufficiently early. The police are paying great attention to this matter. The lay visitors have brought to the attention of the police the fact that there is overcrowding in some cells, and that people sometimes suffer delay in having food offered to them. These are important, but not fundamental, criticisms. I think that it is not surprising that they have found no evidence of ill treatment, and that they are welcomed by those who are detained by the police. This is helping to restore the confidence of the community in the police, which is to be welcomed.
The results of the various initiatives, in particular the two that I have mentioned, are quite extraordinary, and I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is aware of them. In Lambeth L district, for instance, the number of crimes of violence in 1982 was 4,443, and, in 1983, 3,492, a drop of 21.4 per cent. Auto crime has fallen from just over 15,000 to just over 12,000, a drop of over 12 per cent. The total number of crimes has dropped from just over 40,000 to 36,000, a drop of 10 per cent. Robbery and other violent theft, often connected with muggings, is down by 26 per cent. across the board. In Brixton, the number of crimes has fallen by an even larger percentage. In Brixton, robbing and muggings are down by just over 38 per cent., and I acknowledge that there has been a heavy police presence in Brixton.
Speaking as Member of Parliament for Streatham, I must tell the House that the success of Brixton has had some detrimental effect on the situation in my constituency. Although the figures in Streatham have dropped—for example, robbery and muggings are down just over 5 per cent., and the total figures are much lower than those in Brixton—the problem remains that success in one area has the effect of squeezing the crime sideways into the adjacent area. The police, who are aware of this, have moved an additional number of officers into Streatham, and have kept me advised, for which I am grateful. Burglary in Streatham is up by 1 per cent. In Streatham, prostitution is a great problem of which the police are aware, and with which they are coping, but it is of great concern to my constituents. I am sure that the results of the increased number of police in Streatham will soon become apparent.
While I would not claim that this is the end of the road, that the sun has risen and that problems no longer exist in Lambeth or in Brixton, part of which is in my constituency, as a result of redistribution, it is a success story. The transformation in the past two or three years has been dramatic. I believe that the community has considerable confidence in itself, and in the police. I was glad to hear from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that he is aware of what is taking place. There are lessons to be learnt by other parts of the country and other inner city areas.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
I wish to take up several of the statements made by the Home Secretary, and relate them to the experiences of London Members of Parliament, and to some of the complaints that are put to the right hon. and learned Gentleman as the authority responsible for the Metropolitan police. I shall come back to the obligation that that authority carries.
Accountability and the relationship of the police with the public and Parliament are crucial matters, yet successive Home Secretaries have avoided these important matters. They have never attempted to define what is desirable to improve that relationship, and to introduce some degree of accountability. The gist of the Home Secretary's remarks was devoid of any recognition of his responsibility to demand accountability from the police to the country's political leadership, that is, the Home Secretary. Indeed he was reluctant to talk about the responsibility that he has.
The Home Secretary said repeatedly that the commissioner has to come to him with a series of proposals about the code of professional conduct, as it is now called. That is an important matter, as it will replace the present handbook. To ensure the right relationship between the police and the public in London, there must be a clear basis upon which the relationship is established. Once again, it is the police force that is coming to the Home Secretary and his Cabinet colleagues with its proposals, rather than the reverse. In my view, that is an evasion of political responsibilities.
I appeal to the Home Secretary, as I have done on other occasions, to acknowledge his responsibility to ensure that, prior to the finalisation of the code of professional conduct, the House may debate those proposals, and that the public are consulted about them, rather than printing the final version of the professional conduct code, and then seeking endorsement of it. On occasions, the Home Secretary has stated — indeed, he has said this in correspondence to me — that he is responsible to the House for policing London, and that he will answer for the police. The Home Secretary has assumed that the police have accepted accountability to him. But why is he so adamant, as his predecessors have always been, in rejecting the idea that, to spread democratic control and participation, we should ask the London boroughs to take part in the process of accountability? London is unique in that it has no watch committee.
Why should the Home Office be so different from other Departments? No other Minister in the Cabinet would deal with accountability in the way which the Home Secretary does. Why are the police released from political accountability? The same should apply to them as applies to the Civil Service or the entire public sector. We shall not get that relationship correct until we understand the whole business of accountability. I urge again that local authorities in London should be involved.
In an intervention, I made some remarks about the complacency of the Home Secretary's statement. Many London Members did not wish to attend this morning because they believed that his statement would be a complacent, estate agents' brochure, and that is what it sounded like when he made a string of statements without getting to grips with the major problems of London and the difficulties in the relationship between the police and the public.
1224 The code of professional conduct is important and should be used as the criterion against which promotion in the force is measured and force discipline is conducted. It should also be the basis for the complaints procedure. The code is at the heart of the relationship between the police and the public, so we should spend much time getting it right and then be determined to apply it, not in a rigid authoritarian way, but in a way that ensures that once the confidence of the public has been established, the code is seen to be applied.
Opposition Members have often been called antipolice. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Labour party has been accused of that more than once by the Prime Minister. I must tell the Home Secretary—I know the Labour movement as well as most people—that apart from some maverick anarchists, no responsible part of the Labour movement rejects the police. I have never heard serious argument that the police are unnecessary. We share with the Government and with Conservative Members the anxiety to get the relationship right and to build confidence, but we believe that it should be done differently.
The Home Secretary mentioned the consultative process about five times, but it is not good enough if the consultation is meaningless. Consultation without accountability is meaningless, and after the code has been determined, consultation will still be meaningless. I hope that the Government will introduce different forms of consultation.
I relate what I have already said to the present complaints procedure. I know that much of our discussion this morning has been overtaken by the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, and that many methods will be changed. However, the first criticism that most Members make of the complaints procedure is that it is much too long. That does not mean that great care is taken in each inquiry. Often inquiries last for only an hour, but the reports on them might not be typed until six months later. That is an inordinate delay.
One thing that we must deal with in a democratic society is how complaints are handled. Independent inquiries are not the only solution. I am worried by the fact that the person who makes the complaint is usually alone when the incident occurs, whereas five, six, seven or even more police officers may be involved. If the complaints procedure is based on complaint and statement alone, of necessity those inquiring into the complaint must accept the validity of the police statements. If five or six police officers deny the entire complaint and say, "Nothing like this happened in our presence", their statements will be accepted before the statement of the individual who says, "I was beaten up," or, "I suffered indignity." The complaint is automatically rejected.
We must find another way of investigating complaints. The police must be made to prove that the complaint is impossible. While questioning policemen, senior officers must lay more emphasis on trying to prove that what the complainant said is impossible in the circumstances. In every letter that the Home Secretary sends to hon. Members, and in every report written by the complaints board, the phrase, "It is impossible to do other than reject the complainant's statement", is used. The Home Secretary's letters to Members always say something like, "Since the statements are incompatible, there is no way in which we can proceed in this matter other than to reject the complaint." That is why the code of professional 1225 conduct must be used as the criterion against which the police officers implicated in the complaint make their statements.
Many complaints are made about attacks on personal dignity. For instance, police officers might arrive at a house in my constituency, or in the constituencies of other hon. Members, for whatever reason, and say that they have justification for searching the premises and the occupants. A police officer has great authority and tremendous power in such a situation. He has the right of entry because he believes that there are grounds for suspicion and it is necessary to search the premises for whatever reason. It might be for drugs or guns — although not particularly for guns, because the method of searching is different — or stolen property such as jewellery.
Police officers enter the house and start to search the premises. Sometimes they say to people in the house, "Please remove all your clothes." That is not uncommon. Police who are medically unqualified and have no particular reason, can examine, for example, the genitals of a man in the privacy of that person's home, and this can involve three or four police officers. This happens particularly if the person is a West Indian. We have complained to the Home Secretary, but he says that if the police say that that man was not undressed that is the end of the matter because the statements are not compatible.
However, if one examines the various statements that are made independently, without one having an influence on another because the people involved may live many miles away from each other, a common pattern starts to emerge as to how policemen enter houses, and may demand that the occupants undress. The same story emerges in most cases.
This is a very undignified business, and a dreadful experience for people who may be innocent of any crime. They have to suffer the indignity of police entering their houses and subjecting them to such treatment. Then the whole thing is finished, and no charges are made. It is in cases such as this that a code of ethics is so important and criteria should be laid down.
I could give many other examples of this loss of human dignity when police authoritarianism starts to take over. The stop and search problem in London has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs). Many young West Indians tell me that if they are seen in certain districts of my constituency or in Haringey, it is almost certain that they will be stopped. They may be subject to some brutality, but more often than not they are stood against the wall and searched in public. The police have no real grounds for suspicion. There is no justification for the numbers about which we are talking, and there are many incidents that are not recorded, so those numbers can be multiplied.
Stop and search has become a routine part of a youngster's life—they take it as read that they will be stopped. The police say that they are justified in stopping West Indians and in not stopping certain other groups. There are other reasons why this happens, and not simply because if the police did stop one of the major ethnic groups in my constituency they would be called anti-Semitic. If the Home Secretary or the Opposition spokesman thought that Jewish people were being stopped and searched in this way there would be an outcry, but the 1226 police do not stop and search Jewish people because crime among orthodox Jews is almost negligible. The one Jewish remand centre probably has nobody in it. This is because the closeness of their family life is marvellous. I wish that it were true of many other groups.
There are hundreds of orthodox Jewish people in my area and they are as easily recognisable and identifiable as somebody with a black face, yet they are left alone. The West Indians ask why this group of people is not searched, just as they ask why other white people are not searched. They see that there are differences in the way that the police behave. This is why a code of ethics is so important, so that we get it right. This is why I have spent time discussing the code and the necessity to treat it seriously.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
The hon. Gentleman is raising some very important and serious matters. Can he help the House by telling us why he thinks that the West Indians are searched in his constituency? If it is to do with one particular kind of crime problem, what, if anything, should be done about that? What discussions has he had with the chief superintendent of police about the policing of the area? What has resulted from those discussions?
§ Mr. Atkinson
We have an excellent relationship with the police of Y division—I can say that without compromise. There have been many improvements and much discussion, but the problem has not been overcome. The police behaviour is part of their psychology and the methods that they use in policing, and that psychology has to be studied. It varies between European countries, depending on whether forces are armed or not.
One of the aspects of the psychology that comes out all the time is intimidation. The police believe that part of the technique is to intimidate people as a method of strict discipline. This is true of the armed services and the prison service as well. Intimidation is used in various forms to exert discipline on a group of people. That comes out in the police techniques of stop and search, just as it does through the wailing hooters that police have on their cars. The Home Secretary smiles, but intimidation is one of the things psychologists spend a lot of time writing a great deal about, and why hooters are used in the way that they are. Why is the right hon. and learned Gentleman experimenting with different types of hooters? They are part of the apparatus that has been adapted for psychological intimidation.
The police believe that the best way to exert discipline is by using intimidatory methods such as stop and search and a strong presence. Why do they use large numbers and make a lot of noise? Why are they trained to clatter their shields when they use them? The shields are rattled all the time to make a noise, because that is part of the intimidatory process. There are many other methods by which people are intimidated. This is part of the discipline and the submission to discipline.
This happens in schools as well. People may not understand such psychology, but the police understand that part of their disciplinary method is stop and search and they use that against young West Indians. Although I should like to spend time talking about the methods, the way to get right the relationship with the police, and the understanding of what is required, I must finish. We must pay attention to the code of discipline, the sort of police 1227 that we are looking for, the disciplinary methods used in the police force and the criteria by which promotion is judged.
There is a great deal of police authoritarianism, but no one has yet defined the role of the policeman in the street. We have to have a police force that is intelligent and flexible as it operates at various levels. There are the problems of embassies, employment legislation, picketing and so on and there are also domestic difficulties and policing in the street. A great deal of intelligent flexibility is needed.
We demand a lot of the police. They are by far the most highly paid of all manual groups, even more so now that we are getting into the realms of massive overtime plus allowances. Some are in the £20,000-a-year bracket. That is an enormous salary, and we are entitled to expect a great deal of them.
I recognise that there is a tremendous difference between mindless brutality and what might be described as soft sloppiness. I do not go to either of those extremes. I understand the problems of the police in enforcing the law. I recognise the importance of their job and the physical effort that is required of them. But one aim of any code must be to exclude any possibility of mindless brutality on the part of the police.
It is our job as parliamentarians to formulate the basis of that code. When speaking at the Peel centre seminar on 14 April the Metropolitan commissioner set out 11 principles on policing. He said that of especial importance to the police were the right to free speech, the right to free association and respect for human dignity. He listed another eight principles which, together with those three, will form the basis of the code.
I have already discussed the need for respect for human dignity, but in dealing with the others I must emphasise the responsibility that the House has. We talk in slogan terms about the right to free speech. There is nothing of the kind. Nowhere in the western world is there a total right to free speech. It is subject to the libel laws and to many other restraints. There is a great deal of legislation limiting the right to free speech. Part of that limit has to do with racism. Therefore, it is important to stress that it is not the policeman who interprets racism. It is the responsibility of politicians to make the interpretation.
The same applies to the right to free association. That includes the right to demonstrate, but we have to ask ourselves what is permissible. I for one do not accept that there is a right to demonstrate in all conditions. In my view the Home Secretary has a much bigger responsibility in this area than he exercises at present. Racism and many other factors come into it when we discuss the freedom of movement on our streets which is so vitally important.
