§ [Relevant document: Report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (Cm. 670)].
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Sackville]9.36 am
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
I am sure that hon. Members will agree that since we last debated the policing of London the Metropolitan police have made important progress. I can speak today of continuing falls in total levels of reported crime, of better links between police and community, and of continuing measures to improve the service that the Metropolitan police deliver to the people of London.
Crime has not yet been decisively beaten; these developments are only the first glimpses of success and the Metropolitan police are clear that there is plenty of scope for further improving their performance, but I hope that throughout this debate we shall all bear in mind that we place heavy duties on our police and remember that, to carry out their duties, officers need the underlying support and positive help that they expect from the public. One of the purposes of this debate is to enable me, as the police authority, to renew my pledge of that support and help.
Recorded crime figures do not tell the whole story, but they give an indication of what is happening. In his annual report for 1988, the commissioner reported a 2 per cent. decrease in recorded crime over the year. The latest figures, for the 12 months to the end of March show a 4 per cent. fall. Over the past two years, recorded crime in the Metropolitan police district has declined by 6 per cent.—a modest but very welcome reversal of earlier trends. It means, for example, that many Londoners were not burgled in 1988 who would have been burgled if the earlier trend had been maintained, although of course people do not see it that way.
This good news hides some disturbing undercurrents. Offences of violence against the person rose by 19 per cent. in 1988. The number of homicides fell by 46–23 per cent.—but violence resulting in slight or no injury—as in eight out of 10 violent offences—rose by more than 20 per cent. This includes crimes such as sexual offences and domestic violence, which are are now being reported, whereas before the victim would have kept quiet. Even so, there is a savagery and brutality in some crimes today which anger all of us and create an outward ripple of fear.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend so early in his speech. Does he agree that a major difficulty in overcoming public violence is the trend with new roads and the adaptation of existing roads to put in subways and remove surface crossings? Is he aware that in my constituency at the Target roundabout on the A40, which everybody knows, there have been two or three attempted rapes in a month and other serious acts of violence? Old people and young mothers are too terrified to use subways generally, and that is understandable.
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. Friend has given an example of an important point, which is that the design of, for example, lighting and the placing of subways and crossings can be crucial in preventing or encouraging crime for years ahead. The Metropolitan police are trying to insert their skill and advice into the planning and design of projects such as the 1214 one my hon. Friend has in mind. Without knowing more about that project, I cannot comment further. However, effective thinking about crime at the point of design is extremely important for good or ill thereafter.
§ Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)
I welcome the emphasis the Home Secretary puts on design in relation to crime prevention. Does he accept that design, the environment and the whole culture in which particular communities live and work have an impact on the effectiveness of crime prevention? Will he undertake to meet his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment so that greater assistance can be given to the estates where crime is a particular problem because of design, and so that poor design features can be unravelled and the estates made more sustaining places in which to live? I am thinking especially of the Stonebridge estate in my constituency. There is also the problem of the design of some police stations. Harlesden police station, which was referred to specifically by the National Audit Office, dates back to the beginning of this century and provides the police with wholly unacceptable conditions in which to work and carry out their functions. Will the right hon. Gentleman put his money where his mouth is on this issue?
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Gentleman has now made his speech and I am sorry that I gave way to him. He is right on the need for the redesign of some housing estates, and the Estate Action programme of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of the Environment is designed to achieve that. He is also right to say that there is a long way to go before we have the well-designed and modern police stations required in the Metropolitan district.
I was talking about the outward ripple of fear caused by the savagery and brutality of some crime today. An especially threatening form of crime to many people is the street robbery of personal property after a sudden attack. In 1988, the number of those crimes was about the same as in the previous year, whereas the latest 12-month figures to the end of March show a 3 per cent. fall. The commissioner, with my full support, is determined to reduce street robberies. The campaign against street robberies in the worst affected divisions continued last year with considerable success.
One of the tactics used against street robbery is to deploy extra uniformed and plain clothes officers for set periods, targeting known trouble spots and suspects. A particularly successful example of that in 1988 was Peckham division, where that tactic, combined with posters and leaflets led to a 26 per cent. drop in street robbery and a 48 per cent. reduction in theft from the person.
Offences of violence remain a serious and growing problem. It is encouraging to see the commissioner's commitment to their reduction beginning to be reflected in the statistics. In 1988, the number of robbery offences cleared up rose by 7 per cent. and there was a 27 per cent. increase in the number of offences of violence against the person cleared up, while the clear-up rate for those offences rose from 53 to 57 per cent. I hope that those indications of growing police success in the clear-up of violent crime will help to bring about a fall in such offences. A violent offender does not offend while behind bars and the more likely he is to be caught, the less likely it is that he will try it on in the first place.
1215 It is encouraging to see that domestic burglary continues to fall, now by 6 per cent. a year. That must in part be due to the 1.25 million households in the Metropolitan police district now involved in neighbourhood watch schemes. Theft of or from a motor vehicle has fallen by 9 per cent. Those are usually preventable crimes. It is too early to be certain, but it looks as if the message promoted by the police, Government and volunteers in the community is achieving its aim. Despite the efforts in Labour boroughs such as Lambeth to hold up this progress and to keep police and community apart. I hope that the Opposition Front Bench will show some faint sign of recognition and perhaps even of pleasure at what is being achieved.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Will the Home Secretary deal with two other significant areas? The commissioner's report dealt with alcohol-related offences. What is noticeable by its absence from the report are offences that have a racial element. Will the Home Secretary comment on trends in those areas?
§ Mr. Hurd
I am coming on to the matter of racial attacks. The hon. Gentleman is right to stress the heavy weight of stupid drinking and, in some cases, illegal drinking by minors, in the crime figures. As he knows, we have stiffened the law on that and we are encouraging police and magistrates to make greater use of their powers than they have done in the past.
A particularly worrying form of burglary is that in which the burglar poses as a representative of an agency or company in order to gain access to a house. The elderly are especially at risk and 3,500 such offences were recorded in London last year.
The northern area of the Metropolitan district has been concentrating resources on the investigation of these offences, in parallel with an Age Concern campaign to warn elderly people of the dangers. Arrests have been made of burglars posing as social workers, police officers and Department of Social Security officials. One man, who posed as an electricity board official, was recently convicted of 400 such offences and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. That is just one example, but I could have given hundreds of examples of the way in which the Metropolitan police are working hard to tackle crime better.
The reform of the police to which I referred last year has continued.
The Metropolitan police are far more decentralised than they were three years ago. Since 1986, headquarters strengths have been reduced by 400 officers. That means that more of the extra officers whom I have authorised can be deployed on divisions for operational purposes, rather than being diverted unnecessarily to desk work and administrative duties. The fruits of the policy are seen in the 1,300 additional officers now on areas and divisions and in the 23 per cent. rise in street duty hours over the past two years.
It is a better planned force. The annual strategy sets out policing priorities and major issues, and divisional objectives are published after extensive consultation with local communities. It is a better-managed force. There is a problem of attitude, in that there is a natural tendency for officers to resist being labelled as "managers-, with connotations of being part of a desk-bound bureaucracy. However, there has been a growing realisation in the 1216 Metropolitan police and throughout the police service that without management skills, the police cannot make the best use of the resources they are given. These are important steps in the right direction, but we still have some way to go before we can be satisfied that value for money is being fully achieved.
In the foreword to his annual report, Sir Peter Imbert pointed out the dangers of trying to measure the efficiency of a police force as if it were a steel mill or an oil refinery. Of course he was right to do that, but I am pleased to note his commitment to applying modern business methods to the police, where they fit. Policing is not a business, but it certainly needs to be businesslike.
We are talking about a £1 billion organisation, employing over 40,000 staff, and it is not enough to rely upon the traditional policing and detective skills of the Victorian officer. The Met is a big buyer, a big caterer, a big computer organisation, a big forensic science service, a big training facility, a big vehicle fleet operator, and many other things. Each Metropolitan police officer, with the back-up services which the organisation provides, represents some £35,000 of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money each year.
There is no need to apologise for that figure, because a properly paid, adequately equipped police force costs money. Part of the job of the police authority is to make sure that resources are used to the best effect. There is now an understanding throughout the Metropolitan police force, among the officers and the civil staff, that service delivery and the delivery of value for money go hand in hand. We cannot have a good police service in 1989 without good management; nor can we accept large sums of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money without having to show that it is being used properly.
Priority continues to be given to going ahead as fast and as radically as possible with a programme of civilianisation which releases more police officers for operational duties which they alone can perform. Since May 1986 when we announced the civilianisation programme, more than 300 posts have been civilianised, releasing as many officers for operational duties. Provision is being made to civilianise another 200 posts in this financial year.
An annual programme of efficiency scrutinies, first introduced in 1985, has resulted in significant savings and management improvements. For example, the scrutiny on overtime has led to a reduction of 10 per cent. from £6 million a year, in the overtime budget, and £450,000 a year is to be saved as a result of the scrutiny of the Metropolitan police band. A recently completed scrutiny of civil staff recruitment and retention should lead to considerable improvements in the management and use of civil staff. A scrutiny of abstractions from duty, aimed at improving the proportion of time each officer spends on operations, is due to report later in the summer.
Improvements have been made in resource management. Changes were made to the system of estimating, monitoring and controlling expenditure, to enable thorough probing of all bids for expenditure. The Commissioner is committed to the development and wider use of a range of output measurements and performance indicators.
In line with other parts of the public sector, I have asked the Met to consider whether any of its functions of the organisation could be better performed if contracted out. Some 660 cleaning posts have been contracted out. The contracting out of wheelclamping has resulted in a 1217 fourfold increase in clamping activity. The Metropolitan police will shortly be testing the market for contracting out a part of their catering operations.
Accountancy advice has been brought into the Met finance department, and a new computerised accounting system is being introduced. Devolved budgets have been introduced on divisions in three of the eight areas of the Met, and it is planned to extend this to all areas by next year. In these and other ways, the Met is improving the use of its resources.
I have dwelt on those improvements in practical terms, giving examples, because I am a little worried and irritated when some critics of the police from all parts of society, but particularly in the quality press, write as if nothing is being done and no steps are being taken to provide value for money, and as if we are simply pouring additional money into the police without having any understanding or assurance of how it is spent. That is not so. The changes that I have mentioned are very important and are continuing. There is some way to go, but they are designed to ensure that the unprecedented increases in men and money which we have authorised in the huge organisation which is the Metropolitan police are being used for the better protection of the citizens of London.
§ Mr. Hurd
No. I should like to get on. The hon. Gentleman may intervene just before I sit down.
There is still more to be done. The report by the National Audit Office, to which the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), referred just now, and which was published earlier this week, drew attention to the poor condition of police stations and to the need for better planning and management of the Metropolitan police estate. My Department and the police will be examined on this by the Public Accounts Committee on Monday next.
The capital programme is now focused on operational buildings and in particular on modernising police stations. The planning and management of the estate is being improved, but a great deal needs to be done to ensure that the resources of the Metropolitan police are used to provide the efficient and effective policing which the people of London expect and which the commissioner wants to provide.
There is a role for external scrutiny—people looking from outside. I was able to report last year that for the first time, at the commissioner's invitation, Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary had undertaken an independent inspection in the Metropolitan police. A new inspector was appointed on 1 April to help with the increased burden which inspections of the Metropolitan police will place on the inspectorate. Two inspections, one of 8 area—the City of Westminster—and the other of the use of firearms by the police in London are being undertaken during the remainder of this year. Those inspections will continue at about two each year and will augment the existing internal system of inspection in order to measure force efficiency. I can announce today that, in common with inspection reports on provincial forces, Her Majesty's inspectors' reports on the Metropolitan police will be published from next year. Like the prison service, the police service is opening itself up for public discussion and examination to an unprecedented extent. I encourage that trend and I 1218 hope that the House will bear it in mind when it hears the next routine diatribe about the secretiveness of this Government.
The mixture of skills needed by the police makes the job of an officer difficult. The hot-blooded boldness needed to tackle a criminal—possibly armed—in mid flight might produce just the wrong result if an officer is called upon to cool the tempers of angry or frightened members of the community. The more one thinks about that and has experience of it, the less wonder it is that officers and their spokesmen sometimes complain that nowadays the public expect too many difficult things of the police and too wide a range of skills and attitudes. Anyone who is seriously acquainted with the police in London and throughout the country will sympathise with that concern, but policing must deal with a massive range of human problems. That requires a wide range of techniques if they are to be successfully resolved.
Imaginative policing is required and is carried out increasingly in London and elsewhere in the country. It is based on the partnership between the police and the community, without which crime cannot properly be controlled.
The Metropolitan police have to work with other agencies to ensure that the best possible service is provided to those who are vulnerable as victims of crime in our community. Last month my Department published the report of the interdepartmental racial attacks group. The report commended the work of the Metropolitan police in tackling racial incidents, citing in particular the best practice guidelines issued in 1986. The Met is already taking part in a project in east London in which the local agencies are working with each other and with the community to tackle racial harassment.
Women and children are also especially vulnerable as victims of crime. The Metropolitan police now have seven special victims' examination suites where women can be taken for examination, interview and, most important of all, advice and support. The Metropolitan police were also pioneers in the inter-agency investigation of child sexual abuse. Many of the techniques in joint interviewing with the social services which were developed in the special unit at Bexley are now being incorporated as part of good practice throughout England and Wales.
Hon. Members may know from recent television programmes of the initiatives to help women who are victims of domestic violence. Following the introduction of a new force order requiring a more positive response to domestic violence, a specialist unit was set up at Tottenham police station. That has now been followed by 14 other units within the Metropolitan police district. Each of those specialist units collates reports of domestic violence, even where the woman withdraws her original complaint. In every case she is offered practical advice and support. She may be referred to a refuge or given help with finding emergency accommodation for herself and her children. If she wants to pursue her complaint, she will be offered support and advice through the court proceedings and beyond if necessary.
That is all relatively new. It responds to the complaints that the police pass by on the other side and that the less they are involved in domestic violence, the more they are pleased. The traditional attitudes were understandable. It is difficult for a police officer to get involved in domestic brawlings and in accusations of sexual offences within a family. It was understandable that in the past it was 1219 thought that a fairly narrow line should be taken. However, that attitude is changing. That may produce an immediate increase in the numbers of recorded crimes, because crimes will get on to the books which previously would never have been recorded. That is a tiny price to pay, if the police are helping, with other agencies, to get people out of some morass of misery and despair in their homes.
All those initiatives show the style of policing that the Metropolitan police are seeking to develop. It must be firm in a city such as London, but it is becoming increasingly compassionate. That is not a word of which they or we should be ashamed to use in those respects. It responds to the needs of the local community, and I have given the example of domestic violence. It goes beyond the bounds of traditional policing to co-operation with other agencies in serving the needs of victims.
The Metropolitan police have joined in our Home Office safer cities initiative. That is a further example of the need and the willingness of the police to work with others. The first two London projects, in Lewisham and Tower Hamlets, are now established. I can announce today that Islington and Wandsworth boroughs have agreed to join the safer cities programme, and I wish them every success.
The press reported—it may be wrong—that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) was yesterday saying something in deprecation—he was almost sneering—of crime prevention activities and was accusing us of bypassing local authorities. The safer cites initiative is based on co-operation between the Home Office and local authorities. The boroughs that I have named in London, and the boroughs and cities involved in other parts of the country, show that we are not bypassing local authorities, and that local authorities controlled by the hon. Gentleman's party are coming forward and are accepting our invitations to join in.
I hope, therefore, that the Opposition Front Bench and the parliamentary Labour party will bring themselves up to date on those matters. There are things going on that are immensely helpful and useful, although there is a great deal more to be done. However, those developments correspond to the needs of their constituencies as well as to ours. There is no reason for the Opposition to be grudging, sneering or to be taking the lead from, say, the London borough of Lambeth, rather than from the interests of their own constituencies.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
Yesterday, at the conference on crime prevention and the local authority role, I was not sneering. I was saying that the Government, who have taken billions of pounds away from local authorities and then, in the safer cities campaign, given £250,000, are not doing very much for the real demands—for example, for the modification and better lighting of high-rise buildings. We were saying that we wanted a positive partnership between local authorities, the local communities, and the police. We believe that the Government have not given a strong enough lead or the resources needed.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway
When the Labour party says that it wants to promote a partnership between local authorities and the police, why can boroughs such as Lambeth, which has been mentioned, and Ealing, refuse to join the established consultative police groups, which would promote more co-operation between the councils and the police than anything else?
§ Mr. Hurd
The Labour party is still living in that old world where it thinks that there is support and votes to be gained by rubbishing the police. I accept that there have been changes and developments, but that is all the more reason why people who purport to be speaking for the Labour party as a whole should not fall back into that old vocabulary. They should treat those disruptive dinosaurs in the London boroughs with the contempt that they deserve. The Leader of the Opposition lamentably neglected the chance to do that during the Vauxhall by-election.
One element of the police-public partnership that deserves particular mention is the special constabulary. The public want to help to make London's streets and the Underground safer, and that is why so many people greeted the arrival of the Guardian Angels earlier this year. I welcome the willingness to help that that shows, but I do not believe that it is sensible to build up the use of unofficial and unaccountable squads in front-line policing.
I urge all those whose interest and enthusiasm were kindled by the opportunities offered by the Guardian Angels to consider joining the special constabulary. I believe that everyone will accept that sometimes in the past the specials have felt like Cinderella. It is now pretty well acknowledged within the police service that the specials have not always been treated or deployed as well as they might have been. However, that is changing. Following an efficiency scrutiny of the Metropolitan special constabulary last year, a wide range of measures are being brought in to improve the effectiveness and the attractiveness of the Metropolitan specials. A new recruitment campaign will begin this summer, training has been improved, and divisions are being encouraged to use their special constables on a wider range of duties.
An example of what can be done is Tooting division. Between August last year, when there were 20 specials, and today, the division has tripled its number of specials. They are attached to regular police reliefs, and they play an important supporting role in policing the community. Such initiatives are being encouraged throughout London, and I hope that many more active and responsible citizens will take advantage of them.
I am aware, too, of the ideas that the commissioner is considering to harness the enthusiasm of members of the public for a range of community projects not requiring police powers. I have no objection to pilot projects along those lines, under police supervision.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that valuable though specials can be in certain circumstances, they are no substitute for regular, full-time police officers? Does he recognise, too, that some of the proposals that have been floated in recent months by senior officers of the Metropolitan police—for such things as blue angels and similar ideas—are far front being welcomed by the regular police force in London?
§ Mr. Hurd
I know that the Police Federation has to be persuasively urged down the path that I have been 1221 describing, which is reasonable. My hon. Friend was right to say that the specials are not a substitute, but they can be an important supplement to the work of the regular police. That is a point that came up at the annual conference of the federation, which my hon. Friend and I recently attended. I hope that the federation will give some leadership in that direction and will not allow traditional anxieties, which I believe are now out of place, to dominate their feelings for those initiatives. All those matters need to be tested, but the example I gave of the Tooting division shows that that can be done with the support of the regular police.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
I apologise to my right hon. Friend for missing his earlier remarks, because I was participating in a broadcast. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the specials would have a helpful supplementary role—I agree with his adjective—in dealing with the scourge of racial harassment and attacks?
