HC Deb 13 July 1990 vol 176 cc594-612

[Relevant document: 1989 Report of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner (Cm 1070)]

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

9.55 am
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Waddington)

The Metropolitan police are in many ways unique and have certainly some unique responsibilities, including responsibility for the security of this House, of other royal palaces in London and diplomatic premises. It is because they are unique that over the years Governments of all parties have taken the view that the Metropolitan police cannot be accountable to anyone but Parliament, and should be so answerable through a senior Cabinet Minister. The Labour party, without the burdens of office, now considers different arrangements are needed. Those would include involving local authorities in setting operational priorities and controlling the police.

Unfortunately, whilst most local authorities in London have an excellent record of working constructively with the police, it is not true of all of them. Until very recently five then Labour-led boroughs refused to co-operate with police consultative groups, and some still refuse to do so. Some refused to help neighbourhood watch initiatives; and some refused even to allow the police into schools. The situation seems now to be improving.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

Which are the local authorities that do not allow police into schools?

Mr. Waddington

I was referring to the past, and I cannot give the authorities. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that it is satisfactory to hand over the control of the police to local authorities that were recently refusing to have neighbourhood watch schemes and allow police into schools, that is a strange state of affairs.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

My right hon. and learned Friend is correct. The tragedy and wickedness of it is that the Inner London education authority upheld pressure from some left-wing teachers not to allow police into schools—

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)


Mr. Greenway

In Hackney, for example, and Ealing. As I said in the House yesterday, when Labour controlled Ealing council Labour councillors did not attend the consultative police committee for the four years of their control. What is more, they had a staff of 10, headed by the deputy leader of another Labour council in London, who did nothing but disrupt the work of the police. What the Home Secretary says is correct.

Mr. Waddington

When I was last in the Home Office as Minister of State we had enormous trouble trying to get Labour local authorities throughout London to set up police consultative groups. Some of them flatly refused to do so. At present, Islington, Hackney, Haringey and Brent councils are still refusing to carry out their duties to set up consultative bodies.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

The Home Secretary must know that the London borough of Islington has co-operated fully and participated in the police consultative group in Islington for the past three and a half to four years. I am a member of that group and attend its meetings, and the borough has always co-operated with it. The Home Secretary's information is wrong, and I hope that he will withdraw what he has said.

Mr. Waddington

I said a few moments ago that, until recently, five then Labour-led local authorities refused to co-operate with police consultative groups. Let me repeat what I was saying—

Mr. Corbyn


Mr. Waddington

I shall not give way because I must first deal with what I was saying before. I said that until recently five then Labour-led local authorities refused to co-operate with police consultative groups.

Mr. Chris Smith


Mr. Waddington

I shall give way in a minute. I can say precisely which those authorities were: Brent, Ealing, now happily free of Labour control, Hackney, Lambeth and—[Interruption.]—Islington.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Home Secretary get his facts straight and get another message from the Box while I am making this intervention. Will he apologise to the borough of Islington, which for a long time has mounted a most effective campaign against crime in the borough and has a police consultative group, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and I are both, as Members of Parliament, members? Will the Home Secretary withdraw the suggestion that the borough of Islington is not concerned about the safety of its citizens or the high rates of crime in it? It has made an enormous effort to solve such problems. Councillor Sawyer, the chair of the Association of London Authorities police committee, puts enormous effort into trying to improve, by democratic means, policing in London.

Mr. Waddington

If I am wrong, I unreservedly withdraw my remarks. I am just checking with my officials in the Box, and if the note that was passed to me was wrong, I withdraw the contents of it unreservedly. I was given to understand that the list was Brent, Ealing, Hackney, Lambeth and Islington. If the note was wrong about Islington, I unreservedly withdraw what I said. I notice that there has been no challenge on my statement that Brent, Ealing and Hackney flatly refused until recently to set up police consultative groups.

Sir William Shelton (Streatham)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, until this year, Lambeth council had refused to allow the Lambeth police consultative group to meet in the town hall? I am delighted to say that, this year, for the first time, it is prepared to make premises available.

Mr. Waddington

That is one improvement, but I have related a shocking history. If Opposition Members are correct, I apologise, but the fact that they were able to show that just one of the local authorities I mentioned had behaved correctly does not say much for Labour control of local authorities in London.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge that one of the first consultative groups to be set up in this country was in Lambeth? It was set up with the full co-operation of the local authority, myself and John Tilley, who was also a Member of Parliament. We took the initiative to set up the group and, after the riots, worked closely with Lord Whitelaw to do exactly that. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should withdraw his remarks and confirm that there is adequate co-operation between Lambeth council and the police.

Mr. Waddington

I have a clear recollection of that matter. The Lambeth council would not set up a police consultative group in accordance with the guidelines that call for the involvement of local councillors, local Members of Parliament and local voluntary groups. As it refused to abide by those guidelines, it would not set up the group required of it—later required of it under legislation.

Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

I came along this morning to hear from the Home Secretary about current policing and what is happening; I did not come along for a lecture about what happened in the past. Will the Home Secretary please tell us what is happening now and what will happen in the future?