If the statement by the Metropolitan commissioner to the Peel centre on 14 April constitutes the basis of discussions that he has had with the Home Secretary, I hope that those 11 principles will come before the House so that we can debate not only the principles themselves but how they are to be applied. It is that problem of accountability which is our first responsibility.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) seemed to think that the House should be reassured by his assertions and that, apart from a few loony anarchists, no one in the London Labour movement rejected the need for a police force. I do not 1228 think that many people will see that as a very reassuring statement. In my view the hon. Gentleman's speech did not do much to reassure those independent observers who believe that every move of importance that the Metropolitan police make is watched critically by Left-wing politicians, based mainly at county hall, who stand ready to exacerbate any problem and to magnify and multiply complaints against the police.
In the circumstances it would not be surprising if the Metropolitan police leadership and their commissioner were psychologically turned in upon themselves. But this has not happened. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) outlined the way in which his local force reached out into the community. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) joined the Home Secretary in praising the way in which the Metropolitan commissioner had responded to the report of the Policy Studies Institute.
I welcome the setting up of some 350 neighbourhood groups in the past 18 months and the machinery that has been created for them. I welcome the increased readiness that the Metropolitan police have shown in recent months to go out and communicate with those members of the public who have suggestions, comments and complaints about the way in which the police conduct their activities. There is a growing recognition on the part of the Metropolitan police that they have to get the co-operation of the community.
Another factor to be welcomed is that in the past year the Metropolitan commissioner has reversed the long decline in the recruitment of special constables. There has been a modest increase of about 100 in the strength of the specials, and the commissioner has imaginative plans for using the numbers that can be recruited.
I regret that at the moment the allowances for special constables are almost derisory, and it is a pity that so far Home Office Ministers have not shown much enthusiasm for the suggestion that a bounty of £200 a year should be paid to those special constables who reach an adequate standard of training and who turn up regularly for their duties. The specials can provide a valuable link between professional police officers and the community and can do a considerable amount to bridge the sad gap between some members of certain ethnic groups and the police.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Gorton, who talked so much about the problems of the police with West Indians, did not encourage West Indians to join the police force. I also regret that the hon. Member for Tottenham did not make a similar plea. The best way of ending tensions between the police and certain ethnic groups is to encourage members of those groups to join the police. We know that the police are anxious to recruit them. The easiest way to get members of those ethnic groups connected with the police force is through the special constabulary. I hope that Home Office Ministers will in future give rather more vocal and practical support to the special constabulary than they have sometimes done.
However, I part company with the commissioner on one aspect of his ordering of priorities. There is more violent crime in London than in other parts of the country. The figures for 1982 — the last year for which full statistics are available—show that a Londoner is three times more likely to be injured by an ordinary driver than by a criminal, and three times more likely to be killed by a driver than by a criminal. They show that 584 people were killed in London in traffic accidents, while 222 were 1229 killed in criminal activities, and that 7,759 Londoners were seriously injured in traffic accidents, while 2,120 were injured in criminal assaults.
There are now about 27,000 police officers in the Metropolitan force, of whom just under 1,000 serve in the traffic branch. That branch plays the leading role in combating traffic offences. I am not entirely sure that Sir Kenneth's priorities match the physical threat that Londoners face as he is reducing the strength of that traffic branch by 200 officers. Indeed, 100 officers have already gone and a further 100 will be transferred. I regret to note that, according to the evidence given by the chief constable of Sussex to the Select Committee inquiry into road safety, the example set by the Metropolitan police is being followed elsewhere, and police forces are sharply cutting the strength of their traffic branches so that they can divert men and women elsewhere. That will have a serious effect, given the appalling road casualty figures.
I am also concerned that there was little reference in the commissioner's report to fraud and white collar crime. Indeed, there was no reference to that in the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. Some years ago, in a debate on the police, I deplored the fact that more university graduates became criminals than joined the police force. I am not sure that that is any longer true, but the fact remains that many very clever men and women are involved in clever frauds. We do not yet have the staff or organisation to deal with the volume of important frauds. I hope that we shall look again at the effectiveness of our anti-fraud defences, and that it will be possible to recruit the number of outside experts needed to deal with such crime.
I do not in any way want to appear to criticise the intellectual capacity of the Metropolitan police force. One of the most encouraging signs in recent months has been the intellectual calibre — which can be measured by exam results—of the new recruits. We are getting some excellent young men and women. The calibre has never been higher and the trend has never been better. Those young men and women who join their older comrades in so bravely carrying out their duties will see that Londoners in future are even better protected than they are now.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I shall briefly repeat the Liberal party's general view of policing in London, although I want then to deal with more specific matters. For a long time our view has been that the most effective policing can be achieved by involving the police with the community. We all accept that the police on their own cannot do the job as well as they can if the public are on their side. We all need the police, and the police need the public to work with them.
Thus, community policing is the right way forward as a strategy for the metropolis. As part of that, a statutory duty to consult is also necessary. We look forward to the day—although we know that it will not come under this Administration because of their declared policy—when London will join the rest of the country in having a democratically elected police authority. That is how community policing can be most effectively monitored and managed. We hope that before long the anomaly of the Home Secretary being the police authority in London will be ended.
1230 Pending that, we welcome the fact that, since Sir Kenneth Newman has been commissioner of police, he appears to have been setting out on a policy of more community-oriented policing. Although the figures for trends in crime detection and the pattern of crime in London cover only one year, it would appear that we are beginning to move in the right direction. We welcome that, because, contrary to the policy pursued by Sir Kenneth's predecessor, Sir David McNee—which was hammer-type policing — and the Conservative party's slogans in the 1979 and 1983 elections, which demanded law and order policies, we know that such policies are least effective when they are applied in an unthinking and uncaring way. They are more effective when they follow the direction that Sir Kenneth Newman is now pursuing. As far as they go, the figures prove that.
We are particularly pleased also that Sir Kenneth intends to produce a document on aims and objectives for the police force in London—and I welcome what the Home Secretary said earlier—which will set out for the first time in more than a century the role of the police and their duties. When I had the welcome opportunity, rightly as a London Member, to meet Sir Kenneth Newman recently, he explained that in essence the document would say that the police had a double duty—to ensure that society respected the rule of law, and, complementary to that, to advocate and uphold the rights of the individual citizen, the other part of our constitutional framework. In the past, many have often thought that the police were all about upholding the law in whatever way they, as the authority, thought appropriate, and not about upholding the rights of the individual.
We hope that the document to be produced in a matter of weeks will be the subject of consultation and debate in the House before it gains a formal status. We hope that it results in the police clearly recognising that their job is on behalf of the community.
We welcome too the more intelligent approach that the commissioner has adopted towards planning the deployment of the police and their activities in London. That is in part possible because more resources have been made available. It is sad that the Government have chosen not to provide a similar increase in resources for the education service. A good education service would result in a reduced need for crime detection because the better educated and the more socially well-equipped people are when they leave school the less likely they are to be unemployed, have time on their hands and indulge in criminal activity.
We urge the commissioner and the Home Secretary, who for the time being is the police authority, to go forward in the same way, but ever mindful of the fact that the clear-up rate in London is still appallingly low. Only 17 per cent. of reported crimes are cleared up and many other crimes go unreported. The figures show that the trend may be beginning to change. I am happy to say that the statistics for my constituency also bear that out. In Southwark there has been a slight increase in the clear-up rate and a slight decrease in the number of offences. But much further improvement is needed because we are still unable to guarantee that more than one in five of reported crimes will be resolved.
I wish to deal now with two London-wide matters. First, I share the view expressed by the official Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), that some issues relating to 1231 behaviour and information in connection with the siege at the Libyan embassy remain to be and must be resolved. I compliment the police on the way in which they did their job. On behalf of my party I express sympathy for the woman police constable, and her family and colleagues who suffered loss by her death when she was shot by someone inside the Libyan embassy. There is a suggestion that that incident need not have happened. The only way to satisfy the public, the police force and people of good will everywhere is to hold a public inquiry. If that has to wait a little, while police inquiries continue to narrow down the suspects, we must respect that, but an inquiry there must be.
Our second general concern is about the incident last year that we remember so vividly, when Steven Waldorf was shot in a London street by armed police. We are increasingly alarmed when we hear that the police in London now have machine guns in their armoury for possible use later this summer. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), when he was Home Secretary in the last Labour Government, authorised the use of machine guns in certain conditions, but in no circumstances should machine guns be generally available to the police. That is not what people want.
I now turn to certain specific matters relating to police organisation and personnel, which I have also raised recently with the Home Secretary and the commissioner. Last year Tower bridge police station in Southwark was closed. That was much regretted and opposed by the local community. It was symptomatic of what happens when the local community is not consulted about whether a local police station is needed. I knew what the local people wanted, as did the authorities at the time. The community wishes local police stations to remain. May we have an undertaking that in future closures will not occur without public consultation? Closures take policing away from the community.
Tower bridge still has a police office. People can report incidents to the one person on duty in that building. But since the closure, traders in Bermondsey street, among others, have appealed to me to press for the re-opening of Tower bridge police station or the opening of another one nearby. The Southwark division operates two police stations—one at each end of the area—but that is not regarded as a sufficient presence.
The inquiry which reported last November and was commissioned by the commissioner's predecessor is certainly welcome. It deals with a wide-ranging list of topics, and, on personnel, came to two important conclusions. One of its recommendations should be considered urgently. I refer to the suggestion that senior officers be moved less frequently.
Last year we lost our district commander to another district only a matter of years before he was due to retire. I understand that it is more convenient for him to work in that other district because it is nearer his home, but a community spends time and effort building up a relationship with its police commander. We experienced a similar disruption when a chief superintendent was moved. It is unhelpful for senior officers to be moved on after only 18 months or two years. The Policy Studies Institute recommended that there should be greater flexibility for senior officers so that officers are not moved just when they are beginning to get to grips with local problems.
1232 We support the report's recommendations concerning home beat officers. We understand the difficulty of finding enough police officers to go on the beat, but although the home beat officer scheme is developing well, what happens when the home beat officer falls ill? That happened at the end of last year in one area in my constituency. There was no automatic replacement for that officer. I understand that it may not be possible to provide two home beat officers in each area, but please may we have at least one replacement home beat officer when the regular one is away? This could be a cadet or a junior police officer who knows the area well. That would help if the home beat officer falls ill or is unavoidably absent. The example that I gave involved an area which particularly needed its home beat officer at that time because of a rapid escalation of the drugs problem among young people.
Senior metropolitan police officers have recently confirmed that one of the problems about policing in London is that demands are continually made upon police resources from police forces outside London. For example, recently, at the request of Nottinghamshire and other constabularies, London police have had to deal with mining disputes. It is vital that we do not move towards anything that resembles a national police force. The implementation of breach of the peace laws, involving people travelling from Kent to Nottinghamshire, for instance, to take part in indsutrial action—which can be peaceful but may not always be so—removes police from the capital. We ask the Home Secretary to ensure that in normal circumstances we do not lose police to other forces unless he and the commissioner are satisfied that that is the proper and best use for Londers of the personnel recruited to police London.
Some police practices need improving. Irrespective of the unfortunate and unsatisfactory clauses in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill—which may still be amended—I hope there will be improvement in certain areas. For example, the stop and search provisions are often abused. Youngsters are stopped and searched regularly, often for cannabis, without justification. The police do not have the resources to detect every offence, so they should concentrate on the major criminal dealers in heroin and those who use it, rather than regularly attempting to pick up small amounts of cannabis used by youngsters who will probably suffer no long-term or harmful effect from the drug. They use it in a social context, and police intervention for this reason does not help the relationship between the police and our younger citizens. I accept that cannabis is a prescribed drug, but the police cannot do everything, so looking for it should not be a priority.
I have written to the Minister about police inquiries and, no doubt, he will reply soon. An inquiry took place in Walworth in my constituency in February. I understand that the police have a computer printout form for use on all such occasions and in any circumstances. From complaints that I have received from constituents, which are now being dealt with by the Home Office, it is clear that the police sought more information than they needed. I am concerned because an initial answer from my police commander shows that it is not clear what will happen to the unnecessary information that has been accumulated.
The Liberal party has always been concerned—and as representatives of the public we must always be vigilant—about the accumulation of information by authorities. Of course, the public can decline to provide such 1233 information, but they are not always told that they have that right. We are concerned about what happens to that information. Police need a mechanism, for example, to collect information to charge someone with murder. Inquiries must be held. But we are not satisfied that information not required is later destroyed, and we would like some guarantees about that.
I wish to raise a matter that is not directly a constituency issue, and may apply more to some areas of London than to others. I and other hon. Members have brought to the attention of the Home Secretary the fact that the police appear to go beyond their powers under section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956. That section deals with the offence of importuning by men. A large number of trials this year have resulted in acquittals. The prosecution evidence has consisted mainly of police officers who have effectively entrapped gay people by pretending to be ordinary members of the public and, when a relationship has been struck, have made an arrest.
My right hon. and hon. Friends have tabled an amendment to the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, to be debated next week. I hope that the Government will accept it. The amendment provides that there could not be an arrest for such an offence unless the police officer was in uniform. The matter raises important civil liberty issues. It has been the subject of increasing correspondence with both the Home Office and London Members of Parliament during recent months. The current police practice must be changed.
Constituents' complaints about police practice make it also quite clear that some more unfortunate citizens receive a rough deal—and I use my words carefully—when they are arrested. I know that some complaints are being pursued through the Police Complaints Board. The vagrant, the drunk, those who are less capable and least able to express themselves are often handled roughly, and that cannot be justified. I ask the authorities to ensure that the police are quite clear in their own minds that they should never use more force than necessary.
