HC Deb 13 July 1990 vol 176 cc613-57

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

11.5 am

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

As the House knows, I am parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales; I wish to declare that interest.

I am glad that we are talking today about the policing of London. It is right and proper that the House should have the opportunity to discuss the policing of the metropolis, especially in view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary's special position as the police authority. London Members are also in a special position, inasmuch as they have special opportunities to discuss with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis the operational policing of the area for which he is responsible. In some respects, London Members have a special bird's-eye view of the way in which the police operate, which is not always shared by our colleagues in other parts of the country.

As the House knows, London is policed by the Metropolitan police force, which is by far the largest force in the country. It is comprised of officers of all ranks, whose courage, dedication and professionalism is directed towards serving the people who live in London. That is their job, and they do it with great distinction. As a result, in 1990 London is still one of the best policed cities in the world, and the London police officer is still regarded as a friend and protector by all decent law-abiding citizens.

My purpose in speaking is partly to underline the achievements of the Metropolitan police in protecting the public, and partly to alert the House of the continuing problems that they face in serving Londoners. First, there is the question of resources. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has told the House today that this year the resources at the disposal of the Metropolitan police amount to £1.25 billion; that is a substantial sum of money, which is provided by the taxpayers and community charge payers of this country and deployed by the Metropolitan police with great care to ensure that it is stretched in a way that enables them to carry out their important task.

I do not want to rehearse again the long discussion that we had some days ago about rent allowance and provided-accommodation allowance, but I am glad to hear my right hon. and learned Friend repeat his promise that the Government will adhere to the Edmund-Davies formula in respect of police pay. That is a key component of police remuneration and his promise will, I know, be important to police morale.

The Commissioner has reported to us in what I think has been one of the most interesting reports that we have examined in recent years. The report explains that police resources are being stretched to the limit, especially by the additional demands now being made on his force—for example the demand to house Home Office prisoners in police cells, jury vetting and the provision last year of 81 uniformed officers on a temporary basis for the British Transport police. This was done to achieve a high-profile uniformed presence on the underground and to supplement an existing anti-robbery campaign. There was great public concern about the ability of individuals to travel in safety on the underground and the provision of those 81 uniformed police officers went a long way to reassuring the public that the underground was safe.

As a result of that initiative, the Commissioner tells us that reported crime on the underground was reduced by 2.3 per cent. in 1989. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) will agree that this is one of the happier crime figures at which we are able to look. Robberies were reduced by 39 per cent. to 470 crimes—another police success story. Those 81 officers are no longer diverted from their normal duties because British Transport Police have been able to recruit additional constables to take their place. That was a commendable exercise to make the underground safer for everyone travelling on it.

The Government have provided substantial sums of money to the Metropolitan police. The House must be grateful for that, but must also realise that the provision of resources has to continue at a high level if the kind of policing that the public want is to be achieved. The crime figures for London show clearly that we need a first class, well trained, properly paid police force in London. The need for the police to continue tackling crime is evident from the figures that we are discussing. However, some elements of the crime figures are encouraging. For example, street robbery has fallen by 9 per cent., with an increase of 10 per cent. in the clear up rate. Street robbery causes great fear among the people who live in London, so it is good to know that the incidence of it has fallen and that the clear up rate has increased significantly.

As the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said, unhappily there has been an increase in some other criminal activities—for example, there was an increase in residential and non-residential burglary of 4 per cent. in each case. However, arrests for residential burglary increased by just over 2 per cent., although the number of offences cleared up fell marginally. The police are being more successful in arrests connected with burglaries and that, coupled with the sensible precautions being taken by a number of citizens to make it more difficult to get into their homes, is the best way to deal with this unhappy and difficult crime.

One of the factors in the Commissioner's report that I find encouraging is what he has to say about drug abuse, which is one of the most serious crimes with which the Metropolitan police have to deal. The Commissioner comments on the use of resources by the crack intelligence and co-ordinating group and the joint police/HM Customs task force. He rightly says: We cannot afford to make the same mistakes as in the United States, which did not act soon enough to deal with this problem. I am delighted that the Commissioner and his colleagues have taken this important initiative. When one thinks of the kind of problems faced by big cities in the United States where crack is prevalent, it is good to know that the Met is dealing with it through this initiative. I hope that they will be as successful in the year ahead as they were in the past year.

On the beat, the presence of courteous, firm and friendly police officers continues to give assurance to the public and is the strongest of all deterrents to crime. The Metropolitan police have given a swift response to calls for urgent assistance as a result of that policing on the beat. In his report, the Commissioner tells us that 2,700 emergency calls were received daily, many of which were crammed into that busy Friday and Saturday night period. He also reminds us, rightly, that the people of London should understand that there are 8,600 miles of road in our capital city, with 2.6 million vehicles registered—300 for every mile. When the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook finds that one of the crossings is jammed, he will no doubt have that figure in mind.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, perhaps one of the most important initiatives being taken by the Metropolitan police is the PLUS programme, which is coupled with the force's statement of common purpose and value. The Commissioner has made it clear to London Members of Parliament and others that the programme is about service with courtesy, firmness and fairness and about what the police and the public, working together, can achieve to enhance the quality of life. That is why the PLUS programme has the strong support of the Police Federation, the other police staff associations and the unions.

Essentially, it is a programme for change, and it is tackling issues that were identified in 1988 as impeding a consistently high level of service. It is also important that today the House should pay tribute to the many acts of bravery by individual officers who have had to face criminals with guns, knives and other weapons and who were involved in recovery and rescue operations such as the Marchioness disaster last August. It is interesting to note that in 1989 shots were fired by the police in only two instances—again demonstrating the great care that is taken before a firearm is discharged.

The bravery of officers is also illustrated by the number of assaults that they have had to endure. Some 774 police officers were injured as a result of being assaulted while on duty in the 12 month period ending December 1989, and were placed on the sick list. In addition, 4,181 officers were assaulted but continued on duty. That means that there were 4,955 assaults last year compared with 4,206 in 1988. That is a worrying increase and during the last year, for the period ended 30 June, the Metropolitan Police Federation alone submitted 498 claims to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and other claims were submitted directly to the board by individual officers.

This is a worrying trend, and the police need the reassurance of knowing that an assault on them will result in a custodial sentence and, where appropriate, compensation. I understand from discussions that I have had with some police officers that in 1988, an assault on one constable resulted in the imposition of a £50 fine and that in 1989, assaults on three constables resulted in a sentence of six months probation rather than a custodial sentence.

While I fully support my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals, contained in his recent White Paper, I believe that assaults on police officers which cause actual bodily harm should always result in custodial sentences. If they do not, how are police officers to do their duty if they feel that the deterrent for this type of assault is not effective? Surely they should be paid compensation. I say that because in 1989 there was a more than 15 per cent. increase in assaults on the police.

All hon. Members talk to the police officers who serve the Palace of Westminster—perhaps as we come into the Palace or leave, or we may chat to them as we wait for a taxi. If we ask them about the problems that they and their colleagues have to face, they will tell us that these days, on a Friday of Saturday night they face assault. Not so many years ago, people who had been drinking too much on a Friday or Saturday night might have got into a fracas with friends, or kicked in a window, but they would not have assaulted a Metropolitan police officer. We have to recognise and take account of the views of police officers and ensure that assaults on them are brought to an end. We can only do so if penalties are tough enough to make anyone who might assault a police officer think twice.

The police do not merely have to put up with assaults on Friday and Saturday night. I am not trying to make a political point, but the assaults that the Metropolitan police had to put up with at Wapping were on a terrifying scale: 162 officers were injured, and 39 needed hospital treatment. I quote that fact without wanting to get involved in discussions about what happened at Wapping. It demonstrates the sort of difficulties that the police have to put up with.

There has also been a demonstration about the community charge. Members on both sides of the House have expressed their concern about some of the strange groups of people who were involved, and whose activities resulted in assaults on the police. By 8 June more than 470 people had been arrested in connection withthose disturbances. That figure includes more than 50 people arrested as a result of what is known as "Operation Carnaby". The majority of those arrested are young men in their early 20s, who gave addresses in the London area, and claimed to be unemployed.

I congratulate the Metropolitan police on the way that they handled that difficult demonstration. When my hon. Friend replies to the debate, I would like to hear what further progress has been made in finding people suspected of assaulting police officers in that demonstration, and what contribution was made by the filming and videoing of the demonstration, and the identification of people who put steel posts through the windows of police cars, and took other aggressive action against people who were doing their duty and upholding the law.

The Government are anxious to achieve value for money—not always the happiest phrase to the ears of members of the Police Federation. However, having 774 police officers on the sick list as a result of assaults while on duty is a costly business. It is even more costly when we consider that more than 2,687 officers were on the sick list, following injury on duty.

The courts must be encouraged to impose deterrent penalties, if that high cost to the police and to the taxpayer is to be reduced.

Traffic has also been mentioned during the debate. The Metropolitan police are responsible for traffic control. I can give no better example of the type of problem faced in London than by citing my constituency and especially the borough of Hillingdon. There are more cars per family in that borough than in any other metropolitan area—up to four cars per family. Many of them are parked in the streets, or on the verges. The reasons are probably twofold: the local police tell me that many garages are not wide enough to take modern cars, especially if the houses were built before world war two; and garages are full of mowers, deep freezers and the other paraphernalia of modern life. My constituents want to know what relief is in sight.

The Secretary of State for transport has announced a plan whereby the control of parking places is to be the responsibility of the local authorities, which will deal with overstaying on meters and in parking bays. That has been foreshadowed by the city of Westminster's experimental scheme using its own parking attendants.

In his report, the Commissioner tells the House that such experimental schemes have been a success and are to be extended to all parking zones. While my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport may propose additional powers, I understand that they will need primary legislation, and will not therefore be available until the end of the next Session of Parliament. I understand that it is proposed that overstaying should be the responsibility of local authority, while illegal parking should continue to be dealt with by Metropolitan police traffic wardens and police officers.

The Commissioner points out in his report that the strength of the traffic warden service has declined from 1,444 in 1988 to 1,348 at the end of last year. As the Department of Transport's consultative document, "Traffic in London" has confirmed that wardens are to remain part of the Metropolitan police some of the uncertainty about the future has been removed. My constituents want to know what plans the Home Secretary has for recruiting more Metropolitan police traffic wardens, what additional resources are to be provided to pay for them, and when we shall have a regular force to deal with the problems of illegal parking.

I hope that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport will be able to ensure swift passage of legislation so that outer London especially may be relieved of serious traffic problems.

I pay tribute to police and community consultative groups in London which do a very good job. There is one such group in Hillingdon, and I pay particular tribute to the late Mr. Harry Curtis, who was its chairman for the past few years, and who died recently. He made a distinguished contribution to the group's work. I also pay tribute to the victim support schemes, of which there are two in my constituency—in Uxbridge and West Drayton. They do a good job and I was glad to hear my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House that the Metropolitan police have referred 1,008 victims to such schemes in the past year. The schemes have the strong support of the Police Federation and of all those people who believe that victims must be cared for. Our thoughts should be concentrated on them as much as on the problem of dealing with the people who perpetrate crime.

The past year has been successful for the Metropolitan police, as it has achieved some significant and encouraging reductions in criminal activity. The morale of the force is good, despite the difficulties experienced in the past few weeks with problems such as the provision of accommodation allowance. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will continue to give them his strong support and to make the necessary resources available to them. I hope that he will remember the terrible assaults that police officers face in the metropolis and that he will do everything in his power to reduce the incidence of such assaults to the smallest possible figure.

11.29 am
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

These are not the happiest times in which to discuss policing in London, primarily because of the relentless increase in crime in London and throughout the country. We do not blame the police for that; it is not their responsibility. The Government ought to take responsibility for the increase in crime. They came to office on a law and order ticket. They suggested that the Labour party was soft on crime and that the Conservatives had the answer. Earlier today the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) was in the Chamber. I remember that she sought to draw attention to herself at the Tory party conference by holding up and brandishing a pair of handcuffs. We used to hear a lot about short, sharp shocks and stiffer penalties as the answer to crime. We do not hear very much about that now.

Since 1979, crimes have increased by over 50 per cent. pehaps that is due to the type of society in which we live. These are complex matters. This is the "me now" society. The Prime Minister says that there is no such thing as society—only individuals and families. People are encouraged to grab what they can for themselves. We see company directors allegedly receiving, even if they do not earn them, salaries of £500,000 or £1 million a year, while many others are left behind. A shut-out underclass is growing in the inner cities. That may be part of the explanation for the increase in crime.

The Home Secretary told us that since 1979 expenditure on the police had increased by 72 per cent. That is a substantial increase but it demonstrates that there is no correlation between expenditure on the police and the level of crime. We cannot say that if we spend more on the police there will be less crime, or, conversely, that if we spend less on the police there will be more crime.