Mr. Waddington

I shall certainly do so, but I was only pointing out that, first, I must justify the present system of accountability as I would be surprised if the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) did not mention the Labour proposal to do away with it. I think that it is correct that I should be responsible to the House for the activities of the Commissioner and the Metropolitan police. That is why I am here today. The present system is right, not least because of the attitude of Labour local authorities towards policing in London in the past. It would be odd to give power over the police to the very local authorities that have continuously attempted to undermine and obstruct them. History demands that we should therefore have no truck with proposals that would hand over control of the police in London to those local authorities.

The Labour party says, of course, that its proposals would improve accountability. All I can say is that I suspect that many chief constables are quite happy not to be under constant and thorough scrutiny by the National Audit Office and by the Public Accounts Committee as is the Metropolitan police. They are quite happy not to have their activities scrutinised on the Floor of the House following the presentation to the House of an annual report. The Metropolitan police are also in a real sense responsive to the people of London, their primary and most important customers.

In this debate and at regular meetings attended by myself and the Commissioner, right hon. and hon. Members and the local authorities associations have the opportunity to put their points of view and express their concerns and what they believe to be the concerns of London people. The elected representatives can make known their views and demand a response, and, perhaps even more importantly, the police at divisional level are closely in touch with the people whom they serve every day through the operation of police consultative groups, lay visitors schemes and more informal contacts. The police, therefore, learn of their concerns. I repeat that there is no doubt about the accountability, no doubt about the responsibility and no doubt about the readiness to respond.

For all their uniqueness, the Metropolitan police face problems common to all police forces. They must be effective in preventing and combating crime: they must keep the peace; and they must try to reduce the fear of crime and support and care for the victims of crime. Like all other police forces throughout England and Wales, the Metropolitan police must deliver a quality service to the people they serve.

Work to prevent and combat crime is seen by most people as the core of police business; and there is no disguising that the criminal statistics recorded by the Comissioner in his annual report make sober reading. In 1989 there was a 5 per cent. increase in notifiable offences. Of particular concern is the increase in violent crime. However, violent crime remains a small proportion of all crime—7 per cent. in the metropolis and 6 per cent. in the country—and most violent crimes result in little or no injury to the victim. None the less, we and the police must engage in a thorough and continuing search to reduce violent crime so that all our citizens, especially those who through age, sex, infirmity or the colour of their skin are special targets, can be protected from those who prey on them.

Over the years the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has said a number of things about the causes of crime. He has made a series of utterances that conflict with each other. In recent times he has attributed crime both to unemployment and to too many people getting too rich, too quick. Today we will probably hear that crimes occur because we have not joined the exchange rate mechanism.

Mr. Hattersley

I know that the Home Secretary likes to ponder on such profound matters. Why does he believe it is impossible for crime to increase among the poor because they are poor and among those who have been encouraged to get too rich, too quickly and too unscrupulously? Why cannot those two things happen together?

Mr. Waddington

I find it most extraordinary that in different debates the right hon. Gentleman comes up with different solutions. Perhaps he will study the matter a little more deeply and come up with his overall solution, which I am sure will suit us all. I am content with the notion that the explanation for crime has evaded people for years and years, and I imagine that it will continue to do so for many years to come.

In my experience, it is nonsense to say that unemployment is a cause of an increase in crime. We had far worse levels of unemployment between the wars but a lower incidence of crime. When I was called to the Bar in the early 1950s, the pundits were saying that the cause of the increase in crime was greater affluence rather than too much poverty. We shall await the right hon. Gentleman's next utterances, which I am sure will be quite as profound as the ones he has voiced so far.

The truth is that there is no single or simple explanation as to why some turn to crime and some do not. However, we do know that those minded to commit crime, those who have no inhibitions about stealing other people's money or property are always on the look-out for easy pickings. A quarter of all crimes are thefts from or of cars and we therefore need better car security. I have emphasised that in my discussions with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. However, people to not always lock their cars of secure their homes. A quarter of all car crime happens because people leave their car doors unlocked. A quarter of all burglaries are of premises that are unlocked and into which the burglar can walk without even needing to force entry.

Crime is not something with which the police can deal on their own. However the Commissioner's report bears witness to the constant and at times courageous struggle against crime waged by his force. While the war is still raging, the police have won some encouraging battles. Seven per cent. more crimes were cleared up in 1989 than in the year before. Muggings—street robbery and snatch theft—fell in the metropolis by 9 per cent. which is particularly encouraging in view of the public's great concern about this offence.

There is also great concern about the violence to which women are exposed, both inside and outside the home. The first step towards tackling this problem effectively is to encourage women who are victims of these crimes to report them immediately to the police. To this end, the police have concentrated on developing improved facilities for the reception and treatment of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. There are now eight fully operational rape victim examination suites in the Metropolitan police district. The domestic violence units which the Metropolitan police have pioneered over the past three years, of which there are now 35 in the Metropolitan police district, are widely recognised for the sympathetic and practical support that they offer to individuals who experience violence in the home. The Commissioner records in his annual report that 42 per cent. more incidents of domestic violence were reported in 1989 than in 1988. This is a terrible indication of what goes on behind closed doors and drawn curtains in London, but the fact that these incidents are being reported when they were not in the past is also a significant indicator of public confidence in the force's ability to respond effectively and positively to this problem.

