§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lang.]9.36 am
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Leon Brittan)
I am very pleased that the House today has the opportunity for a full debate on the policing of London. This is the third successive year that the House has had such a debate, and this is a welcome development. The policing of the metropolis is always difficult, frequently sensitive and sometimes controversial. The magnitude of the task, and the professionalism with which the police tackle it, have been particularly vividly illustrated by the events of the past few days. It is right, therefore, that the House as a whole should have the opportunity to debate the policing of London, but that I should precede that debate by once again paying a warm tribute to the special work of the Metropolitan police in combating IRA terrorism.
This debate is important, however, as part of a cycle of events, following the publication of the Commissioner's strategy report, which underlines both the accountability of the Commissioner to me as police authority for the metropolis, and my accountability to Parliament for the way in which I discharge that duty. Following discussion with me, the Commissioner published his strategy report last January. The report reviewed how far the goals set for 1984 had been achieved, and set a new force goal for 1985. I sent copies of the report to all right hon. and hon. Members for constituencies in the Metropolitan police district, and subsequently met many of them to discuss it.
I promised to take up personally with the Commissioner a number of the points raised at those meetings, and I met him for this purpose at the end of March. I was then able to write last month giving the Commissioner's detailed and constructive response to the comments made. To complete this round of discussions, I hope shortly, together with the Commissioner and his policy committee, to meet the local authority associations.
I rehearse this sequence of events to underline how real the lines of accountability now are. Compare this process of rational consultation and discussion with some of the antics of the GLC police committee. How can a body which produces a disgraceful piece of propaganda like its recent video expect to be taken seriously as a commentator on police affairs? The so-called police monitoring groups, most of them funded by the GLC, are even worse. They trade in rumour, smear and innuendo. They do not care about improving the policing of London. All they want to do is to drive a wedge between the community and the police.
Before looking at the Commissioner's plans for 1985, I shall review briefly the record of 1984.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
My right hon. and learned Friend has mentioned the GLC anti-police video. I am sure that he has seen it, like a number of right hon. and hon. Members. Does he agree that it is so serious and so damaging to policing in London, and therefore to people's freedom before the law, that the film should be withdrawn immediately if the GLC has any pretence to a genuine interest in the welfare of Londoners?
§ Mr. Brittan
I have publicly expressed my horror of the film, which I have indeed seen. The GLC would rescue at least a scintilla of its reputation for objectivity if it withdrew that film.
The Commissioner set his force four goals in 1984. The first was to maximise performance through the most effective use of manpower. The strength of the Metropolitan police, both police officers and civilians, has increased significantly since 1979. The Commissioner now has considerable manpower at his disposal and it is right for us to look to him to use this to the best advantage.
This means, above all, ensuring that police officers are not behind desks doing jobs which do not need police powers, skills or training. The measures that the Commissioner has been taking to achieve this have had considerable success. In the year ending in April, the work done by nearly 150 officers was taken over by civilians, so that those police officers were freed for operational duties.
The second goal was to minimise criminal opportunity through crime prevention, public contact, involvement and co-operation. Nobody living in London can fail to be aware of the enormous amount of effort the Metropolitan police have put into this in the last year. There has been a profusion of new schemes and initiatives. To pick out two impressive statistics, at the last count, there were 1,282 neighbourhood watch schemes in operation, with 515 more planned, and there are 21 crime prevention panels.
The credit for that lies of course with the members of the public involved, as well as the police. Their role will increase in importance. Experiance suggests that, while the police can apply the energy to get a neighbourhood watch scheme or a crime prevention panel going, only the public can supply the stamina necessary to sustain it. The latest British crime survey, which will be published shortly, shows that nearly 90 per cent. of people nationwide believe that neighbourhood watch schemes would work, and about two thirds of those questioned would themselves be prepared to take part.
The Commissioner took as his third goal the enhanced detection of certain criminal offences — robbery, burglary and auto-crime — by the use of advanced detection techniques. Overall, there was an increase of 9 per cent. in the number of offences recorded in 1984, roughly in line with the national increase of 8 per cent. This figure is obviously disappointing, particularly when set against the decrease of the previous year. But it should not be allowed to obscure some real achievements.
The number of offences cleared up rose by 9 per cent. The clear-up rate — the House will know of the reservations widely held about the value of clear-up rates as a measure of police effectiveness—stayed constant at 17 per cent., despite the increased demands made on the police. There have been notable successes with some of the specific offences targeted by the Commissioner. The number of burglaries cleared up has increased overall by 15 per cent. and the number of domestic burglaries cleared up by 28 per cent. This has resulted in a slight increase in the clear-up rate for burglery. It is also encouraging to note that the number of burglaries recorded in the first quarter of 1985 was 9 per cent. lower than in the first quarter if 1984, and that there was a 4 per cent. drop in burglaries in England and Wales as a whole.
Where success has been achieved — the Commissioner would be the first to recognise that it has 1200 not been universal—it has not been due to fluke or good fortune. It has resulted from the application of sophisticated analytical and detective techniques. The Commissioner will be looking to improve these techniques further, particularly in the gathering and analysis of intelligence.
The fourth goal was to improve the management and organisation of the force. The major development here has, of course, been the force reorganisation, with which I shall deal in some detail later. But the Commissioner has taken a number of other initiatives, independently of the reorganisation, to hone the management of the force. For example, a ready reckoner of costs was issued to districts, divisions and certain headquarters branches. This will help senior officers to identify the costs of different courses of action, and to instil generally a greater cost consciousness.
One factor had a profound effect on the Metropolitan police last year—a factor which could not possibly have been foreseen when the Commissioner drew up his strategy. That is the miners' dispute. The aid supplied by the Metropolitan police to other forces was of enormous importance. Over the period of the dispute, the Metropolitan police supplied an average of 810 officers per week for periods of up to eight days to meet requests from chief officers of other forces.
The Commissioner sought to minimise the impact of the dispute on London by maintaining essential cover as far as possible. A measure of his success was that the number of arrests made for notifiable offences increased by 5 per cent. last year. Training, on the other hand, was postponed, and many desirable activities, such as crime prevention and community relations, had to take second place.
Part of the strain was taken up by the Metropolitan police special constabulary. The specials had to take on many demanding duties in support of their regular colleagues. They responded to the challenge magnificently. Their contribution is a fine example of public-spiritedness. All special constables deserve our gratitude and respect.
Ultimately, the impact of the dispute fell on individual Metropolitan police officers—and their families. They had to spend long periods away from home, performing duties which were always arduous and sometimes dangerous. I wish to place on record my gratitude for the tremendous contribution that they made to the policing of the dispute. They can look back with pride to the part they played in the policing operation. Their efforts helped to secure the preservation of a basic liberty—the freedom to go to work.
I come to the Commissioner's plans for 1985. First, I will state the position about the resources available to the Metropolitan police for this year. There have been no cuts in their budget. In fact, the Metropolitan police have more resources than ever before. Let us examine the record. When we took office in 1979, the establishment was 26,589. It now stands at 27,165. More important, in May 1979, the strength was 22,225, 4,364 below establishment. At the last count, the strength was 26,699. The total strength — civilians as well as police officers — has increased by no fewer than 5,850.
To put it in perspective, the increase in police strength is roughly equivalent to the entire force in Merseyside, one of the largest provincial police forces. The budget for 1985–86 is £763 million, 5 per cent. higher than the equivalent figure for last year. These are considerable 1201 resources by any standards. Of course, anyone running the force would ideally like still more, but the Commissioner accepts that resources are finite and that the existing resources must be put to best use.
The Commissioner has made it clear that the force, like everyone else, must live within its means. Like any other large organisation, there is scope for increased efficiency in the use of resources. Last year, for the first time, I decided that the Metropolitan police budget should be cash-limited. There is nothing new or unusual about cash limits. This year, 62 per cent. of Government public spending is cash-limited. Almost all defence spending, for example, is cash-limited, as in my Department is the prisons Vote.
The introduction of a cash limit does not mean a reduction in expenditure; one can increase expenditure enormously and still need a cash limit. The point is, rather, that a cash limit is a healthy discipline and a spur to increased efficiency. It means taking budgets seriously. Indeed, the Commissioner makes the point clearly in his annual report that the cash limit underpins all his other efforts to sharpen up the efficient management of resources.
It is against the background of increased resources for the Metropolitan police that the recently announced reduction in planned expenditure should be viewed. After the cash limit was set in February, it became apparent that there would be unforeseen increases in parts of the budget. Therefore, properly and prudently, the Commissioner took stock of the situation and decided on compensating economies in other areas. But, as he has pointed out, many of these are simply a matter of good housekeeping. The strategy for 1985 remains fully in force.
That strategy consists this year of a single goal—to improve the quality of service to the public—and that goal will have four elements. The first — carried over from 1984—will be the reduction of opportunities for crime through crime prevention initiatives and fostering contact, involvement and co-operation with the public. One of the main aims will be the further development of community-police consultative arrangements. These arrangements have been on a statutory basis since the beginning of this year, when section 106 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 came into force. The Act places a duty on the Commissioner to establish consultative arrangements throughout the Metropolitan police district, taking account of the guidance that I issued on 25 January. To date there are arrangements broadly conforming to the guidance in 26 of the 40 boroughs and districts. The Commissioner will be doing all that he can to fill the gaps as quickly as possible.
The Commissioner is—as he is required to do under the Act — consulting the local authorities concerned. Some are still considering their response. Others, such as Hackney, have said that they will not take part in any arrangements which are not based on their police committees—committees which purport to hold the Metropolitan police to account. I have two comments about that position. First, their approach is contrary to the law that Parliament has laid down. Secondly, there can be no justification for these boroughs trying — for purely political reasons—to block the setting up of consultative arrangements which would be of inestimable benefit to those living in the boroughs.
These attempts will not succeed. Consultative arrangements will be established in those boroughs. The 1202 Commissioner and I would both greatly prefer that the borough councils take part, but if they refuse they cannot be compelled to do so, and arrangements will have to be set up without them.
The second element of the goal for 1985 is, again, the enhanced detection of specified target offences. The Commissioner has added to the list two areas which have rightly caused profound concern over the past year: drugs and racial attacks.
London has suffered more from the menace of hard drugs than any other part of the country. The Commissioner is fully aware of the gravity of the threat that they present. The central drugs squad has been committed to the investigation of large-scale suppliers and manufacturers of drugs. This has had results. The amount of heroin seized has quadrupled. In the force as a whole, there were more drugs seizures in 1984 than the year before. 25 kg of heroin, 3.7 kg of cocaine and 747 kg of cannabis were seized. Arrests for trafficking rose by 31 per cent. At the local level, district commanders have taken a wide variety of initiatives, many of them as part of a co-operative effort with other local agencies. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary visited a very encouraging project in Southwark last January. More, much more, remains to be done. The Metropolitan police will be taking a full part in the national police commitment to deal with drugs crime.
I am sure that the House will also welcome the increased priority attached by the Commissioner to eradicating racial attacks. It is intolerable that whole communities in the east end of London—hard-working and law-abiding communities—should have their lives blighted by the fear of racist violence. My hon. Friend the Minister of State visited Tower Hamlets in February to discuss the situation with community representatives and the police. What he saw left him in no doubt that the problem is a grave one, but one which is being tackled with a will. The police cannot solve it on their own, but the Commissioner intends to ensure that they respond promptly and effectively to attacks; and, in the wider context, to develop a multi-agency approach to the problem, which I think is what is needed.
The force reorganisation is the principal part of the third element of the force goal for 1985 — the effective, efficient and economical use of resources. This is probably the most fundamental reorganisation that the force has undergone this century. Careful and thorough research pointed clearly to the conclusion that the present structure is too centralised and has to be changed.
After discussing this with me, the Commissioner announced last November a number of fundamental changes, which have my full support. The size and scope of headquarters will be considerably reduced. Some officers working at headquarters will be freed for operational duties. One tier of territorial command will be removed by abolishing the present four areas and 24 districts and putting eight new areas in their place. Responsibility and accountability will be devolved downwards wherever possible. The division will become the fundamental unit of policing. These basic principles of the reorganisation are now settled, but many important questions on how these principles will be implemented are still up for discussion and decision. The process of implementation will take about two years.
I know that there has been concern that there was not consultation before these changes were announced. A number of right hon. and hon. Members have told me that 1203 they regretted the absence of prior consultation. Some community-police consultative groups have also expressed their disappointment. I entirely understand these feelings. But the Commissioner judged—and I agreed—that the changes were so essential that extensive consultation would have caused only damaging delay and uncertainty. The morale and efficiency of the force would have been at risk. But, as I have said, the changes announced so far—this is the key issue—amount to no more than the bare bones of the reorganisation. The Commissioner is committed to widespread consultation with all concerned as the flesh is put on these bones.
This is true, above all, of the effect of the new force structure on community-police consultative arrangements. I know that several consultative groups, in the inner London boroughs especially, are worried that the loss of district commanders will undermine their borough-wide basis. The Commissioner is keenly aware of these concerns. He is determined to find answers to these worries, so that the invaluable work done by consultative groups is not impeded.
In line with the general aim of the reorganisation, the Commissioner hopes that groups will come to regard divisional chief superintendents as the focal point for consultation. Many of the issues discussed in consultative groups are essentially local, affecting only one division, or even part of a division. The divisional chief superintendent, the officer with direct operational responsibility, is often best placed to respond to them.
But the Commissioner fully accepts that problems may arise particularly in boroughs such as Lambeth which cover three or more divisions. Consultative groups in these boroughs may well feel the need for a more senior officer, with wider responsibilities, to attend meetings. The Commissioner therefore accepts that it may be useful in these cases for a commander — or even the deputy assistant commissioner—from the new area headquarters to attend meetings, if the group so wishes.
Neither the Commissioner nor I is advancing this possibility as a blueprint for adoption by all groups. It must be for each group to decide, in consultation with the police, how consultative arrangements can best work under the new force structure. Surely the important thing now is for each group to sit down with the local police and work out acceptable arrangements. I am very pleased that the Lambeth group—in a characteristically constructive and forward-looking fashion—has already started to do this.
The reorganisation is by no means the only strand in the Commissioner's efforts to improve—
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
In touching on a fundamental matter, the Home Secretary has been both reassuring and perhaps disappointing. He has not made it clear whether the figure of eight new areas has been set in concrete without the consultation to which he referred and without paying attention to the strong, serious and formal representations which were made to the Commissioner, or whether it is for further consideration and that it might conceivably be increased.
§ Mr. Brittan
I would not be presenting an accurate picture if I led the hon. Gentleman to think that it is at all likely that the figure will be changed.
§ Mr. Brittan
I understand what the hon. Gentleman has said and I am grateful for his acceptance that on other issues I have given a measure of reassurance. The reorganisation is by no means the only strand in the Commissioner's efforts to improve efficiency and economy in the force. As police authority, I naturally take a close personal interest in this part of the strategy. There are a number of areas to which I have asked the Commissioner to pay special attention.
As manpower absorbs nearly 80 per cent. of the force's resources, the handling of it must be the prime object of the Commissioner's efforts. The aim is simply to free as many officers as possible for operational deployment. There are two specific areas on which I have asked him to concentrate. First, the force reorganisation will enable him to move police officers from administrative jobs at headquarters to operational jobs on the ground. I have asked the Commissioner to maximise the number redeployed in that way. I have said that I wish a minimum of 200 officers to be redeployed by the time that the reorganisation is completed. The second area is civilianisation. I have already mentioned that nearly 150 posts were civilianised last year. I have told the Commissioner that the search for further posts must continue. I shall agree with him targets for further substantial civilianisation when we discuss his strategy for next year; and I shall expect to see them reflected in his strategy report. To help in this, I have just agreed to an increase of over 40 in the civil staff specifically for civilianisation, on top of the increase of 132 posts that I announced last October for this year.
Equipment too is a major area of expenditure, especially vehicles. The Metropolitan police has a fleet of over 4,000 vehicles, which costs about £20 million a year. A joint review of the fleet is being carried out by the Home Office and the Metropolitan police to ensure that it meets the needs of the force as economically, efficiently and effectively as possible. The Home Office has engaged a consultant to advise the review body. As well as looking at the size of the fleet, the review will examine how the fleet is managed and the scope for contracting out. Pending the completion of the review, I have placed an upper ceiling on the total size of the Metropolitan police vehicle fleet of 4,150 vehicles.
At my request, the Commissioner and the receiver are also examining whether it would be more economical and efficient to contract out a variety of functions presently performed in house. Cleaning services have been contracted out in over 200 buildings. Further studies are in progress—for instance, on vehicle removals, wheel clamping and car pounds. My officials will be examining carefully the findings of those studies. I shall expect the Commissioner in his next strategy report to give an account of the results achieved, and to set out a programme of further studies.
The fourth element of the force goal is to develop corporate and personal professionalism. The main initiative here has been the new handbook of policing principles and guidance for professional behaviour. It is divided into two parts. The first—the policing principles of the Metropolitan police—is the first attempt to set down comprehensively the duties of the Metropolitan police since that made by Sir Richard Mayne, one of the first Commissioners, in 1829. The second part — the guidance for professional behaviour — gives individual officers the guidance they need in carrying out their duties 1205 from day to day. It devotes considerable attention to the concept—crucial to police work — of discretion. In a very practical, down-to-earth way, using a wealth of helpful examples, it analyses the problems which officers face and points the way towards sensible solutions.
I warmly endorse the aims of the handbook. I am sure that it will have great declaratory value, but it will have practical value as well. Discussions about the handbook will be held at every level of the force. The aim is to encourage officers to come to grips with, and to reflect in their behaviour, the high standards of professionalism that it enjoins. Although directed primarily at the younger officer, it should challenge and stimulate also the most senior and experienced.
The handbook assumes all the more importance in the light of the findings of the Policy Studies Institute report. The report made a number of serious criticisms of the behaviour and professionalism of the Metropolitan police. The Commissioner was candid in his acceptance of many of those criticisms, and has been energetic in taking remedial action. For instance, he set up a working party to look at racism in the force, which has come up with many practical recommendations. Much more remains to be done. The handbook underpins those efforts.
There is one consistent theme in all the many changes that the force is undergoing—the effort by the Commissioner to make his force more purposive. The ability, energy and devotion to duty of Metropolitan police officers have never been open to doubt, but greater efforts are now being made to direct those energies effectively. Priorities are being laid down. Targets are being set. Systems are in place to review the priorities and to see whether the targets are being met. That helps the Commissioner to ensure that the force is being used to best effect, and it enables me to see whether the Commissioner has achieved the agreed goals set out in his strategy report.