In 1989, the clear-up rate of crimes in London was 17 per cent.—in other words, one in six. That is the same clear-up rate as in 1980. It has been static for a decade, although the number of crimes has increased during that period. The dispiriting truth, therefore, is that we are making no inroads into the crime wave. Very dispiriting also is the rise in racial offences. I know that the Metropolitan police take them seriously, but the police must give the impression that they are on the side of the ethnic minorities and that they are their friends. A great deal of work needs to be done in that area.

I am certain that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) agrees that these are not the happiest days for the police. I see that he nods his head. The police need to gain the confidence and trust of the community. They can be successful only if they gain that confidence and trust. Public opinion polls show that an increasing number of members of the public no longer have complete trust in the police. I think that it amounts to about one third. Conversely, it could be said that two thirds do have trust in the police. However, the number of people who say that they no longer completely trust the police is growing. The reasons are complex. They may be due to recent events: the miscarriages of justice in the case of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven, the anxiety, to put it no higher, about the Birmingham Six, the disbandment of the serious crimes squad, of between 50 and 70 officers, in the midlands, the Taylor report on the Hillsborough disaster and the manipulation of crime statistics in Kent. Some of those issues are getting into the public psyche. There are many other reasons, I am sure. It is an extremely complex matter.

Mr. Shersby

The hon. Gentleman should be very careful, as all of us should, about quoting public opinion polls. I saw a recent one in an extremely reputable magazine, which suggested that 81 per cent. of the people of London think that the police do a very good job. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that in the case of the Guildford Four no charges have been laid against police officers and that the matter is still under investigation.

Mr. Leighton

I am willing to accept what the hon. Gentleman says. There was never a golden age when everybody respected all policemen. However, from conversations that I have had with police officers, my impression is that they themselves believe that they no longer have the confidence of the public. Many of them have become very introspective; they question their role in our modern, complex society. They are going through what is almost an identity crisis. Many policemen feel beleaguered, unappreciated, misunderstood and a breed apart. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman agrees with me about that.

One of the important factors is responsibility. For example, the Government are very concerned about value for money for all public expenditure. If somebody wanted to ask whether we are getting value for money for the police, whom would he ask? How would any of my constituents who wanted to ask that question go about getting an answer? Responsibility is important. The Home Secretary referred to it in his speech. In 1964 one of his predecessors, Henry Brooke, introduced what became the Police Act. He agreed with the royal commission's view that chief constables were not adequately accountable when he said:

One of the lessons of modern times is that a police system, instituted to defend freedom and maintain law and order, must itself be under effective control".—[Official Report, 26 November 1963; Vol. 685, c.83.] I support the Labour party's view that there should be an elected police authority for London. That would be a big step forward and in the interests of the police. The Home Secretary is the police authority for London. I do not criticise him as an individual when I say that I regard it as totally unsatisfactory that one man, who is not even a Member of Parliament for a London constituency, should be the police authority for London. He has many other problems on his plate and many other responsibilities. It is not adequate to have one man as the police authority for London.

When we went to see Lord Whitelaw when he was Home Secretary, I asked for this debate and he agreed that we should hold a debate on the police once a year. It is the only vehicle for the Metropolitan police to be accountable to Parliament. It is the one organised opportunity that we have to raise police issues. That is not good enough. It could be argued that hon. Members can ask questions and go to see the Home Secretary. I do not, however, believe that any hon. Member believes in his heart of hearts that that is satisfactory.

All hon. Members try to have good relations with the police in their constituencies, and also with senior officers in the area. That works extremely well, but it is not sufficient. It is an ad hoc arrangement. All power in democratic society should be accountable. The only way in which we can achieve that is through an elected authority. That does not mean that there should be political interference; it would be complete nonsense to suggest that. Everyone appreciates and understands that the police must have operational independence, but there should be an authority to deal with general policing policy. The Home Secretary suggested that chief constables might feel intimidated or under pressure. Under such an arrangement, if a chief constable found himself in difficulty with such an authority, he would have the right of appeal to the Home Secretary, who would have powers to overrule that authority. We should know who is accountable for what, as that would be to the benefit, advantage and protection of the police.

I cannot let the debate continue without saying a word or two about Wapping, which was mentioned in passing by the hon. Member for Uxbridge. I have raised the subject at every meeting that I have had with the Home Secretary or the Commissioner. Some of my hon. Friends who are here today were at Wapping on 3 May 1986 and on 24 January 1987, although I understand that no Conservative Members were present. We were shocked and ashamed by what we saw, in particular by the behaviour of the riot squad. Officers dressed up in special gear, with NATO helmets, short shields and truncheons behaved indiscriminately and with quite sickening brutality. I have made three speeches in the House about what I saw at Wapping and I do not intend to repeat them, but there was unlawful violence. Truncheons were used not in self-defence but to batter, frighten and intimidate people. They were not used to the body or to the legs, but to the heads, and mounted police were used without warning. I saw people penned into Wellclose square; they were not allowed to disperse and they were repeatedly charged. Words fail me to describe my feelings at what I saw.

Fortunately, other people such as photographers, reporters such as Kate Adie, who was smashed in the face by a truncheon, and television crews were there. They brought the incident to the attention of the public, causing much disquiet. I took a deputation, which included a former Cabinet Minister who was a local Member of Parliament, to the Home Office and asked for a public inquiry.

Mr. Corbyn

I am sorry that I missed the earlier part of my hon. Friend's speech. I was also at Wapping on the dates that he mentioned and witnessed exactly what he saw. Indeed, I was with him for most of the evening. He is right to ask for the inquiry into the activities of the police riot squad that night to be continued. Does he agree that it is essential that there should be an inquiry into the command and management structure that operated throughout the night and the following morning, which then produced a barrage of media interpretation of what had happened? Many of the cases that could have been put to an impartial inquiry were undermined because the media had drawn their own conclusions as to who may or may not have caused the riots. Does my hon. Friend further agree that it is important that the police should have acted impartially after the event so that a proper inquiry could take place?

Mr. Leighton

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The object of the public inquiry was not to leave it to the headline writers of the tabloid newspapers to decide, but to examine all the facts and all the evidence from everyone concerned, including the police.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) may have been alluding to the attempted media manipulation in which one particular police officer whose name I am willing to give if I am asked, organised press conferences on a Sunday morning. I tabled parliamentary questions to ask where he was at 10 o'clock, 11 o'clock, 12 o'clock and 1 o'clock when the riots were taking place. He was in Leman Street police station. He had seen nothing. He briefed the press in a most misleading way. I can assume only that he did it honestly, but that he did not know what he was talking about because he was not there. That was not good enough.

I wanted a public inquiry, but instead an internal police inquiry was carried out by the Northamptonshire police and Chief Superintendent Wyrk. The Northamptonshire police spent two years scrutinising photographs and videotapes, taking thousands of statements and making thorough investigations. They produced a report, which was highly critical of the senior police officers in charge of that operation. They said that there was no proper control and that the police operation on those nights was entirely out of control. They made charges against a number of police officers. I emphasise that those charges and criticisms were brought by policemen. They included serious charges of assault, perjury and conspiracy.

What happened next? Absolutely nothing happened. No one has had to answer for what happened or to give an account of what happened on those nights. There has been no question of those highly paid senior police officers having to apologise for or explain what they were doing.

It appears that we have a force that is above the law. It can do what it likes without being accountable to anyone. Even when policemen investigate and accuse those people, it does not matter as there will be a cover-up and a whitewash. It is a disgraceful state of affairs. No respectable argument has been put forward to explain that cover-up or that whitewash. Excuses have been made. The Home Secretary is restraining the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department as he knows that there is no respectable explanation. It is outrageous and damaging to the police force.

I agree that the state should have in reserve an iron fist, which it can use in certain circumstances. However, it must be very careful about using such force against trade unionists who are decent, honest, British people who pay our wages and the wages of the police. It was totally inappropriate to use the riot squad against trade unionists who were sacked and who had a perfect right to demonstrate and to march expressing their grievances. People have that right here as well as in Poland.

I do not want to overstate my case, but I must make one more general point.

Mr. Waddington

I wonder whether this is the moment for me to intervene. If the hon. Gentleman leaves Wapping at this juncture, I am sure that he would like the whole story to be told. He must be aware that 24 officers were charged with criminal offences and were dealt with by the courts. The hon. Gentleman knows that what happened was as a result of delay due to legal advice tendered to the Police Complaints Authority and was no fault of the Metropolitan police. It is regrettable that the charges could not be properly tested in court, but it was no fault of the Metropolitan police and certainly not the Home Office. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would also like to tell the general public that, during all the trouble at Wapping, no fewer that 410 police officers were injured and during the demonstration on 24 January, so many missiles were thrown at the police that 3 tonnes of them were lying on the ground afterwards.

Mr. Leighton

I am not accusing the Metropolitan police of the delay of a couple of years. It has been alleged that, because of that delay and the fact that people's memories are so fallible, it would be impossible to achieve justice. We passed a Bill not long ago to prosecute people for war crimes that happened 50 years ago. I am not blaming the Metropolitan police, but the whole judicial system and everyone involved, for the fact that justice was not done.

The Home Secretary mentioned the number of police officers who were injured. A larger number of printing trade unionists were injured, and all that should have been brought out in a proper inquiry.

Mr. Corbyn

Part of the reason for the long delay before cases could be brought to court was the lack of co-operation, at many levels, of the Metropolitan police with the Northamptonshire police, who undertook proper inquiries into what happened on 24 January 1987. That itself should be a matter for inquiry.

Mr. Leighton

It is well known that the Metropolitan police are not always anxious to have their activities scrutinised quickly—we remember operation Countryman. But I am not criticising the Metropolitan police; I am merely saying that justice was not done and the truth was not brought out. I cannot let this debate pass without saying that what happened at Wapping was a scandal and an outrage.

I do not want to overstate my point, but I suggest that the police should be careful about their role in industrial disputes. Some people say that, at Wapping, the police were Murdoch's boot boys. It is bad if such a reputation grows up. The police should be careful not to be a tool of management; they should be neutral and be careful not to jeopardise that status.

The role of the police is to preserve the peace and uphold the law evenhandedly. Recently, there have been cases where the police appear to have been replacing workers in disputes and acting as substitute labour. In last year's ambulance dispute, the ambulance staff worked to rule, but were willing to answer 999 calls. However, they were sent home without pay and the police were substituted for them. That is worrying and has dangerous implications for the independent status of the police, who should never be seen as strike breakers. If police were ordered to act as blacklegs, I wonder what would happen if a police officer refused to do so because it could be objectionable on constitutional grounds. I understand—perhaps someone can correct me if I am wrong—that when troops are called in, a Minister must give his or her consent, but when the police are called in, that is not necessary.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

The police are there to keep the public peace, and how they are deployed is a matter for the chief police officer, who uses his judgment and does not refer to a politician.

Mr. Leighton

I am grateful for that explanation because I do not think that everyone realised that. I am genuinely grateful for the confirmation that when troops are brought in, a Minister has to give consent, but when police are brought in, a Minister does not have to consent, and it is left to the discretion of a senior police officer. That has enormous implications. The police must be careful that they do not go beyond their legitimate function and are not seen, in any circumstances, as a strike-breaking force or as taking sides in industrial disputes. If they do, they could forfeit public confidence in their impartiality.

I have probably taken too much time—I wanted to say something about the recruitment of ethnic minorities and women, which seems to be getting worse, not better. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) will make the point about the recruitment of women effectively, but whether anyone will do so in relation to ethnic minorities I do not know—but it is extremely important.

I shall end on a non-controversial, consensus note and talk of the policeman whom we all like and of whom we want to see more—the policeman on foot, the beat bobby. I am not talking of the policeman who rushes round in a fast car with a wailing siren. Local people like policemen to whom they can talk and wih whom they can build up a relationship of mutual trust and respect, and exchange information. Whenever such policemen are mentioned, professional officers' eyes glaze over, but they are the sort of police of whom the public want to see more. I hope that we shall receive some Government response, and get more beat policemen on foot patrols.

11.56 am
Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

Out of courtesy to the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), I shall follow two of the themes of his speech. First, he raised an issue that is always mentioned in such debates—the creation of a special police authority for London. That must be thought about carefully because of the nature of the policing structure in London. However, today's debate about police accountability is not about the Victorian concept of a police authority made up of elected local councillors and justices of the peace but, more significantly, about the modern police service and how it relates to the European Community services, which are nearly all national in structure. In the United Kingdom we need a police service that is funded by the Exchequer and ultimately accountable to the House of Commons, but which delivers its services at a local level and is accountable to the community on a sub-divisional or divisional basis.

The old war horse of a police authority for London should be taken to the knacker's yard and put down because it is irrelevant. When the House established the Metropolitan police in 1829, it deliberately chose as its police authority one of Her Majesty's principal Secretaries of State because it was asserted that it was necessary for hon. Members to have the degree of accountability that we enjoy today.

I shall take a second theme from the speech of the hon. Member for Newham, North-East, the distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee responsible for considering employment issues. Ultimately, in this country, the police service is responsible for the preservation of life and the protection of public order. In that context, the hon. Gentleman should know that if another service of the state such as the prison service or the ambulance service fails to fulfil its obligations to the public, the police have to step in to preserve the life of our community. That principle must always be adhered to.