The Metropolitan police have adopted a similar approach to the problem of racial attacks and harassment. The recent valuable report by the Select Committee on Home Affairs stressed the importance of well-publicised declarations by chief officers in encouraging further reporting of racial incidents. I greatly welcome, therefore, the Commissioner's repeated and public commitment to tackling this problem—backed up by a campaign to encourage the reporting of such incidents. It is not just a question of talk. The Metropolitan police have taken action. They are closely involved in a multi-agency project to combat attacks in Newham. They have increasingly deployed specialist racial incidents squads and mounted ad hoc targeted operations. There are now 15 racial incident panels in the Metropolitan police district. Again, the success of police activity and the encouragement that victims have received to report this crime have been in part the cause of the 22 per cent. increase in racial incidents in the statistics.

The police fight crime best when they are working together with the local community. Street crime in Brixton has declined dramatically in the past three years—with 1,200 fewer victims in 1989 than in 1986. This is a considerable achievement, which we can all warmly commend, and it is significant that the Brixton police operations, which have included enhancement of the robbery squad by a third, have had the full support of the Lambeth police-community consultative group and the Brixton divisional consultative team.

That partnership between the police and the public is at the heart of the Commissioner's crime strategy and is one that the Government wholeheartedly endorse. In that context, it was again encouraging to read in the Commissioner's report of the many new crime prevention initiatives that began last year. There were more than 10,000 neighbourhood watch schemes in operation in the Metropolitan police district by the end of last year, covering more than 1.3 million households. The involvement of businesses through the sponsorship of newsletters and the funding of videos and in other support services for watch schemes is especially important and encouraging. There is also a cabwatch scheme involving over 6,000 cabbies, and 64 pubwatch schemes. There are 34 adult crime prevention panels and six youth crime prevention panels in the Metropolitan police district. Clearly the message is getting through—crime is everyone's problem and it is up to all of us to help the police in every way we can to solve it.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the pubwatch schemes, which have been set up throughout the Metropolitan police area, are of special value? In the village of Harefield—which is a community in my constituency isolated from the rest of the area by about two and a half miles of metropolitan green belt—this scheme has proved to be exceptionally effective. It is especially suited to a small and isolated community. Can my right hon. and learned Friend say to what extent he hopes that the pubwatch schemes can be extended because they are of great value to the community, to the publicans who serve the community and to people who enjoy a peaceful drink in a pub?

Mr. Waddington

I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned that matter because I did not want to give the impression that the pubwatch schemes are peculiar to the metropolitan area. They are springing up throughout the country and they are making a valuable contribution where they are already in existence.

It would not make sense to leave the issue of partnership between the police and the public without mentioning the Metropolitan police special constabulary. The contribution of the special constabulary is of enormous importance, not as a substitute for regular officers, but as a supplement to them. I am happy to pay tribute to their public-spirited service.

Crime statistics are regarded by many as the only measure of police effectiveness, but this is a simplistic view and fails to recognise the many important services, besides the prevention of crime and the apprehension of offenders, which the police undertake on our behalf.

The Metropolitan police was the first force in the country to provide assistance to the ambulance service when industrial action by ambulance crews put the public of London at risk by leaving a shortage of accident and emergency cover. The Metropolitan police devoted 650,000 man-hours to providing cover. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I are profoundly grateful for the dedicated response of police officers in helping to protect lives in this way.

The Commissioner's report also lists numerous examples where the police were called upon to help to preserve the difficult balance between the democratic rights of every citizen to demonstrate and march peacefully, and the right of others to go about their lawful business with the minimum of disruption. It is rarely appreciated that in a very real sense the police act as guarantors of the rights to demonstrate and march, working closely with organisers to ensure that major events pass peacefully and to the satisfaction of everyone. When matters get out of control, it is the police who are always in the front line. It is they who are assaulted, spat on, vilified—all for the terrible sin of protecting the public.

The scenes of violence and disorder that occurred in central London on 31 March, during and after the demonstration against the community charge, were an absolute disgrace. The police were subjected to sustained assault by a hard core of determined troublemakers. I am happy to pay tribute again to all the officers concerned for the courage they showed in the face of outrageous and barbaric behaviour.

I consider of particular importance the service that the Metropolitan police offer to the victims of crime. They have made considerable and welcome strides in this area since 1989, referring 108,000 victims to support schemes. One of the aims of a project implemented last year was to give priority in criminal investigation work to the victims' needs and to providing victims with a quality service, and I am pleased to see that one of the Commissioner's aims for 1990 is to keep the needs of victims at the forefront of the police response to crime.

The Metropolitan police, like all police forces, provide a multi-faceted service to the people of London, and it is up to them to find how to improve continually the quality of that service. There is, of course, much to support and commend in the work that the police already do. Day in, day out, the men and women of the Metropolitan police—civilians and police alike—work diligently and courageously for us to improve our quality of life. But although the polls show that a large majority of the populace are satisfied with the service that the police offer, worries are sometimes expressed about the lack of civility of a minority of police officers and some members of the public express concern about a tendency for the police to become remote and insular. I suppose that in a way it is not surprising that they should develop an insular approach. Too often the police are subject to undeserved and unfair criticism which must sometimes make them feel embattled and alone. We should not, however, disguise the fact that there are problems—with which, I am glad to say, the police service as a whole is beginning to grapple.