When people are arrested, they are also not allowed to exercise their right under section 62 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 which allows them to contact their solicitors. That right, which appeared to be a mark of great progress when it was implemented only a few years ago, is not yet effective because many people in detention are not allowed to tell their lawyers or families where they are.
I wish now to deal with two matters particularly relevant to my constituency, the first being crime by youngsters. About 47 per cent. of crimes in London last year were committed by people under the age of 21; 22 per cent. were committed by youngsters between the ages of 10 and 16; and 25 per cent. by youngsters between the ages of 17 and 20. My police commander has made it clear in a letter, which has been made public, that there is an increasing link between crime and unemployment. The Government must accept that unless their policies are consistent with the reduction of crime, good policing will never solve the problem. Alternative activities, interests and occupations are needed if youngsters are not to take what is often the only exciting, interesting and remunerative way out. I ask the Home Office to urge other Departments that some effort must be made to reduce the phenomenal amount of unemployment among youngsters 1234 in London—at least 20 per cent.—and the phenomenal waste of the talent of youngsters, which so easily becomes misdirected.
The second specific matter has received growing publicity in recent weeks. It is the increasing use and abuse of hard drugs, especially among youngsters in south London. It does not help when the press report single estates or areas as drug cities, drug dens and so on. They are no more drug cities or drug dens than any other part of the country. They are areas occupied by decent, respectable people whose children have often become entrapped after someone has made an approach and given them the introduction to hard drugs.
I am grateful for the fact that this week additional Customs and Excise officers have been appointed. The Home Office has sent people abroad, through the Customs and Excise authority, to try to prevent the importation of heroin from Pakistan. I am aware that there is a great deal of concern about the matter and an increasing effort is being made by senior officers to deal with the villains of the piece. This is not enough. I ask that that problem become a particular priority for both manpower and resources — otherwise, we shall ensure that our youngsters in increasing numbers have their lives ruined at an early stage.
A friend of mine is a science teacher in east London, and he sets examinations each year for the CSE. One question that is regularly asked is, "Describe any drug and its effect on the individual." In past years, the sort of drug described has been either alcohol, or drugs that have been discussed in the classroom, such as LSD. This year, for the first time—and I am referring to a respectable part of the outer London borough of Havering—the 15-year-old girls and boys described vividly what could only have come from their direct experience of drugs such as cocaine and heroin. One 15-year-old girl described the effects as, "Sight blurred, your brain doesn't know what to do, hearing goes funny and your words are slurred." A 15-year-old boy wrote about heroin, "You lose speech, do not have very good hearing and are slow speaking." Another 15-year-old boy wrote about heroin, "Lose sense of co-ordination, also hallucinate."
A survey in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe last year by community, youth and social workers and those involved in the local drugs project showed clearly that the cheapness of heroin has led to hundreds of youngsters experimenting with it. They are not best dealt with by being sent to drug clinics along with traditional addicts because they are not addicts in the same sense; they are not physically addicted after only a few months of use. It is surprising to learn that about 40 per cent. of them are girls.
Unless the Home Office co-ordinates its efforts with other Government Departments to ensure that there is immediately—by which I mean this year—in London a network of advice and information, linked with police activity to deal with the villains who are exploiting our young people, with provision being made for clinics and the back-up necessary to counsel and assist youngsters to break the habit, we shall be committing a whole generation of our nation to an appalling waste of their lives, to suffering, pain and isolation from the community.
Young heroin users and addicts are some of the new victims of crime in society. One of society's jobs should be victim support. The police have a role to play in that. We welcome what they do, but we are not yet anything like satisfied, and I hope that that is also the attitude of the 1235 Home Office. There must be no more complacency, but a renewed determination to make policing in London far more effective.
§ 12.1 pm
§ Dr. Ian Twinn (Edmonton)
I welcome the opportunity to comment on the positive approach that the police are taking to the policing of London. A survey conducted last year showed that 72 per cent. of Londoners were satisfied with the policing in their areas. Of the remainder, I have no doubt that a good number felt that they would like to see a larger police presence.
In my constituency there is substantial satisfaction with the new initiatives that the police are taking. That does not mean that we and the public generally are satisfied with what the police are doing; there is no room for complacency and we must make improvements.
It is sad to listen to this debate and witness how difficult Opposition Members seem to find it to praise the police. They wallow in the faults that they find. It is inevitable when we are debating policing in London that criticisms will arise. Indeed, that is the purpose of debate. Unfortunately, the only praise that comes from Opposition Members is that which is dragged from them.
We should also be considering the positive aspects of policing in London. It is sad to reflect on the efforts of some London Labour boroughs in setting up so-called police support committees. The last thing they do is to support the police.
§ Mr. Dobson
Would the hon. Gentleman care to identify those Labour boroughs which have set up support or police committees which he thinks support the police and those which do not, or is he making a general slur?
§ Dr. Twinn
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to make that point in his own contribution to the the debate, in which, no doubt, he will try to defend the position of the London boroughs. I would rather draw the attention of the House to the work of the consultative committees. My authority in Enfield was swift to set one up, and it is working well in bringing together a variety of interests in the borough. It has recommended some reforms which the police have been able to adopt.
Not only have the local police been positive in their response to that consultative committee, but they have welcomed the settingup of small area consultative committees, bringing in residents' groups and local organisations in, for example, the smaller area of Edmonton, without relying on the whole of the borough. These groups have been extremely useful in enabling the public to talk discreetly and quietly about their concerns on policing issues to the local management of the police. That is the sort of positive approach that we should be seeking.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I welcome what my hon. Friend is saying. Is he aware—this ties in with the assertion of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) — that in Ealing we have a borough liaison police committee and that the members of the Ealing Labour party—the Ealing Socialists—have refused to join it, although they have been invited to do so? They are, however, strong supporters of the GLC's efforts to disrupt police activities at public expense—for example, the so-called GLC police committee which spent about £4 million of ratepayers' money last year doing its utmost to disrupt good and positive policing in London.
§ Dr. Twinn
I am not surprised to learn that, and I am sure that the public in London will be horrified to hear that story from Ealing.
There is concern about policing in London, especially in outer London, and I represent an outer London constituency. Tremendous demands are put on the Metropolitan police in public order terms. In my area, where the police are under strength—we have had fewer police on duty this year compared with last — continually since last October members of our force have been absent policing at, for example, Greenham common, St. James's square, the teachers' march in central London last Wednesday, and in Nottingham. When we turn out a duty squad of 23 officers, we find that perhaps only 15 are on duty, allowing for sickness and duty elsewhere.
It is difficult in those circumstances for outer London residents always to feel that they are receiving the sort of policing that they want—and that, according to a survey conducted by the police, is to have more police on the beat. Sadly, there have been occasions in the past year when homebeat officers have had to be withdrawn to help control public order demonstrations. It is encouraging to note in the report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis for last year that the demands for public order policing in central London have been reduced by 27 per cent.
We are all interested in police effectiveness, and a number of positive contributions have been made in the Edmonton area. The first have been the neighbourhood watch schemes and property marking schemes. Such developments are good not only because they reduce crime levels but help to achieve the commissioner's objective of increasing community involvement in policing. There is a queue of local bodies in Edmonton wanting to be involved, and the police are gradually working their way through the queue of groups wishing to set up neighbourhood watch schemes.
This all builds on the experience of homebeat officers, who have been working in my area for some time. They are able to work with schools and to obtain the confidence of schoolchildren and parents. Indeed, they are going back to the old form of policing about which we hear much, of the police being on good terms with youth in the area—among whom, as we have heard, much crime originates—so introducing an air of informal policing, avoiding the whole paraphernalia of charging and court appearances. Homebeat officers make a tremendous contribution to the safety of our streets and to creating public confidence in the police.
I am not pretending that the work of the police in Edmonton, or elsewhere in London, is perfect. Of course it is not. There are bound to be individual policemen whose actions everybody will regret. Mistakes in policing will be made; when spur of the moment decisions must be made, that is inevitable. It is encouraging, however, to witness the positive contribution that is now being made by the Metropolitan police, some aspects of which were outlined in the commissioner's report for last year, giving greater priority to increasing public support and public involvement. In that way we are ensuring that we achieve good policing in London.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
One of the problems for us all is our inherent conservatism towards existing institutions. I ask the House to consider 1237 what the reaction would be if someone lobbied a Member of this place and said, "I have an idea for a law enforcement agency for the Greater London area. It will have 27,000 uniformed staff and 13,000 civilian staff. I think that it will need to spend about £750 million a year. It should have a vast fleet of vehicles and it should be supplied with high technology equipment. It should be allowed to carry out phone tapping and to make use of computers, radio and television. It should be armed with weapons ranging from handguns to rapid-fire sub-machine guns." The Member who was being lobbied might well ask, "What will this force achieve?" In the context of the Metropolitan police, that lobbyist would have to say, "With all that provision, each uniformed officer would clear up only four crimes a year. That will be the result of £750 million-worth of police force."
The performance of the Metropolitan police is appallingly bad in providing the people of London with the opportunity peacefully to conduct their lives. They are just as much entitled to that provision as citizens anywhere else in the United Kingdom. The inferiority of the performance of the Metropolitan police is readily demonstrated when it is compared with the performance of other police authorities. As I have said, each uniformed officer of the Metropolitan police clears up four crimes a year. In the Nottinghamshire police force, each uniformed officer clears up 16 crimes a year. The figures for Greater Manchester—another great conurbation—Northumbria, Merseyside—an area with great difficulties, as everyone recognises—and the West Midlands—the next largest conurbation to London—are 13, 13, 19, 12 and 10 respectively. Those forces are phenomenally better at doing their job than the Metropolitan police.
For every 100 uniformed officers in London there are 50 civilians to back them up. On the same basis, there are 22 in Greater Manchester, 27 in Merseyside, 27 in Northumbria and 21 in Cleveland. It is clear that the performance of the Metropolitan police is for the people of London a very bad bargain. We must acknowledge that there are police forces that by any criteria are infinitely more efficient and better at their job than the Metropolitan police.
One of the problems is that basically the Metropolitan police are inward-facing. They appear to be unwilling to draw upon the experience of other police forces. Their ethos is that the provincial forces can draw upon their experience and that they have little to learn from them.
One of the other problems in London is the relationship between the police force, the people of London and the elected Members of this place, or elected members of local authorities, including the GLC. There are many in London of all political persuasions who are dissatisfied with the present relationship whereby the Home Secretary is the police authority for London. I suppose that it was a step in the right direction when the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) became the police authority for London. The area that he represents is marginally nearer to London than Penrith and The Border, which was the constituency represented by the previous Home Secretary. However, the formal police authority for London has no responsibility directly to the people of London, which is unsatisfactory.
It is interesting to note that the Home Secretary, the police authority for London who supervises 27,000 1238 uniformed staff, has the exclusive services of only one higher executive officer at the Home Office. Parliamentary questions show that only one member of the Home Office staff spends his time exclusively on the affairs of the Metropolitan police in helping the Home Secretary to discharge the admittedly onerous duties of being the police authority for London. We think that that is unsatisfactory.
The consequences of that are poor performance, which is not confined to relatively unimportant areas of crime. According to the commissioner's last annual report, the Metropolitan police failed to clear up a quarter of the murders committed in London. There is no other police force in Britain which has such a poor clear-up rate. To be fair to the Metropolitan police, I shall take the clear-up rate for murder over 1978–82 — clear-up rates for individual years, especially for murder, can be misleading. Over that period the clear-up rate was 88 per cent., but that left no fewer than 94 murders unresolved. That 88 per cent. clear-up rate must be contrasted with 97 per cent. for the west midlands, 98 per cent. for Greater Manchester and Northumbria, 99 per cent. for Merseyside and 100 per cent. for Cleveland.
The Metropolitan police appear to think that there is nothing particularly bad about their performance. The Home Secretary did not mention the clear-up rate for murders, so I assume that he is satisfied with it. The people of London are not so satisfied, and people living in the King's Cross part of my constituency remain exceptionally disturbed by the fact that no fewer than five prosecution witnesses disappeared when the man accused of the murder of a small—time pimp in King's Cross appeared at the Old Bailey. Four of the prosecution witnesses disappeared from the face of the earth. They died: one was shot; one was stabbed, and one was the subject of a heroin overdose. I cannot remember what happened to the fourth.
The police still had one prime witness, but he was allowed to go to Leicester to stay with relatives and he has not been seen since. There is a bench warrant for his arrest. The trial had to be terminated because of the absence of Crown witnesses. The Home Secretary and the Metropolitan police assure me that the man who went to Leicester is still alive. I do not know how they can give me that assurance because they are not willing to prove it. If they can prove what they say, they should arrest the man for failing to appear in court. There are people in the King's Cross part of my constituency who are exceptionally disturbed that the man accused of the pimp's murder was not found guilty of the crime because of the witnesses' disappearance.
The failure to bring the five prosecution witnesses to court goes right to the heart of our judicial system and law enforcement. If the police cannot bring witnesses safely to court in a matter as serious as a murder case, there is something seriously amiss with the police force. We need to do something about the considerable shortcomings of our police force, and we are not likely to do that while we have a Home Secretary as complacent as the present one.
One of the problems of the Metropolitan police is that virtually everything it has done has grow'd like Topsy. the police do not stand back to look at what they are doing. To his credit, the new commissioner is attempting to stand back to look at the actions of the police and to improve their performance. We need to encourage him in that task. During the whole period of the present Conservative Government there has not been much standing back and 1239 effort to improve the performance of the Metropolitan police. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) demonstrated with statistics, the present level of crime is infinitely worse that it was in 1979 when the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), who represents a London constituency, first formed her Government.