§ Mr. Hurd
Yes, I think so. I see one of the possible roles of the specials as being a supplementary link between the regular force and the community. If we are increasingly successful—as the Met is—in recruiting people from the ethnic minorities, such a link in dealing with racial attacks could be especially helpful in parts of, say, the east end or the north-east of London or, for all I know, in my hon. Friend's constituency.
Any imaginative organisation committed to public service will always want more resources. There is nothing unusual about that and it is a good sign. Hon. Members, in common with me, will be familiar with the Metropolitan police officer who tells us that if he only had a few more officers, a car or a computer he could provide the community with a better service. I entirely understand that ambition and that is why we have increased the establishment of the Metropolitan police to the record level of 28,415—more than 5,000 higher than it was 10 years ago. During the same period the Met's budget has grown by 60 per cent. in real terms. There are few major public services that can show anything like that increase and it reflects the priority that we give to policing in London and elsewhere. Further increases in the Met's establishment and in the supporting resources are planned.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The Home Secretary has referred twice to resources and to personnel. He will be aware that one of the abiding problems faced by the Met is the retention of people in the force. One of the causes of that problem is the difficulty that people face when living in London because of house prices and the like. What does the right hon. Gentleman believe can be done this year to recruit more Londoners into the police force and to hold them, once recruited?
§ Mr. Hurd
The Met has a tradition of recruiting widely, including people from the provinces, who eventually go back to the provinces, and there is nothing wrong in that. When my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary replies I shall ask him to deal especially with retention of staff which, as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has shown, is extremely important.
Quality of service and professionalism are the key standards by which the police are judged. It is fundamental 1222 to the professionalism of the force that the service they provide is that required by the public in all its diversity. In turn, the support of the public helps the police to provide a better service to them. But it is a process to which all of us can contribute.
Recently the Commissioner has published his "Statement of Common Purpose and Values" for the 1990s. In that statement Sir Peter tried to set out in simple and direct terms the underlying and enduring principles to which all employees of the Met should be committed. That is a difficult exercise, particularly perhaps for the commissioner of the Met. It is easy to laugh at it as an endeavour at window dressing or preaching against sin, but I believe that that statement fits. It is a brave enterprise to acknowledge and rectify the shortcomings in the service provided by the Met.
We all hear deserved compliments about the Met, but there is a steady trickle of complaints about the behaviour of Met officers. Those complaints are usually not about gross misconduct, but about discourtesy, off-handedness, a touch of arrogance or lack of interest. That kind of complaint, often trivial, can cause disillusionment among the public and it eclipses the first-class service provided by the majority of officers and makes those officers feel defensive and, at times, isolated. All Members, particularly those representing London, can do something about that.
The commissioner has established a team dedicated to converting that "Statement of Common Purpose and Values" into action. He, in common with everyone else, realises that it is by action that the programme will be judged. The staff associations of the Met, the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents Association are to be congratulated on backing up the programme. The House should do the same. It is not every organisation that, in the middle of doing a difficult and dangerous job, acknowledges its occasional faults and publicly commits itself to doing better.
The commissioner has the support of the great majority of Londoners in building on the traditions of the police to provide a service of which we can all be proud. Many problems remain, but the courage and the skill of the Met are qualities of which Londoners and the country can be proud.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
The Opposition approach this important debate in a constructive and positive manner. I was slightly concerned that the Home Secretary, in an otherwise positive and thoughtful speech, saw fit once again to try to stereotype the attitude of the Labour party and Labour local authorities as being negative towards the police. It is a cheap shot to mark off one particular local authority, which represents a tiny minority, when the majority of Labour local authorities and other local authorities display a positive attitude to the police. We want to promote that constructive partnership and not to dwell on the tiny minority who choose a different path.
The citizens of London desire a police force that is efficient, corruption-free and treats the public with sensitivity and respect. They want a police force that actively promotes crime prevention and community safety, and which successfully pursues the perpetrators of crime. We believe that we have an extremely good police force in 1223 London, but, like Sir Peter Imbert, we believe that it could be markedly improved by better management, better training and by a clear, democratic link with Londoners. The desire for such a Metropolitan police force is held by most people in the country and by the House.
We know that the Met is good, but we also know that to rest on our laurels and not to push for change means that problems will arise. It is a year since our last debate on this matter and it has been a highly significant year for the Met. We have had a swathe of reports and investigations, and 1988–89 must represent the most active period of investigation of the Met, by others and by itself. It is all good stuff and most interesting.
The Wolff Olins report, "A Force for Change" was published last autumn. It was commissioned by the Met, and, in part. it was highly critical of the force. The report referred to the Met's uncertainty about its role, to a lack of common purpose, internal division and a lack of support for those who are in contact with the public. It also referred to the need for improvement in training and management. It described the Met's wary attitude towards the world and referred to a minority of police officerswho arc too free with their language, and who adopt an aggressive attitude in their relationship with people in the street. This minority, who are rude or insensitive, create an atmosphere for the whole of the Met which deeply embarrasses the majority.
The report stated that the force's communications with the outside world were poor and, as has been mentioned already today, it said that the physical state of many police stations was run down. The report stated:All this contributes to an atmosphere of shabby confusion.The report concluded that for the Met to be more effective it should first feel more united, secondly improve leadership, thirdly adopt a positive attitude towards the concept of service to the public, fourthly become less defensive and isolated, fifthly improve its communications and, lastly, improve its appearance. It emphasised the need for all in the Met to feel that they are part of a public service.
We must congratulate Sir Peter Imbert on publishing such a report. To his credit, he has worked speedily to respond to the criticisms and to bring about the change of direction proposed by it. He has introduced the Plus programme accompanied by the internal document, "Making it Happen". The commissioner has emphasised the importance of service to the public time and again on radio, television and in other media. The Plus programme is designed to produce a united force providing a quality service to the public. It recognises the importance of those who work in direct contact with the pulic and talks of introducing an effective rewards and sanctions system. It will further improve communications, buildings and equipment.
The Plus programme is designed not as a policy statement but as a mechanism to introduce and sustain change. It is a major attempt to alter the culture of the Metropolitan police. We must debate the Plus programme in depth because the crucial question is whether the changes that it proposes will take place on the ground. The criticisms made in "A Force for Change" and the attempts to change how the Metropolitan police work are not new, but will Sir Peter Imbert's determined efforts work in practice? Are local chief superintendents taking notice of them? It has been suggested that the responses from some areas have been rather bland. Does the Home Secretary 1224 intend vigorously to ensure that the programme succeeds? Some of the remarks that he made towards the end of his speech encourage us to believe that he does. Hon. Members and the public will need to see a vigorous Home Secretary giving Sir Peter Imbert the support that he deserves in making the fundamental changes that are necessary.
The chances of the programme succeeding depend on the Metropolitan police's previous decentralisation work, much of which started under Sir Kenneth Newman. Has there been devolution of power from the centre? Has the programme been effective not only in moving bodies out of New Scotland Yard but in devolving power? The management of many commercial organisations has improved as a result of decentralisation, and if the Metropolitan police are to experience the same success the power to take decisions must be decentralised.
It is refreshing to see change and a positive commitment to change, but change should not be made for its own sake and it must be evaluated. It is no good introducing programmes for change unless they are closely evaluated. Evaluation must be part of the programmes for change so that in a year or two we can ask how effective the changes have been, but alter course or tack if they have not been so effective as we thought that they would be.
The Commissioner is to be commended on opening up the Metropolitan police to other forms of scrutiny. More information is now flowing to consultative groups and the lay visiting programme, which I believe is the most robust in the country. However, 1989 has seen the production of a highly significant document on the CID. I had hoped that the Home Secretary would make more mention of it. The document, which is known as the Crime Investigation Priority Project document, has been made available to me. It reflects uneasiness about the behaviour and attitudes of the CID, and is critical of part of it. It refers to a lack of clear purpose, inappropriate organisational structures, confusion over supervision and a lack of accountability among senior management for their juniors. If something goes wrong, the junior always seems to carry the can. The report says that more concern should be expressed for victims, and states:A substantial proportion of uniform officers attending as the First Officer at the scene of a routine crime are unclear as to what to do to answer either the needs of the victim or the requirement of the Force for information.The report also states that training is inadequate and that itcannot be considered sufficient when only two hours were given to Constables to teach them how to investigate rather than report crimes and CID officers can receive no training for the last 20 years of their service.The report makes 143 recommendations for change, which hardly inspires confidence in some CID activities. I hope that the Home Secretary will ensure that the proposals for change are implemented and monitored.
I ask the Home Secretary to give a little more detail about the crime reporting and information system, which he dealt with briefly. It is an important advance in technology for the police. When will the system be operated force-wide, and is he satisfied with the way in which it is currently developing? There have been reports of problems and teething troubles With it, so will he make some further comments on that?
I want to make my speech in a positive spirit, but we believe that there are problems with crime screening. It is all very well for the Home Secretary to comment on the 1225 slight but welcome reduction in some crimes in the Metropolitan police area, but violent crime is still increasing. According to polls, violent crime causes most concern to London residents. We understand the Home Secretary saying that the reduction in crime is welcome. However, he mentioned domestic and sexual violence—violence directed against women—and said that the number of cases being reported may have increased but suggested that it might not be the crime itself that has increased but rather the reporting of it. We understand that some of the new techniques of crime screening being used may lead to crime not being reported. The decline in burglary and some other offences may reflect the fact that crime screening is having an impact on the public. The Home Secretary looks unclear about this, so I shall be more specific. Clearly, the police must prioritise their work. No doubt screening has been going on unofficially for many years, but there is a worry that it may lead to loss of confidence in the police. The Metropolitan police estimate that only 15 per cent. of allegations will be screened. Clearly, public awareness of screening policy may lead to cynicism and could dry up the flow of information that is so vital to police work.
It appears that screening has had an effect on the number of cases reported to the police. If the public believe that nothing will be done, they will not report an incident. It will be fascinating to know how much of the drop in burglary rates in London can be attributed to the effects of screening. I therefore point out, again in a positive spirit, that screening could lead to under-reporting. It is important that individuals are handled sensitively by the police, and screening could be a problem in that regard. If an offence is screened out, the victim may be upset that positive action is not to be taken. That brings me back to the theme of behaviour of individual officers and the need to ensure that they are all sensitive to the needs of victims and the public.
From talking to senior officers, I understand that the police are unhappy about screening. The CIPP report says that screening, as currently operated, isdiscouraging first officers from investigating crimes fully; failing to provide sufficient information for a proper screening decision to be made: involving experienced detectives in the investigation of mundane crimes.We need to take a fresh look at crime screening. Does the Home Secretary intend—or has he done so already—to ask the Home Office research unit to study screening and its effects? The results of such a study would benefit hon. Members.
The Home Secretary mentioned crime prevention and seemed to object to the positive conference that Labour Members held on crime prevention and the role of local authorities yesterday at Church house. Increasingly, crime prevention is being recognised as being of central importance to the police and the community. The Government have spoken about crime prevention at length, but we believe that their approach is deeply flawed. First, the Government's economic and social policies have had a devastating effect on inner-city areas such as those in London. Unemployment, particularly among young people, and deteriorating conditions and services have had a direct impact on offenders. Secondly, the resources put 1226 into crime prevention are woefully inadequate. We have said that to the Home Secretary many times, but he has never answered our questions.
Of course, we want safer cities campaigns, but they must be properly resourced. We estimate that the £250,000 for each campaign is the cost of modifying the front entrance doors of five high-rise blocks of flats. That is not enough in an evironment in which crime has escalated in the past 10 years. Those sums pale into insignificance when contrasted with the massive loss of resources that local authorities have experienced.
The Home Secretary should consider the French experience of the êtê jeunes programme in which the French authorities have recognised the growing rates of burglary and petty crime by people as young as 15. The French have recognised that resources must be invested in employment, training and creative leisure initiatives. We cannot have safer cities without greater resources flowing into the key element—the democratically elected local authorities.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
My hon. Friend is making a very apposite point about safer cities. My borough of Newham, which is the second most deprived local authority area in England and Wales and desperately needs resources, applied under the safer cities campaign and was rejected by the Government. My borough has one of the highest crime rates in London and the highest incidence of racial harassment, yet we were refused. How do the Government work that out?
§ Mr. Sheerman
It is rather mysterious. The Secretary of State chose to mention the matter two or three times. Only after some pushing from us and our discussions about why Islington had a committee promoting a safer city but no local authority representative were two people appointed to the committee.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I thank my hon. Friend for referring to Islington. Islington borough council has done much to make housing estates safer and has participated closely with tenants associations and the local police in making the borough safer. The council undertook a thorough crime survey, which it published and which was used extensively by many people considering the problems caused by the misery of living in areas of great danger.
§ Mr. Sheerman
My hon. Friend is right. Islington's leadership is impressive. One of the main speakers at yesterday's conference on crime prevention was from that borough.
We do not want to have a row every time we debate this matter, but a partnership which excludes the local democratically elected element will not work. The stimulus for a positive crime prevention initiative should come from the police, local councils, the private sector and local communities working in harmony. Without the local democratically elected element, there will be problems with non-accountability, vigilantes and direct citizen action, and all the other aspects that none of us wants.
I beg the Home Secretary to consider that positive partnership, to stop slagging off the odd local authority that he does not like and to start working positively with the majority of local authorities. If he will give them a leadership role and the necessary resources, they will be able to deliver.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Before leaving this important general point, would my hon. Friend care to reflect that one problem in debates about London police and crime is that the Metropolitan police are fundamentally undemocratic? It is not satisfactory that the only public accountability of the Metropolitan police is through this debate, which happens just once a year. No vote is taken, there is no perusal of the Estimates and there is no serious discussion about force orders. All that we have is the good will, or otherwise, of the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Sheerman
I agree with my hon. Friend. I mentioned that matter in my introduction. Labour party policy is to have a democratic link with the police.
§ Mr. Shersby
The hon. Gentleman will know from his experience as a member of the Public Accounts Committee—albeit for a short time before his elevation to the Labour Front Bench—that the Metropolitan police undergo considerable scrutiny of their expenditure and operational policing by that Committee. Scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee, on which both sides of the House are represented, is very effective. The hon. Gentleman will know that all London Members are invited by the commissioner several times a year to discuss with him operational policing in London. That does not happen in the other police forces, so London Members of Parliament are in a uniquely privileged position.
§ Mr. Sheerman
The hon. Gentleman knows that there is no substitute for a positive link between the local community and its police force. The citizens of London should enjoy what the rest of the country enjoys.
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Gentleman's plea is for greater co-operation between local government and the police in preventing crime. He has glossed over the story in London. Until recently, a considerable number of boroughs have been obstructing the police and trying to make relationships between the police and the community difficult. I readily acknowledge that, under pressure, that is changing—but the change is far from complete. The efforts of the Metropolitan police, and my own efforts since I have been Home Secretary, have been directed towards taking the political poison out of the situation and creating co-operation in London and elsewhere.
Obviously, the local housing or education authorities in most parts of the country have a crucial role to play in crime prevention. That is what the safer cities campaign is about. Crime prevention requires of local London politicians a much greater sense of responsibility than some of them have hitherto shown.
§ Mr. Sheerman
The Home Secretary should stop living in the past. First, his allegations about London authorities are inaccurate. Secondly, only a tiny minority have shown a lack of co-operation. The Opposition expect the Home Secretary to look positively towards a good relationship on which to build a better future, not to keep dragging in any little item from the past that he thinks will reinforce a political stance which will impress the blue-rinse spasm at Conservative party conferences.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
On this issue I side with the Home Secretary. I have a salient example. I spent the Vauxhall by-election in Lambeth. As of today, Labour in Lambeth does not have a representative on the police consultative committee. The former Labour Member, Stuart Holland, 1228 was not allowed to do so because he was mandated not to. I do not know whether the new Labour Member will be allowed to do so. There are authorities in London which do not allow their members to sit on the police consultative committee. Until they do, people will not be represented by the Labour party in dialogues with the police.
§ Mr. Sheerman
The local authority to which the hon. Gentleman referred has a democratic right to co-operate or not. My honest view would be to recommend any local authority to sit on police committees and have a positive partnership with the police and the other authority.
§ Mr. Sheerman
Of course we use our influence, but we must recognise people's democratic rights. That is what democracy is about. Some Opposition Members, including some on the Liberal Benches or whatever they are called now, sometimes want democracy only when it produces the answers that they like. I am a realist and I know that some Labour-controlled local authorities sometimes make decisions that I do not like. That is the nature of democracy.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The comments made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, (Mr. Hughes) about my good friend Stuart Holland are untrue.
§ Mr. Banks
I am telling the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, through my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), that what he has just said is untrue. Stuart Holland did not sit on that committee not because he was instructed not to do so but because he thought that it was not performing its functions in the way that it should. That was his democratic right.
§ Mr. Sheerman
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) knows more about what goes on in London than I do and I am glad that he has been able to correct a false allegation. I have given way several times, in keeping with the nature of this debate, but I hope that we can return to the main thrust of my points about crime prevention.
The involvement of local authorities in crime prevention is crucial because so much crime prevention work lies within their remit. The hostility that the Home Secretary has shown is clearly shown in the Islington experience. Initially the Home Office did not want any local councillors on the steering committee, despite Islington council's proven record in that area. It has now agreed to two local councillors on a steering committee consisting of between 12 and 15 people.
I do not want to bore the House by pursuing the theme of the need for positive partnership, but it is astounding to find when I speak to senior policemen at the level of chief constable, that they are far in advance of the Home Secretary in terms of seeking the right relationship and positive partnership with local authorities. Their best practice and the kinds of relationships that they enjoy around the country are far better and are leading the Home Secretary by example. The Home Secretary is coming around lamentably slowly to understanding the need for that partnership which the police and local authorities already recognise.
1229 With regard to finance, the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the Met's estate was published this week. That report shows an incredibly low level of financial accountability and the House must have some cause for concern about the report. The Met does not have a capital account and it does not account for the capital values of its land. Nor does it have an inventory of its properties. What do the Home Secretary and the receiver intend to do about that report?
The CPAG's report also highlights the appalling conditions of many police stations. One in five police stations is said to be so substandard and cramped as to represent a severe handicap to effective policing. Similar points were made in the Wolff Olins report and they come as no surprise to anyone who has visited Met police stations. However, the capital programme operated through the Home Office appears to be excessively bureaucratic and slow. Will the Home Secretary comment on the resources that he intends to allocate to rectify those appalling conditions, which are unacceptable for the staff and for the public? How does he intend to speed up the bureaucratic process which is becoming so notorious in his Department? Will he consider ending Crown immunity for police stations? Lay visitors say that that is a major factor behind the squalid conditions in many police stations.