It is always a pleasure to take part in the annual debate on policing in London. Inevitably most of our discussion will concentrate on the Metropolitan police, but I remind the House that London enjoys the services of other police forces. When we contemplate the establishment of a police authority for London, would those other police forces be included? In my constituency I am glad to know of the excellent work done by the royal parks constabulary. That small police service performs an essential duty in parks such as Regents park, Kensington gardens, St. James's and the Royal Horseguards. The officers encounter residents of the community as well as a large number of visitors and they perform their services with courtesy and efficiency. I am always glad to review the progress of the constabulary's work when I receive its annual report from the Department of the Environment, which is its police authority.

The City of London is policed by the City of London police. We should not forget the special contribution that that force makes to the City, especially in its work concerning fraud. The City police is ably led by its Commissioner, Mr. Owen Kelly, whose leadership is highly regarded.

The House will be amused to be reminded of the other constabulary in police service in London—the Tower of London yeomen warders, who are constables under the authority of the Ministry of Defence.

The other important police force in London, which is especially topical, is the British Transport police. It has made an important contribution to the control of crime. It is also important to thank warmly the St. John ambulance service for its contribution in supporting the police in London. That service is taken for granted when it is on hand at the London marathon. It is also important to note that it is present at other major public order events such as the Notting Hill carnival. It also has a significant role in supporting the police in times of disorder, such as during the Trafalgar square riot. Her Majesty's Customs and Excise also has a significant role in the detection of drug trafficking and I commend that service.

The recent crime figures have again focused attention on the problem of crime control and the 15 per cent. increase in recorded crime in the first quarter of 1990 suggests that we are losing the fight against crime. Of course, that is not true. Anyone who has any serious understanding of the crime issue knows that most crime is opportunist. The fear of crime, which arises because of the way in which it is superficially discussed, is every bit as evil as crime itself.

It is worth remembering that the British Transport police is responsible for the effective policing of an underground system which serves 273 stations on a network of 254 route miles and carries 800 million passengers per year. It has an immense taks to perform. L division of British Transport police provides specialised support services for London Underground across a wide range of activities. Many of them are similar to those carried out by other police forces, but they include the protection of London Underground staff and the investigation of railway accidents and station fires.

To meet the security needs of that vast enterprise, L division currently has an establishment of just over 400 police officers and it is continuing to recruit up to that strength. New York, which has a slightly larger subway system, is patrolled by about 4,000 police officers—but, of course, the quality of life and the nature of crime in New York is vastly different from that encountered in London. The British Transport police enjoys a good working relationship with the Metropolitan police and the City of London police. It liaises closely with them whenever a greater police presence is required, such as at major football matches and other such events.

While the national press often portrays the London Underground as a crime-riddled danger zone, that has never been the case. In 1989 only 12 per cent. of the 15,893 offences reported on the underground involved violence or the threat of violence. Just under half of crime on the underground in 1989 was theft from the person. Last year robberies on the network decreased by more than one third and assaults on passengers were down by nearly one fifth as compared with the previous year's figures. Women and elderly people tend to be afraid of travelling by tube in the evening, although most of them do not find the underground threatening during peak hours. Although fear of violence crime may deter women and elderly people from travelling on the underground, they greatly overestimate the risks of becoming victims of such crime. Crime statistics show that more than four fifths of robbery victims in 1989 were male, as were three quarters of the passengers who were violently assaulted. The perpetrators of such crime are also predominantly male.

Acting on the recommendations of the Department of Transport report and assisted by a £15 million cash injection from the Government, London Underground has set up pilot schemes to combat crime. The measures introduced on six Northern line stations have helped to reduce robberies from a total of 82 in 1986 to just eight last year. I am glad to note from the work of the British Transport police, in conjunction with London Underground, has resulted in a reduction of 39 per cent. in robberies and an 11 per cent. reduction in passenger assaults.

Mr. Waddington

My hon. Friend should also make it clear that L division of British Transport police was strengthened in 1989 by an addition of 50 officers to meet the concerns expressed by the public.

Sir John Wheeler

My right hon. and learned Friend is right. I touched upon that when I said that British Transport police is supplemented by other officers when there are special reasons for so doing.

It is important that the people who live and work in London, as well as the millions of visitors to our city, should understand the truth about how safe our underground system is when compared with any other system in any other capital, and especially when compared with the subway system of the great city of New York.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the fear many women experience when travelling on the underground. In common with other hon. Members he will have received briefings from London Underground. During the litany of statistics that he gave I am surprised that he did not mention sexual offences, because, out of a total of 629 reported incidents, 298 were sexual assaults, which represents a 53 per cent. increase on the 1988 statistics. I accept that women need not be so frightened to travel on the tube during the day, but does he recall the recent distressing case when a woman was taken off a tube, taken to a park and raped? It is not that much safer to travel during the day.

Sir John Wheeler

The hon. Gentleman must know that I take a particular interest in these issues. I have made it my business to make a detailed visit to the underground stations in central London. After all, I have more underground stations in my constituency than any other hon. Member has. I am concerned that the public should feel safe when they use the streets underground.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is right. The number of sexual assault incidents has been recorded, but they are a minute proportion of incidents on the London underground. The good news is that when the facts are recorded, it is possible for the police, in consultation with the other authorities involved, to work out a strategy to deal with it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that we do no service to our constituents and to the wider public when we exacerbate the fear of crime by saying that there is a problem without also saying that there are genuine efforts by the police and others to resolve those fears so that people can travel with the confidence that, I believe, they are entitled to enjoy.

The Government's commitment to the police service is well known and, I contend, beyond dispute. However, it is worth reminding the House that the Government have stuck to the Edmund-Davies pay formula. Since May 1979, basic police pay has increased by more than 41 per cent. in real terms, which is a remarkable record. There are thousands more police officers than there were a few years ago. Since 1979, there has been an increase of almost 59 per cent. in police expenditure. The Metropolitan police now cost more than £1 billion a year and receive Home Office grant for 52 per cent. of the total net cost. An extra 1 per cent. is included to recognise the range of national and international services that the Met provides on behalf of the 43 police forces of England and Wales, if not all 52 police forces in the United Kingdom as a whole.

In my capacity as Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, it behoves me to raise some important questions of financial accountability, which we should examine when we have these debates. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister may be able to respond to these points later. How are cross-subsidies between London-related policing costs and national-related costs avoided in the Metropolitan police? How can other police authorities object to costs billed to them through the Metropolitan police for national services, such as the National Intelligence Bureau and the National Crime Bureau of Interpol, which are functions performed by the Met? How can the Metropolitan police recover the costs of an operation mounted outside their area? When, for example, explosive devices were discovered recently on the Pembrokeshire coast, who bore the cost of the work done? Was it the Dyfed-Powys police or the Metropolitan police? What happens if there is a disagreement about the apportionment of costs? If national services are removed from the calculations—the 1 per cent. to which I have referred—how does the Metropolitan police force value for money compare with that of other forces? Does it still have more police officers per head of population than any other area, including other conurbations? These are important questions about accountability which I know that my hon. Friend will wish to consider.

The question has been raised about whether the police are effective in the control of crime. The media cry about the 15 per cent. increase in reported crime in the first quarter of 1990 is often accompanied by allegations that the police are not up to it. The enormous increase in the number of thefts of and from cars has contributed to the general increase and a slight lowering of the clear-up rate disguises the improved police productivity in the number of arrests and charges.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Is it not true that many of the thefts from cars are carried out by young children in the 12 to 16 age group, and is that not one of the most worrying aspects of metropolitan crime that so many youngsters are involved?

Sir John Wheeler

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, as she so often is. It is perfectly true that most of this random, opportunist crime is committed by teenage males, for the teenage period is the peak age for offending. There are no national figures on which the assumption can properly be based, but one force that experienced a 34 per cent. increase in reported crime also logged a 21 per cent. increase in the productivity of its detectives. We are increasingly getting value for money from our police officers.

Crimes against property are 94 per cent. of all recorded crime. Car crime represents the biggest slice of property crimes at about 100,000. A quarter of those crimes occurred when drivers had not locked their car doors. The public's treatment of their possessions, and the design and building of cars by the manufacturers, and not the police, will decide the success or failure of the crime control strategies on auto crime. There is no way in which the random patrolling of uniformed police officers will make a hap'orth of difference to opportunist car crimes. Those who say, "We want more police officers on the beat", should recognise that they are talking about a public relations exercise rather than about the control or prevention of crime. The sooner that we discuss and recognise the truth of that, the more likely we are to make more effective use of police resources.

I want to tell the House about some of the success stories of the Metropolitan police. The police service in this country is the most expensive and the best paid in Europe. The Metropolitan police force is probably the most costly, in terms of numbers, of all the world's police forces. However, middle-ranking officers are increasingly exercising their talents to analyse the crime problems in their district and to put into operation effective solutions.

I want to give the House one example of how such an effective solution has been achieved. In 1 Area (North), which covers the northern part of the Metropolitan police area, the police and the public became concerned about the rising level of street robberies and about the effect that that was having on the quality of life of people living in the London boroughs of Enfield, Haringey and Islington. A strategy was devised that included intelligence gathering, targeting of known offenders, community and multi-agency initiatives and publicity. A team comprising 25 officers worked under the close supervision of a detective superintendent and concentrated on known suspects who were identified through intelligence gathering. since the beginning of this year, 313 people have been arrested for robbery, 32 for the second time. Of those, 206 were subsequently charged. The problem was analysed, shared and discussed with the community, and police action was taken effectively. I give that example as an illustration of the increasingly effective work of the Metropolitan police.

I welcome the intention of the Metropolitan police Commissioner not to seek an increase in the authorised establishment for the Metropolitan police this year. He is quite right not to do so. He is right to say that he has expensive, well-trained staff and that those resources should be better directed to the clearing up of serious crime, which is what the public want. Most of the 6 per cent. of serious crime to which I referred is resolved by intelligent police action rather than by an increase in the number of uniformed police officers strolling the streets of our capital city.

That is a welcome development in the work of the police service. I commend it and I look forward to seeing the results of the commissioner's strategy when we come to review his annual report this time next year.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Unless speeches are very much briefer than they have been so far, I am afraid that a number of hon. Members will be disappointed.

12.20 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I do not wholly agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler). He said not only that there is incontrovertible and welcome evidence that we are getting increased value for money from the police but that the public perception of the role of the police, which would require them to engage primarily in foot patrolling, is misconceived. It is an extremely controversial proposition that the public are entirely wrong in perceiving that the need for foot patrolling police is not diminished. I regret that the hon. Gentleman has thrown his weight behind the arguments against the widespread public belief in the desirability of retaining traditional policing.

I throw my weight behind the opposing argument, in part because I believe that the fear of crime in our society is at least as important as crime itself. There is often a considerable gap between public perception and reality. Some examples of that were brought out well be the Commissioner in his annual report—notably the anxiety of elderly women, who fear that they may be subject to attack or harassment. The Commissioner makes it plain that women over the age of 50 are proportionately the least likely people in our community to be subject to attack. The Chairman of the Select Committee should recognise that that anxiety about the possibility of attack can be minimised only if traditional policing is sustained. The visible presence of policemen in the community is a necessary method of diminishing that anxiety, which inevitably erodes much-needed confidence in the police.

The debate takes place against the sombre background of growing anxiety about policing matters, not only in the metropolis but throughout the country. That anxiety has been expressed in quite dramatic terms in some notable national organs of opinion. Perhaps such language has been justified by this year's events, which have certainly been dramatic. The revelations of miscarriages of justice involving really disturbing police activity is not something that the public will pass over without concern.

The Home Secretary rightly lingered on the appalling events in Trafalgar Square on 31 March, which are further evidence of lawlessness in our society. At the time, all of us expressed our strong support for the police and our concern about the extent to which they had suffered assaults in those outrages, but those events nevertheless raise questions which must now be considered—and which are, indeed, being considered—about the operational methods that were employed, the appropriateness of the levels of force that were used and so on. The evidence of the growth in crime in the capital city and the disturbing increase in crime related to drug abuse are bound to raise questions about the adequacy of our policing and the methods by which the police are responding to the constant and changing demands.

I regret that our debate started with a disquisition from the Home Secretary which did not address these matters at all but instead involved a rather partisan attack on certain Labour local authorities. Perhaps some of it was justified—certainly I was critical at the time of some of the matters that the Home Secretary mentioned—but it seemed a little out of date. It was all the more odd that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should choose to mount that attack in the context of a disquisition on the suitability of the Home Secretary as the police authority for London. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman can sustain his charge only on the basis of information that is plainly out of date—notably the information about Islington—it does not suggest that the present arrangements for police accountability are without blemish or that they could not be improved upon.