In my constituency, for example, the police were not responding to a substantially changed situation. There has always been prostitution in the King's Cross part of my constituency. The position got completely out of hand, and time and again local people made representations about the matter. I made representations also, but no response was made. Eventually—again, this is to his credit—the new commissioner agreed, remarkably, to meet a delegation of women from my constituency to listen to what they believed were the problems in Kings Cross. He said that the conditions were unacceptable and intolerable, and that he would do something about them. For years many local people advocated the idea that, instead of paying all their attention to the women soliciting in the area, the police should go for the vile and violent men behind the prostitution and get them behind bars. The police should prosecute the brothel keepers and the men of violence who run the prostitution. Until then, the police had always rejected that idea, saying that they could not do it and could never find the evidence.
To the credit of the police, a special unit was established which caused innumerable violent men to be put behind bars. The police reviewed the incidents of violence that occurred over a long period. They successfully prosecuted 10 times as many people in the first year of operation of the special arrangement as they had managed to do in the previous five years. In a sense, that is a welcome development, because it shows that when the new commissioner puts his mind to it he can get the Metropolitan police to perform better. It shows also how badly the police have been performing and how haphazardly and incompetently they have been managed.
I welcome what has happened in King's Cross, as do my constituents. There has been a vast improvement. That shows what can be done when the police force is properly directed and the utter incompetence of its past management.
I cite another example, which was not initially the fault of the police. Partly because of the Government's ludicrous economy measures with Customs and Excise, as predicted by people working in that department and the unions representing them, there has been a massive increase in the amount of heroin getting into the country. The police force was one of the last agencies to notice the massive increase in heroin addiction among young people in our capital city and the dramatic fall in heroin prices—one reason for the wider spread of addiction—and to start doing something about the problem. The police have a slow response rate to any incremental change. They need to be more aware of changes than they have been in the past. We hope that the commissioner's actions will assist in that direction.
I shall refer to another example, which may appear trivial but is symptomatic of what has been happening. In 1980, I corresponded with the commissioner—although he did not deign to reply himself, he got his deputy assistant commissioner or assistant commissioner to respond — about the number of burglar alarms which were going off. I asked him how many of the alarms were 1240 ringing in police stations in a way that demanded that the police went out to ascertain whether a burglary was occurring. I asked how many of those alarms were false. The answer was that in 1979, 177,000 alarm calls, of which 174,000 were false, necessitated a police visit to premises. I suggested to the commissioner that the Metropolitan police might change their procedures regarding burglar alarms. The commissioner could, for instance, have followed the changed procedure adopted by the West Midlands police force, which had managed to reduce substantially the number of false alarms which had put great calls on their time. In 1980, I received the following answer:Having carefully considered all the implications the Commissioner is firmly of the opinion that, at this time, the most appropriate course is to continue with our present policy regarding burglar alarms in the Metropolitan Police District.The latest figures show that in 1983 196,000 burglar alarm calls were made, of which 193,000 were false. If it were not for the complacency of the police about this development, I would say that it would be proper for the police to prosecute the alarm manufacturers and users for wasting police time. Police turnouts of 193,000—at least one policeman or policewoman per call—are a waste of time when the police could be doing something better. There are dozens of examples in the history of the Metropolitan police of such complacency and unwillingness to analyse what is going on, and there should be a massive improvement.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton again expressed the Opposition's bitter regret at the cold-blooded murder of Police Constable Fletcher at St. James's square. On the day of her murder, she was trying to reconcile two duties. One was to ensure the security of accredited representatives of a foreign Government who had been given accreditation by the British Government. That is the basis of the diplomatic system throughout the world. She was also trying to secure the right of people in this country freely and safely to demonstrate against the things to which they objected. She was shot down in cold blood. Not long after, her colleagues had the bitter—how bitter it must have been for them—experience of having to escort her murderer safely out of those premises, this city, and this country.
I do not blame the Metropolitan policemen involved if they feel bitter about what happened, but I blame the Government, not necessarily for the immediate events in St. James's square, but for the failure of the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary to take action long before to ensure that the people who did the shooting were not in that building or in a position to shoot anyone. I am not being wise after the event, because I and other Opposition Members have been advocating, on and off since April 1980 when Colonel Gaddafi first announced that he intended to use Libyans in this country to kill other Libyans in this country, that the Government should make it crystal clear that they would not tolerate that and that, if necessary, we should break off diplomatic relations with them and send them back, lock, stock and barrel, to Libya.
The Government cannot claim that they did not know what the Libyans intended. They crowed about it time and time again. That young woman was murdered as a result of the feebleness of the Home Office and the Foreign Office and failure to do anything about those crystal-clear threats. We sympathise with her family, and other members of the Metropolitan police in their frustration and 1241 anger at their impotence, but it was an impotence imposed upon them by the Government—in this case their police authority.
On a less important matter, but one which continues, in his role as police authority the Home Secretary kindly met members of the London group of Labour Members on 5 March. We made a number of representations to him. He listened to some of them, but in other cases we might as well have been talking to the wall.
We said that we objected strongly to the police policy of trying to entrap homosexuals and what appeared to be a general use of the Metropolitan police to harass homosexuals in this city. We felt that, whatever the merits of the law on this matter, it was a peculiar priority to call upon police resources to harass homosexuals when there are many more objectionable, violent and nasty things going on in the city.
The reason why I say that we might as well have been talking to the wall is that in my constituency there is a public house, the Bell, which is frequented by gay people. On the following Sunday even by their own estimate, the police accept that between 50 and 60 uniformed policemen descended on that pub because there was drinking after hours. I cannot believe that that is a rational priority or a proper use of police time when one quarter of the murders in our capital city are not being cleared up and when each policeman is clearing up only four crimes a year.
While the Opposition are critical of many of the things that are going on in the Metropolitan police, we are more critical of the things that are not going on, and we are exceedingly critical of the Home Secretary's complacency. We should like to see, although we do not expect it immediately, such a change at the Home Office and in the Metropolitan police that the clear-up rate for crime and the safety and security of the citizens whom we represent will be as high as they are in Lincolnshire, Northumbria and Cleveland. We believe that the people of London are as entitled to that security as anyone else. It is an indictment of the present arrangements that they are not so secure or do not even approach being as secure as those people who live in the areas of the next most inefficient police forces in the country, let alone those police forces which perform their task so much better than the Metropolitan police.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) devoted a good part of his address, quite properly, to considering the clear-up rate and accountability of the police service in London. It is difficult to make those comparisons, for a number of reasons. I should like to follow his speech and consider the clear-up rate. Except for very serious crimes, the clear-up rate for the Metropolitan police is well below that of the other metropolitan forces in England.
The difficulty of using statistics is that careful analysis needs to be made. For example, the number of arrests for crime made in the Metropolitan police district is only slightly lower than in the provinces. That shows that the Metropolitan police is apprehending almost the same number of criminals. But what it is not doing is attributing those arrests to the many previously unsolved crimes, as 1242 is the practice in the provincial police forces. Comparisons showing the effectiveness of the Metropolitan police are extremely difficult to arrive at for those legitimate reasons.
Much emphasis has been laid on the accountability of the Metropolitan police. Here we are in the House devoting a day to policing in London. What better form of accountability could there be than that hon. Members representing London should have the opportunity for a public debate about their police service? I welcome it and I welcome much of what has been said on both sides of the House.
Some hon. Members have been critical of the police service. The purpose of this Chamber is to give hon. Members the opportunity to mention their anxieties. The police, particularly the commissioner, welcome a debate of this kind. He will want to listen to us and to do something about the issues that concern London Members. Perhaps the concern is not all that great because only 10 of us have made it to the Chamber today out of the total of 84.
However, the accountability of the police in London is interesting. I contend that it is probably the most accountable of all our 43 police forces. The police authority, in the capacity of my right hon. and learned Friend goes to extraordinary lengths to communicate not only with hon. Members in all parties—I think all hon. Members will acknowledge that, because my right hon. and learned Friend's door is always open to receive groups or individual hon. Members — but he also receives representatives of the London boroughs and the district authorities outside the GLC area. We must not forget that the Metropolitan police area goes much further than the GLC area. There are at least eight, perhaps 10, constituencies outside the GLC area that fall within the Metropolitan police area. The Metropolitan police has a responsibility for policing Windsor Castle, so it extends its sphere of operations into Berkshire.
The police are demonstrating their concern to relate to the community. The commissioner and his senior officers have regular meetings with all levels of public office in London—both members of Parliament as groups and individuals and also with the London borough councillors and the councillors representing the outer districts. Senior officers, chief superintendents and commanders regularly invite London Members to their headquarters to discuss the policy of policing in the constituency. Both sides of the House welcome that relationship. We want to see it. We want to discuss the policing of our constituencies and some of the complex issues that arise.
How the police use their resources is a question which concerns us all. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras gave as an illustration of the use of police resources the raid by 60 officers on a public house, allegedly because there was drinking after hours. Perhaps that arose from complaints from the public. Perhaps the local residents association objected to the noise or disturbance and wanted some action. I do not know. Perhaps one of the difficulties is that the police often react to complaints from within the community and in so doing may cause offence or alienate another section of the community who had disregarded the well-being of the majority. It is right that there should be a review of the use of police resources, and I am sure that the commissioner will wish to take note of that.
The problem with crime in London is that so much of it relates to private property. One has only to examine the 1243 commissioner's report to see that one third of all reported crime is auto crime. It relates to the stealing of, or from, motor vehicles. It is a difficult crime to prevent, because inevitably it takes place in circumstances of stealth when the police are not around.
The second great chunk of the crime problem in London is burglary. The essential ingredient in this case is that it occurs in private property, on council estates, in blocks of flats and not in the roads and streets of London. The police do not have access to private property. They patrol the streets.
Another chunk of crime is vandalism and petty theft. Approximately only 2.5 per cent. of the reported crimes in London are what might be termed serious crimes, and in this case the Metropolitan police have a relatively good clear-up rate, if one conducts a careful analysis of the methods of the Metropolitan police as against the methods of the provincial police forces. If we intend to improve the quality of life for London people—and I refer here to the great majority of crimes relating to property, vehicles and buildings, and to burglaries—we must concentrate our efforts on preventing it happening in the first place. That must he the objective which I am sure is most attracitve to the community.
The policies that the commissioner of police is now developing through neighbourhood watch—and there are indications that these strategies pay off, and that crime is reduced—of involving the public in all possible ways in the prevention of these offences is the direction in which we should go.
Successful policing is not about abrasiveness, or about stopping and searching in the street. The policy report to which reference has been made demonstrated that. Few stops result in arrests and clear-up of crime, and the police have learned that message. Indeed, it was the police who commissioned the report. We have to ensure that the police continue in their role of working with the community. That is, after all, the best form of accountability, and it is the most effective way of stopping crime.
In examining the costs of the police force in London, we need to be mindful of the considerable differences between the provincial police forces and the Metropolitan force. In 1982–83, the total cost of the London allowance for police officers and London weighting for police officers and civil staff was £61 million out of a total expenditure of £613 million. That £61 million is roughly 10 per cent. of the net Metropolitan police revenue expenditure. Other costs that are exceptional in London relate to accommodation and transport, which are considerably higher than in the rest of the country. According to the Treasury ready reckoner of staff costs, the on costs for accommodation and transport in 1982–83 were over 43 per cent. for inner London, 26 per cent. for outer London, and over 18 per cent. elsewhere. On a broad calculation, this means that the Metropolitan police accommodation and transport costs in 1982–83 were at least £12 million higher than in the provincial police force areas. The simple statement that it costs more to clear up crime in London is nonsense, because it does not take account of the special factors with which the Metropolitan police must cope.
The Metropolitan police are responsible for a range of national services, including the special branch, which is significantly stronger in London because of the need to 1244 protect diplomats, embassies, the royal family, members of the Government and, indeed, members of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Wheeler
No. I must continue because it is getting rather late. About half of those national costs are provided by Government grant. The shortfall must come from the Metropolitan police revenue. The Metropolitan police are also responsible for the wages of those employed in the support services, such as property services, transport, communication, computers, catering and payrolls, which services in the provinces are, generally speaking, the responsibility of the local authorities. The budget of the Metropolitan police is a different animal from the budgets of provincial police forces, and there is no basis for allegations that the cost of clearing up crime in London is disproportionately high.
The commissioner's evidence is that the policies of working with the community, of careful analysis of where crime occurs and the environmental factors, and of working with the local authorities — not merely of patrolling the streets, which alone will not reduce crime, especially property crime, which accounts for 75 per cent. of London's difficulties—are surely the way forward. I hope that as we consider the work of the Metropolitan police in the years ahead we shall see that these recent developments have produced the dividend of a London that is a better place in which to live. That objective must be shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
The role of the Metropolitan police can be criticised, and some extremely worrying mistakes have been made. However, it is encouraging to see the ability of the police, under Sir Kenneth Newman, to analyse themselves and their desire to ensure that the difficulties that they have experienced are overcome. We need only consider the relationship between the police and members of the ethnic communities. It must be welcome news that the number of black officers is now 237, and that, in 1983, 74 black officers joined the Metropolitan police. The service must be representative of the community of London if it is to enjoy the support and the confidence of the community. The police are reaching out to meet sections of the community in a way that they have not done before. In north Paddington in my constituency the police are involved with All Stars youth club for black youngsters, where young officers participate in sports as friends and equals of the youngsters. That is an outstandingly successful story of co-operation and achievement in relationships, which is the way forward. When I hear hon. Members talking about the difficulties in their constituencies I wonder why they are not working to achieve these objectives. Complaining about the Metropolitan police is simply not good enough. Doing something to help the police at the community level matters most of all.
