HC Deb 24 June 1988 vol 135 cc1367-436

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Dorrell.]

9.35 am
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

The last time the House debated the policing of London was in July 1986. Last year, the general election came in the way and there was no debate. I am glad to return to these debates in circumstances which are, at least in some respects, more hopeful than those of two years ago.

Policing in 1988 is a hard job. It always has been, and it always will be. Every day of the year, we expect our police officers to face the different consequences of human failure, anger, violence, jealousy and greed. They are backed by the uncertain protection of their uniform and their own human qualities, and we ask police officers to protect us from the daily calamities of our existence. Nothing of that has changed since 1986.

The events of 1986 still cast their shadow. The pictures from Wapping illustrated just what modern policing demands of its officers. Men and women are expected at one moment to be Dixons of Dock Green, and at the next to don protective gear against a barrage of missiles, yet remain restrained and disciplined. Hon. Members will know that the actions of some officers are being investigated by the Police Complaints Authority because of allegations made at Wapping. I cannot comment on cases under investigation, and I do not wish to give the impression that any malpractice—if it turns out that there was any—is excusable, but I emphasise that the pressure faced by Metropolitan police officers then and today should be remembered by all those of us who, often unthinkingly, enjoy their protection.

It is right to be cautious about recorded crime statistics, but it is possible for necessary caution to become unnecessary fatalism. It is too easy to treat rises in recorded crime as signs of some inevitable deterioration, while dismissing falls as quirks in the data. The figures fluctuate—we must remember that—but better figures are still better than worse ones.

I welcome the 4 per cent. fall in recorded crime in the Metropolitan police district in 1987. That does not mean that I claim that crime is defeated or that the tide has firmly turned. I am well aware that the figures for the first quarter of this year were less encouraging, but, despite the first quarter's rise, recorded crime in the 12 months to the end of March was 2 per cent. lower than in the preceding year. Having made all the cautionary points about statistics, I may say that 4 per cent. less crime in 1987 is an indicator of progress, for which the police and members of the public deserve some credit.

Overall figures can mislead. The 4 per cent. reduction masks more spectacular decreases, and increases, in particular crimes and at particular places.

The most disturbing trend was in offences involving violence. In 1987, there was an 11 per cent. increase in offences of violence against the person. Such offences still account for a very small proportion—about 3 per cent.—of the recorded crime total, but the fear they engender and the suffering they cause is especially severe. That is why the police and the courts have to concentrate on them. Crimes of violence can occur at any time and almost anywhere. That means that prevention is especially hard.

The Metropolitan police has issued guidance on ways in which members of the public can reduce the risk of attack, but we cannot eliminate that risk. We can, however, reduce it by increasing the police presence on the streets.

The additional manpower that I have authorised for the Metropolitan police has been granted with the specific intention of increasing street patrols. In 1987, the Commissioner targeted 16 divisions in London in which there was a particularly acute street robbery problem, and made a special effort to provide them with additional resources—particularly manpower. These divisions—despite having severe crime problems—performed better than average. While robbery over the rest of the Metropolitan police district rose by 17 per cent., in the 16 chosen divisions it rose on average by 9 per cent. and in three of the most difficult—Brixton, Clapham and Battersea—it actually fell. The Commissioner was right to target his resources in that way.

Not all groups of violent offences showed an increase. It was especially heartening to note a fall of 11 per cent in the figures for rape and a small decrease in the number of homicides.

The figures for non-violent offences are more encouraging. In particular, the reduction of nearly 5 per cent. in domestic burglaries must be connected with the efforts that people are increasingly making to reduce crime in their own communities. That investment of effort—usually in the form of neighbourhood watch schemes was reflected in outstanding local results. In Highbury vale, Holloway, between March and September 1987, two excellent watch schemes on council estates showed burglary figures 20 per cent. and 50 per cent down on the same period in the preceding year. These trends can be maintained. They are not necessarily short term. The 131 schemes in Wimbledon cover almost 44,000 households, and the number of recorded burglaries is almost a fifth lower than in 1983.

Theft of and from cars accounts for almost 30 per cent. of notifiable offences. I find that an amazingly high figure. Our cars are much more vulnerable than our homes or ourselves. We take much less trouble in protecting them, although perhaps we are changing our ways. Theft and the unauthorised taking of motor vehicles fell by 15 per cent in 1987. Like burglary, this a crime that the public can help to prevent by taking fairly simple precautions.

Levels and trends in crime vary not only between types of crime, but also between divisions. The Metropolitan police district covers an immense diversity of communities, from the tourist and financial centres of the west end and the City, through inner-city divisions, to the outer suburbs and the rural fringe. That is why it makes sense that local chief superintendents consult their communities and set local priorities to meet the varying needs of their divisions. In 1988, burglary, rowdyism and autocrime appear in the divisional objectives of divisions like Barkingside, Bexleyheath and Hayes while in divisions such as Peckham, West Ham and Hackney, robbery, drugs and violent attacks are included. The spread of the Metropolitan police district is catered for by the discretion granted to local management. That means that the concerns of outer divisions are not made subservient to those of inner city, or vice versa.

The Metropolitan police is responsible for maintaining the Queen's peace in a capital city. It is an organsation of about 40,000 people, costing about £1 billion each year. That is a huge effort and a huge resource. The Metropolitan police deserves, and I am determined that it should continue to receive, the resources that it needs, but we must be clear that those resources must be used to the best possible effect.

Let me deal with the provision of resources in a little more detail. The main resource is manpower—men and women, civilian and uniformed. Manpower accounts for about 80 per cent. of police spending. The strength of the Metropolitan police has never been greater. At the time of the last bulk intake of recruits on 6 June, the strength of the force stood at 27,786, which is a record. The figure is 5,550 higher than it was in May 1979. That means greater cost, because one cannot police on the cheap. The consequences of policing on the cheap were all too plain 10 years ago in the lowering of morale and in the number of police forces way below establishment.

The provision of proper pay for police officers has improved matters immensely. Ten years ago, forces simply could not recruit up to their establishments. Today, we have not only increased those establishments; we have provided the resources to realise them. The Met is no exception. Today, its strength is about 99 per cent. of establishment and it expects to reach before the end of the year the increased establishment that I announced in April. Provision has been made for a further 300 officers next year. That shows that we are talking not about paper figures and rhetoric but about real support for the police.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I apologise for missing the first couple of minutes of the Home Secretary's speech. I accept that he is making efforts to increase establishments and to recruit. Will he tell the House whether the problem of the retention of police officers in London has been dealt with equally successfully and progressively? The great concern of London Members is that the established force in a particular division or district may be reduced when key people leave suddenly to take up another position in the force. Policing London is difficult, and young people especially find it difficult to stay. They are tempted to go to quieter parts of the country. Is the Home Secretary confident that we are dealing with that problem, because people in London consider the retention of police officers to be one of the signs of a coherent and committed police force?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. We have managed to achieve record strength in the Metropolitan police despite the problem he mentioned, which is a very real one. That is why, in the Police Negotiating Board, the official side is trying to work out a reorganisation of the London arrangements to concentrate the extra resources available on retention rather than on the London allowance, which covers everyone. That proposal is in the negotiating machinery at the moment, and no doubt we shall return to the matter.

Spending on the Met has increased by 59 per cent. in real terms since 1978–79. That is a huge increase. Taxpayers and ratepayers in London strongly support that increase, but they are entitled to ask whether the money is being well used. In the foreword to his annual report for 1987, which was published earlier this month, the Commissioner wrote: Quite rightly we must, along with other public bodies like education, health and social services, show that we give value for money. In an organisation of the size of the Metropolitan police, which has a huge range of tasks, it is not at all easy to measure value for money. However, the police are beginning to do that more effectively.

Some portray the Met as an uncontrolled bureaucracy with too many expensive officers stuck behind desks. Let me give some facts to refute that. Last year, there was a reduction of 344 in headquarters staff and an increase of 752 in the number of officers on area. More than 400 additional constables were on divisions between March and the end of the year, and 13 per cent. more hours were spent on street duty by divisional police constables. There were 6 per cent. more arrests. That push of resources into the field—it is not easy to achieve—is a tribute to the present Commissioner, who has made an outstandingly good start, and to his predecessor, Sir Kenneth Newman.

People want more officers out in the streets. Street duty is up by 13 per cent. People want criminals arrested. Arrests are up 6 per cent. People want officers in their areas, not in distant headquarters buildings. The number of headquarters posts went down by more than 300, and posts on areas rose by over 750. The average division of the Metropolitan police had five to six more uniformed police constables at the end of last year than at the beginning. Civilianisation is steadily releasing officers from desk jobs. In. first two years of the manpower programme that I announced in May 1986, around 200 officers were. released by civilianisation to operational duties.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I refer the Home Secretary to resources and the expansion of requirement. Is it not a fact that a considerable proportion of the £1 billion comes from existing ratepayers, with a national proportion from the Exchequer, to deal with the national responsibilities of the Metropolitan police? Therefore, when we change to a poll tax, persons will literally pay for the protection of persons.

Is it envisaged that a significant proportion of money will come from the national commercial property tax to pay for the protection of property? The Home Secretary is quite properly talking about value for money, but it is not at all easy for the voter who pays poll tax to evaluate it. These are important, fundamental issues, and perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will refer to them in his winding-up speech. The poll tax payer will pay a significant amount of money.

Mr. Hurd

Yes, but we do not intend to reorganise the way in which the policing of London is financed. Therefore, there will be a continued contribution from the business rate. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will elaborate on that.

I was about to refer to the importance of special constables. They are not substitutes for regular officers, and they are not used to offset demands for increases in police establishments, but they are an invaluable additional resource and a link between police forces and the community. I am glad that the Commissioner has undertaken a scrutiny into the Metropolitan police special constabulary, and I look forward to hearing the results. I hope that all police officers, and also those outside London, will respond constructively to recommendations to strengthen the role of specials. I understand that there are historical misgivings about using part-time volunteer officers. If there is a lingering traditional view in some quarters that, in some way, specials are a threat and hindrance to the regular force, it does not bear examination in 1988 and should be abandoned.

I am aware also of the need to prevent the Metropolitan police from being regarded as a force entirely by itself. It is important that the best practices of provincial forces can be spread to the Met, and vice versa. We have takena big step forward. With my full support, the Commissioner invited Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary to start a programme of inspections of selected parts of the Metropolitan police. That has never happened before. The first inspection of community involvement and crime prevention branches has been completed, and we are studying its findings. Further inspections of particular areas of London and of particular functions will follow. That is an important advance in securing further gains in the effectiveness of policing the capital.

That big organisation—40,000 people and £1 billion—will always have areas in which its effectiveness can be improved, but I am sure that important work has already been done. I commend the initiatives that I have mentioned and others as examples of what the Commissioner described as efforts to achieve a leaner, fitter and better integrated force. But, of course, they are not objectives in themselves. They are improving the means to an end. 'The Commissioner and the police authority at the Home Office quite rightly put emphasis on the end to which resources are aimed. That is why the Commissioner has continued the priorities about force goals. I shall spend a little time on that matter, as each priority directly affects the quality of life of Londoners, and each one concerns activities that can injure or frighten people.

The first priority is the reduction of criminal opportunity. The involvement of members of the public in crime prevention is the key. I have already mentioned neighbourhood watch schemes. They are the most popular example, illustrated by the striking fact that more than 1 million London households have joined them. There are professional doubters. Of course the quality of schemes varies a good deal—it is bound to vary—but the professional police assessment of the Commissioner is: I have no doubts whatsoever about the effectiveness of Neighbourhood Watch; my support is unequivocal". Of course, the Government have a part to play in creating the right structures for crime prevention. The various Government-funded schemes that are available for crime prevention—the community programme, the urban programme, and the housing investment programme—are well used in London. We have just invited the boroughs of Lewisham and Tower Hamlets to become part of the first group to join our new safer cities initiative. I hope that they will give me a positive response to that invitation. They know that the Metropolitan police will fully support the programme. As the House knows, we are building on the success of our five town-Home Office initiatives in the past year or so and some excellent crime prevention work that is already under way in London.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Does the Home Secretary agree that the safer cities initiative is actually an admission by the Government that just putting more police on the streets is not the way to solve the rising problem of crime within inner-city areas?

Mr. Hurd

I do not know whether any sensible person has ever argued that putting more police on the streets is the only way. It is not a sufficient way. It is a necessary part of it, but I do not think that anyone has argued—certainly I have never argued—that, by itself, it is sufficient. The safer cities project, with the full backing of the police, is based on the idea that we make progress by bringing together—locally and specifically—all the different agencies that can help towards the prevention of crime. For example, the hon. Gentleman knows of the Government-funded task force in north Kensington, security improvements to shop fronts and homes around All Saints road, the crime prevention shop, and better street lighting. That is just one example. There is another task force in north Peckham, employing 150 people—mostly local people—to improve the security of pensioners' homes. Once again, the police are closely involved.

But crime prevention is not concerned only with physical security. Methods of policing, which can forge closer links between officers and local residents, can be invaluable. We do not usually find a commendation of our efforts in the magazine "Time Out", but hon. Members may have read a striking article in it earlier this month, describing the system of policing the Pepys estate in Deptford and the impressive reductions in burglary and motor vehicle and street crime. Estate policing, which means a team of officers dedicated to a certain estate, has been tried in several London divisions, and the Commissioner is exploring the scope for extending it.

They are the informal police-community contacts that help to bind the police and the community more closely together. There is also a need for more formal arrangements that have been laid down by the House. I refer to the rather fraught history of police-community consultative groups in London. In the past, those who are opposed on doctrinaire grounds to any constructive contact with the police have sought to thwart the formation of such groups, and those who desire to control policing for their own ends have tried to distort their purpose. As every hon. Member knows, it has been uphill.

I am glad to say that we have now reached the stage at which all London boroughs except one—Newham—now have consultative groups. I understand that a group may soon be established in Newham. The police have persevered in establishing these groups. It must have been discouraging—they met hostility from time to time—but it is a considerable achievement for them and for people of good will in different political parties who have helped them.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does the Secretary of State concede that the establishment of the consultative groups was foreshadowed many years ago by the policies of the Greater London council, which wished to see more democratic control of the police? The response of the police was eventually to agree to the establishment of those consultative groups, which, I am glad to say, now operate in all but one London borough. Surely the Home Secretary should give some credit to the Greater London council for the work that it did in trying to bring the police closer to the rest of the community in London?

Mr. Hurd

No, it was precisely the doctrines of the GLC—which, unfortunately, lasted beyond its demise—which got in the way of the process that I am trying to describe diplomatically. People tried to use the fact that there were to be consultative groups to assert, by the back door, political control over the policing of particular boroughs. That is what happened, and that is what has eventually been worn down. I do not want to upset what in some places is still a delicate situation, but the hon. Gentleman has provoked me into doing so. As the shadow of the GLC ceases to hang over these deliberations, we have been able to move on a bit.

Through consultative groups, Londoners can make a contribution to the realisation of the police service that they want, and the police can tailor their effort to gain public co-operation and satisfaction. I hope that that process will continue.

From prevention, I turn now to detection. Some difficult decisions are bound to have to be taken on this. Clearly the police have to set priorities because the demands on them are almost inexhaustible. That is why the Met has now introduced crime screening, a technique which concentrates detective resources on those crimes where clear-ups are most likely.

I should dispel two misunderstandings about this. First, all serious crimes are automatically investigated—none is screened out. Secondly, there is no screening out of categories of crime simply on the grounds that they are minor. There is no question of an "amnesty" on, for example, the theft of cars. What crime screening does—it is an honest and cost-effective way of dealing with the problem—is to divert effort away from crimes where a solution is unlikely, to those where the chance of a conviction is higher. That is bound to create occasional disappointment if crimes are not followed up because there are insufficient leads. However, that is better than going into a whole series of mechanical investigations which will not lead anywhere, when the resources—the police officers involved—could spend their time solving, preventing and detecting crime.

Tucked away on page 52 of the Commissioner's report is the appalling statistic that assaults on officers on duty rose by a third in 1987. That fact should be in all our minds because officers continue to perform their duties in a professional manner in such circumstances. That is an impressive testimony to the force.

Government and public must work together to clean violence out of the atmosphere of London, because I think that we would all agree that violence is the worst form of pollution. We cannot allow this city to degenerate to the level of, say, Los Angeles, New York or Miami. That is why we have asked the House to approve changes to the laws on firearms and offensive weapons. The use of knives in crime in London, and elsewhere, remains unacceptably high.

I need not rehearse the discussions that we have had on the Criminal Justice Bill, except to say that, when the Bill completes its stages, as I hope it will next week, it will be an offence to have any knife except a folding pocket knife in a public place without good reason. The onus will be on the possessor to show that he has a good reason. That will make the job of the police easier in dealing with people they find in possession of knives. It means that people who casually carry knives should take note that they will no longer be able to evade the law; they should leave knives at home.

I turn now to another form of violence——

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Secretary of State give way on the issue of knives?

Mr. Hurd

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman once more, but that is his ration

Mr. Corbyn

In that case, I am deeply grateful to the Home Secretary. Like everyone else, I welcome any attempt to reduce the number of knives that are carried in public because they can be used for crime. Has the Home Secretary considered whether there is any possibility of reducing the number of outlets that can sell open or sheathed knives; is he prepared to introduce any regulations for the curtailment of such points of sale, or to follow up those people who buy large quantities of those knives for later private sale?

Mr. Hurd

I was generous in giving way to the hon. Gentleman for a second time. As only four Labour Members are in the Chamber it seemed reasonable to give him a second go as a reward for assiduity. Of course we have looked at that possibility. We have adopted it in respect of certain types of martial arts weapons, and under the Criminal Justice Bill the sale of such weapons will be outlawed. However, we have not adopted it for the wider range of knives—that is the problem—for which there are perfectly legitimate uses. It would be difficult to find a way of restricting such knives at the point of sale. Therefore, we have turned, I believe with the support of the Opposition, to operating on possession in a public place.

I turn now to racial attacks. I know that the House has always wished us to concentrate on them, because they are a particularly ugly form of violence. A year ago, the force adopted a new policy and new guidance on the recording and monitoring of racial incidents, and many divisions have made racial attacks an essential priority. The increase of 26 per cent. in racial incidents in 1987 has been at least partly attributed to the encouragement which the police have given the. community to report incidents, and arrests have increased by 28 per cent.

As the hon. Members for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will know, in Newham a dedicated squad has been established to counter such attacks. In Newham and Ealing, and recently in Redbridge and Tower Hamlets, extensive campaigns have been mounted to provide information in different languages, advice on reporting racial incidents, and simple measures to avoid them. The training for new recruits emphasises the importance that the force attaches to tackling racial incidents.

Organised crime often hits the headlines, and it is right that it should do so because it poses a particular threat to society. The various forms of organised crime, particularly drug trafficking and robbery, must be given high priority. I hope that the new confiscation provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill will help in that effort.

Policing the Underground is the responsibility of the British transport police; but the Commissioner and I know there is considerable public conern about crime on the Underground. I have discussed this with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and he has undertaken a number of measures to improve policing on the Underground. I am especially concerned, as is the Commissioner, about the need to ensure that, although there are two forces, they work so closely together that there is no effective division between them.

I have been into this issue carefully in recent months, and I believe that liaison is generally excellent. I hope that hon. Members will share with me their impressions on that issue. When I opened the new Uxbridge police station the other day, I was impressed to find a British transport police officer serving there in liaison and on attachment to the Metropolitan police station to ensure the total co-ordination of police operations dealing with crime in that busy part of the Underground.

Neither the police, nor we in this House and the Government should or can forget the victims of crime. They are one of the Commissioner's priorities. We have shown our commitment to victim support through a substantial and expanding programme of funding for local schemes, which will rise to £4 million a year by 1989–90. Several London schemes are taking part in special projects, funded from this source, to look into the needs of the families of murder victims and victims of racial attacks, in close co-operation with the Met and other agencies. The police have excellent relations in London with the many victim support schemes. They have made special efforts in the last few years to provide a sympathetic service to victims. That includes the provision of eight suites for the victims of sexual offences, five of which are operational.