Having said that, I think that changes are being made in the whole process of holding the police in the metropolis to account and some of them are being brought about as a result of the intervention of the House. Not only do we have this important annual debate. We have the continuing work of the Select Committee on Home Affairs and of the Public Accounts Committee of which I have the honour to be a member and which recently produced an important report touching on the expenditure—or rather the lack of expenditure—on the building fabric of police headquarters in London. The report made substantial criticisms that will need to be answered.

I am not entirely sure that the debate has reflected the great internal discussions that have been taking place witin the police—not only in London—about whether the police are performing the role that society expects them to perform. It is widely recognised that resources have been made available in ever greater amounts but that those resources have largely been absorbed by the additional demands that have been placed on the police.

The police have been responding to the pressures, referred to by the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), for greater accountability and greater value for money through the operation of increasingly sophisticated internal control mechanisms and much money has been devoted to the analysis of police procedures and the like. I am concerned about accountability, and I am not unsympathetic to the businesslike approach of the police. However, as the Home Secretary's predecessor said in last year's debate, the police are not business men. They must be businesslike, but they are not running a business. This morning the Home Secretary rather surprisingly described the public as customers of the police. We would do well to remember that the police provide a service, and the Commissioner emphasised that strongly in his report, especially in his most notable innovations in the statement of common purpose and values and in the PLUS programme. There is a "de-emphasis" on the role of the police as a force and a welcome emphasis on them as a service.

The provision of that service is not easy to reconcile with the accounting standards and value for money considerations which are difficult to quantify for traditional policing procedures. It is difficult to quantify the value for money provided by those traditional procedures. None the less, those procedures are justified.

The police are conscious that in large areas for which they have hitherto held responsibility their role is being eroded—for example, by the operation of private security firms in public order areas. The police are less in evidence at football matches and major public events where security forces are now being employed. Similarly, the police presence at magistrates courts is being withdrawn in many cases. Large shopping precincts are also being patrolled by private security companies. There is some doubt about the impact of all that on the public perception of the police.

I have not been able to find much evidence to show whether the additional resources which the Government have made available have secured increases in traditional policing areas. I believe that those resources have been used to cope with additional demands, many of which are necessary and important. The Commissioner points out in his report that some of those demands are exceedingly unwelcome, although necessary, for example, in supplementing the provision of ambulance and fire brigade services during the industrial disputes earlier this year. Such demands considerably distort the role of the police, and they draw resources in London away from the traditional policing functions which the police would wish to perform.

Further duties have been imposed on the police in response to important public perceptions of need, for example, in respect of pornography and child sexual abuse. Separate special units have had to be set up to cope specifically with those newly perceived threats to society. Those demands have withdrawn policemen from traditional policing. Although I recognise the need for those things and have strongly urged that those priorities should be acknowledged by the police and have supported them when they have taken such action, I believe that traditional policing is vital to maintain public confidence and a freedom from fear in society which is a major part of the role of the police.

Questions were raised earlier about whether there has been a serious decline in police morale. Such a claim would be an exaggeration. The police have been adversely hit by the Secretary of State's recent decision about housing allowances. However, we have debated that subject and I do not want to dwell on it.

More serious than the natural fluctuations in morale which the police may suffer, like the rest of us, because they are affected by fluctuations in their economic fortunes is the underlying uncertainty about whether their role is perceived to be one that is being discharged to the satisfaction of society.

That has been fuelled by suggestions that the Government may be contemplating the introduction of an officer class in the police. Some Government supporters have advocated that suggestion on the ground that it might introduce into the ranks people of management ability whom they believe would not be likely to be thrown out by the existing structure of the police. I wholly reject such a concept. It would have a deeply damaging effect upon the police force. Of course there is a case for the introduction of individuals from outside the service from time to time—for example, late recruits with other experience—but it would be quite wrong to create an officer class as such.

At the operational level, in the past year the police have faced extraordinary difficulties. The fight against drugs and drugs dealers has not let up. There is considerable difficulty in coping with the enormous quantities of drugs that have been flowing into the country from a number of sources. To raise such an issue is to emphasise differences in the policing of London compared with other areas, because much of the drug traffic operates through the metropolis.

Riots in prisons were front-page news for some time and placed enormous and unacceptable pressures on the police and caused the periodic use of police cells for prisoners—an intolerable situation.

Traffic problems in London have caused increasing public concern. Although I welcome the decision that local authorities shall be primarily responsible for infractions of parking regulations, I agree with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that there is a need for more interventionist policing when vehicles obstruct the free flow of traffic. The number of cars in London is absolutely astounding. According to the Commissioner's annual report, there is one car per 17ft of road. That causes immense problems for the police. Clearly, such problems cannot be wholly solved by them. None the less, the public looks for greater assistance in helping to remove the frustrations of living in this too-crowded city.

The debate is valuable. It is important to continue the practice of holding such a debate. However, I have my doubts about whether this periodic and necessary scrutiny of police activity—a bird's eye view—can be comprehensive. Notwithstanding the difficulties of the special role of the police in the metropolis, we must address new forms of police accountability which go beyond the historical role of the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary takes that role seriously. His presence throughout the debate compares extremely favourably with the behaviour of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, who, having made his speech, disappeared from the Chamber. I cannot believe that the right hon. Gentleman is a busier man than the Home Secretary. The way in which the Home Secretary has responded to interventions, listened to the debate and reacted to the report is commendable. That is why many of us welcome the opportunity which this important debate provides.

12.39 pm
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

I am glad that in his comprehensive speech the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) referred to London's traffic problems. In last year's debate I drew attention to the proposal for a red route scheme to improve the flow of traffic along London's main streets and roads. It would have involved greater parking restrictions and the much stricter enforcement of those parking restrictions.

Since that debate, I have some good news and some bad news for the House about the red route proposal. The good news is that the Government appear to have adopted the policy and pilot schemes will soon be in place. The bad news is that there does not appear to be any plan to recruit the extra traffic wardens who will be needed to make the concept work. At the end of 1989, the Metropolitan police traffic warden service had 1,348 wardens. That was a decline of nearly 100 on the number of wardens employed at the end of 1988. The Metropolitan police themselves estimate that, to make the red route scheme work, they will need double the number of traffic wardens that they have at the moment. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State told the House whether there are any plans for recruiting the extra traffic wardens who are necessary.

Help may be at hand, however. Some of my hon. Friends may have discovered—to their personal cost—that Westminster city council is introducing a new parking system with higher meter charges and a hard-working, locally employed enforcement squad. I must admit that I was doubtful about the idea of the London boroughs sharing the parking control problem with the Metropolitan police. However, the Westminster experiment has converted me because there are lots of wardens; the scheme seems to be cost-effective and parking places are better used. I also perceive a slight improvement in the flow of traffic. There is, however, one important snag. The council-employed wardens cannot put tickets on vehicles that are parked on single or double yellow lines. I believe that the council wardens should be given that power—

Mrs. Gorman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, but I think that he is wrong on that point. I have been given a ticket for parking on yellow lines by the new wardens.

Sir Philip Goodhart

I am sad that my hon. Friend has been ticketed but I am sure that she must have deserved it. I think that she will find that she was ticketed by Metropolitan police wardens, not by Westminster city council wardens. I have checked this point with those who are responsible for the scheme.

Mr. Hattersley

I intervene partly to clear up that confusion, but also to ensure that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) no longer finds me invisible. He assures me that he will apologise if he gets the opportunity. I believe that the position is clear. The extra wardens, to which the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) has referred, are entitled to warn of prosecutions that take the offender to court; they are not entitled to ticket vehicles in the more cost-effective and quicker way that is available to a Metropolitan police warden.

Sir Philip Goodhart

I agree that wardens' powers should be extended to allow them to give tickets, and I am delighted that I have the right hon. Gentleman's support.

Not only do we need more traffic wardens; we need more police officers in the Serious Fraud Office. In 1989, the number of cases under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office was 806, and the sum involved at least £3,500 million. The Commissioner reports that the number of officers employed in the Serious Fraud Office remained at about 30 in 1989.

The problem of fraud is likely to increase rather than decrease. Company law is becoming more complex; the removal of restrictions on the flow of capital means that fraud is becoming more internationalised, and there is a growing problem with the laundering of money acquired by drug barons. Meanwhile, the spread of instant international communication, with computers, faxes and satellite links, makes the detection of international fraud ever more difficult. I am glad that the Commissioner reports that the development of combined investigative teams of police, lawyers and accountants is progressing well, but clearly we have a long way to go.

There is some talk of setting up a national detective force. May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary whether there are any plans to establish a national fraud squad? I believe that there should be. I note that the Select Committee on Home Affairs, under the able leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), is to undertake a review of the policing of football grounds. That is an admirable idea.

Mr. Waddington

Before my hon. Friend leaves the question that he was addressing to me about a national fraud squad, I can tell him that I hope for the swift establishment of a national criminal intelligence unit. The debate has been about whether that unit should have an operational arm. The matter was discussed recently by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which concluded that the best approach would be to provide more effective investigation and enforcement through a reduction in the number of regional crime squads from nine to five. It takes the view that, if that were done, it would not be necessary to create a new organisation, with all the problems of accountability and the need for primary legislation that that would involve. I tend to agree.

Sir Philip Goodhart

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that important intervention, but I still believe that there is a powerful case for a national fraud squad. I hope that, when the Home Affairs Select Committee has completed its investigation into the policing of football grounds, it may turn its efforts towards an investigation of the whole question of the policing, detection and elimination of fraud in this country.

I have recommended the employment of more traffic wardens, and also suggested that we need a larger Serious Fraud Office. Perhaps I should touch on an area in which the Metropolitan police can get rid of, or at least share, some of their responsibilities. At present, the protection of embassies and palaces—including the Palace of Westminster—involves a large number of men and women. There is bound to be a reduction in the size of the British Army of the Rhine before long, and some units will look for other roles if they are not to be disbanded. I should like to see discussions between the Commissioner and the general officer commanding London district about whether some of the units that now provide ceremonial guards in London and Windsor could provide some actual guards. Some diplomatic and royal residences are guarded by specially trained police marksmen. Those duties could be carried out equally well by specially trained Army marksmen.

I am happy to say that the Commissioner's report lists an astonishingly wide number of schemes for interesting and involving young people in the work of the police. It also records the immense success of neighbourhood watch schemes, which have grown to more than 10,000 and the development of such schemes into other sectors such as pub watch, school watch and hospital watch. I note, sadly, that the oldest community involvement scheme of them all —the special constabulary—is still languishing. There is talk in the report of borough recruiting campaigns and press advertising of schemes, but the strength of the special constabulary still slowly shrinks. At 1,362, it is clear that it is substantially smaller than required. I am sure that the police need an adequate reserve force, and I note that there are 8,000 Army volunteer reservists serving in Greater London. There should be a similar number in the special constabulary, and yet another urgent review is needed in to whether the special constabulary has the correct role and structure.

One paragraph of the report draws attention to the risks that the Metropolitan police undertake while protecting us. It says:

Injuries to police officers on duty increased sharply in 1989 to 13,348 (11,889 in 1988); a rise of just over 12%. The number of assaults on police officers also showed a marked rise on previous years and totalled 4,955 (4,206 in 1988). Once again, arresting officers have borne the brunt of these assaults with 4,340 incidents (almost 21% more than in 1988)". Those figures underline the debt that we owe to them all.

12.53 pm
Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

I am pleased to be taking part in my first debate on the police. I had not realised the significance of the debate. If this is the accountability of the Metropolitan police, with the Home Secretary here to show that accountability, it shows how necessary it is that the Metropolitan police should have the same system of accountability as forces in the rest of the country.

The statement of common purposes and values is supported by all hon. Members who wish to see its aims achieved. Some of the contents of the report are more progressive and more positive than many of the words spoken in the debate. The way the Home Secretary dealt with the issue in his introduction was particularly disappointing.

To realise a statement of common purpose and common values, two things are crucial—the morale of the police, and public confidence in the police. Those two factors are interrelated and are extremely important.

What is the role of the police today and what is their identity? Are the Government asking too much of the police? Is the real danger the fact that the Metropolitan police are being asked to do things that we have not given them the resources to do? Certainly, the police are being left to pick up the pieces of the effects of Government policy, especially in the inner cities.

I will give examples of what is happening in Lambeth to show how the police are being caught in the middle and forced to undertake duties which many of them did not join the police force—or rather, the police service, as we should refer to it—to carry out.

West Lambeth health authority is grossly underfunded and is having to make some £8 million cuts in its budget. The result of one of the immediate cuts is that the health authority now refuses to admit people to hospital under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 between 8 pm and 8 am, and Priority care has broken down in West Lambeth health authority. Those are not my words, but the words of an officer of West Lambeth health authority. As a result, the police are having to stand in. After 8 at night many of these vulnerable people have to be incarcerated in totally inadequate facilities in our police stations. Police officers did not join the police service to do that.

Another example is the problem of homelessness. In Lambeth the police are being pushed into a situation where they are under pressure from the Government, and from some members of the public, to move the homeless on.