All that implies a greater need than ever for the views of the public about policing to be expressed. Before drawing up his strategy, the Commissioner needs and wants to know what concerns Londoners most, but he and I also need to know the views of this House. That is why this debate is so important for the policing of London.
§ 10.5 am
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
If there is one paragraph in the report of the Commissioner, which was published a few days ago, which symbolises the finest qualities of the Metropolitan police it is the paragraph on page 72, which refers to Police Constable John Gordon, the dog handler who was critically injured in the bomb attack at Harrods. When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I visited some of those injured at Harrods, it was difficult to believe that Mr. Gordon could ever return to active service, yet, as a result, not just of dedicated medical attention, but even more of his own superb determination, he was back at work less than a year after he sustained his fearsome injuries.
In paying tribute to Police Constable Gordon, we pay tribute to all members of the Metropolitan and other police forces who have been injured in the pursuit of crime. In the light of the staggering complacency of the Home Secretary's speech, one would never think—
§ Mr. Kaufman
I wrote it in just now. I shall happily pass the text of my speech across to the Home Secretary for his further enlightenment when I have completed my speech.
In the light of the Home Secretary's increasingly staggering complacency, one would never think that this debate was taking place againt a background of unprecedented public confrontation between the Government and the police. In recent weeks, fierce attacks have been made on the Government by several chief constables in their annual reports, and a vote of no confidence in the Government was carried unanimously by the Police Federation. The Police Federation conference also saw fierce barracking of the Home Secretary.
Following the publication of the report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, there have been further critical statements from the Commissioner, leading to an ill-tempered response from the Home Secretary and, never to be outdone when shrill declarations are being made, by the Prime Minister. In many ways, the Commissioner's report, which we are considering today in the context of this debate, carries these controversies further, for while we are debating policing in the metropolitan area, many of the lessons can be applied to policing and to law and order problems throughout the country.
The report is extremely disturbing in many ways. The Opposition remain worried by the unsatisfactorily low proportion of women in the Metropolitan police. Last year, in the annual debate, the Home Secretary got into a great state about allegations that the Metropolitan police were operating a 10 per cent. quota of women in the force It is, therefore, just a little uncanny that 12 months after that debate we learn from this year's report that the proportion of women in the force is 9.3 per cent. Is that a quota, or a coincidence?
I would also welcome an explanation of why last year 13 per cent. of male applicants to join the force were accepted, compared with only 7 per cent. of women This might, of course, have something to do with the information contained in the report that 23 per cent. of male applicants were interviewed, but only 14 per cent. of women applicants. We should also like an explanation of that matter.
We share the Commissioner's concern that fewer applications for membership of the force have been received from members of the ethnic communities. At present, it seems that only about one half of 1 per cent. of the nation's police officers come forward from these communities. Part of the explanation may derive from a view contained in the annual report of the Commission for Racial Equality, which was also published a few days ago, which stated:There is ample evidence to suggest that black people generally believe the police to be fundamentally hostile to them.The CRE report goes on to suggest:The prospects of a truly multi-racial police force may ultimately depend upon the vigour with which the police get rid of racism in the force".In the light of that statement, and in the light also of the recognition of racism in the force by Lord Scarman, by the PSI report, to which the Home Secretary referred, and by the Home Secretary himself in the final debates on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, it is, to say the least, disappointing that the Commissioner's report contains not one word on that important subject. The subject is all the 1207 more important in view of what the report itself says about the disturbing number of racial attacks in London as well as in other places.
Those worrying statistics are only a part—although a highly disturbing part — of the grim and frightening picture provided in the Commissioner's report of the appalling crime wave that afflicts London in common with the rest of Britain. It is a crime wave the existence of which one would never guess from the half-hour speech to which we have just listened.
In the seventh year of this Conservative Government the crime figures are rising remorselessly, and the story told by the Commissioner's report, as by the figures for the whole country, is extremely alarming. Last year in London, crime rose by 9 per cent. to a new record level. Theft was up by 6 per cent., violence against the person was up by 7 per cent., robberies were up by 13 per cent. and burglarly was up by 10 per cent. Two thirds of burglaries took place in private homes, and those crimes were up even more than the average, by 11 per cent.
Not only has crime risen to historically high levels, but the ability of the police successfully to combat crime remains extremely unsatisfactory. Last year in the Metropolitan police area the overall clear-up rate for crime remained at a lamentable 17 per cent. The increase in the number of arrests, at 5 per cent., did not keep pace with the number of those who should have been arrested. Indeed, the actual arrest rate fell. The clear-up rate for theft was only 16 per cent., and for burglary only 10 per cent.
In his speech the Home Secretary made some selective comparisons about police strength now compared with when the Government took office, so let us look at the picture of crime in London now compared with what it was when the Prime Minister, who represents Finchley, and is therefore a London Member, first stepped through the doors of 10 Downing street in 1979.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
In the context of crime in London, will the right hon. Gentleman look at the Greater London council's video on policing in London and its effect? Will he repudiate the words in that commentary that communities must rebel, because that sort of thing must be significant in considering this subject?
§ Mr. Kaufman
When I listen to the hon. Gentleman, I feel that in fighting crime the real Dick Tracy would be more convenient for us.
§ Mr. Kaufman
By talking about the effect of a video which I and most people have not seen, the hon. Gentleman must not shuffle aside the crime rate that is afflicting London, information about which I shall now give to the House.
§ Mr. Brittan
Will the right hon. Gentleman help us? I appreciate that he is busy and has not had time to see the video, although much comment has been made about it. Will he agree to see it and express his views when he has done so?
§ Mr. Kaufman
If I have the time, I shall watch the video, but during the past couple of days I have been helping to win the Brecon and Radnor by-election. We have other preoccupations. If only the Home Secretary 1208 would devote himself to dealing with London crime rather than with one video cassette, perhaps the statistics that I am about to give the House would be more central to the issue.
It is absolutely typical of the Home Secretary, when we are facing the worst crime wave that this country has ever known, and the worst crime wave that London has ever known, and when he is the police authority for London, as he so satisfiedly told us, that, instead of telling us about crime for the past half hour, he devoted a section of his speech to a video which I, most of the country and most people in London have not seen, as well as to the miners' strike, to which I shall refer.
Let us hear about the crime over which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is presiding. Last year, 716,545 serious offences were reported as having been committed in London. That was a 26 per cent. increase on the 1978 figures. Violence against the person in London, under this Government, is up by 34 per cent. Burglary in London, under this Government, is up by 38 per cent. Criminal damage in London, under this Government, is up by 54 per cent. Let us look at the number of crimes committed per 1,000 of the population, again comparing the situation now with what it was when the Government came to office. All crime is up by 41 per cent. Violence against the person is up by 51 per cent., burglary is up by 54 per cent. and criminal damage is up by 71 per cent.
When the Government took office, 65 serious crimes were committed every hour in the Metropolitan police area. Now, 82 are committed every hour. When the Government took office, in the Metropolitan police area there were 39 crimes of violence every day. There are now 52 crimes of violence every day. When the Government took office there were 183 cases of criminal damage every day in the Metropolitan police area. There are now 281. Since the Government came to office, burglaries have risen from 336 a day to 461 a day. Since the Government came to office, thefts have risen from 888 a day to 1,022 a day.
When the right hon. Lady became Prime Minister, a serious crime happened somewhere in the metropolitan area every 56 seconds. Now, one takes place every 44 seconds. Is that less important than a GLC video? What is more, the fight against that disturbing escalation in crime is faltering. Again, during the right hon. Lady's period of office the total clear-up rate in the Metropolitan police area has fallen from 21 to 17 per cent. The clear-up rate for theft has fallen from 20 to 16 per cent. The clear-up rate for criminal damage has fallen from 14 to 11 per cent. The clear-up rate for burglary has fallen from 11 to 10 per cent.
As the Home Secretary said, the number of police has risen, but the number of crimes per policeman has risen faster — by 5 per cent. The clear-up rate per police officer has fallen by 16 per cent. under the Government. That is a devastating picture of crime in our capital and its surrounding area. It is provided by the Commissioner himself in the report before us.
The report reveals a particularly disturbing rate of crime among young people. Half of those arrested for notifiable offences were under 21 years of age. Of those arrested for robbery, 63 per cent. were aged under 21. Of those arrested for burglary, 62 per cent. were under 21. Of those arrested for motor cycle theft, over 70 per cent. were under 1209 21. What is more, not only were those arrested for crime predominantly young, but the victims of crime were often young, too.
Old people are understandably fearful of crime. We all know from our constituencies of the fear which prevents many old people from venturing out of doors or even from opening their doors to callers. That apprehension is real and must be taken seriously by all of us—I know that it is. The revelation in the Commissioner's report, however, is that only 3 per cent. of victims of violence against the person last year were over 60. Mugging victims are much more likely to be young people — 20 per cent. were schoolchildren. Those facts make a depressing picture.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the clear-up rate for offences about which the public are most worried is at least in part related to the trust and co-operation between the police and the public? Does he further agree that the GLC video, of which he was so dismissive, undermines some of that trust and co-operation?
§ Mr. Kaufman
If that little box contains all that the Government have to say about the crime rate, we are faced with a lamentable state of affairs. Trust between the public and the police is mentioned several times in the Commissioner's report and I have something rather more relevant and rather less trivial to say about it.
All of the facts add up to a depressing record, which is even more depressing in view of the complacent untruth in the Conservative party manifesto for the 1983 election. That misleading document said:already street crime is being reduced and public confidence improved in some of the worst inner-city areas.".That was the dishonest claim which was made only two years ago. The Metropolitan police crime statistics show that, since the Government were elected, there has been an 8.5 per cent. increase in fraud and that the clear-up rate for that crime has fallen badly. Although the crime figures for fraud must now be increased by adding this gross case of fraud to them, I can at least direct the police towards the culprit.
Why are we suffering from this unprecedented crime wave? The Home Secretary is laughing at his own election manifesto. Does he stand by it? Does he say now, two years after being elected on the basis of that fraud, that street crime is being reduced? Is he still saying that public confidence has improved in some of the worst inner-city areas? Would he like to come to the Dispatch Box and endorse what was in that manifesto and say that the same is true today? No. Perhaps the Home Secretary will now take the smirk off his face and listen to what is happening with crime in the metropolis, for which he, as he has told us, is personally responsible as the police authority.
Why are we suffering from this unprecedented crime wave, which disrupts the community in so many ways? The 1979 Conservative manifesto said:The police need more time to detect crime".It promised to ease the burdens on the police. That is another broken promise. The police themselves are now complaining about the extra, and often unnecessary, burdens being put on them which interfere with, or even disrupt, their principal duty of fighting crime. The Government are misusing the police in many ways. In so many ways, they are making the police either reluctant instruments, or even victims, of controversial Government policies.
1210 Page 109 of the Commissioner's report shows that he is apprehensive of the extra burden that will be put on the police by the Government's policy of privatising public transport. The report contains some pretty sharp comments for a non-political document. When discussing privatisation of the National Bus Company as it will affect operations in London, the report says:nothing has changed police views on the control of routes, termini and stopping places and the need for their adequate supervision, together with strictly enforced levels of maintenance.Implementation of the complexities of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 will undoubtedly distract the police from their most important duties.
In his recently published report the chief constable of Staffordshire said:Looking forward to 1985, I foresee continuing additional demands on our manpower resources should the NUM dispute continue. In addition, our manpower availability will be further depleted because of the extensive programme of training for all officers of the Force in preparation for the implementation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.That worry was echoed by the chief constable of Warwickshire, who, in his annual report, said:My biggest fear is that we will not be able to complete this very necessary training before we are obliged to commerce training of the whole Force on the changes in law and procedure resulting from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.Complaints were made at the recent Police Federation conference about the damaging effects on police efficiency of the Government's cuts in rate support grant and their grant penalties on local authorities. Police Constable Paul Middup, the chairman of the constables' section of the federation, said that, with other local government services, the police were forced to bear their share of spending cuts. He continued:Central government cannot duck the issue any longer. It is fast turning into a public scandal which is entirely of their making. They cannot blame the local authorities any longer.The anxiety is stated most comprehensively in the Commissioner's report. I shall quote it at some length. It says:There are clear signs already that demand has outstripped our capability to supply a comprehensive service"—we did not hear any of this from the Home Secretary—and we have been forced to concentrate upon partiular priorities within the totality of demand. The moment that an organisation begins to choose amongst corporate priorities, so follows inevitably the recognition that desirable goals will be left unpursued or, at best, given less weight from amongst fixed resources. Rigorously enforced cash limits are a challenge to our professionalism in matching our available resources against increasing demand. In seeking to operate responsibly within these limits we shall inevitably find ourselves less able to meet all of our commitments towards the general public in the way that we would wish. If we rise, for example, to a centrally counselled drive against drugs, which brings heavy demands on manpower through round-the-clock surveillance, then the existence of finite ceilings to manpower will dictate the removal of officers from other duties. The delicacy and sensitivity of the work requires the deployment of experienced officers, who are also in demand for other key areas of operational work — such as anti-robbery or anti-fraud duties.Nowhere is that misuse of the police against the inclinations and instincts of the police more clearly shown than in what the Commissioner says about the impact on his force of policing the miners' strike—an unnecessary dispute which was provoked by the Government for their own partisan purposes, as the public now say in all of the opinion surveys that we get.
Nobody knows exactly the financial cost of policing the miners' strike, but, for the country as a whole, it is almost 1211 certain to be £250 million, if not more. All of that money could more usefully have been used to fight crime in our villages, towns and cities. We know, however, that the cost to the Metropolitan police was £16.5 million and that nearly £7 million of that remains to be reimbursed. We know also that the Metropolitan police had to make cuts of £8 million in expenditure, which has not been reimbursed.—[interruption.] The local authorities did not want that to be done, but wanted the money which was provided for policing purposes to be spent on fighting crime, just as the Metropolitan police did.
§ Mr. Brittan
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that, faced with a dispute of that kind, conducted in that manner, riotous mobs should be allowed to go unchecked?
§ Mr. Kaufman
The trouble and the confrontation were of the Government's making. The police did not want to be involved. They wanted to be back on their beats fighting crime. They would have been fighting crime had it not been for the Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He stoked up the dispute in a way that no Home Secretary has ever done before.
§ Mr. Brittan
The right hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that a third of the miners continued to work and wanted to continue to work. They were able to do so against organised thuggery only because the police were there to protect them. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny rights to those trade unionists who wanted to go to work but who were not allowed to express their view in a ballot?
§ Mr. Kaufman
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a member of a Cabinet which denies the right to work to 4 million people who want to work. He is complacent about that. Let us hear, not what the Home Secretary in his heated moments, trying to prove his virility to the Prime Minister, says about this, but what the Commissioner says about the effect on his force of the Home Secretary's provocative policies. The Metropolitan police have had to make spending cuts of £8 million because of the costs of the miners' strike, which have not yet been reimbursed.
Assistant Commissioner Dear wrote a letter to The Times, in which he pointed out that the Metropolitan police had provided up to a quarter of all the additional police manpower during the dispute — up to 2,000 officers each week, and over 250,000 individual tours of duty. In his report the Commissioner said:The manpower commitment to the miners' strike throughout the past year has resulted in a considerable reduction in the attendances at training when compared with the previous year.Let us hear what the Commissioner says about the result of those absences:Recorded crime has increased and, although crime figures are notoriously resistant to accurate analysis, the absence of so many officers looks persuasive when we try to explain the increase … The mutual aid supplied to forces directly concerned with the miners' dispute inevitably reduced the number of officers available for duty in the metropolis during the last three quarters of 1984. The effects of this reduction on some police activities can be illustrated by a number of statistics; it is likely to have been a major cause of the comparative reductions in both the number of arrests and the number of stops made by this Force during the period of the dispute. The effects of the dispute on offences committed and offences reported by the public cannot be satisfactorily estimated.There were only two weeks when no Metropolitan officers were sent to the coalfields, and the distractions 1212 from the necessary work of the police are demonstrated by the reference in the report, unprecedented so far as I can ascertain in any report by the Commissioner, to the role during the strike of the national reporting centre. This is not properly a subject for a report by the Commissioner, since it is an ad hoc body. It is not under the Metropolitan police or any police force. It is under the trade union of chief police officers, the Association of Chief Police Officers. The activities of the national reporting centre during the year of the strike have so discredited it that it is not being used for the co-ordination of the work against the IRA bombers which the Home Secretary announced on Tuesday, which might be regarded as a proper reason for the activation of a genuine national reporting centre.
We have an unprecedented crime wave and a police force which, despite its best endeavours, is too overstretched and too distracted by other tasks adequately to tackle the crime wave. Moreover, these distractions are unfortunately tending to undermine the confidence in the police among the public, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, which is essential for a successful attack on crime.
In his report the Commissioner repeatedly emphasises the need for public confidence. On page 1 he refers to the need fora police service which sees itself firmly rooted in a consenting community rather than as a police force imposed upon an unwilling people.On page 7 he says that the work of the Metropolitan policerests upon the exercise of authority—and occasionally force where necessary — and the legitimacy of that authority rests not only on the fact of the law but also on the will of the community: remove either and the police become oppressive.On page 14 the Commissioner makes the frank admission:Great emphasise has been laid in my strategic approach to the policing of London upon the requirement on Metropolitan Police Officers to observe the rule of law — to police within what has been called the 'due process'. This requirement is unequivocal and always has been; if police officers do not abide by the law, then any credibility they seek in requiring or persuading others to do so in a consensual society is put in jeopardy. Police officers have not always risen to this demand. On occasions they have, quite wrongly, behaved in ways suggesting that they were anticipating — and pre-empting — failures of the judicial process to deliver what they would have viewed as justice.That is not a GLC video, but the Commissioner admitting to shortcomings in his own force which he believes should be put right.
It is not the role of the Commissioner to discuss in detail the causes of crime, but it is essential for the House of Commons to do so. We can see the causes all about us. Cuts in public transport mean that more people are alone on the streets at night. Cuts in the housing programme mean that there is more derelict property, a prime target for vandalism and a haven for criminals to lurk in. Cuts in local authority finance reduce road maintenance and street lighting. Cuts in Customs and Excise staff mean that drug runners have an easier time.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Government have just increased by 50 the strength of those responsible in Customs and Excise for investigations. The chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue says that he is perfectly satisfied with the strength — about 250 — of his investigation force. This has nothing to do with customs officers generally.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Following the hon. Gentleman's comments after the publication of the Select Committee's report and that creep-like intervention, he must be well in line for the knighthood that he is seeking. A tiny increase now does not compensate for the massive decrease under this Government. The hon. Gentleman had better get his Select Committee to look up the figures before he comes here with his usual crawling remarks from the Back Benches.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent about face by the Government and the appointment of 50 new customs officers should be put into perspective? Customs and Excise deployed more than 40 officers to raid and read the books taken from the "Gay's The Word" bookshop.