The final target of the Commissioner's strategy is the maintenance of public tranquility and the policing of public disorders. That is one of the hardest areas of policing in London. Whatever tack the police follow, they are sometimes criticised. If they police too lightly, the atmosphere in our streets can become insecure and intimidating; if they police too heavily, young people in particular will complain of aggressive policing. It is satisfactory that major public disorder in London has mercifully been less frequent recently, but we should not be complacent. The levels of minor disorder in London are still unpleasantly and uncomfortably high, even though, through a lot of hard work by many people, we have managed to avoid a repetition of the disastrous riots of 1981 and 1985.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Hurd

I have been quite generous in giving way. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman quite merits it. Of course, that will not prevent him from speaking in the debate and I shall conclude so that he and others can do so.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I am surprised that the Home Secretary has not mentioned alcohol. One of the threats to tranquillity and the preservation of security, is the enormous amount of crime and vandalism occasioned in London and elsewhere because people drink too much and then misbehave. On a Saturday night in the Old Kent road, the entirely sober citizen has to run the gamut of hordes of people spilling out of pubs, having had far too much to drink, and police vans with sirens racing up and down as if it were an American inner-city highway. Will the Home Secretary tell the House what can be done in London to make sure that alcoholism is reduced and security increased?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right to say that far too high a proportion of crimes in London and elsewhere are committed by people whose natural self-control has been destroyed or weakened by drink. That is particularly true of the young, and it is certainly becoming a substantial problem. It has always been a problem, and it is now becoming more substantial. That is why, in the Licensing Bill, for example, while permitting adults to have a glass of beer or wine in the afternoon, we are tightening up on under-age drinking. That is why we are looking at the powers available to licensing justices and the police to clamp down on particular places—not necessarily pubs, as supermarkets are one of the main sources of this stupid alcohol abuse—so that the existing powers can be used more effectively to solve specific problems.

We shall certainly need to return to that subject. I agree that it is not peculiar to London; it is a national subject. We have to move fairly cautiously not to appear hypocritical or over bossy. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is certainly entitled to draw attention to that subject, which requires a response from the Government, law makers, parents, teachers and all those who can influence people towards sensible rather than stupid drinking.

Mr. Tony Banks

This is an important matter, and while we have the Home Secretary at the Dispatch Box it is useful to direct his mind to the issue. I have the leave of the House to introduce a ten-minute Bill on the labelling with health warnings of all alcohol products for consumption. There has been some demand from hon. Members from all sides of the House for control on the advertising of alcohol products. Do any of those proposals appeal to the Home Secretary?

Mr. Hurd

I am not sure that those particular proposals appeal to me, but my right hon. Friend the Lord President chairs the ministerial group which the Prime Minister set up to examine all those proposals, and he is looking particularly at the proposals of Lady Masham's report on the subject; the Government will reach conclusions about them.

I do not think that Opposition members would argue that it was easy to get the balance right. We do not want to tip over into bossiness, which would simply antagonise people and not advance the position at all. We cannot avoid the need to steer people away from the stupid drinking which undoubtedly lies at the heart of a good deal of minor and major crime.

There are a number of matters that I have not mentioned, because we have other occasions to discuss them. I have not mentioned the work of the Metropolitan police against terrorism, because we shall be discussing our efforts against terrorism in the next Session. I have not talked about its work with schools, although I believe that it is crucially important. I have stuck to the main priorities mentioned by the Commissioner, which I believe are the right ones, and I fully support the goals that he has set.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has been speaking on these matters to the electors of Kensington in the past few days. I expect that we may get the same analysis from him today, and I find it particularly confused. The electors of Kensington may not have heard the old gospel. So the new gospel may appear convincing to them. But to those of us who have heard the old gospel, the new gospel does not make very much sense. We remember when it was the Labour party's view that the Prime Minister was responsible for crime because she had created poverty and unemployment. Now the right hon. Gentleman is saying that she is responsible for crime because she has created prosperity and affluence.

In the old gospel, the Labour party believed that the police were responsible for many of the problems in London and therefore should be treated with hostility and at arm's length.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

Will the Home Secretary tell me when I said that the police were responsible for crime in London?

Mr. Hurd

I am not saying that the right hon. Gentleman said that. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) referred to the GLC. The whole tradition of GLC thinking, which we easily can document from the past, was precisely that the police were part of the problem and not part of the answer. We have constantly heard that theme not from the right hon. Gentleman but from his predecessors. There are hon. Members present today who know that to be perfectly true.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. The House should know that, in Ealing, the Labour councillors have always refused to sit on the police consultative committee. But they spent £600,000 on what is as much an anti-police committee as that conducted on the GLC by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng).

Mr. Hurd

Many of my hon. Friends could corroborate what I have said; it is perfectly true. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is now trying to make up for the years of neglect and hostilty towards the police. But he does not seem to have told the London Labour party, which continues, in vestiges, to obstruct. I mentioned the borough of Newham and the consultative groups. In several areas it continues to obstruct the formation of neightbourhood watch schemes, the putting up of signs and so on.

Mr. Spearing

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Hurd

No. I have given way to the hon. Member twice.

Mr. Spearing

No—only once.

Mr. Hurd

I stand by the main point that I am making, that vestiges of the London Labour party have not received the new message.

I welcome the new message, because I have set out to drain the politics out of policing issues. I welcome the fact that, in most parts of the country, we have made substantial progress. We have made some progress in London. We are draining the venom out of some of the issues. The very sensitive reaction from the small number of Labour Members here today shows the truth of that. They have a considerable way to go, as I think all Londoners understand.

Mr. Spearing

I should be grateful if we could get away from the venom that the Secretary of State has mentioned. Will he accept that whatever may have occurred in the past, the protracted discussions, which have now been concluded, in the London borough of Newham to set up the statutory consultative group will produce the sort of group and the sort of debates that he and I, and my hon. Friends, will welcome? Therefore, Newham can now be excluded from his strictures.

Mr. Hurd

I know that the hon. Member has worked hard in the direction that he favours, and I pay tribute to him for that. I am not complaining about him, but he knows that in the London borough of Newham, part of which he represents, there have been precisely the elements, with precisely the message and attitudes, that I have described. That is one reason why the process has taken so painfully long.

This is the first debate since the new Commissioner took over from Sir Kenneth Newman. In an organisation the size of the Metropolitan police force, expected to perform an ever more complicated range of duties, there will occasionally be weaknesses. We require our police to be managers, accountants, personnel officers, social workers, detectives and comforters. They are committed, across this huge range of duties, to the highest professional standards, and a single misdeed by one officer can tarnish, for a moment, the reputation of his or her 28,000 colleagues. That is why the Commissioner, with my backing, is committed to dealing firmly with all cases of misconduct.

There is an absolute need to maintain the highest professional standards. Whatever our other disagreements, we can all agree on supporting the impressive efforts that the police carry out in London to do that. It is a tribute to the Commissioner, the 28,000 officers under his command, and the 13,000 civil staff that, in the difficult circumstances that I have described, and that he describes in his report, they are striving with increasing success to deliver an increasingly efficient and effective service to the people of London.

10.22 am
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

The Home Secretary addressed us for a little less than 50 minutes. I make no complaint about that. As what passes for a police authority in London, he has the duty, as well as the right, to give what amounts to a report to the House on the crime in the capital over the past year and the prospects for policing in the next. However, he might have spent just a little of those 50 minutes, or have added a few minutes to them, by saying something about the reasons for the causes of crime inside and outside London. He gave an analysis of crime in the capital but said not a word about why crime is here and why it has increased over the years, apart from a single sentence in refutation of what I said last Thursday—I am pleased and gratified that the Home Secretary described it as likely to impress the electors of Kensington. We had nothing whatsoever about why crime has been steadily on the increase over the past decade.

Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

And before.

Mr. Hattersley

Yes, but not as fast as in the past decade.

I have an explicit point to make about the Home Secretary's allegation about my right hon. and hon. Friends. When challenged to give examples, he said, rather feebly, that it could be easily documented. If it can be, what a pity that he did not bring with him a document which would have given him one example. The most recent example of the attitude of hon. Members towards the Metropolitan police comes from the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), who has spoken in support of ticket touts, many of whom are operating illegally. That is one example, and no doubt civil servants will now run around in the next four hours to find an example that the Under-Secretary can give in the other direction at 2 o'clock.

As we are on to the trivial matters raised by the Home Secretary, I hope that when the Under-Secretary tells us of the assaults by the GLC on the Metropolitan police, he will also tell us whether, in the immortal word used by the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman proposes to "disown" those members of his party who support illegal action. Does he propose to disown the hon. Member for Billericay, who has supported ticket touts, who often are acting illegally?

I shall now deal with more serious matters than those raised by the Home Secretary. It is necessary to say something about the causes of crime. I do not doubt that two of its principal causes are unemployment and poverty. Nor do I doubt that those causes are particularly potent here in the capital, when grinding poverty in some parts of the city exists cheek by jowl with great affluence. Nor do I doubt that an additional cause, and one that makes it difficult to attack the symptoms, is the physical condition of the places where many London citizens live. The condition of London estates, the dilapidation of tower blocks and the absence of adequate lighting could be improved by additional public expenditure, but they have been ignored or neglected by the Government, who have even positively prevented such improvements.

On the other hand, and this is the point to which the Home Secretary was kind enough to draw attention, I equally have no doubt that a new cause of crime, which is, according to the Chief Constables' Association, a new form of crime—the crime committed by the affluent young—is the result of values that are increasingly fashionable in society and which have been advocated and encouraged by the Government. A Government who have spent almost a full decade extolling the virtues of getting rich quick, of abandoning responsibility for other people's health and housing, and making a profit out of medical and community services, ought not to be surprised when some young men translate that philosophy into the belief that they have the right to do whatever they choose on Saturday night, as long as they pay for the damage afterwards.

Like the Prime Minister, those young men believe that there is no such thing as society, only individuals. Anyone who has seen on television young brokers, bankers and commodity dealers celebrating a financial killing in the City wine bars must realise two things. The first is that those young men are the direct product of a society that the Government have created.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

They were born when you were in control, you berk.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I hope not to have to listen to the use of that word in the Chamber again.

Mr. Hattersley

I do not want to offend your ears by using the word again, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I am talking about hooliganism being the direct product of Conservatism, the fact that a Conservative Back Bencher uses a word that you and I consider improper, but no doubt is the common parlance of his normal conversation, illustrates my point better than I can illustrate it with second-hand examples.

I was saying that those young men whom we see on television celebrating financial killings in the City wine bars are clearly the product of the Government's philosophy, and in philosophy and spirit they are not very different from the upwardly mobile hooligans who drive out from London on Saturday nights and tyrannise home county market towns. I have little doubt that often they are the same people.

In short, a Government who base their philosophy on Mr. Ivan Boesky's philosophy that there is nothing wrong with greed ought not to be surprised when one of its byproducts is an intolerable increase in the crime rate. The Government exalt the City of London, but when so many of their friends and supporters there are prosecuted, allegedly for trying to get too rich too quickly, we must not be surprised if that sort of idea becomes contagious. It simply cannot be a coincidence that crime increases under this Government; the Government have created the climate in which it breeds.

Yesterday at Question Time, whenever the Home Secretary said anything remotely enlightened about race relations and immigration, he was heckled, chivveyed and chased by mutterings and mumblings from his Back Benchers. If that is the philosophy and ethos that Tory Back Benchers create, should we be surprised when there is an increase in crimes of racial violence and racial attacks?

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I am fascinated by the right hon. Gentleman's thesis that all the increases in crime can be laid at the door of the Government, whom I support. As in my judgment the largest single factor in the increase in crime is drunkenness, will the right hon. Gentleman give evidence of where the Government advocate getting drunk?

Mr. Hattersley

I was about to give another example of the Government's behaviour. They give brewers what they want by extending licensing laws——

Mr. Wilshire

That is nothing to do with it. One can get drunk without going to a pub.

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Gentleman says that that is nothing to do with it; the ability to drink on Sunday afternoons has no influence on Sunday afternoon violence. The Government gave brewers the licensing laws that they wanted and said that if we were patient we would soon hear their proposals for preventing the abuse of alcohol and the increase in crime that comes from it. That is an exact example of the Government giving in to vested interests without caring whether it affects the crime rate.

Mr. Boateng

I regret that the vagaries of London Transport prevented me from hearing the Home Secretary expressing his concern about racial harassment. I am glad that he did so and I am aware of his concerns about it. A number of Labour Members went to see the Commissioner of Police only the other day precisely to reiterate our concerns and alarm at the 26 per cent. rise in the incidence of racial violence in the capital.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only the police but all of us have an important role to play in creating a climate in which there is no room in our communities for those who engage in racial attacks? A responsibility falls on politicians to set the tone and on local authorities to adopt a multi-agency approach to the issue. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not enough simply to talk about it and that we must apply the resources to address the problem?

Mr. Hattersley

I agree with my hon. Friend. If the immigration policy of this country has at its root the suggestion and implication that a few more Asian husbands entering the country is a bad and dangerous thing, it is bound to breed a climate in which the far, dangerous and unacceptable end of the philosophy turns into attacks on Asians who are already here.

I move from what I regard as the only possible conclusive explanation of why crime has continued to increase to discuss and describe the assault on its symptoms, which was the burden of the Home Secretary's speech. He spoke explicitly and specifically about the two measures, relating to knives and guns, that he has taken during the lifetime of this Parliament. He was kind enough to say that the Opposition had facilitated the passage of the parts of the Bill that reduced the prospects of knives being employed and freely sold for the wrong purposes. Of course we did, and we similarly supported his attempts to reduce the damage and death that might be caused by the improper use of guns. The problem that the Home Secretary had over the Firearms (Amendment) Bill was not with Labour Members but with Conservative Members. A Government with a majority of over 100 who have such problems with their own supporters cannot claim to be competent in managing their business, and certainly not competent in producing the right sort of Bill.

Clearly, the crime rate in the capital is causing its people increasing apprehension—greater than at any time this century. I do not think that we should be surprised at the concern that has been expressed, because, despite the marginal improvement in the figures, which I shall discuss with the Home Secretary in a moment, crime in London continues at a terrifying rate. I know that the Home Secretary says that overall, year on year, there was a marginal reduction, but he conceded that it has been a bad first quarter this year. I hope that he will agree that the claims for a marginal reduction are based on the number of notified crimes. The problem with that statistic is that a large proportion of the crimes committed in London are not being notified because of the policy of the Metropolitan police.

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman is right; the figures, by definition, are for recorded crime. As the British crime survey showed, a substantial body of crime is not recorded, but that has always been so. My impression—this is also the impression of the police—is that the proportion of crime getting on to the books is increasing. As we increase police numbers and improve police relations with the community, the proportion of crimes such as sexual crimes, which previously might have been kept hidden, getting on to the books is increasing. I turn the right hon. Gentleman's point in the other direction.

Mr. Hattersley

That may be the Home Secretary's impression, but it is not mine and it is not borne out by the facts. I shall give one of the reasons why I believe him to be wrong. Crime screening, which the Home Secretary endorsed at Question Time two months ago, is causing great concern. It is a policy whereby the Metropolitan police say, "Short of resources as we are, there are certain kinds of crime that we cannot respond to quickly and there are some crimes that we cannot respond to at all." The net result, apart from its effect on relations between police and public, is that people say, "Since they will not come round even if we phone them and since they believe that this is the sort of crime that goes on round here and that there is nothing they can do about it, there is no point in reporting it." I believe that that attitude has led to a fundamental change in the statistics.

Even if the Home Secretary's guess is right and the evidence as I have tried to describe it is wrong, we have had a bad first quarter, and in some areas there have been substantial increases year on year. Robbery, racial attacks and offences against the person, including assaults and woundings, have increased. Those problems are matters for great concern, not complacency.

The clear-up rate has not improved at all; it is exactly the same this year as it was the year before. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary is producing more figures out of the hat, but I shall rely on the Commissioner's figures rather than the political judgment of what the Commissioner should have said.

It is extraordinary that, years after it was claimed that more policemen were being devoted to the task of crime prevention and detection, that they were being put on the beat and that civilians were being used to ensure that the police were used for their primary task, the clear-up rate has not improved. Again, that is in part why the Commissioner introduced what he called graduated response or crime screening—a system of not replying to crime calls immediately and not replying to some complaints at all. The phrase "crime screening", which has slipped into jargon, is a decision to take no action against some offences and to give such low priority to others that it amounts to no action.

The police and community must work together to combat crime. I can think of nothing more likely to undermine people's faith in the police than somebody phoning the police because an offence has been committed but being told when a reply is eventually obtained, "This is not something to which we give high priority. If you live in this area this sort of thing is bound to happen. We do not have the resources to deal with these crimes."

In his annual report, the Commissioner said: Simply we must decide at a Force level where the priorities lie and concentrate upon them. We cannot meet every demand and make every demand a priority. I have some sympathy with the Commissioner because I believe that he is short of manpower. I hope that the Under-Secretary will say, according to the Commissioner's analysis, exactly how short of manpower the Metropolitan police are. The assistant commissioner for personnel and training, Mr. Sutton, wrote to me about that subject in December last year. The Home Secretary said that force levels are now almost up to full strength. In December they were 400 below the full establishment of nearly 28,000, which is as near to being at full strength as a large force can probably be at any one time. The assistant commissioner for personnel and training said in his letter: force levels ought to he judged against the 1986 judgment written into the annual report that an extra 4,000 men were needed to meet basic day-to-day policing demands and increasing workloads. In 1986, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis believed that 4,000 additional policemen were necessary. As I understand the additions that have been obtained and approved since then, and as I understand the confirmation of those decisions, as descried by the Home Secretary, the force level has increased by about 1,600. That means that the Metropolitan police are still 2,500 men short of what they need if they are to fulfil their responsibilities.

I emphasise again that if the Metropolitan police are so short of manpower that they cannot meet many of the calls on their services—which they may not regard as high priorities but that people who have had minor offences perpetrated against them certainly regard as of the highest priority for them—the loss of faith and confidence in, and respect for, the Metropolitan police will have an appalling effect on the proper relationship between police and people.

If the Commissioner believes what he says, and I am sure that he does, about the importance of that relationship, he must go out of his way to attempt to improve what he called a steadfast confidence in the style of policing in the capital and to convince many people, who now believe that they are neglected, that they will not be neglected and that their calls on the police will be dealt with at the first possible opportunity.

I have some sympathy with the Commissioner when he says that existing force levels make it impossible for him to meet all the demands made on him. The Commissioner lays the blame for that fairly and squarely on the Government. He says in his report: it is difficult to impact violent crime significantly with our present resources and, simultaneously, to maintain an adequate standard of service across the full spectrum of other responsibilities. I have no doubt that that is right, but I was deeply depressed by one of the Home Secretary's responses to the dilemma, as revealed last Thursday in his speech to the House. He spoke about compulsory identity cards as a means of reducing crime. Inevitably that proposal received a great deal of publicity. I am opposed to compulsory identity cards. It involves a denial of civil liberties that I regard as intolerable. My main objection to the flotation of that idea is that it does not have a chance of being implemented. Not even this Government would introduce such a measure. It is an alternative to serious thought about how crime in London can be reduced. At its best it is a counsel of despair. What we want, particularly from the Commissioner, are not headlines but action, and that action has to be encouragement of the police and people to work together.

My basic thesis is that for the police and people to work together the police must be seen to be doing the job that the people want them to do. I want to pursue for a moment how capable the police are of performing that task in the light of their present manpower shortages. I have already asked the Under-Secretary about total numbers, about the 1986 estimate that 4,000 more police were needed and about the calculation that fewer than half of them have been recruited. I want to ask him another question, which I understand applies to London and I know applies to other police areas. I shall ask both questions together and perhaps the Home Secretary will answer them at the same time.

Do more men necessarily mean more policing? Does an increased establishment automatically mean more police hours?

I am told by some authorities outside London, and I suspect that it is true of the capital, that one of the net results of the extra recruitment has been a massive reduction in expensive overtime. Although there are more men on the force, there are no more policemen on the beat or anywhere else, because policing hours have not been changed by the much-vaunted increase in recruitment. If the Home Secretary wants to answer both those questions now, I shall give way. Alternatively, the Under-Secretary of State might like to reply later.