When the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) called for the homeless to be swept off the streets of London, I asked where he suggested that they be swept to. Now we know where, as it was recently announced that they are to be put in church halls and makeshift buildings. Who will be asked to do the sweeping up? Who will enforce the things that the Government are trying to do? The police will have to do the sweeping up, and it is interesting to note that the use of the Vagrancy Act 1824 is increasing. In my constituency, the Kennington police officers who cover the bull ring are well aware of the intolerable position in which they are placed. They face pressure from some members of the public, who are unhappy because a small number of homeless people are perhaps being intimidating, but the police are also aware that the vast majority of homeless people are facing a terrible crisis in their lives.

The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis recognises that homelessness has many social causes and implications. He also recognises the demands being made of the police. I hope that the Home Secretary shares his concern.

Mr. Waddington

I must pick the hon. Lady up on one small point. She said that the use of the Vagrancy Act was increasing. There are many misconceptions about that. The Vagrancy Act creates a whole series of offences. Is she aware that in 1988 there were only 12 prosecutions for sleeping rough?

Miss Hoey

That is one good reason why the Vagrancy Act should be swept off the statute book.

Let us consider two other areas for which the police are being asked to take responsibility. I shall not go into them in detail because other hon. Members have already mentioned them. The first was the prison officers' dispute, when between 400 and 500 officers had to work in Wandsworth prison every day. If police officers are working there, they cannot be where they ought to be. Most young policemen and policewomen did not join the police to do the work of prison officers. If they had wanted to be prison officers, they would have joined the prison service. A similar case can be made in relation to the ambulance dispute.

There has been a large increase in domestic violence and in the number of children who have to be protected. Police resources have to be devoted to those issues. The extra burdens placed upon them call for additional resources, but the resources have not been provided.

The Home Secretary referred disparagingly to Lambeth, but he was corrected. It is important to note that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis says in his report that in Lambeth relations between the police and the local authority are increasingly good. We welcome that, and I hope that the Home Secretary will do his bit to ensure that those better relations are cemented.

I hope, too, that the London borough of Lambeth's application to be part of the safer cities programme will be successful and that it will be allowed to play its part in the safer cities initiative. A multi-disciplinary agency brings together the community, the police and the local authority. I hope that the Home Secretary recognises the need for more resources to be devoted to that important step forward by the local authority, if it is to play its part in the safer cities programme.

Another important step in Lambeth is the summer project, which is also mentioned in the commissioner's report. This arose very much out of people wanting to do things instead of just talking about the community and the police working together. The Lambeth summer project has been a notable success. That has been said not just by the police and the people of Lambeth. It is also referred to in an interesting booklet by Robert Chesshyre, published by the Police Foundation. The booklet deals in depth with the positive things that have come out of the Lambeth summer project, which has brought together all the agencies in the local authority area. I hope that it will continue to be supported.

I have spoken to the Lambeth police about another matter which is causing concern to many hon. Members with London constituencies. There is a feeling among the black community in my area that the police are using their powers to stop and search black people to find out whether they are breaking the immigration rules. It is imperative that no black person walking around my borough should be picked on by the police simply because he is black, and that such tactics are not used to try to find illegal immigrants. The police have said in public that they recognise that there has been bad policing in the Lambeth area. I hope that we shall be able to influence their actions. The police should not have to act as an immigration service.

Positive initiatives have been launched in Lambeth. The borough recognises that if facilities are to be improved in the area, more resources will be needed. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis also recognises that the needs of inner city areas such as Lambeth are so great that policing cannot be divorced from all the other things happening in the borough. I hope that some of the issues raised in the debate will lead to Government recognition of the fact that we cannot allow the police to be used as a kind of mopping-up operation when things go wrong in the borough. Some of the problems can be solved only by more resources being devoted to boroughs such as Lambeth to improve facilities and housing for the people who live there.

1.4 pm

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

I am contributing to today's debate partly because I have been a Londoner all my life, although I now have a nice house in my constituency of Billericay. I have also served on the Westminster city council police liaison group. Therefore, I have some insight into the situation in London.

We talk as though things are going from bad to worse, but I recall from my history books that crime in London was much worse at the turn of the century. In some parts of the east end of London where three policemen used to patrol together, a young policewoman can now walk alone, so I am not sure that things are getting worse. Although people's expectations have increased, and that is perfectly right and acceptable, the general level of policing in London is probably better. As the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) said, that does not affect the public perception that things are getting worse.

As a woman who has to walk around London late at night—we often leave this place at some ridiculous hour such as 1 o'clock or 2 o'clock in the morning—if someone comes up behind me, I am more nervous and frightened than I was when I was a young girl living in Putney, a more suburban part of London. The other evening as I walked home, a jogger came up behind me. I could hear him padding along and I yelled. I felt a real idiot, but I was frightened at the thought of someone coming up behind me. Women should not have to be afraid in our cities.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) said, it may well be that the number of elderly women who are battered is smaller than people think, but that does not help any elderly woman who wakes up at night to see a monster with a balaclava hod over his head and a knife in his hand. Although the number of such crimes is decreasing, there is no reason why we should be complacent or suggest that the detection rate does not need improving.

Three interesting aspects of policing in London have not yet been mentioned. The increasing use of private security agencies takes work off the police. The number of bank robberies in London has reduced remarkably in the past 10 years because more banks are using private security firms to police the banks and to carry the money. That is a sensible idea. Contracting out traffic wardens has also been mentioned. I am not sure that I entirely disapprove of the vigilantes who travel on the underground, but I am all in favour of that American idea if it improves people's feeling of safety on the underground.

The participation of citizens in policing their communities is no bad thing. One version is neighbourhood watch. In my constituency there has been an interesting development. A young women who is not a police officer monitors with a computer the movements of all the constables and patrol cars within a large part of my constituency. She is extremely efficient; she knows just where everyone is and can direct officers to crimes. She is not a police officer.

Our highly trained and well-paid police should be used at the sharp end of crime detection. We should have more of them on the streets so that people feel their presence. That contributes to people's sense of security and is a more productive and sensible use of police time. I hope that the Metropolitan police will continue looking for ways of taking the paperwork and bureaucracy away from police officers so that they can go out and do the job for which they have been trained.

Another aspect of police work in the metropolitan area relates to street demonstrations. When I was a Westminster city councillor, the aftermaths of violent street demonstrations cost the ratepayers in the metropolis a lot of money. They were often staged by people from other parts of the country. The police grant the permits for such demonstrations. We on Westminster council tried, at various times, to prevail on the Metropolitan police to redirect the demos to parks, city outskirts or public commons such as Wandsworth common and Hampstead heath, where those involved could conduct a perfectly good demonstration with much less disruption for people who live in the capital.

When I stay in London at the weekends I often go shopping and cannot get back as the traffic has been diverted because of demonstrations. People might not think it matters that I cannot get back from Marks and Spencer on a Saturday afternoon, but it matters to me. I have to go to the other side of the river and walk miles and miles with two heavy shopping bags to get back to my London address. Such problems would be eased if the Metropolitan police could be urged to consider more carefully whether they should grant permits for demonstrations.

I was raised in Putney, and every Saturday during the football season my brothers and dad would go to Fulham football ground to watch the match. Nobody ever worried about whether they would be in a riot or a punch-up on their way to or from the match—the issue never arose. Now parents worry about their kids going to football matches in case they get involved.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary should have a word with the Secretary of State for the Environment, because if the planning laws were relaxed, many football grounds could be situated outside cities, where, at present, planning consent is not given. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) is involved with Luton football club, which wants to re-site its ground outside Luton centre but cannot obtain planning consent. I know that that issue is not directly related to the responsibilities of the Metropolitan police, but it affects the overtime work that they have to do on Saturday afternoons. Week after week, large numbers of them are diverted to policing demonstrations and football matches when, I am sure, they would prefer to be at home with their families watching a football match or tennis on television.

I have referred to the increasing involvement of children in street crime and crime involving cars in the metropolitan area. I am sure that the Metropolitan police would be happy if they could pin more of those crimes on children. Time and again they told us that children who were taken to court, got off scot free. I am happy that the Government are considering involving parents more when such crimes come to court. The effect of such a shock on both parents and young children could well stop the rot setting in. Children would not become used to getting away with crime, and would be less likely to become seriously involved in it. The increase in crime in central London is due largely to schoolchildren whose parents, more than the police, should be responsible for them.

Whether or not the number of violent crimes against women in the community and cities is rising, women's perception of such crimes is heightened. Ever since I can remember, travelling in crowded tubes has sometimes been an excuse for a monster, a dirty old man, to press up against me and squeeze bits of my anatomy with which he has no business to be in contact. It is horrible. Often in the past women would not report such occurrences because of a feeling of shame, as if they had been involved. Recently, a judge said to a women in a rape case that, although she said no she may have meant yes. Such an attitude, which exists in police forces as well as among the judiciary, does not help women to feel secure in our communities.

I should like the Metropolitan police to pay more attention to instructing young girls on how to deal with such assaults. A girl's response is often one of fear and inaction. Girls almost freeze rather than sock the man in the chops or, better still, kneeing him in the groin. We grown-ups know that that is one good way of putting a man out of action long enough to run a short distance down the road and get away. I do not subscribe to the idea that women should not fight back.

The Metropolitan police should formulate ideas on teaching young girls and women how to cope when attacked, whether in their own homes, on the street, the cinema, on tube stations or on trains. Such education could be given on television, and women's confidence to go out at night would thus be restored. We should not feel that we must take a taxi from A to B every time we want to go outside our front door. The Metropolitan police should use some imagination to do something to improve a woman's sense of security when outside at night.

From time to time we have read in the newspapers of horrific violence against young children. In recent years in the London area Jasmine Beckford, Kimberley Carlile and Sukina Hammond were murdered in the most terrible circumstances in their homes. Appalling violence was meted out to them. Often violence is perpetrated not by the parent, but by a surrogate parent, for example, the live-in boyfriend.

When we were considering the Cleveland case, it was interesting to note the role of the police as opposed to that of the social services. I know that the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) feels extremely strongly about this and she has some excellent background material on the way in which children in care are often abused by the very people who should be looking after them.

I was pleased when, recently, the Metropolitan police and others introduced specialist rape squads so that the victims could receive sympathetic treatment. We need such a service for children who are endangered. Often we hear that risk to a child has been reported to social services, which are subsequently involved with the family, yet nothing is done to rescue the child, often because children are regarded as the property of their parents rather than individuals in their own right. Children do not get enough protection from the police. The Metropolitan police and other forces should be involved at a much earlier stage in such cases and should take control of them. When a child is at risk, the pressure of the police would be salutary. These matters should not be left to social services, as they have been in the past.

The Metropolitan police should spend less time on ancillary jobs which could be efficiently sub-contracted out to the private sector. The police should grant fewer permits for demonstrations in the centre of the city. Demonstrations should be confined to outer-London areas where they could be policed more securely. If that happened, much less disruption would be caused to those who live in the metropolitan area, who cannot go about their business at the weekends.

The police should provide more protection for children at risk and should not leave it to the social services. The Metropolitan police should also prosecute more children who commit crime as that would mean that their parents would be made to feel responsible. Much more attention must be paid to women's belief that the police cannot protect them as well as they used to. That undoubtedly means a far greater presence of police on the streets, where I think that most of them should be.

Here in the centre of London we do not have a balanced view of these matters. There are more police to the square inch in London than there are hon. Members on the Benches in the House today. We are over-provided. Not surprisingly, the crime rate in the Canon row catchment area around here is the lowest in London. We perhaps get a false impression in this place because everywhere we turn there is a policeman. In other areas, such as Brixton, Lambeth, Southwark, Peckham, the east end and north London, the position is different. We want more policemen to be doing the job for which the public think they are paying—working as bobbies on the beat.

1.20 pm
Mrs. Rosie Barnes (Greenwich)

Last month's release of the latest crime statistics gave little cause for comfort as a background to today's debate. Notifiable offences were 15 per cent. higher than in the equivalent quarter of 1989. Violence to the person was up by 4 per cent. One small ray of light in an otherwise dismal picture was that sexual offences were down by 5 per cent.

I reiterate the remarks that have been made in response to a comment and a series of statistics from the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), who was trying to be reassuring. Crime to women—especially crime on the transport network—is not only growing quite dramatically in reality, but is causing many women to be prisoners in their own homes, especially in the evening. There is evidence that sexual crimes against women have increased by 54 per cent., and to be glib about that is a big mistake.

In London, notifiable offences have risen by more than 7 per cent. on an annual basis. Offences against the person rose from 4 per cent. of notifiable offences in 1979 to 7 per cent. in 1989. While offences involving death or serious injury have declined by 3 per cent. since 1988, they are 16 per cent. higher than they were a decade ago. That represents a changing pattern in criminal behaviour and naturally causes great anxiety to those who feel that they are most vulnerable.