§ Mr. Kaufman
It is a question of priorities, and the Home Secretary gives his priorities to the House of Commons. The cuts in VAT and Inland Revenue staff —[Interruption.] The Home Secretary had better tell us whether he regards books sold by "Gay's The Word" as a greater narcotic than the kind of drugs that we are seeking to fight, against which the Government's fight has been faltering since they came to office. The cuts in VAT and Inland Revenue staff not only affect the fight against drug pushers but give an easier passage to fraud. Fraud means loss and even financial ruin for its victims.
Another ingredient is the increase in unemployment. Unemployment in Greater London is now three times higher than it was when Labour left office. For young people it is nearly four times as great. This was curtly dismissed as a crime factor in a recent interview given by the Home Secretary to the Financial Times.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman said that. The interviewer said:The Home Secretary, who was relaxed, confident and clearly enjoying his portfolio … said Home Office research suggested that the general perception of a link between unemployment and crime was unfounded.That view was not shared by one of the Home Secretary's predecessors, who said:If we can nip in the bud criminal tendencies in people then we would be going a long way towards easing the pressures on our police … Undoubtedly, economic mismanagement … where that leads to high levels of unemployment, especially amongst young people, also contributes considerably to increasing the number of those tempted into a criminal life.That was Lord Whitelaw speaking when he had the responsibilities that I had as a Minister. True, he went on to make a joke about it, saying:The only real remedy for this situation is a vigorous pursuit of Conservative economic and social policies.As was so often the case, Lord Whitelaw understood the cause, even if he was wrong about the remedy.
As we approach the time when the Labour party will be asked to accept responsibility for the government of our country, we shall not make the Tory mistake or commit the Tory deception of offering gimmicks and platitudes or pretend cynically that it is simple to deal with a profoundly difficult social problem.
We commit ourselves to taking action that will help to create conditions which will make it easier for the police to do their job and more difficult for criminals to do their worst. We will seek to remedy some of the conditions that foster crime and create criminals. We will make it more difficult for criminals to get hold of guns, by restricting 1214 their availability. We will tackle the problem of shotguns falling into the hands of people with no good reason to possess them, while safeguarding the rights of those with a legitimate use for one in work or sport.
We will take urgent action against the drug traffic, and will increase the resources available to all those involved in fighting the drug traffic. We will do everything possible to ensure that drug dealers are detected, convicted and given sentences appropriate to the seriousness of their crime. We will tackle the social and economic factors that help to make people, especially the young, vulnerable to drug abuse. We will put an end to the Government's penal policies against local authorities. We will seek to improve life in the areas that are most crime-ridden, where despair leads to alienation and alienation turns into criminal behaviour.
We will give a high priority to restoring local services. Cuts in those services have meant fewer caretakers, park keepers and public servants, whose presence can deter crime and vandalism. A better housing programme and improvements in the environment can tackle certain types of crime at their roots.
Seeking to remedy these problems is not easy, cheap or quick, but it is easier, cheaper and quicker than dealing with the dire results of social neglect. The crime wave is one of the results of social neglect with which our people must live.
When he was shadow Home Secretary, Lord Whitelaw said:A Government that cannot protect its own citizens from attack in the streets of its towns and cities, that cannot protect property from damage, or homes from intrusion, has failed to live up to the basic duties of Government.By their own standards, and on their own tests, this Government have failed. Their departure, which is ever more likely, will give the nation a new chance to combat the crime wave which will be the Prime Minister's grim legacy to the nation which she has so ill served.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
Connoisseurs of hypocrisy will find a great deal to treasure and savour in the speech of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). I am sure that I shall read with pleasure one astonishing passage when he commented, with evident approval, on a chief constable who was complaining about the additional manpower requirement that would be imposed on his force by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. There will be additional requirements, some of which will be excessive. In so far as they are excessive, it is because my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was perhaps unwise in accepting the amendments tabled by the Opposition in Committee and on Report.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Gentleman did not serve on the Standing Committee. If he had done so, he would have known that the Home Secretary did not accept anything. He was there for only 3 per cent. of the Committee's 147 hours.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
Connoisseurs of hypocrisy will look at that statement as well. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman could not bring himself — although one gathers that he has completed his reselection process — to condemn the savage attacks perpetrated on the Metropolitan police by the GLC and that he was not able 1215 to dissociate himself from the attacks, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary described as divisive, deliberate attempts to turn the community against the Metropolitan police.
§ Mr. Dobson
Have any people, other than a series of Conservative Members of Parliament, received this GLC video?
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
I was not referring to the GLC video. I have not had the misfortune to see it. During the past year, like every other hon. Member representing the metropolis, I have received, and occasionally read, a vast amount of damaging, libellous and false literature from the GLC attacking the police.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the video is "damaging, libellous and false", should he not make arrangements, first, to see it for himself and, secondly, to go to the GLC, buy a copy and have it placed in the Library so that other hon. Members may see it as well?
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
The hon. Gentleman, who is one of the leaders in the assault on the police and who is deliberately attempting to stir up a dislike and distrust of the police, refers to the GLC video. I am not referring to that video.
§ Mr. Corbynrose—
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
I am referring to the mass of propaganda put out by the GLC, of which this video may have been one of the worst aspects.
§ Mr. Corbyn
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The person who is on his feet has just—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]—ascribed a number of remarks to me. Would he care to inform the House when those statement were made, so that the House may have a correct record?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. I have heard nothing so far which is out of order, although I have heard a great deal of discourtesy.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
At some later date I would gladly go through the hon. Gentleman's record on that point both inside and outside the House. However, I wish to move on to regret that the right hon. Member for Gorton in his adroit speech was, alas, unable whole-heartedly to recommend the ethnic minorities to join the police force. Nothing will do more good for ethnic relations with the police than to increase ethnic recruiting. I am sorry that he was unable whole-heartedly to recommend a substantial increase in recruitment from the ethnic communities.
I am also sorry that the right hon. Gentleman seemed incapable of paying whole-hearted tribute to the work of the Metropolitan police in past years to improve their relationship with the community as a whole.
I was delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was able in his admirable speech to pay tribute to the role of the special constabulary in past years.
I am delighted to find in the Commissioner's report that the increase in recruitment to the special constabulary is 1216 continuing, and to note that in the first month an extra 125 recruits joined the special constabulary. However, more can be done, in particular by Home Office Ministers, by increasing the specials' allowances. That will have a substantial and beneficial effect on increasing recruitment. The Commissioner has imaginative programmes for the deployment and use of the specials.
I regret that in the speeches of both my right hon. and learned Friend and the right hon. Gentleman there was no reference to traffic accidents and road safety. They made a great many references to violent crime in the capital. Violent crime undoubtedly worries a great many of my constituents. During the past 12 months many people have been killed and injured because of it. But even in our violent capital city the average citizen is three times as likely to be killed or injured by a motorist than by a criminal.
In my London borough of Bromley in 1984 no fewer than 1,639 people were injured and 15 killed in road accidents. That is three times the number who suffered death or injury at the hands of criminals. Therefore, I regret that in the past couple of years the Commissioner has seen fit to move officers from the traffic section, which is responsible for road safety, rather than to increase and strengthen it. There are 27,000 Metropolitan men and women police officers. The strength of the traffic branch was 1,000—less than 5 per cent. of the force—but the Commissioner has reduced that by some 200. That is a mistaken sense of priorities. My constituents are becoming increasingly worried about road safety and the way in which our traffic laws are ignored.
At the end of last year I visited the state of Victoria in Australia. In the 1970s as a result of a campaign by the press, local politicians, doctors and the police, the state was able to halve the number of road fatalities. I learnt that the state put 20 per cent. of the force on traffic safety. No police force here comes within half that figure. We should give the subject a higher priority.
My right hon. and learned Friend and the right hon. Gentleman made scant reference to fraud and white collar crime, yet this year fraud in the City and elsewhere has been increasing substantially. The saga at Lloyds is a reminder that we have not got this aspect of policing quite right. In this matter, although not in many others, we could learn considerably by studying the crime fighting organisation across the Atlantic. The American system of district attorney offices is more effective in combating fraud than our system of the fraud squad and Director of Public Prosecutions. I hope that that can be looked at. I do not cast aspersions on the intellectual calibre of the recruits to the Metropolitan police because one of the best features of the Commissioner's report is his emphasis on their high quality.
Fraud is not as eye-catching a subject as terrorism. Again, we all have reason to pay tribute to the skill and courage of the police, and to single out for praise the antiterrorist squad, which does so much to protect us from the outrages of evil men.
One aspect of the terrorist problem does not often get the attention that it deserves. We see London as a prime target for terrorism, but other countries and other police forces sometimes regard London as a home for terrorists. In considering our problems with the Provisional IRA we are often very ready to criticise the American authorities 1217 for a perceived lack of vigour in tackling IRA support in various cities in the United States. Yet we have the same problem.
I have considerable sympathy for the Sikh community in this country and I recognise that many of its members have substantial grievances in relation to past policies of the Indian Government. Nevertheless, there is substantial concern on the part of the Indian Government that various Sikh groups in this country are giving overt or covert support to terrorism in the Indian subcontinent. The antiterrorist branch of the Metropolitan police cannot be expected to deal with that problem single handed. There should be substantial co-operation between the Foreign Office and the Metropolitan police, which does not seem to exist at present, in the surveillance and control of groups who from time to time seek to foster terrorism overseas. We give an extraordinary latitude in freedom and of speech and action to those who seek asylum here as political refugees, but we must ensure that they do not abuse that asylum. I am sure, however, that in this as in so many other tasks the Metropolitan police will prove yet again that they are equal to the challenge.
§ 11.2 am
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Before dealing with the Commissioner's report, I wish to comment on some of the points raised in the debate so far.
Terrorism is one of the problems that London has to face, as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) rightly said, but terrorism arises from those who believe that they are so enlightened and have so much access to the truth that they are prepared to use violence in pursuit of their faith. Causing bodily harm with bombs and rockets catches the headlines, as the distressful events of the past few days have shown, but there are other kinds of violence. I am sorry that the Home Secretary has left, but I hope that he will read my comments.
I refer to exchanges in the House on an earlier occasion about the severe drain on the Metropolitan police caused by the miners' dispute and its profound effect on the morale, activities and attitudes of the Metropolitan police. I believe that that dispute was unnecessary, but Conservative Members laughed out loud when my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) dared to suggest that it might have been deliberately precipitated. This is a debating Chamber and I wish to dwell for a moment on that issue because it is a well-known and well-documented fact that five years or more ago a certain right hon. Gentleman advocated certain lines of action for the Conservative party.
A year ago, I wrote to Mr. MacGregor about Cortonwood. I am not a mining Member, but I happen to know something about that issue. I received no reply from Mr. MacGregor, but I received a reply from his deputy. I am satisfied that the action taken at Cortonwood was provocative and ill-considered and may have been designed to precipitate a dispute. I put it no higher than that, but it is certainly no laughing matter. One of the problems in this country and throughout the world is that people dismiss basic points about so many things that go wrong without properly examining the small print.
§ Mr. Tracey
This is a very serious matter, but does the hon. Gentleman deny the words of Mr. Arthur Scargill and Mr. Ken Livingstone—the hon. Gentleman is probably more familiar with them than I am—as reported in the 1218 Morning Star, that they saw the dispute as an opportunity to bring down the Conservative Government? Does he deny those specific words in black and white?
§ Mr. Spearing
I am not responsible for the remarks of either of those gentlemen or for what is printed in newspapers, but I am concerned about the laughter that greeted my right hon. Friend's suggestion, because laughter is not appropriate when there is evidence to show that the true situation is very deep.
When the Conservatives talk about violence, their immediate reaction is to escalate policing. I do not blame them for that. That is how they have been brought up and that is how they think. They do not go for the root causes or for earlier action to prevent the violence. In that context, I include constitutional violence. I shall not dwell on GCHQ or the Levene case, which would have had Mr. Gladstone revolving in his grave, but there was certainly constitutional violence in those cases.
On the Commissioner's report and the speech of the Home Secretary, I endorse the apposite comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, who rightly corrected the short, narrow and somewhat lukewarm introduction from the Home Secretary—who, after all, is the Cabinet Minister responsible to the House for these matters. I welcome the wide scope of the Commissioner's report. It gives us a great deal more information than we had before and to that extent the Commissioner is to be congratulated.
I also congratulate the Commissioner on two initiatives that he has taken during the year. The Home Secretary has already referred to the first of these — the official attitude of the police to racial attacks. In the end, of course, what really counts is the attitude of individual constables and station sergeants and the way in which the machinery operates when incidents of this kind or the risk of such incidents occur in any given area.
In this context, I pay tribute to the greater sensitivity shown by the police in my part of Newham—I cannot speak for any other part. These matters depend on sensitivity and local links, which may not necessarily be formal, and on confidence and co-ordination between the police and leaders in the community. That is something for which one cannot legislate and which cannot be created by writing enlightened paragraphs into annual reports or making enlightened speeches on the subject. It has to be worked on, people have to take initiatives, and the police are in a central position because it is they who are able to take initiatives which will count. So I offer my congratulations to the Commissioner in that respect.
The second cause for congratulation is the Commissioner's initiative in respect of membership of those organisations whose members are not readily identifiable. I leave it at that. It was a bold initiative and a correct one. Any person in public life, whether he is a Member of the House, a policeman or an official in local government, should be known to the public if he has any obligations which may affect the discharge of his public duties. In that respect, the Commissioner's action was welcome and bold.
The theme of the report is community policing. The Home Secretary himself laid stress upon the formal arrangements that he hoped to initiate in the boroughs, and referred to some of the less formal ones. I believe that both are important, but even more fundamental is the combination of theory and practice.
1219 What might be called the Newman regime at Scotland Yard has been described by some people as cerebral policing. That is welcome, because the old image of the policeman was that cerebral activity was less marked than some other activities. That bias is welcome, therefore as far as it goes, but it is not enough. We have to think and to discuss, but we have to be practical as well. It is what happens on the street and what happens in incidents as well as what happens in blueprints and theories that makes for success, as it does in all that we do, especially all that Governments do. In that connection, I have some less welcome comments to make, but I hope that they will be regarded as constructive.
The first is in respect of the exercise of new police powers. Under the new Police and Criminal Evidence Act — I cannot remember when it comes into force, but it cannot be very far off — big new powers will be available to police constables on the beat and to the officers who direct them when there are a number together, whether they are whizzing round in white vans or are at large demonstrations.
I shall not go into the merits of that Act, because they have been discussed; in any event my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) is in a much better position to speak expertly about them than I am. However, the degree to which those powers are used by individual constables in the first instance and the degree of sensitivity, imagination, common sense, sense of proportion and perhaps sense of humour displayed by those constables are all-important. Incidents can be sparked off by any combination or lack of those and rapidly get out of hand. That is very important in the use of these new powers.
We tend to forget that the discretion of a single constable is at the heart of policing. He does not have to use the powers available to him. Deciding that cannot be legislated for by senior officers. It is up to him, because the powers of constables are vested in each member of the force. We can write as many blueprints as we wish in respect of these new powers, many of which are controversial, but the decision to use them rests with the individual constable.
I touched upon my second criticism when I intervened in the Home Secretary's speech. It has to do with the reorganisation, and it is referred to on pages 25 and 26 of the Commissioner's report. I am sorry to see that everything else in the report is to some extent negatived by what has happened, and I regret the lack of reassurance that I was able to obtain from the Home Secretary. If I was disorderly on that occasion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will understand why.
The Commissioner's report is extremely enlightened, in theory. He is concerned with public perceptions, public preferences and the priorities that the police have to address to meet the expectations in any one community. However, the reorganisation proposals which have been launched and which I am glad to hear have not yet been completed are fundamental in many ways to how those aims are discharged.
It is generally known in London that the reorganisation of the police into three tiers of command was unsatisfactory. The areas themselves were unsatisfactory. Many of them go back to Victorian times and take no account of the motor car, let alone the helicopter and more 1220 recent technological advances. In general, much of what is said on pages 25 and 26 of the report is right. There ought to be larger areas. There ought to be greater scope for senior officers to exercise individual responsibility. It may be that we need to compare some of the new areas with forces outside the United Kingdom for all sorts of reasons, especially bringing in new talent and enabling experienced officers of the Metropolitan police to obtain posts outside. Matters such as that are very important, but overriding all else we have to reflect the needs and expectations of the public, and that is where in one respect there is a grave error.
The Commissioner says on page 26 of his report:To date only the broad outlines of the reorganisation have been determined.The Home Secretary went a bit further and said that it had not been finalised. However, in practical terms it had gone rather further in respect of the allocation of stations, preliminary thoughts about areas, and so on.
One controversial issue that has been around for six months or more is not the principles of the reorganisation, which are generally understood and not too controversial, but the eight new areas which are to be determined.
The theory is that there is to be a petal pattern in London, and I go along with that. There is to be one central area covering the well-understood special needs of Whitehall, Parliament, the Palace, the west end and the City. Round it, there are to be seven other areas going out like a petal covering London. That makes an attractive and common-sense picture. However, certain areas of inner London whose needs are very special will now not be under one unified police command, whatever the quality of police-public relations, but are to be split among as many as three areas.
The single central district is solely north of the river, perhaps with a temporary extension across Westminster bridge if there is a procession. It does not extend to the urban areas of south London.
This will not affect east London greatly, except that in the London borough of Newham there are at present two police districts which are conterminous with broadly different parts of the borough and reflect the different needs and the different things that happen in those areas, some good and some not so good.
The reorganisation in south London which affects the well-being of policing and the community is not oriented to those needs. Worse, there was not adequate consultation before the possibility of an extra area in the south was ruled out. This is a major reorganisation, and the Home Secretary admitted that there was not satisfactory early consultation. I understand that business organisations were consulted, not about their views of the reorganisation, but about administration. However, hon. Members were not consulted.
Many commercial organisations to which the Government urge us to go for expertise have certain qualities but providing a complex service immediately is not their responsibility. Marks and Spencer, McDonald's and other big food companies do not have to stock anything that they do not want to sell. They do not have to be where they do not want to be. Modern business, which is so lauded by Government Members, does not have to cater for complex needs in the same way as the Health Service or the police. Inbuilt constraints and qualities are entirely absent.