Mr. Hurd

I shall answer the right hon. Gentleman's first question and leave the second one to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman will want to be fair about manpower in London. A constraint on manpower in the Metropolitan police force has not been imposed by me for some time. I have been increasing the establishment ahead of what the Metropolitan police, despite all their recruiting efforts, have been able to match. The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly right that when he received that letter last December the deficit was 400. It is now below that figure. We are now approaching the time when the Metropolitan police will have managed to recruit and maintain the force up to the level that I fixed, so we have to consider the force level for the future. In the recent past the constraint on manpower was not imposed by me.

Mr. Hattersley

I take the Home Secretary's point, but I hope that when he has time to consider it the Under-Secretary of State will deal with the direct point that although in December 1986 the assistant commissioner for personnel and training said that, to fulfil the task adequately, 4,000 men were needed, only 1,600 of those additional 4,000 men have been recruited. It is difficult not to conclude that the officers and the Commissioner and his staff believe that the estabilishment is too low. I hope also, because the two questions go inexorably together, that the Under-Secretary will tell us how my analysis of police manpower applies. I fear that the reduction in overtime has been so great that, in terms of men at work and hours of policing, the increase in London, and outside it, of available police time has been not nearly so great as is sometimes suggested.

Mr. Spearing

On an associated topic that I hope to raise in the debate, but it would be appropriate to raise it now, is my right hon. Friend aware that because of the misguided value-for-money policy, limitations have been placed on vehicle mileage? When my constituents have phoned the police about a certain matter that is not considered by the police to be of sufficiently high priority they have been told that insufficient mileage is available and that the police have run out of their mileage ration. Is not the Government's value-for-money attitude counterproductive in public relations terms and in every other aspect?

Mr. Hattersley

That is another example of the crime screening policy that I was astonished to hear the Home Secretary fully endorse when I asked him about it two months ago.

To respond to what people need is an essential element in obtaining their co-operation. I want to see a partnership and co-operation between the police and the public. I know that that is important to the Home Secretary, who would never find himself totally at home in the run-of-the-mill political battle that portrays the Labour party as violently anti-police. I make it absolutely clear that I want to see co-operation between individuals and the police in the schemes that the police may propose: the safer cities initiative, crime watch schemes—I am a member of such a scheme—and co-operation between the people's representatives and the police.

I shall continue to argue about the importance of an elected police authority that has no day-to-day control over police operations but is able to guide the police on the priorities of the people for whom they provide protection. My reason for wanting such an authority is that without it I believe that there will never be the co-operation between police and people that I want to see. I remember very well the days of the watch committees outside London. They were considered to be not a Red revolution but a simple, sensible practice. Watch committees that could forge a relationship between police and people would be right both inside and outside London. As with all other aspects of policing, they would make possible the most important ingredient: a successful partnership between police and people.

I want the consultation groups to prosper. The reason why they are beginning to take hold is that the Home Secretary—like his predecessor—has begun to give them some marginal functions. The more functions such groups have the more they are likely to achieve the purpose that the Home secretary wants.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge the Commissioner's regret that, although there are consultative groups in the boroughs of Brent, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth, the majority party in each of those boroughs—the Labour party—does not take part in them? Will he tell his hon. Friends that?

Mr. Hattersley

I should like them to take part, and if the hon. Gentleman wants me to repeat that, I am happy to do so. However, I understand why people are reluctant to play a part in organisations that they believe have inadequate power and purpose. I repeat that the greater the real powers given to such groups the more likelihood there is of people with real concern for the community's welfare taking part in them.

I have gone on for almost two thirds of the very long time that the Home Secretary took to make his speech. In London, we want a proper partnership between police and people. There will be no lasting or significant reduction in crime rates until that happens. The Home Secretary deludes himself if he believes it will ever come about while the police in London are so savagely restrained by the cost limits he has imposed on them and by their inability to perform all the tasks that the people of London want them to do.

More importantly, even when the police have the manpower, facilities and resources they want, crime in this country will increase until we encourage a different standard of values, based on the needs of the whole community. The Government are incapable of encouraging such a standard, so crime will go on increasing until the Government go.

10.52 am
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

In due course I shall refer to some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) but I must say first that he should be awarded nought out of 100 for his knowledge of criminology. He, alas, has little real understanding of the causes of crime. He has a long way to go. Should he remain with us in his present capacity for a little longer, he may well profit in the course of his journey.

This is the first debate on the Metropolitan police under the commissionership of Sir Peter Imbert, who succeeded Sir Kenneth Newman in August 1987. It behoves the House to pay a warm tribute to Sir Kenneth for the excellent service that he gave the people of London. We shall look back on his commissionership with gratitude in the knowledge that he set the structure and administration of the force in good order. I know that Sir Peter intends to carry on that policy and ensure that the force succeeds in its ultimate objectives.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook once again drew out the Labour party's policy of what he called an elected police authority. It might be helpful if we considered for a moment the nature of the Metropolitan police district, because it involves more than just the policing of London.

The boundary of the Metropolitan police district includes the 32 London boroughs and eight outer districts. I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), who represents one of these districts, here today. All told there are 84 London members of Parliament, and eight Members whose constituencies are included, in whole or in part, in the eight outer districts of the Metropolitan police area. Thus, 92 hon. Members in all represent constituencies in the area.

There is an excellent relationship between Conservative Members and the Commissoner. We look forward to our regular discussions with him and his senior policy group on policing objectives for London.

Contact takes place not only at the top; it exists with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in his capacity as the police authority. No one could be more available or accountable to hon. Members who represent the Metropolitan police district than my right hon. Friend, whose ear is always inclined to us when we wish to communicate our concerns or interests about the progress of the force.

More importantly for us all and for the people who reside in the Metropolitan police district is the burgeoning contact at local level between the divisional chief superintendents and their staff and the local community in the London boroughs and districts, the neighbourhood watch schemes and local residential associations. Those are the contacts that really matter and it is by means of them that the public can communicate the order of their concerns and priority. As my right hon. Friend has already said, the police must plan their priorities locally.

It is also important to consider why the Home Secretary is the police authority. It is not only because of the size of the Metropolitan police; it is also because of their additional functions at national and international level. For example, the Metropolitan police have an anti-terrorist branch, a special branch, a royalty and diplomatic protection branch, a national central office for the suppression of counterfeit currency and a national identification bureau. They liaise, on behalf of the police service of the United Kingdom, with Interpol. The serious crimes branch still provides support for major investigations overseas and for murder on the high seas. That is one significant reason why the Metropolitan police, alone among British police forces, must be under the control of, and accountable to, my right hon. Friend who reports directly to this House.

The cost of the Metropolitan police in the current financial year is more than £1 billion. It is worth considering how that sum is funded. The Home Office police grant provides 51 per cent. What is still quaintly referred to as the imperial national services grant provides 2 per cent. to cover the special services to which I have just referred. Those two items, plus the block grant total 70 per cent., leaving the ratepayers of the 32 London boroughs and the outer districts to find 30 per cent. The Metropolitan police precept for the London boroughs and districts for 1988–89 is more than £309 million, which is 16.5p in the pound—a 9 per cent. increase over 1987–88. Broken down, the figures mean that a Metropolitan police officer costs more than £25,000 a year, which is a great deal of money.

The force must therefore, in the words of Sir Peter Imbert, place an emphasis upon economy, efficiency and effectiveness. We are all realists. We cannot expect the costs of the police to go on rising without regard for the importance of other services. The Commissioner is quite right to emphasise efficiency. I know, too, that the London Boroughs Association is concerned about the increase of 9 per cent. in the precept. It, too, wants value for money of the same kind that it is required to give in the services it provides to its electorates.

I particularly welcome the Commissioner's 1988 strategy document, which deals with issues that people in London want to be addressed. His reference to continuing to improve the quality of service provided to the public is important, and his reference to improve the support to, and the use of that support by, the operational arm of the Force in order to assist all officers in providing an improved quality of service to the public and a reduction in crime of all kinds is the objective that should be achieved in the year ahead.

The force's establishment is at a record high of 28,115. That, together with the civil staff ceiling of 13.701, provides a total of 42,000. That makes the Metropolitan police one of the largest police forces in the western world. I welcome the recent increases in the establishment, but I think that future increases must depend upon proven need. As the problems of recruiting in the London area are difficult because of the rising employment prospects, we must be realistic. The force will find it increasingly difficult to find both police and civilian manpower to take up future vacancies. With that in mind, it is essential to examine the existing use of resources and practices.

I want briefly to discuss two areas that might be considered, one of which lies within the sphere of influence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consider with his colleagues in Government, and the other within that of the Commissioner. The first is the use of police resources on what is called the operation of radar guns and radar speed traps in the Metropolitan police area, which takes up a fair amount of the time of the police traffic department.

I have carefully inquired about what effect those random activities have on the speed limits on our roads. I think that the House will agree that there is no discernible impact on speed. However, the consequence is that a great deal of time, money and effort is spent on what amounts to a giant lottery. Motorists are stopped on a random basis, are prosecuted and fines imposed with little profit either to the police or to the public. The Commissioner should reassess the use of high-cost resources on that task. I venture to suggest that it is so absurd that we could create a sort of premium bond arrangement at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre and just select the names of motorists at random, for all the good that those operations achieve in the reduction of speed.

The second area, which is within the scope of the Government, is the use of the police for the collection of vehicle excise duty. I am advised that the Metropolitan police annually sends some 250,000 reports of vehicles apparently not having an excise licence to the Department of Transport. That is a large number. In addition, the special exercises carried out from time to time take away the services of expensive police officers on what is essentially a revenue-raising activity. The time has come to transfer the collection of that duty from the excise licence to the price of petrol, thus removing at a stroke no fewer than 12 criminal offences, which also take up the time of the police and are a substantial cost. The police recognise the importance of maintaining a register of the keepers of vehicles, but there are other ways of protecting that position. For example, in Australia and West Germany the identity of the vehicle keeper is tied to the number plate that is obtained on an annual basis, when both the insurance and, where appropriate, the test certificate are checked. It would be possible to create such a system in the United Kingdom. It would be both self-financing and cost-effective, and would, at a stroke, reduce the misuse of police resources, thus releasing existing resources for proper policing duty, which I think the House wants.

In part, that answers one of the points raised by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, who spoke about the need for about 4,000 more police officers. I think that we should concentrate more directly on how we can make better use of existing resources, and the two proposals that I have made to the House are, perhaps, worthy of consideration.

Mr. Hattersley

I have a small correction. It was not I who referred to 4,000 more police officers; it was the Commissioner. That is a significant distinction.

Mr. Wheeler

I was quoting the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but it was indeed the previous Commissioner, when assessing potential police needs, who made that point. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman understands my argument about the better use of resources.

One of the outstanding stories of recent years has been the involvement of the public in crime prevention. We all agree that the reduction in opportunist property crime, especially burglary, has been brought about by the combination of the police working with the public at all levels—in the local community through the increasingly successful neighbourhood watch schemes, with the business community, with local authorities and so on. That has helped to reduce that part of the crime problem. Most crime in London is petty, random and opportunist, so it is what the public do to help themselves that will reduce the burden of that crime, not necessarily the number of uniformed police patrols.

The Commissioner has been talking about the special constabulary and he has another idea of how the public can be better involved in helping to reduce crime. The use of the Metropolitan special constabulary should be re-examined to determine what special role it could play as part of the overall package of crime reduction in London. Alas, at the moment we have only about 1,500 special constables for the entire Metropolitan police district. It seems that an increase in public interest in that force would enable the policing of London to be improved still further.

The Commissioner has studied the special constabulary in Hong Kong, where a bounty is paid to encourage people to participate in its work. A few years ago, on a visit to Singapore, I studied the policing structure there. As the House knows, Singapore is a modern, confined city, with tower blocks, and it has many of the social ingredients of London. In each of the residential tower blocks one resident is a special constable. He is equipped with a uniform; he provides the liaison with the neighbourhood watch scheme; he helps to organise it; he relates to the local beat patrol; and he provides a very effective form of communication.

We could use and develop the special constabulary in London to perform in a similar way. It could be done without causing the regular police officer concern about non-professional or unpaid people absorbing part of his duties and responsibilities. The special constable does not usurp the functions of the highly trained regular police officer; he or she is merely an aid to the police.

Despite what the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said, I believe that the Metropolitan police are making considerable progress in dealing with those crimes that cause great concern to people in London. For example, I welcome the Commissioner's active involvement in dealing with child abuse, and in examining the complex and difficult problems of domestic violence and racial attacks. The mere fact that police have begun to focus more attention on that subject alone means that more of those offences will, of necessity be reported to the police. There has not necessarily been an increase in crime, but it is now being reported and considered as part of the police target and concern.

The police, too, say that despite advertising about the different ways to make complaints about the police, they are actually receiving more compliments, in writing and by telephone, than complaints. That suggests that the people in London do not view the police in the same way as some Opposition Members.

I am glad to note that there have been 200 more arrests for crimes of violence this year. It is worth remembering that, again, such crimes are often random. The fact that the overwhelming majority do not involve serious violence does not make these crimes easier to bear for the victim, but they need to be put into perspective. They are random and opportunist and, therefore, even more difficult to clear up, but the police are making progress. Last year, the clear-up rates for crimes involving serious wounding or rape had a 50 per cent. clear-up rate. Those high clear-up figures betoken great effort by the police as well as co-operation from the public. Crime prevention work, through the use of radio and television programmes, helps the public to communicate information to the police.

Fear of crime can be as damaging as crime itself. Many people, especially the elderly, believe that it is not safe to use the streets of London and that going out in the evening or after dark is somehow more dangerous than going out at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. All that is nonsense. The facts from the police are that those most at risk from violent crime are those whom we would describe as able-bodied young men. Most of these crimes take place in the middle of the afternoon rather than the evening. That is not to say that there are not pockets of London where serious crime affects the elderly and women. This crime is confined to 16 of the 75 Metropolitan police divisions. About 50 per cent. of the serious crime occurs in those areas. The reasons are complex. I do not have the time to go into the details. Suffice it to say that the police are increasingly targeting those specific areas and carrying out a much more detailed analysis into who is at risk, why and what environmental factors contribute. Through that approach, we shall begin to reduce serious crime in some parts of our capital city.

I conclude on an optimistic note. By any test, the people of London and its millions of visitors live in and visit one of the safest capital cities in the world. Despite what we have heard in the debate, crime rates here remain the lowest in the world, serious crime is contained and, where it occurs, is more certain of being detected than anywhere else in the world. That is a remarkable achievement. All hon. Members subscribe to the aim of continuing that achievement. I thank the Metropolitan police for their service to the people of London in the expectation that its quality will continue in the year ahead.

11.12 am
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I welcome the opportunity to debate policing in London, as it is two years since our last proper debate on it. It is regrettable that there are not more hon. Members here to participate.

I welcome the debate because London is unique in Britain in that it does not have a democratic police authority. Indeed, the police authority—the Home Secretary—has just left the Chamber. It is high time the House addressed this matter. The Greater London council argued forcefully and consistently for the right to have an elected police authority for London that could decide policing policy and tactics. I strongly support the idea of an elected police authority. If it is good enough to have police authorities in other parts of the country—albeit with the limitations that many have—what is it about London that requires it to have a police authority who represents Mid-Oxfordshire and not even a London constituency?

The money spent by the Metropolitan police is not accountable in any way to Parliament, and that is not good enough. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is accountable."] Conservative Members claim that it is accountable. Unfortunately, it is not directly accountable. We are debating a motion for the Adjournment of the House. There is to be no vote, and there will be no opportunity for us to go through present or planned police expenditure in detail, and there has never been such an opportunity in the past. The only opportunity to do this is during the debate on the Home Office Estimates.

Mr. Simon Hughes

There may be good reasons why the Home Secretary has had to leave the Chamber, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is evidence of the problem that the police authority for London, who is the Home Secretary, cannot devote the time to be present during the debate on the police for London? Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman, as with any other person in charge of any police authority, should be here for the whole debate. This is not a personal criticism; I am talking about a structural problem—that the police authority for London is the Home Secretary as well.

Mr. Corbyn

It is extraordinary that, in the first police debate in two years, the police authority for London is apparently unable to remain here for the whole debate. He has left us with the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), and I do not know whether we should be grateful for that. Presumably the hon. Gentleman has some influence on what the Home Secretary says.

Page 115 of the annual report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis shows that the income last year for the Metropolitan police was £955 million. That is nearly £1 billion, far more than for any other local authority in London—far more than for the Inner London education authority or for the GLC. Is it satisfactory that this level of public expenditure can go ahead in such an unaccountable way?

The annual report refers to manpower and establishment levels. The Home Secretary said that the police in London were under establishment. The force establishment this year is 27,815 and the force strength is 27,434, so there is only a minor difference. It allows for people leaving, so the force is not seriously under establishment.

I note that the force establishment has increased consistently year on year. In 1977, it was 26,628, and in 1983 it was 26,915. Conservative Members consistently claim that local authorities in London are over-staffed for the decreasing population, yet the police force in London has gone up year on year for that same decreasing population—and, frankly, there has not been an enormous improvement in the crime clear-up rates.

Mr. Dicks

Surely there is a distinction to be made. An experienced officer may resign or leave to join another force, and it takes time for his replacement to get the necessary training and experience.

Mr. Corbyn

I well understand that, when a senior officer resigns and joins another force and is eventually replaced by a younger recruit on promotion, the force has lost one person of great experience and possibly gained one of less experience. Nevertheless, the force is near its establishment level, which has consistently gone up.

I have not been able to work out by what means police establishment figures are fixed. Deployment of officers was one point made in the arguments for democracy and control of the police force. Many of us would argue that there should be many more officers on the beat and more local involvement by the police force, yet I detect within the police expenditure figures a greater propensity by the police to spend more money on high technology and to undertake more motorised policing, which is far less effective than other means and often becomes intimidatory. When I hear sirens at midnight on police cars screaming up and down Seven Sisters road, keeping me awake, I wonder what on earth they are doing of value when there is no traffic hold-up through which they need to make their way.

I should also draw attention to the clear-up rate for crimes in the Metropolitan area. Table D on page 92 of the report shows that the rate has remained consistently at 16 per cent. In some areas, it is much higher and that is very welcome, but the basic clear-up rate has not improved much at all.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

The 16 per cent. clear-up rate for London must be put into perspective. The national rate is 33 per cent., and even that is poor compared with 1980, when it was 40 per cent. The clear-up rate has decreased substantially since the Government came to office.

Mr. Corbyn

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Conservative politicians seem to spend every weekend making speeches about the problems of law and order. Next year, unfortunately, will be the 10th anniversary of the Conservatives coming to office. It is not good enough for them to complain that everything wrong in society is due to what happened before 1979, when they have been in office for 10 years, during which violent crime and crime generally have increased and the clear-up rate has not improved substantially. We need some straightforward honesty from Ministers and their supporters.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

Some hope!

Mr. Corbyn

As my hon. Friend rightly points out, that may well be a faint hope. Nevertheless, we should at least see some humility on the part of the law and order lobby, given that lawlessness and serious crime have increased. Commercial crime and City fraud have increased exponentially since the Government came to office, but the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) probably favours that, as she seems to support a free-enterprise economy in ticket fiddling at Wimbledon.

The Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) mentioned various forms of crime and follow-up rates. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) rightly drew attention to the increase in the reporting of racial incidents and attacks in London and to the slight increase in the clear-up rate. I still believe strongly that a large number of offences which clearly come within that category are not reported or recorded as such, either because people are not aware that they can report them as such if they believe them to be primarily racially motivated or because of reluctance on the part of police officers at certain stations to do so.

I believe that there is serious under-reporting of racial incidents and attacks in London. In this debate, we must make it absolutely clear that racial attacks and racism in any form are totally unacceptable and that it should be the highest possible priority for the police to ensure that the culprits are brought to book at the earliest possible opportunity. Unless the police make it clear that this is a high priority, the signal will go out to the racists in society that the police do not regard it as a major crime or a matter of the highest priority. It must be made absolutely clear that racial violence is not acceptable at all in this city or anywhere else.