I have discussed the statistics relating to my area with the local chief superintendents. They can, of course, reassure me that a woman in her 70s, out at 2 am, statistically would be at virtually no risk because none of them is out at that time. The chief superintendents have told me, quite convincingly, that the most vulnerable person out in the evening is a teenage male. By and large, teenage males are also responsible for dishing out this treatment, although quite innocent teenage boys coming home from a club or a pub do get set on. They are a vulnerable group.

We are responding, in part, to media reaction. The brutal rape of a 70-year-old or the brutal mugging of an elderly lady will receive more media attention than will yet another youth being beaten up on the street in the evening.

We must not underestimate the fear of crime. It has a foundation and it causes people to live their lives in an unacceptable way. We must continue to address that problem.

We must also take seriously violence in the home. Violence, injury and murder at the hands of relatives or others well known to the victim are becoming an increasing problem. There is a constant debate about whether the increase is to be accounted for by the fact that the victims of child abuse are coming forward more frequently than in the past or by the fact that women who have been sexually abused or raped by a relative are now prepared to say so whereas they were not in the past. We shall never know the truth, no one will ever be able to find equivalent statistics for past decades and centuries. There may be an element of truth in the assertion, but even so it does not detract from the seriousness of the problem of violence in the home.

Nearly half the women who are murdered are killed by their husband or lover and we cannot ignore that fact. In the past, such crimes were called crimes of passion, and the police kept well clear of the increasing number of violent incidents leading up to such murders. That pattern is now beginning to change. We do not expect our children and womenfolk to endure such treatment. The natural consequence of that is that we expect our police officers to intervene and take preventive measures. It has not always been the tradition for police to become involved in such activities. It used to be notoriously difficult to get the police to intervene because in many cases someone who makes a complaint in the heat of the moment will then decide to back off and not to proceed with the case. We must reflect and encourage the changing values in society. Women should not feel ashamed or feel that the violence against them is their fault. They should feel entitled to, and should properly expect, the protection of the police force.

I propose to deal in detail with some of the ways in which the police deal with serious violent crime, often resulting in death. A study of the families of murder victims published earlier this year has proved to be extremely useful in highlighting some of the shortcomings in the police's handling of relatives following a bereavement. The loss of a relative is always tragic but a violent and unexpected death-murder, manslaughter or accidental death—is far more difficult to come to terms with. The report showed an open-mindedness and sensitivity on the part of the police, and a readiness to become involved in understanding how to deal with the relatives. That is not their first line of work but it is extremely important.

I have received several representations from the relatives of victims of road accidents who have been unable to find out what happened after the inquest on their loved ones. Sometimes the person responsible is charged with nothing more serious than a motoring offence. The relatives of the bereaved person often find it very difficult to find out what happens when the person who has been charged goes to court—to find out what the sentence—if any—was and what is being done to prevent an irresponsible person going out on a joy ride and inadvertently killing someone else.

My work as an hon. Member has involved dealing with a number of relatives following bereavements—not only in cases relating to police work. Because of the way in which the circumstances of the death were handled, those relatives have been unable to accept the tragic loss of their loved one and the circumstances surrounding it. The police are rightly prepared to accept further help and to become more sensitive in dealing with such matters. Some of the work can be handed over to civilians, who may be able to engage in bereavement counselling and help the police in their job. I have written to the Home Secretary about a sad case in my constituency involving the death of a young man in a lift accident. There is some debate between his father and the police concerning the nature of the accident. I am about to write to the Home Secretary again because I have made further inquiries and I think that in this instance, the police, in an attempt to spare the father of the child the full details of how the death came about, have brought repercussions on themselves. Those matters must be dealt with sensitively, not least because the work load that follows an unhappy bereaved person may be enormous and may last for years.

I want to draw attention to some of the grey areas in terms of crime and anti-social behaviour and who takes responsibility for that, particularly in inner-city area That is a great problem in Greenwich, as I am sure it must be elsewhere. It involves disputes between neighbours; severe vandalism to the extent of lighting fires in the basement of tower blocks; harassment and objects being pushed through letter boxes and children knocking on doors and running away, not just once, but repeatedly. The responsibility for such behaviour is a murky area. Does it lie in the way in which the council estate is run —if it happens on a council estate? Does the responsibility lie with the local authority housing department? Or does the responsibility lie with the police? Because of the greyness of that area and the difficulty in finding someone to take responsibility for it, very often untold misery is caused to those who are on the receiving end.

Bored children and bored teenagers—irrespective of those who have a tendency to criminal behaviour—cause great misery on some of our estates and the result of their behaviour overlaps on to police responsibility. As a society we must take the responsibility for our young people more seriously. We must provide more constructive things for them to do to stop them from turning to crime from sheer boredom.

I want to refer to homeless people, to which the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) referred. Earlier this week I had to contact my local police about a lady who had appeared on the streets in my constituency in an area that is not unfamiliar with dossers, tramps and people with nowhere to live. An establishment called Carrington house, which takes people in at night, is in the area. I had received innumerable telephone calls about a lady who had appeared quite well dressed and seemed to have money. She had settled down on a street corner and had proceeded to live there for the next five weeks. People were becoming very disturbed and anxious about her. I contacted the social services to see what could be done and I also contacted the police. A week later nothing had been done so I rang the chief superintendent and said, "Unless you do something quickly, I'm going to ring 'Thames News' about this lady." It was not really his responsibility. The women had committed no crime and I understand that she had been offered shelter, but had refused it. However, she appeared to be just sitting on the street corner dying.

One of the problems with homelessness is that among the homeless there are clearly many mentally ill people. We are forcing our police to take responsibility for those people as there is no other route available. I understand that the woman to whom I have referred cannot be taken into compulsory care for her own well-being because she is not a danger to other people. Although she is not looking after herself, she is no real danger to herself and has lived that way for some time. Such social problems are reflecting heavily on the police burden.

The reputation of the police has perhaps been tarnished as a result of their response to what, in their book, might be more moderate crimes. People accept that if there is a serious rape or a murder the police come round in full force and there is a proper investigation. It is rather like the health service—if we suffer a road accident or a serious illness, the health service leaps into action. The equivalent of the varicose vein syndrome in the health service is the routine robbery. Such robberies are routine for the police, but they are not for the people who are on the receiving end. I have discussed the matter with my local police force. The police must sharpen up their performance in that respect to regain some of their lost esteem. I have found my local police co-operative and wishing to address issues seriously in what has been a difficult time for them.

Without taking up too much time, I shall relate one brief anecdote of how the police are sometimes misjudged. I spent a night working with the police, in the early days of my time as a Member of Parliament, to see exactly what they did. During the early hours of the morning, I was taken by a police officer to a site on which travellers were about to be evicted. When we got there, I discovered that the police officer was well known by the travellers. They came out willingly to speak to him, and they were interested to know what he had come to tell them. It was a cold winter's night, and the police officer was busy telling them to take the young children back indoors. He said that their eviction notice was issued for the following morning and not the following Monday, as he had previously advised them.

He asked the travellers to make sure that they had given their children their breakfast and had warmly dressed them when they were evicted at the crack of dawn. The local press had been speculating that local travellers who were about to be moved on had got the nod from a misguided social worker and moved a few hundred yards down the road so that the order did not apply to them. I was quite amused to find that a kindly policeman of the old school was concerned 'that the children had their breakfast before they were moved. Such policemen are still in our midst. I could relate anecdotes to demonstrate the other point of view, but I shal not detain the House further.

Policing in London is a difficult task. Problems in society are making an already difficult job much more difficult.

1.36 pm
Sir William Shelton (Streatham)

I wish to raise two constituency issues—one good and one bad. The good one received a warm welcome from the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey). I refer to the Lambeth summer project, which is absolutely first-class. If such projects are not being run elsewhere in the country, they should be.

The project is open to every youngster aged between 10 and 17. The purpose is to show that the police are human and helpful, and to give youngsters some fun, experience and activities during their summer holiday. I may be wrong, but I believe that it is the brainchild of Streatham chief superintendent Roger Street. Certainly, he was one of the instigators. The person organising the project so extremely well is the community liaison officer, Chris Taylor, who is based at Cavendish road, which is also in my constituency. The project has been operating for some years and has grown in strength each year. What is involved? The police initiate the formation of a committee of themselves and local businessmen for the purpose of raising money. This year, they have raised £36,000—part of which, I agree, has come from the city action team. There has been much additional help. For instance, Leyland-DAF has lent seven mini-buses for a month to cart the youngsters from place to place. The project runs from 30 July to 24 August and every youngster between the ages of 10 and 17 is welcome.

All sorts of activities will be involved—for instance, recreational activities, arts and crafts, motor maintenance, weight lifting and a drama workshop. The Army is providing activities on certain days to show that, among other things, there is a jolly good career in the Army for the youngsters, if they wish to pursue one when they grow up. I understand that the Navy is providing six days of water sports activities at the East India dock and the Welsh Harp in north London, with which I am not familiar, is also involved.

Last year, 414 boys and 264 girls enrolled in the project. These youngsters mainly came from the inner-city council estates in Lambeth. As hon. Members will know, part of Brixton is in my constituency and it is also very much involved. The average daily attendance was more than 200, adding up to 3,000 child days.

I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Vauxhall present as I am elaborating on the points that she made about the Lambeth summer project. It is first class.

There are five centres in Lambeth—two in Streatham, two in Kennington, and one in Clapham. The Streatham Guardian has given free space. It has not yet been published, but it will be very helpful.

In previous years, Lambeth council refused to co-operate with the project in any way and would not have anything to do with it. That was the missing link in the plan. I am delighted to report, however, that I understand that the council is to be much more positive and helpful this year and may well be involved in the planning stage.

It is difficult to know whether the day-time crime figures have dropped, for example, on the council estates, but the project is being carefully monitored and we should know in a year or two. Nevertheless, the fear felt by many elderly people when they see a lot of youngsters gathered around a lamp post or outside a coffee bar is reduced because the youngsters are not around—they are enjoying themselves on the summer project. That is another way in which the project has helped. In addition, parents—and especially single-parent families—have been delighted to have youngsters taken off their hands during the summer.

I have gone into the project in some detail because, as I have said, it is not just jolly good for Lambeth—it is the kind of thing that will be good everywhere. Since I became member of Parliament for Clapham 20 years ago, I have seen an extraordinary change in the relationship between the police and the community. Things blew up horribly in the Brixton riots, but since then enormous strides have been made by community policing—or whatever one cares to call it—of which the summer project is an excellent example. I am sure that the barriers of mistrust are being broken down in my constituency. That is the good news.

The bad news about my constituency is that my own private Member's Bill, the Sexual Offences Bill, has not gone through the House. Although it had an unopposed Second Reading and was unamended in Committee, it was talked out on Third Reading on 11 May by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). He was in the Chamber earlier and I am sorry that he is not here now. My Bill was objected to five times and talked out on 6 July —again, by the hon. Member for Brent, East. I entirely accept that the hon. Gentleman has the right to use the procedures of the House in that way. My argument is with his judgment, not with his use of the procedures. I accept his right to do what he did, but I remind the House that my Bill had all-party support. It had the support of both Front Benches and also the support of hon. Members in other parties. Indeed, it had well-nigh universal support. If it did not have 100 per cent. support in the House, it certainly had about 99.5 per cent.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), the Father of the House, made an interesting interjection when the Bill was talked out the other day. In essence, he said, "This cannot be the right way for things to happen. Perhaps the procedures for private Member's Bills could be reconsidered." I very much hope that that might be done.

I shall not rehearse my arguments because they have already been gone into. However, the situation in my constituency is worse today than three months ago. Previously, the police could arrest a kerb crawler who drove around an area several times and solicited just once. It amazed me that they got prosecutions, but they did. However, one of the people who was prosecuted and convicted then appealed and won his case. That does not surprise me because it was not persistent soliciting. So the police are back to square one.

There is a strong feeling in the constituency about the lack of police presence. We have a vice squad of five whereas Wandsworth has a vice squad of 10, yet we have far more kerb crawlers than Wandsworth. I have talked to the deputy assistant commissioner and my chief superintendent, who takes the view that it is not a matter of a shortgage of police officers—they arrest prostitutes two or three times a week, but they always come back. I believe that it is a problem of kerb crawlers. I am therefore delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is present on the Treasury Bench to hear this because if amendments are tabled to any appropriate Home Office business with any semblance to my Bill, I hope that he will smile and not frown on them.

1.44 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington,North)

I have attended every one of these debates since I became a Member of Parliament seven years ago, and in every one I have made exactly the same point that I am going to make now. It is a travesty of democracy that £1.3 billion of public expenditure—a £250,000 rise on the figures for 1988–89 —should be debated on a motion to adjourn the House, with no opportunities for detailed discussion or questioning, and that the police force should not be accountable to the people of London other than through the Home Secretary—who, once again, does not represent a London constituency. That is nonsense. It is time that there was a real understanding of the need to bring democracy into the running of the police force in the capital city. I entirely endorse the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley): the Labour party is committed to introducing democratic accountability—in a general sense—in the police force throughout London.