1221 The police, like the fire and the ambulance services and local authority social services, which Government Members so often criticise, have to meet difficult and intractable situations. They cannot refuse to meet the demand. Marks and Spencer does not have to stock anything that it does not want to stock. The opposite is true of the police and many other civic services.
The people who are involved in comparable spheres, such as probation officers, social workers, local authority councillors and, indeed, Members of Parliament, must be consulted. I hope that Government Members agree with me, because they know that many problems are almost insoluble and require a great deal of capital effort by them and others before they can be solved. Such problems require the commitment of personal time so that they do not escalate. Communication with others skilled in particular arts is essential. Keen Government Members will have developed a network of communication locally, involving a host of people upon whose advice and co-operation they can rely and which is readily given. Without that, we could not fulfil our function.
Such a network is often related to a civic structure. Everything is centred on the town halls, particularly in London. The statutory structure of local government—what is left of it—is under pressure. Splitting a single London borough three ways for policing will create difficulties. Inner London, with its own historic, social and ethnic problems, is to be split so that the area headquarters and the weight of activity is in the outer areas. That will cause trouble.
I understand that the area of conflagration four summers ago will be subject to such a dissection. Everyone asked then, "What's gone wrong?" We know what went wrong—stop and search in Brixton was used ill-advisedly. There was an escalation caused by the misuse of police powers and the incident got out of control. That was at a time when there was a single police command. Conditions and understanding have improved, but that is all to be changed.
Some hon. Members laughed when I mentioned the Cortonwood example. There has been no proper analysis of the police role, in spite of all the brave words in the report and the excellence of hon. Members' speeches.
Whitehall, Buckingham Palace, the west end and the City are exceptional and need a different type of policing. That area is unique and perhaps experience there will not stand an officer in good stead for promotion in a county or provincial town. However, unless we pay attention to the special needs of other parts of London which are dissimilar to the outer areas and which can have a coherent police presence, whereby all the sensitivities listed in the report can be dealt with as a whole, the rest of the report might as well be forgotten.
I hope that it is not too late. During the Home Secretary's speech, I asked whether he could assure us that we could re-examine the proposal for eight areas. On the spot, he was unable to give me that assurance, and I understand that, but the fact that he could not give that assurance shows that insufficient attention has been paid to that aspect. It is a factor which involves not only the House but the morale of the police. It is a matter for the practical men who understand the problems and know what is required.
I support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said. I give two cheers for this enlarged and informative report. I hope that cerebral policing can be 1222 extended to practical policing and that the combination of both will give us a police force of which London can be proud and in which we can have confidence.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and I welcome his thoughtful speech. I join him in congratulating the Commissioner on the excellent quality and constructive nature of the report.
Alas, one can only say that the speech by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was long on invective but short on solutions. The only part of his speech about which the House can unite is that which referred to the bravery and courage of PC Gordon. The House will be aware from the Commissioner's report that many thousands of Metropolitan police officers are injured when on duty. We offer them all our best wishes. We recognise their bravery and courage in the way in which they carry out their duties in London, often under difficult circumstances.
The right hon. Member for Gorton seems to have forgotten the state of the police force before the Conservative Administration came to office in 1979. One of the most urgent and pressing tasks facing the new Conservative Government was to rebuild the police force, which had been neglected for some years and was in serious danger of becoming demoralised. That was affecting public confidence in the police.
As the Commissioner shows in his excellent report, the police themselves are the first to recognise that public support must be won and kept rather than taken for granted. Urgent action was needed in 1979 to boost confidence all round.
As is all too obvious from the newspapers and the media programmes these days, the police face an ever-increasing number of problems. Their priorities must be adjusted to reflect the crimes which worry the public most. As an example, in London the Metropolitan police have rightly made drug abuse, racial attacks and vandalism priorities for 1985 in response to public anxiety.
As a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee since 1979, 1 have taken a special interest in the police and race relations. Next Session the Race Relations and Immigration Sub-Committee intends to carry out an inquiry in the Bangladesh community. We shall examine the policing aspects, especially in the east end of London. It is important that all London citizens should feel that the police service relates to them and that their special problems are being considered.
When considering the extent of police resources, it is important for the House to remember that, since 1979, the resources allocated to the police have more than doubled., from £1.1 billion to £2.8 billion, and that total police manpower in England and Wales has increased by more than 12,000. However, in London, the Metropolitan police force-one of the oldest forces in Europe—has a supremely difficult task. It is responsible for nearly 7 million people who live in the Greater London area, as well as for the millions of people who visit the capita during the year. It also has responsibility for royalty and diplomatic protection, which has increased enormously in this age of terrorism. The fight against terrorism and the provision of special services, such as the central criminal intelligence office, and many other central responsibilities of the Metropolitan police are additional burdens.
1223 To help to counter London's crime the strength of the Metropolitan police has increased by 5,850 officers since 1979, to give it a total strength now of about 26,750. It is interesting to note that there is still scope for finding at least 400 more recruits to join the Metropolitan police today. In addition, the number of civilian support staff has increased by more than 1,250. Many of those civilian employees provide important services in the investigation and detection of crime.
No one pretends that increasing police strength alone is sufficient to beat crime, but without the increase the force, which was well below the recommended manpower level in 1979, simply could not have coped with the range of burdens that it must shoulder in 1985.
One way of making the best use of the resources allocated, which tackles not just the reality but the debilitating fear of crime, is to have more police officers on the beat. I am pleased to say that, since 1982, 942 police officers have been added to the Metropolitan police strength for street duties. That at least provides a reassurance to the public that the police are present.
The right hon. Member for Gorton was highly selective in his use of statistics from the Commissioner's report. The House should know that, in the past year, the Metropolitan police have had an excellent record of clearing up serious crimes. The clear-up rate for homicide was 77 per cent. — few capital cities in the world could equal that. Arrests for drug trafficking increased by 31 per cent. from the 1983 figure to 1,781. The clear-up rate for blackmail and wounding was 55 per cent. Despite those impressive figures, the performance in overall clear-up rate remained at 17 per cent.—the same as in 1983.
That has happened because the vast amount of crime is random and opportunistic and, therefore, difficult to detect. Burglary and car theft occur when the opportunity is given; a door or window is left unsecured and temptation occurs. Such crimes often happen out of sight of a patrolling police officer, and only more community-based crime prevention tactics will help to remove the opportunities.
It is worth considering the true nature of the crime problem in London. Auto crime represents at least 30 per cent. of all recorded crimes in London, while burglary represents almost 24 per cent. and criminal damage represents more than 14 per cent. Those crimes and other thefts represent 95 per cent. of all reported crime in London. The difficulty is that patrolling police officers, however welcome and reassuring they may be, rarely come across such crimes while they are on duty. Since those crimes are often crimes of stealth, they are usually committed in private property or out of sight of any witness.
I especially welcome the efforts being made by the Home Office crime prevention unit and members of the Standing Conference on Crime Prevention to develop strategies to deal with auto crime and residential burglary. The conference which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will hold in November will provide a welcome contribution and a constructive way of dealing with such crimes by involving the public and the whole community. That is the way ahead in dealing with the great mass of property crime. We should not listen to nonsense from the right hon. Member for Gorton, who had no solutions to offer.
1224 The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Kenneth Newman, also agrees that tackling crime, specially property and auto crime, requires the involvement of the community. His report clearly shows that the drive to create professionalism in the police service in London is a most important way to achieve a reduction in London's crime problem. He and I share the belief that the key to success is public co-operation, and a major contribution to crime prevention is already being made by local communities. In London, 19 crime prevention panels have been set up, and there are 1,150 neighbourhood watch schemes in the Metropolitan police district, with 400 more being planned. Plans are afoot to extend such schemes to businesses. About 22 police community consultative groups have been established to liaise between the police and the communities.
As hon. Members must know from their constituencies, the neighbourhood watch schemes are producing dividends. One can see the circulars from the police officers responsible for those schemes, which measure the success in the reduction of property crime, which causes so much distress to ordinary people on our large estates and in residential homes. We can see a reduction beginning to take place, and we all have a duty to sustain and encourage such initiatives.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
I do not wish to discourage the hon. Gentleman, but if he can see a reduction taking place, why is it not reflected in the quarterly statistics?
§ Mr. Wheeler
As the hon. Gentleman will know from his local authority area, much effort is being made to reduce crime. We are talking about the Commissioner's report for 1984. We must all hope that, when we have this debate in 1986, the efforts of the neighbourhood watch schemes and other strategies will have produced the result which he and I want.
§ Mr. Soley
The hon. Gentleman knows that he has not answered my point. He is giving circumstantial evidence about how well the scheme is working. I shall have something to say about the schemes in due course. I do not oppose them, but the hon. Gentleman has no evidence for what he said, and the quarterly statistics suggest that he is incorrect.
§ Mr. Wheeler
I have evidence, because I have seen some of the circulars which the officers responsible for those schemes have issued to the public, comparing figures to demonstrate that there has been a reduction. Whatever the hon. Gentleman may say about the scheme, it is the way forward. It has only just begun, and we must encourage and sustain its momentum and analyse it so that we can encourage it further.
I should tell my hon. Friend the Minister that if the police community consultative groups are to be successful—many dedicated people are involved in them who want to make them successful—they must have some modest funding to provide an infrastructure. If that is missing, the schemes will not succeed. I hope that my hon. Friend will give urgent consideration to this important point.
The police in London have another problem, which is perhaps as wounding and destructive as crime itself. I am thinking of the attacks upon the Metropolitan police by the GLC and by some, although only some, Labour-controlled councils.
1225 Particularly damaging is a recent video entitled "Policing London", to which reference has been made, which was produced at a cost of £35,000 of ratepayers' money and which is already being shown to many schoolchildren in London. The video purports to argue the case for what is called the "democratic control" of the Metropolitan police. What it amounts to is an insidious and vicious attack on the police, hawked around London under the most flimsy of political excuses and deliberately shown to the most impressionable members of the community, our children.
In the film, the police are shown as guilty of every fault in the book. There is, of course, plenty of room for legitimate criticism, and nobody has been more ready to respond to it than Sir Kenneth Newman. He has recently issued a pamphlet entitled "Guidance for Professional Behaviour" to all his officers. It deals constructively with many of the criticisms raised in the report on the Metropolitan police.
I am particularly angry about the cowardice and bigotry that lies behind it all. Just when real efforts are being made to mobilise the whole community in the fight against London's crime, there are now many schools and clubs in London where the police are not even allowed in to meet young people and explain their work in fighting crime and providing protection for us all.
The film's slogan—"Communities must rebel" —is the final straw. If the GLC really wishes to sow problems for the police force in London for many generations to come, it could not do a better job. I only hope that the forces of sense, sanity and responsibility will prevail. It would help if, for once, the right hon. Member for Gorton said, "Having seen that clap trap, I am convinced that it does nothing to advance the wellbeing of the community in London, nor of the efforts of the police", and that he and his party would disown it.
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)
I agree with many of the comments of the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) and particularly with his major theme—that we cannot tackle the appalling problems of London's crime simply by saying that it is simply a matter for the police and that the community has no responsibility. It is clear that the community has a role in helping to tackle many of the problems of crime that we are debating today.
Because of that, I greatly regret that the Metropolitan police should have become the butt of the sort of political controversy that has surrounded its activities in recent years. It is all very well for people to hold differing views about the best ways of achieving operational effectiveness, but what we have seen in recent years from some on the Left—I stress, only from some—is a constant flow of anti-police propaganda which seems to be aimed at undermining public confidence in the police. From some on the Right—again, only from some—we have total, uncritical and unquestioning support for the police. Neither is helpful in the current situation.
The majority of Londoners value the discretion that the police have, and are opposed to attempts to introduce political control over the day-to-day operations of the Metropolitan police. However, that discretion is a privilege which must be exercised with skill and 1226 sensitivity. The objective must clearly be policing by consent and we must always be on the look-out for new ways of establishing that element of consent.
The police consultative committees are an important way of helping to achieve that objective. They provide a vital bridge between the police and the community. They need time to build up public confidence in theft effectiveness and they need to show real results to convince the doubters, but they have a considerable role to play.
I regret the attitude of some boroughs, mine included, which want liaison with the police solely on their own terms. They do not want more community involvement in a police consultative committee and their objective is much less to do with consultation than with control over the police. If those authorities are adamant in refusing to play a part in the development of genuine consultative machinery, the Home Secretary should not hesitate to bypass them and establish effective grass roots-based community liaison committees and consultative machinery in those areas.
Also important in developing the idea of policing by consent are the hard-pressed inner city areas of London, where greater priority should be placed by the police on operational sensitivity. The hon. Member for Westminster, North said that the majority of crime, certainly in the inner cities, was ordinary, routine, bread-and-butter house-breaking and burglary. The complaint that I most often receive from constituents is either that the police did not bother to come at all, if it was a minor matter, or that they came, showed little interest and went away and nothing more was heard about the incident.
I appreciate the pressures on the police. Routine break-ins are a fact of life and there is little chance of anything very effective being done about them. Nevertheless, For the individual concerned, the person who suffered the break-in, it is a traumatic experience. Greater recognition of that by police officers would go a long way to strengthening relationships with the community.
The same is true of the ethnic minorities. We should recall what Lord Scarman said in his report following the 1981 riots. He pointed out that, in the already deprived areas,the black community suffers more severely than the white community from the deprivations found in the inner city, especially in relation to unemployment, educational achievement and housing.That should be at the forefront of the minds of those concerned with policing in the inner cities.
If I were in a senior position in the Metropolitan police, I should be extremely concerned about the view of many black and brown Londoners that the police are not on their side and form an alien force. We need a greater concentration of skilled police resources in the inner cities to counter that problem. It is no use putting into the inner cities comparatively new recruits who do not have the expertise to deal with these different problems.
Related to policing by consent and the need to develop public confidence is the question of complaints machinery. I appreciate that we should not get complaints against the police out of perspective. I welcome what is being done under the 1984 Act to try to develop conciliation on minor matters so that such issues do not have to go through the plethora of complaints machinery. I also welcome the introduction of the new police complaints authority and its ability to monitor the 1227 investigation of more serious complaints. However, for most ordinary people the idea that the police should investigate complaints against the police is not acceptable. They do not believe that the investigation will be as impartial and objective as it must be to inspire public confidence.
I am glad that, in the report of the Commissioner, considerable emphasis is placed on crime prevention. As the hon. Member for Westminster, North said, there must be greater co-operation between the wider community and the police in, for example, a number of elements in public administration in London.
Housing is one such element. The design of many London council estates makes them a paradise for vandals, muggers and hooligans. They are full of opportunities for criminals to prey on their victims and provide ample ways for offenders to get away rapidly before the police arrive on the scene. More attention to that sort of problem would reduce many of the risks that our constituents have to face.
It is also true that the standard of housing management has an effect on crime levels. If flats or houses are left empty for long periods, if vandalism is not swiftly countered, if lifts are left unrepaired and if bread-and-butter administrative matters are not dealt with properly, a higher level of crime is encouraged. Many of my constituents argue, with considerable justification, for greater investment in the provision of entryphones, in reducing public access to council estates and in providing more caretakers and, in extreme instances, a concierge system. Although it would cost money, the expense must be offset against the cost of repairing the consequences of vandalism and hooliganism. My constituents argue that sensible investment of this sort would be good value for money and cost effective in terms of crime prevention.
The development of neighbourhood watch schemes is encouraging, but the numbers of such schemes are small when compared with the problem of routine crime in London. There is worrying evidence that neighbourhood watch schemes have been most successful in middle-class areas, where it is possible to find people who are prepared to contribute the time and effort necessary. The schemes in these areas have raised the awareness of the need to prevent crime. They have involved the local community in devising initiatives of their own and they have improved relations between the police and the community.
Unfortunately, there has been less progress in the development of neighbourhood watch schemes on council estates. Burglary and mugging is not confined to the comfortable parts of London. The worst examples occur in council estates. Many of my constituents' homes have been broken into twice and three times. We all know that the lone pensioner feels especially at risk on many council estates.
We should ensure that greater effort is directed to encouraging the development of neighbourhood watch schemes on council estates, and the Woolwich police force has been attempting to do so. The Woolwich divisional report shows that there has been some progress. In view of one of the comments made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), it is worth repeating what appears in the recently published report of the Woolwich division. It states:The schemes are obviously aimed at reducing crime and there is some evidence to show a degree of success.1228 The report continues to underline a problem when it says:the main element in reducing crime relies on the publicity given in these areas that a neighbourhood watch scheme exists.A problem has been encountered in Woolwich in obtaining planning permission to display neighbourhood watch scheme signs, and to date none has been placed. I investigated the matter and I found that the difficulty lay more in lack of ability to reach an agreement between the police and Greenwich council than in obtaining planning permission.
The Woolwich police want neighbourhood watch signs to be placed on lamp posts throughout the areas where the schemes operate. Greenwich council says yes, provided that the police pay £40 for every sign that is erected. The police contend that the signs will benefit the community and that the council should therefore meet the cost. The council says no and argues that it costs £40 to erect a sign and that the police must pay £40 before a sign is erected. There is now a complete impasse. I would not mind so much if virtually every lamp post in my constituency did not already bear a sign erected by the London borough of Greenwich. Some of them are reasonable. For example, some signs draw attention to traffic problems and litter problems and other matters of general interest. However, some are political. They refer, for example, to nuclear disarmament, rate capping and other issues of political concern to the council.
The council is spending a good deal of money on lamppost signs and I cannot understand why it refuses to assist the police in areas where neighbourhood watch schemes operate. Surely £40 a lamp post would be a good investment for the borough council.
I take up the remarks that have been made about improved efficiency and professionalism. I am glad that, in the Commissioner's report, there is a considerable commitment to improving both these objectives. The force reorganisation is a step in the right direction but, like others, I regret the lack of consultation before the reorganisation was launched. The Metropolitan police are seeking to strengthen links with the community and it would have been useful to have delayed the implementation of the initial stages of reorganisation while some local consultation took place.
It is important, whatever form of organisation we have, that there are not rapid shifts of key officers. We have frequently complained about the speed with which commanders, for example, have been moved in the London area. If the Metropolitan police are trying through the divisional system to develop genuine links with local communities, it is clearly extremely important that key officers are able to stay long enough in any one area to ensure that personal links are established. That must be a considerable priority.
I welcome the improvements in training that are referred to in the Commissioner's report, but I regret that one of the Lord Scarman's main recommendations seems not to have been accepted. He recommended that there should be a minimum of six months' training for every recruit. That seems to be a reasonable objective, given the situation in London, and I am sorry that the recommendation is not being implemented.