The year 1989 saw the launch both of the statement of common purpose and values and the Commissioner's PLUS programme. The Commissioner is deliberately opening up the Metropolitan police to legitimate criticism and to a searching examination of the service which they can offer and which is demanded of them. PLUS is nothing less than an attempt to change the whole culture of the Metropolitan police—to get the police to listen to the public, to understand what they want, and then to deliver a high-quality and steadily improving service. PLUS is a worthy and exciting initiative that demands the full support of the House.

PLUS carries with it some risks, however. Some think that improvements generated by it will come quickly and easily. But a programme of change on this scale will take many years to complete. Of course, that is not to say that there will not be benefits along the way. I hope to see an increased emphasis on victims, a better response to the public's priorities, a new sense of corporacy within the Metropolitan police, better strategic planning and better value for money. Above all, I want to see improvements in basic standards of courtesy and service. The other risk is that, by accepting that change is necessary, we may damage the morale of those thousands of police and civilian staff in the Met who already deliver a high-quality service. But PLUS is in part about ensuring that everyone in the Met lives up to the standards of the vast majority—and the vast majority need not feel that they are unappreciated. We recognise that they shoulder considerable burdens. No one should forget for a moment the assaults that they endure: there were nearly 5,000 in the Met last year—an 18 per cent. increase on the year before. It is right that we should demand much from the police, but in doing so we should recognise what they have to put up with and be grateful for what they do for us.

A high-quality service is one that provides value for money, and we must continually look for value for money. In the current financial year the Metropolitan police will spend about £1.25 billion. The taxpayer and the charge payer have a legitimate interest in seeing that the money is used to best advantage. In the Met increasing efforts are being made to provide that value for money by civilianisation—189 posts were civilianised last year alone; through efficiency scrutinies, which have already saved more than £4 million a year; through the introduction of devolved budgeting, so that managers at local level can use their expertise to provide the best possible service; and by increasing the amount of time that officers spend on street duties, which is what the public undoubtedly want. As the measured work load of the Metropolitan police has increased by more than five per cent. in the past year, those are considerable achievements, but much remains to be done. The Commissioner estimated, for instance, that up to 1,500 further posts within the organisation could be civilianised. We will have to pursue that and other opportunities for value for money with increasing vigour.

The Metropolitan police must make full use of the human resources available to them on the labour market, and I am glad to say that they are one of the most advanced services in the country when it comes to providing equal opportunities in employment. But it is very important that the work force of the Met should become more representative of the people of London, now so diverse in race, and I know that the Commissioner is deeply committed to that aim. I was pleased to attend the launch in March this year of the Metropolitan police's report based on six years of collaboration with the Equal Opportunities Commission to promote equality of opportunity within the force. There is still much to do, but the Met is on the right road.

It is the job of Government to ensure that the metropolitan police have the resources that they need for the proper policing of the metropolis, and no one can seriously doubt that we have carried out properly our responsibility in that regard. Since 1979 expenditure on the Metropolitan police has gone up by 72 per cent. in real terms. There are 6,000 extra police officers, and many other officers have been freed from desk jobs to carry out the real tasks for which they have been trained as a result of the policy of civilianisation.

Until 1979, the Labour Government starved the police of resources, officers left the police in their thousands and morale plummeted. By May 1979, forces in England and Wales were 7,710 below establishment, and in the Met there was a 16 per cent. shortfall. Within a week of taking office, our Government implemented the Edmund-Davies pay award in full and we have honoured the Edmund-Davies formula ever since, so that police pay is now up 41 per cent. in real terms over its 1979 level. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Is that all?"] I think that 41 per cent. represents a very big improvement in police pay.

Mr. Hattersley

The Home Secretary has forgotten that he vetoed arbitration on the police rent and housing allowance. He has also forgotten that the chairman of the arbitration panel said that that was an integral part of Edmund-Davies. It is nonsense to say that he has honoured the Edmund-Davies settlement.

Mr. Waddington

The right hon. Gentleman had better read the Edmund-Davies report again. He is talking sheer nonsense. We have honoured the Edmund-Davies formula and the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well from the debate that we had the other night that it would have been an irresponsible Government who did not do something about police rent allowances, not least because they rose by 57 per cent. in the Met last year. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the more money is spent on rent allowances the less is available for other services. We could not have continued with the old arrangements, so a new formula had to be created. The right hon. Gentleman also knows of the protection given to all existing officers as a result of red circling.

The right hon. Gentleman has made some very strange statements recently about what might happen if the government of Britain fell into the hands of the Labour party. He does not like me quoting what he said at the Police Federation conference, but what he said in the House on 25 June is enough to frighten the living daylights out of the police: 'Of course, until the negotiations are completed, Edmund-Davies will be honoured.'"—[Official Report, 25 June 1990; Vol. 175, c. 117.] If that does not mean that the right hon. Gentleman would try to negotiate his way out of Edmund-Davies, I am a Dutchman—and I am not a Dutchman.

Labour claims to support the police. However, that claim has no credibility when we consider what has happened in local authorities in London. We did not see much support from Labour for the police during the miners' strike. We saw no support for the police from Labour at Wapping when the police were protecting the rights of ordinary men and women to go to work and were attacked and reviled for doing so. I am sorry to have introduced a political note which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook does not like. However, I cannot see how I could have started this debate without referring to my responsibilities here and the folly of the Labour party's proposals to change the system of responsibility for the Met.