It is also time that the Home Secretary reprogrammed his word processor. I believe that in his private office there is a word processor programme entitled "Policing of London, annual debate—Home Secretary's speech". He makes the same old attacks on Labour authorities, whether or not they are still Labour authorities and whether or not the attacks are justified. It is the same old drudgery.

Let me draw the Home Secretary's attention to a serious error that he made this morning. Islington borough council not only has a police community consultative group—of which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and I are both members—but it has spent a great deal of time and effort producing crime surveys. It has been working with Middlesex polytechnic to produce the second Islington crime survey, of crimes on council estates. It has current projects concerning the crimes on the Mayville estate and in the Highbury area, as well as one carried out on Hilldrop estate some time ago.

The council takes crime very serioulsy, because, by and large, it is the poorest people living on the council estates who suffer the most. Women are attacked on the street who should be able to walk around the streets freely at night, but suffer from sexual and violent abuse. The black community suffers from racial harassment. The council is attempting to encourage the police to operate in a way that is responsive to the needs of the people of our borough. I wish that the Home Secretary would give some credit where it is due, and congratulate the borough council on responding to the wishes of the people of our borough by trying to encourage the police to act. I am not saying that agreement is always reached with the police—by no means —but a real effort is made by the elected local authority to ensure the safety of the people who live in our borough. I wish that some recognition would be given to that.

The enforcement of traffic restrictions by the London police is highly selective. They did not want many bus lanes, and it took an awful lot of prodding to make them enforce traffic regulations relating to such lanes. Even now, bus lanes are too often blocked—delaying hundreds who are stuck in buses—by one or two selfish people parking their no doubt tax-free BMWs while popping in to buy a copy of The Times or the Financial Times on their way into the City.

There is another example of class bias policing. Stretched limousines are parked all along Charing Cross road every night outside clubs, such as the Sportsman club at the bottom of Tottenham Court road. They are parked on double yellow lines for the entire evening, with a chauffeur sitting inside. The police walk up and down protecting those limousines while the traffic builds up all down Tottenham Court road and Charing Cross road, and people such as myself, returning from the House on the 29 bus, are delayed. I have raised questions about this matter, and now that the Home Secretary is here I hope that he will take it up with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis immediately to ensure that stretched limos will no longer deny the people of London free movement on the streets of their capital city.

I support the enforcement of parking controls whenever necessary, but I sometimes have half an inkling that wheel clamping is done where the contractor can most easily put the clamps on, rather than where the traffic offences are most serious. I wish some examination would be made, because I notice from the accounts that there is a considerable income to the Metropolitan police from wheel-clamping contracts. There should be some examination of that relationship.

Page 73 of the report shows that there has been a serious increase in the number of road accidents to cyclists, and in the number of accidents involving overweight or overloaded heavy goods vehicles. I hope that the Home Secretary will look into that. I must move on because my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is giving me a nudge. He is our Whip for London and the agency Whip for today.

Mr. Tony Banks

My hon. Friend wasted 15 seconds on that.

Mr. Corbyn

Thank you.

The graph on page 48 of the police report shows an almost static clear-up rate, at 150,000 crimes, despite the fact that the number of crimes has increased to 800,000. The clear-up rate as a percentage is not high and has hardly risen in the past three years. Violent crime is up from 719,000 to 756,000, and firearms crimes are up from 514 to 531. That is not a high figure but it is serious for all that. In London, there are now 8,877 firearms licences as opposed to 8,650 last year. The Home Affairs Select Committee report entitled "Racial Attacks and Harassment" said:

We therefore recommend that the Home Office emphasise to Chief Constables the importance of the Committee's recommendation of 1986 that all police forces covering areas with appreciable ethnic minorities make clear that tackling racial incidents is regarded as one of their priority tasks, and advise Chief Constables in such forces to take appropriate action. I hope that the Metropolitan police will take that on board. The rate of racial crimes in London is unacceptable and there is inadequate reporting of racial attacks. Too many police think that if a young black man is driving an expensive car he should be stopped and questioned, although the same is not true of a young white man. Nigel Benn, Garth Crooks and others have all been stopped in such circumstances.

Far too many women feel unable to go to the police to report sexual attacks, of whatever kind. That is serious because women must have confidence in the police. In the past few years 20 gay men have been murdered in London. There has been a great increase in the number of cases of men accused of buggery. This is part of an attack on the gay and lesbian community in London. I hope that the Home Secretary will make it clear to the police that the murder of gay people and the lack of co-operation between the police and gay community organisations is to be deplored. I recommend that he examines the good working relationship that has been developed between police and organisations representing gay and lesbian people in Hampstead. In comparison with other parts of London, this area has a good record.

This is an inadequate way to debate the Metropolitan police. I hope that one day soon we shall have a properly accountable democratic police force in London so that serious matters of crime and public safety can be addressed by elected representatives of the people of London who can have control over the policing of their city.

1.53 pm
Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

I apologise to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary because, in the time allowed to us tail-end-Charlies, I shall not be able to make many positive comments about the excellent work of the police and the progress that they have made in recent years. Therefore, if my speech is somewhat unbalanced, it is merely because I have to make excerpts from it to bring to his attention matters of concern to the people of Richmond upon Thames borough, and, in particular, my constituency.

In reply to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Corbyn) I can say that in the past few months I have had letters from women who believe that the treatment that they have been accorded following their reporting of rape and other sexual attacks is far more sensitive then it was in past years. I know that the hon. Gentleman agrees with that. I was merely supporting what he said. I also agree with him about the needless harassment of many young black people, when we should be congratulating them on their achievements. Perhaps as achievement is measured by the acquisition of certain assets, such as motor cars, they should not be made to feel that buying a car with the fruits of their labours means that they will be stopped by the police as an object of possible curiosity.

I condone the strategy statement issued by Sir Peter Imbert earlier this year—the "Strategy Statement 1990" —and in particular the passage which states that he wishes To establish a climate both internally and externally which attracts and retains greater numbers from ethnic minority groups at all levels of the Metropolitan police. It is vital that we have more role models for communities to adopt.

My local community, the Richmond upon Thames division, in common with the rest of the country, has experienced a significant rise in recorded crime during the first five months of this year compared with the corresponding period in 1989. While the national picture shows an approximate rise of 15 per cent., the borough of Richmond upon Thames has seen a 35 per cent. increase, and 73 per cent. of that is attributable to rises in three types of crime: burglaries, both residential and commercial; criminal damage offences; and motor vehicle crimes.

I shall quote some figures that I received recently from Richmond upon Thames division which show that the increase in burglaries for the first five months this year compared to the last is 34.5 per cent., in motor vehicle crime it is 54 per cent., and for criminal damage it is up by 35 per cent. When taken together with other crimes, that gives a 35 per cent. increase in the crime profile.

Those figures are particularly sad because I do not know of any borough in London where co-operation between local people and the police is greater or more welcome. The police-community group is well supported by the police, by lay people and by the council. Although wider issues are involved in the rise in crime, the Metropolitan police have undertaken a number of initiatives specifically in Richmond which are worth mentioning.

First, in liaison with the police and community consultative committee, the Metropolitan police have taken the problem of residential burglaries as one of their primary objectives this year. Twelve officers are attached to a small squad to try to deal with that, and to give it a greater profile.

Secondly, in March a team of 10 officers was formed to address the problem of motor vehicle crime, which has increased by more than 50 per cent. in the past five months. In June, the local force commenced an operation which involved the local and area headquarters-based officers and various other authorities, to try to reassure local residents and to increase the arrest rate of offenders.

Thirdly, the local community in Richmond is very much a part of Metropolitan police strategy achieved through neighbourhood watch schemes and the local media.

I commend the local Metropolitan police for their support of the victim support scheme. Nowadays it is often thanks to the Metropolitan police that victim support schemes get off the ground. The force has been extremely generous with money and support and continuing co-operation. The victim is so often forgotten, but thanks to Home Office funding victim support schemes are now on a more secure footing.

What are the reasons for the increase in crime? Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that proper research is undertaken to find out the reasons for increases, especially in the leafier pastures of the suburbs, such as Richmond? Richmond is perceived to be an area of plenty. Perhaps that is why so many crimes are committed by people who travel to Richmond on what might be called a "take it awayday" ticket. Perhaps we should consider some of the other reasons. It may seem trite to say that warmer winters have an effect on crime, but there is no respite for domestic or street crime when there is such climactic change. That needs to be investigated. Perhaps we can discover whether there are seasonal differences in crime.

Another factor is the "poll tax attitude"—the mentality that certain laws are optional and that one can protest and refuse to pay, depending upon one's views, and that is encouraged, or not encouraged, by outside groups. The "Can't pay, won't pay" mentality leads to "Want now, won't wait" mentality. In an age in which people own more property and assets, some people feel that they do not want to pay for things because interest rates are high. Research ought to be carried out into whether the acquisition of property is accompanied by an increase in crime. There is little that the Metropolitan police can do about it. It is up to the owner of property to protect it by making it difficult for people to steal it.

We must also investigate the impact of alcohol on the young. They go to pubs far more than they used to do. Many pubs now issue a voluntary identity card. I believe that as soon as possible there ought to be a nationally readable, voluntarily carried identity card for everyone in the United Kingdom.

2 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I know that there is none so selfish as a Member of Parliament on a Friday, particularly those who make speeches for 15 or 20 minutes, leaving the fag-end-Charlies to divide the remaining time between them. I shall therefore try to make a few points in about five minutes.

I echo what has been said. We are grateful to the Home Secretary for agreeing to meet the London group of Labour Members of Parliament, which I chair. We had a useful exchange. However, even that, combined with police debates, is an inadequate mechanism for holding the Metropolitan police, through the House, to account. I look forward to the day when my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is Home Secretary and he introduces a Bill to set up a new London council as set out in "London Pride", a document published by the Labour party. The Bill would establish an elected police authority for London. The City of London has had one for many years. I see no reason why that principle should not be extended to the metropolis as a whole.

London faces many policing problems. I refer in particular to the incidence of racial attacks in the London borough of Newham, the east end and Tower Hamlets. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) referred to the attacks on lesbians and gay men. There is something almost perverted in the policy of entrapment adopted by the Metropolitan police and other police forces. The number of prosecutions of gay men and the number of murders of gay men, through "queer bashing", has increased. When violent crimes are being committed throughout London, it is peculiar that the police should devote so large a part of their resources to the entrapment of gay men in public places. The perception is that London wants—and needs—effective policing.

That brings me to the perennial demand for more police officers on the streets where they can be seen and contacted when most needed instead of speeding by in panda cars. The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) referred to the fact that it creates a sense of security. It does. Nowhere is that sense of security more needed than on public transport. The British Transport police establishment has been increased to about 400, but that is not good enough. The statistics that have been rained upon us today show that there has been a 53 per cent. increase over the 1988–89 figures in the number of sexual offences directed against women on public transport. We should all be ashamed.

In particular, more security is needed on the underground. I know that it is not a Home Office responsibility, but something ought to be said to the Department of Transport about the increasing move towards one-person-operated trains and buses. It is ludicrous that women are now being advised to go to the end of the train that is nearest the driver; but he still does know what is going on in the carriage behind him. We want guards on public transport and police travelling the public transport system to give women greater security.

London has unique policing requirements which place a greater financial burden on the residents of London, and that is grossly unfair. London has more police officers per head of population, but the clear-up rate of the Metropolitan police is lower than average. If we are talking about value for money, Londoners have the right to point the finger and ask whether they are getting true value for money from the police on the streets and the public transport system of the capital city for which they pay so much. I hope that when the Home Secretary examines police resources for London he will recognise the uniqueness of the capital city, that more demands are made on the police in London and that greater costs have to be borne by Londoners. We need greater accountability by the police to those Londoners. We are not trying to determine day-to-day policing operations, but we want some democratic say in the way in which police priorities are determined.

Those are reasonable demands from a Labour party that is very reasonable these days, and I hope that the Home Secretary will consider them.

2.5 pm

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

I offer only a truncated version of my usually brilliant speech. I apologise to the House for that, but I shall give the flavour of what I wanted to say when I arrived here at 9.35 this morning.

First, I must put on record my warmest possible tribute to Sir Peter Imbert and all his officers in the Metropolitan police, particularly Chief Superintendent Peter Lockley and all the officers in the Epsom and Sutton division, which includes my constituency. The police have an important and difficult range of tasks to perform, and on the whole they carry them out with exemplary courtesy and efficiency.

One local aspect of policing that is a great cause of concern to my constituents is vandalism and criminal damage to property. It may not be the most serious form of crime, but I assure the House that it is a great worry to many people, particularly the elderly. It is disturbing that this category of crime increased last year by 5 per cent. over the previous year and that the clear-up rate is still only 12 per cent.

As the House knows, those problems are often caused by gangs of youths congregating threateningly in residential areas and egging each other on to various forms of anti-social behaviour. The police and the entire law-abiding community need to do more collectively to deal with the causes of that behaviour. Parents should be encouraged or required to take more responsibility legally for their children. Teachers should do still more to limit and reduce the levels of truancy from schools as many such offences are committed when the children should be at school. Publicans and owners of off-licences should be more rigorous in their efforts to detect and prevent under-age drinking. Some of the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) were absolutely right. Only a co-operative effort will begin to control and reduce such anti-social behaviour, which is so disturbing, particularly to elderly people.