There is a case for far more priority to be given to in-service training, especially in areas that bear on relationships between ordinary police officers and members of the public. Some officers are very good, but others have a good deal to learn about how to handle 1229 members of the public. When there are pressures, as in inner London, in-service training to improve relationships between police officers and the public should have high priority.
The Government can claim genuinely to have provided considerable additional financial support for the Metropolitan police. That is true of improved manpower, better pay and conditions for individual officers and the modernisation of methods and equipment. However, at this stage, Londoners cannot say that they are seeing a genuine return on that investment. They are not seeing a substantial reduction in crime and they do not have a greater sense of security particularly in the inner London area. Given the money that has been invested, Londoners are entitled to look for considerable improvements in the near future.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)
I apologise at the outset, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the fact that I shall not be able to remain in my place until the end of the debate. However, I look forward to reading the Minister's reply in Hansard.
Nearly everyone in the House and in the country will agree that few matters are more important than the maintenance of law and order and the combating of crime by appropriate efforts. That is especially true of my constituents in Carshalton and Wallington who live and work within the Epsom division of Z district in the Metropolitan police area. Perhaps not all hon. Members are aware that the Epsom division is the largest in the Metropolitan police area and the fifth busiest division in the entire Metropolitan police force. Therefore, I make no apology for concentrating on the problems and prospects of policing within the division.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary rightly said at the outset of the debate, the Commissioner has identified divisions as the key policing units within the metropolitan area. I shall become more local by saying that I am acutely interested in the policing conditions of the Wallington sub-division, which is virtually conterminous with the boundaries of my constituency.
The problems of the Epsom division are well set out in the 1984 divisional strategic plan, which is one of the component elements of which the Commissioner, Sir Kenneth Newman, has to take account in formulating his plans for the entire metropolitan area. The clear priorities identified for the division, were, first, the reduction of burglary; secondly, the reduction of auto crime; and thirdly, tackling problems of road safety and traffic management.
I agree that those are all important problems with which the police must deal, but I should like to see an equally high priority attached to dealing more effectively with the problems of vandalism and hooliganism, which the Commissioner identifies in paragraph 52 of his report as one of the top policing priorities for 1985.
In advocating solutions for improving law and order in my part of south London, the divisional report gives priority to the containment, detection and punishment of burglary when people are convicted. It puts great stress on the value of preventive measures such as "neighbourhood watch" as a way of stopping these problems at source. It also foreshadows intensified police action directed to combating auto crime and improving road safety. I stress 1230 once again that more police attention should be devoted not just to those two aspects of policing, but to the related problems of vandalism and hooliganism.
My constituents believe, and many of them have written to tell me this, that such behaviour is anti-social and thoroughly offensive, and causes intolerable fear to and anxiety for many people, especially the elderly, on large estates. It must be a priority to ensure that when detected and convicted those offenders are dealt with severely by the courts and go to prison for long periods.
It has not been easy in recent times for the police to achieve all that they would have liked to achieve, especially as the miners' dispute, which has been mentioned, and the many demonstrations that take place in central London almost every week have placed enormous extra demands on the force. That has been felt by the divisions from what one might call the suburban parts of the metropolitan area., such as my constituency, which have had to supply extra manpower in mutual aid to the centre.
We may still be feeling some of the longer-term effects of those damaging disputes and demonstrations. Police leave had to be shelved at the time of the miners' dispute and it is now being taken up, with the inevitable consequences for police cover in areas such as mine.
I suggest that the answers to the various policing problems that I have identified must be found in a sensible combination of measures. Clearly, we need more police. That is something to which I shall return. We need more of the available police on the beat. In that context, I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the paragraph in the divisional strategic plan for the Epsom division, which makes this pertinent comment on public attitudes:During the preparation of this year's plan, a number of opinion formers within the community were canvassed by letter in an effort to produce a strategy that also reflected the views of the community. The theme which ran through all responses was that police must be seen. The presence of a policeman in un form in the street is seen to be one factor which reassures the public that crime is being kept under control.That is what the public want. I believe that the opinion formers were speaking for the public, and I hope that that emphasis will be continued in the policing of the Metropolitan area.
The third element must be to place more emphasis on all forms of crime prevention, as the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) and many others have said. Fourthly, and vitally important, there must be more police co-operation with the public in all appropriate forums and ways.
On that last point, I commend the idea of local police liaison committees. I am familiar with the workings of the police liaison committee in the London borough of Sutton. I should like to see even more fruitful contacts maintained and developed between local officers and schools and many other institutions involving young people.
I have had the good fortune to go out with the police from Sutton in some of their rapid response vehicles, in particular on a Friday evening, which is one of the peak periods for crime. I have also been out on the beat with neighbourhood policemen and local beat officers in the Wallington sub-division. I can vouch for the fact that the combination of those high technology quick-response methods plus the traditional methods of policemen on the beat, on bicycles and in their neighbourhood communities, is a powerful combination and helps the police to do the job as well as possible.
1231 I am, therefore, a strong believer in the preventive advantages of community policing. However, when all that is said and done, still more needs to be addressed. There is no getting away from the Commissioner's recent warning, which has been widely publicised, that without even more resources for the Metropolitan police, it will be difficult to provide the capital with the protection and the reassurance which it needs and the public deserve. As one of my local newspapers, the Wallington Advertiser, put it recently in an excellent editorial:The only real answer to increased crime is increased policing. That means more money for the police which this 'law and order' Government should remember if they want to retain the loyalty of areas such as the borough of Sutton.The Government, whom I support, must face the need to set higher establishment figures for the Metropolitan police, and ones which are truly commensurate with the demands of combating rising crime and lawlessness which unhappily afflict the metropolitan area.
I recognise all that the Government have done and the figures which were quoted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I pay tribute to him and to his predecessors for building up the police in the way that they have done. My constituents appreciate that, but I must make a point about the long-term aspects which I should like my right hon. and learned Friend and his colleagues in the Home Office to consider carefully.
If we take a longer view and study policing in the metropolitan area back to just before the last war, we find that since 1938 the population of the Metropolitan police district has declined by about 15 per cent., but that recorded crime over the same period has increased by an alarming 660 per cent., while the establishment of the Metropolitan police has increased by only 39 per cent. Even though we now have an establishment of 27,165 officers and an actual strength that is commendably close to that level, the long-term trends to which I have drawn attention should merit the close consideration of Home Office Ministers, in particular in any negotiations that they have with their colleagues in the Treasury.
I believe that we should be prepared to find the necessary extra resources to enable us to meet the higher and more realistic establishment levels that we must attain. I make no apology for stressing that the extra policing responsibilities of the Metropolitan police must be recognised in that way. I suggest strongly that within those larger establishment figures a higher priority should be given to meeting the growing policing needs of the Epsom division and, especially, the Wallington sub-division within it. In that way, more effective action can be taken to deal with crime and lawlessness at source and to improve the still too low detection and clear-up rates for many crimes.
I acknowledge that the most serious crimes have a commendably high detection and clear-up rate, but the House should realise—I am sure that it does—that many of our constituents are equally worried about some of the less serious crimes, such as burglary, which affect them directly.
I wish the Metropolitan police well. I congratulate the Commissioner on his report. I realise that the police have a variety of difficult tasks to perform and that in many ways they are expected to perform social as well as policing tasks, which complicates the position. We must 1232 resolve to give the police the extra resources and support that they need. I am confident that in that way we can make further progress in dealing with the difficult problem of lawlessness and crime.
§ 12.9 pm
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) said that the response to more crime should be more police. To an extent, there has to be an immediate response to protect the community. However, what divides hon. Members is the fact that some of us believe that the response to more crime also has to be more homes, more jobs, more stability and less poverty, because there is an inescapable connection between the degradation and indignity to which many people are subjected in our inner cities and levels of crime. If one correlates the most depressed areas with the greatest indices of deprivation, one sees that they also have the most crime. There is no way out of that problem simply by providing more resources for the police, although I would not disagree that there are circumstances in which that has to be done.
I welcome the open and frank style of the Commissioner in his report. On page 13, one tries to spot one's own constituency. On that page, the Commissioner frankly sets out the problems when there has been drug dealing, when one has to satisfy the demands of the local community which does not want that anti-social activity, while at the same time the police do not want to damage the support that has been built up throughout the whole community, by going in in a rough and unfeeling way. The way in which the Commissioner poses those problems is a frank admission of his difficulties. He is also frank in dealing with some past mistakes, although I do not always agree with his conclusions.
For instance, the Commissioner says that the Vagrancy Act 1824 could have remained on the statute book if it had been more sensitively used by police officers. He believes that we need not have had the Bail Act 1976 if the police had been more sensitive. I have no doubt that it was right to get rid of the Vagrancy Act and introduce the Bail Act, but I do not take credit away from him for recognising weaknesses in the past and building on experience.
We welcome the increasing clear-up rates where they take place, as well as the Commissioner's emphasis upon co-operation with the community. Although overall crime has continued to rise in Lambeth, there have been some dramatic improvements in relations between the police and the public as well as in clear-up rates, as a result of community activity and co-operation between the police and local groups. Part of the success has come from increasing co-operation between the police and the local authority. When one reads what local authorities say about the police and what the police sometimes say about the local authorities, one would not always know that that was so, but under the surface I believe that there is growing co-operation particularly between housing departments and local police forces. The Government must recognise the importance of retaining the link between the police and local authorities, particularly after the abolition of the Greater London council and the end of any strategic authority for London.
The Government must recognise that one day local authorities will play a part in the accountability of the police. Anything that tears apart the relationship between the police and their local authority is wrong. My local 1233 police consultative committee has been disappointed with the Commissioner's plans to break up the districts. Lambeth police had the same boundary as the local authority. We were particularly disappointed because that proposal was made without prior consultation. We were told that the broad framework of the reorganisation of the London police had been established, and there was to be consultaion only on the detail. That was wrong. The closer that the organisation of the police force can grow towards the organisation of local government the better.
One notes from the Home Secretary's remarks that there are now 5,000 more police and civilians on the staff. We all recognise that one of the reasons why we are elected to Parliament is to protect the citizen from violence and theft so that he is safe in his own home and upon the streets. That is our duty, but the Home Secretary has completely failed to discharge that task. There is no evidence in the report that any of the duties that the right hon. and learned Gentleman takes upon himself have been discharged.
The hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) said that there was a breakdown of confidence in the police in 1979. He welcomed the report and the extent to which it mapped out the success in rebuilding morale since then. However, since 1979 there had been an increase of 30 per cent. in recorded crime in London, yet between 1977 and 1979 there was a reduction in recorded crime. I should have thought that the police would draw more confidence and morale from a reduction in recorded crime than from an increase of 30 per cent. over the past six years.
Even in the past year there has been a failure—crime in London has risen by 9 per cent., which is higher than the national average. That has happened although, as he said, the Home Secretary has added the equivalent of the entire Merseyside police force to the establishment of the Metropolitan police. The clear-up rate in London is far too low. At 17 per cent. it compares extremely unfavourably with other conurbations where the clear-up rate is two to three times better. It is no better in my constituency than elsewhere.
My people continue to be failed. In Lambeth, the chances of being robbed or being the victim of crime are almost three times greater than in the rest of the country. That is not right. There is an insufficient perception about who the victims of crime are. Some people have a sentimental, sloppy view that crime involves a transfer of resources from the rich to the poor, that somehow there is a Robin Hood element in the criminal fraternity that brings about the transfer of resources. That could not be further from the truth. I have always taken such an interest in the policing of my constituency and my borough because I know that the victims of crime are among the poorest in the community. The chances of being robbed on the streets of Lambeth are about 20 times higher than on the streets of Kingston upon Thames or Richmond upon Thames. If one is affluent enough to have a car, the chances of being robbed when one is doing the shopping or of having a chain snatched from around one's neck are far fewer than for those who have to walk home or queue for a bus.
The same is true for the pattern of burglaries. A survey of one of my estates showed that about 40 per cent. of the inhabitants had a personal acquaintance with burglary, either of themselves or of an immediate neighbour. That is an extraordinarily high figure. It underlines the fact that the victims of crime tend to be the poorest and most 1234 vulnerable in the community. Any idea that such crime is directed by poor people against the rich is not true, certainly not numerically.
Despite the growth of crime in London by 30 per cent. in five years, and 9 per cent. over the past year, the Government are responding to the problems of crime in the same way as they do to the problems of housing, health care and so on. They have decided that monetarism is more important than a safe community. They have now announced the cash limiting—the rate capping as it were—of the Metropolitan police, as well as of several boroughs. It is no good the Government pretending that, once they start capping expenditure and resources in that way, it does not have some effect on policing.
A paragraph in the report, quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), makes this clear:If we rise, for example, to a centrally counselled drive against drugs, which brings heavy demands on manpower through round-the-clock surveillance, then the existence of finite ceilings to manpower will dictate the removal of officers from other duties.The moment that one starts limiting the expenditure that the police believe they should undertake, somebody will suffer. We must recognise that the drive against drugs is an extremely expensive and detailed operation. I know that from my constituency, where, over several months, the police mounted a carefully targeted operation to catch the dealers, not the punters. In that way they caught the real criminals and did not alienate those who simply dabbled in a joint or two of cannabis. It was an extremely successful operation, but it cost money. If we are to have expenditure limits on policing a borough such as mine, something must suffer, and I suspect that people will suffer. They will be burgled at home or experience what are called "opportunistic crimes".
More money must be spent on detailed surveillance to tackle the heroin problem. The police have not caught a worthwhile heroin dealer if he is an addict. It is easy to push up the number of dealers who have been caught, to put them behind bars and to parade those statistics, but if only people who are addicted to heroin are being caught, there has been no success.
The pattern of heroin dealing and consumption in south London is rather like pyramid selling. Once somebody becomes addicted to heroin, he can usually satisfy that addiction only by going into crime or by becoming a dealer. Such a person needs 10 or 12 customers to provide enough profit to satisfy the habit. When the addict's new customers themselves become addicts, they will need another 10 or 12 customers, who will probably become addicts, to supply the profit to sustain their addition. Once addicted, people are likely to get caught — heroin addiction rots their brains, among other things.
There must be a much higher level of police surveillance targeted at those who make the real money. That entails resources. It would be ridiculous to cap any such expenditure, whether by reducing the amount of money spent on catching dealers or by reducing expenditure on other forms of policing.
If we are to deal with the problem of heroin dealing and addiction, the Government must consider other aspects of the law. I believe that part of the rise of crime in south London is accounted for by heroin addiction. Somebody who attends a court might find that 10 people are charged with offences ranging from burglary to shoplifting and 1235 taking and driving away a motor vehicle. It is quite likely that none of them will be being charged with possessing heroin or dealing in it, but, digging a little deeper, it might well be found that the substantial cause of almost every crime was addiction to heroin.
A robbery might appear in the statistics as a robbery when it was the consequence of heroin addiction. That means that many people are now beginning to commit crime almost as automatons and they will commit crimes as long as they remain addicted. We must therefore consider much more deeply the treatment of offenders when the prime cause of an offence is addiction.
I have talked exclusively about heroin in this context, but cocaine is an increasing influence. We cannot deal with the problem simply by recourse to the criminal law, to imprisonment and its alternatives. I go as far as saying that people who are hopelessly addicted to heroin should be treated as mentally ill rather than criminal. The result of such treatment would be that their immediate suffering and the constraints on their liberty were greater. The Government must take a much deeper and longer look at the correlation between the criminal law and the law for the mentally ill if they are to deal with the heroin problem.
One of the consequences of escalating rates of crime in south London is a rise in insurance premiums. Insurance companies log burglary claims according to postal districts so that, if crime is especially high in, for example, SW2, SW4 or SW9, the premium becomes prohibitive. The result is that the mixture in a community will get poorer as people with possessions will leave the area if they cannot get insurance cover or find it prohibitively expensive. Poverty and deprivation in some inner-city areas will therefore be intensified. I should like local authorities to run some form of insurance scheme on council estates. After all, people who are "allocated" to an estate deserve the protection and security of insurance.
The number of black applicants to the Metropolitan police dropped from 444 in 1983 to 400 in 1984. We must recognise that there is something seriously wrong. The ethnic minorities are badly represented in the Metropolitan police. I know that this is not scientific evidence, but I should like to give an example of how the perception of black policemen can differ in other parts of the world.
The film "Beverly Hills Cop" has been so successful that it has probably grossed more money than "Gone with the Wind". People have gone back time and again to see Eddie Murphy playing a New York cop on holiday in California. There are enormous queues outside cinemas—I have tried twice to get in. Many of the people who have gone to see the film are black. They love the film and regard the cop as a hero. He is investigating cocaine dealing and is obviously the object of adulation and great humour. We should compare the perception of that black cop with that of his counterpart in the Metropolitan police. I was struck forcibly by the difference of perception when I saw a black policeman guarding the South African embassy recently. It is almost as though somebody was being humiliated.
It would be much better if we saw a few more black policemen in positions of authority. I should like to see more black policemen on the cars—I have never seen a black policeman driving a police car. How many black detectives, how many Eddie Murphys, are there in the 1236 Metropolitan police? That kind of image of the Metropolitan police force among the black community shows that something is wrong.
I am not trying to apportion blame, but the under-representation of the black community in the police force shows that something is seriously wrong. A more imaginative approach should be adopted. The number of black applicants to join the Metropolitan police is 400, but only 30 of the 400 have been accepted. Only a small number of the black people who applied to join the Metropolitan police were even interviewed, which suggests that the employment policy of the Metropolitan police is not sufficiently imaginative.
One of the ways of improving relations between the police and the community and catching more criminals is to have all sections of the community represented in the Metropolitan police. Then there would be more understanding of the mores of the local community and the different cultural groups. I am not suggesting that blacks should be set to catch blacks, or whites to catch whites, but there is something wrong with the present recruitment policy and it must be improved.
I ask the Government not to remain complacent and unctuous about the achievements of the Metropolitan police. No matter how great a gloss the Government put upon the report, the truth is that life in London is becoming less and less safe and people's property less and less secure.
This is having an effect on the inner city areas in particular. For the Government to respond by cash-limiting the Metropolitan police and dressing up the figures in the report as some kind of achievement is nonsense. They need to think again about their responsibility to the whole community.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
This important debate has turned out to be a personal disappointment for me. I have great respect for the intellectual powers of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), and I am sure that many hon. Members share my view. However, for him to come to the House and tell us that he has not had time to be sufficiently briefed on a highly controversial video produced by the GLC and that he has been chasing around in Brecon and Radnor is extraordinary and unacceptable.