Another important issue mentioned by the Home Secretary is the incidence of rape, other sexual violence and domestic violence. The number of cases reported has increased in recent years, but I believe that a substantial number of women who suffer rape or other sexual attack still feel, for various reasons, unable or unwilling to report the offence to the police. It thus does not appear as a recorded offence and cannot be followed up because the police do not even know about it. Far more thought needs to be given to the protection of women on the streets of London at night and to a system of reporting, following up and investigating incidents which does not put the woman concerned under further stress or difficulty. The police could then be encouraged to follow the matter up, as I believe that there is still serious under-reporting of such offences.

A related but no less important issue arises from the fact that local authorities in London have suffered badly from Government policies and expenditure cuts. Women's refuges and women's aid and advice centres have been seriously affected, and many are having difficulty making ends meet. The funding problem for them is as serious as it is for law centres and other advice centres. The continual increase in police establishment and expenditure without a corresponding increase in the clear-up rate throughout London should be seen in comparison with central Government's continual criticism of local government and the cuts in expenditure which have destroyed local authorities' ability to provide many necessary services.

That must be brought to the attention of the House, because crime cannot be separated from social factors. It is time that the Government realised that high unemployment and homelessness have an effect on drunkenness, alcoholism, drug-taking and crime. It is no use the Government preaching against a lawless and criminal society if they encourage crimes such as commercial fraud, as the hon. Member for Billericay apparently does, and do nothing about the awful social divisions and deprivation which are increasing year by year and day by day in London.

Just a short distance from the House, by Waterloo station, a little bonfire burns every night as a group of homeless men try to keep warm. That is the only place they have to sleep, just as others sleep in cardboard boxes under Charing Cross station. Those are the social divisions that now exist in London.

Mr. Wilshire

The hon. Gentleman makes a fascinating argument, but he should get his act together with the Labour Front Bench spokesman. We were told earlier that the problem was caused by affluence and prosperity. We are now told that it is due to poverty and deprivation. The Labour party should think its policies through and speak with one voice.

Mr. Corbyn

The hon. Gentleman has made his point, and mine as well. He seems not to appreciate that there is a correlation between crude yuppies buying Porsches in the City and the number of people sleeping on the street. The tax rip-offs that are used to buy second homes, swimming pools and extended holidays mean an increase in the number of people sleeping on the street because there is insufficient public expenditure to provide housing for them. The Tories have always supported the creed which blames poverty on the poor. We believe that the poor are the victims of the society created by the Conservatives and the Government whom they so avidly support.

Mr. Wilshire

Last time the subject of homelessness was aired, the Salvation Army in London said that there was no need for anyone to be homeless.

Mr. Corbyn

There would indeed be no need for anyone to be homeless if a large number of previously privately rented houses were not deliberately kept empty by property speculaters as a result of Government policies.It is sheer hypocrisy for Tory Members to blame the poor unfortunate people who have to sleep in cardboard boxes when they themselves put those people on the street, splash them every night as they drive past in their Porsches and kick dirt in the faces of the poor. They are the people to blame for the situation faced by so many people in London, and it is a matter of grave concern.

In my constituency and in those of my hon. Friends there is a terrible homelessness problem. What has the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) to say to the homeless men thrown out of bedsits in which they had lived for years and forced to sleep in the street in the most undignified way because they cannot afford the private sector rents that the Conservatives are so keen to jack up to extortionate levels? I appreciate that the debate is about policing in London, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but other matters are revelant and I do not apologise for digressing, as I am sure that you understand why I feel so strongly about this subject.

Discussions have taken place between Labour Members and the Home Secretary and the Commissoner of Police of the Metropolis, and various other meetings have taken place about the events which occurred during the printing dispute at Wapping. The background is that the subsidised entrepreneur Rupert Murdoch came in and destroyed 5,000 jobs, moved his printing industry to Wapping and was then surprised that there were objections to this and a year-long dispute with the printing unions.

The activities of the police during that year merit close examination. I often attended the picket line at Wapping and I saw what happened on 24 January. A large crowd gathered peacefully, most of it at a rally to hear the problems suffered by print workers because they had lost their jobs. We heard how they were being treated after giving a lifetime of service to newspaper printing in Fleet street. There was continual police provocation throughout the evening. Police horses were consistently ridden straight into the crowd, which was hemmed in by gates. The violence was disgraceful and shocking.

We know that there have been investigations within the Metropolitan police, and I understand that the findings have been reported to the Home Secretary. Complaints were entered against more than 100 officers. They were sifted by the Northamptonshire police, and some cases have been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. We understand that the DPP is now considering what action to take against certain officers.

This is the appropriate time for the Minister to tell us what action will be taken. It does the public's confidence in policing in London no good still to have no public statement 18 months later. If police officers wantonly committed acts of violence, we need to know about it. It is in the interests of the police that the officers' names should be made known, and that we should know what action is to be taken.

We have raised with the Home Secretary and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis the influence of freemasonry in the police force in London. The Home Office is well aware of that influence, and it must be aware of the article in The Independent of 19 February by James Dalrymple, who explained in some detail the Manor of St. James's Lodge, which is composed entirely of members of the Metropolitan police.

Many of us are gravely suspicious about the influence of freemasonry. I am utterly opposed to it and to the influence of other secret organisations because I believe them to be a deeply corrupting influence on society. That influence has been highlighted by the case of Chief Inspector Woollard who investigated allegations of incompetence and misconduct by a building contractor working for the London borough of Islington. During his investigation, he discerned considerable masonic influence among officials in the company and in the local authority. As he came closer to concluding that the influence of freemasonry in the administration of the contract had been great, he was removed from the case and sent to the Metropolitan police's equivalent of running a power station in Siberia.

Masonic influence is serious. The Commissioner, Sir Peter Imbert, has made it clear that he is not a mason and that he is concerned about masonic influences. I have here a list, for 1986, of members of the Manor of St. James's Lodge, No. 9179 of the masonic order, which starts with the right hon. Lord Farnham, who is the leader of the lodge. There are many people on the list. I shall not read it all, as it would take too long, but I shall give the first few names, as I assume that they are highly placed in the hierarchy, although I cannot pretend to be an expert on masonic procedures. The list begins: The Rt. Hon. Lord Farnham, Sir Peter Lane, Norman M. Jacobs, The Rev. Dr. Michael Morgan, Cdr. Michael B.S. Higham, Peter G. Lowndes, Peter C. Neivens, Lt. Cdr. Norman J. Nuttall. There are 30 other names of people who I understand to be employees of the Metropolitan police or senior officers in it.

Is it not a danger to society that such a lodge exists, and apparently has great influence? I am worried that Chief Inspector Woollard was able to uncover what appears to have been serious corruption. He strongly believed that masonic influences were at work, but when he was about to bring his inquiry to a conclusion, he was pulled off it. He is no longer a member of the police force.

We need a clear statement from the Home Secretary an which he makes it clear that he opposes masonic influences of any sort and that police officers should be asked to sign a declaration of interests and membership of organisations such as many local authority officers and councillors are asked to sign, Freemasonry is incompatible with being a police officer.

Mr. Harry Greenway

I am not a freemason and know nothing about freemasonry, so I have no axe to grind, but when the hon. Gentleman talks about "masonic influences", he draws enormous inferences. He ought briefly to explain what he means by masonic influences.

Mr. Corbyn

I am suggesting that the power of a masonic lodge on any organisation is sinister and insidious. If an organisation decides to discipline an employee or one of its members, and that person happens to be a freemason and others in the organisation are also freemasons, they decide to get together to sort the problem out among themselves, and the person involved gets off scot free. Although that is a hypothetical example, it illustrates the power of secret organisations such as freemasons.

Conservative Members are concerned about justice and integrity, so they should be anxious about the power of freemasons. I ask them to join me in suggesting that membership of a lodge is incompatible with being an officer in the Metropolitan police.

Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why such a high incidence of membership of a lodge gives rise to concern is the allegation, which goes back many years, that because senior police officers are members of the same lodge as criminals, some criminals get off?

Mr. Corbyn

My hon. Friend has highlighted the problem. If people get together in secret organisations, they are open to any form of blackmail. Any decision made by that body is not in the public domain, and cannot be, by that body's very nature.

Mr. Wilshire

Let me make it clear that I am not a freemason, either. If the allegations that the hon. Gentleman makes are true, I share his concern. But, if he makes wild allegations and says that they are hypothetical, it is incumbent on him to give us the facts so that we can judge. If the hon. Gentleman is so worried about secret organisations and their influence, perhaps he would care to condemn Militant while he is about it.

Mr. Corbyn

Although interventions take time from my speech and from the debate, I shall readily give way to any hon. Member who cares to announce that he is not a member of the freemasons. Some interesting declarations have been made. If any of the few remaining Conservative Members present wish to say that they are not freemasons I shall happily give way.

I remind Conservative Members that what I have said about the case of Chief Inspector Woollard and the influence of freemasonry on the police is not particularly new. The case was made in The Independent and there was a "World in Action" programme on the subject. The matter has been raised several times with the Home Secretary and with the Commissioner, and the London group of Labour Members is due to meet Sir Peter Imbert again to discuss this very subject.

I referred to the Manor of St. James's Lodge. A report prepared by the police committee support unit of the London borough of Islington, which deals with freemasonry in the Metropolitan police, says: The Manor of St. James's Lodge (No. 9179) was consecrated on 27 January 1986, after the Commissioner's advice had been issued. The House will note the word "after". It has been suggested that this lodge was established as a direct snub to the Commissioner. Appendix A shows a meeting of the lodge in November 1986 and includes a list of its members. These papers have been placed in the House of Commons Library. The Manor of St. James's Lodge was founded by Brethren, all of whom had served as police officers in 'C' or St. James's District of the Metropolitan Police. The term Manor was the colloquial expression used by police officers when referring to the District of place of duty. The lodge was sponsored, appropriately, by Prior Walter Lodge No. 8687, a lodge comprised by members of the order of St. John which has a close affinity with the police service. These matters are very serious and I hope that the Minister will condemn the influence of freemasonry and the police officers of the Metropolitan police who are members of freemasonic lodges and that he will state once again that membership of the freemasons is incompatible with public service in the Metropolitan police or anywhere else. It is an insidious force in society.

My constituency, like those of other hon. Members, suffers considerable social deprivation and problems of crime—housebreaking, violence and burglary. It is important that policing resources should be made available to deal with those problems. I am not convinced, however, that the resources are necessarily directed towards solving those problems or that sufficient sensitivity is shown by the police in dealing with public complaints, or in their attitudes.

I shall conclude as I started: if we are to have in London a police force that costs nearly £1 billion a year, it is perfectly right that the people of London should have some say in the way in which that force is run, in the direction of resources of that police force and in the tactics, policies and methods used. That is not posible while the police authority for London is one person—the Home Secretary, who cannot even find time to stay for the one debate that we have had in two years on policing in London. Perhaps it is a vain hope, but I ask the Government at least to consider the need for an elected police authority for London. But perhaps the return of democracy in London will have to await the return of a Labour Government.

11.45 am
Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

The House will be relieved to hear that I have no intention of following the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) into his Mozartian fascination with masonry. My only comment on his speech arises from an interesting point that he made near the beginning, which was more germane to our debate. He spoke of the declining population of Greater London and argued, by implication, that Conservative Members need no longer be so concerned about police establishment levels and the attainment of those levels. He tried to give the impression that the ratio of police to population was bound to improve and, hence, that law and order would improve because of the declining population of Greater London. That may be true in general, but in parts of the very large Metropolitan police area—notably in the Wallington sub-division, which is more or less conterminous with my constituency—the population has been expanding rapidly in recent years and, with that, the opportunities for crime have increased. We need to consider different parts of the Metropolitan police area in their own right, rather than considering the area in aggregate.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke at length about the new crime-screening procedures recently introduced by the Commissioner. While I did not agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman said, a number of my constituents share his anxiety about the crime-screening procedures. Relations between police and public must be good and the public must have confidence in the police. Therefore, it is important that those procedures, necessary as they may be, should be fully explained to the law-abiding public. If they are not, public confidence in the police may be undermined.

I associate myself with the tribute that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) paid to the previous Commissioner, Sir Kenneth Newman and welcome the well-deserved honour given to Sir Peter Imbert, the new Commissioner. I very much approve of Sir Peter's major force goals for the coming year, especially the emphasis on reducing criminal opportunity, the enhanced detection of robbery, burglary and vandalism, and the enhanced support for the victims of crime, as well as his determination to achieve further improvements in public order.

My remarks will fall under four separate headings. First, I shall consider the sort of crimes that are being committed in the Metropolitan police area, particularly in the Wallington sub-division. Secondly, I shall consider the sort of people who seem to be committing those crimes. Thirdly I shall examine how well the Metropolitan police seem to be dealing with the problems, and, finally, I shall express a few thoughts on what more could and should be done.

I shall deal first with the crimes that are being committed—particularly those of most concern to my constituents. Between 1986 and 1987 street robberies increased by 13 per cent. In hard figures in my area that meant an increase from 64 such notified offences to 96. That is a matter of great concern because it helps to breed the feeling of personal insecurity that has already been mentioned. I welcome the fact that the burglary figures fell by 4 per cent. in the Metropolitan area in the year in question and that in my sub-division they fell from 1,840 notified offences to 1,521 in the same period. However, the figures are still far too high. The offence of burglary is of intense concern to those who live in the nice residential areas—indeed all residential areas—of my constituency, who feel insecure because of it.

The third aspect of crime, and one which I cannot stress too much, is the importance of dealing with vandalism and criminal damage to property. Again, I welcome the fact that the figures show a small fall in the metropolitan area of 2 per cent. for the period in question. However, they are still far too high. In the Wallington sub-division, crimes of vandalism increased during 1986–87.

The fourth issue on which I should like to concentrate is what we might call alcohol-related offences, including drinking and driving, assaults on persons, street disturbances and various forms of damage to property. All those cause serious concern to my constituents, especially when they appear to be related to under-age drinking. I should like the Government to be tougher and to give even more of a lead on this problem.

When we consider who seems to be committing most of the crimes about which my constituents are most concerned, it is absolutely clear from the official statistics that young people commit a disproportionate number of offences—by that I mean those under the age of 21, and principally young males.

On page 43 of the Commissioner's report for this year, and under the heading, "Characteristics of offenders", an interesting short paragraph states: People aged under 21 years accounted for a disproportionate number of notifiable offences. Consistent with a long-established pattern, the age group 10 to 20 years, which is about 15 per cent. of the population of London, was recorded responsible for almost half (44 per cent.) of the notifiable offences. Clear majorities of people arrested in the offence groups of robbery, burglary and going equipped and motor vehicle theft were 20 years or under. In excess of two-thirds of those arrested for motor theft were 20 or under and almost one-third were 16 years or under. The House should pay great attention to that serious point. More specifically, many of those young people are under the influence of alcohol when they commit such offences. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) said, many are opportunist offences. However, too often the perpetrators are found to be carrying knives and, regrettably, in some cases—by definition with those under the age of 16—are out of school without permission. They are playing truant and are, as it were, absent without leave. That is serious because when one examines the figures more closely one finds that this young age group, representing 15 per cent. of total notifiable offences, is responsible for 26 per cent. of all notifiable offences of robbery, for 24 per cent. of burglaries, and for 27 per cent. of motor vehicle thefts.

How well are the Metropolitan police seeking to deal with those various priority problems? The answer is that the police are doing their level best in difficult circumstances. I know that from my personal experience, because I take great pains to stay in close touch with the police officers at every level in my part of south London, as I am sure do all my hon. Friends in their constituencies. I also attach great value to our frequent and useful meetings with the Home Secretary, the police authority, and the Commissioner himself.

However, the most pressing problems still seem to be growing. To present a balanced picture, one must congratulate the Metropolitan police on the high clear-up rate that they manage, especially in some of the most critical areas, and for the more serious offences. For the year that we are considering in this debate, the 1987 report states that 180 out of 194 homicides were cleared up, and for drug trafficking, the figure is 1,905 out of 1,906. Therefore, only one such offence was not cleared up. That is an admirable record and a tribute to the effectiveness of establishing a clear scale of priorities in line with the seriousness of the offences.

However, on the other side of the coin, and as the hon. Member for Islington, North stated, it remains disappointing to me and to my constituents that in other vital areas about which there is equal public concern, the clear-up rates remain low. I do not say that in an anti-police sense, but we—police and public together—must find ways of improving the clear-up rates in the Metropolitan police area.

Mr. Wheeler

It is very good of my hon. Friend to give way on this point. I think that he will agree that there is one important factor which the House should bear in mind on the question of clear-up rates. The difference between the Metropolitan police clear-up rate and that of the provincial forces is that the Metropolitan police do not seek to pursue other offences in prisons, thus increasing the clear-up rate, whereas the provincial forces do. That changes the distortion of the clear-up pattern in London.

Mr. Forman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and am aware of the distinction which is drawn in the Commissioner's report between the so-called primary clear-up rate and secondary clear-up rates. That bears upon the point which he has helpfully made.

I am seeking to speak on behalf of the vast majority of my constituents, from all walks of life, and must place on record for the benefit of the House the fact that the clear-up rates in the Metropolitan police district of 12 per cent. for robbery, 9 per cent. for burglary and 11 per cent. for criminal damage, still cause great concern. I am sure that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department replies to the debate, he will be able to offer to the House some reassuring words to show the serious way in which the Government view the figures.

Therefore, it is welcome and all the more important that the Metropolitan police themselves have made special efforts to deal with those offences where the record of clear-up seems to be least satisfactory. I was particularly pleased to see in the report, which I read carefully, that arrests for robbery increased by 27 per cent. during the year in question, and that there was an increase of 6 per cent. in arrests for burglary. Clearly, arrests are part of the answer but we all realise that in the complexities of justice, it is one thing to secure an arrest but it is much more important and, in many cases, much more difficult, to secure clear up and conviction.

As the Member of Parliament for Carshalton and Wallington, which, as I have already said, is almost conterminous with the Wallington subdivision of the Metropolitan police area, I am especially pleased that Chief Superintendent Peter Lockley has stated in his divisional report, which I read in advance of the debate, that he intends to make special efforts to combat the problem of vandalism. It is a serious problem in the Wallington sub-division and one to which he intends to give high priority in the coming year. I support him entirely in that objective. Although offences against property are not as serious as offences against the person, one never knows whether the kind of behaviour that gives rise to offences against property from young people acting in a loutish and irresponsible way might not spill over into terrorising old ladies or possibly even offences against the person.

What more could and should be done? We need a three-pronged approach. First, we need to encourage and assist the general public to pay even more attention to crime prevention than they are doing already. We know of the efforts made by the Home Office, and I commend the Home Office for launching a series of useful initiatives in this area. However, more could still be done by insurance companies, ordinary householders, motorists—indeed, by all involved. We can make our homes and cars more secure. We can make efforts to keep children in school and combat the problem of truancy to which I have already referred. We can deal more firmly with the social problems of alcohol and drug abuse. We can continue the welcome trend about which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke earlier of getting more officers more visibly on the beat, because that is an inherent part of crime prevention.

The second prong must be to make sure that we have enough police with more either on the beat or available for effective quick response in targeting special needs and using specialist squads to deal with acute crime problems. It is obvious that the vast swathe of the most serious crime which shows up most noticeably in the statistics, especially in my part of south London, is perpetrated by a small number of villains. There is a good deal of circumstantial evidence to suggest that.

When the police are able to catch and charge a particularly active villain or gang of villains who have committed a robbery or burglary, it is amazing how, for a period at any rate, the crime figures go down encouragingly as a result of all the other offences that often have to be taken into account when the matter goes before the court. There is therefore an important role for specialist squads and the reassuring presence of the officer on the beat.

I am glad to hear that the Metropolitan police is now nearly up to its full establishment level and that the Home Secretary has been successful in securing more resources for effective policing. He and his ministerial colleagues are absolutely right to insist on getting better value for money and better distribution of the available resources, whatever may be on offer at any time. In that context, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North was right to draw attention to the two or three matters of which he has special knowledge, to deal with the treatment of potential motor offences. I hope that my hon. Friend's proposals will be seriously considered.