The physical state of police stations is linked with an inhospitable attitude to the public in many stations. Reading between the lines in many of the reports to which I have referred this morning, it is clear that we should make police stations user and consumer friendly. The vast bulk of people do not enter police stations in handcuffs to be charged with offences. They visit as members of the public in a positive spirit wishing to help. They should be treated in a civilised fashion in a pleasant environment. They should not be intimidated by some aspects of police stations.
The Home Secretary believes strongly in civilianising certain aspects of the police. However, many of us believe that it would be a wholly retrograde step if a member of the public met a civilian instead of a uniformed police officer when he visited a police station. Many of us believe that the relationship with the police is most important and people in police stations who deal with the public should be police officers and not secretaries or clerks. The Home Secretary may disagree with that, but that is not a political view. We believe that this point should be considered thoroughly before a decision is taken. Many people in the police force would agree with that view.
The physical state of police stations could be rectified relatively quickly if the Home Secretary would put his shoulder to the wheel and support the desire for change at the head of the Met. It is also interesting to note that researchers who visited police stations recently in London and New York—we should remember that New York has a vastly different crime problem from that in London—reported that the atmosphere in New York police stations was far more relaxed and friendly with less emphasis on security than stations in the Met—[Interruption.] The junior Minister, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, is doing his old Etonian act. I remind him that this is the House of Commons, not 1230 the Eton debating house. We can learn something from the United States in these matters and the Minister's snorting and carrying on at schoolboy level is quite wrong.
§ Mr. Sheerman
Yes, public schoolboy level.
The financing of the Met reveals Government hypocrisy about policing. We should consider the financing squarely and honestly. We hear continuously that the Government back the police and about the extra police that are provided. However, in London the slippage of expenditure away from central Government and on to local authorities has been extensive. Last year, the precept increased by 14.4 per cent. and that increase was due almost entirely to the reduction in block grant from the Government. In other words, local authorities are footing more and more of the bill for the Met and are being forced to raise their rates to compensate for that outlay. London local authorities perceive the Home Secretary to be either weak in Cabinet or the tool of the Treasury if he cannot support Met expenditure coming from central Government. He can hardly be said to be standing up for the Met now. Does he intend to continue to shift expenditure on to local authorities or will he this year match his public pronouncements on policy with the cash that is urgently needed? That reinforces our desire that the local authorities, which pay so much towards their police forces, should have a democratic voice in connection with the running of their police forces.
There are other reforms about which I want to ask the Home Secretary's views. The first reform concerns the Police Complaints Authority. The Wolff Olins report causes concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House and among the public. It refers to the complaints system asa major focus of dissatisfaction.That dissatisfaction affects confidence in the police. What action does the Home Secretary intend to take about that? A close examination of how effectively the Police Complaints Authority is working is necessary. We must also consider whether it should be far more independent and powerful.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
As the hon. Gentleman has referred to the independent Police Complaints Authority, I am sure that he is aware that some of his colleagues and Conservative Members in the Select Committee on Home Affairs are examining the work of that authority and will report to the House and to the Home Secretary in some detail on how we see its work progressing and how it may be further sustained.
§ Mr. Sheerman
I thank the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) for his intervention. We hope that the Home Secretary will carefully examine the evidence submitted and the Select Committee's conclusions.
What action will the Home Secretary take to end the scandal—it is a scandal and we cannot sweep it under the carpet—of officers taking early retirement on health grounds to avoid disciplinary hearings? It is a matter of great concern. The Home Secretary should react positively to the concern being expressed by the public. It is not amusing to see on television a police officer running the London marathon or another marathon the day after taking early retirement on medical grounds. There is 1231 something wrong when many officers evade the disciplinary system by taking early retirement. The Home Secretary should concentrate his attention on that.
There is growing concern about the expansion of the private security industry, which is encroaching on areas previously the domain of the Metropolitan police. It is clear that that industry needs to be regulated, but the Government pervesely fail to take account of the views of the public and of the police. When will the Home Secretary decide that that industry will never satisfactorily regulate itself and that there should be an independent regulatory body?
What action does the Home Secretary intend to take about the growing number of immigration prisoners held on remand in police cells? Lay visitors have expressed grave concern about the matter. I do not believe that the Home Secretary has reacted positively to complaints.
Will the Home Secretary enlighten the House about where responsibility lies in the racial harassment guide distribution fiasco? We have not had a satisfactory reply. About £300,000 of public money seems to have been wasted in the non-distribution of an important booklet on racial harassment. Saatchi and Saatchi were given the contract for distribution, but many citizens have not received the booklet. When will the Home Secretary demand repayment from Saatchi and Saatchi for non-distribution of the booklet?
Traffic regulation enforcement is another matter of great public concern. Over the past few years, traffic regulation enforcement for important offences such as drink driving and speeding has decreased as a result of the rationalisation of police efforts, yet the North report showed that the public regard some of those traffic offences very seriously indeed. They are clearly related to many deaths and injuries. Opposition Members regard such matters seriously and believe that the priorities should be reversed.
There has been a lot of soul-searching by the police. The openness and honesty about the need for change have been refreshing, but will they be reflected on the ground? Will there be greater emphasis on public service? Can the Met restrain the minority of officers who can undo months of good work by one ugly incident? Will the Home Secretary end the absurdity of the capital's police force being accountable to him alone and establish a police authority for London? The open analysis and assessment of the Metropolitan police that have taken place over recent months are refreshing, but we must now press for the rigorous implementation of Sir Peter Imbert's reform throughout the force.
An answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) causes me a little concern. The danger is that if reform is too difficult or even too uncomfortable, the Government will not implement it. There would then be a temptation to resort to an even larger slice of the public relations pie, in the hope that people will be placated by the image rather than by the reality of a better service to the public. From 1979 to 1980 the Met public relations budget went from £759,000 to £3,397,000. I understand that police must have good public relations, but we want to see the very refreshing initiatives under Sir Peter Imbert resulting in a fundamental shake-up in the Met rather than greater spending on public relations.
1232 Opposition Members agree with Sir Peter Imbert's recent comments in the Sunday Times that the Met must be accountable to the public, but that accountability must be based on a democratic foundation.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the policing of London. It is a matter of concern to hon. Members who represent London constituencies, and it is also a matter of national importance.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) raised several points, one of which was the accountability of the Metropolitan police. The hon. Gentleman is fundamentally wrong. He does not know the history of the police and he does not understand the character and nature of liberty and how it is preserved in this country. The Metropolitan police were established under the control of Her Majesty's principal Secretary of State, the Home Secretary, in 1829 because Parliament took the view, which it substantially still holds, that the purpose of the force is so important that it should ultimately be accountable to the House. That means that the force is accountable not only to the Home Secretary but to Committees of the House, including the Public Accounts Committee and the Home Affairs Select Committee. It is accountable also through its relationship with the 32 London boroughs, the eight outer districts that make up the Metropolitan police area, and even Her Majesty the Queen, as it is responsible for policing the royal castle at Windsor. It is responsible for policing activities outside London which are national if not international in character. For those reasons, the force has always been deemed to be a responsibility of the House and of the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Corbyn
The hon. Gentleman is claiming that this discussion is a form of accountability of the Metropolitan police. He might have missed it on the Order Paper, but the motion isThat this House do now adjourn.We are debating the policing of London. There will not he a vote at the end of the debate because there cannot be. We are discussing not accountability, but consultation with the police authority in London, who happens to be the Home Secretary, who happens to be here. We want people elected by the people of London to be able to scrutinise everything that the police do and to have some power over them.
§ Mr. Wheeler
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman's intervention greatly adds to what I have said.
§ Mr. Shersby
Does my hon. Friend agree that the people of London elect hon. Members who are able to play their part in scrutinising the work of the Metropolitan police, through their membership of parliamentary committees such as the Public Accounts Committee, the Home Affairs Select Committee and so on? Hon. Members have every opportunity of scrutinising in minute detail the expenditure of the Metropolitan police and all their activities. They also have the opportunity to debate such matters in the House and refer them to the police authority who is here today. The hon. Member for Islington North (Mr. Corbyn) knows that, if he wishes to vote on these matters he can participate in Committees or in debates in the House.
§ Mr. Wheeler
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) is absolutely right. There are 84 Members of Parliament who represent London. I wonder whether the public would be greatly comforted by knowing how few of them, particularly Opposition Members, are present. Nine Members of Parliament represent the outer districts. The nature of the Metropolitan police is the concern of the whole nation. That is the principle to which I have been referring. Policing London represents a far bigger task than the size of its population would indicate. As the commissioner of Police of the Metropolis observed in his 1988 annual report, London attracts 75 per cent. of the illicit drugs market in the United Kingdom, 75 per cent. of major frauds, more than 50 per cent. of armed robberies and one third of all murders and rapes. Policing London is a matter principally, but not exclusively, for the Metropolitan police, and this debate is about policing in London. While I shall concentrate my remarks on the work of that force, we should not neglect the valuable role of those other forces that police London, including the corporation of the City of London police force, ably directed by its own commissioner—
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At 9.30 am I said that the Opposition expected a statement at 11 o'clock about the Government's failure to give early warning to pregnant women about the 30 per cent. fatality risk from listeriosis. No such statement seems to be forthcoming and neither of the Ministers responsible is here—I assume that they have gone into hiding for the weekend. As two Cabinet Ministers have bungled and 26 babies have died unnecessarily, the Opposition have no intention of allowing the scandal to die and will return to it on Monday.
§ Mr. Wheeler
As I was saying, the policing of London is not entirely a matter for the Metropolitan police. This House recognises the valuable work done by the other forces. I was referring to the City of London police force, under the able direction of its own commissioner, Mr. Owen Kelly. We also have the British Transport Police and the Royal Parks constabulary, which renders such valuable service in my own constituency and elsewhere in the City of Westminster.
Any view of policing in London must inevitably focus on the Metropolitan police, which is by far the largest of the United Kingdom's 52 police forces. It will cost more than £1.1 billion in national Government grants and local authority precepts in 1989–90. It controls and manages an estate valued at about £1 billion, employs more than 28,000 police officers and more than 13,000 civilians. Above all, it serves and protects a large and heterogeneous community which has the right to expect both value for money and effective policing. That provides a great challenge to the Metropolitan police and, above all others, to the commissioner, Sir Peter Imbert. I have every confidence in his ability to meet that challenge.
Today, I wish to draw attention to some matters of particular concern: the financial management of the force, the doubts expressed about the probity of some police officers, to which the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) referred, changing levels of recorded crime, police public relations and the serious problem of drugs.
1234 In recent years, much attention has been paid to improving the professional standing of police officers by substantial salary increases and enhanced opportunities for career development. Sadly, in the Metropolitan police district there has not been a matching allocation of resources for the police stations within which their better rewarded officers work. Moreover, the condition of many stations must have a negative impact on members of the public who may wish to seek assistance at one of the 188 police stations in the Metropolitan district.
In its recent report, the National Audit Office noted that 102 of the stations were graded in the two lowest "C" and "D" categories—either as substandard or at the end of their working life. Only 20 stations are ranked as grade "A", with first-class, long-life expectancy, modern buildings. Including the 188 police stations and other sites, the Metropolitan police force is a large London property owner. The National Audit Office found that the Metropolitan police estate occupied 1.14 million sq m of floor area and required an annual revenue and capital expenditure of nearly £100 million. As the National Audit Office correctly notes, the Metropolitan police must develop a more efficient and effective strategy for managing this estate.
Given the enormous value of property in London, there must be some scope to exploit the potential that the Metropolitan police property offers. In this context, I particularly welcome and commend to the Home Office, as the police authority for the Metropolitan police, the National Audit Office suggestion that the Metropolitan police could adopt.a more commercial approach to resolving their funding difficulties (which) could include joint ventures with the private sector on the development of valuable vacant sites and the construction of premises incorporating police stations as part of a wider development.Now that these issues have been crystalised in the NAO report, I expect the report to be followed up energetically by both the Metropolitan police and the Home Office.
Steps to improve the management of the police estate in London will fit in with the trend of Metropolitan police policy. The force is endeavouring to instil a greater sense of financial accountability. Civilianisation continues to contribute to improved value for money. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, in 1988 a total of 134 posts were filled by civilian staff, releasing a similar number of police officers for operational duty. A pilot study of divisional budgeting was introduced in number 5 area in April 1988. Evaluation of the scheme indicated that it had enabled officers to exercise more effective control over the use of resources at local level, which is so important. I look forward to the introduction of divisional budgets in all eight areas in 1990 to enable financial accountability to be brought down to the lower level.
If financial affairs represent a challenge to the leadership of the Metropolitan police, fears of police partiality and incompetence provide a different, but equally important challenge. Sir Peter Imbert has provided sound leadership in this matter. Unease has been expressed, both in the House this morning and through an early-day motion, about corruption in the Metropolitan police, and one case in particular.
The Select Committee on Home Affairs, which I have the honour to chair, is conducting an inquiry into the annual report of the independent Police Complaints Authority and has examined some aspects of the problem.
1235 There has been understandable disquiet about the premature retirement on medical grounds of an officer facing serious disciplinary charges. From the evidence that we have received from the commissioner and others, I am confident that the incident arose from the operation of the regulations and procedures relating to such cases, rather than any desire for a cover up on the part of the Metropolitan police. I am glad to be able to say that today.
I welcome the willingness of the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the commissioner to look carefully at the relationship between the medical retirement and pending disciplinary hearings. My Committee will make representations on this point before the summer recess.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I have read the minutes of the Select Committee's relevant debate and the hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is more than one such case causing concern. If called to speak later, I shall allude to that. In the deliberations before his Committee completes its report, will the hon. Gentleman ensure that all the current cases of concern are thoroughly addressed so that the matter can be passed to the relevant authorities for proper investigation and, if necessary, further criminal investigation?
§ Mr. Wheeler
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The Select Committee's function is not to investigate individual cases, which would be wholly wrong. We are not a final court of appeal for either side. Our function is too look at the important matter of policy and principle and seek to advise not only the House but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the best way to ensure that these complicated and difficult problems are satisfactorily resolved in a way that commands the support of the general public, whose interest we serve, as well as those of the House. I beg to suggest that my Committee will seek to do that.
On an operational level the Metropolitan police have had some measure of success, as shown by the latest crime statistics for the first quarter of 1989. They show a welcome fall of 28,000 notifiable offences, or 4 per cent., over the 12 months to March 1989. This fall can be partly attributed to the work of the police and to the crime prevention initiatives which they have supported and which so many Government Departments have encouraged.
An undeniable concern to emerge from these figures is the continuing rise in the level of recorded violent crime. Even this increase, however, may reflect the success of the Metropolitan police, who have consciously set out to encourage victims—particularly female victims—to report sexual offences and domestic violence that might hitherto have gone unreported. It is encouraging to note that the clear-up rate for sexual offences against women rose by 8 per cent. and that the number of cleared-up cases of domestic violence rose by 83 per cent. in 1988.
As to the vexed question of opportunist and random violence in the street, often called mugging, it seems to me that when the police carefully target likely offenders and concentrate their forces deliberately rather than randomly they can have a remarkable impact on the extent of these crimes, which cause so much public disquiet in some parts of London. I refer especially to the welcome work done by Inspector Barry Webb in Battersea, where at one time he 1236 achieved a 60 per cent. reduction in this sort of street crime. That is what the public want, and the police can do it when they think through the issues and plan accordingly.
Success in the fight against crime will always be the best way to improve police-public relations, but other aspects are also relevant, including police accountability, which can take many forms. In part, it can derive from debates such as this and from the work of the Committees of the House to which we have referred. It can also come from the local level. There are consultative committees in each of the 32 London boroughs, although the commissioner notes in his annual report that the majority political parties in Brent, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth still do not participate in those committees. This is not a political point; it is a matter of fact taken from the Commissioner's report. It is a matter of great regret that the people in these London boroughs are ill served by the Left-wing Labour councillors who persist in this old war against the police.
Community or neighbourhood policing has often been advocated as providing an important form of local police accountability. However, as is shown by the excellent report by the Police Foundation on the neighbourhood policing experiment in Notting Hill between 1981 and 1986, the Metropolitan police and the cosmopolitan populace of the capital face deep-rooted problems when forming partnerships in pro-active policing schemes. Neighbourhood policing can be effective only if the objectives to be achieved are properly and clearly defined.
The Police Foundation report raises important general questions about the management of change in this extremely large police force. Police canteen talk already refers to the eight area deputy assistant commissioners as the eight ayatollahs. The Metropolitan police need to consider carefully how the management of change can best be achieved. To serve the citizens of London well in the 1990s, some radical organisational changes may be needed.
The Police Foundation report shows how vital a is to involve all ranks in this process, from the commissioner to the newest police constable, so that the senior management in Scotland Yard is not allowed to be insulated from the realities of policing at the operational level.
A continuing menace facing the Metropolitan police is that of illicit drugs. I said earlier that 75 per cent. of the illicit drugs market in the United Kingdom is to be found in London. If that continues to be so and if the drugs market increases in line with the worst expectations, London faces a terrifying prospect in the next few years.
Last week, the Home Affairs Select Committee visited the United States, where we saw the devastating social impact of drug misuse and of the purified form of cocaine known as crack. If crack addiction develops in London the cost to the National Health Service and to local social services and the human suffering and deprivation will be enormous. In these circumstances it is better to be willing to invest now in programmes designed to limit the spread of crack in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The work of the central drug squad of the Metropolitan police, of the regional crime squads and of the Customs and Excise may reduce the speed with which crack penetrates the British drug market, but the central lesson of the United States experience is that the most effective way to prevent drug trafficking is to reduce the demand for 1237 drugs by education. Law enforcement may slow their spread, but it is only one part of the strategy needed to prevent crack from spreading in London.
It has been suggested that organisational change in the police is required to meet these challenges. Ideas of a British FBI have been mooted. The abiding lesson of my visit to the United States was that the multiplication of enforcement agencies does not work. I am surprised that the central drug squad is not part of the organisation of the regional crime squads, co-ordination of which is essential to law enforcement among drug dealers and importers.
The Metropolitan police continue to perform their demanding task with professionalism and commitment. They are well led and they continually strive to improve. If, for the reasons that I shall develop when my Committee has an Estimates day debate next week, there are to be organisational changes in British policing, the Metropolitan police may well offer a model for regional police forces throughout Great Britain in terms of what can be achieved by the concentration of resources and of what administrative difficulities arise in a large and complex organisation.
Those of us who serve London constituencies are rightly proud of the work of the Metropolitan police and of the other police forces that serve the people of London. They are well on course to achieve what people want—the reduction of crime—and they grow ever more confident and effective in the use of their resources, manpower and money. I am glad to say that in the House today.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I shall start in the vein in which the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) ended. I pay tribute to the way in which the Metropolitan police have tried to come to grips in a new way in the past year or so, with the demands of policing the capital. I pay tribute to the Commissioner, who has got a grip on the force, to his officers in the London divisions, and to the police in my area who have consistently co-operated with my colleagues, my constituents and with me when their co-operation has been sought. There are, of course, times when the police must be criticised—they do not do everything right and the management has yet far to go, as it recognises—but if the people at the top appreciate the need for change, that filters through and attitudes and understanding are seen to be different.