It is also disappointing that so few hon. Members from London constituencies are to be seen on both the Government and the Opposition Benches. Both this week and last week has seen a notable absence of Opposition Members. We have been facing Opposition motions, so perhaps the absence today of Conservative Members is due to the fact they have been putting in overtime this week and today are catching up with their paper work.
I am also disappointed that the chairman of the GLC, the council which we are told speaks for London, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), is not here today.
§ Mr. Tracey
It is disappointing that he is not here to give us the benefit of his views and his considered wisdom.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Where is the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks)? Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of absent friends, can he tell us where the spokesman for the Police Federation is today?
§ Mr. Tracey
I am happy to respond to that question. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) is not here, but I represent the constituency in which the head office of the Police Federation is situated. I maintain a close relationship with the federation, and hope that I shall be able to reflect to some extent its view on the topics under discussion. Ten days ago I was privileged to be on a phone-in programme of the London Broadcasting Company. I was amazed at the extraordinary attitude that some people adopt towards the police. It is destructive rather than constructive, on a matter that must be of concern to all members of society. It is an antagonistic rather than a co-operative attitude towards the police. I am sure that that is spurred on by the propaganda in the GLC's video, and that it is very harmful to society in the capital.
I am heartened by the fact that last year a national opinion poll—
§ Mr. Tracey
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he will take the opportunity later to address the House at great length, as he always does.
A national opinion poll last year found that 75 per cent. of the population of the metropolis were quite happy with the way in which policing was going on. Policing would be helped even more if a more helpful community attitude were taken by Labour Members, their colleagues across the river in County Hall and several London boroughs—all Labour-controlled—which have not yet seen fit to adopt a proper police consultative procedure.
I welcome the Commissioner's report. Sir Kenneth Newman is one of the leading policemen and leading authorities on policing in the world. I am sure that that view is shared by his colleagues in police forces throughout the world. They certainly look to his example. His report is sound and justifies many more hon. Members being present to discuss it.
The report's analysis of modern crime was not quite reflected in the remarks of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). Much of modern crime in the metropolis is random and opportunist—for example, auto crime and walk-in crime. Of course it is not satisfactory to have a clear-up rate of only 17 per cent., but that is a misleading figure. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) pointed out, the Metropolitan police have a clear-up record of 77 per cent. for homicide, 73 per cent. for crimes involving kidnapping and 55 per cent. for crimes of blackmail and wounding. To bandy about the figure of 17 per cent. as though it represented every aspect of crime in the metropolis is misleading and a deliberate smear on the police.
§ Mr. Dobson
Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that a non-clear-up rate of about 25 per cent. for murder is satisfactory? Does he think that it is reasonable that a quarter of the murders committed in London go unsolved, when the rate is nearly always 100 per cent. in nearly every other part of the country?
§ Mr. Tracey
Of course I do not believe that that is satisfactory. Indeed, at the beginning of my remarks on 1238 this section I said that 17 per cent. was not satisfactory. It is right for hon. Members to look at the more successful side of the operations of the Metropolitan police and not to harp on constantly about the less successful figures. That carping by Labour Members dismays Conservative Members.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, the Government have considerably increased resources for the Metropolitan police The budget of £763 million represents a 5 per cent. increase this year. As I understand it, the Government intend to continue putting resources into the Metropolitan police force. Much has been made of one reference in the Commissioner's report to cash limits, about which he is apparently unhappy. I draw the attention of Opposition Members to an article by the Commissioner in the Metropolitan police newspaper Job, which is headlined "Living within our means". He starts by saying:The Met now has a fixed income, called a cash limit. Like any family on fixed income, we have to live within our means.He concludes the article by saying:I am confident that the Met will respond to the challenge of living within our means. This is no more than you and I have to do in our private lives. As an organisation we can do it too.That shows the Commissioner's confidence in himself and his men that they can meet the challenge which the Government have rightly set the force, in the same way as the Government have set a challenge to local authorities, health authorities and other national bodies.
We must take careful note of the fact that since 1979, when the Conservative Government came to office, 4,500 more policemen have been recruited, which, as my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out, is as many as there are in the Merseyside police force. Greater emphasis has been placed on efficiency monitoring in all areas of the work. More of the tasks that can be conducted by civilians are being conducted by them. The civilian strength of the Metropolitan police has increased by 1,250.
There is greater scope for such measures. We could consider putting out to tender ancillary services and operations not directly concerned with policing. Obviously, vehicles should be maintained in that way, and services within the Scotland Yard building and other police premises could be dealt with similarly. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend has said that that is being studied, and I wish him well in that. There is no doubt that where that has happened in health authorities and in various local authorities in London, including Wandsworth, which is now a historic borough in terms of local government, everyone except a few head-in-the-sand Socialists knows that the ratepayers and the borough enjoy greater efficiency.
Evidence of that in the Metropolitan police would be of great assistance in meeting some of the demands made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman). He seemed to suggest that we should constantly plough more money into employing more and more policemen, but every extra policeman costs about £25,000 or £26,000. Clearly, the Commissioner and those who run the Metropolitan police must strive for the greatest possible efficiency, and that is what is happening now.
In my local borough, the Royal borough of Kingston upon Thames, the police are having great success. Of crimes reported to the police, the burglary rate has been reduced by 20.4 per cent., and serious assaults, robberies, 1239 fraud and indecency have been reduced by 11.7 per cent. during the past year. On-beat crimes reported to the police have fallen by 2.8 per cent. Only in motor vehicle crime, which so greatly inflates the statistics for the Metropolitan police record, has there been an increase of 4.7 per cent.
We are tackling these matters in the Royal borough of Kingston upon Thames. We have a consultative committee known as the "Police and Community Forum" and I pay tribute to the Labour chairman of that extremely hard-working committee, which brings in various strands from all parts of the community—the schools, the churches, the youth clubs, and so on—and gives useful thought to the best way of policing the borough.
Stemming from the deliberations of that committee we now have more than 50 neighbourhood watch schemes out of 1,200 or so in the metropolis as a whole. These schemes have attracted great support from people in the borough, and the reduction of 20.4 per cent. in the number of burglaries reported shows the effectiveness of the schemes. In my mind, and in the minds of people living in the borough, there is no doubt about that and we are pressing on to form even more neighbourhood watch schemes to achieve greater success and to ensure the co-operation between the public and the police that is vital to the policing of the borough, rather than leaving everything to the uniformed police.
The attitude of people in my borough and in so many Greater London boroughs, with the exception of eight Labour boroughs, which seem to refuse to co-operate with the police in that way, contrasts with the attitude of the GLC, which happily will not be with us for many more months. That council chooses to spend £1 million per year on a so-called police committee and on setting up police support groups and other bodies which I fear are no more than anti-police propaganda units.
The GLC also chooses to produce newsheets entitled "Policing London" written in a fashion aimed to detract from the good work of the Metropolitan police, and to spend £35,000 on producing a "Policing London" video, which has already been mentioned in the debate. I was most disappointed that the right hon. Member for Gorton could not find it in himself to repudiate the suggestion in that video that communities must rebel. [HON. MEMBERS: "Has the hon. Gentleman seen it?"] Certainly, I have seen it. I believe that there was an open invitation to all hon. Members to see it some months ago, when we were sent a folder and a poster telling us ofA 30-minute dramatised introduction to the GLC's policy on the Metropolitan Police".We have heard today that children in inner London schools are being invited to see this scurrilous stuff which invites communities to rebel. What greater charge can be laid against a council than that it has produced a video which ends with those words? We actually see on the screen a man mouthing the words "Communities must rebel." It is the Greater London council underwriting that advice to children in inner London schools. Why is the chairman of the Greater London council, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, not here to repudiate that?
§ Mr. Soley
The hon. Gentleman and other Government supporters have sunk to an abysmal level today. Each of them knows that that quotation is featured in a poem—a man is reading a poem to a group. It no more implies what the GLC thinks than the phrase 1240To be, or not to bein "Hamlet" suggests that Shakespeare was an existentialist. The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense and he knows it.
Incidentally, as the Government propose to abolish the GLC, the police support unit and the others which the hon. Gentleman criticises, does he know that they are the very people who put in the application for money for the victim support scheme, to which the Home Secretary has not yet responded?
§ Mr. Tracey
I shall certainly respond to the hon. Gentleman's comment about the film. I do not care whether the phrase is featured in a poem or in a playlet in the film. For the producers of the film to put it there is the exercise of dramatic licence gone mad. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the film is to be shown to children in ILEA schools.
I go further. A motion was tabled for discussion at a meeting of the Greater London council calling upon the council to withdraw the video featuring the phrase "Communities must rebel." It was described as beingtantamount to inciting violence and hatred.Mr. Paul Boateng, whom we know only too well and who wishes to come to the House as the Member of Parliament for Brent, South following the next general election, tabled an amendment deleting the words criticising the video and saying that the councilcontinues to ensure, through all means open to it, including the production of videos like 'Policing London', that information about the policing of London is available in the most graphic and accessible forms to all the people of London.That is the attitude adopted by Mr. Boateng in respect of that insidious video. In his view, it should be shown to children in the schools of inner London, among them my own children. As a parent, I detest that attitude. But I am not surprised that Mr. Boateng holds the views that he does, because he has gone even further. In The Standard of 18 September 1984, Mr. Boateng was directly quoted on the subject of justices of the peace in London. He said:We must now make magistrates accountable to the Party. That doesn't mean they will refer every decision to the Party but the quality of their justice will be measured. They will have to accept the line on Party justice.That is typical of the attitude of the Greater London council and of the chairman of its police committee. I invite the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) to repudiate Mr. Boateng's attack on magistrates and the message that communities must rebel which is about to be put before our children in the GLC's video about the police.
The best way to encourage our children to work with and co-operate with the police in our communities, which is the finest way to bring about effective policing and law and order in the metropolis, is to adopt the course that one finds in some parts of London, where the police go to schools and talk to children and attend other public events. Home beat officers attend events and talk to children and adults about their work. Mounted policemen attend with their horses, as do police drivers and motor cyclists. They try to interest the public in their work. Those events will help to bring about co-opertation and to educate the public properly about the work of the police.
I endorse the comment of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) that the police must be seen on housing estates and that borough councils must encourage the police to come on to estates and to communicate with the public to seek co-operation.
§ Mr. Corbyn
The hon. Gentleman believes that borough councils should have closer liaison with the police, but does he accept that the reorganisation of the Metropolitan police proposed by the Home Secretary will make liaison with any local authority much more difficult? The reorganisation will create huge new police areas, and many local authorities, including Conservative-controlled ones, have objected to it on those grounds.
§ Mr. Tracey
I do not agree that reorganisation will make liaison more difficult. It will still be possible to have the same format of consultative committees in the boroughs, and the community will still be able to consult the police. I am sure that the police will make it just as easy for councillors and residents' associations to communicate their views on the policing of London. I do not accept that the reorganisation, which seeks greater efficiency, will cut across lines of communication with the public.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will have picked up some useful points on the policing of London from this debate. We have a fine Commissioner in Sir Kenneth Newman, who has produced a useful report on policing in the metropolis in 1984. We must constantly seek greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness in the police force, and the important message that should go out from the House is that there should be the greatest possible co-operation between the public and the police in the metropolis.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
The debate is a travesty of the way in which we should discuss the organisation, control and operation of the police force in London. No one can pretend that it is satisfactory, when an organisation spends £800 million a year, to debate it once a year in the House on a Friday morning, with few hon. Members present and with the Home Secretary present for only part of the time, although he is the police authority for London. There will be no vote at the end of the debate, and we can have no detailed discussion on the way in which the police force is organised in each area.
I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will concede that there is a glaring lack of democracy in the running of London's police force compared with the system elsewhere in the country. Ministers must accept that, if Londoners are to have any confidence in the running of the police force, they must have an elected police authority. If it is good enough for every other police force to be run democratically, why is it not good enough for London?
Although we are discussing the police force, some reference must be made to the growing influence that the Commissioner and deputy commissioners of police have over the public order legislation framed by the Home Office. They also have growing influence with the media on the way in which public order issues are discussed. The Home Office has produced an ever-increasing framework of control and repression in its public order legislation. These are important matters.
The Home Secretary and police officers call for the control of political activity and dissent. The licensing system for marches, the control of political organisations which wish to march in London and the cost of policing those marches is creating an atmosphere of political repression which will lead to the banning of some political organisations. The Home Secretary's job is to protect political freedoms, not to create an atmosphere in which 1242 political freedoms are denied or might even be taken away. He should address himself to his role in protecting civil liberties rather than appearing on television and radio and making utterances in the opposite direction.
How is it that the Metropolitan police force manages to spend £801 million a year and claims to be an ever-growing force, yet it is always short of staff and its clear-up rate is by far the lowest in the country? It is incredible that the police are seriously considering tagging reported crimes so that they can decide whether they are worth investigating because their clear-up rate is already so inefficient.
I suspect that the Government intend to use the crime figures in the same way as the unemployment figures and to change the basis of the statistics so that they look better than they are. If the police decide that it is not worth following up a housebreaking when the goods lost are worth less than £100, for example, the clear-up rate will look much better. I hope that the Minister of State can assure us that the Government have no intention of introducing a system which would allow certain crimes to be ignored because the police cannot be bothered to clear them up.
Government Members talk about confidence in the police force and attacks on the police, real or imaginary, by Opposition Members and the GLC or borough councils. The Minister should consider the feelings of people in the communities, particularly in inner-city areas such as the one that I represent. Peolle are worried about burglary, damage to property, theft, racist attacks, attacks on women and safety on council estates. When approached locally, the police are often helpful and are prepared to discuss such matters. However, higher up the hierarchy of the Metropolitan police one finds a growing obsession with the need for high technology, highly mobile and heavily motorised policing which does nothing to improve the safety on council estates, and nothing to reduce the incidence of housebreaking, theft or petty burglary. In fact, it does the opposite.
People complain that, when a local policeman is appointed to a particular estate, as soon as he gets to know the area and to understand and work with the community he is moved to another beat. That is unsatisfactory. What does the Minister of State intend to do about that?
The lack of democracy in the police force is underlined by the complaints procedure. II cannot be satisfactory for an organisation to investigate itself when a complaint is made against it. A complaint against local government is investigated by the Commissioner for Local Authority Administration in England. Complaints against the Civil Service or any other public body are not investigated internally. The police tend to investigate themselves, and there is much disquiet about that. Lord Scarman, reporting in November 1981 following the Brixton riots, said:There is a widespread and dangerous lack of public confidence in the existing system for handling complaints against the Police. By and large, people do not trust the Police to investigate the Police.He was right, and all the surveys carried out by independent research organisations support that view.
Fears have been expressed about the reorganisation of the Metropolitan police. Many objections and complaints have been made about the proposal to reorganise the police into larger areas. In my area, the inner city borough of Islington, the unemployment rate is registered at about 20 per cent., but in real terms it is 30 per cent. or higher. For 1243 youth it is higher than that, and for black youth it is higher still. My constituents suffer enormous social deprivation. Our local police force is to be linked with Waltham forest, Haringey and Enfield, so creating a new police area extending from the City of London to Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. These are entirely different areas with different problems and different social attitudes.
What possible reason could there be for introducing that form of reorganisation? When the plans were placed on our desks, we learned that the proposal had come about as the result of management experts discussing with the police the most efficient way, in the view of the management experts, of running the police. The greatest input appeared to have been made by the McDonald hamburger chain. There was no consultation with local authorities, community organisations, tenants' associations and others concerned with the issues involved.
The Home Secretary may say that if we went in for super police areas the local relationship would remain unchanged. I do not believe that. We are likely to have a series of super police headquarters around London. Indeed, one is being planned for Islington. That will lead to the closure of other police stations, which in turn will lead to a highly centralised police force, with one person in charge of the district and responsible directly to the Commissioner, and the local level of consultation will have gone.
Underlying the plan by the Home Office is, in my view, a fear of the growing demand for democratic control of the police. Under the present system there is, in large measure, conterminosity between the boundaries of police districts and the borough councils.
A constituent of mine living in, say, Hornsey road in a council flat can, if wishing to complain about the flat, visit the local council offices or see the locally elected representative on the council. If that person is concerned about something to do with the police, he or she can do little but come to me, and one day once a year, in June, I might get a chance to raise the issue in. Parliament.
A parallel is becoming obvious with the denial of democratic rights as the police force is organised into a larger unit, which denies local authority consultation methods. Indeed, various consultation groups in London met the Minister of State about this issue and then presented him with a resolution. Police-community consultative organisations from Enfield, Hammersmith, Fulham, Harrow, Islington, Kensington, Chelsea, Lambeth, Merton and Wandsworth met on 18 March last and agreed a resolution saying:The group expressed its regret that the Consultative Committees were not given any prior notice of the proposed reorganisation … calls upon the Commissioner to amend his proposal to retain the Borough as the consultative unit, thereby also retaining the District as an operational unit under the control of a District Commander … calls upon the Commissioner to retain the Borough-based Community Liaison Officer.It would be interesting to know how many objections to the plans for reorganisation and, implicitly, the changes in consultation arrangements the Home Secretary received.
It would be interesting also to know how many of those complaints went on to call for a more democratic system of control of the police force in future. The Home Office owes it to the House and the people of London to explain the real motives behind the process of reorganisation. It 1244 has not convinced anyone that the reorganised force will be any cheaper to operate. I am convinced that it is trying to deny the possibility in future of locally elected police authorities, or at least some form of consultation at borough level in the running of the police force.
Many elements lie behind the problems of crime. There are important social elements such as the difficulties of unemployment, the disaffection of individuals and the degrees of alienation that many young people feel towards society. There are problems arising from our physical environment. A system of crimewatch has been established in Islington on the initiative of the London borough of Islington's police authority. The system has the support of the police committee support unit. The object of the crimewatch system is to set up a series of crime prevention working parties in the districts where the crimewatch system operates. The neighbourhood offices — they are part of the council's decentralisation programme—have as one of their jobs the operation of a crime prevention working party, which involves local community associations and tenants' associations. The working party examines the causes of crime, the safety of people walking along the streets and in estates at night, racial attacks, especially those on minority ethnic communities, lighting in council estates and many other matters.
The council has shown a commendable sense of responsibility towards the community in setting up the crimewatch system and involving the local community in it. I hope that I shall hear from the Minister of State that the Home Office is aware of what Islington is trying to do and of the co-operation that it has received from local community organisations. I hope also that he will say that he is prepared to extend the idea to other parts of the country, instead of going along with the Metropolitan police's obsession with public relations, which leads them to remove their contact with elected representatives of the people while they attempt to relate to everyone by means of press releases and media handouts.