I remind the House that we are here today to debate specifically policing in London as a result of my duty to come to the House and report on the Commissioner's annual report. That report sets out a remarkable record of achievement in circumstances as difficult as those to be found in any large city in the world. The respect in which our police service is held world wide is demonstrated by the large number of officers sent from overseas to study and train here. I hope that the House will demonstrate today its full support for the police service in the work that it is doing for us.

10.31 am
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

In preparation for today's debate I read the Hansard reports of the debates on this subject that have taken place over the past 11 years under Whitelaw, Brittan and the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd). This is the first occasion in a decade when a Home Secretary thought it right to begin his account of the year's work of the police in London with the type of political knockabout that is more appropriate to young Conservative beetle drives, thus confirming again the growing opinion that the present incumbent is neither psychologically nor intellectually equipped for the office that he holds.

As the Home Secretary asked about control of the police in London—his words, not mine—and about responsibility and accountability, let me make several things absolutely clear. No serious person, and that includes the three predecessors of the present Home Secretary, could ever believe that the scrutiny that is possible for a Home Secretary extends as far as desirable in a democratic society. I do not know how much time the Home Secretary, with his many duties, actually spends in dealing with the London police in his capacity as the authority for the metropolis. I suspect that he spends very little time indeed. The idea that today's debate amounts to anything like proper scrutiny of the police in London is clearly nonsense.

I am not quite sure what the Home Secretary wants in that regard. At one point he said that many chief officers—I assume that he means chief officers outside London—would be pleased to avoid the scrutiny of the National Audit Office and of Parliament. He was implying that what happens in the provinces constitutes less control of the police than what happens in London. The Home Secretary then suggested that the elected police authorities, which are working so well outside London, would somehow be tyrannical for the capital. That is clearly nonsense and is not even a view that is held by progressive policemen.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Is not it much more serious than that? Is not it clear that in his opening remarks the Home Secretary, knowingly or otherwise, implied that the Labour party's programme would introduce borough police control? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that our proposal is to introduce to London what is, in effect, common now in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool? If that is so, and my right hon. Friend can confirm it, should not we ask the Home Secretary to withdraw everything that he said about the future plans of the Labour party in London? Unless he does that, he can surely be accused of misrepresentation. Perhaps he has been ill informed. Should not we clear that up now? Otherwise the media will no doubt use what he said and be misinformed.

Mr. Hattersley

My hon. Friend is quite right to say that the idea of borough control is nonsense. As far as I am aware, that has not been advocated by anyone in any forum or in any political party. I am not sure whether the Home Secretary advocated it because during those passages he lost his place twice and became confused when the messages from the civil servants Box brought him false information, which he had to withdraw. I do not know what the Home Secretary said, but if he said that we proposed borough control he was talking absolute nonsense.

I want to pass on from the more silly side of the Home Secretary and deal with the real subject of debate—that is, policing in London during the year covered by the Commissioner's report. Last year at the opening of this annual debate, the then Home Secretary offered this judgment: Recorded crime figures do not tell the whole story, but they give an indication of what is happening."—[Official Report, 30 June 1989; Vol. 155, c. 1213.] Today the Home Secretary rather downgraded the recorded crime figures as an indication of anything. No doubt he was influenced this year, as his predecessor was last year, by the trend in the figures. Last year the Home Secretary who upgraded the importance of the figures was speaking against a background of a reduction in recorded crime. This year, the indicator of what is happening shows a very different story and the Home Secretary has tried to downgrade it.

The Commissioner's annual report for 1989 revealed an annual increase in recorded crime of 5 per cent. The Home Office statistics for the first quarter of this year suggest that the increase in crime in London is accelerating at a frightening rate. According to the Home Office statistics, recorded crime in the Metropolitan police district increased between April 1989 and March 1990 by 7.6 per cent. Some 54,700 more crimes were recorded in the Metropolitan police area last year than in the year before. The total of notifiable recorded crimes has increased to 777,800—more than three quarters of a million. If the pattern of recent years is maintained, between 16 per cent. and 18 per cent. of those crimes will be cleared up. Of more than three quarters of a million crimes, only 120,000 will result in a prosecution and a conviction.

Mr. Shersby

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one interesting facet of the crime figures relates to sexual offences? In his report, the Commissioner makes the important point that although reported sexual offences rose by 23 per cent., that was due particularly to the increased numbers of victims having the confidence to report the offences.

Mr. Hattersley

I want to consider the individual categories of crime in a moment. However, I gladly concede, and by doing that compliment the Metropolitan police, that one of the reasons why crimes in that category show a higher number is because of the sensitive and progressive way in which the Metropolitan police now deal with them. There is therefore an increasing willingness on the part of the victims of those crimes to report what has happened.

However, I suspect that in other areas, in particular burglary, the tendency is increasingly not to report the crime. The assumption in some areas is that burglary is a common feature of life and that the burglar will not be caught. As I said, between only 16 per cent. and 18 per cent. of crimes are cleared up. Therefore, small burglaries are taken for granted.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peter Lloyd)

Burglary is one of those crimes that will be reported whatever the percentage of clear-up, because insurance companies require the matter to be reported to the police in most cases before they will reimburse the householder.

Mr. Hattersley

I am delighted to have an opportunity to go into the serious technicalities of the matter. I discussed that point with the Metropolitan police when we considered "Crimewatch" and the vetting and screening systems to which I shall refer in a moment. My information is that burglaries are reported in a way that does not always enter the statistics. An insurance claim simply requires a claim number and that is provided if a phone call is made to the police station. However, that is very much a formal report. I remain suspicious that other cases are not taken to insurance companies anyway.