The finest form of accountability is in the proper recording of notes. The development of technology should make that increasingly possible. There is no reason why the police officer cannot carry a portable tape recorder with tamper-proof cassettes so that interviews can be recorded on the spot. The Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, which we hope will become law soon, addresses itself to accountability and will require the police to record stops and searches. That could be effectively achieved by the 1245 use of portable tape recorders, which would be available when the stops occur and could be produced in the courts for the provision of evidence.
I hope that the technical developments that are now in hand will be increasingly introduced into police service. They will solve many of the problems that have been mentioned in the Chamber today.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
We welcome the fact that we are now having an annual debate on the Metropolitan police. That is a distinct improvement, but we have no intention of turning it into an annual thanksgiving service. The purpose of the debate on the police is to look at the weaknesses of the service and where improvements can take place. It is not the time to have long paeans of praise to the Metropolitan police.
There was a time when one was regarded as being disloyal or almost unpatriotic if one criticised the police either inside or outside the House. I warn hon. Members not to become complacent and to come to the conclusion that there has been a great upheaval, that weaknesses have been recognised and that some of the things that have happened in the past will not happen in the future. There is a danger of such complacency three years after the Brixton riots and the changes that came about after that in the attitudes of the police.
When one hears the Home Secretary speak, one wonders how so many things were covered up for so long. For a time, one was criticised by the newspapers and by Ministers of both Governments for being critical of the police, yet now we learn that the Metropolitan police force was riddled with corruption—which thankfully has been sorted out by several commissioners—and racism. Now we are told that these things will not happen again. However, we should not be complacent. There is still a risk of police falling short.
The speeches of many of my hon. Friends today show how dissatisfied we remain with the rate of detection, and the protection of London citizens. Often, the poorest people are those who have the worst protection. I had a look at the statistics of the level of street robberies in Lambeth compared with that in Twickenham. The level in Lambeth in 1982 was 10 times that of Twickenham. That shows that people are not going out of deprived areas of London to the more affluent areas in a kind of Robin Hood exercise to rob the wealthy and redistribute wealth but are burgling and robbing their own compatriots. I have been elected to defend the working people and the less affluent people in my constituency and I intend to do so. The mysticism about the police—the attitude that they are above the law—has been wiped away, but in my view there remains a need to keep the police both consulting and accountable.
I wish to make three comments. Perhaps they are rather miscellaneous comments, but I have been asked by constituents to make them in the debate. One of them, even now, is indicative of what appears to be a kind of arrogance and an attitude of being above the law. It is the amount of noise that we hear from police vehicles chasing through the streets of the capital. I really wonder whether the vanloads of police that I see going up and down Victoria street, round Parliament square and along the Embankment, screaming their way along the streets, every 1246 few minutes are necessary. I wonder whether the amount of noise that they make going through the streets of the city, even in the early hours of the morning, is entirely necessary. I say nothing of the disturbing noise from the helicopters hovering over parts of London. If it is not absolutely necessary, it can give the impression that the police somehow are abusing the rights of others by the use of police cars and noise. I should like the Home Secretary to look into it.
I and many of my constituents are equally worried about the inability of the Metropolitan police and the Customs and Excise to prevent heroin coming into the country and being used. We understand from the recent siege of the Libyan people's bureau that there are sophisticated techniques by which people can be surveyed and detected. If we can have masses of police going to the coalfields, if we can have sophisticated detection devices used to bypass diplomatic immunity and if we can have the ability to search people, their bags and so on by those means, why cannot we have the same sophisticated surveillance techniques used on those engaged in the filthy trade in hard drugs?
I cannot understand why more people trading in heroin are not detected. I have learnt from television programmes and from talking to people in south London that it is relatively easy to know those who are taking heroin. It is possible to move to the stage at which they go to the dealer, who at that level is often an addict himself. Surely it is then possible by the use of modern sophisticated methods to follow the dealer to the next stage of the operation where the very big criminals operate.
There is a deep sense of dissatisfaction and disappointment that members of the drugs squad are not able to use techniques that catch more people at this filthy and fatal trade.
My third comment relates to the Scarman report and to two important factors that he mentioned. I refer to the theme of consultation and to the theme of accountability. Lord Scarman said:Consultation and accountability are mechanisms . . . upon which we rely to ensure that the police in their policies and operations keep in touch with, and are responsible to, the community they police. Under the existing law consultation is largely, but not entirely, an administrative matter: accountability has to be statutory. Accountability is, I have no doubt, the key to successful consultation and socially responsive policing. Exclusive reliance on 'voluntary' consultative machinery will not do, as the Brixton story illustrates. It must be backed by law.The message that I get from the Scarman report is that those two aspects of responsiveness—accountability and consultation—are both important.
We in Lambeth have been praised for the police consultative committee that has been established. John Tilley, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton), the Home Secretary and I all tried hard to get it going and to make sure that it was successful. We take satisfaction from the fact that it is now serving as a model for other parts of London and throughout the country generally.
I shall comment in a moment on what we are doing in that committee. However, I do not regard successful consultation through the Lambeth committee as being a substitute for police accountability through the democratic control of the Metropolitan police. The two are not alternatives. They do not exclude each other. They need to go together.
For example, to be successful, a housing department needs to consult tenants and prospective tenants so that it 1247 can meet their needs. Thus, consultation is an essential part of marketing the product and pleasing the consumer. but the fact that housing departments and their officials consult about their plans and proposals is no substitute for elected councillors who are in charge of, and able to deal with, the general issues of design and policy, and the control of that housing department.
Throughout the country there are elected local authorities to which housing officers and managers are accountable, so it has been possible to obtain quite dramatic changes in the way in which housing departments respond to such things as racism and sexism. Many housing departments in London now have equal opportunities policies and monitoring to ensure that there is no racial discrimination in those departments, whether it be deliberate or unintentional. There has been massive enthusiasm for ensuring that that local government service responds to local needs and is not biased or lopsided in favour of one section or another of the community. That is an example of the need for consultation and accountability to run hand in hand.
Exactly the same principle should apply to the Metropolitan police. Although I shall fight as hard as I can for improved consultative machinery and shall continue to assist as much as I can with the consultative machinery in Lambeth, I do not regard that as something that can replace a change to democratic control of the police.
I shall describe some of the things we have been doing in Lambeth. I shall not mention the composition of our committee, as that was dealt with by the hon. Member for Streatham. One of the most important things about the consultative arrangements in Lambeth is that there is open access. It is possible for someone to come literally off the street and to voice his dissatisfaction, or perceived dissatisfaction, with an element of policing in Lambeth. At the last meeting of the Lambeth consultative committee that I attended, many people came unannounced into the meeting, without any formal representation, to protest and vigorously voice their concern about what was alleged to be police brutality against a West Indian citizen called Junior Service. I am not making any judgment as to whether the police behaved rightly or wrongly. I cannot possibly know. I was not at the incident in question. However, there should be an early inquiry, preferably by someone independent, who is outside the police force, into the allegations made. I wrote to the Home Secretary on that issue and emphasised again that the police, just as much as the general public, are protected by an independent element in the police complaints procedure.
With our consultative committee it is possible for people to come in from the community and to make a hell of a row and bring the meeting almost to an end. Nevertheless, I still defend their right to come in and discuss such matters, because it is better that a room in the town hall, in which the commander of police, local councillors and members of the local community are meeting, should be available for heated and fierce discussion about police behaviour than that such matters should be settled on the streets, as they were in Brixton in 1981.
Therefore, one of the most important elements in consultative procedures is open access. I am not sure what the Home Secretary meant when he talked about codes of procedure for consultative committees. However, if he excludes the possibility of people coming in — sometimes in what may seem at the time to be an 1248 unwelcome and unstructured way—he will be robbing those consultative committees of one of their most valuable assets. It is important that people from the community should be able to express their wishes without very much notice.
It is significant that, in co-operation with the Home Office, we have been able to pioneer a system of visits to police stations. I shall not dwell on the fact that in the first two months well over 100 visits have taken place. Nor shall I outline the composition of that committee, as the hon. Member for Streatham has already covered that ground.
It is vital for people of all races and colours to be able to visit police stations and talk to prisoners held there. The visitors are already discovering that some things are wrong. The visitors do not find that everything is perfect, although they have not found any great excesses. In one case, they found that a prisoner had been held without a meal for 8 1/2 hours. People sometimes make confessions which are not necessarily correct when they have been in custody for a long time without a meal. The desire to get out sometimes leads them to make statements which they regret afterwards and which may not be true. I am sure that as a result of the visits such incidents will not occur again. The visitors also found that cells were overcrowded. I am sure that there will be changes if they continue to report such shortcomings.
I welcome the initiative that allows people to go unannounced into police stations in Lambeth, to talk freely to prisoners and to voice publicly what they find. The police have had poor relations with people in the past often because of allegations about misconduct at police stations. There has been a distinct improvement, even without visits, in the way in which people are treated in police stations, but I am sure that if visits had been allowed five or 10 years ago the frigidity between some people and the police would not have been so great.
Our consultative committee has brought about liaison between the police and local tenants' groups. Tenants' organisations come to the consultative committee and urge co-operation with the police, whereas before there was no formal or informal contact. The committee has been able to examine police training and to visit Hendon. It has been able to talk about police policy on stop and search, of which activity there has been far too much. The stop and search policy was one of the principal causes of the Brixton riots.
The committee has been able to discuss racial complaints and attacks, methods of complaining against the police, drugs prosecution policy and many other matters. Such discussions, and the openness created through the consultative committee in Lambeth, have had a marked effect on relations between the local community and the police. They have led to more public co-operation, which in turn has led to a reduction in the level of crime in Lambeth.
That success is no cause for complacency. It is no substitute for the wider democratic control of the Metropolitan police. Whatever the Home Secretary says, the underlying movement in London local authorities is towards greater democratic control. If the Home Office does not recognise that and does not extend accountability to democratic bodies discontent will continue.
Yesterday I received from Lambeth borough council a note about a conference on policing in Lambeth to take place on 9 June. Those participating include my hon. 1249 Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) who will speak on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, Herman Ousley from the Greater London council, Paul Boateng of the GLC police committee and Joan Lestor, the head of the police unit. Unfortunately, no representative from the Metropolitan police will be there. Unless the Government are prepared to extend the democratic accountability of the Metropolitan police, the gulf will continue to widen. Democratic control would mean fewer of the abuses of the past. A great deal more imagination would be used in the protection of the public and in the relationship between the police and the black community.
The GLC has set a great example to London in the way in which it treats women and minority groups. It has used a great deal of imagination to invest people with confidence that local government is working for them. If there was democratic control that involved the GLC and the Metropolitan police, the same imaginative initiatives would find their way through to the Metropolitan police.
There has been a distinct improvement. The hon. Member for Streatham said that it was a dramatic improvement and I would not dissent from that. But there is a great deal further to go. Although members of the black community are now involved in consultation in Lambeth and other London boroughs, and although recruitment of blacks into the Metropolitan police is increasing, there is still a wide gulf between young black people in London and the Metropolitan police. Among a small section of the community there is deep enmity and hostility towards the police, despite the improvements and the consultation procedure.
I urge again that the exploration of the more democratic accountability of the Metropolitan police should continue to be pursued, because, if it is not, the gulf between many sections of the community and the police will continue to grow.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. Unless there are shorter speeches, I am afraid that some hon. Members will be disappointed.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
I have found it interesting listening to the speeches on this topic which is important for Londoners. I have been saddened by many of the comments of Opposition Members. I say in all sincerity that, so often, what they have to say about policing in London is almost entirely destructive. I fully agree that there is a place for fair criticism, but their criticism is often destructive.
For example, following the tirade from the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), he made no suggestions about what he would do to improve the policing of London. I am sorry that he is not present to hear me say that. As an hon. Friend said to me, when a Labour politician opens his mouth about policing in this country, it is worth a guinea a minute to our party in terms of our standing in the electorate. Conservative Members more fairly represent public attitudes towards the police than do the sentiments expressed by the Opposition.
§ Mr. Tracey
It is important to take notice of the opinion polls on this matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) said, 72 per cent. of the public are highly satisfied with the police in Britain.
I wish briefly to speak about the feeling of the public in my constituency of Surbiton and in the wider area of the royal borough of Kingston upon Thames. A great advance has been made in the increase in public involvement, especially since the present Metropolitan police commissioner took office. It is a most important development. For many years, we heard legitimate cries from the public for protection against, for example, burglary—there are great fears about that in the community — mugging, crimes of violence and so on. One of the key parts of the work of the present commissioner has been to get across to the public the fact that they are an essential part of the team in combating crime.
I very much welcome the increase in public involvement in my part of London. There are two neighbourhood watch schemes in the royal borough—one in my constituency and the other in that of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry. We have a victim support scheme which is getting off the ground at great speed and we have in Kingston one of the most developed crime prevention committees in the whole of Greater London.
We have had the services in recent years of a first-class community liaison officer in the V district of the Metropolitan police, which covers my constituency. He has done much to bring the police closer to the public, particularly the young people, with school visits and football competitions for youngsters and by generally introducing them more fully to the essential work of the police in protecting the citizens of London.