I have been more grateful to the police than usual in the past year because my house has been burgled three times, and I have needed to call the police for my personal advantage. They were extremely helpful. Just in case burglars read these debates as well as police officers, I should point out that my home is now far better protected than it was a year ago and, I hope, much more secure against such intrusions.
The general improvement that has been identified and spoken about has been prompted by such initiation as the Wolff Olins report and the willingness to address the need for management change. Emphasis on service to the public has to be uppermost in the minds of all police officers and all civilians working in the police forces. There are now thankfully many more civilians doing jobs that they should always have been doing, but which, until recently, police 1238 officers did. However, that emphasis on service is made difficult by any increase in crime, which makes the police in turn more aggressive because it means that they simply move from one tense event to another. Therefore, the continuing downward trend in crime is helpful.
The police must now be aware of the advantage in preventive activity and encouraging people to take preventive action, whether in securing homes or vehicles or in making sure that when they walk about the streets, they do not do so in a way that invites crime. That is crucial. We cannot expect the police to be our sole protectors. We have to protect ourselves and learn how to do that effectively.
In spite of the general declining trend in London crime figures, there are alarming upward trends, the most alarming of which is in violent crime. That is an extremely unsettling element of criminality in London. Increasingly, its consequence is that people have great fear of crime even if they are unlikely to be victims of it. The elderly are the obvious example, particularly the elderly on their own. Most violent crimes are committed not against them but by young people against each other outside a pub on a Friday night. However, if the perception is that violent crime is increasing, as it is, then the fear in which people live also increases.
The fear in our inner cities and on the estates is often the most debilitating feature of peoples' lives. Liberty is reduced every time someone is afraid to live their life as he or she would choose. That is the cancer at the heart of urban life. Therefore, I hope that we can counter the increases in violent crime so that those statistics go down and people gradually begin to feel more secure. I shall later look at some ways in which this can be addressed, because it involves structure and participation as well as the way in which the police carry on their activities.
I pay tribute to the noticeable fact that there are fewer complaints about inactivity or lack of responsiveness by police. These have gone down from 703 complaints in 1987 to 637 in 1988, or from 12.6 per cent. to 12 per cent. That is a gradual rather than a huge and sudden decrease, but it is important. At the same time, it is satisfying that M division in Southwark has put four more officers on the beat. Again, not an enormous change but an improvement. Fewer officers are lost to other activities away from their territory, which is encouraging. It would be helpful if more police were put on bikes. Most people can get further more quickly with a bike than on two feet, and police therefore could be more effective when they chase after criminals to catch them. Bikes also give police officers the chance to catch up with someone running away who is fitter than they are.
A good development is Pubwatch, formed by 15 Southwark licensees to help to prevent handbag snatching and other crimes in pubs and other licensed premises. There is now an initiative called Thameswatch to counter crime on the river. Another welcome initiative in Southwark is the increase in estate patrols which people on estates can call when they have a problem, such as dealing with an anti-social gang which is hanging around. These patrols consist not of the home beat officer but of a committed group of people dedicated to that task. They concentrate on an estate until it is no longer a place in which the problem persists.
I pay tribute to one scheme above all—the one developed with the Manpower Services Commission in which police have been putting decent locks on the homes of the elderly, the disabled or the vulnerable. This allows 1239 the police to be seen to be doing something positive where and when they are needed. There are fewer complaints that the home beat officer is never seen.
However, there are still management problems. The Metropolitan police are well funded, but as the Audit Commission report makes clear, they are often bad managers of their funds. For example, some initiatives that could be very good are hampered. I understand that a neighbourhood watch scheme set up by the tenants association on the Silverlock estate at Rotherhithe did not have enough money to provide the stickers for the doors and the signs for the lampposts and communal entrances. The whole purpose of neighbourhood watch schemes depends on showing that they exist. Otherwise there is no deterrent value. The idea was fine, but there were no locally available resources to implement it. Therefore, we need more resources and more staff time spent on initiatives dedicated to crime prevention, particularly in the inner city areas, where burglary, mugging and graffiti are still too prevalent, to the detriment of the environment.
I support the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Westminster, North, who speaks for London Conservative Members, about the extent of drug abuse in London. Since within a week or so of my election six years ago, I have regularly expressed concern, in many ways, about the massive amount of drug-related activity. Drug users and pushers still abound on some estates in Southwark, and there are many complaints about this. These people cause harm to the users and the often young victims, and there are all the knock-on effects. Because people need the money to buy drugs, they burgle, often stealing from their families, and a pattern of criminality develops. Local people are afraid that their youngsters will become hooked into the drug subculture. This is made worse because every day, when one walks down the street or up the staircase in an estate, one sees the evidence—silver paper, needles and sometimes people abusing drugs. Southwark has been working hard on this, across all the agencies and without party political problems, but we still need a greater emphasis on tackling the prevalence of drugs in the inner city. They are a debilitating and sad indictment of our society.
I have already referred, in an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Westminster, North, to the fact that another of the ways in which police service in the community and trust of that can be increased is by the police force losing its image of a private club. I pay tribute to the commissioner's antipathy to freemasonry, but there are still freemasons in the Metropolitan police and so long as they remain the effectiveness and impartiality of the force will be impaired. We need more stringent measures to stamp out freemasonry in the force. We must discourage young officers from joining the freemasons and encourage older officers who are freemasons to leave. Although there are clear indications that the most senior people are not freemasons, there are allegations—supported by evidence—that a considerable number of freemasons remain. That is not acceptable, and should be dealt with.
A similar concern has been expressed about police officers retiring, allegedly on medical grounds, when in fact there is considerable doubt about their probity. That is disgraceful. It is a matter of public record, for example, that concern has been expressed about former Superintendent Lumley.
1240 My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) has asked me to raise another matter. In March 1987, Daniel Morgan was murdered in the car park of the Golden Lion public house in Sydenham in south London. His family comes from Powys, which is why my hon. Friend has taken an interest. Daniel Morgan's brother has pursued extensive inquiries in this case With a man called Mr. Rees, Daniel Morgan was a partner in a private detective agency. It is clear that at least one present and former police officer was and is involved in that agency—both as a serving police officer and as a recently retired police officer who even took part in the investigation of the murder complaint.
That matter has already once gone to court and has in some sense been resolved, so it is not sub-judice, but a number of unresolved matters have yet to come before the court. It is entirely unacceptable and does untold damage to the police service for any of its officers to lead that kind of double life. As I indicated, I have read the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs and I know that the police service has admitted that fact. It is unacceptable for a police officer to be involved in a private detective agency, to retire early when something goes wrong and then to end up working for the agency full-time. I realise that the Select Committee on Home Affairs cannot deal with specific cases, but we need the most thorough investigations by the appropriate authorities of all allegations that lack of probity has led to officers retiring early.
I ask the Home Secretary as a matter of urgency to address the question of private security firms and their relationship with the police. It does the police service no good if it is thought of as a shelter for people who have been involved in such an underworld existence, and who go on to make more money out of it when they retire. The case of Daniel Morgan gives me great cause for concern. I believe that police involvement with the private security firm in this case was extremely wrong and a corrupting influence which had a direct link with the death of Daniel Morgan in south London two years ago.
Like other hon. Members, I have read the National Audit Office report, which has just been produced, which makes it clear that the police need to be moe effective in putting their own house in order. It is interesting to look hack on previous debates on policing in London. We last had a debate last year and some of the points that arose then, arise again today. The Government often criticise the Inner London education authority, which is soon to he abolished as a result of the Government's decision, and London local authority social services departments for overspending. Yet the police in London spend far more per capita than those other agencies do. We should therefore get an extremely good service. Of course the costs in London of a community and social service such as policing are high, but the National Audit Office report revealed failings in management, in the use of property and revenue accounting, and so on. We need to get to grips with those failings so that all the resources can be used for proper front-line services.
At my meeting with the Home Secretary I raised the question of improving the public appearance of police stations, many of which are extremely uninviting. One often goes into a very small space to a counter and when one rings the bell someone may or may not immediately come to help. Police stations are not user-friendly and we urgently need substantial improvements.
1241 There is another scandal. As a Southwark councillor my brother is a lay visitor of police stations. He and others with similar duties—I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) that London's record is better than that of other areas—know well that the number of remand prisoners in police custody actually rose last year. It is no fault of the police—they do not want them there at all—but the number of people on remand in police stations in our capital city peaked at 1,296 one night last year, although it has fallen since then. Such people are often kept in appalling conditions. The cells are overcrowded and ill-ventilated and the prisoners are not given adequate exercise or washing facilities. There is no bath or shower, for example. There is often poor food or cold food and sometimes there is no food. That is not at all the fault of the police, but it is very bad news for police morale and the proper use of time and money. We need to deal very differently with the whole question of remand prisoners and where we put them rather than simply landing them on the doorstep of the police, who cannot cope.
I said earlier that I would refer to the position of the police in London. I pay tribute to the work that they have done. One area, in particular, remains on the agenda from last year. The police do not know the outcome of the cases in which they are involved. Last year I said that because prosecutions are now in the hands of the Crown prosecution service, the police officers who initiate prosecutions never know the result. That is demoralising because police officers do not know whether their efforts have brought any reward. I hope that we can make some improvements so that police officers feel more involved in the whole process from beginning to end. Perhaps if that happened and if stations were better equipped and not under such pressure from remand prisoners and had a better front-of-house atmosphere, we should not have such wastage and we should be able to recruit more people. At the moment, wastage is huge and we do not recruit nearly enough Londoners, let alone black Londoners. We are still failing to hold on to police officers and we often hear people complain that no sooner does a community get to know its new police officer than he leaves. That has a very unsettling effect on a huge force which, although it is the training ground for forces elsewhere in the country, is above all a police force for our communities, which are as much communities as those anywhere else. In London, as elsewhere, people want to live in communities. The changes that I have described would help this and be welcomed.
There is still concern that the process of police accountability depends on the goodwill and response of the police force rather than its structure. The debate has been marked by the underlying debate about the accountability of London's police. I share the view of Opposition Members who have spoken that, until we have a democratically accountable police force, we shall not have a properly accountable police force. I know the history of the Metropolitan police. It is not inconsistent to say that the Home Secretary could have special responsibility for London policing as well as there being a police authority in London, as there is everywhere else, which can look day by day into matters of cost, financing, staffing and other areas.
1242 We may have an annual debate, but it is only a consultative exercise. We may have a meeting with the Home Secretary, which I value, but these are only consultative exercises. We may have opportunities to use the Committee system, but that does not provide the same degree of supervision—I do not use the word control, because that would be inappropriate—and the ability to render the police force in London as accountable as are forces elsewhere. It cannot be argued that the idea of a democratic police authority for London is invalid in principle simply because the Metropolitan police operate in the capital city. I know that the capital city has special characteristics, but in its ordinary activities it has the same characteristics as elsewhere.
I hope therefore, that the Government will see in due course that we must have a more properly, conventionally accountable police force in London. I also hope that Labour Members realise as the hon. Member for Huddersfield recognised, that they have a long way to go in engaging their people in the existing consultative processes from which they have so often withdrawn. There are still five boroughs in which Labour councillors do not participate in the police consultative committee and that does no good.
§ Mr. Hughes
I will name the boroughs. They are Brent, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth. The reason why the previous hon. Member for Vauxhall did not sit on the Lambeth committee was that his local Labour party asked him not to and that is on record. There may be reasons why one has complaints against the police, but that is all the more reason to participate and to voice them publicly. It is about time that the other members of the Labour party recognise that they have to play their part in consultation, as hon. Members on the Labour Front Bench do.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Gentleman has changed his tune slightly. He said earlier that Stuart Holland was instructed. I made it clear that Stuart Holland was not instructed and he was not the sort of person who could have been instructed in those circumstances. Stuart Holland goes along with the policy of Lambeth borough council for reasons that he himself came to in consultation with his colleagues. The hon. Gentleman must understand that those councillors are elected. There are circumstances in which policing in particular parts of London is not as good as it is in other parts. Democratically elected councillors who are answerable to the people in their area are fully entitled to make a policy decision.
§ Mr. Hughes
I agree with that, but—it is an important "but"—one does not improve the performance of public servants by not talking to them. Police officers will become more alienated and less likely to be responsive. I know that because I have regularly talked to them about it. They sometimes do not feel that they are in a dialogue with people who are elected. When we are elected, we may have to talk to many people with whom we would rather not talk, but, as elected representatives, whether locally or nationally, we have a duty to have a proper dialogue with those who, on our behalf, carry out the policing of our community. I hope that the response in the next year will be that the boroughs where Labour representatives are still 1243 lagging behind will change and I hope that in return the Government will feel that we can move towards a more democratic police authority for London.
Democracy works because the police, one of its agencies, police with the consent of the people. People have to express that consent to help the police to do an even better job. The police have made substantial progress. I hope that they will continue to make that progress with full co-operation on all sides.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary opened the debate with an optimistic speech. I agree with him that the Metropolitan police are better managed, better organised, larger and better funded than they were a few years ago. However, it is sad that the commissioner's admirable report is still packed with depressing statistics. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) referred to the drug menace and the dire possibility that we shall be infected by the crack epidemic that is making such ravages in the United States of America. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) also made a largely constructive speech and concentrated on the drug problem.
I felt that the most depressing statistic in the annual report was on page 28, where the commissioner pointed out that firearms were used or fired in 2,298 crimes in London in 1988. I have looked back at the commissioner's report for 1958, which was the first full year I spent in this House. I note that in 1958, the then commissioner recorded with some alarm that there had been 35 armed robberies in London that year compared with 20 in 1957 and that there were another 14 cases in 1958 in which burglars appeared to have carried firearms, but could not be proved to have done so.
The 50-fold increase in the use of firearms in the past 30 years—
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
My hon. Friend makes a serious point, but it is a tribute to the police, as I am sure he would agree, that weapons were fired by police officers on only two occasions in 1988.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
I support my hon. Friend's observation. The police response to the enormous increase in the use of firearms by professional criminals has been immensely restrained and they have shown great courage, as well as great restraint, in the face of that increase.
I believe that the increase has been brought about largely by the abolition of the death penalty. While that penalty existed, professional criminals did not carry or use firearms. Now, they carry firearms and are clearly prepared to use them to avoid arrest.
There has been an immense increase in serious violence and in casual violence. However, I note the astonishing fact that in the past 30 years, the streets of London have become safer for the ordinary citizen. The increase in casual violence has been matched—indeed overtaken—by a spectacular decline in the number of people killed or injured in traffic accidents in London. In 1958, a total of 765 people were killed in traffic accidents on London's roads; in 1988 that figure had dropped to 488—a decline of 277 deaths. That reduction almost exactly equals the number of people killed in the Lockerbie and Clapham 1244 disasters. In the same 30 years, the number of people seriously injured in traffic accidents on London's roads has declined by some 2,000. I know that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) who, largely constructively, opened the debate for the Opposition, takes a keen personal interest in traffic safety.
All that has happened despite, or perhaps because of, the huge increase in traffic in the metropolis. As the traffic grinds to a halt, at times it becomes increasingly difficult for a motorist to build up enough speed to squash a cyclist or pedestrian. However, two Acts passed by the House in the past 30 years have contributed notably to the decline in death and injury on our roads. The first was the breathalyser Act, which has always been associated with Barbara Castle, and the second was the seat belt Act, which has also saved a great many lives and limbs.
The North report on road traffic law reform proposes to make it much easier for the police to use speed radar cameras to trap speeding offenders and drivers who tend to ignore traffic lights. I hope that in the next Session there will be no delay in presenting and passing a Bill based on that important report. I hope that the commissioner is already making plans to use those new devices as soon as he has the power to do so. If that is done, there may well be a further substantial cut in London's road toll.
Traffic congestion is also important. Too many times during the past year London has nearly come to a grinding halt when added pressure is put on our roads by strikes, demonstrations or just plain, ordinary bad weather. That problem has not been helped by the fact that the traffic warden force, controlled by the commissioner, has declined by 100 in the past year and is now 25 per cent. under strength. One of the reasons whey we do not have sufficient traffic wardens is the long-standing and unresolved argument about whether traffic wardens should be controlled by the police or by the London boroughs. If we are to resolve the traffic problems in central London, we shall have to have a sensible city wide parking policy. I believe that the control of traffic wardens in inner London must remain with the commissioner. In outer London, there is a strong case for giving additional powers to the London boroughs, but I am convinced that in inner London the commissioner must retain control.
The Treasury must agree that the money raised through fines and traffic penalties should be put back into the traffic warden force so that it can recruit adequate numbers and offer adequate pay. If we are to unclog London's traffic arteries, we must be prepared to concentrate London's traffic wardens on our main roads. I and a substantial number of Members of Parliament who represent London constituencies, particularly those who represent south London constituencies, believe that certain main roads should be classified as "red routes" and should be subjected to much higher parking penalties and much stricter enforcement. The fines should be five times heavier than normal and there should be five times the volume of enforcement so that illegal parkers on a red route would know that there was a high risk of being caught.
One of the most congested routes in London is the south circular road. The Department of Transport has commissioned a firm of consultants to produce a variety of plans for easing congestion on the south circular. Two of the proposals put forward by the consultants involve building new highways through part of my constituency. 1245 The cost of those new highways, if either plan were adopted, could run into hundreds of millions of pounds and the dislocation would be immense.
§ Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)
Does my hon. Friend agree that not only the cost to the taxpayer, but the cost to the environment and the political cost must be taken into account?
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Some of my constituents had their homes blighted by those unnecessary schemes. I hope that the Department of Transport will soon announce that those plans will be dropped, but I also hope that parking restrictions on the south circular will be enforced.
On a Friday afternoon some weeks ago, I drove six miles from the edge of my constituency to Wandsworth bridge along the south circular road. In those six miles I saw 143 illegally parked vehicles and not a single traffic warden. It makes no sense to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on new roads to relieve congestion on a highway which is used as an illegal parking lot. London's traffic problems can be made a great deal easier if Ministers take the essential first step of making up their minds about the control of traffic wardens and if they can persuade the Treasury to recycle the money raised through traffic penalties into providing an adequate force of traffic wardens.
Finally, I note that the debate has been particularly ill-attended. Apart from the Ministers, the Whips and the PPS, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North, who made such a notable speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) who has such a powerful voice in the Police Federation, and my hon. Friends the Members for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and for Faversham (Mr. Moate), hardly anyone has been present. I welcome the scant attendance in some ways because it shows that there is considerable satisfaction on the Government Benches about the way in which the commissioner is carrying out his duties. On the other hand, I noted that, apart from the hon. Members for Southwark and Bermondsey and for Huddersfield, who opened for the Opposition, the only other Back Bench Member present during the first half hour of the Minister's speech was the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng). I, as a citizen, am glad because that must mean that the London Labour party's assault on the Metropolitan police, which has had such a rancid effect in recent years, has come largely to an end.