The Under-Secretary of State may be right that burglaries that are sufficiently large to justify an insurance claim go through the process of getting a report number, which insurance companies want. However, the hon. Gentleman must understand that, in many areas, there are constant burglaries, which are important and distressing to the individuals who have been affected, but they do not cover matters that the people affected regard as appropriate for insurance claims and therefore do not come under his rule.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

It is an important matter. The right hon. Gentleman was saying—I hope that I misunderstood him—that a formal report to the police of a burglary would not find its way into the formal statistics. If he is saying that, it is a matter of real concern, and I should be grateful if he cleared up that point. I should like to pursue it outside the House with the relevant police authorities.

Mr. Hattersley

I propose to deal with that subject when I refer to crime screening, when it would be sensibly and seriously considered.

The whole House will agree that the figures on clear-up rates and total reported crime make terrifying reading. Despite that, in a sense—perhaps in every sense—the Metropolitan police are to be congratulated on the year's record, for the increase in crime in London is less than the increase in crime throughout England and Wales. The latest statistics show a national increase of 10–5 per cent.—the biggest increase in history—up to the largest total level of recorded crime in history.

The national increase has occurred most dramatically among non-metropolitan forces—13–9 per cent. in Northumbria and 11–6 per cent. in west Yorkshire. In other cities, the increases have been much smaller—1.4 per cent. in Merseyside and 2.8 per cent. in the west midlands—in other cities, that is, except London. If we are to debate this subject seriously, one matter that we must examine is why, when other metropolitaan areas have seen small increases in their crime rate, crime has risen so much faster in London than in other cities. The answer is clear. Despite increases in establishment, police forces all over the country are much more overstretched than they have ever been before.

Increases in manpower have not matched increases in duties, and officers are deflected from their primary duties of prevention and detection by tasks that they should not necessarily perform. Although that is true of all police forces, it is particularly true in London, with the special duties exercised by the Metropolitan police, the special problems of policing the capital, and the additional burdens about which the Commissioner speaks in his annual report—additional burdens that overstretch the police in London more than the police are overstretched in the rest of the country.

The police will say, and no doubt have said to the Home Secretary, that, over the past 10 years, their additional duties have far overtaken increases in manpower. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 imposed additional obligations upon them. Many other items of legislation that have been passed by the House requiring extra police duties have stretched the force, but, in London, the overstretch is particularly acute, and that is why I believe that the crime rate in the capital has risen faster than in any other city. A passage in the Commissioner's report dealt with exactly that matter. Talking about special London demands and special demands on his force, he said:

These demands have included the requirement of Home Office prisoners to be held in police cells, the vetting of jurors and the continued development of London. In addition, this year my officers have also helped to police the Underground, assisted with maintaining order in Wandsworth Prison, and worked alongside the Army and voluntary services to maintain London's emergency ambulance cover. Like the Home Secretary, I echo our gratitude to the police for all that they did in those particulars, but we cannot deny that, while doing that, they were unable to fulfil what many people would regard as their primary and most important duty: the prevention of crime and the apprehension of criminals when crime has been committed. Five thousand officers—400 to 700 a day—were employed in Wandsworth during the prison officers' dispute. No allowance was made for that in the total police establishment. They were officers who should have been deterring and detecting crime. No wonder crime increased by 7.6 per cent.

Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

I am following the right hon. Gentleman's arguments very carefully. Of course, they are complicated and important. However, does he agree that some organisations, such as the Prison Officers Association, have caused that additional duty to be imposed on the Metropolitan police? Should not the right hon. Gentleman condemn that irresponsible action by another service of the Crown, which required a more loyal service of the Crown to take its place? That might apply, of course, in other respects, such as the disorders in Trafalgar square. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman will not be unmindful of the policing of the Notting hill carnival. Over three days, no fewer than 5,000 police officers—almost the strength of the second largest police force in the country—are required to police one event.

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Gentleman can allocate blame if he wishes. We are agreeing on the basic principle. We are subscribing to the view that was set out by the Commissioner, that the police in London face special problems because the capital's policing makes extra demands on their time and resources. On the prison dispute, the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong to heap the burden wholly on prison officers. I am not at all sure whether in many prisons, "fresh start" has worked in the way in which the Home Office promised. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman believes that the Government are right. In the hon. Gentleman's opinion, the Government are right in every particular. If the Home Secretary prophesied four years of flood and famine, the hon. Gentleman would tell him that he was quite right to do so and would give his total support. I take a rather more objective view of such matters.

In some cases, the Government must take some responsibility—indeed, direct responsibility—for the overstretch that has occurred. For example, the London ambulance dispute caused the police in London perhaps the most seious problem of the year. In the Commissioner's words, 30,272 police man days "were worked … by officers who would otherwise have been available for normal police duty".

That was extraordinary.

Mr. Corbyn

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, throughout the ambulance dispute, which was caused by Government obduracy anyway, there were numerous requests from the Police Federation that officers should not be involved in the dispute because they simply did not feel able or qualified to do the important and serious job of taking London's road casualties to hospital?