I contrast the feeling towards and co-operation with the police in Kingston—the same can be said of many other parts of London—with the attitudes which come across graphically from the Greater London council. Admittedly, we were warned of what we would be seeing from the GLC in the manifesto which was put out before the 1981 elections, in which there was talk about a desire to take over the appointments of senior officers above the rank of chief superintendent. It is clear that we would have seen the development of a political police force in London. Thank goodness, the Home Secretary, not the members of the GLC who were elected in 1981, is responsible for policing in London.
The GLC has not been deterred from doing all it can to cause trouble for policing in London. There is in the GLC something called the police committee. For 1984–85, that committee has a projected budget of £1.8 million, which represents an increase of £554,000 on its budget for 1983–84. Much of that money—in fact, £990,000 of it—has been earmarked for grants to bodies, such as local so-called monitoring committees, which spend their time collecting information which is hostile to the police. It seems that grant money is awarded only to bodies which declare support for the GLC objectives in this area. Hostile material so collected is disseminated to cause grave ill feeling and, I believe, fear, among Londoners.
In addition, the GLC is spending large amounts of ratepayers' money on propaganda exercises. I hold in my hand a package which represents one day's post from the GLC. It includes a dossier entitled "Policing London by 1251 Coercion." It is an invitation to the people of London to oppose the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, which is now going through the House.
The material in this dossier is not conducive to good policing in London. For example, the public are invited to organise the mass leafleting of streets, estates and shopping centres. They are invited to join the campaign against the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, to hold meetings and pass resolutions in any organisation to which they belong and to write to their local Members or to the Home Office expressing opposition to the Bill. They are told to apply for leaflets—10,000 or 100,000 at a time—to distribute in this mass leafleting exercise. That sort of approach induces fear and hostility among the public and does nothing to bring about good, constructive and advancing police relations in our capital.
I pay tribute to the work of Sir Kenneth Newman as commissioner of the Metropolitan police in bringing effective and intelligent management to the Metropolitan police and making a great advance in the policing of the capital in the years since he has been commissioner. I pay tribute also to Viscount Whitelaw who, when he was Home Secretary, encouraged the work of the commissioner. I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary for what he has been doing. The majority of Londoners are grateful for the advance in policing in the capital, and I look forward to many more years of Sir Kenneth Newman's wisdom and judgment in his leadership towards better policing in the capital.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
A previous Prime Minister once referred to the Conservatives in Surbiton as the skinheads of Surbiton. Perhaps the contribution to the debate of the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) has told us that the skinheads of Surbiton now have a representative in Parliament who will attack the GLC and any local authority which attempts to campaign for police accountability and police democracy. It is a disgrace that the only way in which the policing of London can be discussed is by means of a debate in the House on a Friday, at the end of which no Division will take place. Members who contribute to this debate do so as individuals and raise individual constituency issues.
It is a travesty of democracy that 25,000 people should be employed by the Metropolitan police and that there is no electoral control over them save the Home Secretary, who represents Richmond, Yorks, as my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said. We should be discussing the need for democratic control and accountability of the Metropolitan police.
Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent the poorer inner city areas of London have reason to question the direction and methods of policing adopted by the Metropolitan police. The greatest concern in my constituency is about burglary, housebreaking and theft, yet the thrust of the policies of the Metropolitan police appears to be increasing mobility of the police, the increasing use of sophisticated equipment and an obsession with centralisation of their control in Scotland Yard. Those policies appear to be a continuing trend.
The Policy Studies Institute report on the Metropolitan police is the most damning public document ever to be written about any public institution. Our overriding consideration should be the need for a democratically elected police authority in London. When the Minister of 1252 State replies, I hope that he will tell us that, contrary to all expectations, the Government are considering some form of elected police authority. That would be a turn-up for the book and would bring reporters rushing into the Press Gallery on a Friday afternoon.
It is clear that the range of police equipment has recently been extended. I have discovered through parliamentary answers that 20,000 rounds of plastic bullets have been issued to police forces, including the Metropolitan police. We have heard that water—cannon vehicles are made available for testing purposes by the Metropolitan police. We have heard rather more about that since the first answer on the subject was elicited from the Home Secretary. It will be appropriate if the Minister of State tells us in his reply that the cannons have been withdrawn and will not be used. There are many in London who are concerned about the way in which the police are being used increasingly as an anti-riot and social control force. There is great disquiet about that.
Stop and search is of great concern in my constituency in the light of the number of persons or vehicles stopped and subsequent arrests. The figures for the whole of the Metropolitan police district show that in 1982 787,000 persons were stopped and 70,100 arrests resulted.
My borough contains four police stations. In 1983, in Highbury vale, which covers the Highbury area, 6,800 persons were stopped and searched, resulting in 500 arrests, or 7.3 per cent. of the total. In Holloway, 8,600 people were stopped, and 2,000 arrests were made. That is a much higher proportion with 23.2 per cent. arrests out of the total stopped. Police from Islington police station on Upper street stopped 5,300 people, of whom 400 were arrested, or 7.5 per cent. of the total. In King's Cross, 9.4 per cent. of those stopped and searched were arrested. The overall figure for N district of arrests of those stopped and searched was 12.8 per cent. That is very disturbing.
Why are 28,100 people being stopped and searched, resulting in only 6,000 arrests? May we be assured that no records are kept of those stopped and searched? What is the motive behind the actions of the police? Is that an efficient way of following up crime? Does it lead to increased clear-up rates of serious crime? I do not believe that it does. This is an inefficient use of police time. Et has the effect of harassing the population and frightening many people, preventing them from going out at night for fear of being stopped by the police. That is a serious worry to many people in my constituency, especially young people.
A considerably lower number of people are stopped and searched in the outer London suburbs than in my area. Only 2,500 people were stopped and searched in Enfield, resulting in 400 arrests. I believe that the population of the areas surrounding Enfield police station, which is in Y district, is considerably larger than in any of the police districts within the sub-division included in my constituency. The Home Secretary should explain exactly what directions are given to the local police forces and what policies are being carried out by them.
In the past few years, there has been an increasing demand for accountability of the Metropolitan police. In 1981, during the GLC elections, the Labour party proposed that the GLC should promote monitoring of the police forces in London, set up a police unit at county hall and support the development of police accountability campaigns in certain boroughs. That has been done. I should have thought that the Home Secretary would recognise that during the election campaign in 1981 many 1253 people were worried about the accountability and control of the Metropolitan police. They felt that it was important to move towards accountability. It is unsatisfactory that a large police force, of an increasingly national character, includes no local representatives. The only way of finding out about the police is by parliamentary questions or debates such as this. No one could call that a satisfactory method of operation.
Two local organisations have been set up in my area. The borough council has established a police unit, which has done valuable work in pointing to the need for changed policing policies in Islington. That reflects the worries of people in the borough rather than the increasingly mobile police attitude that seems to be obsessed with stopping and searching. I pay tribute also to PACE. That organisation has campaigned for police accountability and has set up a successful office in my constituency. It tries to monitor police activities, to help arrested people and to take up any complaints against the police force.
In its first seven months of operation, the organisation received 558 inquiries. A number were taken further. There were 118 complaints against the police. Many of them were not pursued or were not serious, but a significant number were extremely serious. There were 12 complaints relating to physical attacks, three relating to racist attacks, one of sexist attitudes, five of being generally unhelpful, one of abuse, four of unlawful harassment and two about house raids. Of those, 10 have been withdrawn, two were rejected, one has been upheld, the result of one is not known and 22 are pending.
I find it worrying that 22 complaints which have been taken to the police by a reputable organisation have not yet been satisfactorily investigated and resolved. If people are to have any confidence in the ability of the police to act in their interests—it is working class areas that suffer from housebreaking, theft and robbery—they need to know that complaints against the police are being properly investigated. That does not seem to be the case. There is a long-standing grievance about the police investigating complaints against themselves, and the procedure is unsatisfactory.
Throughout the miners' dispute, we have seen an increasingly national character to the police. Police have been taken from London and my constituency to Nottingham to intervene on the side of the Government in the miners' strike. Through the Association of Chief Police Officers, there has been effectively a national police network. From parliamentary answers, we have discovered that the development of the police computer and county authorities' computers enables the police to be capable of keeping not just records of criminals and criminal activities but, increasingly, records of the surveillance of people. A parliamentary answer about the Metropolitan police computer showed that it had 194,000 entries excluding those relating to security or surveillance. We need to know what the policy and attitude of the Home Office is towards security vetting and surveillance.
The overwhelming and overriding demand is for greater democracy, and some form of public accountability and control of the police force in London. It is nonsense that 25,000 people should be employed at public expense and yet the only recourse that a member of the public has who complains about the police is to go to the police who will then investigate the complaint themselves and come up 1254 with some kind of answer, or to take the complaint to their Member of Parliament who may have the opportunity of being called in a debate to speak about it. That is unsatisfactory, but the most important matter is to have democratic control of the police forces in this country.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I prepared a minute speech to come in last, so I will do the decent thing by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) and do my minute and a half right now.
If I may, I shall start on a sad and serious note. I should like to say, on behalf of the people of Harrow, how impressed we were with the calmness, wisdom and dignity of the family of Woman Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher after the tragedy. Her family home was not in Harrow but she lived there during the week. Harrow wishes to honour her name.
It so happens that Police Constable Old, whom the House will remember was also shot when trying to arrest some criminals, is a constituent of mine. He is continuing to fight with the same courage and tenacity against his terrible affliction of paralysis below the shoulders as he showed when he tackled the gunman.
The public expects a great deal of the police. We expect them to bear themselves as did WPC Fletcher and Police Constable Olds, as if at any instant in their working lives they may be the target of a murderous bullet. We expect them to be friendly and diplomatic to visitors—in this area up to 40 or 50 an hour. We expect them to be brave and positive in dealing with brawls in streets and outside public houses. We expect them to be patient and forbearing during the policing of industrial disputes. I remember meeting constables coming back from Grunwick with the back of their hair and their shoulders covered with spit, having been spat upon by the groups behind them. Each day we expect them to risk serious injury at bank robberies and elsewhere. We expect them to deal tactfully and patiently with people who stop for just a second on a double yellow line to collect a suit from the cleaners. We demand a great deal from the police and they give us a fine return.
After 23 years in the House I can say that the police constables who work in the Palace of Westminster give Members of Parliament the most marvellous service. Not once in all those years has there been anything but friendly and tactful handling of oneself, which is always difficult, and one's friends and visitors. That is a marvellous tribute to be able to pay.
I had many important things to say about wider aspects in my speech but since, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have been kind enough to call me for a limited time, I shall sit down now.
§ Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)
We have heard a number of broad-ranging attacks on the Metropolitan police today. As time is so short, I shall not deal with the general spirit of those attacks except to say that from my observations in B division since the time some years ago of the PSI survey there have been remarkable and obvious improvements. We should pay tribute to the Metropolitan police for doing so much to learn the lessons of that report and to improve their conduct and purpose generally. It is obvious that that improvement is taking place in inner London.
1255 In the short time available I want to touch on the growth of the trade in dangerous drugs of addiction. Other hon. Members have touched on that this morning and they are reflecting a concern which is widely felt by the public. The policy of the Home Office on that subject needs to be more specific. I realise the difficulties. Because this is an illegal trade it is difficult to obtain reliable data and the newspapers are often filled with sensational stories which are not easy to believe. Because the problem is relatively new in our society, public opinon is not clearly focused on what the authorities ought to do. There is horror and fear about the growth of addiction to drugs. On the other hand, magistrates and the courts often impose extremely low sentences when people are found in possession of drugs.
This is a particularly important London issue and therefore a matter for the Home Secretary in his capacity, in effect, as chief constable of London. It is reasonable to tackle the problem by clarifying our approaches to the different drugs and working out different methods to deal with the individual drugs, which are different in their effect, origin, price and nature. We should also take separate measures in dealing with wholesale importers, small traders and users who are found in possession of only small quantities.
A major difficulty for the police is in imposing rules which the public, or a significant part of the public, does not think necessary or right, particularly in regard to the suppression of the trade in cannabis. That is a situation in which we undoubtedly find ourselves in many parts of London. We are therefore in danger of repeating the mistakes of the United States at the time of prohibition—asking our police to do something which will lose them the sympathy and co-operation of a large sector of the public among whom they work. To some extent, that has already happened in London and it is a dangerous development. It is particularly dangerous because the section of the public that is not sympathetic to the cannabis rules is the West Indian element, and there are, therefore, racial, and even to some extent religious, implications in what the police are being asked to do which are dangerous and damaging.
In the post-Scarman situation, it is advisable to reduce stops and searches to a minimum, and I entirely accept that, particularly when they are conducted in humiliating circumstances. Let us consider what the Home Office is doing. In the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, clause 49, the provision for intimate searches in police stations is to be removed. This is a delicate matter, and it is a procedure that is not often used in any event. In future, intimate searches in order to obtain evidence are to be allowed only at the ports and at the airports. In current practice, there are dangers that intimate searches could be an opportunity for gross humilitation and abuse of police power; but I think that those dangers could be overcome without abandoning the procedure altogether when looking for evidence.