As a politician, I must say that I regret that, because I believe that the anti-police antics of the London Labour party over the past years have played notably into our hands in terms of public support.
§ 12.1 pm
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I freely admit that I was one of those Members who were not present at the start of the debate. I was negotiating my way on my bicycle through London traffic. That should appeal to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), if nothing 1246 else. I thought that is was a disgusting place through which to cycle with all the dirt, danger, pollution and the abuse that one receives from motorists for having the temerity to ride a bicycle through London. I shall be returning to that subject later. Unfortunately, the Home Secretary has just left the Chamber. It must have been something that I said—unless he has gone to sort out the traffic problems of London.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, when the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), who ended his speech on a highly contentious and misleading note, chose not to. My hon. Friend will have noticed that the hon. Gentleman drew the conclusion that large numbers of his colleagues were not here because they were wholly satisfied with the performance of the Metropolitan police, but he did not appear to believe that that might be the reason for the absence of Opposition Members. If, however, he had drawn such a conclusion, I would not have agreed with it. Many hon. Members do not come here for the simple reason that it is, frankly, a charade and a farce if we are trying to suggest that this is the way we hold the Metropolitan police accountable to the people of London through their Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. What he said was important and timely. The Opposition are as concerned as everyone else about the levels of crime. Crimes, such as street crime, harassment, violence, burglary, robbery and rape, happen not only in London, but in the communities that we all represent and in which we live. We have no interest in seeing high crime rates in London or dangers to people walking legitimately round the streets at night, but we want to see an effective police force that combats those problems in our communities. The idea that somehow we are anti the Metropolitan police and in favour of high crime rates is ridiculous and rubbish. Every year during the police debate we get the same kind of tirade from Conservative Members suggesting that we do not care about the problems in our communities.
I say sincerely to the House that my constituency suffers as much as any hon. Member's—probably more than most—from all kinds of inner-city problems and multiple deprivation, which are so often spoken about in the House. We have no interest in doing anything other than eradicating crime, making the streets, estates and playgrounds safe and our communities clean and decent places in which to live. That is what I, my local authority and our discussions with the police are committed to doing.
I want to open my speech by putting on public record my deep thanks to officers from Hornsey road police station of the Holloway division for the great bravery and courage that they showed last week, with representatives of the London fire service, when there was a terrible fire in a council flat on the Andover estate. A police car was driving by, and the two police officers saw the fire and ran into the house. They were burnt in the process and were unable to get two of the small children out. The fire service eventually went in and brought out the bodies of two children aged three and two. I attended their funerals yesterday, together with those police officers. The Andover tenants' association is shocked and horrified by the incident—as we all are—and arranged a local collection to 1247 help the family of the dead children. It wanted me to put on record my thanks to the local police for all that they did in that terrible incident. That incident has cast a pall and a blight on the entire community. It was absolutely devastated by the deaths of those children. To attend the funeral of small children is very distressing for everybody and I was grateful to the police for attending and so, too, were the family concerned. I readily put that on the record because we should be appreciative of what the police have done.
I have recieved—as presumably other hon. Members have—the local divisional reports of police station areas. I have been carefully reading through the report from the Holloway division about the area covered by the Hornsey road station. Clearly, it is situated in a mixed area with multiple problems. Many of the problems that Members of Parliament, local councils and the police have to face are not of our making, but are imposed upon us. The vast amounts of traffic flowing through my constituency are something over which the police and councils have no power, yet they are expected to solve the problems created. Likewise, Highbury stadium is in my constituency. Every fortnight during the football season it has an enormous attendance—as one would expect for the club that has just won the league championship. Obviously difficult policing decisions must be made in policing that stadium. It must be said that there has been little trouble outside Highbury stadium—apart from at the Millwall game last year—which is to the credit of many people. However, considerable disruption is caused by the presence of the stadium in my constituency.
The introduction of a membership identity card scheme will do nothing to improve the situation, but will create far more problems as everyone living around, or working near the stadium, or supporting Arsenal, knows. That is why they are so adamantly opposed to the membership scheme. I should have thought that Conservative Members, especially those representing the interests of the Police Federation, would at least recognise that the Police Federation also feels—I understand so, too, do the police generally—that the introduction of that scheme will not solve the problems of crowd violence, but will merely push those problems on to the street. I hope that those of us who represent constituencies with major stadiums in them will be recognised as having a legitimate interest in the matter and as understanding the problems.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
My hon. Friend will know that the Police Federation is strongly opposed to the football ID scheme. Does my hon. Friend have any idea of how the federation's representative in the House voted on that scheme.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I have examined the Official Report and I discovered that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) voted according to his party Whip for the introduction of the scheme, against the express wishes of the Police Federation.
§ Mr. Shersby
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I did not vote for the Bill against the express wishes of the Police Federation. On the contrary, I voted for it because the Police Federation, being a responsible organisation, recognises that there is a need for such a scheme. At the same time, however, it has also said that it does not believe that the scheme likely to emerge as a result of the deliberations of the Football Membership Authority will 1248 necessarily control the problem of violence outside the ground. The hon. Gentleman made that point and it is a fair one. He should, however, take careful note of the points I made in my speech when I said that the Police Federation recognises the need for a scheme and the contribution that it could make, but that it believes it is vital for it to have an opportunity to make an input before the FMA produces the scheme. If the hon. Gentleman reads my remarks in Hansard he will know that I made it clear that unless the intended scheme was one which could command the support of the Police Federation I would vote against it when it comes before the House later this year.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I have noted carefully what the hon. Gentleman has just said and what he said a few days ago and I believe that he is trying to have it both ways. It is clear to me that the Police Federation is against the existing scheme, but the hon. Gentleman voted for it. It is up to him to sort out his relationship with the Police Federation, but we should remember that the lion. Gentleman voted for the introduction of the identity card scheme as proposed by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
My hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) have already drawn attention to the problems associated with this debate and with the accountability of the local police forces. We have had the usual tirade from the Home Secretary who claimed that London boroughs are doing nothing to consult the police, nor are they working with them locally. He knows that that is not true and that it is a lot of nonsense. If we had an effective local evening newspaper in London that was prepared to report what was going on locally instead of reporting whatever the Tory party says, it would be obvious that, in every London borough, there is some form of co-operation and consultation with the police by the local communities. That co-operation varies from borough to borough.
The Home Secretary must be aware, however, that each year the London boroughs feel a sense of frustration when they are landed with the responsibility of collecting a great deal of money to pay for the Metropolitan police without any say in how that money is spent or how the police service is administered in London. We are told by the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) that what passes for accountability is the fact that, in 1828 when the London police force was originally established, its importance was such that it was put under the control of Parliament because it was thought to be the least corrupt body at that time and was capable of setting up that police force. It was not right then to have no elected local government in London and nor is it right not to have an elected authority in London now. That elected authority should be returned to London and it should include an elected police authority.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
My hon. Friend should bear in mind that there is one police authority in London, the City of London, which is one of the 33 London boroughs. Why does the City of London have responsibility over its police force, which the other boroughs do not?
§ Mr. Corbyn
I should imagine that it is because of the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the City of London and because it is a Tory-run authority. Responsibility for the police in the remainder of London rests with the Home 1249 Secretary who represents Oxfordshire. It is not good enough to describe that as accountability. We are on a motion to adjourn the House because we happen to be talking about the police.
We are told that the Public Accounts Committee may peruse the accounts of the Metropolitan police. It can produce a report, rebuttal and critique of those accounts, but it cannot force any change of strategy or direction. The Met is not democratically accountable. All we have is the Home Secretary, as the police authority for London, being good enough to come to the House of Commons to discuss the police. He has personal control of more than £1 billion expenditure of public money. That is not a satisfactory form of accountability of the police force. The Metropolitan police must recognise that, because of the amount of money that they have spent on public relations, on the Wolff Olins report and on other matters of legitimate and genuine concern. When the Minister replies I hope that he will take note of what has been said and of disturbing matters relating to the administration of the police.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred to freemasonry within the police force which was mentioned last year. I have read the statements made by the commissioner and by the Home Secretary and one way or another they do not support police officer membership of freemason lodges. They have not, however, eradicated freemasonry from the police force. Membership of a freemason lodge is incompatible with membership of the police force. The Minister should make it absolutely clear that police officers in London should no longer be freemasons. He can do that as he has direct control over the police force in London.
I am concerned about racial harassment and the reporting thereof to the police. The 1985–86 Home Affairs Select Committee report, "Racial Attacks and Harassment", made the following recommendations:1. All police forces covering areas with appreciable ethnic minorities should make clear that tackling racial incidents is regarded a one of their priority tasks …3. Specific instruction concerning racial incidents should be included in police training courses …6. Police forces should make it their practice always to keep victims of racial incidents informed of subsequent action".I have read the statistics that have been prepared and submitted by the police on this matter and it is disturbing to discover that there has been an increase in the reporting of racial incidents. The difficulty is what definition is given to that racial incident when someone arrives at a police station to report it.
As I understand it, under the terms of the force order, when a victim arrives at a police station and informs the police that he believes himself to be a victim of a racially motivated assault it must be recorded as such. I wonder whether every police station is fully informed of that practice, as I believe that there is a great amount of under-reporting of racially motivated incidents. I take that matter seriously and I hope that my concern is shared by the police force.
In area 1 of the Metropolitan police, which includes my local police force, there were 334 reported racial incidents in 1987; in 1988 that figure had risen to 356. I have no way of telling whether there are many more incidents that go unreported, but I suspect that there are and I suspect that 1250 that is the case in all parts of London. I hope that the Minister will give the assurance that a clear instruction will be issued to every police station to make it specific that a person reporting a racially motivated incident should have it reported as such. If that does not happen we will have no idea of the size of the problem.
In the Islington divisions of the Met 101 racial incidents were reported last year, but they resulted in only four arrests and 33 cases were cleared up. It is clear, therefore, that many cases are unresolved and the same pattern emerges from an examination of the statistics for London as a whole. I hope that the Minister will deal with this problem in the way intended by the Home Affairs Committee and I hope that he will ensure that such matters are followed up.
I am concerned that little progress has been made on the implementation of the domestic violence force order. Local police forces are reluctant to become involved when women report that they are being subjected to domestic violence. The police usually say, "That is a family or domestic matter." Under the calm surface of complacency, the most appalling domestic violence is occurring. To whom are the women who are the victims of domestic violence to turn? If there is a women's refuge in their community, clearly they can go there or get in touch with it. However, there are not women's refuges in every community. Many of them are over-stretched, overburdened and unable to cope with the demands placed on them. If the police show a lack of sympathy, the plight of victims is made worse, more desperate, more dangerous and isolated.
It is difficult for men to understand the fear that many women experience when they suffer from domestic violence. The problem requires the clearest instruction and training of police officers to deal with first inquiries, in addition to counselling and follow up. If the first inquiry is not dealt with helpfully or sympathetically, the woman might ring off and not further pursue the matter. I hope that the Home Secretary will ensure that there is an improvement in the take-up of training to deal with domestic violence. I understand that only 5 per cent. of Metropolitan police officers have been trained to deal with sexual offences, which is a low figure.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to learn that 1,556 officers have been trained in sexual offences investigation techniques.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I am pleased to learn that that number of officers have been so trained, but clearly that is a small proportion of the total number of police officers in London. I am sure that the Minister will understand that greater emphasis should be placed on such training in normal police training courses, not only in special training courses.
The hon. Member for Beckenham mentioned traffic-related offences in London. It is obvious that traffic in London is rapidly grinding to a halt because of the inadequacy of public transport, the promotion of private commuter motoring in and out of London, which blocks roads, and because of the lack of enforcement of the lorry ban and other traffic regulations.
§ Mr. Cohen
My hon. Friend mentioned the lack of enforcement of the lorry ban in London. When I and other Labour Members asked the commissioner about the police not enforcing the lorry ban, he said that the difficulty is the 1251 lack of proper road signs restricting lorries passing through residential areas at night. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Department of Transport has just issued a glossy leaflet—as it would, spending much public money—on new signs for motorists. I asked whether signs would be upgraded to enforce the Londonwide ban, and it said no. Is it not a public scandal that it has refused to take the opportunity to improve road signing so that we can have a proper lorry ban that the police can enforce?
§ Mr. Corbyn
The police did not agree with those who campaigned for the Londonwide lorry ban. They said that it would be hard to implement and pointed out all the difficulties that they foresaw. We succeeded in getting a partial lorry ban throughout London, but I see little evidence of the police enforcing it. We require the strictest possible enforcement of the ban, because it is not good enough to have 25 to 40-tonne trucks driving through London causing danger and pollution. At the heart of the problem is the profits of operators being put before the interests of London residents. I hope that the Minister will recognise that the police could contribute to the safety of Londoners by strictly enforcing the lorry ban and by absolutely strict enforcement of the bus priority measures that have been introduced. In many areas, cars are not removed from bus lanes when they should be. Any bus that is held up means that between 40 and 60 people are delayed, whereas if a car is held up only one person is delayed for a few minutes. Public transport should be the priority rather than the commuter motorist.
There is the further question of the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. The amount of traffic in London is making life more dangerous for them. I hope that the police will ensure that they protect them and strictly enforce the lorry ban.
Yet again, we are having a debate on the police force in London, which is an unsatisfactory way of dealing with police matters in London. It will fall to a Labour Government to introduce a democratically elected authority for London, so that its people can put forward their views on their city and the police direction that they want, instead of the nonsense of an annual debate without a vote or detailed perusal of estimates.
I find the commissioner's report interesting, but it lacks detailed statistical evidence. Such evidence does not appear to be available from the Vote Office. I do not know what has happened to it, but it is unsatisfactory to have a debate without the necessary information and the power radically to change anything put forward by the commissioner or the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
In contributing to the debate, I should declare an interest of which hon. Members are aware. I am parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation.
As my constituency is within the Metropolitan police area, I have a special interest in everything that happens within the Metropolitan police. Although Uxbridge is situated in the county of Middlesex, it falls within the London borough of Hillingdon. I hope that, with the demise of Greater London, we shall one day revert to the Middlesex borough of Hillingdon rather than the London borough of Hillingdon, which seems to be something of a misnomer.
Uxbridge is proud to be policed by the Metropolitan police, which is the largest of the 43 forces of England and 1252 Wales. We are particularly lucky to have one of the newest police stations, which was built and opened before I took up my appointment as parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation.
I welcome the debate, which on the whole has been good, but I am sorry that we were given only a week's notice of it. I suggest to the Government's business managers, who I hope will pick up this point, that longer notice should be given of these debates. When the allocation of private Members' time is being considered, perhaps notice could be given of when these debates will take place so that we have a much better turnout of London Members.
Many of the hon. Members who are absent do not lack interest in the police. I am sure that they have other pressing constituency engagements that they could not avoid.
As Members, we are fortunate in that every day we come into contact with officers of the Metropolitan police who serve in the Houses of Parliament. I pay tribute to them for the unique job that they do for all the people in the Metropolitan police area. Despite the many difficulties that they encounter daily, they have just cause to be proud of the achievements of the force during the past year. For example, there appears to be a downward trend in offences against property in London, especially burglary and car theft. There is no cause to be complacent because much progress must still be made. That trend is due, in part, to good policing, including the encouragement given by the Metropolitan police to citizens to protect their homes better. It is due also to the tremendous success of neighbourhood watch schemes throughout the Metropolitan police area. There is no doubt that there is a better clear-up rate, which is very encouraging.
On the other side, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, there has been a worrying increase in crimes of violence against the person and reported sexual offences. Regrettably, this trend seems to be evident not only in London but in most of the capital cities of western Europe and North America. Some hon. Members have suggested that it may be highlighted by the greater willingness of women to report such assaults, and there is quite a lot in that. There is no doubt that women are now much more willing to report those assaults, which helps the police in dealing with this particularly horrible crime.
As the crime figures have been debated at some length and are well known to hon. Members, I shall tell the House about some of the problems of policing London as seen through the eyes of the Metropolitan police officers who are members of the Police Federation. One of the main problems that concerns the Met is the wastage of trained officers who wish to transfer to other forces. The Met loses about one third of its recruits during the first two years of service. It has been calculated that it takes seven years to recoup the cost of training a constable.
As London Members, we all know that living in or around London is expensive. The attractions of transferring to other forces in pleasant country areas are self-evident. That is why the London allowance introduced as part of the Edmund Davies formula was so important. It was intended to attract and retain recruits to the Metropolitan police. Although police pay over the past decade or so has increased in accordance with the Edmund Davies formula, there has been no increase in the London allowance for about seven years. That matter has been raised with me by officers of the Police Federation.
1253 The forthcoming change in the rent allowance will have a significant effect on the living standards of Met officers, depending on where they live. Another big problem that the Met, and indeed every public service faces is the demographic downturn. The shortage of young people available to join in the coming decade could result in the force experiencing serious recruitment and manpower problems, as it did during the 1960s and early 1970s. We must all take account of that. It affects the police service, the National Health Service, industry and commerce alike. Great ingenuity must be deployed in dealing with that problem until more young people are available to serve in those important public services. For those and many other reasons, it is vital to maintain the Edmund Davies formula for pay, including a realistic London allowance and London weighting, if the Met is to get the manpower and womanpower that it needs.
Accommodation is another important issue. I should like to comment on some items in the report of the National Audit Office. I am in some difficulty in doing so because, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, with my colleagues I will be taking evidence on the report on Monday next. In a way, it is a pity that this debate has taken place before the PAC has taken its evidence. However, the report exists and it is proper that I should comment on it.
Paragraph 1.42 of the National Audit Office report states:The National Audit Office noted that in the period 1980–87, the vacancy levels in married quarters often exceeded 15 per cent., with a peak of 26 per cent. in 1984. Vacancies in section houses show a similar pattern; actual vacancies have at times risen to double the targeted figure of 250. As at February 1988, 482 married quarters out of 3,059–16 per cent.—and 864 section house rooms out of 3,331–26 per cent.—were unoccupied.That is serious and the Public Accounts Committee will undoubtedly want to consider it next Monday.
The need to provide housing for married and single officers arose originally from the powers of chief constables to require their officers to live in the areas that they serve to ensure rapid deployment. Operational necessity meant that officers were expected and sometimes compelled to live in police accommodation. However, better transport and communications and the general trend towards home ownership have led to the Metropolitan police gradually relaxing their requirements for officers to live close to their place of duty.
Nevertheless, the Met believes that the residential estate continues to offer a number of benefits. Those benefits are highlighted in the NAO report and include the easing of recruitment problems in high-cost housing areas; helping to retain young married officers; enabling some officers to live close to their work; and, finally, helping to resolve welfare problems.
The condition of the residential estate, as highlighted in the NAO report, is very important. I hope that the PAC will investigate that matter closely. The NAO report states:There was very little co-ordinated management information about the condition of the residential estate as a whole. There had been only limited surveys since the late 1970s, other than for section houses … the current high level of vacant properties cannot be re-let until maintenance and decoration have been completed".1254 Although the figures in the NAO report may be a little overstated because they include section houses that are undergoing major amelioration as well as those allocated to recruits for passing out, I believe that they are still too high. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Met will consider that problem promptly. Those very valuable quarters, whether for single or married officers, must be put to good use if we are to recruit and retain the police officers we need, particularly to work in central London.