Mr. Hattersley

My hon. Friend is right in one particular, but I go further. The Police Federation formally doubted the officers' ability to perform the task properly. The Police Federation formally said that it was sympathetic with the ambulance workers, but it rightly accepted the burden of maintaining the emergency service, because that was its duty. Whether its judgment about the merits and virtues of the dispute was right or wrong, it is undeniable that, because that dispute was prolonged for such a period because of the extent of the dispute, 30,272 police man days were spent on a task that was not the officers' primary duty.

If the Government are not prepared to take action and understand the need to avoid situations in which police are diverted from their proper task and proper functions, they must take some responsibility for an increase in crime of 7.6 per cent. Clearly, diversions from proper duty had a substantial part to play in bringing about that increase.

Mr. Shersby

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, although the Police Federation expressed its concern about the strike and about the difficulties that were faced by the ambulance workers and the unions that represent them, the officers nevertheless carried out their duties loyally and with considerable distinction? Is he aware that, in Birmingham, which I visited during the strike, the police, together with the Army, actually succeeded in considerably cutting the call-out time for emergency cases? As a result, that technique will probably be of great benefit to ambulance workers in future.

Mr. Hattersley

I have twice congratulated the police on the way in which they performed their duties during that time. If the hon. Gentleman would like me to do it a third time, I shall do so gladly and willingly because those are the emotions that I felt before and still feel now.

Having discussed and described the problems facing the police because of the special problems, extra duties and the difficulties of overstretch, the Commissioner's report then refers to the difficulties of policing in a changing environment. He talks about—

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hattersley

Yes, but this is probably the last time.

Mr. Cohen

The policing of that dispute raises an important point. It cost millions of pounds, yet the Government have not put up a penny. The health authorities are having to foot the bill and to close hospitals and reduce their services as a result. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a scandal and that the Government should have put up the money?

Mr. Hattersley

Of course, I agree with my hon. Friend, but if I follow him down that route, it will divert us from the main task, which is to discuss policing. However, as my hon. Friend well knows, I agree that that is a strong point.

Although it is not a point of similar passion, my next point is a point of equal strength and, as I said, was made by the Commissioner when he discussed the problems of policing in the changing physical environment of London, with all its building sites and road developments. However, the Commissioner did not mention a second problem which I believe certainly exists and which is visible to anyone who travels around the capital. In my view, it is impossible to see the dilapidated housing estates, the decrepit Victorian housing and the derelict shops without believing them to be a breeding ground for crime, especially when they are located side by side with leisure facilities which, because of the squeeze on local authority budgets, are inadequate or run down. The reduction in council spending on repairs and renovations to old peoples' flats, on adequate road lighting and on the redevelopment of vacant land, must have had a substantial effect on the crime figures for London over the past year. Preventing local authorities from spending money on the things that prevent crime is a futile and foolish saving, especially if one then wonders why crime has occurred and spends even larger amounts detecting small proportions of it.

I describe all those difficulties in mitigation of the statistics and to allow me—I hope with justification—to offer congratulations to the Commissioner and the London police on the way in which they have faced up to their task in those uniquely difficult circumstances.

I very much support the themes of the Commissioner's strategy statement for 1990 and welcome the way in which the annual report demonstrates that many of those themes have been successfully carried out. The strategy statement stipulates three essential principles of policing policy—a close relationship between police and people, quality of service, and value for money. I hope to deal with each of those themes briefly, but first I want to suggest a fourth ingredient for successful policing—police morale. I say that because I am told from every side—I suspect that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who speaks on these matters, will confirm it in a moment—that at no time in recent history has police morale, especially in London, been lower than it is today. That is partly because the police are overstretched and overworked. It is also partly because the police feel that extra burdens have been placed upon them without proper recognition of their difficulties. In addition, it is immediately because the Home Secretary has vetoed the arbitration award on their rent and housing allowance. By doing that, the Home Secretary has convinced many police officers that he will ride roughshod over their proper negotiating procedures and that he therefore has no respect for them or for the way in which they have worked over the past 10 years.

I noticed yesterday that the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten)—the Obadiah Slope of the Government—urged that when hon. Members meet policemen or women, they should treat them all with proper respect. I could not help wishing that the Government had sufficient respect for the policemen whom they meet to implement their latest award on rent and housing allowance. Talking about respect is not as important as doing the things that maintain and increase police morale. There is no doubt that police morale both in and outside London has deteriorated over the past year.

I refer now to the three aspects of policing that were specified by the Commissioner and shall deal first with the drive for an improved relationship between police and public. The Home Secretary was right to draw attention to the campaign that the Commissioner has launched to reduce and—I hope—to obliterate racial harassment in the capital. That has threee distinct beneficial results. First, it reduces harassment. The simple fact of its intention is obviously much to be desired. Secondly, it also increases the general opposition to racialism in all its forms by making the country aware of it. Thirdly—and not least important—it helps to convince the ethnic minorities of the capital that the police officers are their friends and that it is right for them to join the Metropolitan police and to expect a successful career in it. As the Home Secretary has said, it is essential that policemen and women from the minorities are recruited. I have no doubt that the racial harassment campaign, demonstrating that the police have formed good intentions in that particular, will encourage that process.