With changes in society in modern times and changing public attitudes to law and order, which go together with increased opportunities for crime, we shall need even higher and more effective policing levels in the Metropolitan area. I refer to officers on the beat and specialist squads in particular.

I shall not enter into the controversy to which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook devoted some time about whether or not an extra 2,500 officers are needed. The Commissioner has a clear duty to make the most efficient possible use of the manpower and womanpower at his disposal and to continue the process of civilianisation, which is obviously necessary. At the same time, when he makes a case to the Home Secretary and, through him, to the Government for increasing establishment levels, he must ensure that his case is made unimpeachably and on the best possible basis. The combination of increasing affluence—affluence which has increased greatly in the 1980s—juxtaposed with declining social attitudes towards law and order among some groups in society, is a potentially explosive mix. Although it is a controversial subject, more thought should be given to it. If we can get more detections, arrests and convictions, we shall make the point to the general public that the surest deterrence is greater certainty of being caught and punished for an offence.

The last prong of my argument is that, obviously, Parliament has a duty to make great efforts to ensure that the legislative framework that is provided for the police is appropriate, so that they have the extra powers they they need to police our streets and the great city of London. I am pleased with the recent initiative in the Criminal Justice Bill about the carrying of knives and sharp instruments. It is good that the Government recognise the critical importance of providing the courts with the widest possible range of appropriate penalties—everything from non-custodial sentences to stiff, long determinate sentences for those who are convicted of the most serious crimes. The Government have been doing that over the past nine years. I commend my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his colleagues for their excellent initiatives in that regard.

Combating crime is everyone's responsibility. Our excellent police in the Metropolitan area cannot achieve the desired results without the full support of politicians, the judiciary, magistrates, the media and the general public. I pledge my support to the police serving this large area. I commend them on their efforts during the year in question.

12.3 pm

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Few people could disagree with the worthy generalisations of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) whose speech I endorse. But, alas, the Government's philosophy and that of the great majority of Conservative Members is not capable of fulfilling his worthy generalisations. The majority of members of the ruling party consider that, in itself, public expenditure is bad or, at least, too great. That philosophy is becoming all-pervasive and destroys the quality of many things in our lives. There is some unity in the House about the need for more resources and more effective policing activity, even though we may criticise some aspects of how it is conducted. I refer Conservative Members to the fundamental philosophical jam into which they have got themselves.

The Secretary of State for the Environment is disrupting local taxation and introducing a poll tax, to focus people's minds on local expenditure, when rates in London provide a big chunk of Metropolitan police expenditure, which we now know is about £1,000 million. That is why I intervened during the Home Secretary's speech. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will return to that theme. Unless remedied or, at least, assisted by the central business rate or the Exchequer, the imposition of the poll tax will put a stopper on some of the things that nearly all hon. Members have called for today. It is a central anomaly of the Government's policy that Conservative Members should seriously consider. That anomaly is serious in respect of the police and even more serious in respect of other services.

I shall be something of a vox-pop. Many of the things that I say will echo what the man or woman in the street say in respect of the Metropolitan police. I do not wish to be unfriendly, as the vast majority of policemen try to do a good job. I shall express how I believe the police often appear to those whom they serve. I shall try to introduce some constructive suggestions about how things can be improved. The theme is from the pavement up, rather than the other way round. Often, in every sphere of life, there are big generalisations at the top, but we should start the other way round.

A large proportion of the time spent by most policemen, including senior people, involves talking to other policemen. We see young policemen and policewomen in fast, expensive motor cars full of electronic equipment, and groups of younger policemen in vans. That must be—things are changing—but we must examine what happens to the ordinary person who goes into a police station. What arrangements are there for his reception?

I recall going into a police station that was designed in 1938. It has far superior reception arrangements than a police station in Plaistow, which has just been built at enormous public expenditure in the middle of my constituency. What thought has been given to the public-police interface, when the public go to the police, rather than when the police go to the public? There are training courses at Hendon to instruct police on how to approach the public in the street. There must be proper arrangements for the public to go to police stations. Some years ago, I asked the police to set up a little sub-police station in Freemasons road, Custom House, in my constituency. They said, "Yes, it is a jolly good idea. We shall try to do it." There were money complications. They had to get permission from the local council to try to rent a shop, and then there were security problems. The matter has been dragging on for three or four years. We are now to get a little police sub-station in the area, cut off from the rest of Newham, but in another road, and it will be rather bigger and probably more expensive than would have been necessary. All the correspondence and meetings that I have had with junior and senior policemen about the matter appear to make some fuss. I do not make a great complaint, but, when it comes to the nitty-gritty of administration, one often has to ask why it happened like that.

Like many hon. Members, I have the privilege of occupying a room in Norman Shaw north. That room was occupied about 100 years ago by Inspector Lestrade and, perhaps, some of his colleagues. It was purpose-built and designed by the architect Norman Shaw. I understand that Scotland Yard No. 3 was taken over as a converted office block. I have met many senior policemen who make great complaints about the modifications and the difficulties that they have had with Scotland Yard No. 3. Why is it that in the 1870s or 1880s a purpose-built building, which is still a magnificent place, was designed for the police, but in the latter half of this century they have a building which had to be adapted and in which there was a bit of a cock-up? That does not produce a great deal of confidence in what I would call the macro-organisation.

I shall return to the micro-organisation. The Home Secretary and I had a bit of a spat about Newham and about the statutory borough consultative committee which we are about to set up. I understand why the Home Secretary said what he did. But he has to understand that if there is to be an effective consultative committee, the constitution of that committee and the basis on which it works must be effective. It is no good having a shapeless, formless organisation, which meets every month or so for a natter and nothing really happens, or one to which everyone can come and in which there is no continuity and no degree of responsibility. I must tell the Home Secretary, albeit in his absence, that that was proposed.

I have been to many police public relations exercises. I do not blame them for taking professional advice from public relations advisers for their campaigns. They lay on exhibitions or hold conferences and invite everyone. I have been to quite a few of those events. There is a lot of good will around but it does not really get anywhere.

The constitution that we have worked out in Newham, after a lot of discussion, will get to grips with local problems. There were difficulties in deciding that constitution. Of course strong personalities are involved and differences of opinion. A certain senior police officer who is a well-known personality in east London has played some part in the protracted negotiations, which, fortunately, have now reached a conclusion. I put it to the Home Secretary, and I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree, that the time taken will pay off. We now have a structure which will really get to grips with some local matters and therefore it will be more successful than if we were to start off with an airy-fairy, fuzzy organisation which, quite frankly, would not have done the job.

When hon. Members attend an organisation or committee which has to thrash out some difficulty, when we meet the people with whom we thought we were wholly in opposition, over a cup of tea or a chat we find that we were under some misapprehension, and they find that they were under some misapprehension. Over some time spent getting to know each other, we can reach some commonsense results, which would not have happened without that institution. That will develop in the local groups, if they are given a good start.

I shall now turn to some of the practical problems that will face our committee in Newham and other Committees throughout the country. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington mentioned the problem of young people. That problem is not new. For centuries, young people have tended to group together. That has existed throughout history; it existed when we were young. It is nothing new. however, some of the activities in which young people indulge are new—motor cars, drugs, alcohol and so on. At least, the problem of alcohol is very much to the fore. I recall sitting on committees considering licensing Bills when people were not too concerned about our control of that problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who I am glad to see present, has introduced a Bill. But I am sure that my hon. Friend and other all hon. Members will agree that much of this is a matter of local common sense.

Let us consider the management of licensed premises. The quality of the management of licensed premises varies a great deal. In the Committee considering the Licensing Bill I made the suggestion, which was recived with interest, that one condition of a licence is that a licensee puts up a list of 10 or 20 people, one of whom will be nominated to be in charge in his absence. I did not press it in the most recent Licensing Bill, but it would be helpful if that idea were put into statute at a later date. The law is not always the answer, it is a matter of commonsense discussion as to how we can ensure that the badly managed houses, which are in a minority, do not add to social disruption when the majority of houses and clubs are very well managed. How can we make sure that we maintain and improve that level of management? It cannot be done entirely by statute. The local statutory availability must be used to deal with local situations.

Mr. Forman

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the scheme known as pub watch which has some relevance to this and which is referred to in the Commissioner's report?

Mr. Spearing

I am not entirely aware of the details of it, but I would hesitate to introduce yet another organisation. I am advocating that the discussions in local committees in London should find out the administrative pinch points. I shall give the hon. Gentleman an example. Not long ago I found that there was an administrative difficulty in the serving of warrants when people had not surrendered to bail, particularly when they had been charged with actual bodily harm. If a person who is charged with that offence does not surrender to bail, something is very badly wrong. I am not criticising magistrates for granting bail, because we know the difficulties of accommodation, but the police have to take action. It may be that in some circumstances the police, or the new public prosecution service, are not as swift as they might be. The citizens then quite rightly get hot under the collar. They say, "The public ought to get at that tearaway. What will he do next?"

When people come to me worrying about capital offences, I say that some people may be at risk from their own feelings or, in a situation which is fuelled by alcohol, at risk of committing a capital offence. We must prevent that. A great deal of commonsense work can be done on the ground to prevent the spread of violence, through the identification of situations where violence is likely to break out. That should be done in committees by people of good will who have authority getting together to deal with it. We should improve the quality of communication, administration and action.

Following what the Prime Minister said at Toronto, the quality of society is not dependent on the market. One cannot get a consultancy in quality of the community or in the quality of family life. The essence of the quality of our community life is not susceptible to market forces. Alas, in sphere after sphere, the Government are introducing the intensification of market forces which will increase the tendency towards difficulties and violence.

Let us take housing as an example. I shall not take this too far, as we shall discuss it on Monday, but difficulties in housing cause pressure on families and problems between parents and young people, which add to local problems. The Government are not assisting community life through many of the economic pressures which they are now introducing and which did not exist before they came into office. As a result, the police and the public have to clear up the mess.

There is a logical and practical example of that which involves housing. I understand that the Metropolitan police force is now under orders from the Government to sell off police housing. There is a lot of police housing in Newham, scattered around and in groups. I understood that police housing—not section housing but housing in streets—was provided to give a start to policemen who wanted to do a good job, live in the community, and send their kids to the local schools. I see the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) is indicating dissent. If he wishes to intervene I will give way later. I understood that this is what many policemen wanted to do. Like many of us, they may want ultimately to buy their own houses. However, when they start off in a new area, or are moved around as a result of promotion, police housing is a useful social tool.

The Government's order to sell off such housing seems to me to be designed to reduce police quality. It reduces the options available to senior policemen when they want to move their people around. It reduces the choices for policemen when deciding whether to rent, take a tied house, go for sectional housing, buy, or go in with their in-laws. Therefore, it prejudices good policing, morale and the consistency and experience of older policemen that we want so badly in London. In any occupation, experience of the job is vitally important, and the Government's policy of selling off police housing is contrary to their stated aim of improving the quality of policing in London.

Mr. Dicks

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one of the reasons why experienced policemen are leaving London is that they have better housing, better education for their children and a better life away from the city? Why should they be expected to live, for example, in the middle of Brixton if their natural way of life does not tie up with the culture of Brixton? It does not mean to say that they are bad policemen or policewomen if they do not want to live there. They have a right to choose where they live as against where they are sent to work.

Mr. Spearing

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my point. It is that if the police have at their disposal a range of accommodation that can be made available to policemen, the choice for policemen is greater. The more housing is available, the better the choice of community in which to live. Policemen may not wish to live in the area in which they carry out their duties. If their duties are in Brixton, they may want to live in Croydon—that is up to them. I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman nodding.

No doubt, the Under-Secretary will tell me whether the Metropolitan police have chosen to sell off these houses rather than being ordered to do so by the Government. I suspect that it is the latter, because of the Government's overall barmy philosophy of selling off anything that is publicly owned. They are fundamentally reducing the quality of policing in London. It will show up well in the accounts, and it may even show value for money and all that nonsense. We must have value for money, but good will and loyalty cannot be priced. Even the Prime Minister would agree with that. The Government must look at this, and I hope that they will reverse the policy.

One aspect of policing that is rarely talked about, particularly in the House, although it is an important part of the responsibility of the Metropolitan police, is traffic management. When we think of traffic management and the Metropolitan police, we think of royal occasions, the opening of Parliament, public processions, blokes on motor bikes and all the rest of it. I have had the experience of seeing how Commonwealth countries do these things, and visiting Members of Parliament are often given a motor cycle escort. If one talks to the chaps afterwards, they say, "We were trained by the Met." The Metropolitan police force is excellent at doing this—it world leader—but when it comes to traffic management in general, things go wrong, and I am not sure that it is so good.

East London has many traffic problems, largely because of the Government's terrible neglect of strategic planning. I will not go into that, but it shows a terrible lack of civic pride. The Blackwall tunnel is frequently closed for repairs and on other occasions, for some reason, the traffic cannot use it in both directions. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport has explained to me why that is so, but it is a great pity. When it happens, it causes immense problems. I cycle, so it is not bad for me, but many people are frustrated, and there is not a policeman in sight. Flyovers are closed, and there is not a policeman in sight. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the local authority to tell the police when there is to be a difficulty so that someone can sort out the trouble and stop the traffic from jamming.

If something happens in the streets around here, in two ticks, because of the traffic management, everything clogs up. That is not surprising because 15 or 20 years ago, the Greater London council organised traffic flows in London so that about 20 or 30 per cent. more traffic could move through the existing streets. That was a good thing. The GLC introduced parking controls, clearways, gyratory systems and other schemes in a skilled operation. However, if a lorry breaks down at the crucial point, or the lights go wrong, or there is an accident, everything jams very quickly. The police are not good at making sure that there is somebody not too far away so that when that happens the traffic is unjammed as quickly as possible.

There is a lot of talk about London jamming up, but there is no scientific evidence to suggest that in normal circumstances it is. However, when there is an abnormal circumstance, the repurcussions are great. The police should pay more attention to clearing away those breakdowns and dealing with accidents or jams caused when roads are up for repairs or so that adjustments can be made by the traffic boys at Scotland Yard.

Mr. Tony Banks

I would favour much stricter penalties being imposed on lorry operators who badly load their lorries, or badly maintain them with the result that they break down or shed their load, causing traffic congestion. The penalties imposed on lorry contractors bear no relationship to the costs that they have imposed on Londoners.

Mr. Spearing

I agree and I can give two examples about which the man in the street should know. I assume that when a lorry breaks down, the police have some arrangement with a contractor—they do not have heavy breakdown vehicles of their own—so that the lorry can be moved as quickly as possible. Even those of us who take an interest in this matter do not know what this organisation is. However, this is a critical matter, and if matters were organised properly, people would know that such and such a squad was responsible. We all know the contractors who move badly parked cars, because they are visible, but we do not know what happens when there is a lorry breakdown. Those are commonsense matters in which the people of London want a visible improvement.

We have a problem in east London with local parking because of bad planning. Many people are driving to and parking at the local underground station. In Plaistow many people from the new docklands development are causing difficulties for residents by parking in residential streets around the station and going up to London to work. That is fair enough; one would expect it to happen. It leads not only to traffic congestion but to other problems.

At present, the Metropolitan police controls traffic wardens. Discussions are going on about how borough councils can co-operate with, or ultimately take over, that service. When traffic wardens were first introduced, senior policemen were against the use of lady traffic wardens. I mention that to show how, in retrospect, such attitudes can appear extraordinary. Mrs. Jane Phillips, the then chairman of the GLC's highways and traffic committee, and Mrs. Barbara Castle, who was then a Minister at the Department of Transport, had to bully Scotland Yard to accept lady traffic wardens.

We must decide how much traffic wardens can co-operate with local officials. It is one of the matters that I hope our well-constituted committee in Newham will consider. On that constructive, wholly friendly and non-venomous note I close my remarks.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Eight hon. Members, most of whom have been present since the beginning of the debate, still wish to speak. I understand that the Under-Secretary and the Front Bench spokesman for the Labour party hope to catch the eye of the Chair at about 2 pm. That leaves 90 minutes; the arithmetic is obvious.

12.32 pm
Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)

I have not worked out the arithmetic, but I shall try to be brief.

I take this opportunity to welcome the optimistic tone of the Commissioner's report and the hopeful trends outlined by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

There are signs that the police in London are coming to grips with London's problems, but clearly there are still problems. It is little consolation to a crime victim to discover that, although the statistics and trends suggest that there has been an improvement, there is no quick response or police activity for the injury that they have suffered.

That raises the question of what constitutes good policing in London. Clearly there must be crime prevention and detection, but the public must also have confidence in and must co-operate with the police. It is to that aspect of good policing in London that I should like to address a few remarks.

It is essential that the Metropolitan police should represent, and in many ways reflect, the communities of London. Clearly those communities should have confidence in and be able to identify with the police. Police recruitment must ensure that, as the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said of traffic wardens, there should be clear representation of women in the force doing proper police work. At the same time, ethnic minorities should be seen to be active as policemen and should identify with those they serve, of whatever racial origin or ethnic group. Only with such widespread appeal will the police of London effectively gain the confidence and co-operation of those who live in and serve the community.

Much could be done for police recruitment if only the schools in London, especially inner London, recognised that the police force is a career prospect to be offered to children considering a career for when they leave school. It is a matter of regret that, over the years, ILEA has not given prominence to the police force as a likely career. In the past, it has positively dissuaded police from entering its schools—if not positively forbidden them. I am reassured that that is no longer the practice and that the police are able—I shall not say welcome—to enter all schools in inner London. On occasions, police officers have been able to enter only if they did not wear uniforms. ILEA's authorities have suggested that they would prefer the police not to be seen in schools in a positive police role.

To be more constructive, I shall refer to the beneficial effect of neighbourhood watch schemes in making connections with and establishing good relations between the police and the community at large. When neighbourhood watch and crime prevention schemes were first introduced, their primary function was crime prevention. My limited experience of those schemes in my constituency leads me to believe that it is too early to evaluate the success of the crime prevention function, but it is evident that they have led to the establishment of a rapport between the local community and the police.

When a neighbourhood watch scheme is set up, a home beat officer calls at one or two houses and seeks to advise the occupants on crime prevention. He is followed in turn by the crime prevention officer. Locks on doors are then changed, and burglar alarms appear on those properties. That has a knock-on effect. First one property owner does it and then another. The people in those communities are not nosey parkers, but such schemes lead to the community being aware of what is going on in the locality. That is beneficial and it should be fostered and encouraged.

I attended a recent meeting of the co-ordinators of neighbourhood watch schemes in one part of my constituency. I had never before been to such a well-attended meeting that involved people who live in a very limited area. I had never before seen such a lively response from the people who live there or such a constructive rapport between the police and the local community. I welcome such developments, because they will lead to better policing and to a decrease in crime.

Hon. Members on both sides referred earlier to the difficulties that had been experienced over the police consultative committees. My observations of the police consultative committee in my area lead me to believe that there is a conflict of objectives. When police consultative committees were first established, the intention was that they should follow what one might call the Scarman model and defuse tension between the police and the community. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that, by encouraging the establishment of such committees, the Home Office felt that they had a major contribution to make to crime prevention. When Socialist authorities became involved in setting up these committees, they believed that, at the very least, they would act as a watchdog and that they would monitor police operations with a view to taking over political control of the Metropolitan police.

Such conflicting views meant that it was difficult to establish police consultative committees. In Southwark there was an agonising period during which efforts were made to establish a working relationship. I am pleased to be able to say that recent evidence suggests that at least some consensus has been reached. Although there may be be different objectives, it is now thought to be beneficial for the various groups to work together. It is another optimistic sign.

I am worried about the fact that there are some no-go areas in my borough. They are to be found on some of the more deprived and rundown estates. Milkmen have refused to deliver milk, postmen have refused to deliver mail and doctors have refused to make home calls. Even the police have felt intimidated about approaching those estates. It bodes ill for regeneration of the inner city if, within a mile or two of this House, there are areas about whose safety the staff of public services have misgivings.