As paragraph 2.12 of the NAO report makes clear, there is no formal strategy on the future need for and uses of headquarters accommodation. That causes me considerable concern. Paragraphs 2.22 and 2.23 of the NAO report make it clear that although attempts have been made by employing consultants to overcome the short-term difficulties, the consultants recently completed the condition survey of the operational estate at a cost of £168,875, but that did not produce significant results. No doubt it will become apparent when the PAC reports in due course that the Met must take urgent action to deal with the problem. The Wolff Olins report makes a good point about presentation. It states:The physical identity of the Met emerges through its buildings, vehicles, the uniforms and equipment used by its officers and so on.The report goes on to mention the rundown state of many police stations. It states:The physical state of many police stations is run down. Public areas such as receptions, waiting rooms and so on, look neglected. There exists what we have described elsewhere as a 'sellotape culture' in which notices and signs are stuck up at random. All this contributes to an atmosphere of shabby confusion.It goes on in a similar vein.
One of the most important pieces of information to emerge from the National Audit Office report is the state of police stations in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) has already referred to that. I draw the attention of hon. Members to table 2 on page 12 of the report, which makes the point that, today, 62 police stations are classed as vulnerable and 40 are classed as irrecoverable. The report clearly illustrates that 36 of the 62 vulnerable stations were built pre-1914, and that 39 of the irrecoverable stations were built pre-1914. We know that not all London police stations were purpose-built. Many of them were acquired at one time or another and had originally been designed for a quite different purpose.
The National Audit Office makes it clear that the maintenance budgets that are vital for keeping police stations in good condition have been directly raided to finance extra pay commitments. That is quite wrong. I realise that the Home Secretary has his annual problems in funding police pay awards and that difficult discussions take place with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers, but surely it is wrong to raid the maintenance budget to finance pay awards. I hope that that will not happen again, because it has contributed to the run-down state of London's police stations.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
We have just opened a police shop in Newham. What does the hon. Gentleman think about having a police presence within the community, but not necessarily in purpose-built police stations? Whatever else one says about them, police stations are expensive to 1255 construct. There are other ways of providing a visible police presence in a consumer-friendly way, and police shops might be one of them.
§ Mr. Shersby
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. It is an interesting concept. I am not familiar with police shops, but I will make it my business to examine how they operate. They could point the way to more flexibility in the future.
I now refer to the size of the land bank that is presently owned by the Metropolitan police. In 1988, the Metropolitan police estimated the market value of their 29 sites at about £22 million. In some cases there have been no clear aims and objectives about the way in which such sites should be used. I do not want to pre-empt anything that the PAC may do on Monday, so I shall say nothing more about that matter. However, if, in future, the Met could make much better use of its assets, more money could he redeployed to provide better facilities and services for the force. I am encouraged to know that the Home Secretary has confirmed that new capital controls will be introduced with effect from 1 April 1990 that will provide an incentive to dispose of surplus assets by allowing free use of a specified proportion of receipts. That is a major step forward and I congratulate the Home Secretary on it. We all know from our experience of public life that there is little incentive to make better use of assets. The money goes into the common pot and those making the savings see little benefit from them. I hope that we can look forward to a completely different system.
I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) that the commissioner's report is excellent. It deals, among other matters, with traffic. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) I am concerned that the strength of the traffic warden service declined in 1988 by almost 100 to 1,444. In addition, the reduction in the traffic division, which was carried out by a previous commissioner, is seen by many members of the Police Federation as reducing the Met's ability to combat traffic congestion.
In Uxbridge, which is in what some describe as outer London but should be described as being in the county of Middlesex, there are more cars per family than in any other London borough, and the need for traffic management schemes is urgent. When my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary replies to the debate, I hope that he will be able to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham and I when the Home Office working party will report. I have been tabling parliamentary questions for the past year or so trying to obtain some information about what will be done.
I understand that primary legislation is needed if local authorities are to be able to employ traffic wardens and use the income from fines to finance more off-street parking. The need for that in outer London areas such as Beckenham and Uxbridge—p[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) makes the point that this also affects his constituency, and I am sure that it affects all of outer London. Action is urgently needed in all these areas.
It must be possible for local authorities to employ traffic wardens so that the chaos which becomes more evident as the weeks go by, can be dealt with. We must give some relief to the people who live in residential streets where parked cars make it almost impossible for municipal services to travel into and out of the streets.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I entirely concur with the hon. Gentleman's point. He demonstrates that there is concern on both sides of the House. I ask him to place it on record —it is important for a Conservative Member to do so—that if borough councils become responsible for the warden schemes, they must have the resources to carry out their responsibilities efficiently and effectively. The Government frequently give more responsibility and place more duty on local authorities while at the same time taking more and more resources away from them.
§ Mr. Shersby
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. My local authority's view is that the operation could be financed from the proceeds of fines. However, it can do so only if the legislative changes to which I have referred take place. I hope that the Home Office will announce its decision before the recess because there is great agitation about this in London.
I shall refer to the sensitive and delicate issue of public order and the difficulties experienced by the Metropolitan police when handling the recent marches in opposition to the publication of "The Satanic Verses". A number of Metropolitan police officers are worried about what constitutes reasonable force when handling such a difficult matter. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will pay tribute to the way in which the Metropolitan police handled the incidents in its area, and I am equally sure that the Home Secretary will take account of the concern that exists.
The Home Secretary referred to the recruitment of specials. I should like to make it clear to him that the Police Federation is not opposed to specials; it believes that they have a role to play helping officers of the regular force, as they have done for many years. The federation does not believe that they can take over from the regular force, nor has the Home Secretary suggested that they should. The federation is worried, as my right hon. Friend knows, about the proliferation of private police forces in docks around the country, set up under the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847, under which specials can be sworn in to replace regular officers. I am grateful for the way in which my right hon. Friend listened to the federation's views on this matter and for the steps that he has taken to consult the Secretary of State for Transport on whether we need to continue creating such private forces under a Victorian Act that was never intended for that purpose.
Hon. Members have referred to the need for private security forces to be regulated. As I understand it, Government policy so far has been to rely on self-regulation by those forces, but that will need to be kept under observation—to use the favourite buzz word, we shall need to monitor the position. In shopping malls in many towns there are now private security guards who deny access to people who want to go about their usual business, and that sometimes causes anxiety. In the recent European election campaign it was made clear that the candidates were not welcome in a shopping mall which I know. That raises questions that concern us all, and the matter needs careful and sensitive treatment.
I want to put down a marker about the policing of our streets. Many hon. Members on both sides will share my firm belief that the streets should be policed by the regular officers of the police forces throughout the United Kingdom. I do not want private gated streets policed by 1257 private police forces. I know that the Adam Smith Institute has advocated that, but it finds no support from me.
Another matter important to every London Member is the policing of the London Underground. I pay tribute to the 80 or so Metropolitan police officers who have been seconded to help the British Transport police in this difficult task, and I welcome the support that the Metropolitan police have given. It has reassured Londoners, and I hope that, if it proves necessary to strengthen the British Transport police in the future, that need will be accommodated in the overal policing structure of London. British Transport police play a valuable role and it may be necessary at some stage to supplement their ranks.
There has been some comment in the debate on racial incidents and attacks. I was glad that the commissioner's report referred to them. There has been an increase in such cases, but of less than 2 per cent. since 1987.
I did not read only the commissioner's report; I had a look at the report on the policing of Uxbridge that was recently sent to me. In 1987, 17 racial incidents were reported, and 22 have been reported this year. Resulting from the 22 complaints, 14 people have been identified as suspects. There has been some difficulty gathering enough evidence to start prosecutions, and in other cases the victims have refused to prosecute. In eight of the incidents the suspects were not known or traced.
Not all coppers in London are brutal, racist and corrupt. They handle racial attacks very well and with great sensitivity and they should have the support of the House for the way in which they tackle those matters.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
That is a generalised statement. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the position in Uxbridge is markedly different from that in Newham. Although, according to the report, there has been only a 2 per cent. increase, that statistic masks the enormous upsurge in some areas of London—specifically, the east end—so the hon. Gentleman must be careful with it.
§ Mr. Shersby
One of the good features of a debate such as this is that one is constantly reminded of the great diversity in the population of London. I accept that there is a great difference between the hon. Gentleman's constituency and mine, but the police have made a significant contribution to dealing with this problem.
We have heard today about the community police consultative groups, one of which is in the borough of Hillingdon, in my constituency. The police in my area have drawn to my attention the difficulty in attracting young people to serve on those groups. I hope that the Home Office and the Met can do more to encourage young people to come forward so that they are constantly in touch with what is going on at local level.
I particularly welcome the paragraph in the commissioner's report dealing with victim care. I see that the force made over 100,000 referrals to victim support schemes in the past year. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will remember, because I recall his being in the Chamber when this matter was debated, that only a year ago we were pressing my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for financial assistance to make such schemes possible. They give great comfort to those who 1258 have the misfortune to suffer sometimes violent attacks and who are cared for and counselled by those who work on the schemes.
I must also mention the courts and the work that the London magistrates do in complementing the Metropolitan police in the policing of our capital city. The magistrates' courts around London are experiencing serious difficulties because of the shortage of court clerks. I have raised this matter in two Adjournment debates, one in 1972 and another this year. The problem can be tackled only if my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary can persuade my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make available additional resources for the recruitment, training and retention of good court clerks. If that does not happen, courts will be closed because they cannot function properly and that will make the policing of London more difficult.
I welcome the good relations between the Police Federation and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his officials. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has shown his willingness to meet officers and the federation in Surbiton soon. I pay tribute to Sir Peter Imbert and his colleagues and all the officers of the Metropolitan police for the excellent job that they do for all Londoners. We are proud of them.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I start where the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) left off, by paying tribute to Sir Peter Imbert. I am the chairman of the London group of Labour Members of Parliament and our useful meetings with the commissioner have shown him to be courteous, co-operative and constructive. However, our complaint is that they are not frequent enough. Although the relationship between Members of Parliament and the commissioner and senior police officers is all that one would expect, unfortunately that cannot be said as one works through the ranks and sees the breakdown of relationships between our constituents and police officers, both on the beat and in the station. I am glad that we have a good relationship with Sir Peter, but I am far more concerned about the relationship between my constituents and other Londoners and the ordinary police officers. Much needs to be done to improve that relationship.
I thank the Home Secretary for his meetings with us. At least he meets us, and, although there is no great meetings of minds, we have useful exchanges.
A number of hon. Members have complained about the absence of their colleagues. I shall certainly be sending a note to my Members in the London group pointing out that I should have expected to see rather more of them. [Interruption.] I cannot be responsible for Conservative Members, who are not here either but, unlike Conservative Members, I do not want to make cheap party-political points. I shall save those for later.
Many hon. Members do not regard our debates on policing London as quite the useful occasions that they ought to be. There is no great exchange of views hut, merely a series of speeches. We have had an opener from the Home Secretary, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will do some fielding and no doubt introduce his own bit of party-political venom, as he always does. There will be a lot of heat but not a great deal of light.
1259 That is not the way to achieve accountability or a proper working relationship between Members of Parliament and the Metropolitan police. The Opposition want accountable police authorities set up in London on which elected members—MPs and local councilors—can debate and discuss and set police priorities on behalf of those whom they represent. We do not want them to control the day-to-day operations of the Metropolitan police—that is one of the grotesque caricatures that Conservative Members have drawn of our proposals for the public accountability of the police in London. We want to set police priorities, to serve the community and to allow the community through its elected representatives—with the ballot box as the arbiter—to decide exactly what should be done.
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is contributing to a long-standing debate. He must understand that his proposal—that elected authori-ties should set priorities for the police—goes well beyond anything in the Police Act 1964 and well beyond the powers available to police authorities outside the capital. The hon. Gentleman seems to advocate entrusting to local authorites-to police authorities or politicians—the setting of priorities, as between public order and the policing of the right to work, for example. That amounts to domination by politicians of the operational priorities of the police, and that is a proposition that we must contest.
§ Mr. Banks
I know that there will be no agreement between us on that point. The law will be there to be enforced by the police, no matter what the law happens to be. Of course the law will be much more enlightened under a Labour Government than it is under the Conservative Administration, whose divisive, controversial and essentially anti-union laws project the police into political situations. That is one highly contentious matter. Under a Labour Government those divisive laws will not be there to put the police into situations in which they cannot win. I do not like to use this expression, because I am a vegetarian, but at present the police are very much the meat in the sandwich. They do not like that, and no responsible politican would want to impose that burden on them.
There is no reason why we should be frightened of police accountability and the setting of police priorities. The police are there to serve the community and they must be directly answerable to the community. They are not a law unto themselves. One of our great problems—especially with the Metropolitan police—is that they so often seem to be, and act as though they are, a law unto themselves. That is not acceptable to Londoners and it should not be acceptable to Members of Parliament.
The knee-jerk reaction from Conservative Members is that all police officers are wonderful and that there should be no hint of criticism. If Opposition Members say anything even mildly critical, however constructive, we are denounced as being anti-police. That grotesque caricature of our position does not serve the interests of democracy or policing.
I want the police to support the community and to have the support of the community, which is essential. I challenge any Conservative Member who talks about Labour being anti-police, because we are not. We are far more pro-police than Conservative Members are. We 1260 would give the police the necessary resources to carry out the policing priorities that we set. We are pro-police because the constituencies we represent in London are largely the areas of the greatest social and economic deprivation. We have far more of the problems on the streets, so we suport the police, but we want to ensure that the police support us.
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me why, if his party is so pro-police, several Labour-controlled local authorities do not co-operate with neighbourhood watch schemes and do not encourage the police to talk to school children?
§ Mr. Banks
If the hon. Gentleman had been here a little earlier he would have heard some of those points made. Since he makes the same tedious point, which is based far more on his imagination than the truth, I must point out to him that the experience around London of the relationships between the boroughs and the local police differs markedly. Some boroughs have good working relationships whereas others do not. However, the political complexion of the boroughs where there are good relationships can be identical with those where there are bad relationships. It is not a matter of Left and Right, but of the way the police operate. The hon. Gentleman always presents the matter as if it were the fault of councillors and as if they were anti-police. He knows little about the relationships between the local authorities and the police in certain areas of London where relationships have regrettably broken down. It takes two to tango Those democratically elected local authorities have taken decisions on their experiences. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is speaking, as ever, far more from ignorance than knowledge. I will give way to a knowledgeable Member.
§ Mr. Cohen
My hon. Friend makes the case for accountability. The Home Secretary has now left the Chamber. As well as being scathing about Labour's policy for improved public accountability for the police, he claimed that Labour wanted to interfere with the operational requirements of the police. Will my hon. Friend confirm that that is no part of Labour policy?
The Home Secretary also implied that Conservatives do not interfere with the operational aspects of policing. Will my hon. Friend cast his mind back to the miners' strike, when we saw the police suddenly adopt a range of powers that they had not used for years, including harassing people collecting for the strikers? Was that not Conservative interference with the operational aspects of policing?
§ Mr. Banks
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I made the point earlier that through certain pieces of legislation the Government have put the police into a high profile political position. I might add that some police officers have applied themselves to the task with far more enthusiasm than is seemly. They should beware. If they are seen to be over-enthusiastic in the way they apply partisan and divisive legislation, they will further erode the confidence of Londoners in their ability to act impartially, as they should, to enforce the law. However, police officers would do far better to say on certain areas of law that for them to enforce such a law would only lead to more trouble than letting that law go by. I expect police officers 1261 to be able to make such judgments to the Home Secretary, but I suspect that if some did so, the Home Secretary would denounce them as being political.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Earlier, the Home Secretary said that he had a hands-off approach to the running of the police force and it was a matter for the police to carry out their policing duties. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) pointed out, during the miners' strike there was the greatest interference in policing and police tactics.
During the printers' dispute at Wapping there were daily statements from Ministers and from Tory Members saying what the police should be doing and encouraging them. Subsequently, Northampton police were asked to undertake an inquiry into the events at Wapping in January 1987, and as a result a number of officers have been suspended. We are still awaiting a statement about what charges will be brought and about the future of the officers involved. If there is to be any confidence in the Metropolitan police, there needs to be a clear statement of exactly what will happen to the officers involved in the disgraceful incidents at Wapping.
§ Mr. Banks
I agree with my hon. Friend. That case is another example demonstrating that the laws that the police have to enforce are socially divisive. I pay tribute to the Northampton police and Chief Superintendent Wyrko, who did a great deal of work and faced a great deal of obstruction from within the Metropolitan police in conducting his investigations.
I suspect that a cover up is going on and that there will be a whitewash. They are waiting and delaying for long enough so that the rules of evidence would point to there being no fair trial for any officers that are being accused. That is what is happening. We know precisely that that is the way in which the Government are trying to angle it. Where they are able to apply subtle pressures, no doubt they will do so. They cannot afford to allow the police officers who acted so brutally to be brought to account as that would cast doubts on the impartiality of the Metropolitan police and their actions at Wapping. It would throw into sharp relief the unpleasant nature of the legislation that involved the police in the first place and allowed people like Murdoch to sack so many good print workers and hard-working people who made a great deal of profit for that nasty little man.
I have to make progress as a number of Conservative Members still wish to speak. Turning to accountability, if we had a Grand Committee for London or a police committee sitting on a regular basis, we would not have to rely on this inadequate way of debating issues in a non-conclusive fashion. We would be able to talk to police officers and cross-examine the Home Secretary, and that would be far more satisfactory. It would not meet all the points that Labour Members have made about accountability, but it would be far better than the wholly inadequate system that operates at present.
The 9 per cent. increase in sexual crimes and sexual violence is wholly unacceptable. Although the police are handling such matters in a more sensitive manner, I suspect that they are still under-recording the incidence of sexual violence which is predominantly and overwhelmingly against women.
1262 Crime on the Underground is getting worse. It is linked to lack of investment by the Department of Transport and by London Regional Transport in the Underground and bus services, as anyone who travels regularly around London will know.
Life in London today is more brutal and violent than it has been for many years. The social values of our society give the lead to that increasing brutality. I made the same point last Friday on the subject of litter, as these issues are linked. When the Government's philosophy is largely predicated on personal greed and selfishness, there must be a causal link between that philosophy and increasing crime, violence and brutality in our society. I blame Tory philosophy for the increasing incidence of violence in London. Public property is treated with contempt by the Conservative Government, who believe that private property is sacred but public property can be treated with contempt and abused. It is sold off or allowed to run down. That attitude spreads its disturbing way through society like an infection. People do not regard public property as theirs, because they are not encouraged to do so. They are taught by the Government, and particularly by the Prime Minister, that what is public is not good and what is private is sacred. The sense of community in London, as elsewhere, has been sorely damaged by the economic and social policies of this unpleasant and divisive Government.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge said that he did not welcome the idea of private roads and police forces, but that is inevitably the way that we will go. He might not like the idea, but I assure him that many Conservative Members do like the idea of private roads that can be shut off. Of course, those roads will be in the nicest areas and those in which the wealthiest people can afford private security guards. That is what is happening in the United States now. If hon. Members want to see what it will be like in this country in 10 years' time I suggest that they visit the United States.