I also commend the progressive elements that are demonstrated in the report's comments about the incidence of domestic violence, in which there has been a depressing increase of 42 per cent. in the past year. However, sympathetic treatment is now to be increasingly provided by the police. That may have contributed to the statistical increase, but at any rate it will result in women being more willing to report such matters in the hope that those perpetrating the offences will be deterred and convicted. The report is most progressive and, therefore, much to be commended in its whole attitude towards attacks on women.

When considering the institutions of the police, it is important to realise that, in some ways, the police—more than politicans—have made progressive stands. When I read what the Commissioner said about the complaints machinery, and as I shared and endorsed his view that we must conclude investigations into complaints against policemen much more swiftly than at the moment, I could not help recalling that it is the deputy Commissioner, Mr. Dellow, in his capacity as chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland who now talks about a wholly independent police complaints procedure. That is a much more progressive idea about the matter than anything that has been accepted by the Government. I have no doubt that in many other ways also such progress can come from the police themselves, not least from the Metropolitan police.

The most direct and most visible form of co-operation between police and public is the neighbourhood watch scheme. When the Under-Secretary of State replies to the debate, I hope that he will tell us something about that. Like the Home Secretary, I very much commend and support the other watch schemes that have been established, but neighbourhood watch has come to be the litmus test—the visible example—of police and public working together. This year's Commissioner's report states that although the number of schemes in London increased during the year under review, it did not increase at anything like the speed by which it increased in the previous year. Can we be given any information on what has brought about the deceleration? Crime Concern, which I am always reminding the Home Secretary is not one of the revolutionary organisations about which he is so worried and which is chaired by his nominee—a Conservative Back Bencher—has said that the problem with neighbourhood watch is not lack of co-operation from authorities, but lack of funds from the Home Office. Can we be assured that the judgment made in general by neighbourhood watch about the deceleration in the progress of the schemes—it is not actually stagnation—is not, at least in London, because of the absence of finance? It would be a tragedy if those generally successful schemes were held back simply because the money is not available.

Another area in which the relationship between police and public has been under scrutiny and is much discussed is crime screening. Two years ago, the then Home Secretary told the House that crime screening meant that 80 per cent. of reported crimes were not investigated, and he defended that policy. Fortunately, he was wrong—not wrong to defend the policy, but wrong in his description of it. The real scheme, as amended and set out in November 1989, ensures that every reported crime is at least examined for investigation. Although it is not mentioned in the report, and the Home Secretary—the police authority for London, manifest and made flesh—did not think it worth reporting today, it is something that we should pause and consider for a moment or two. It should be welcomed for its ingenuity, its concentration of resources on the areas where they are most needed and the improved relationship that it provides between the police and the public.

I shall refer to two elements for special commendation from the seven or eight principles on which screening is now based. Crime investigation at local level should focus on the needs of the victim, and it is important to ensure whenever possible that a victim of a crime knows what action the police have taken, even when the police do not have enough evidence to proceed. Victims should know that the police have not simply let the case drop.

The final point in the seven-point plan is that there should be an increase in the numbers involved in the investigation of crimes. That is an essential element. It is not as important as the numbers available for the prevention of crime, because the public take the sensible view that it is better to prevent a crime than to detect the perpetrator of a crime once it has been committed. I strongly support the concept of screening as amended and announced. I hope that the Home Secretary will look at it carefully, and take a direct interest in it, and—if he is still in office this time next year—will think it right to say a word about what, after all, has been the major operational initiative of the Metropolitan police over the past year.

Perhaps the Home Secretary or the Under-Secretary will tell me if I am wrong—I should be delighted to be contradicted—but I believe that the obtaining of a number for insurance purposes is sometimes no more than a formality. The essential point relates to burglaries that are not regarded as appropriate for insurance.

My next point may be regarded by some hon. Members as trivial, but it is one of the matters on which the public and the police enter into trivial dispute, and that should be avoided. It concerns the free flow of traffic in London. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) will forgive me for trespassing on his property, but I believe that one of the things that prevent a proper relationship between police and public is the irritation caused to the public by traffic problems.

Let me give two examples. Those of us who live in and around Westminster know that the councils of our area are most assiduous in dealing with the parking of private cars in private areas. Those who are members of permanent residents' schemes have only to park on a meter for a few moments after 9.30 am to be clamped or fined. I do not object to that, but it does not move the traffic in London or avoid the irritation that does so much damage to police-community relations.

What causes constant problems and irritation is the sight of vehicles constantly parked in arterial roads in a way that prevents the free flow of traffic; vehicles parked on yellow grids at crossroads, preventing the free flow of traffic in the opposite direction when the lights change; and a policeman on the spot watching it all happen and taking no direct action. I give that example because I believe that we should do all that we can to avoid the small irritations between police and public.

Mr. Waddington

I ought not to take over the functions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, but it is part of his policy to ensure that in future the police will be able to concentrate on the job of enforcing the law in the circumstances to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. The local authorities alone will look after street parking when it is allowed, so that the police can concentrate on illegal—true—traffic offences.

Mr. Hattersley

How pleased I am to be educated in that way.

Mr. Corbyn

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hattersley

No; I should just like to finish this last sentence, as it sums up all that I have been trying to say.

I believe that the Metropolitan police are to be congratulated on what they have done in the past year. Progress depends on three things: provision of the right resources, the avoidance of diversion from their proper tasks to those of secondary importance and the growing co-operation between police and public. That, above all else, is what we should strive to achieve, and I hope that, after a bad start, the debate may contribute to that end.

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