Ms. Abbott

Would the hon. Gentleman care to name the estates he has referred to and say how recently he heard those allegations about police and milkmen not going into them?

Mr. Bowden

A month ago, postmen refused to deliver mail to the Dog Kennel hill estate because they were being assaulted and girocheques were being removed from their sacks. For the last few years, doctors have refused to carry out calls in, milkmen have refused to deliver to, and postmen have refused to enter, the North Peckham estate—except in twos or threes. I am prepared to give more instances if the hon. Lady wants them, but if she is satisfied with those, I shall continue.

If the inner city is to be regenerated, we must ensure that these public services are provided, and that they are supported by the police. The hopeful signs in the Commissioner's report and my right hon. Friend's speech show that progress can be made.

In the context of manpower and police morale, it is important that police on shift do not see members of their shift being withdrawn and so feel undersupported. In many cases this is the result of redeployment; members of a shift are withdrawn to be put back on the beat as home beat community police officers. That is done for the general benefit and improvement of life and policing in communities. Alongside public confidence in the police, the police must be confident that the public support them and recognise the good work they are doing. Bad police practices must be condemned and good ones congratulated. This debate gives us an opportunity to do just that.

12.42 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I welcome the opportunity of this debate. I am happy to speak after my political neighbour in Southwark—the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden)—whose constituency is the only borough that spans the political divide in the Metropolitan police district.

I, too, congratulate the new Commissioner on his appointment and wish him well. I have known him for a long time, ever since he served in Thames Valley and, in my previous incarnation as a lawyer, I did some work for him. I also pay tribute to the retired Commissioner for all that he did for Greater London. Londoners have good cause to place great confidence in both men. I share the general goals set out by the Commissioner: they are appropriate, although I might quibble about some details.

I also pay tribute without hesitation to the police in my borough. Two police divisions are based there—the Southwark division in Borough high street, and the Rotherhithe and Tower Bridge division in Carter street. The latter covers part of my constituency and part of that of the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman). Both forges are extremely co-operative and helpful. There are occasional complaints, some of which are serious and need dealing with seriously, but in general I pay tribute to the police's work in a difficult part of London. I agree with the hon. Member for Dulwich that policing in places such as Southwark is often far from easy. Police cadets and young officers have told me that they feel afraid when going into certain estates, not only in the south and middle, but in the northern parts of Southwark, too.

I have raised before with the Home Secretary, and I repeat now, the need to do everything possible to encourage police morale. One of the things that makes them unhappy is that, having pursued lawbreakers and made an arrest, they never ultimately discover what happens to them. Prosecution is now out of their hands and in the hands of the Crown prosecution service. The Home Secretary has been responsive to my concern that the police should be given more information and be able to feel rightly proud of what they successfully do on behalf of the community. I hope for better progress in this area. The CPS is still in its early stages and still makes mistakes, as the case of Robert McHale is proving at the moment. That is partly a Home Office and partly an Attorney-General matter.

Another matter that causes me even more concern is the wastage of police officers. I raised it in my intervention, but it is also worth drawing attention to the report. Pages 48 and 49 state: Wastage again was disappointingly high in 1987. A total of 1,621 officers left the force, 6 per cent. more than in 1986. The real strength of the Force rose by only 433 which was, nevertheless, an improvement on 1986…The number of officers who left with less than two years' service (probationers) rose from 122 to 141 which was disappointing…Transfers to other forces continued to be a major cause for concern with 302 officers (19 per cent. of all wastage) transferring compared with 249 in 1986 (16 per cent.) The graph supplied with the report shows that the number of officers lost is almost the same as those recruited, especially at senior and middle rank level. When a community has become accustomed to its police officers and then they leave—a point already made several times—it undermines the belief in community policing, because the police officers that the community gets to know, and with whom it shares responsibility, suddenly move on. That is a serious defect in the system.

Housing is certainly a problem. I am troubled that we still do not provide adequate housing opportunities. I accept that police officers cannot be forced to live in the area in which they work, but I am even more concerned when, for example, just behind the police station in Rotherhithe, flats owned by the Metropolitan police—they were formerly police flats—remain empty, which is entirely undesirable in a borough where there are thousands of homeless people. Perhaps, in the short term, the flats could be given to other people in need, although housing police in the community enhances their commitment to it.

The Home Secretary has rightly said that the cost of policing London is high. Therefore, it is unfair when other Government Departments allege that the cost of other services in London are so high—for example, the Health Service, social services and education. One of the reasons for abolishing ILEA is that it costs so much but, in fact, it costs less per head than the Metropolitan police. We should remind people that, given such high costs, the results, although in some ways encouraging, are still not good.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) made a thoughtful speech, and I agreed with everything that he said—as, indeed, I did with other hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman said that the clear-up rate is still poor, and in terms of cost benefit is not a matter for complacency. We must ensure that there is no let-up, so that the police clear up a far greater percentage of crime.

Why should citizens of London, who pay a substantial amount towards its policing, have only half as much chance as the rest of the country of the offences committed against them being dealt with? The individual citizen's rights are the same in London as elsewhere. He should have the same chance of good policing. In that regard, the London police need to do better.

I want briefly to reflect on the theme of the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). The causes of crime are clearly complex, and no one can pretend that there is an easy analysis. However, I am persuaded that, if there is a disadvantaged and derelict community—one that looks vandalised before anyone does anything to make it worse—it does not enhance the chances of people feeling committed to it. For example, in my road, next to my house, there are five squatted properties. They have broken windows and are derelict outside. When people smash up other buildings on the road, it makes hardly any difference, because no one has a real commitment. I am the only person with a secure tenancy in my terrace. Bollards are broken and windows smashed, and there is litter, which all become just part of the community; the incentive to improve it is almost neglible.

We need community investment in the inner city that brings about community responsibility. When people feel proud of their community, they will act as police officers. There will be more self-policing. People know who lives in an area and are concerned about that community.

In a society such as inner London where there is high unemployment, poor schooling in secondary schools and much truancy, policing is more difficult. Almost half of all offences are committed by 10 to 20-year-olds, many of whom either should be at school or have no training or work available. Unless we give decent schooling, training and working opportunities, there will be no incentive to have a good community which is self-policing.

Parents and families must play their part. Often, they do not play a sufficient part and take responsibilities, but leave them to others. This is not helped when there is such a sense of dereliction and despondency in one area, while elsewhere people are doing well. My borough is typical of the two nations. A massive number of my constituents live in appalling conditions while next door extraordinarily expensive housing is being built—costing £200,000,£300,000,£400,000, £500,000, £1 million and, as advertised just last week, £2.5 million. It is not surprising, when people believe that there are two nations, that they have no commitment and feel that they are outsiders while others are clearly insiders.

The annual report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis refers to the work of the Metropolitan and City police company fraud branch. It is a reflection of the society in which we live that it has had so much more work. The report states: 1987 was unparalleled in terms of media interest in the work of the fraud branch… A total of 462 cases involving £1,545 million continued from 1986; in 1987, a further 590 cases were accepted for investigation with a total cash at risk figure of £3,295 million. During the year, 366 people were charged or summonsed. Multiple share applications and mortgage frauds formed a large part of the workload of the branch. The Government's privatisation programme led to an increase in the number of those who submitted multiple share applications using a variety of names and addresses. Neither the severity of the sentences imposed, nor the attendant publicity impacted on the desire to make large illegal profits… Mortgage frauds showed a considerable rise during the year. In a self-centred and greedy society, we are producing a cash-and-grab community. It is not surprising—whatever the rights or wrongs of it—when young and relatively inexperienced 14, 16 and 19-year-olds living on social security in bed-and-breakfast hotels or grotty council estates see in the windows of others expensive equipment that they have no chance of obtaining and so turn to crime, with thefts of videos and electronic equipment. They are encouraged by advertising and the idea that one can profit for oneself—the free enterprise society gone mad.

I was saddened yesterday by the fact that the Prime Minister when asked about ticket touts at Wimbledon said that she had no responsibility for them. She does. Like the Home Secretary and all other Ministers, she has a responsibility for curbing the selfishness in our society that allows people who profit selfishly and illegally at the expense of others to go about unhindered. Those people are now encouraged by Conservative Members, as the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) made clear she did the other day.

We need an attack on the two nations to make one nation, so that the two communities become one and young people are given the opportunities to grow up as law-abiding and respecting citizens. The youth service in London is under threat. We do not know whether it will have security of funding. Without a decent youth service, adult education service and nursery education, the chances of people living in a well-regulated society will be small.

I pointed out in an intervention that alcohol is a major problem. A substantial number of offences, both minor and major, are committed by people under the influence of drink and drugs.

Proper education and regulation are needed to avoid the situations so often seen in our society, whether on the way to or from football matches, discotheques, clubs and pubs, or in and out of supermarkets. If we do not curb the acceptability of drinking in such large quantities, we shall not deal with the vandalism and criminality that so often results. We must ensure that alcoholism is as high and vivid on the agenda as drug taking. Together they are lethal, but far more people fall victim to drink than to drugs and commit offences as a result, and it is a far more prevalent evil, conspiring towards the vast number of offenders who appear in the courts and the many others who do not.

I hope that this debate will show the police on the beat that they are respected and appreciated for what they do, but the authorities responsible for the police should be aware that we are still far from being a harmonious and well ordered society. The police must listen and respond more to the needs of the community and share with it the responsibility for policing. Only in that way will the quality of life of a capital city, which could be like Toronto but is not yet, become acceptable for the many citizens who, sadly, have to live in a city in which crime, vandalism and dereliction are the orders of the day.

12.56 pm
Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

I differ in just one respect from the views expressed by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). I believe that he spoke of Conservative Members—in the plural—supporting touts. I believe that the singular would be more accurate.

I begin by apologising for the fact that, like so many hon. Members, I had constituency business earlier in the day and I have a further constituency appointment later. I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will forgive me if I miss his mellifluous words of wisdom, and that the two Douglases—major and minor—will forgive me for having missed their contributions. I shall read the Official Report with great interest over breakfast.

I wish to make four brief points. First, I believe that neighbourhood watch schemes are among the most helpful and useful innovations and I was delighted at the support expressed by all hon. Members who mentioned them. If we can encourge those who give up their own time to help to keep crime off the streets and to report it, we shall be performing a very valuable duty. My one concern is that the effect is to move crime to areas without neighbourhood watch schemes. That must be a major reason for adding to the number of schemes in existence.

Allied with that is the question of home beat officers. The last Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis began to reverse one of the most unfortunate developments in London—the fact that officers remained on home beat posts for too short a time. The job can be done properly only if they are there for three or more years, so that they get to know the people and the people get to know them. I welcome the new Commissioner and hope that he will continue that trend.

The courts will also have to be less lenient when guilty verdicts are delivered. Most of us must have heard people asking why Parliament does not increase the penalties, but it is no use increasing them when the courts so often do not use the existing maximum. I make no further comment on that, save to say that one day Parliament will have to take notice of the overwhelming demand of our electors to bring back the death penalty.

I wish to comment on two points made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I welcome his comments about neighbourhood watches and his assurance that he supports the police in the work that they do. I do not doubt that that is true of the right hon. Gentleman, but he must admit that his party in London has, in most cases, given a wholly opposite impression. I do not believe that London ought to have an elected police authority. We have a unique opportunity to question Ministers about the police in London, which is far better than leaving it to politically inspired local authority control.

As the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said, the consultative committees, which got off to a bad start, are beginning to work well. In Camden, the Labour party, after a public split, now supports the consultative committee, which is doing remarkably good work.

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) commented on the freemasons. I am not one and have not been one, but in view of the charitable work that they do, I would be proud to be one, and I do not agree that freemasonry is incompatible with being a policeman.

On page 24 of his report, the Commissioner talks about the special constabulary. I am worried, and have been for a long time, that the special constabulary is not doing the job it should be doing because of inadequate numbers. I should like to pay tribute to the recently retired Chief Commandant, Arthur Hammond, an old friend, who did very good work. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will insist that the new Chief Commandant rides a horse, which Arthur refused to do during his many years of service.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) said, we must get more members of the community involved with the specials. There is a job of work to be done, and we must try to overcome the unease that has for a long time been felt by some full-time policemen.

I hope that the Commissioner will pay more heed to the views of local police than to the traffic branch when it comes to discussing matters of traffic. It is highly frustrating for good chief superintendents, who have a good rapport with their local community, to have to tidy up the mess created by the traffic branch. Of course the traffic branch is only doing its job, but it often does it unthinkingly and unfeelingly.

People in my area have immense problems with towings away and clampings where, frankly, it is unnecessary. The police have to do it because there are yellow lines. I hope that, as a result of the efforts of Councillor Spence, there will be a review of yellow lines and that the unnecessary ones will be removed. Such difficulties do more harm to police-community relations than almost anything else.

The House needs an opportunity, from time to time, to discuss the Metropolitan police's good work. It is not surprising that there is far less division in the House about the police than there used to be. One of the reasons for that is the opportunity for discussion. We can now meet the police in a larger forum, rather than on a one-to-one basis with chief superintendents or superintendents.

The consultative committees are doing a valuable job. I hope that the Home Office will find it possible to maintain and perhaps even increase the allocation to the Commissioner to enable him to support consultative committees and neighbourhood watch schemes. There is a danger that, as the number of neighbourhood watch schemes increases, the Commissioner might not be able, with existing manpower, to provide the number of policemen necessary to maintain active liaison with neighbourhood watchers. I warmly welcome the Commissioner's report.

1.4 pm

Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

First, I should like to place on record my commitment—and that of all London Labour Members —to fighting crime and helping to make London a safe place for people to live in. I am a single woman and live on my own, so I understand the fears of women of all ages, whether single or married, about crime, sexual violence and being alone at home at night.

It is absurd to argue, as some of the more disreputable Tory Members have argued, that the Labour party in London is pro-crime and pro-disorder. It is our people who suffer most from crime. All over the world, it is the poor who suffer most from crime, whether council tenants, single parents or pensioners, so the Labour party in London, which endeavours to represent working people and the poor, is worried about crime. It is our people who are hit worst and hit first by the effects of crime. Crime is a very big issue in my constituency of Hackney North, and Stoke Newington.

I shall touch on Tory hypocrisy about law and order. Hypocrisy characterises the Tory party in the 1980s, and on the matter of law and order the hypocrisy is particularly gross and stinking. Since the Prime Minister has been in power, crime has increased by half. My hon. Friends have mentioned how, in general, the Conservative regime has contributed to the rising tide of lawlessness and disorder by promoting a climate of materialism and grasping rampant individualism. Spiralling poverty and homelessness, have also been the consequences of eight years of Tory misrule. There have also been cuts in social security. There is no doubt that all these create the climate for the rising tide of crime under the Government. In 1979, the Tory party said in its manifesto: respect for the rule of law is the basis of a free and civilized life. That comes ill from the Tories. If they want to give lectures about respect for the rule of law, they should give them to Ernest Saunders and other leading Conservative voters who were involved in the £1 million Guinness scandal, and other City frauds.

I shall touch on the Home Secretary's closing remarks in his introduction to the debate. He talked of the importance of the highest professional standards in the Metropolitan police. I feel that I can speak for every London Labour Member in saying that we agree with him wholeheartedly about that. When we discuss those matters, when we meet our local police commanders and when we speak to our local communities, tenants' associations, community groups and young people, that issue is always top of the agenda. That is why we have raised the issue of freemasonry.

There was a lot of spluttering and noise from Tory Members when we brought up the subject of freemasons. Hon. Members talked about proof. Books and television and newspaper investigations have given rise to considerable concern. The point, above all, about the Metropolitan police and freemasonry is that, like Caesar's wife, the police force should be above reproach. There is no doubt that the continuing drip of allegations, cases and investigations about freemasonry in the Metropolitan police does not leave the Metropolitan police above reproach.

I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) say that membership of the freemasons was not incompatible with carrying out police duties. That is not quite the view of the Metropolitan police. Even it acknowledges that membership of the freemasons can cause a problem—if only a problem in public perception. That is why the Metropolitan police itself in 1985 officially advised officers that they should consider the advisability of membership of the freemasons.

If those at the highest levels of the Metropolitan police are aware of the problems caused to the public's perception of the police by the fact—it is a fact—that one in five police officers in London are freemasons, I am amazed that Conservative members are so smug about it. Not only are one in five police officers in London freemasons, but they include members of the fraud squad and the complaints investigation branch.

With the best will in the world, there can be no doubt that that causes problems when it comes to public confidence. All kinds of possibilities can arise from such high levels of police involvement in freemasonry at senior levels, including the questions of promotion within the force, and corrupt collusion with freemason contractors. I need only touch on the case of chief inspector Brian Woollard who, unfortunately, has recently had to resign from the Metropolitan police. He alleged throughout his period of suspension and in many interviews that it was because he, as a loyal dedicated policeman, chose to investigate what he suspected might be corrupt connections between contractors who were freemasons and the policemen who were awarding the contracts also being freemasons, that he was suspended and forced out of the police.

Freemasonry in the Metropolitan police also causes problems with internal investigations. How can a senior policeman who is a freemason possibly be seen as adequately investigating a complaint against another policeman who is also a freemason, and even if he is doing so, how is that situation perceived? As I said earlier, it is possible that the public might think, because senior policemen are members of freemasonry lodges along with known criminals, the criminals might escape the long arm of the law. Those are only possibilities, but the problem of the Metropolitan police connection with freemasonry is one of perception. As I said earlier, the Metropolitan police should be seen to be above reproach.

I want to continue my theme of the highest professional standards. One area in which the Metropolitan police may have been slipping from the highest professional standards is in collusion with the media. I refer to a case in Hackney. When a raid was made on a club in Clapton, both national and local media were tipped off about it in advance. A photographer from the Evening Standard went along and photographs of police in riot gear were splashed in the papers. All the stories in the papers referred to the Yardies, the Jamaican mafia which is supposed to control every crime in the London area, from a bank robbery in Brixton to a mugging on Croydon high street. About 70 people were handcuffed during the raid but only five charges were brought. Several Jamaican politicians have been in and out of London in the past few months and I have discussed the issue with them, with Jamaicans in this country, and with my constituents. People are alarmed that inflated media propaganda about the Yardies, the non-existent Jamaican mafia, reflects badly on the Jamaican community, both here and abroad the vast majority of whom are law-abiding people. If the police have been colluding in that media propaganda and media hype, that is wholly irresponsible and will undoubtedly damage police-community relations.

I should like to touch on another case of media collusion and to talk about a woman who is a personal friend and whom I have known for many years. She is called Dolly Kiffin and is a community leader on the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham. I have known her since before either of us moved in the public domain and know her to be a principled, hardworking woman who is committed to her community. She has done an enormous amount of work to turn Broadwater Farm around from a sink estate to an estate which people from all over the world now visit to see the community initiatives and the things that have been done to bring young black and white people together and to see the way in which the estate has been improved and employment generated.

Dolly Kiffin was subjected to a slanderous campaign in the newspapers, especially in the Mail group of newspapers. It was implied that she was involved in instigating the Broadwater Farm riots; that she even ordered the killing of PC Blakelock, and that she was financially corrupt. I am pleased to say that in the last few weeks Dolly Kiffin has received damages and compensation running into six figures from the Mail group of newspapers, which has had to admit that all those allegations were downright lies. The problem is that—it reflects on the Metropolitan police—it is alleged that the stories that appeared in the Mail newspapers have now been admitted to be slanderous. They appeared in the Mail newspapers with police collusion. Such collusion with the media does nothing to enhance public esteem of professional standards in the Metropolitan police.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Abbott

I shall not give way. I shall develop my arguments.

I wish to talk further about professional standards and about the Broadwater Farm trials. As Conservative Members will remember that, at the end of investigations, six people were charged, three of whom were juveniles. Of the three juveniles, two were acquitted. I remind Conservative Members of what the judge said in acquitting them. The judge found that the treatment of one juvenile, who was 13 years of age, was oppressive on three points. He spent 48 hours in a police cell, isolated from his family, and cut off from the outside world. When he was interviewed, he was clothed only in underpants. After a change in interviewing tactics, the child broke down emotionally and cried. The judge found his treatment to be oppressive, and directed his acquittal.