The Opposition want proper policing and more resources for the police, but we want to ensure that the priorities of the police accord with the priorities of the communities that we serve. That is why, when we talk about setting police priorities, we do not mean interference with their day-to-day operational running; we mean "These are the things that you must do, but, when we will the ends, we must then will the means." My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) will be there in the Home Office as a Minister, so he will agree that a Labour Government would ensure that the police in London have the necessary resources to meet our demands on them on behalf of the people whom we represent.
I hope that the Minister will say something about the alarming growth in civil damages paid out by the Metropolitan police in cases where police officers have been accused of ill discipline or malpractice, and the police decide to pay out rather than have the matter go to court. That strikes me as being sinister. I know that the Minister is a lawyer and, no doubt, he will tell me that the rules of evidence in civil cases are far less demanding than those in criminal cases. That may be so, but the Metropolitan police would hardly hand out hundreds of thousands of pounds to those who make complaints against the police if senior police officers and the authorities concerned did not believe that there was more than a substance of truth in the complaint.
We want to know why the amount paid in civil damages has risen so much in recent years. We also want to know 1263 what happens to the police officers after those damages are paid. It is outrageous that London ratepayers have had to shell out hundreds of thousands of pounds in civil damages for complaints against police officers, but in the end those police officers are left serving on the patches from where the complaints originated. It undermines confidence in the police to know that there is a growing number of bent coppers in the force. That is not something that one says with any great enthusiasm or pleasure, because if the confidence between the police and the community is eroded, that will damage all of us. If bent coppers are allowed to remain in the force, good policemen will also be damaged.
I would ask the Minister to comment on the Metropolitan police and the poll tax. Next year the poll tax will be introduced, but all the Home Office and the Metropolitan police receiver have said is that a set amount of the poll tax will go to the Metropolitan police. Local authorities have asked for full estimates to enable them to plan ahead, but they have not yet been given them. There could be two reasons for that. The first is that Whitehall and the police receiver have not yet got their act together and worked out the necessary sums. The second is that they might have worked out their sums, but they are keeping the figures quiet. The Government are far too frightened to release them, because of the increased costs that they will clearly impose on the London boroughs.
My borough has estimated that Newham will find that its contribution will rise from £6.4 million to more than £10 million, or perhaps as much as £12 million, for its contribution to the Metropolitan police. We demand the right to know those figures today.
I have already said that Newham has the highest police recorded level of racial attacks in London. I deeply regret to say that one in eight London incidents occur in Newham. The problem with racial attacks, as with sexual offences, is non-reporting. We estimate that, in Newham, only one in 20 incidents are reported to the police. In that context it is important to consider the quality of the police response. From 1985 to 1988 arrest rates in Newham have fallen by half and that clearly suggests why people under-report racial harassment incidents. In 1985 an arrest took place once in every eight police-reported incidents; in 1988 it had fallen to one in every 17.
I acknowledge and pay tribute to the improvements that have been made. In north Plaistow we have the country's only action project, but more resources should be made available to the police in Newham so that they can deal with this worrying and disturbing increase in racial harassment.
§ Mr. Cohen
Is my hon. Friend aware that two years ago the police undertook a pilot project in Redbridge? It lasted for six weeks and the police issued lots of extremely good leaflets about racial attacks and the need to report them. The police had a good response and the pilot project was successful. The police showed themselves to be active in the fight against racial attacks. Does my hon. Friend have any idea why that pilot project was not put into action on a permanent basis in the East End and in other areas where racial attacks are a serious problem?
§ Mr. Banks
Were I Home Secretary I might be able to answer that question, but the Minister heard it and I hope that he will respond to it later.
1264 We need a greater commitment from the Government through action and resources rather than through words. More resources would deal with the upsurge in racial harassment in the East End.
The safer cities initiative, which is part of the action for cities programme, is aimed at crime prevention. My council applied to be one of the areas to take part in that initiative, but it recently learnt that it has not been chosen. Newham has a higher than average crime rate, one of the largest ethnic minority populations in the country and the highest incidence of racial harassment in the country. My council has a proven track record of working with the police, the Home Office and local groups to eliminate crime. Why was my council bounced? Why was it not included in the safer cities project? My council could not have been rejected because it does not work closely with the police and the community. I have already described the economic and social deprivation of my borough and the crime level. What do we need to do to prove that we have a right to get those additional resources through the safer cities initiative?
This debate has at least enabled us to raise some interesting points, but, frankly, it is not satisfactory. The Metropolitan police should be far more accountable and, if that accountability is to be through the Home Secretary alone, it is up to us here to improve the way in which it operates. A police committee in the House would not truly satisfy us, because we want proper police committees in London along the lines that I have described. I would settle for a police committee of the House, however, as the sparse attendance on both sides of the House suggests not the House's satisfaction with the Metropolitan police and the annual report, but our dissatisfaction with the wholly inadequate way in which Parliament attempts to exercise some form of accountability, through the Home Secretary, for the Metropolitan police.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
The Home Secretary was wise not to display any complacency when he talked about the crime statistics. During the past two years the overall figures may have decreased, but violent offences are still increasing—by 19 per cent. this year, I believe. Every Londoner knows that we are nowhere near getting crime and lawlessness under control. The situation is absolutely appalling. The rate of street crime, such as stealing and breaking into vehicles, is terrifying in some parts of London. Burglary is still rampant and, in addition to crimes of violence, drug misuse and drug-related crime are increasing. We are about to suffer an appalling epidemic of drug misuse due to the consumption of crack. Police resources are inadequate to deal with the problem, which will take up much police time and resources to the detriment of their other work. For London alone, we can do much more by providing more resources and more policemen on the streets. Given the scale of crime, lawlessness and the need for enforcement of law and order and public order in London, we must have more than the current 28,000 police officers. We need at least 38,000, and perhaps 48,000, police officers to look after us in London.
The current organisation of police in London could be improved. I do not understand why so many minor police forces within the Metropolitan police area are not under the operational control of the commissioner. Why should there be a separate police force for the Underground? We 1265 are all aware that it is a source of crime. To the detriment of the Metropolitan police, the Home Secretary has arranged extra officers for London Transport police. We know that the scale and fear of crime are increasing on the Underground, and it is a public disgrace that the problem is as bad as it is. There should be sufficient officers to provide at least one policeman for each Underground station in London. Why on earth are London Transport police so undermanned, and why on earth does the commissioner not have operational control? Surely the commissioner is in the best position to react tactically to day-to-day demands. Why are the Royal Parks police not under the control of the commissioner? We must consider these problems and give the commissioner greater operational control, and preferably structural control.
As a large number of hon. Members have said, Londoners are fortunate to have a police force of such quality, efficiency and integrity. The Metropolitan police are extremely well led and a high proportion of their senior ranks are well-motivated officers who are dedicated to public service. It is little wonder that they provide recruits to senior posts in provincial forces. No matter how many police officers we recruit, however, and no matter the size of the force in London, we can touch only the surface of the social malaise. The lack of respect for other people, for public or private property and for authority lies at the root of our problems. If only we could change attitudes by increasing the number of police officers in London, and if only we could instill a sense of esteem among young people who misuse drugs.
Perhaps it is not surprising that attitudes are determined not by the police or the law but by people in authority and influence, who should and could set a better example. It is no wonder that poorer people imitate people in the City, who so easily, and with so little respect for others, acquire fortunes in an afternoon and so easily buy and sell firms without regard for their employees. When the Church spends so much of its time on its own domestic problems, such as the ordination of women, and when priests use their pulpits as political platforms, it is no wonder that so many people are confused about their moral duties.
The local environment is dirty and the streets in many London boroughs are strewn with rubbish. Anyone who, like me, has a constituency in south-east London and has to drive through Peckham and Lewisham is appalled by the rubbish that lies on the streets all the time, not just after a market. It must be infinitely depressing to live in such an environment.
§ Mr. Sheerman
I have enjoyed listening to many of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, and I agree with some. I hope that he is not being too politically partisan. When I am in London I live in the City and the squalor in some parts is appalling. During the Euro-elections, I spent some time in the Ilford area. I agree that there is appalling rubbish, litter and urban decay. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that this is a universal problem and not one based on the political complexion of the area through which he drives.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has introduced the element of politican partisanship into the debate. I am not talking about political parties, nor am I talking about any party that is in control in a particular 1266 area. There are London boroughs that neglect the public collection of refuse and allow their streets to be filthy. They may be controlled by different political parties. I know of areas in Westminster that suffer from this disease. I mentioned the route from central London to south-east London because that happens to be the one I take to my constituency. One passes through two boroughs. Although they spend money on things that I do not regard as essential services, they are content to allow their citizens to live, work and travel in squalor. It is a comparatively easy, efficient and cheap exercise to keep the rubbish off their streets. Enforcement of the law in this respect is important in giving assistance to the police.
The police alone should not be responsible for enforcement of the law. They need the backing of the public and of councils. It has been said that some councils—I shall not say which political party dominates them—refuse to give police officers permission to enter schools to speak to children. It is desirable for the police to visit schools. Every school should have a police officer, preferably the local home beat officer, who drops in from time to time to take part in school activities and have chats with the children. Those authorities that refuse permission should be ashamed of themselves for not co-operating with the efforts of the police to produce a law-abiding society.
There should also be an improvement in the efforts of individuals. It should be a duty, especially for wealthy and powerful individuals, to set an example. It is disgraceful that Sir Terence Conran, a wealthy, apparently proud and arrogant man, has recently announced that his Storehouse group of firms will open on Sundays, in contravention of the Shops Act 1950. Not everyone agrees with that legislation—there have been debates in the Chamber and elsewhere about how we should amend the law—but it nevertheless remains the law. If Sir Terence Conran arranges for his shops to open, thereby deliberately setting out to break the law, not only is he setting a bad example to young people and other people who have less power and wealth than he has, but he deserves to be sent to prison until he learns to respect the law. It is disgraceful that Sir Terence Conran or anyone else, through the firms that they control, should contravene the law and encourage others to do so. How on earth can they expect humble people to respect the law and not commit petty offences when the rich and the powerful get away with it scot free?
We need more policemen in London and we need more resources. The present allocation is not adequate. Much more must be done if Londoners are to be reassured and provided with the regime of law and order that the capital deserves. Above all, we need more discipline in society, more respect for the law and more determination on the part of politicians like us and other responsible citizens to enforce the law. Only then and by giving the police the moral backing that they deserve shall we begin to redress the balance.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
On 16 February last year the Home Secretary, in a Written Answer gave the figure for the net revenue expenditure of the Metropolitan police in 1988–89 as £1,000,004,967. For the first time, the expenditure exceeded £1 billion. Obviously, the figure will have increased substantially this year. A great deal of that burden is placed on local authorities. Their ratepayers—and in future their poll tax payers—will have to fund that 1267 sum, but they have no democratic say. I shall not repeat the detailed arguments made by my colleagues today. However, there should be a democratic, London-wide police authority. The Home Secretary cannot be accountable, as he is not even a London Member of Parliament.
This is an unsatisfactory forum in which to debate the various issues relating to police and policing in London. Speeches in this debate must include various different issues. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who spoke as the paid representative of the Police Federation, does not have sole claim to speak on behalf of police interests or for the protection of the police.
I want to raise a point that the hon. Member for Uxbridge did not mention. We must consider prisoners and people in police cells who might be suffering from AIDS or HIV. That is a serious problems for the police. At the moment, the police have responsibilities, but those are of a general nature. The police general orders refer to people who require medical assistance and it sets out the responsibilities and duties of police to obtain medical treatment for people brought into police stations and those already detained. Often it may not be apparent that a prisoner is suffering from an illness. Some prisoners may try to conceal their illness or they may not be aware of their condition.
Often prisoners are admitted to the Brixton prison medical wing so that extremely sick prisoners are not detained for long periods in police or court cells. However, HIV sufferers are often not considered to be extremely urgent cases. There is insufficient accommodation in prison medical wings, and prisoners are often detained in police cells, which is a problem for local police forces.
To minimise risks to police officers, there should be a high standard of hygiene in cells. According to a report that was published this week, many problems in police stations clearly reflect the lack of hygiene. The Home Secretary should institute a major programme to improve the hygiene of police cells and to give proper advice to police officers. In spite of the precautions that are taken, each year many police officers seek medical advice after contact with infected prisoners who have bitten or scratched them or pricked them with needles. There appears to be a lack of action on the part of the Home Office to produce clear regulations on treatment for AIDS prisoners and to issue guidelines to the police to establish effective training for officers and assistance for officers who contract AIDS. That important issue has not been discussed in the debate. The Home Office is also ignoring its own health officers' advice on taking effective action to stop the spread of AIDS in prisons. The same criticism applies to police cells. Police officers are at risk, and the Government are responsible.
The Police Federation has expressed concern about burglaries. That matter was not referred to by the hon. Member for Uxbridge, who is the Police Federation's representative. A recent report in "The Job" the Metropolitan police newspaper, pointed out that the police are upset about the Government's policy on burglary cases. The Director of Public Prosecutions is reluctant to prosecute burglary cases, even when the intruder's fingerprints are discovered, saying that they are not sufficient evidence. I agree that it would be difficult to rely on the fingerprints of a member of the family or a friend who visits regularly, but the fingerprints of an intruder into a burgled home are clear evidence and should 1268 be used in court. The DPP should not make that claim about insufficient evidence as a reason why a burglary case is not taken to court. I have written a strong letter to the Attorney-General backing the Police Federation on this important matter and I hope to see some strong action by the Government.
§ Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
Will my hon. Friend join with me in congratulating our hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on his occupation of the Opposition Front Bench and hope that his tenure there will be long and happy?
In the run-up to the Notting Hill carnival, will my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) join wit h me in hoping that we have a crime-free, constructively policed carnival? Nobody wants crime and disorder at the carnival. The police have a role to play. Will my hon. Friend join with me in congratulating Mr. Frank Critchlow of the Mangrove association, who was recently acquitted of several charges? I hope that the Metropolitan police are as committed as Opposition Members are to keeping the Notting Hill carnival on the streets as a crime-free, happy and community-based event.
§ Mr. Cohen
I echo every one of my hon. Friend's words. The Notting Hill carnival is a great spectacle for Londoners. I also want it to continue to be successful and crime-free. I echo also my hon. Friend's comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). It was a timely intervention.
I shall mention racial harassment, although I do not wish to make a detailed speech on it. The House will know that I introduced the first and only Bill relating to racial harassment—my Racial Harassment Bill. The majority of measures in that Bill must be implemented if we are effectively to tackle racial harassment. However, I shall leave my speech on that for another day. The Government should have a debate on that subject, because they have published their own proposals on it.
In this debate we should have answers from the Home Secretary about the debacle involving Saatchi and Saatchi and the £35,000 worth of leaflets which went down the drain. What steps have ben taken to recoup that public money and, even more important, to re-publish the leaflets and have them properly distributed? Perhaps local authorities should be invited to tender for distribution of the leaflets, because they could obviously do a better job than a private company such as Saatchi and Saatchi.
There is a tendency for police action against racial harassment to slip down the list of priorities. The Home Office must bring legislation before the House to make racial attacks and harassment specific criminal offences. Until they do so, the ability of the police to take action is hampered.
I should like an answer from the Home Secretary about the recruitment procedure of the police force and whether the ethnic minority receives equal treatment. An article in The Independent on 24 April stated:The Home Office has refused to alter a police entrance test which is known to discriminate against blacks. 70 per cent. of white applicants in London sitting the Police Initial Recruitment Test are successful, but the ethnic minority applicants have only a 40 per cent. pass rate. The principal employment officer of the Commission for Racial Equality says the test relies on the literary ability of candidates and 1269 requires a knowledge of English phraseology which is not so understandable to those who have not been fully educated in this country.A Home Office spokesman, admitting that the test is biased, said it would cost 170,000 to replace it but that the money wasn't available this year."
We are talking about a budget of well over £1 billion, but the Home Office will not get rid of the test and institute a fairer one because it would cost £170,000. Clearly, the Home Office does not want equality in recruitment practices if it cannot come up with such a paltry sum. I want an answer on that point.
I raised with the Home Office the matter, of the lay visitors scheme. Waltham Forest lay visitors' panel made a number of points in its recent report which I forwarded to the Home Secretary. It talked about conditions in police stations, and said that all stations had only one wash basin for detainees. It is vital to improve hygiene standards. The panel also talked about the lack of privacy, particularly for the occasional female detainee, and hoped that the Home Office would take steps to give such prisoners the facilities to wash privately.
The panel said that Leyton police station facilities were inadequate for longer stay prisoners. Leyton divisional chief superintendent sought approval from the Home Office for the provision of a shower which, in the circumstances, should have been given immediately. It also said that there were insufficient grounds and that steps should be taken to secure an area of the station grounds so that prisoners could take outside exercise. The panel also talked about the absence of in-house food and drink facilities, particularly when people were detained in cells after 9 pm.
The response by the Home Office when I raised these points about exercise and washing facilities was:The Prison Service have made funds available to provide the most essential facilities, such as access to toilet and washing facilities, at stations holding Home Office prisoners. However, only limited funds are available and have to be used where the need is greatest.Those limited funds amount to £50,000 per year, which is a pittance given the increasing need for hygiene in prison cells. The Home Office Minister must increase that amount enormously and immediately—
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
The hon. Gentleman has been talking about prisoners in police cells. He will be pleased to know that there were only 26 such prisoners in the Metropolitan area yesterday.
§ Mr. Cohen
I am pleased to know that, but we are used to that sort of information on the day before a police debate in the House. At other times the figure shoots up to well over 200. Nevertheless, I welcome the information and hope that there will be only 26 a day, a week and a year after the police debate—but somehow I doubt it.
The lay visitors also mention duty solicitors' attendance. Many people in cells do not get the chance to speak to a duty solicitor, and sometimes solicitors will deal with cases only over the telephone, which is unsatisfactory. The Home Office view is:the Legal Aid Office would be interested to know of any instances".That is not good enough. The lay visitors panel has clearly identified this problem and the Home Office should tackle it.
1270 Lay visitors are not informed of the outcome of complaints against police officers. That must be wrong, as they can then do nothing to rectify the problems. I hope that they will be notified of the outcome of such investigations in future.
The lay visitors complain about interpreting services for alleged illegal immigrants detained in cells. The visitors do not have interpreters and there is no legal requirement for the services of lay visitors to be extended to detainees of this sort. The Home Office response to this has been less than adequate—from a budget of £1 billion it will not provide the money for interpreters for lay visitors.