In general, the problems of law and order in the metropolis have to be tackled by a multi-pronged approach. First, we need to encourage and assist the general public to pay still more attention to crime prevention. I commend the Home Office on its initiatives over the years, but even more could be done, especially by motorists, householders and insurance companies with the benefit of sophisticated modern technology. Action should be taken by teachers to limit truancy, by parents in fulfilment of their family responsibilities, and by magistrates and others to deal more firmly with the problems caused by under-age drinking. Above all, I would mention the continuing importance of more police officers on the beat as the best way of reassuring the public. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) pointed out that it was only a matter of reassurance. Yet in this role, where we seek co-operation between the public and the police, and the police can be only a thin blue line, it is vitally important that the psychological dimension is taken into account.

In the years to come we shall need to secure even more police in line with the increase in crime that we must expect, if we are to maintain public order in our capital city. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the Government who, since 1979, have made possible an increase of more than 6,000 officers in the metropolitan area. They did so largely by securing a 72 per cent. increase in real terms in public expenditure on the Metropolitan police, which is admirable. That is progress in the right direction and it is gratifying that the force strength of the Metropolitan police is now only 148 officers short of establishment levels. However, I would still argue that the time has come to consider a further increase in the police establishment, coupled with continuing efforts to staunch the wastage which occurs every year and which, in 1989, was only 200 or so fewer than the number recruited that year.

In view of the prospective decline in the number of 16 to 19–year-olds entering the labour market during the next few years, the balance between recruitment and wastage will have to be kept under careful review, not least because during the past year there was a 7 per cent. increase in medical retirements—no doubt because of the pressures of being a police officer in the metropolitan area—and a striking 33 per cent. increase in transfers to other forces. That is why we are losing so many of our valuable and qualified police officers.

The Commissioner and his senior colleagues must turn their attention to keeping the well-trained, well-qualified and expensive officers that we now have in the metropolitan district. The clinching argument for doing so is that the surest 'deterrent to crime is the likelihood of being caught for an offence and that can be achieved only with more police officers appropriately deployed. I commend my right hon. and learned Friend and other Home Office Ministers for the leadership that they have given and pay tribute to the Metropolitan police.

2.12 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

A few months ago I copped a look—excuse the pun—at my local police station. The police were making improved efforts and morale was quite high by comparison with national trends, but there were some serious defects about which I have written to the Home Secretary. The working conditions were appalling, particularly the inadequate accommodation.

Leyton police station was built for 70 officers but now houses more than 200 and can only be described as sub-standard. Access for the public is not good and access for the disabled is impossible. It has poor office accommodation, poor interrogation facilities and inadequate parking outside. One of the most serious problems involves the cells, which are inhuman. I warn the Home Secretary, because I have his interests at heart, that a serious injury or even a death could easily occur in those cells, and the Home Secretary or the Commissioner could be prosecuted if it was thought that the inadequacy of the cells was to blame. Action should be taken to improve the cells, as well as the accommodation generally. The Government's priorities on the building programme are wrong. All the new police stations are being built in the leafy glades, where they are not needed so much. The Home Secretary should reprioritise the Government's building programme.

Women's fear of crime and the number of assaults on women has been mentioned. The police have made some progress towards preventing domestic violence. I appeal to the Home Secretary to take on board my proposed Rape in Marriage (Offence) Bill. I hope that it will become law because it will strengthen the hand of the police in tackling domestic violence. I agree with the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) that police should be more active in giving advice to women about their own self-defence and personal safety. The Home Secretary must work with the local authorities instead of against them, so that street lighting can be improved as well as other safety requirements in public places and on public transport. That would do much to make women feel more secure.

Racial harassment is still a problem. I sought to introduce a Bill to make such harassment a specific criminal offences so that the perpetrator would risk eviction from his home, instead of the victim having to leave his. It would have imposed a legal duty on the police to investigate all such cases. I believe that there remains a strong case for that Bill to be enacted. The police should have a duty to protect the victim—it should be their first duty—but too often they still regard the victim as a nuisance. It is wrong that the pilot projects that the police launched in London to tackle racial harassment have virtually lapsed. I hope that the Home Secretary will consider that matter.

The lack of black and Asian police officers in the Metroplitan police is a serious problem which must be addressed. I know that the Metropolitan police are shortly to hold a conference in Bristol on this but they should also consider the routine policing of black people, which is part of the problem leading to the poor recruitment and retention of the ethnic minorities in the police force.

I have also been asked to express the concerns of GLARE—Greater London Action for Race Equality—about the rising tide of attacks on the Jewish community throughout Europe. It does not want that to happen in London. They recommend that the police should record the ethnic origins of the victims of racial harassment, including a separate category for Jewish victims. I hope that that will be considered.

My hon. Friends the Members 'for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) spoke about the problems faced by gay men and women. The entrapment in 1989 which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West condemned cost about £10 million. We must question whether that was a worthwhile use of resources, especially when assaults on gay men and women have increased and a number of gay murders remain unresolved. The police should monitor such anti-gay assaults and homophobic remarks and behaviour by police officers should be made a disciplinary offence. The police should introduce lesbian and gay awareness teaching in police training and appoint homosexuals as community liaison officers. That would show that the police take the matter seriously.

The Prime Minister was elected on a pledge to ensure:

Law and order as a fact and as a concept Yet recorded crime has gone up by more than 30 per cent. since 1979 despite the fact that there are now 7 per cent. fewer youths—the category generally held to be responsible for committing much of the recorded crime. There has been a great increase in violent crime against the person, sexual offences, criminal damage, theft and burglary. The annual cost of that crime is astronomical—about £3,500 million to the police, £700 million for running our prisons, £1,000 million for private security and the £1,000 million that local authorities have to spend on crime-related matters.

The Government have not properly addressed the causes of crime. Deprivation, in its widest sense, is one such cause and it affects youngsters and the affluent alike whose lifestyles are narrow and deprived. Unfortunately many of the Government's measures have made that deprivation worse.

Those other prime cause of crime is the bad example set by the Government and the rich in our society. The Rover sweeteners—I must not call it fraud—are another example of high finance City fraudsters getting away with millions without being brought to book. It seems that that is okay so long as one can get away with it. Unfortunately, that attitude has seeped down and has led to an increase in the use of force. Some people believe that the use of force is legitimate—if they can get away with it. The Government have set a bad example, although not deliberately.

We need more community policing, and a balance between the use of high technology and of man and woman power. The details of all murders in London should be computerised. I hope that the Home Secretary will consider that point and my point about balance.

A swifter police response to serious crime is needed, as is accountability. I support the case put so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) about accountability, which exists in the rest of the country. Why does it not exist in London? We need an elected, Londonwide police authority responsible for overall policy—not operational aspects. To guarantee the security of the chief police officer, he would have the right of appeal to the Home Secretary, who could overrule the police authority. If such action was taken, instead of suffering from the crime wave that we see now we could wave goodbye to a lot of crime.

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

This has been a full and varied debate. Hon. Members of all parties have made interesting points and many were extremely important. As is in the nature of things, some points were made more than once—indeed, some need to be repeated. That is why I shall begin my remarks by recapitulating two figures given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in his opening speech.

Since 1979, expenditure on the Metropolitan police has increased by 72 per cent. in real terms and there are 6,000 extra police. In addition, the police specific grant is 52 per cent. of expenditure compared with 51 per cent. in the rest of the country. That is a huge increase in resources and answers the call of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) for adequate resources. I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman could not match that record if he were ever Home Secretary in a Labour Cabinet.

During the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend, there was an exchange about the consultative groups. I want to put the matter back into accurate perspective. On page 2 of his annual report, the Commissioner refers to the "Police/Public" partnership and speaks of his pleasure, which my right hon. and learned Friend shares, that there has been some improvement in relations wih the majority political parties in the London Boroughs of Brent, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth, although they still show reluctance to participate formally in consultative groups. I am glad to say that, following the recent local elections, Ealing council is now Conservative controlled and is sending representatives, as is Haringey. Following the loss of control by Labour, Brent shows signs of following suit. That still leaves Hackney and Lambeth not co-operating. My right hon. and learned Friend also suggested that Islington was not co-operating. I understand that it did not co-operate until 1988 but, I am glad to say, it is co-operating now.

Traditionally, there were problems in Hackney, in Islington and in Lambeth—and I emphasise the word "were"—where the councils supported the stance of local schools in refusing access to police officers. There is no explicit policy now by any council to refuse access, although I understand from the Metropolitan police that there are still problems in Hackney and in Tower Hamlets. The Metropolitan police do not attribute those problems to the councils concerned, but to the East London Teachers Association. Most schools in London now have such liaison with the police, although some still do not. If any Opposition Member wants to intervene to tell me that every school now co-operates, I shall gladly give way.

Mr. Leighton

The Minister has corrected what the Home Secretary said at the beginning of his speech. As the Home Secretary is the police authority for London, why did not he know what the situation was? Why was he so badly informed?

Mr. Lloyd

My right hon. and learned Friend inadvertently cited Islington but on the other points he was not incorrect. As I said, I am merely putting the matter in its proper perspective. I have withdrawn the remark about Islington on my right hon. and learned Friend's behalf —as he did himself in an intervention. What my right hon. and learned Friend said about Islington is incorrect now but it was very much correct until recently. The hon. Gentleman should understand that. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) may laugh. As he said, there has been a change of heart, perhaps as a result of electoral pressure on Labour-controlled authorities in London.

Mr. Tony Banks

indicated dissent.

Mr. Lloyd

I leave the hon. Gentleman's remarks to be read in Hansard.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook sought my response on a number of matters, one of which was neighbourhood watch. The number of schemes is still increasing, although probably not as much as in the past. That is not surprising because those areas that particularly wanted or needed schemes have already established them. The right hon. Gentleman asked about finance. The Metropolitan police do not provide money for watch schemes but they devote considerable resources to assisting the schemes by providing manpower, publicity and signs and other material. As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, Anglia Windows is now sponsoring newsletters, which are useful in helping groups to keep in touch. I understand that, as a result of that sponsorship, more money is available than in the past. There is otherwise no difference in the money available.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook mentioned police complaints procedures. He wanted them to be more independent and to exclude the police altogether. The Police Complaints Authority is very independent in its operation. It uses police officers in its investigations, and it is difficult to envisage where the skill, knowledge and ability to investigate complaints thoroughly would come from if the police resources were not used under the supervision of the authority.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned crime screening. All crimes are examined, as he rightly said. I take his point that police officers ought to tell victims what has happened in their case. That is what they are supposed to do, although I imagine that that may have been overlooked in some cases. I shall draw the matter to the Commissioner's attention although there is perhaps no need to do so as I am sure that he takes a clear view on it and in any case he will be reading the debate.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lloyd

No, I shall not give way as I have only a few minutes to comment on a large number of speeches. If I have a moment or two at the end of my speech, I shall gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman.

As one might have expected, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) made a well-informed and constructive speech. He paid a justified tribute to the bravery of the police. I have noted carefully what my hon. Friend said about assaults on police officers. The figure of 4,955 is disturbingly high. My hon. Friend also mentioned penalties, which are a matter for the courts and not for me or for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I am glad that my hon. Friend noted the seriousness with which the Commissioner regards the drug threat—particularly the threat of crack.

I noted what my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge said about traffic wardens, parking and police powers—subjects that were also touched upon by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), whose remarks I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. We have authorised and provided money for 300 more wardens this year but there are recruitment and retention difficulties. That is why we have given an increase of 9.4 per cent. in salaries and why we are considering regrading.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) referred to racial attacks, and I share his view of those: they are obnoxious and reprehensible and they should be dealt with as severely as any other type of assault. That is why the Commissioner emphasised in his report that the police were campaigning to ensure that such attacks were reported and that they would follow them up. I am glad to say that after a substantial rise in the figures reported, no doubt as a result of that campaign, the figures for the first quarter of this year are no higher than they were last year. The met is also involved in the Newham multi-agency project to combat racial attacks and the hon. Gentleman will know about that.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-East also referred to Wapping and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State intervened on that point. Twenty-four officers were subsequently charged with criminal offences. As a result of legal advice tendered by the police, I am sorry that the charges could not be properly tested in court. That is regrettable. However, I emphasise that the major regret is that so many police officers, doing their job responsibly, carefully, sensitively and with restraint were injured in a series of demonstrations and attacks that should not have happened.

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

Mr. Corbyn

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This debate has been rather shorter than usual because of the delayed start. I do not blame the Minister for not replying to everything that I and other hon. Members raised. However, may I ask him through you to be good enough to ensure that he replies in writing to the many points that were raised in the debate to which he did not have time to reply?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

I am sure that that has been noted, but it is hardly a point of order for the Chair.