There are great dangers if the Home Office persists in what it is trying to do in clause 49. Most suspects at present, as I am informed, when threatened with an intimate search will produce the evidence rather than make the search necessary; or the evidence can be found, in many cases, by allowing natural processes time to work, so that the business of physical investigation does not have to take place. If dealers in concentrated drugs discover that they can escape prosecution by carrying their products in containers which can be swallowed in emergency, that is 1256 how the traffic will be carried on in future. It does not need me to make that point. It must be obvious that the Home Office has considered it, and is going forward with the amendment as a matter of deliberate decision. In other words, the Home Office will try to concentrate on the imports of drugs in wholesale quantities, while shutting its eyes to the activities of small traders and users. I can well understand that that is something that the police would want in order to improve their relationships, particularly with the West Indian community, in the enforcement of the law on cannabis. But I think that the House ought to ask itself whether this is an appropriate reform, in view of the mounting public anxiety about the growth in the trade in the more dangerous drugs.
I am prepared to go this far. I think that, where cannabis is concerned, the Home Office may be right. But where heroin is concerned, I am convinced that the Home Secretary is wrong, and that what is proposed in the Bill is dangerous. I have therefore tabled an amendment on the intimate searches question to the effect that they should continue to be permitted, under proper control and supervision, where the police have reason to suspect that drugs on a specified list—not all dangerous drugs, but specified ones, and I am thinking particularly of heroin or cocaine—are being concealed. I trust that the Home Secretary will not refuse to consider the point further when the Bill comes up on Report next week.
In dealing with drugs in general, I think that there is a question for the House to debate: could, or should, cannabis be made the subject of a separate law and special administrative pratice, to be treated differently from other drugs? A few years ago, I would have joined the vast majority of people in the country in saying, "Certainly not, this is an appalling thing, it is wrong that it should be allowed at all, and the police must stamp it out." However, I am now beginning to change my view, and I think that we should be prepared to consider cannabis on a different basis from heroin and the more serious drugs of addiction. It is not so dangerous. The hazards appear to be comparable with those of alcohol or tobacco. Where there is excessive use over a long period, there are undoubtedly dangers, but I do not think that cannabis has established itself as being so poisonous or addictive that we need to be wooden in our approach to the subject.
Secondly, I am afraid it must be admitted that it is now beyond control by present methods. I wish briefly to recommend that we might consider the possibility of cannabis being made available on prescription by application, that limited quantities could be purchased at a time, that it should be available only through licensed pharmacists, that the amount, price and quality should be controlled, and that the people who register to use cannabis should submit themselves to regular medical checks.
I believe that it would be fruitful for the Home Office to consider controlling cannabis in that way so that the policing of the use of cannabis could be put on a footing separate from that for harder drugs. There would still be illegal trading, but the motive and the profit in the cannabis trade would largely have gone, which would make the police's job much easier. They would then be more free to concentrate their minds on dealing with the abuse of the hard drugs, which is so much a matter of public concern.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)
Policing London is a difficult and sometimes extremely dangerous job, and we need only remember the tragic deaths of police officers, not just outside the Libyan people's bureau but at Harrods and elsewhere, to know how vulnerable the police can be to the acts of dangerous people. The police have exercised great skill in recent years in dealing with bombing incidents and incidents at embassies in London. We have almost come to take for granted the police's great skill and professionalism in such incidents. If some of us are critical of the police in other contexts, it might be because we would like that great skill and professionalism to be applied to other aspects of policing the metropolis.
In passing, may I say that one difficult problem which the police tackle extremely well is that of football hooligans. The fact that in Britain, although we have this regrettable and deplorable problem, it does not seem to reach the excesses that it reaches when our supporters visit other countries is at least partly a sign that the police have learnt how to contain such a difficult and regrettable problem.
In recent years Londoners have asked for more say in the policing of their areas. I have noticed that in my constituency, when people have said to me, "I want the police to do so and so, and I wish to influence the police to do this, that or the other." That is part of the reason why there has been political pressure for accountability, which means simply the ability of ordinary people to influence and have a say in policing. What better way of doing that than through elections, where ordinary people can vote for representatives on police authorities and can throw out those whose supervision of police activities they might not like?
The pressure for accountability has quite a head of steam, which is partly why the previous Home Secretary went to great pains to head it off by setting up consultative committees, arranging for regular meetings between London Members and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and regular meetings between London Members and the Home Secretary, and by having this annual debate. I welcome those meetings and the debates, but they are not a substitute for the accountability that is demanded.
I listened carefully to the Home Secretary's speech, and at no point did he refer to the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. A detailed discussion of that Bill would be inappropriate, but if he believes that the Bill will help significantly in the policing of the metropolis, as he has tended to suggest on other occasions, I am a little surprised that he did not say that it was something from which the Metropolitan police will benefit, because he knows, as most of us do, that the Bill will not help the police to police the metropolis more effectively and more efficiently and that in a sense it is irrelevant to many of the concerns expressed today.
The Labour party wants the police to be efficient and effective, but we would be doing no service to the police if we simply refused to criticise them, because that would weaken their position. If the police are not to be criticised by us, where appropriate, in the way that our constituents criticise the police, we do a disservice not only to the police but to our constituents and the democratic process. Our constituents want the police to be more effective at catching criminals and keeping the peace. They also want 1258 a lessening of the fear of crime—a fear that is not directly related to the actuality of crime, but which is just as undermining, particularly to the elderly.
We and our constituents also want an increase in confidence between the police and the public. Confidence has been sadly eroded in many inner city areas, especially among young people, and particularly among young blacks. That lack of confidence has reached such damaging proportions as to undermine seriously the effectiveness and efficiency of the police in the inner city areas. We also want civil liberty. Our constituents do not want civil liberties to be thrown out of the door simply because they want the police to be more effective. That will not make people feel safer but will further undermine the respect between citizens and the police force.
My constituents come to me with complaints about the police force. Some of them want to see the police in evidence more and would like to see police officers in their areas more frequently. Others complain bitterly about the consequences of heavy policing and the way in which they as individuals have been treated by the police.
Homebeat policing has been mentioned today. Generally, there is an acceptance of homebeat policing—having a bobby on the beat—as desirable and good, and I subscribe to that view. However, I still have some doubts, and these were partly confirmed by a recent Home Office research study called "Crime and Police Effectiveness". On page 6 it says:There is little evidence that increasing the number or frequency of foot patrols actually reduces crime—although this may achieve other important objectives in terms of public satisfaction and feelings of security. A British experiment carried out in the 1960s concluded that the levels of crime increase when patrols are completely removed from beats, but provided that there is some police presence, the amount of patrolling makes little difference to crime.I am reluctant to accept that conclusion, because it flies in the face of what I believe about homebeat policing and in the face of what most people who have approached me expressed as their wish. We shall have to look again at homebeat policing, and not simply accept it as if it came from on high and therefore was bound to be right as it is now practised.
The report goes on to say that anaverage foot beat"—by that I assume that it means a bobby on the beat—
in a large British city covers a square half-mile, with 4–5 miles of public roadway and a population of 4,000.It goes on to talk about the slight chances of catching burglars through homebeat policing.
In London, my understanding is that there is one homebeat police officer per 7,000 people. My anxieties about the way that the system operates are these. To start with, not all hours of the day are covered, and in particular, the critical evening period is not usually covered by the homebeat police officers. Many of them are extremely young. Their average age is 21 or 22, which is partly a reflection of increased recruitment by the Metropolitan police. I was in Chicago a couple of years ago, and the police there—in admittedly different and more dangerous circumstances—said that they would not have any police officer under 28 patrolling the streets. That was because of the difficulty of the task. In many instances in London we know that very young police officers are confronted on the streets by difficult circumstances often caused by people who are the same age as they are, and it is asking a great deal of them.
1259 Another concern that I have about the way in which homebeat policing operates at the moment is that it is regarded, despite all the parliamentary pressures, as a rather junior activity in the police. It is not the way to promotion. If a police officer does not do well in the drugs squad or in the serious crimes squad, he is told that he had better improve or he will be back on the beat. That is regrettable, because we would all like the homebeat police officer to be more senior, to be seen as more senior and to have a job which represented a realistic chance of promotion and advancement. There is also the regrettable tendency to take homebeat police officers away from their duties when other demands are made on the police as a whole.
I make two specific suggestions. The first is that the Home Office, with its research unit, should mount a major investigation into homebeat policing with a view to discovering the right area and the right population, whether there could with advantage be smaller patches to be covered in areas of high crime rates in inner cities, and with a view to encouraging experiments in homebeat policing so that we can see whether it is possible to improve the way that it operates. Our constituents like the idea of it, and I should not wish the recent report of the Department's research unit to persuade the Metropolitan commissioner to lessen the priority that he appears to be giving to homebeat policing.
My second suggestion is for some development of the experiments conducted by the National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders in one or two areas to involve tenants and local residents far more in activites to make their local neighbourhoods safer. That involves a direct input from the homebeat police officer. When I ask people in an area what can be done to make it safer, often they are full of suggestions. They talk about street lighting and getting rid of dark alleyways and suggest where the homebeat police officer should be and at what times. All these suggestions are helpful, and I should like to see a more positive effort to involve local people, communities and tenants associations by asking them to exercise more responsibility and to put forward their ideas about how to make their localities safer and more secure to live in, with the direct involvement of homebeat police officers.
A number of hon. Members have referred to the report of the Policy Studies Institute. I shall discuss it in the context of stop and search. The report suggested that in 1982 there were 1.5 million stops and searches in the Metropolitan police area. Answers to parliamentary questions suggest that in 1982 and 1983 there were some 787,000 stops of persons or vehicles. However, not all these stops were reported, as the Home Office acknowledged in its answers to parliamentary questions. But the disturbing feature of the PSI report was that one third of all the stops — 500,000 — were carried out without legal powers or legal backing.
It may be that people will say that matters will improve now because the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill widens the powers of the police to stop and search so that what was previously illegal activity by the police wIl now become legal. I suggest that that is not a happy way of legislating. It will have the consequence of encouraging the police to go in for more stops and searches. That is why next week we shall scrutinise the stop and search provisions with great care, as we did in Committee.
Of the 787,000 stops and searches, 71,000 led to arrests, but we do not know how many people were 1260 eventually convicted of any crime. In my own area of Wandsworth there were 27,500 stops and searches in 1983, of which 2,300 led to arrests.
I have been at meetings where I have discussed this problem. On one occasion an elderly woman asked why I was talking about stop and search and what was the matter, because she would not mind if she was stopped and searched. It did not seem that that would matter to her. I said that it might not matter to her the first, second or tenth time, but that after that she might feel a certain sense of resentment. That is how stop and search affects many young people, especially young blacks, and that is why we must be concerned about the way in which the police use those powers. Hon. Members should talk to young black people in their constituencies, particularly those in inner city areas, to discover how typical is the experience of being stopped by the police. We must look very hard at the way in which those powers are used, because they can be counter-productive and can lead to great resentment.
There have been several references to the welcome drop of 4 per cent. in the recorded crime rate for London last year. However, it is still the second highest rate of recorded crime that we have ever seen in the metropolis. For two successive years, between 1977 and 1979, there was a drop in the recorded crime rate in the Metropolitan police district. But in 1980,1981 and 1982 the figures shot up alarmingly. I hope that we are seeing the beginning of a downward trend, but none of us should take too much comfort from a figure for one isolated year. Nevertheless, I hope that that downward trend will continue.
The clear-up rate for crime in London saw a welcome increase from 16 per cent to 17 per cent., but it is still depressingly low. It means that 83 per cent. of all recorded crimes were not cleared up, and of course, many are not recorded. We all know that burglary is one of the crimes that causes most concern to our constituents. In the Metropolitan police area in 1983, the clear-up rate for that was 9 per cent., or about half of the average clear-up rate. That means, however, that there were much higher clear-up rates for some offences. For example, the clear-up rate for violence against the person was 54 per cent.; for sexual offences 53 per cent.; and for fraud and forgery 49 per cent. Nevertheless, the crimes that affect many of our constituents have depressingly low clear-up rates, and there should not be any complacency about that.
It is very depressing that the police's response to the PSI report has been rather muted and has not yet led to very much. I looked at the edition of The Job—the newspaper for the Metropolitan police — that came out on 18 November 1983. It contained a rather surprising headline to the effect that the report confirmed the support of the public. However, I am not sure that that was borne out by the PSI report. In The Job, there was a special supplement on the report, and one or two of the comments were rather removed from the reality of it. It talked about fair play in action and made several other comments that were at variance with the thrust of the PSI report. I only hope that that rather complacent reporting will not encourage a similar complacency on the part of the police towards the report's real implications.
I regret that in Committee on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill the Government did not accept amendments to make racism by the police a disciplinary and, in some instances, dismissible offence. The disciplinary code has some provision, it is said, that would encompass racism, but it has been singularly ineffective in recent years, as the 1261 PSI report showed by the number of instances of racist talk. I agree with the PSI report that racist talk was not always translated into racist behaviour, but I cannot for the life of me understand how it came to that conclusion. When a police officer uses racist talk there is a serious possibility that it is a sign of how he thinks, and that it will influence his behaviour when dealing with people.
Some hon. Members spoke about getting more blacks into the police force. That would be very welcome, but a precondition for more blacks being willing to join the police must be an increase in the confidence and respect as between the police and young blacks. Unfortunately, we cannot expect many young blacks to join the police while a lot of them feel hostility and resentment towards the police. It is very hard for individuals to feel that they should join a force that is alien to them and their community.
We welcome the introduction of a code of conduct for the force, but I hope that the House will have a chance to consider what it is about. It would be wrong if the code of conduct were developed without an opportunity for us to influence it and debate it. I hope that the Minister will explain what the code of conduct is intended to contain.