The debate so far has been largely devoid of statistics, which the House needs. The Prime Minister came to power pledged to restore law and order as a fact and as a concept, but her failure has been startling. Crime has undermined the standard of living of affluent Londoners. Overall, crime in London increased by 29 per cent. between 1979 and 1988 and violent offences rose by two thirds in the same period. Robberies almost trebled. There were 1,196 notified drug addicts in the capital in 1978; last year there were 3,230, and we know that the true number is between five and 10 times greater.
I want to record reported notifiable offences in London. In 1979 there were 16,194 violent offences, and in 1988 there were 27,215—an increase of 68 per cent. In 1979, 2,751 sexual offences were notified and in 1988, 4,071—an increase of 48 per cent. The figure for burglaries went up from 119,366 to 143,721—an increase of 20 per cent. Furthermore, in my constituency the clear-up rate for burglary has fallen to about 10 per cent. and the figure across London is similar. The figure for robberies went up from 6,275 to 17,929—an increase of 186 per cent. The figure for theft went up from 321,047 to 375,602—an increase of 17 per cent. The figure for fraud and forgery went up from 26,361 to 30,279—an increase of 15 per cent. The figure for criminal damage went up from 71,651 to 121,505—an increase of 70 per cent. The figure for other offences increased from 542 to 5,702—an increase of 952 per cent.
In total, the number of notifiable crimes went up from 564,187 in 1979 to 726,024 in 1988—an increase of 29 per cent. So much for restoring law and order as a fact and as a concept. The Government have a miserable criminal record, and we should get rid of them so that we can tackle crime in London and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) criticised Conservative Members because only a few of us are present, although we well outnumber the Labour Members who are present. One reason for absences is that if Labour Members make speeches of 41, 26, 24 and 25 minutes, Conservative Members do not get a chance to contribute. I hope that in future speeches will be shorter and more to the point.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. Hon. Members from both sides of the House have made lengthy speeches.
§ Mr. Hanley
Thank you for pointing that out, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point is that speeches from both 1271 sides of the House have been lengthy. I hope that in future debates all hon. Members will have an opportunity to take part.
Like all other hon. Members who have spoken, I represent a London constituency, and my constituents look to the Metropolitan police for their protection. Apart from two isolated cases in the past year, the relationship between my constituents and the police has been happy. There can hardly be any closer or more harmonious relationship in a London borough than that in Richmond upon Thames, with regular co-operation on crime prevention and safety for the elderly, the education of children, the maintenance of traffic control and support, financial and spiritual, to the victims of crime.
I was pleased to work with my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which looked into the way in which society deals with the victims of crime. The victim support scheme movement largely grew from that. I pay great tribute to the victim support scheme in Richmond, which gave evidence to the Committee, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his support of such schemes through the Home Office.
My knowledge of the Metropolitan police began when I was under four. I remember seeing my father, Jimmy Hanley, in a police uniform one evening. This was not because he had signed up but because he was making a well-known film, "The Blue Lamp", with the late Jack Warner, who was playing PC Dixon. Only twice in our history has somebody risen from the grave, and one of them was Jack Warner. He came back from the dead and was even promoted to sergeant in the television programme.
Many people ridicule the cosy, "Evening, all" attitude that the police were meant to have in those days, but that attitude showed how people trusted, liked and knew the local policeman and it is popular still today. Many people would like us to return to the times when the local bobby on the beat was a normal part of everyday life.
I am pleased to note that Sir Peter Imbert's excellent report for this year shows that street duty increased by 9 per cent. in 1988. That happened largely in response to public demand. Street duty enables communities to see the police and to see that, far from being remote, they are friendly individuals whose sole purpose is to protect their local community. Street duty is good for the police and good for the public, and I hope that the increase will be repeated in years ahead. The courtesy, kindness and good humour of the local bobby on the beat are something that we want to see much more in future. We should get the police out of the Panda cars, which resemble armoured cars shooting through the streets of Londonderry. That approach may be necessary in some contexts, but in London the human relationships that go with local beat police are most important, especially in encouraging good race relations.
It cannot be a complete coincidence that burglaries have fallen by 5 per cent. this year and the clear-up rate for residential burglaries has risen by 12 per cent. Even street robbery is down by 10 per cent. The presence of beat police must be partly responsible for that figure, with co-operation by local residents—which is further encouraged by good relationships with the police—also playing its part.
I fully accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) said about parking, and I 1272 agree with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby). We need more wardens to police the streets of outer London and if they could keep a share of their resources, they would have a further incentive and people would be more readily deterred from parking in antisocial and dangerous places in the streets of outer London.
Sir Peter said in his report that there hardly has to be an incident in Amritsar or Teheran or an election in El Salvador for thousands of people to take to the streets of London. Freedom of speech and the right to protest are part of our tradition, but demonstrations clog traffic and threaten—sometimes violently—innocent citizens going about their business. They can cause great disturbance and damage and they are extremely costly. I would ask those considering demonstrations to exercise self-control and to remember that their demonstration is likely to have little effect. I also ask for self-control from the media, which often attract attention to such events and make them grow in size.
In the previous Parliament I served on the Select Committee on Home Affairs and its race relations and immigration sub-committee. I attended many police courses and visited police stations to see how the police try to teach policemen at all levels awareness of the different races and cultures in our community. I addressed a conference in Manchester attended by senior police officers and I was most impressed by the care that they were taking in this matter. The racial minorities must understand what their civil rights are. It does not help matters if they believe that the police are automatically against them. Often, it is not so much the police who are responsible but the fact that the racial minorities have not been trained, as they should be, to realise what their civil and criminal rights are, or the duties of the police arid the restrictions on them in dealing with civil matters. We should all help to inform the racial minorities of their rights. The police are now recognising their responsibilities in this regard, and the dramatic increase in the clear-up rate for racial crimes shows their determination.
I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) about the London Transport police. Their independence of the Metropolitan police is an anachronism. Time dictates that I cannot expand on this matter, although I feel very strongly about it.
I pay tribute to the 1,143 specials in London, who give up much of their time. Last year, they underwent nearly 50,000 hours of training and put in nearly 250,000 hours of duty, with good humour and patience. I hope that the force will grow and that younger people will join as special cadets.
The police are being most unfairly criticised for deaths following car chases. No policeman in a car chases another car merely for fun or because the police started the chase. The chase starts because somebody has stolen a car or is suspected of having committed a criminal act. The public must support the police, who are properly trained and can avoid accidents better than the person who is trying to sprint ahead in the car in front. We should properly criticise those who cause the car chases and support the police in their efforts to protect us from individuals who have committed crimes.
We should all support the police a great deal more. In the past year, there were 5,294 complaints against the Metropolitan police, which is a reduction of 8 per cent. 1273 Some might think that appreciation was not readily expressed, but there were 6,278 letters of appreciation last year, an increase of 11 per cent. I am pleased that that has occurred under the stewardship of Sir Peter Imbert, to whom I could not pay greater tribute. I hope that we shall see continued good progress in the Metropolitan police and a continued excellent relationship with the people of London.
§ 2.5 pm
§ Mr. Sheerman
By leave of the House, I shall have a second bite of the cherry and reflect quickly on the debate. We have had an interesting and constructive debate. Labour Members have framed their remarks in a constructive spirit. However frustrating, this is our one opportunity to call the Home Secretary to account in his role as the person responsible for the Metropolitan police. As many of my hon. Friends have said, it is a weak weapon of scrutiny. When we have a Labour Government after the next election, we shall move to a properly democratically accountable police authority for London.
The Home Secretary trailed many red herrings today. I remind him that we do not propose a body that would interfere with the day-to-day operational aspects of police work, as he knows well. We have made some strong suggestions about what we want to see happen and there have been some positive comments from Members of various parties. Looking to the future, I see two problems that have been expressed today only in a minor voice; I am surprised that hon. Members have not stressed those problems more.
First, there should be more emphasis on dealing with the young. I know that I tend to go on about this, but we must achieve the right responses to young offenders, not only in terms of catching them, although that is part of the process, but in deterring them in the first place and in giving them creative alternatives, which largely do not seem to exist in London at present.
The second issue that will dominate police work in the next few years, to which we shall come back more strongly this year and next, is the vulnerability of women in London and every other urban centre. Although we agree that the burglary figures and those for other crimes against property look a hit better than they did for the previous year, the figures for crimes of violence, crimes of violence against women and sexual violence against women are horrific. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, there has been a 9 per cent. increase in the most recent year. It is a disgrace that 50 per cent. of women in this city believe that they should not go out after dark. That comment is not based on only one piece of evidence. One piece of evidence after another shows that women feel unsafe walking down badly lit streets, and on London buses and the Underground at night. If women are afraid to go about their legitimate business to such an extent, the Metropolitan police, with the Government's backing, must protect women in a way that they do not protect them at present.
We have not talked much about the causes of crime, because we have tried not to be too party political today, but I must conclude by saying that policing is difficult enough in a society with a strong community that backs the police and in which people treat society as a priority. 1274 However, in a selfish, individualistic society which has had the imprint of the Prime Minister for several years—it is a fact that the Prime Minister admires such a society—there is a breakdown in community feeling. In a society from which community spirit has disappeared, the role of the police and their job become impossible.
If we are to make the Met work as we want it to work —it is a good police force and we are trying to make it better—it will need the backing of the community. We believe that that must be a democratic relationship, but it must also be the basis for co-operation and exchange.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
We have had an interesting and important debate, the tone of which suggests that there is an ever-increasing recognition among hon. Members and people outside the House that the Metropolitan police are becoming yet more effective in carrying out their policing functions within the capital. That is a correct analysis. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has mentioned some of the key crime figures. They bear repeating because they demonstrate the reasons for modest optimism.
The commissioner's report for 1988 shows that overall crime figures fell by about 2 per cent. and the figures for the 12 months ending March this year show an overall fall of 4 per cent. In a two-year period there has been a welcome reduction in recorded crime of 6 per cent. The reductions have been most acute in burglary. In the 12 months ending March this year there has been a fall of nearly 6 per cent., or 25,000, in recorded cases of burglary. I must inform the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) that there has been a significant improvement in the clear-up rate of burglaries. The improvement in the Metropolitan police area was 7 per cent. Those reductions in the volume of committed crime have the effect of freeing officers for more operational time on the streets.
I accept that the crime statistics reflect the anxiety about violent crime. However, there are signs of modest encouragement. For example, the number of homicides fell by 46–23 per cent.—and figures for street robbery in the 12 months to the end of March this year show a 3 per cent. reduction. There are also encouraging improvements in clear-up rates. In 1988 the clear-up rate for robbery rose by 7 per cent. and for violence against the person the clear-up rate rose by 27 per cent. Those are significant improvements which are due to a variety of factors. They arise from better deployment of resources, more effective police practices and, undoubtedly, crime prevention—to which I attach very high importance—and from a substantial improvement in the resources dedicated to police work in London as a result of Government policy. We should recognise that since 1979 expenditure in the Metropolitan police area has risen by almost 60 per cent. in real terms.
The Metropolitan force is now at its record strength. Its strength is up by 5,400 and the establishment has improved by 1,826. The House will know that in April my right hon. Friend approved a further 300 police officers and 150 civilians, together with a further 100 civilians, the purpose of whom was to speed up the process of civilianisation. For Opposition Members—most notably the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)—to pretend that a Labour Government would have increased the resources 1275 over and above that which the Conservative Government have provided is frankly ludicrous. The truth is that they probably would have cut the resources. In no sense would they have matched the increase that our good management has allowed.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West mentioned the Underground, so I shall make a specific reference to it.
§ Mr. Hanley
Is it also true that when the Labour Government left office the Metropolitan police was 4,000 under strength?
§ Mr. Hogg
My hon. Friend has made an extremely important point. Crime was rising fast, and the most striking thing about 1979 was the wholesale demoralisation of the police force. Most notable was the fact that experienced police officers, especially around sergeant level, were leaving in droves, partly because they were grossly underpaid and partly because they did not like seeing for example, Labour Cabinet Ministers standing on picket lines supporting those who rioted and abused the police force. Let us make that entirely plain, because I am now coming to the question of accountability.
§ Mr. Hogg
I am not proposing to give way.
The sight of Labour Cabinet Ministers standing on picket lines is profoundly unsatisfactory. That happened not only at Grunwick. We also saw the support of the Labour Front Bench on the miners' picket lines. That is the kind of party with which we are dealing.
§ Mr. Corbyn
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to describe Labour Cabinet Ministers in the last Government as being involved in a riot when he knows that that is not true? He has not stated which picket line they were on or admitted that none was arrested or charged with any offence. Is it in order for the Minister to mislead the House about Labour Cabinet Ministers?
§ Mr. Corbyn
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister has claimed that what he said was not inaccurate. In that case, he must state which Cabinet Ministers, which picket line, when, who was arrested and with what offence they were charged—otherwise, he is impugning the honour of former and current Members of the House.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Further to my earlier point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In replying, the Minister has impugned the honour of Members of the House concerning events that happened during the lifetime of the last Labour Government. He has clearly claimed that Labour Cabinet Ministers were on a picket line and were arrested. Unless he can substantiate—
§ Mr. Corbyn
I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. They were involved in a riot. I suggest that he is impugning the honour of former Cabinet Ministers and he is not prepared to substantiate his allegation. As he is not prepared to substantiate it, because he knows it not to be true, I suggest that he be invited to withdraw his comments.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
General criticisms made by one side of the House about the other are usual in here, and while discourteous and distasteful, they are not out of order. It is when hon. Members identify other particular hon. Members and reflect on their honour and integrity that it becomes a matter for the Chair. I do not believe that we have quite reached that point.
§ Mr. Sheerman
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We were having a constructive debate until the junior Minister got to his feet and he has reduced it to his customary level. With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Minister said that Privy Councillors were involved in a riot and he specifically mentioned one incident and one strike. He must withdraw—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. So far, the Minister has not identified the matter. In referring to a particular situation and to Privy Councillors he has not gone so far 1277 as to identify a particular individual Member of the House. When he does so, I shall feel an obligation to reproach him.
§ Mr. Sheerman
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Everyone knows that only five Ministers were involved.
§ Mr. Corbyn
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a serious matter. The Minister has alleged that Cabinet Ministers of the Labour Government were involved in a riot. One of his hon. Friends was overheard to say that it was at Grunwick. The Minister clearly made that statement, but he cannot substantiate it because he knows it not to be true. Surely he must withdraw his remarks. Otherwise, if he is allowed to make statements impugning the integrity of—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I thought that I had made a clear statement on this matter. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not persist, as I have ruled on this matter. I have already said that until the Minister identifies a particular Member of the House and reflects adversely on that Member's honour and integrity, then, no matter how discourteous, he is not out of order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I rather hope that we can get away from this matter, which is leading us in the direction of disorder. The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) seems intent on going down a different road. I would not advise him or the House to go in that direction. I hope that we can now get on.
§ Mr. Hogg
I must tell the House that I find the approach of the Labour party on the question of accountability profoundly unattractive. First, we must look at what is in place. The commissioner is accountable to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is the police authority. My right hon. Friend is accountable to Parliament. The commissioner submits his statutory statement to the Home Secretary for approval. The annual report containing a full statement of the year's activities is also submitted to the Home Secretary, who presents it to Parliament. We have the annual parliamentary debate, now taking place. Citizens living in the Metropolitian police districts can question Ministers in Parliament or through correspondence. The Metropolitan police fund, annual accounts and estimates are presented to Parliament as a White Paper. Metropolitan police expenditure is scrutinised by the Public Accounts Committee and their affairs may be scrutinised by the Home Affairs Select Committee.
What I have described represents a high measure of specific control. The question is whether one should go further than that. A number of hon. Members have suggested that there should be a police authority separate from that which we have been discussing. I do not commend that course of action to the House. The question 1278 that must be asked is what responsibility the Labour party is seeking to give that police authority, but we have heard a variety of explanations.
We are told that that police authority would set the order of priority. I am not sure what that means, but, so far as I understand it to mean anything, it means telling police officers what to do. I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West is back in the Chamber as he was good enough to make his views wholly plain. When talking about the relationship between the police and the police authority what he had in mind, he said:These are things that you must do.It is plain that the Labour party wishes to give a police authority the power not merely to determine the police's order of priorities but to instruct them on their operational duties, or at least come close to doing so. I do not commend that course of action to the House.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I shall not defend the Labour party, but given that all police forces in England fall under the authority of the Home Secretary, why, uniquely, do elected local representatives in London have no say in how their police forces are run? Why are London citizens uniquely disadvantaged?
§ Mr. Hogg
I do not wish to do the hon. Gentleman an injustice, but I do not think that he was present when I went through the special methods of accountability. If he was, I apologise. The procedures that I outlined provide a different but higher degree of control than that available to most police authorities. There are consultative groups throughout the Metropolitan police district. Regrettably, a number of Labour councils—Lambeth, Ealing, Brent, Hackney and Haringey—refuse to be involved in those consultative groups. It is unattractive for people to say that they are deprived of direct input into the way in which the police conduct their affairs, yet to refrain from participating in consultative groups, who work only to their advantage. I therefore find their approach profoundly unattractive.
The points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) were of singular importance. The Select Committee on Home Affairs visited the United States. Indeed, it followed the paths that I had trodden three or four weeks previously. I entirely agree that demand reduction is the chief priority, and we are taking a variety of measures to achieve that. First, we are trying to improve the quality of demand-reduction messages in the education system. Secondly, and different but no less important, we are trying to determine an effective method of delivering demand-reduction messages in local communities. My hon. Friend believes, as I do, that demand reduction lies at the core of our policy.
Although demand reduction lies at the core of our policy, it is not our only policy; enforcement is equally important. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North will be aware of the fact—I am sure that he will welcome it—that the central drugs squad has been given an additional 22 officers. He will know that the Metropolitan police have set up a team with the task of identifying and seizing the profits of drug trafficking.
The important issue of firearms was rightly raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart). The figures are quite encouraging. In an intervention, I said that firearms had been discharged only twice in 1988. We are experiencing a diminution in the number of firearms-trained officers—officers are therefore 1279 more specialized—together with a reduction in the number of times that firearms are issued. In 1988, firearms were issued to Metropolitan police officers for 1,320 operations. In 1983—I use that as an idle figure for reference— firearms were issued for 2,230 operations. The number of times that firearms were issued for operational duties has been reduced substantially. There has been a substantial reduction in the numbers of authorised firearms officers. In 1988, there were 2,568—in 1983, there were 4,786. We are getting a smaller cadre of more highly trained officers who are more experienced in the use of firearms. That provides for greater public safety and more effective policing.
The hon. Member for Leyton referred to police cells. This has been a considerable worry to us all. We have introduced—
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point relates to the debate for five hours—a perfectly normal debate—on policing in London. The Minister did not have an opportunity to finish what he needed to say to reply to the debate. That enhances the argument that the accountability of the police force —
§ Mr. Hughes
The point of order for the Chair is that the issue, the policing of London, cannot be dealt with adequately in a debate of this length. I ask you to deliberate with the other authorities so that in future we may have—