The Minister of State will do well if he can tell us exactly what the cost is to be of reorganisation, and especially the cost of the new buildings that will be erected around London.
The debate is an unsatisfactory way of dealing with the immense problems which many people face in London. They feel that the police are not responding adequately to their worries and concerns. They do not see the police force in London as a responsive unit. Instead, they consider it to be extremely expensive, inefficient, bureaucratic and undemocratic.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I was most interested in what the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) had to say about the possible relationship—he said direct relationship—between unemployment, bad housing and crime. There is not a shred of evidence to support his views. In my professional career in teaching, I talked to the unemployed and their children. I often found that they were proud people and suffering greatly through not having a job. I found also that the last thing in which they were interested was crime.
One of the great men of our age—I feel that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree with me—is Bishop Trevor Huddleston, who is a lifelong friend of mine. He was inspired to become a priest in the Church 1245 of England by Father Basil Jellicoe, whose spiritual campaign, and campaign as the vicar of Somers Town in the 1920s, was based on the removal of slum housing. He argued that it should all be swept away as it was leading to massive social deprivation and crime. Since then, and partly as a result of his great and inspired campaigning, that housing has been completely replaced by brand new housing, but the crime rate now is higher than it was then. Even Trevor Huddleston accepts that there is no correlation between the two. It is easy to feel that there might be, but I do not believe that there is.
I wish to pay tribute to the London mounted police, who have so often been vilified by anti-police elements, including the GLC and members of the Labour party, and others. The police horses of London are among the most gentle horses that one could meet. They have a difficult role to play in policing rough crowds at football matches and also in their long-established role of policing well-behaved crowds.
The wonderful thing is that non-riders can apply to become mounted police officers. Someone with no ability to ride can be taken to lmber Court, taught to ride and trained gradually to handle difficult situations—such as last year's miners' strike, crowds given to violence, those going to and from soccer matches, and massive demonstrations. They do that with enormous competence. We never hear of horses kicking, maiming or injuring members of the public, even when they are terribly provoked. That is a great tribute to their basic training and to the way in which their riders are taught to handle them. Their duties are well done.
Echo was a notable police horse a few years ago. It was present when the IRA blew up and killed 12 soldiers and 7 horses in Hyde park. It survived that and continued with its duties for a short time, but eventually had to be retired because it was suffering from shock. During that period of illness from shock, the horse, by instinct and its training, carried out its duties competently. All those involved in the mounted police branch, mounted or not, should be congratulated on what they do.
The public relations of the mounted branch are good. The horses are taken to public events. The public can meet them, pat them and enjoy being with them. That is evidence of the fact that they are among the most gentle creatures in the world.
Police dog-public relations are admirable. There is a nursery school in my constituency which is 25 years old this month. To my amazement and horror, the police took an alsatian police dog to be with the children one morning. I should remind the House that I experienced being attacked and bitten twice by an alsatian during the last general election, so that, while I am a great dog lover, I take great care when I see alsatians about. That police dog was so well handled by its handler that the children could sit on its back, pat it and play with it, and under the handler's complete control it did extremely well. I am a keen dog lover, and that election incident has not put me off dogs.
I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) said about the Greater London council's anti-police film. I have raised the matter in the House twice this week. The film should be withdrawn. If the GLC is concerned about maintaining law and order in London, and if it wants reasonable relations between the police and the public, it should withdraw that film. I call upon it to do so. Vicious scenes in it are deliberately intended to 1246 show the police in a bad light. The police's basic job is to maintain freedom for all of us before the law. The people who attack the police most and in the most vicious terns are almost always the first to seek their protection if anything goes wrong, so they would do well to remember that they are ill-advised to undermine that thin blue line any further. If they succeed, everyone will suffer seriously, particularly the old and those ill-equipped to defend themselves.
I echo what many of my hon. Friends have said in the debate, that burglary is a substantial problem in the metropolis. There is no question but that even more attention needs to be given to ways of protecting people's homes. The neighbourhood watch scheme is admirable, excellent and going well. However, we cannot sit back and say that that excellent scheme is taking care of the situation. It is doing a lot, but there is still a large amount of burglary on every sort of housing estate and in every sort of area—not only in wealthy areas. Even poor people are being burgled.
Particularly this week, I have heard of people having belongings taken when they are moving into a new home. They might have moved a few belongings into the new house in advance of moving in properly. The burglars watch for that, and they take television sets, washing machines, driers and so on that are put in in advance. That is a new sort of burglary, which requires careful attention and thought.
People on holiday have great cause to worry about their homes. There seems to be no way of securing a home in a foolproof way against burglary, although the police give admirable advice. I recommend everybody to consult the police on how to put special locks on windows, doors and so on.
Local police consultative committees have been mentioned. They are unquestionably valuable forums for the meeting of police and representatives of the public on a regular basis. The police need to have a feel of what people in the community are saying and thinking. Members of the community have an equally urgent need to understand what the police are trying to do. I cannot understand why, in so many areas, the Socialists and the Labour party have boycotted those police consultative committees. They have done so in Ealing. That is to their detriment, and it is sad and disgraceful.
Partnership between the police and the public is essential. It can come only through police consultative committees and other such forums.
§ Mr. Greenway
The police have been in constant consultation with Parliament, the Home Secretary and elected representatives of Londoners.
§ Mr. Greenway
I think that they have done the right thing. I myself have had discussions. That puts what the hon. Gentleman said into perspective—
§ Mr. Soleyrose—
§ Mr. Greenway
I should like to continue my speech. I think that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to speak later. I can only speak from my own experience.
1247 The only way to cure the social and soccer violence which has so worried the country recently must be to improve religious and moral education in schools. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) seemed to do a double take at that statement, but I am serious. No society can be controlled by force. In the end, people must control themselves. That can come only if people accept a reasonable moral code, which, for me, is based on religious principles, but which may be more broadly based. Such acceptance must come from teaching in schools. However, there is no religious or moral education in our comprehensive schools after the third year. A recent report said that in two thirds of all primary schools those teaching religious education are confused and do not know what they are doing. If they do not know what they are doing, how much chance have the children of grasping the difference between right and wrong and the fact that society must be based on the principle of love thy neighbour rather than on the ability to punch harder than the next man? I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will use all of his influence to press those who are responsible to improve religious education, including proper acts of worship at morning assemblies.
Police visits are an essential part of the police relationship with the community and of helping children to understand what the police do and their role in society. There is nothing like a friendly talk from a policeman to encourage children not to talk to strangers and to learn how to cross the road properly and safely. Such matters are fundamental to the safety of children. It is disgraceful that the police are excluded from some schools in the metropolis. That is wicked, damaging and unfair to children and their parents. Policemen should not be strangers to children. Children should not be alienated from them by vicious films such as the GLC video, which we have already discussed today.
Schools have a responsibility to keep their curriculums interesting and dynamic and to keep children interested in attending school. High truancy rates in some parts of London present serious problems for the police. In some areas, 30 to 40 per cent. of children are out of school on any one day. If they are out of school, they are running about the streets and getting up to terrible mischief. A few months ago I met a 12-year-old boy who was appearing before the courts for taking and driving away a motor vehicle. He admitted to me that he had taken a Jaguar in the Lewisham area and driven it right across London to visit a friend and then back again. The mind boggles. He also told me that he had been truanting for a long time. He was a nice little boy and obviously had a lot of initiative, but he must be kept in school working and learning, preparing himself for life. That is the true outlet for such initiative, character and determination. He should not be pinching Jaguars, or any other cars, and driving them all over the place.
A terrible term-pigs-is often applied to the police. A substantial number of people, including members of the GLC and the Labour party, refer to the police as pigs. It would be bad enough to do so in a clandestine way, but to refer to the police in such a derogatory fashion is not only grossly insulting to a dedicated and fine body of men and women, but also damages their standing with the 1248 public. We know that that is the intention of those who so describe the police, but the term should be repudiated every time they say it or write it.
I welcome the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is trying to bring some sense into the policing of demonstrations. All those who want to hold demonstrations in London should not be allowed to do so freely every week, at enormous expense to the ratepayers and taxpayers. Demonstrations become a way of life. When I lived in Oxford House, Bethnal Green, a few years ago, a girl who was living in the settlement at the same time went on a different demonstration every week. For most of the time she did not know what she was going to demonstrate about. I asked her, "What is the demonstration tomorrow, Deborah?" and she replied, "I don't know what it is, but we are meeting at such and such a place."
If large numbers of people are demonstrating for sport, we do not want to deny them their sport, but one has to take some account of the huge cost of demonstrations to the people of London. Some kind of control must be exercised over the number of demonstrations that can be mounted by a particular group of people.
§ Mr. Ernie Roberts (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
The police force is supposed to be democratic and is expected to look after the interests of all the people in Britain, irrespective of race, colour or creed, but that is not so in the area that I represent. Black people, and others, are continually in conflict with the police because of the way that they are treated. I have examples here of complaints by my constituents that have been discussed with various Home Secretaries and others over many years.
Some of the cases have dragged on for years. I have met Home Secretaries, Ministers, more than one Commissioner and assistant commissioner, as well as commanders and chief superintendents to discuss the bad policing and the conflict between the police and the community in my constituency. The bad relationships continue.
I have in my hand a copy of a large advertisement that appears today in the local press. Its heading is "The independent committee of inquiry into policing in Hackney." It says that written submissions of evidence are invited. The chairman of the inquiry is the Reverend David Moore. It refers to"(A)the death of Colin Roach and the surrounding circumstances. (B) Stoke Newington police station. (C) The relationship between the police and the black community.Those are some of the issues that are to be investigated by the committee. The committee has to do the job because the Home Secretary has refused to do it. Replying to one request, the Home Office stated:The Home Secretary has … carefully considered the case for a wider form of enquiry into policing in Stoke Newington generally. He appreciates that there is genuine concern about past events and real anxiety about the future of community/police relationships, but he is not convinced that a wide-ranging public enquiry would be in the best interests of community/police relations in the borough.The public and their representatives are getting together to look into past and present problems that have been brought to their attention. The Roach case is only the tip of the iceberg. Many demonstrations took place and hundreds of people were arrested during that conflict. The Home 1249 Secretary must appreciate that there is still a demand for a public inquiry to be held into that case, even though several years have passed. The public are not satisfied with what has happened.
The Knight case has dragged on for years. Similarly, there is concern about the infamous White case in 1976 which continued for years and resulted in £51,000 being awarded against the police.
The way in which police in London deal with missing persons is also of considerable concern. The police found Colin Barnard's mother six months after he had been cremated. They later apologised. It is obvious that a proper procedure is needed to deal with missing persons. A campaign is being conducted to discover the whereabouts of the many thousands of missing persons.
I was invited to look into a procedure set up at Scotland Yard to deal with this problem. It must have been impossible to find the names of missing persons in the former system involving numerous filing cabinets and thousands of cards. The system has now been computerised, which I hope will mean that there is a better chance of obtaining information. These matters should not be left until the public complain about the activities of the police in searching for missing persons.
The public are concerned about cases in which black women are put into prison for a week, and then set free. Often, the police pick up people suffering from mental diseases or epilepsy and keep them in prison until their relatives discover where they are and get them out.
I am also worried about stop and search. Young black people out at night are told to stand against a wall, spread their legs and put up their hands. They are then searched. One young fellow told me that this had happened to him three times.
The Hackney Council for Racial Equality has a dossier of 40 cases, some of which have been passed on to me. The council has demanded an independent inquiry into policing in Hackney.
A member of the police force in my area has given me a document of several pages involving complaints against high-ranking police officers. He brought the case to me because, although he had the right, he had been stopped from giving it to the Commissioner. When I put the report in the Commissioner's hands, I said that it was from the sort of young policeman whom the Commissioner wanted in the police force and who should be protected as he was prepared to make allegations about the bad behaviour of his superiors. That was about six months ago, and I have not yet received a reply. I should like to know what has happened in that case, especially to the young policeman. I think that he was a detective who was moved around.
I, like the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), am worried about the relationship between schools and the police. In Hackney the lack of faith in and dissatisfaction at the behaviour of the police is so great that the teachers exclude the police from the schools. There have also been many complaints from parents. I have had meetings with police commanders, deputy assistant commissioners and others about the Finsbury park, Manor park and Brownswood road areas, where young blacks are constantly stopped and searched, and arrested on charges of obstruction. Unemployed young people cannot keep walking, they must stand still sometimes. They should not be moved on for standing on the pavement and talking to their friends, or picked up on a charge of obstruction, if they refuse to move on. The use of the SPG, about which 1250 there were complaints and which has been replaced by the special control unit, still gives rise to concern and complaints.
Our citizens want to see policemen on the estates, the streets and the beat, but not in fast-moving vehicles screaming through the streets. In many cases the police over-react. Such over reactions are recorded in many photographs in the document "Policing London" under the heading "Routine Over-reaction" which states:The use of excessive force and routine over-reaction can be understood as a response to boredom.That excuse is not enough.
We want less policing of the "Starsky and Hutch" variety. I think that the police watch too much televisiion and try to repeat on the streets of London the antics of those whom they watch. It is time that they were taken out of their cars and put on the streets where people want to see them, can talk and complain to them and where, if a mugging takes place, there should be easy access to a policeman.
Hackney borough council has set up a police committee. Over the years there have been constant attempts to get the Home Office to agree to the police being represented on it, or even attending it. Representatives of the community groups and of all the political parties of the council are represented on it. They do not kid themselves that the Committee has any legal authority. It is of a consultative nature, as the Home Secretary knows. However, it could be even more useful in getting co-operation between the community and the police.
It is time that the Home Secretary and the Commissioner looked at these matters more carefully. A consultative committee has been set up in my area, chaired by the chairman of the local chamber of commerce. The two local Members of Parliament are invited to attend. It would be much more useful, however, if the police also sent a representative to the Hackney borough council police committee. There could then be an exchange of views, it would be clear that the council was being treated in a responsible way by the police and the committee would be assisted in its consideration of the problems of policing in the area.
Finally, I wish to make certain demands to the Home Secretary about policing in London. As my colleagues have pointed out, the police need to be democratised. Sometimes individuals need to be protected from police abuse. We need a rearrangement of police functions and internal organisation and new priorities in the deployment and aims of policing in London.
Much police time in London is spent on social work. In my view, the police are not properly trained for that and do not constitute a suitable agency for such work, which is best carried out by the specially trained personnel employed by the social services.
It must be made clear that crimes against the community are more important than crimes against the holders of capital. We need more community policing, more police on the beat and less of the "Starsky and Hutch" type overreaction that so often occurs.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
In the first debate on policing in London after the 1983 general election, the Under-Secretary of State spent virtually the whole of his speech boasting that Red Ken's efforts to control the police 1251 had been beaten off for ever. I think that that is a fair summary. The Minister tried to personalise a serious issue facing London. The debate was not about Ken Livingstone. It was, and it still is, about accountability. It is an argument about democracy. Moreover, the Minister was wrong, because the move for accountability has not been beaten off. It is the return of the repressed. The movement has come back even stronger and it is a growing constituency, as the Tories will discover to their cost.
Accountability is still very much a live issue because of the rising crime rate. There have been record increases in crime every year, and I suspect that the figures for the past year will be even higher because London was left to the criminals while the police were taken elsewhere to do the Government's dirty work against the miners. The clear-up rate is also pathetically low — just 8 per cent. for burglaries in my area. The police have been shown to be increasingly ineffective in stopping the rising crime rate. That is why accountability becomes ever more necessary and higher on the political agenda.
It is unfortunate, but true, that the public's alienation from the police runs deep in all sectors of the community, and it is not smoothed over by Tories saying, "The police are doing a wonderful job. Let's leave it to them." As one of my hon. Friends said in an aside, "You might as well give the public a police horse to stroke and all will be well." That approach will not solve the problems.
Police-community relations are at a low ebb, and there are many reasons for it. The police are perceived as a force and not as a service to the community. They are increasingly seen as overtly political. Against the miners, they were put in the forefront of that political role by the Government, and in London we saw them even harassing people who wanted to make collections to support miners' families on the poverty line. They are used politically against blacks and the ethnic minorities. They are used against the Left. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts) did not quote the headline which I have in my possession. Newman said in his last report:Our enemies are on the Left.The police perceive the Left as the enemy.
What is more, the police are often seen by the public as being above the law. There is not an independent complaints procedure. The police investigate themselves. The figure for successful complaints — assuming that people bother to go that far with the procedure, because often many give up without going through it—is a little over 1 per cent. That does not inspire confidence.
People see that they do not have any real say. I remind the House that £400 million is spent on the police by Londoners, but they have no control or effective say. It is because of that lack of democracy that the police are so slow to react to community needs.
The alienation is in all parts of the community, but it is very high amongst the ethnic minorities. Polls taken from those living in ethnic communities show an immense lack of confidence in the police.
In my own Waltham Forest area, there have been calls for vigilantes amongst those groups to defend their communities. I oppose the idea, because those ethnic minorities pay their taxes and have the right to proper police protection. They should not have to resort to 1252 vigilantes. But the calls have been fueled by racial attacks, including some terrible murders in east London, and the police have been slow to realise the racist nature of many assaults and harassments. During this Session of Parliament, I intend to introduce my Racial Harassment Bill under the ten minutes rule with a view to making such conduct an offence and tightening the law. But the police must step up their campaign against racists if they are to get the confidence of the ethnic minorities.
The police need the support of the community. The recently published Leyton police divisional report recognises that. It says:There is abundant evidence that police action is insufficient to reduce crime. The aim of gaining the active co-operation of others is imperative.Efforts are being made. Some are real. Others, I am sorry to say, are token efforts. But the reality is that, because of Home Office negligence and the overall lack of accountability of the police, the opposite is true. There is less public confidence in the police.
Another cause of alienation is the obsession of the police with moving to high tech, which is often not properly thought out and certainly is not cost-effective, instead of getting policemen on the beat, with the confidence and support of the public.
I shall give three examples of high-tech policing and its disturbing implications. The first relates to the tracking bugs which the police can place on cars. In the recent case of Mr. Colin King, it was shown that the police had placed such a device on the car of a man who had no criminal record and who was subsequently acquitted in court. The police officers who used it now await trial for setting up a bank robbery. The case has serious implications, because it is another step in the increasing intrusion into people's private lives and disregard for their civil liberties. The police should not be allowed to track cars simply because they do not like someone or, as in Mr. King's case, his friends. That amounts to harassment and intimidation.
The guidelines on the use of such devices are lax. At least when the police want a search warrant, they must obtain authorisation from a high-ranking officer or, independently, from a justice of the peace. There is no such safeguard here. The Secretary of State must approve any telephone tapping, but he need not approve car bugging. There is no compensation for the victims of unjustified bugging.