There was another child, aged 15, with a mental age of a child of seven. Again, the judge found that the police treatment of that little boy was oppressive. Such cases call into question the professional standards of at least a minority of Metropolitan policemen.

Mr. Cohen

My hon. Friend will recall that the policing of the Broadwater farm estate and the subsequent trial was the subject of a report from such an esteemed body as Amnesty International. That report has not been widely reported in the national media or taken up by the Government and commented on. Does my hon. Friend agree that Amnesty International has made a serious report and that it should be given due weight?

Ms. Abbott

I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me of the Amnesty International report. [Interruption.] I can hear the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) sniggering. Of course, torture and the oppressive treatment of young people is of no concern to him. I put it to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington that we shall not have effective policing in this city until——

Mr. Dicks

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Abbott

I shall not give way. I wish to complete my point.

I put it to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington that effective policing and law and order in this city depend on wide public consent to the activities of the police. The cases that I mentioned call into question the professionalism of at least some Metropolitan police officers.

Mr. Dicks


Ms. Abbott

It will do the hon. Gentleman no good to say, "Rubbish." I am merely quoting a judge's remarks. If the hon. Gentleman considers that the judge's remarks are rubbish, he should take up the matter with the judge concerned.

I now refer to the police in my constituency of Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. Unfortunately, there have been several disturbing cases of police behaviour in Stoke Newington, and in Stoke Newington police station in particular. I remind hon. Members of the case of Colin Roach, who died from a shotgun blast while in custody in Stoke Newington police station. In the eyes of the community, how Colin Roach was shot and died has never been satisfactorily explained. There was the case of Derek Pascal], a 25-year-old, who was beaten up and burnt with cigarettes on his stomach by two policemen. He was eventually awarded £3,500 damages against the polce. There was the case of Danny Rama and Brian Donovan, two London printers, who won their appeals against conviction during the Wapping dispute. They alleged that they were badly beaten in a police van. The police said that they could not explain their multiple injuries.

There was the recent case of Trevor Monerville who was arrested by police at Stoke Newington police station. He turned up in Maudsley hospital suffering from a swollen brain and his body was covered in bruises. To this day he suffers from paralysis and his family have had no answers to questions as to how he received the brain damage and why his body was covered in bruises. Two pensioners were assaulted by Stoke Newington police and eventually gained damages in the High court.

I am not saying that such instances are the norm. If Conservative Members take seriously issues of law and order in London, and if they are concerned about the reputation of the Metropolitan police force, it is not enough for them to snigger and sneer and to shrug off instances of brutality which have resulted in court rulings in the complainants' favour. If hon. Members' wives, mothers, sons, had been assaulted and had to go to the court to get damages, they would take it seriously. On behalf of the citizens of London we are obliged to take seriously such cases, which reflect poorly on the reputation of the Metropolitan police force. When I and my hon. Friends raise such cases, we are accused of being anti-police. That is absurd. It is pro-police to expect the highest possible standards from the police.

While on the subject of absurdity, it is only fair to mention a motion on the Order Paper signed by a large number of Conservative Members, entitled, "Hackney police operation against muggers". I note that none of the Conservative Members who have signed the motion have anything to do with Hackney. Some of them have never been to Hackney. The two Labour Members of Parliament for Hackney, the Hackney council and the Hackney police committee are united in wishing to fight crime and mugging in Hackney.

I wish to place on record my respect for the work of the police committee support unit, which is denigrated in the motion. It has done a great deal of work on crime prevention on estates. The police committee support unit has been quoted as saying that the police operation was inappropriate. It has been quoted out of context. One aspect of the police operation against muggers, which in some respects was successful, was the suggestion that there should be mounted police in Ridley road market as a deterrent against muggers. The police committee support unit merely pointed out that, given the packed nature of Ridley road market, mounted police were not the most effective way of chasing muggers. The police committee support unit has been quoted out of context in the motion. The motion is foolish. It has been signed by people who have no real interest in the problems of crime in Hackney.

In conclusion, I hope that all hon. Members are united in wanting effective policing in London. Effective policing needs broad popular consent. Some boroughs and people were unwilling to become involved with the police consultative committee. They were not against police consultation in principle, but they did not believe that the police genuinely wished to consult. They considered that the committees were a sham and that there would be no genuine consultation and that there would be no practical result. Where it can be proved that those committees can result in genuine consultation people have been willing to join them, but there is no doubt that the unwillingness of people to join the consultative committees was because the consultative committees did not conform with the blueprint laid down in Lord Scarman's report and did not have the powers that were suggested. People genuinely doubted the commitment of the police to genuine consultation.

If we are to have effective policing with broad popular consent, we must be open-minded and we must face some of the problems over the puplic perception of the Metropolitan police. We must face the problem that the high level of police involvement in freemasonry poses to confidence in the police. We must face the problem of recurrent instances of abuse of police power. We must face the problem of the taint of racism attached to some activities of some members of the Metropolitan police force, whether in individual cases or in general attitude. Anyone who is genuinely for law and order and who wishes to protect the life, property and well-being of the people of London must wish to see the Metropolitan police force stand in the highest public esteem. That is particularly so of those of us who genuinely believe in these issues, and are not merely trying to gain cheap political advantage, and who live in inner London among the communities that we represent. The Metropolitan police force will stand in the highest public esteem if the force itself and its political masters are seen to pursue with rigour and seriousness some of the abuses and problems which I have touched on.

1.25 pm
Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

I have never heard such a load of codswallop in all my life as the words of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott). She claims to represent the working class, with her middle class accent, yuppie media background and visits to Champneys. She says that she lives in her constituency, but does not say that she is living in a house that most of her constituents could not afford.

Ms. Abbott

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dicks

No, I will not give way to the hon. Lady under any circumstances. We had not one word of regret from her about the death of P. C. Blakelock, which showed her one-sided views. P. C. Blakelock was butchered by a load of West Indians bringing their tribal behaviour on to the streets of Broadwater farm. He was butchered and cut into dozens of pieces, but there was not a word of apology from the hon. Lady for that.

Ms. Abbott

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dicks

No I will not give way. I want to get on to the main issue of policing of London

Ms. Abbott

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What does the hon. Member mean by "tribal behaviour"?

Mr. Dicks

I will treat that intervention with the contempt that it deserves. The hon. Lady knows very well what I was talking about.

Policing in London is a major problem, as has already been said. Crime is at a high level—far too high to be acceptable. The increase in establishment referred to by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is not having an impact on policing, and the move to civilianise some of the posts is not leading to a large number of bobbies being back on the beat. In 1985, the previous Commissioner called for 3,000 more police officers to be appointed. Two years ago, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary agreed that there should be 1,200 more police officers, with the increase being spread over four years. That is hardly an effective response to those demands.

Public order is a huge drain on both public resources and manpower. Like me, many people in London are annoyed that the issues for which the police are used are often not related to Britain. There are demonstrations by Arab against Arab about problems in their own countries and police manpower is used to ensure that the demonstrators keep moving through the streets of central London. Police officers on the beat want to know why such demonstrations should be allowed on the streets of London at the taxpayers' and ratepayers' expense. A recent demonstration involving middle east factions cost the taxpayers and ratepayers £6,000, with people walking through London causing chaos to the traffic and chanting words that most people in England could not understand. There have been demonstrations on Indian and Eastern European matters, all of which cost time and money and take policemen away from the job that they should be doing—preventing and finding the answers to crime.

A continuous police presence has to be maintained outside the South African embassy because the anti-apartheid groups want to go on about rights. These people have good solicitors and are able to show that they are blocking only part of the pavement. There is a constant noise and the constant potential for violence, so police have to stay on duty. If these demonstrations were taking place outside the Foreign Office or the Home Office, regulations would be introduced within 24 hours to get them stopped and to get these people removed. Instead, we have to waste police resources to allow these anti-apartheid groups to cause bedlam around the clock.

The Notting hill carnival, which takes place once a year, locks up the best part of Kensington for two days to allow a handful of West Indians to bring their culture and way of life on to the streets of London. Last year, policing of the Notting hill carnival cost about £1 million, of which £56,000 was spent on feeding the police. There is no reason why the streets of Notting hill should be blocked off to enable people to behave in the way that they do and to encourage petty crime. Ordinary decent people who have lived there many years longer than the immigrants want to go about their normal business. Why should not they be allowed to drive through Notting hill just because there will be a West Indian culture concert and rabble-making throughout the weekend? I have written to the Secretary of State about this, but he replied that it is a good social occasion and that it should not be stopped. I find that amazing, as do most ordinary people and, of course, the police.

Sometimes junior police officers have been instructed to turn a blind eye to drunkenness, petty thieving and minor drug-taking. If they carried out the letter of the law it could lead to a massive uprising of the local inhabitants. It seems that there is one rule for my constituents but a different one and different interpretation of the law for the constituents of Kensington and the West Indians of that area. I want people from that area to be treated in exactly the same way as my constituents who are picked up for drunkenness, smoking pot or petty thieving. It is most unfair that there is this one-sided approach to the maintenance of law and order in some parts of London.

Football and other sporting activities are a tremendous drain on police resources. The best time to be a criminal, especially in London, is Saturday afternoon. If the police are not at demonstrations they are at football matches. Most weekends police stations are undermanned because police must cope with football matches or demonstrations. Mention has been made of London's responsibilities for processions. It is perhaps necessary for various processions to take place, and various heads of state come here and must be protected. But the other activities that I have mentioned are completely unnecessary.

I have a letter from the Under-Secretary dated March 1987 saying that there were not any no-go areas in this country. That is untrue. Does he have the courage to go with me—I am not sure whether I have—to go along All Saints road, the home of the Mangrove club? He will know that policemen are not allowed to make arrests at that club unless they get permission from senior officers. Those senior officers must talk to community leaders to ascertain whether it is all right to send the police in to make arrests. If they do not talk to community leaders there must be a large police presence to ensure that the officer making the arrest can get out safely. That is only one no-go area of which I am aware, but there are many others, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) mentioned some. Those are areas where not only milkmen or postmen cannot go but where there must be special policing. That is positive discrimination. Normal police duties cannot be undertaken because the ethnic community might not like it and cause trouble. Why is there special policing for primarily the West Indian communities in the capital city but different policing in the rest of London? I cannot understand it hut, more important, nor can people outside. Apart from All Saints road, there are no-go areas in Brixton and Broadwater farm.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

That is not true. Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dicks

No, I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman has just come into the Chamber, but some hon. Members have been sitting here since 9.30 am. I could go on and on about no-go areas. [Interruption.] I shall take no notice of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) who has just popped into the Chamber to sit on his backside and grin. I believe the police officers who are at the sharp end, day after day, all over London. I take their word for what is happening.

It has been suggested that civilianisation will have a massive impact, that 1,500 posts could be civilianised so that bobbies could return to the beat. That figure is to be found in the 1985–86 Session report of the Public Accounts Committee. With 150 posts being civilianised every year, it will take 10 years to get policemen back on the beat. Some serving police officers in London also say that they have yet to see a bobby being taken off a job that has been civilianised. They have great doubts about the speed at which civilianisation is taking place.

The Crown Prosecution Service is one of the best services that many policemen know for the successful villian. The chance of cases being withdrawn or dismissed is higher now, because of having to resort to the Crown Prosecution Service, than ever before. Communication between the police and the CPS is very poor. To process cases before they are passed from a police station to the CPS leads to an enormous drain on the resources of local police stations. Why on earth can we not return to the old system under which a policeman arrested a suspect and took the case right through to court? Why should the CPS act as a buffer between the police and the courts? We are getting nowhere very slowly.

The equipment used by the Metropolitan police is deteriorating. According to some police officers, the cuts have led to a reduction in the number of vehicles. They say that maintenance standards are not what they were and that there is now a directive to buy British. I am sorry to have to say that the British car is still not the best car in and around town. The police should be allowed to reconsider the directive to buy British if British cars do not serve the general needs of the Metropolitan police. I am also told that the police experience problems with their radios. They are often defective, and that leads to inefficiency. Furthermore, it can lead to the police being put in danger.

Policemen are not gaolers and they should never be gaolers. Last year, 1 million man hours were lost in London, the equivalent of 700 officers on the beat, because they had to look after prisoners who were on remand in police cells. It is wrong that police manpower should be taken off the streets of our cities so that policemen can act as gaolers in their own police stations. There is something wrong somewhere.

Let me put the other side of the coin. Since 1979, two new prisons have been built, at Frankland and Wayland, and £1 million has been spent on providing sports facilities for the prisoners. They have floodlit facilities and up-to-date sports halls. Everything is provided for them. It seems strange that we have allocated £1 million for sports facilities in those prisons when people on remand have to be placed in police station cells. A priority of that kind leads me to believe that there is something wrong with the system.

There is disillusionment among police officers in the Metropolitan police. They are leaving every week for better jobs in county forces, or they are just resigning. The official side on the negotiating board suggests that rent allowances and the London allowance should be reduced. What a way to encourage police officers to stay in London. Police officers leave London because there is cheaper housing elsewhere and better schools and more agreeable living conditions outside London. Most important of all, as one young policeman said to me, there is less abuse by Labour party politicians—and some Conservative ones—if they move to the counties. The police hear nothing but criticism from the Labour party, from its leaders and from some of the militant Left-wing members of the Labour party, about their role in London.

Many of us have seen disgusting literature from organisations funded by the now defunct Greater London council, which did nothing but run down the Metropolitan police. The police look for understanding of the problems of their work and for some respect for what they do

Mr. Bernie Grant

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dicks

The hon. Gentleman has been here for only two minutes; he can sit down again.

The Metropolitan police are doing a marvellous job in trying conditions. They are continually under attack by liberal do-gooders, some of whom are in the Home Office, where hands are wrung and brows creased, but, in some cases, no action is taken. The Home Office must support the police, for that is what the police want. They sometimes worry about whether that support exists. I believe that it does, but we need further evidence of it from the Home Secretary and the Home Office.

The police should not be expected to be social workers or community relations officers. Their job is to maintain law and order. That does not necessarily mean that they should have to put their arms round the shoulders of potential villains or worry about the community relations effect of law and order decisions. The sooner we realise that the police are there to do their job—not to worry about the impact that that might have on West Indians, Asians, Englishmen, Irishmen or Scotsmen—the better. Drastic action to improve manpower and conditions is called for. Until it is taken, policing London will remain a problem.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. Three hon. Members are still hoping to speak before the winding-up speeches at about 2 o'clock. I hope that they will divide the time between them.

1.42 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Racism is a serious source of friction which hinders the important work the police must do to protect communities of all races, colours and beliefs—including the black community. That friction is not helped by the sort of speech made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks). He fosters that sort of racism, and I hope that the Minister will dissociate himself from the hon. Gentleman's remarks. If crime is to be tackled, the black community must work with the police, and vice versa.

I recently caught a television programme, one of the series called "C.A.T.S. Eyes", in which Jill Gascoigne goes about with a couple of other girls and catches criminals and spies. She reports to a black boss, who is presumably head of the security services in Scotland Yard. Although it was difficult to table the question, I recently asked the Prime Minister how many black people there are in management positions in the security services in Scotland Yard. I asked whether the security services are an equal opportunity employer Today, I received the answer: The legislation governing equal opportunities recognises the need for exceptions in relation to members of the armed forces and the safeguarding of national security. That almost certainly means that there are no black citizens in management positions in Scotland Yard or similar services. The implication of the Prime Minister's answer is that they are not to be trusted. So this racism extends to the Government, who do not provide equal opportunities in this respect.

Racism goes much further. For example, on the "South Bank Show", Lenny Henry went to New York and made a speech in which he said: We have black people in London, too. They are generally known as 'the accused'. I am afraid that there is more than a grain of truth in that. A disproportionate number of our black citizens are in gaol or mental hospitals. We complain about Eastern bloc mental hospitals, but a disproportionate number of our black citizens have been put in them by the predominantly white police and judiciary. that has to be sorted out if we are to deal with the problems of racism that have been touched on by the last couple of speakers.

Rising crime in London is generally non-racial; it affects all Londoners. there has been a substantial rise in virtually every major category of notifiable offence since 1979. It shows the Tory manifesto pledge to be a myth. It states: Yet respect for the rule of law is the basis of a free and civilised life. We will restore it. That pledge was another trick on the electorate.

Violence against the person is up 49 per cent. since 1979; sexual offences are up 16 per cent.—that is a rapidly growing category—burglary is up 65 per cent., robbery is up 161 per cent., theft and handling of stolen goods are up 45 per cent., and fraud and forgery are up 13 per cent.—although that figure does not include the city slickers in the City of London who are getting way with millions. They are not caught because the police are not properly equipped. Criminal damage is up 84 per cent. and other offences are up 119 per cent. There is now 53 per cent. more crime than there was in 1979—more than half as much again. While the crime rate has accelerated, the clear-up rate for the entire country has gone down—from 40 per cent. in 1979 to 33 per cent. The clear-up rate in London is even less. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said, it is down to about 16 per cent. That is an abysmal record for the Government. It is all part of the tout philosophy enunciated by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) earlier this week. She said how wonderful the touts were—all part of the free market economy, which we must respect in everything. What it really means is that someone can make a quick, large buck without earning it. Of course, other people adopt the free market philosophy, for example the plying of the drugs trade and the increase in prostitution, including child prostitution. There has been a large increase in Thatcher's Britain; it is part of the free market economy. The arguments that apply to the touts also apply to those sorts of free markets.

Since 1979 there has been inequality combined with greed. There has been a massive increase in desperation arising from hardship. There are people on the make who, perhaps, have too much money in their pockets, yet they literally kick everybody out of their way so that they can make more. They have learnt a lesson from the Government—if they are powerful enough they can make the laws and get away with committing crimes. That philosophy, which the Government have created, has resulted in a large increase in crime, especially violent crime. That is reflected not only by racial attacks but by crimes against women, which have also increased substantially, and against children. As the House knows, I am a campaigner for animal rights. The incidence of violence against animals has increased; they are being treated appallingly—dog fights are an example. That is all part of the syndrome of life being treated as cheap and worthless which, again, stems from the Government's philosophy.

I know that Sir Peter Imbert has a difficult job, but I do not think that that was helped by his comment quoted in The Guardian this week, which said that Sir Peter was trying to appease some Tory hardliners. That is not a sensible way for a Commissioner to go about the task. Sir Peter is reported as saying: I have heard it said that the way to empty prisons is to threaten to fill them up. That is an empty phrase, which would result in magistrates and judges sending more people to prison, causing overcrowding. Sending more people to prison will achieve exactly the opposite effect to what Sir Peter wishes. That is an empty phrase but it will not mean empty prisons.

The problem will become worse because prisons are a breeding ground for crime. We need to empty our prisons as much as possible and leave them for the violent offenders—the rapists, murderers and the like who must be in prison. We should not throw everyone else in there. We need another version of community care to deal with prisoners so that when they are released they have jobs, homes and a proper place in society rather than becoming isolated and desperate, and thus likely to reoffend. Sir Peter's suggestion is not helpful as a way to alleviate the problems in prisons or the problems of crime.

Police numbers should be evident, as this is an important part of police accountability. One problem of which London Labour Members complained when they met the police about events at Wapping was that the police in riot gear were not wearing numbers. Civil liberties are important and police numbers must be on show at all times.

The Government have a blind spot about the role of local authorities in tackling crime. When the Prime Minister had her crime prevention review, she did not invite anyone from the local authorities. In my area, people are involved in this work on the Cathall estate. I paid tribute to the police when I consulted them about crime prevention on that estate. They were helpful and came up with useful solutions, but solutions require local council finance. The Government are cutting local authority expenditure and cutting grants to organisations involved in victim support schemes.

It has been said that capitalism presents us all with a wonderful opportunity, if only we take it with both hands. That phrase came not from Ministers or professors of capitalism but from Al Capone. It shows that when we have the Prime Minister's brand of free market capitalism we get the rise in crime associated with it.