We hear of too many instances of the police behaving in a hostile manner to individuals. I cannot understand the reasons for that. The police sometimes bully and hector people who want to visit a friend in a police cell, for instance. Their attitude seems unnecessary. However, if an individual is middle class and gives the impression of being professional, with an understanding of what is happening, the police change their tone. The bullying of people whom the police think cannot speak for themselves is particularly regrettable. I hope that the code of conduct will help and will ensure that the police are civil to all and not just to those who sound more educated or middle class.
Some time ago I visited Hendon to witness training by the Metropolitan police. I agree that a higher calibre of person is being recruited. That will cause difficulties because, judging by the recruits whom I met at Hendon, the people coming in now are of a much higher calibre than the middle management levels of the police in the districts. Nothing can be done about that. We must encourage young recruits to battle through even when they find that they are working for people who are not as good or as capable as they are.
I particularly liked the recruits at Hendon for their relaxed attitude to policing, their willingness to understand the reasons for criticism of the police and their unwillingness to get uptight about it. They had a balanced approach. I asked them, "How do you feel about making a career in the police when they are under such political criticism from some quarters?" They said, "Some of the criticism is justified and some is not, but we have a job to do and we do not mind the criticism. We can answer for ourselves."
That reveals a much more mature attitude than one encounters sometimes when talking to local police officers who are more tense and resistant to criticism than the recruits. I hope that the attitude of Hendon recruits will survive even when they are working in the police districts.
I regret that many of the recruits come not from inner London, but from outer London and further afield. It will be difficult for them to make the right impact in inner city areas. I welcome the fact that the training at Hendon is 1262 longer than it was before Lord Scarman reported and that further training is given in the police districts. Nevertheless, pressures and tensions will exist.
I am not totally satisfied with the training at Hendon. Many improvements could be made, but my last visit revealed distinct improvements over my previous visit. I hope that training in greater awareness and in how to deal with people of different cultures and traditions will continue.
One of the more disturbing developments is the use of new weapons such as plastic bullets, CS gas, and water cannon. I hope that the Minister will say something about that.
No mention has been made of special branch activities. The Home Affairs Select Committee is to investigate that, and I welcome that move. The House would like to be better informed about special branch activities. We shall be able to press the Government on that at a later date. We are also entitled to some information about the cost involved in Metropolitan police officers going to Nottinghamshire in connection with the dispute in the coalfields.
The coming years will bring many challenges to the police. There will be pressures on them relating to their efficiency, relationship with the public, the need to emphasise civil liberties and, of course, their accountability. But there are other responsibilities that affect the way in which the police operate but that are not directly borne by the police. We must be more concerned about the victims of crime. We must take more trouble to ensure that hard drugs do not come into the country, and that will be achieved with tighter Customs and Excise control. The police must not be the only people tackling the drug problem.
Above all, we must do something about the alienation of youngsters in our society. We must tackle the deprivation and bad housing in inner city areas, which encourage crime and make the task of the police more difficult. We must tackle the intolerable unemployment level that affects so many in our inner cities and that is bound to be one of the factors that causes crime to be at its high level.
§ 2.1 pm
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) made a knowledgeable and, on the whole, constructive speech. Indeed, this has been an important and knowledgeable debate. Not many hon. Members have been present, but there is an outward and visible sign of the intense and continuous interest of London's Members in the policing of the capital—an interest of which my right hon. and learned Friend and I are daily well aware.
Inevitably, there has been a certain amount of rehashing of the PSI report. I cannot deal with all the points raised by hon. Members and I hope they will forgive me for that. Both Opposition Front Bench spokesmen mentioned racism. It is worrying that the PSI report should suggest that the black community has a lower opinion of the police than has the white community. But even the views of the young West Indian community do not, the report states,amount by any means to a complete rejection of the present policing system.The report clearly shows that the black community is as likely to call upon the services of the police—and is very nearly as happy with the results—as the white 1263 community. As the report points out, its behaviour shows—as opposed, sometimes, to its answers to questions—that the black community relies on, and shows a certain confidence in, the police.
Since the report — and, indeed, before it — the Metropolitan police have shown the importance that they attach to that matter. They are doing a great deal through training and selection to be free from any prejudice. They have pioneered new methods of training in community and race relations. Those methods are being continually improved. Training specifically in race relations has recently been thoroughly reviewed to make it more effective. The force will have access soon to the developing experience of the centre for the study of community and race relations at Brunel university, which is being financed by the Home Office. That centre will have a crucial influence. It is to be opened on 27 June, but the director—Mr. Martin Lightfoot—is already at work with his staff.
As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) acknowledged, he got it a bit wrong on police attitudes towards women. My right hon. and learned Friend has already made it known that the commissioner dropped the restrictive quota on the recruitment of women last December. He has now established a working party under the chairmanship of Deputy Assistant Commissioner Annesley to consider the recruitment, deployment and career development of women officers in the Metropolitan police. The working party held its first meeting earlier this year. It is in close touch with the Equal Opportunities Commission, which the commissioner approached, and which has agreed to allocate a number of its staff to help with research and to represent it on the working party.
A certain amount of time, inevitably, has been spent on stop and search—stemming from the criticisms in the PSI report, and from other quarters such as Opposition Members—and to the damage done to relations between the police and the community by random, untargeted stop and search exercises.
There have been two developments recently pointing in the same direction, which I believe is the right direction. Before and since the PSI report, the commissioner has acted to reduce the possibilities of random, untargeted stopping and searching. He has made it clear on a number of occasions that he wants police partrolling to have a definite purpose, and the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill points in exactly that direction.
The hon. Member for Battersea mentioned the extension of stop and search powers to cover, for example, offensive weapons, but he did not mention the new safeguards. We are proposing that the safeguards recommended by the Royal Commission—and, before that, by Lord Scarman—should be put into effect. Police officers will have to explain who they are, what they are looking for and why they are looking for it there before any stop and search is conducted.
A record will have to be taken and the person to be searched will be entitled to a copy of that record. These are new safeguards which will, I believe, make it impossible for a police officer to abuse the power to stop and search without running the serious risk either of disciplinary action against himself or of action in the courts for illegal assault.
Opposition Members who have mentioned stop and search have, as it were, been playing an old gramophone record without taking account of those two substantial 1264 changes: first, in the general thrust of the commissioner's policy and, secondly, in the provisions that we propose in the law.
My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) gave a valuable account of the working in Lambeth of the consultative group, and I confirm what he said from a meeting that I recently attended; I was allowed to sit on a back seat and listen, and I was impressed by what I heard.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and others expressed concern about importuning and entrapment. The position on agent provocateurs is clear. Home Office guidance to the police states that no police officer should counsel, incite or procure the commission of a crime. That principle is repeated in the Metropolitan police force orders and in the instruction book issued to all officers on their appointment to the force. We understand that the commissioner is considering whether the force orders need to be amended in that respect. The important principle is there already.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey mentioned the constituency point of Tower bridge police station. It illustrates a more general theme. That police station was scheduled to close as the result of a force review in 1979. There were then discussions, in which the hon. Member played a prominent part, between the local chief superintendent and the people in the area. As a result, the station has been kept open and still provides a 24-hour service.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey referred to the need to consult before that sort of decision is taken, and I agree with him. The commissioner must balance the pressure to keep stations open with his desire to get more men back on the beat. Clearly, this is the sort of issue where local consultation is needed and is the type of topic that the consultative groups, to which I shall refer, will wish to discuss, and I hope that we shall soon see such a group in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
The hon. Member fot Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) spent a considerable time making interesting comments on the complaints procedure. We are reforming it and are providing in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill a new police complaints authority. We are providing, for the first time, for the independent supervision of investigation. That is a substantial change, the weight of which has not yet been fully grasped outside the Standing Committee that has been examining the Bill.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I cannot allow the Minister's pejorative remark to remain on the record unchallenged. I said that the proposed reform was not grasped in Standing Committee either. We continue to regard the change as inconsequential and unhelpful.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am worried about the right hon. Gentleman. I noted in Committee that flashes of understanding often crossed his brow. However, when he left the Committee and started reading GLC material, the light started to fade. He is right to suggest that quite often there will be a genuine conflict of evidence about what 1265 took place. I accept that that is bound to be unsatisfactory. The investigating officer and, in addition, the police complaints board, which will soon be the new authority, and if necessary the Director of Public Prosecutions, will have to weigh the conflicting evidence and reach the best possible conclusion. The problem will not be solved by putting an element of bias into the process in favour of the complainant, which could lead to unfairness to the police officer concerned, even to the extent of losing his job unjustly. That seems to be the bias that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to inculcate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) addressed himself to traffic policing. I know that he regrets the reduction in the number of police officers on traffic patrol. The commissioner is trying to match the reduction by an increase in the officers' effectiveness. He is doing this by trying to identify priority areas for the patrol to cover with the aid of better computer information so that the patrols are on duty at times and in places where they are most needed. Traffic wardens can help the police and the number of wardens is nearly up to the complement of 1,800. That is a great improvement on the position a year ago. There has been a significant increase in the number of cautions given to motorists and a lesser increase in the number of prosecutions. The aim is to do roughly the same amount of traffic policing with fewer officers.
The hon. Member for Battersea spoke about machine guns being issued to the Metropolitan police. He will find the answers that he seeks in previous columns of Hansard.
Several hon. Member —notably most recently my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) — referred to the problem of hard drugs. Undoubtedly, there is great concern about the matter. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary opened the debate—I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was present at the time—he emphasised the growing public concern about hard drugs, and reaffirmed the Government's support for what the police are doing. He spelt out in summary form four areas in which the Government are active. He did so in summary form because he has dealt with the matter more fully on previous occasions.
Hard drugs are a problem for the Metropolitan police and they have the full support of the Home Office in seeking to deal with them. We shall have an opportunity, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, to discuss the issue again on the Floor of the House. We spent a good deal of time considering the problem while the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill was in Committee. We considered the extent to which it is right that the police should have the power of intimate body search for investigative purposes, especially in respect of drugs, and not merely in a police station after a tragedy. My hon. Friend is tabling an amendment that I understand will be slightly different from the one that we discussed in Committee. The Government have considered the matter carefully since the debates in Committee and we think that it will be difficult in practice to distinguish between types of drugs in the way that my hon. Friend suggested.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the best use of manpower to deal with the hard 1266 drugs problem is to go against the dealers rather than the young and often fairly novice users? The dealers are the villains of the piece.
§ Mr. Hurd
That is accepted. It is accepted also that police efforts should be directed against the hard rather than the soft drugs.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who kindly told me that he could not be present at this time, made an amazingly crude point about clear-up rates. Of course clear-up rates are important, but they are not the only measure of police effectiveness. Crime prevention, public safety, traffic efficiency, and so on are not covered by the test of clear-up rates. I believe that the hon. Gentleman's constituents would understand that it is common sense that, in a huge capital city such as this one, the Metropolitan police must face a more difficult pattern of crime than the police in, say, Lincolnshire, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Most of his constituents would understand that that comparison is nonsense. No one in the Home Office or in the Metropolitan police to whom I have talked is in the least bit complacent about the clear-up rate in the capital. There has been a small improvement, but there is certainly room for much more.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) dealt in a well-informed way with a number of issues, especially crime prevention. There was a time when that matter was underplayed both by the police and by the press and public. I think that the importance of crime prevention is now beginning to get through. It is obviously the most satisfactory way of dealing with crime.
A range of initiatives are coming forward. I was pleased to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) said about his experience in this regard. A series of local alliances are springing up between the police and public. They have the effect of reducing crime and of letting each sector understand the other better. Those initiatives have our full support and encouragement.
One of the Opposition's main themes in this debate, as in previous debates, has been accountability. There is a long-standing and genuine division of opinion on the question: accountability to whom—to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the House or to an elected local body? That is a well-known division of opinion which we shall not resolve today.
A second separate question — the two can be confused—is: accountable on what? I am worried that some Labour Members wish to politicise to an unwarranted extent the Metropolitan police—to subject the London police to political control over operations and decisions in individual cases, control which my right hon. and learned Friend as the police authority does not presently exercise and which the police authorities elsewhere in the country do not exercise either. We reject that attitude, and I believe that the people of London would reject it also.
A related problem must be considered as well. We are talking not simply of constitutional niceties but of something of real importace to the policing of London. The Metropolitan police are anxious to keep in touch with the communities that they serve. To some extent, the police can do so by crime prevention initiatives. They are anxious to keep in touch by consultative groups. By clause 96 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, that will become a statutory requirement. Progress is being made, 1267 as my right hon. and learned Friend said. Some boroughs, represented by my hon. Friends, have arrangements with which they are satisfied but which we believe are too sketchy and do not allow full opportunities for the communities to have their voices heard.
Another difficulty is caused by some London politicians having ambitions to control the police which are related to their general view of police accountability. They therefore want the consultative groups to be subordinate in some way to local councils. That runs counter to the concept of independence, which my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned. It is linked with the attitude of the Labour party to the Metropolitan police. My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) gave the example of the absurd misuse of public money practised by the GLC in putting about a caricature of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill at substantial cost. It is increasingly clear that all that expenditure has had little impact.
Right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches have acknowledged, and we all know, that the Metropolitan police is under firm, intelligent and sensitive leadership. It knows that it needs the support of the communities over some of whom Opposition right hon. and hon. Members have considerable influence. Can they not put aside for one moment their views on political accountability, discourage those of their supporters who want to build their careers on attacking the police and join the bulk of Londoners in helping the Metropolitan police to build the consultative groups and, more importantly, to build, in a host of ways, the close co-operation with the public that it seeks, and on which the success in beating crime depends? If we could have a putting aside of a genuine and long-standing——
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.