It might be said that innocent people have nothing to fear from this high-tech intrusion into their lives. However, people's private lives are not shop windows. If the police themselves were bugged, we would catch many more crooked policemen, but, rightly, there would be outrage from the Police Federation. Civil liberties apply to everyone, not just to the police. The fact that the Home Secretary has no control over the use of car bugs means that it has become much more widespread.
The second example is the automatic fingerpinting machine purchased by the Metropolitan police for £1,654,000. No doubt its running costs are also substantial. However, identifications have increased by only one a day. That is not real value for money, and I do not believe that the Minister can justify it. I know that he sent me a letter on the subject, but I wish to quote the draft Home Office circular of September 1984:The AFR system at New Scotland Yard has the capacity to make one million comparisons a day. This is a very substanial figure but is small in relation to the size of the database which the system could hold. For example, only four marks a day could 1253 be searched against an entire collection of 250,000 sets of prints (ie 2.5 million digits). Moreover, if the marks could not be identified as belonging to a particular digit the search could take up to 10 times as long. Preliminary trials with an alternative make of AFR system have indicated that it is faster but less accurate.The Home Office draft circular shows that the technology is too slow. The police should have anticipated that and should not have spent £2 million on a system only to find out that it is too slow. The Minister has a duty to get value for money from high tech.
The third example is the police national computer. A recent parliamentary question from me elicited the amount of information that is stored from the computer. There are many implications relating to the number of car records on it. The police can obtain someone's name and address immediately by asking the computer. They never used to be able to obtain the address.
The criminal names index with its 5 million names has created a stir. One person in 10 is categorised as a criminal. When the figures were published, one criminologist said that one man in three in his lifetime is likely to be categorised as a criminal. People are being stigmatised. That is serious, particularly at a time of high unemployment, because people might find it more difficult to get a job if their names appear on the index. If the trend continues, Britain is likely to have more criminals than workers. There is a long way to go before we reach that position, but that is the trend.
The increasing number of secret records on individuals has all the hallmarks of police states throughout the world, yet the Home Office is letting it happen. No guidelines have been issued about the names that go on the criminal names index or about their removal. I received a letter recently from a man who was stopped for a car check and the police knew that he had stolen a bottle of milk 22 years ago when he was only 16. That letter is on its way to the Home Office.
How soon does information go on the computer? Does it go on before a person is acquitted by the courts? Access is another problem. Terminals are being set up in police stations throughout the country. What rules govern who can have access to the information? Information could find its way to finance companies or blackmailers. Individuals do not have access to their own records or the opportunity to correct errors. The Home Office has ignored all the serious implications.
The Guardian of 13 June summarised three key issues effectively:First, the decision to computerise must be taken properly and openly, after effective consultation and with stringent evaluation of the effectiveness of the investment … Second, computerisation should be confined to proper police functions— not rumours and gossip or "so-called criminal intelligence."Finally … there must be effective safeguards for the individual.The Guardian was right in that respect.
High tech has serious implications which have been ignored by the Home Office. Community policing is being ignored in the high-tech drive and the crime rate is rising. High-tech policing is bad value for money. A better job could be done through community policing.
Under the victim support scheme, 587 local referrals have been made since November 1984. The Department of the Environment turned down the urban aid application for that scheme, but the much-despised GLC came to its rescue. The Department of the Environment and the Home Office squabbled about who should foot the bill.
1254 The Government have a responsibility for the social conditions which increase crime in London and throughout the country. They are responsible for unemployment and the cut in services. People who are jobless, who receive no help and are bitter, might well reject the order in society. That might have bitter consequences for Britain's youth. The immigration laws give encouragement to racism, and the Government have a responsibility in that connection, too.
The Tories have fostered a society based on personal acquisitiveness and greed instead of co-operation. That is the main reason why they are the guilty men in terms of policing in London. In the main, it is not a question of the police doing a good or bad job—although the lack of accountability leads to the latter — but of the Government having failed to stem the rising tide of crime. Instead, they are fostering the conditions for crime.
§ 2.5 pm
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
Throughout the Commissioner's report are references to the fact that the police alone cannot deal with the crime rate. That point has been stressed by many of my hon. Friends and, to a limited extent, by Conservative Members. Perhaps the biggest criticism one can make of the debate derives from the complacency of the remarks of the Home Secretary and of some of his hon. Friends.
Twenty years ago there was one police officer for every 602 citizens in the United Kingdom. Today there is one for every 393. Under the Tories, however, the crime rate has been rocketing and there has been continual disorder. The message is clear. The Government cannot introduce socially and economically divisive policies and expect the police to deal with the consequences. That has happened and that is why this, more than any other, Government have exploited the law and order issue. They did it in 1979 and again in 1983, although it back-fired on them. If they want proof of that, they need only read the Police Review, which criticised them during the miners' strike for using the police to enforce their industrial relations policy. A headline to that effect appeared in that publication.
The booklet "Principles of Policing and Guidance for Professional Behaviour", issued by the Metropolitan police, contains some interesting matter which I would quote if there were time. The Commissioner deals on page 2 with the subject of the police not chasing up minor offences. That leads one to think of some of those who have been criminalised and brought before the courts as a result of demonstrations or industrial disputes, of which there are many.
One recognises the dangers that exist in Britain of using the police as the Government's private army. That is what the Tories have been trying to do. The police resent that as much as all firm and committed democrats resent it.
The victim support scheme is dealt with at page 61 of the report. The GLC has been criticised by Conservative Members. I repeat, for the benefit of the hon. Members for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway)—I appreciate why the latter is no longer in the Chamber—that the quotation to which they referred from the film came from a man reading from some poetry as part of a poetry reading. Are we to assume that every organisation which films or provides detail of every line of poetry or piece of literature is in some way endorsing 1255 the remarks that are made? Does the Home Secretary believe that one line from a poem represents even the poet's view of the whole?
I have seen the film and I fear that I must tell the hon. Member for Ealing, North that he tried to use it as a propaganda weapon and in a way, frankly, that would have made even Dr. Goebbels feel ashamed. I appreciate that a by-election campaign is in progress and that the Government are worred about that, but that was sinking to a low level.
§ Mr. Traceyrose—
§ Mr. Soley
I would normally give way, but time does not permit me to do so.
The GLC has been funding the London victim support scheme since 1981 and at present there is an application in for £17,672. That application, which is backed by the GLC police committee and the police support unit, is with the Secretary of State. I believe that the money is unlikely to be forthcoming. I hope that when he replies to the debate the Minister will announce whether the Government intend to give the victim support scheme that money.
How will his Department fund the victim support scheme after the abolition of the GLC? I challenge him to answer that question today. The Commissioner says in his report that those bodies give full backing to the scheme but that the Government will not finance it. Let us have an answer to that question in the next 15 or 20 minutes.
I urge the Home Secretary to consider again the report of the all-party penal affairs group on prevention of crime among young people. The rate of recorded crime for those aged between 14 and 16 years is higher than that for any other age group. The second highest rate is for those aged between 17 and 20 years. We can do much to prevent crime among those who fall within those age groups, but what has happened? The Government have cut every decent prevention scheme worth its name.
The Home Secretary and other Conservative Members have talked about neighbourhood watch schemes. Neighbourhood watch is the fig leaf with which they try to cover their nakedness on this issue. I am not opposed to neighbourhood watch, but the assumptions that are being made about its success rate are not proven. If they were, I should be cheering along with everyone else. Some evidence suggests that neighbourhood watch works well in certain suburban areas, but there is a problem because it consumes manpower that could be used elsewhere. At the end of the day it may prove its usefulness throughout the country but I suspect that it will prove to be especially useful in certain areas while not providing the complete answer in others.
It has been shown by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders that the safe neighbourhood unit does much better than neighbourhood watch. The unit is funded by the GLC; is that not amazing? The Government appear not to be interested in the unit. It is engaged in crime prevention and the Government appear to take the view that it can go or that it can be funded by others. Who will replace the unit when the Government abolish the GLC?
It is the vandalised and run-down areas that face the major problem. Burglary is a nationwide problem. The chance of being burgled is about 1:40 throughout England 1256 and Wales. It is 1:12 in inner city areas. Neighbourhood watch will not be able to resolve that problem. However, many suggestions are made in the all-party document to which I have referred and in a document which has been prepared by NACRO, which has submitted various schemes. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has referred to some of them, which involve the provision of more caretakers, better locks and doors, improved housing standards, the provision of nursery facilities, getting families with young children out of high rise flats and many other matters. Much of this provision and many of these improvements have been cut by the Government over the past few years, or will be cut.
Will the Minister give the House a guarantee that any local authority that introduces a crime prevention scheme of a type of which he approves will not be rate-capped or targeted on the basis of the money that is made available for the scheme? In other words, will he ensure that the money for the scheme is available over and above the financial targets that have been set for local authorities? Let us have an answer to that question as well.
One small action of the Government that will do more to produce crime than any other act by any Minister is the board and lodging scheme. The NACRO surveys and many others show that young people who are homeless and adrift are highly vulnerable to getting into trouble with the police. The board and lodging scheme will keep young people on the move. It will increase vagrancy and drug addiction because a young homeless person is likely to become a runner to get money. He is likely to use drugs in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) described so vividly and so well.
The scheme will lead to alcohol abuse. One of the ways of coping with sleeping out at night is to drink heavily before settling down for a cold night. Alcohol, too, pushes people into crime. The scheme will cause misery for the young people who are part of it and for many others who will suffer the results of the problem.
Which of the recommendations set out in the all-party report on the prevention of crime among young people will the Home Secretary introduce and when will he implement them? I shall be content if the right hon. and learned Gentleman chooses to make an announcement on another occasion. We look forward to his statement at some stage.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North told us that he was consulted on the management issue. I understand why the hon. Gentleman has had to leave the Chamber. As I said in an intervention, he was not consulted. No London Member of Parliament was consulted. I am not even sure that the Home Secretary and the Minister were consulted. They might have been, but everyone accepts that that management scheme is not good in terms of consultation not just because it crosses borough boundaries, as has been said, but because it brings in different areas—the middle class suburbs with the inner city areas. It produces many consultation problems.
There must be democratic control of the police. Anyone who argues against that must be out of his or her mind. In the last century the House had a record of which we should be proud for setting up Select Committees that called evidence. Somehow we lost that in the recent past and had to regain it. The House set up committees to investigate riots, disorders and policing. One of my biggest criticisms of the Home Secretary is that we can have riots in Savernake forest and shootings in the streets of London, 1257 such as in the Baigrie case, and yet we do not have a statement in the House nor do we receive effective replies to the questions that we ask in letters to the Home Secretary. I still have not received a detailed reply from the Home Secretary about what he will do about shotguns and how Mr. Baigrie obtained that shotgun. We have had no answers or thoughts about that. The message that goes out to the British people is that the Government do not believe that those matters are important enough to make a statement about them in the House or in public. That is unacceptable.
I should like an answer today to my next question. I am deeply disturbed about the number of accidents in which the police have been involved. The Minister will know this because he has replied to written questions from me, but it seems that at least 26 police officers have been killed in police driving accidents, yet the police officers' training manual states:It is far better that a criminal should escape for the time being than that the crew of a Police Car and other road users should be exposed to grave risk of injury.I do not believe that this is an unreasonable request, but I hope that the Minister will ensure that the figures are soon available. Our questions have not been answered because, the Minister says, the information is not available. I understand why. It is unacceptable that so many police officers and other road users are killed and that no statement is made to the House or answers given to written questions. I ask the Minister to say that the figures will be collected and a statement made.
On firearms, I notice that page 157 of the report states that there has been an increase in new firearm certificates. When will the Home Office set up some departmental machinery to review the whole subject of guns, replica guns and other weapons and the issue of certificates?
I should have liked to speak about the need to provide compensation for police officers who are killed or injured on duty so that they no longer have to go through the Criminal Injuries Board procedure. I should also have liked to talk about the excessively bureaucratic nature of the new complaints procedure that has been introduced. We should much prefer a system based upon the ombudsman which would be less bureaucratic and therefore release more police officers to do the job that hon. Members want them to do.
The Government's record on law and order is a disgrace. They promised the world and delivered nothing. All that they have been able to fall back on has been the one fig leaf of neighbourhood watch, and vicious, unjustified attacks on the GLC which they cannot substantiate when they are asked. That is not an answer to the problems facing the people of this country.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Giles Shaw)
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) will allow me at least to comment on the fact that a Government who have increased resources for the police from £1.1 billion to £2.8 billion, and have increased the number of police officers by 12,500 in four years, have made a sufficient demonstration of a commitment to law and order.
The crime figures have increased continuously and alarmingly for many years, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) correctly pointed out, but there can be no suggestion of anyone being complacent 1258 about significant increases in crime. It is in no sense a comfort, but the increase in crime in England and Wales between 1979 and 1984 was about 37 per cent. whereas in the Metropolitan police area it was 29 per cent. Crime in London has not increased as alarmingly as elsewhere.
That is the magnitude of the task that faces the Metropolitan police and the Commissioner. That is why every effort is being bent towards seeing that London policing is redesigned to make it more effective in the continuing fight against crime.
Many hon. Members raised different matters in the debate. One of the most significant was in connection with reorganisation. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred to the areas. I make it clear that the decision on the eight areas is final, but that the decision on the divisions and how that works is a matter for which consultation is still in order. That is the backbone of the reorganisation.
Let us be clear about why this reorganisation is taking place. As the Commissioner says on page 17 of his report, when he considers the rationale behind that major reorganisation:the rationale for change lay in:badly defined roles which resulted in large parts of the organisation working towards their own ends rather than toward a shared purpose;too much energy and effort being wasted in keeping the organisation going instead of serving the mainline job of policing:the size and power of headquarters strangling the Force, taking up valuable manpower and placing unnecessary demands on the remainder; andthe tendency for the organisation to try to cope with problems through superficial changes in the bureaucratic system, rather than looking for real solutions.With such importance attached to it, that a major structural change is subject to the Commissioner's operational decision, in consultation with the police authority. That is the decision that has been made The consequence of that major change in structure will be to provide substantially more resources and, above all, substantially more focus on the boroughs, such as the one that the hon. Member for Newham, South represents—
§ Mr. Shaw
The fact remains that about 19 per cent. of the manpower of the Metropolitan police have been involved in the headquarters buildings. Therefore, the change represents an important release towards operational policing.
With regard to the divisions, the hon. Member for Newham, South will know that many boroughs already have cross borders with other police divisions. That has been so in the past. There is nothing peculiar about that. However, with regard to the decision to change from the original figure to eight—
§ Mr. Spearingrose—
§ Mr. Shaw
I shall not give way.
I now refer to other points made by other hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), in an excellent contribution, made crime prevention his major theme. Although the hon. Member for Hammersmith does not appear to believe in the neighbourhood watch scheme and does not want to see it encouraged, it is a fact that it is one of the most important developments that the Commissioner has undertaken. About 1,200 neighbourhood watch schemes are now established in the metropolis and about 515 more are planned. That is an important part of the proceedings.
It is a vital part of the Commissioner's proposals that consultation be established throughout the metropolis in the areas in which the new police arrangements will be set. Consultation groups of the kind that the Commissioner has asked to be established under his new guidance will be the vital vehicle, the forum within which all those matters and issues can be discussed. It is important to note that funding will be available under the Metropolitan police budget to ensure that those groups are capable of supporting themselves administratively.
The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) referred to the Police Complaints Authority, which was also mentioned by several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). The Police Complaints Authority, in its new guise, with its independent authority chaired by a former parliamentary ombudsman, provides infinitely greater independence in the handling of complaints, both in the supervision and direct handling of the more serious complaints. That arrangement has been widely welcomed, as it is regarded as a major change of quality and quantity in how complaints will be handled. I do not agree that the Police Complaints Authority should be tarred with the brush that it is not independent. It is substantially independent.
The right hon. Member for Gorton mentioned women recruits to the Metropolitan police. The force is making a considerable effort to improve its recruitment of women officers and to ensure that they are treated fairly. The Commissioner has set up a working party, assisted by a representative of the Equal Opportunities Commission, to undertake an overall review of the recruitment and employment of women in the force. All women who are interviewed for selection are interviewed by a panel which includes at least one senior woman police officer. In view of that, I hope that recruitment will improve. The right hon. Gentleman might wish to know that a woman was recently promoted to the rank of commander. She is the second to be promoted to that rank in the Metropolitan police.
The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) made a thoughtful speech and mentioned ethnic recruits. At the last count, there were 270 ethnic minority officers in the Metropolitan police, 228 male and 42 female, 20 of whom were in the CID. I hope that that answers his question about whether any detectives are drawn from minority groups.
§ Mr. Shaw
The main issue raised by some of my hon. Friends was that of increased establishments. Increased establishments have been the order of the day in the rapid growth of the Metropolitan police recently, but I must tell my hon. Friends, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), that there has been a significant improvement in cash resources and in manpower. The increase of 4,500 in the uniformed strength is equivalent to the entire police force of Merseyside. That is a major increase.
With the major structural change that is now in hand, the redeployment that it will bring, and with the increased resources now available, there should be a much better chance of more policemen being redeployed into the community and on to the beat, where hon. Members want them to be. Having about 19 per cent. of manpower employed in headquarters is hardly the best way in which to get optimum efficiency out of this huge metropolitan force. Although there is no significant increase in establishment in prospect, there has been consistent growth during the past five years and now, with the redeployment being engineered by the Commissioner, there should be a massive improvement in the number of police on other duties.
The debate has been characterised by the awful problems of dealing with crime and drugs and by the demand for further resources. I think that both sides of the House agree that the most important development is the increased commitment to the community having a role to play in policing. That has been recognised in the Commissioner's report and in the reorganisation.
§ Mr. Shaw
—throughout the metropolis, which was not established before. Opposition Members should not assume that the borough is the sole gift for community representation when it comes to community policing. The remit of the Metropolitan police and its structure under my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary as police authority requires an all-London basis for consultation. The method of consultation outlined in the Commissioner's guidelines will stretch that consultation beyond the remit of borough councils. That is the intention, and it will be established soon.
With more than 26,000 officers, the Metropolitan police is the largest police force in the United Kingdom, but as this is a metropolitan capital city the force has a national role to play, which includes dealing with terrorism and the protection of diplomats and of royalty. However, its role is based upon the community of London which it seeks to serve. The House will conclude that the Commissioner's report for this year shows clearly how seized he is of these objectives and how determined he is to ensure that during his leadership of the force London will be better policed in the years to come.
It being half past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.