1.53 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

At least two Opposition Members have sought to undermine confidence in the police. Conservative Members prefer to support our police, especially in London, in their dedicated and courageous job. We salute their work and achievements as portrayed in the Commissioner's report. We salute the 4 per cent. reduction in crime and the 13 per cent. increase in the time spent on the beat. We salute the 100,000 more neighbourhood watch schemes, which have taken the number of schemes over the 1 million mark.

There are problems. One is street robbery. Arrests have increased by 45 per cent. and the clear-up rate by 25 per cent. Nevertheless, robberies are up by 13 per cent. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred to some achievements in my area of Battersea. I should like to highlight that, because the Battersea street robbery figures show a decrease of 19 per cent. Arrests have doubled and clear-ups have risen by 117 per cent. That shows what can be done.

That has been achieved by deploying street crime squads. That means more men. It has been achieved by targeting known streets and criminals. That, too, means more men. It has been achieved by bringing in the territorial support group. That also means access to more manpower. Because fewer men have had to be sent to pickets and demonstrations—there has been a 65 per cent. decrease since last year in that respect—more are available to deal with street crime. It has also been achieved by shifting resources and concentrating on this rather than on other aspects of crime. That is good news, but it shows that good news comes only when we have the manpower and resources to achieve it. There is good news, too, on motor crime, vandalism and sex offences, but figures for house burglaries have risen, which I suspect is due to the transfer of manpower to concentrate on street crime.

The lesson is clear. If we have the men, we can win the war against crime. More men means less crime, more arrests and more clear-ups. As has already been pointed out, having so many police officers guarding prisoners in police cells, on remand or already sentenced, means the loss of 950,000 man-hours per year which should have been spent on the beat. The increasing complexity of fraud and the number of officers taken from the CID to concentrate on that type of crime has an effect right down the line, leaving fewer men available to solve crimes on the streets.

We must declare war on crime and there must be no hiding place for criminals. It is fine to have the neighbourhood watch, the shop watch, the pub watch, the cab watch and all the other exciting developments about which we have heard today. It is fine to have better lights, locks and alarms and greater vigilance by the public, by car owners, by home owners, by shopkeepers, by neighbours and by cameras. But we still need the manpower, both in the Metropolitan police and in the transport police.

Not long ago I went by Metropolitan line tube to Wembley with my son to see the final between Luton and Arsenal. We were appalled at the behaviour of drunken louts urinating in the carriages, setting fire to paper and insulting and abusing passengers, many of whom were young children travelling with their families. All that the police could do was to force more people into the carriages at Baker street and then let the train go on to Wembley Park. When the train arrived, there was not one police officer there to arrest the offenders and stop them going to the match. The police should be stopping such louts going to matches, and the transport police should be stopping them going on tube trains, but sufficient manpower is not available to make it possible to travel safely in London. We know of the problem on the Northern line and the black hole of crime which is such a danger to passengers, assuming that it is possible to get a train and thus to become a passenger.

The crime rate has fallen by 4 per cent., but there are still 737,000 offences, of which 120,000 are cleared up, so in more than 600,000 cases the criminals get away with it. For burglaries, the figure is 97,000 with only 7,000 clear-ups, so in 90,000 cases the criminals get away with it. We need to recruit more police and to pay them properly. If housing is a problem, we should consider some kind of shared purchase scheme to assist recruitment.

There is much to be said about traffic policing and many other areas which require additional manpower, but above all we need the police to stop crime. It is a simple question of what is required and the simple answer is more police. Sometimes the simple answer to a simple question is' the right one. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to meet that answer.

1.59 pm
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I am appalled that the House cannot organise its business better. It is insulting to my constituents and to my local police, on whose behalf I wish to speak, that, having put my name in a week ago, I have had to sit here for four and a half hours, through 75 minutes of Front Bench speeches, one speech lasting 30 minutes and three of more than 20 minutes, only to be told that I have only three or four minutes in which to make my speech.

This is the first time since becoming a Member of Parliament that I have had to focus my mind on the Metropolitan police. I am proud to say that my previous incarnation in local government was in a provincial police area.

There are three issues on which I had hoped to speak, but I cannot now go into any detail on two of them. I thought about the basics of policing, and the conclusion that I reached was that the accountability argument, which the Labour party deploys, is bogus, irrelevant and, on some occasions, when it is argued in respect of London, downright dangerous.

The second subject on which I focused my mind was the significance of London having different policing relations. My conclusion, on which I cannot elaborate, is that it is quite right that the capital should be policed separately and differently but that it is vital that standards throughout the Metropolitan police area should be the same. That thought would have led me, if I had had time, to develop an argument about whether the current Metropolitan police boundaries are correct.

I shall concentrate on what local experience in my constituency has taught me in the year that I have been Spelthorne's Member of Parliament. My conclusions are that I am lucky to be where I am and that, in that part of the Metropolitan police area, there are some tremendous policing successes to report. I suggest that the House takes some of that experience on board. The rest of the country could learn from what is going on there.

Community co-operation and a multi-agency approach to policing are the keys to beating the rising tide of crime. The important thing now is to focus on the effective use of existing resources, although we should consider providing new resources. In my little bit of the Metropolitan police area, the local community, particularly local community leaders, has been positive, enthusiastic and progressive about combating crime, and successful. The local police have provided me with a briefing note which says: The community of Staines through its local consultative committee has itself accepted its responsibility for crime prevention. The results could not be achieved by police acting in isolation but serve to demonstrate what can be achieved when police have the full confidence and support of a community and council all working together towards a common goal. I have time to highlight only a few of the things that are going on. The formal framework is fully in place and operational. There is a consultative committee which has flourished and found a real job to do. It has produced a crime prevention panel, which is claimed to be the best in the Metropolitan police area. It has produced a junior crime prevention panel which, I am told, is the first in the Metropolitan police area. There is also a drug and alcohol abuse panel. One of its initiatives, taken with the help of a national brewery, is the establishment of the Metropolitan police area's first alcohol-free pub.

There have been several notable initiatives. The police have organised business watch successfully. They have set up the first non-retail business watch scheme in the United Kingdom on the Poyle trading estate near Heathrow airport, and emphasised road safety campaigns. Spelthorne borough council has financed security packages for the elderly. It provides locks and fits them free. The council has also combated juvenile crime. Last summer, it set up a "summer safe" campaign which attracted 400 children to take part in activities ranging from water skiing to snooker, with which police staff helped.

All that has produced dramatic results, and this is the lesson to be learnt. During the "summer safe" campaign, vandalism fell by 34 per cent. and cycle theft by 26 per cent. W. H. Smith reported a 50 per cent. reduction in shop lifting during that period. The security package for the elderly has resulted in burglaries of the elderly dropping by 40 per cent. and the road safety campaign has reduced death on the roads by 60 per cent.

The size of police territory is critical. May I therefore press the Minister to tell me whether he is now prepared to urge the Commissioner to accept the report that divided the current Twickenham division into two separate divisions so that Spelthorne borough has its own police station. Secondly, will he undertake that when the Staines police station is rebuilt, it will be situated in the middle of the community and that he will not give way to the temptation to build it outside? Policing by consent—high profile policing, the full and enthusiastic support of the borough council, which puts a large amount of money into policing in its community—is the only way to heat crime. What has happened in Spelthorne is magnificent, and the rest of London and the rest of the country can learn from it.

2.5 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I sympathise with the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) but I remember how, in an earlier debate on the Commissioner's reports, I have been squeezed out entirely. He has been luckier than I have been in the past, although I have been more fortunate this afternoon.

It has been an interesting debate, in which plenty of crimes have been committed by Conservative Members. We started with a bad case of political fraud and deception perpetrated by the Home Secretary, who described the activities of the GLC so as to give a completely misleading impression of the GLC's attitude to the police. I am a forgiving person. I still proudly wear a pair of GLC cuff links, and I have a spare pair at home. If the Home Secretary promises to wear them at a Cabinet meeting and flaunt them in front of the Prime Minister, I shall give him the spare set.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

What about the silver?

Mr. Banks

I am keeping that.

We have had an incitement to violence from the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), who gave us his customary blend of racism, vulgar abuse and dementia. We have had incitements to boredom from many hon. Members and I suspect that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will be committing his usual crime of being inebriated by his own eloquence.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is looking at me somewhat askance. Presumably, he is wondering whether I shall be arrested for dangerous political driving at the Dispatch Box. I shall do my best not to let him down.

The Opposition associate themselves with the congratulations to Peter Imbert, both on his appointment and on his knighthood. The London group of Labour Members has regular meetings with the Commissioner. At times we find them very illuminating and at times very annoying but they are always useful and we intend to continue those meetings and our meetings with the Home Secretary.

Let me say to the hon. Member for Spelthorne and others that the annual debate on the Commissioner's report is no replacement for a democratically elected and publicly accountable police authority in London. If such a system can operate outside London, why cannot we have it here in London? Why cannot we have a police committee? The City of London has its own police authority with a committee structure, and what is good enough for the City of London and good enough outside London should be good enough for Greater London.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook laid it firmly on the line that it remains the Labour party's position to establish a directly elected police authority for London when we are next in Government. That authority will have nothing to do with control of the day-to-day operations of the police but it will determine the overall operational policies and practices.

The biggest difference between the speeches of the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Spark brook was the willingness of my right hon. Friend to examine causes as well as the effects of crime in London. That marks the great difference between the two parties. As I said in an intervention, even the Government are beginning to realise that the root causes of crime must be addressed. However, with this Government, and the policies that they are pursuing at the moment, crime will never be eliminated nor will any serious indentations be made on the levels of crime in our society. I accept that the Prime Minister cannot be personally blamed for all the crimes that are perpetrated in London, although she might be an incitement to riot should she walk the streets of London. However, she must take some indirect responsibility. She summed it all up when she said: There is no such thing as society. There is only a collection of individuals and families. The Government's whole philosophy and all their policies are based on selfishness, greed, a sneering attitude to the public services and the caring professions, and an ideological hatred of publicly owned assets. We believe that the Government have done great damage to the concept of community. It is little wonder that our society is increasingly violent and divided. The decline in moral standards in this country is a reflection of the Government's immorality, espoused by their "devil take the hindmost" economic and social policies.

We are concerned about all crimes in London and in our society as a whole. We are concerned about the crimes of poverty, homelessness and unemployment. All those crimes have been perpetrated by the Government on the people of London. At the next election the Government will be called before the court of the people, and we believe that they will be pronounced guilty. The Home Secretary did not say anything about those crimes. He did not say anything about the other crimes that are prevalent in London at the moment, such as fraud in the City of London, involving tens of millions of pounds. The Conservative Government seem soft on such crimes, but tend to be hard on social security fraud.

The Home Secretary did not say anything about the collapse of the football hooligan trials, involving the possible fabrication of police evidence. I am glad that Commissioner Imbert has promised action. We in this House have a right to demand that action, because the collapse of those trials has resulted in a serious undermining of public confidence in police evidence procedures. We must be careful about putting excessive political pressure on the police to secure prosecutions and increase clear-up rates. As the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) and for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) have said, we need to improve the clear-up rates in London but we must not follow the bad example of the Kent police in apparently doing deals with convicted prisoners and getting them to admit to previously unsolved crimes.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook directed the House's attention to the causes of crime. Unemployment, poverty and ignorance are not excuses for crime, but they are factors in criminal activity. We bombard our young with images of affluence on television, and in films and advertisements. Then we deprive many of them of the wherewithal to share in the affluence that they see around them. It is not really surprising if so many of them fall foul of temptation. The yobbos in the Stock Exchange with their "Hooray Henry" attitudes give the lead in many ways to the sort of street crime that we have to suffer in London.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) talked about the alarming rise in drink-related crime. Again, the advertising of the drink manufacturers is aimed specifically at the 18 to 24-year-old group and lit is in that age group that instances of crime are at their highest. Alcohol abuse in London and in the country generally is now rampant. We demand more Government action on that. There should be health warnings on all alcohol products and a total ban on advertising drink on television, in the cinemas and newspapers. Consumption in public places should be banned and there should be much stiffer sentences for alcohol-related crimes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) made a thoughtful and eloquent speech. She was foully abused by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, who is not in his place for me foully to abuse him, so I shall move quickly on.

My hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) referred to freemasonry. We have raised that matter with the Home Secretary and the Commissioner. There is public concern, particularly about M r. Woollard's report and his subsequent fate. The police must not be perceived as having some higher loyalties than the impartial and even-handed enforcement of the law. Opposition Members believe that, because of its rites and oaths of brotherly loyalty, freemasonry is incompatible with police membership.

Policing in London is highly complex, not least because of the proliferation of specialised national functions that Metropolitan police must take on and which detract from local policing needs. Many local policing needs could have been mentioned during the debate. I am particularly concerned about the failure of the Metropolitan police to enforce traffic regulations in London. They say, "We cannot do that because we have insufficient resources." Quite frankly, if Parliament wills the ends, it should also will the means to enforce the ends. It is not acceptable for force orders to be pronounced by the Metropolitan police, in effect saying what parts of the laws that are passed in the House shall be enforced by the police. That is not the duty of the police. The function of the police in London, as elsewhere, is to enforce the laws that are passed by Parliament. That must be done even-handedly, impartially and with resolution in respect of all forms of crime, including street offences, parking offences and related matters.

It is a fact that the police are regularly used by the Government in an overtly political fashion. That is seen most graphically during a strike, particularly in Wapping. The police officers whom I know have expressed privately and, on certain occasions, publicly, their dissatisfaction with being caught like the contents of a sandwich—between two sides who are set against each other. often incited by the political policies of the Government. That was particularly true in Wapping, and it remains true in Dover and other strike situations.

The Labour party in London is far more concerned than Conservative Members about law and order in the capital city. We support the police in London, and we shall continue to support them while they pursue the interests of Londoners. It is our intention to support the police by giving them far less to do on the streets of London. We shall do that by creating a socially and economically just society. That will be the task of the next Labour Government. The sooner that happens, the fewer occasions there will be to have inadequate debates about complex policing matters, but, of course, we are given only rare opportunities to do so.

2.17 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

I shall not follow the example of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) by accusing my opponents of crimes in this place. It would be difficult to do so, if only because so few members of the Labour party are present to commit such crimes. In view of their frequent criticism of policing in London, their complaints about accountability, and their newly disclosed adherence to some of the principles of law and order, it is remarkable that only three Labour Members from London seats were in their places at the start of the debate.

Mr. Tony Banks

We do not have ministerial cars.

Mr. Hogg

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is extremely venal, but the ordinary people who walk the streets will not find that explanation particularly attractive, especially from somebody who liked riding around in the Greater London council official car.

The other point that I regard as unattractive is the denial of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that certain Labour Members are profoundly hostile to the police. We all know that that allegation is true. I can prove that fact conclusively with quotations from the hon. Members for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), for Barking (Ms. Richardson), for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown), for Preston (Mrs. Wise) and for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng). If any hon. Member challenges me, I shall read them out.

Not only do I find the denial by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook of the hostility of some parts of his party to the police surprising, but I find his analysis of the problem less than persuasive. When unemployment was rising, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook attributed crime to that. Now that unemployment is falling he attributes the increasing crime to prosperity. That is a remarkable case of facing both ways. However, as he has some personal political problems at the moment, I do not find that wholly surprising.

The right hon. Gentleman's command of detail was less impressive than I would have expected from the Opposition Front Bench spokesman. He congratulated his party on the support that it gave to the firearms legislation. I know that the right hon. Member was not able to be present at the Report stage of the Bill. I make no criticism of that, but had he been there, he would have known that a number of his hon. Friends were among those who opposed the Firearms Bill in Division after Division and on Third Reading.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was one of those who called for a complete ban on self-loading rifles. He nods in agreement to that. Perhaps he does not know that his fellow Front Bench spokesman the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) voted in favour of an amendment to permit some classes of self-loading rifle to remain on section 1 control.

Mr. Hattersley

The position is absolutely clear and well-documented. We were in favour of the proposals that the Home Secretary gave to the House. We voted for them on Second Reading. Then, in Committee, we discovered—and perhaps the Under-Secretary is responsible—that the Government's definition of self-loading was so incompetent that the trade could not run it.

Mr. Hogg

I am afraid that that is not the case. The truth is that Opposition Members could not make up their minds. They saw a bandwagon rolling past them and they hopped on it. That is neither attractive nor laudable.

The right hon. Gentleman should also bear in mind that his comments on clear-up figures disclosed less than his customary control of detail. When he said that the clear-up figures in 1987 were the same as those in 1986, broadly speaking he was correct. However, he failed to point out that in the first quarter of this year, the clear-up rate had increased from 16 to 18 per cent. Much more damaging to his cause was that he failed to draw the House's attention to the important provisos contained in the Commissioner's report. On page 41 of the report the Commissioner drew attention to the contrasting trends between primary clear-ups and secondary clear-ups.

Primary clear-ups are those where the offence is dealt with by a charge, a summons or a caution, the most significant test. Had the right hon. Gentleman quoted those figures, he would have observed that there was an increase of 7 per cent. in the clear-up rate in 1987 in comparison with 1986. If the right hon. Gentleman comes to this place to make broad criticisms, it would be better by far for his reputation, not to mention for the knowledge of the House, if he were a little fuller in his comments.

There was some difference of opinion between Opposition Members about manpower. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook approves of increases in police establishment. Some of his hon. Friends do not. I have grave doubts whether the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) favours such increases. He made some comments about policemen with sirens late at night which suggested to me that he lacked support for increases in manpower. Moreover, to criticise the Government——

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hogg

No, I shall not, as I have only six minutes.

Mr. Corbyn

The hon. Gentleman has made a charge against me and should give way.

Mr. Hogg

No, I now have only five minutes left and I shall continue.

It is extraordinary that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook did not draw attention to the fact that in the present year we shall spend 59 per cent. more in real terms on the Metropolitan police force than was spent in 1978–79, Moreover, by the end of this year, the manpower of the police force will have increased by 5,500 since May 1979.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that, notwithstanding the various increases in the manpower figures, the efficiency of the police and their ability to deploy people on the streets had diminished. This suggested to me that the right hon. Gentleman had not read the Commissioner's report, so let me remind him of page 13, where the Commissioner says that as a result of more efficient use of manpower, arrests have increased by 6 per cent. in the current year, and the number of police officers available for street duty, which one would think would be one of the paramount tests to be applied, has increased by 13 per cent.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hogg

No, I shall not give way. The right hon. Gentleman grumbled away about these points and, when I reply to them clearly and precisely, he grumbles again. I am sorry, but there it is. Perhaps next time before a debate of this kind, he will read the Commissioner's report a little more fully.

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friends the Members for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) said about the more effective use of manpower. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North made two important and specific points about police attitudes to road traffic, which will be considered. The broad message from my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North, supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington, and it is also the view of the Commissioner, was that the Metropolitan police force needs to make yet more efficient use of its manpower.

The hon. Member for Islington, North made an important point about sexual offences. He is right to draw attention to the incidence of such offences, particular rape. I am glad to say—the hon. Member may know—that there was an 11 per cent. decrease in the number of rape cases.

Mr. Corbyn

Reported cases.

Mr. Hogg

Yes, reported rape cases decreased by 11 per cent. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that the Metropolitan police force is attaching more significance to this class of offence and to the methods used to deal with it and with the victims. Clearly, if policemen are not sympathetic, people will not come forward with complaints. Last year, four dedicated rape suites were opened and, in the coming year, another four will be opened. About 1,300 officers have received specific training in this sector, and the number of female police surgeons has been increased, so that 15 female doctors are available to deal with such complaints.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington understandably focused on street robbery. It was partly to combat that crane that we incorporated the knives provision in the Criminal Justice Bill. About 56 per cent. of all robberies take place in 16 divisions of the Metropolitan police force. Over the past year, the Metropolitan police transferred additional resources to those 16 divisions, which resulted in a substantial reduction in the rate of increase of robbery offences. Police in London are conscious of the need to tackle robbery on the streets.

The same applies to burglary. I was interested by what my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington said about burglary. He stressed what crime prevention can do, and my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) echoed that, though in the slightly different context of the involvement of the police in community action and what the community can do.

It being half past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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