§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, you received a request from the shadow Leader of the House for a statement about television franchises. The Leader of the House was present and gave a non-committal answer. The ex-Prime Minister has now made it clear that she believes that it is a mistake. but this Government and all their Ministers took part in that vote. They have a duty to tell the British people that they made a mistake. A statement should be made today, and there is no better person to make it than Mr. Oil Slick himself—the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is an inappropriate phrase with which to describe the Home Secretary. The making of statements is entirely a matter for the Government and not for me.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chapman]9.38 am
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)
I am delighted to continue the habit of my immediate predecessors and to report to the House on the performance of the Metropolitan police service last year.
The Commissioner's annual report for 1990, which forms the focus for our debate, provides a comprehensive account of the real successes of the service in 1990 in beating crime in partnership with the public and in improving the quality of service that the Met offers and the public demands.
Let us be clear about the context in which that success has been achieved. The Met has a huge job to do. The Metropolitan police district covers 800 square miles. The Met provides a service for 7.5 million residents, a working population of 4 million and some 19 million tourists. There are 2.6 million cars registered in London. The force receives one 999 call every 30 seconds and deals with everything from lost cats to the ferocious assaults in Trafalgar square during the community charge riot last year.
We rely on the police, in a way that we do not rely on any other service, to protect and to serve us. We expect and need a dedicated service by all members of the service. We are rarely disappointed, even though they operate in the face of considerable difficulties. There were more than 4,000 assaults on police in 1990, including the tragic and senseless death of PC Lawrence Brown. Only last month, PCs Helen Kelly, Jennifer Lawson, Zara Kingdom and Sergeant John Davison were stabbed when attending an incident in Wood Green high road.
But it is not simply a question of bravery; we rely on the special and dedicated service of special constables, citizens using their own free time to serve the public. I join the Commissioner in paying tribute to the key role played by all civil and support staff, both on divisions and centrally.
The Government have provided the Met with the resources that it needs to manage this huge task. We found the Met 4,500 officers below establishment when we took office in 1979. It is now up to strength. The Met now has 6,000 more officers than it had then. It spends more than £1.4 billion a year—up 60 per cent. in real terms.
539 Civilianisation has produced more than 1,000 more operational officers in the past five years—real money, real officers, real commitment from this Government.
When I visit police stations and talk to police constables, I find that morale is high, and rightly so. They do a fine job and are entitled to feel proud. There are many confident young officers of the highest calibre, and thousands of high-quality applicants wanting to join.
Some Labour Members do their best on these occasions to paint a picture of gloom and despondency. It is a sad fact that recorded crime in the Metropolitan police district rose by 10 per cent. to 834,300 in 1990, a slightly slower rate of increase than the national average. But recorded crime is not a measure of police effectiveness. Burglaries rose by 16 per cent. in the last year in the MPD; but in a quarter of all cases the burglar walked in without forcing entry. Much crime in London is opportunistic and can be prevented. That message must be given loud and clear.
No one should forget for a moment that crime causes trauma and misery to victims. It is a credit to the Met that 137,000 victims were referred to support schemes last year, 29,000 more than ever before.
Bald totals give a false view of crime. They also underplay police success in tackling crime. The cornerstone of the Met's response to crime is the partnership approach. It has produced and is producing success in tackling crime. That success includes the Milton Court estate in Lewisham, where we have focused, through the safer cities project, on the problems associated with drugs abuse and high crime. The police, Lewisham council, the Deptford task force and the London city action team have all been working together on that initiative.
§ Mr. Baker
Of course the residents were involved. It is a safer cities project. The Home Office funds that project and, as the right hon. Gentleman should know, local teams are involved. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would know about that. If he follows these matters, he will know that we involve residents. The right hon. Gentleman is just showing his ignorance of the way in which these projects operate.
Following a residents' survey, we have spent £265,000 on reducing crime and fear of crime by providing more and better lighting and fitting new security doors on more than 200 flats. A mobile crime prevention advice centre is now in use on the estate. Residential burglary has fallen by 16 per cent., street crime by 45 per cent. and serious crime by 66 per cent.
There has also been success with the No. 1 area street crime initiative, in Islington, Haringey and Enfield. Police, local authorities and the community worked together in partnership to reduce street crime, to discourage young peoples' involvement in it and to improve the quality of life of those living and working in the area. Suspects were targeted by dedicated police teams. More uniformed officers on the streets helped to reassure residents.
The police established close links with the probation service, youth groups and schools to stop young people becoming involved in crime either through choice or peer group pressure. Young people previously tempted through boredom into petty crime were given other things to do 540 with the help of local businesses and voluntary groups. Positive role models for youngsters in the area were promoted. The initiative reduced street crime in the area as a whole by 14 per cent.—in Tottenham by one third. It has substantially reduced fear of crime in the community. The Commisioner rightly gives this initiative pride of place in his report.
There has also been success in the No. 1 area in dealing with burglary, through Operation Bumblebee. A survey in the area confirmed that fear of burglary was widespread. The deputy assistant commissioner in charge of the No. 1 area, Walter Boreham, responded to that by launching a concentrated and sustained attack on residential burglary, drawing heavily on the partnership approach. It started in June, and by 1 September had already led to 782 arrests and 1,382 offences cleared up. There has been a 7 per cent. reduction in the number of reported burglaries in the area. That imaginative initiative is helping to turn the tide against burglary. It is mobilising everyone in the community so that burglars will be caught. There are clear lessons of good practice here, which I know other areas in the Met are drawing on and other forces will be looking to.
There has been success, too, in the borough of Brent, where the police, with the support of local residents and the local authority, have been working together to deal with the problems of the Chalk Hill estate, Wembley. Drug dealers were targeted and there were 28 arrests for crack dealing last November. There was an immediate 70 per cent. reduction in crime on the estate and, although that staggering level of reduction has not been sustained, success has been consolidated by stationing officers permanently on the estate in a mobile police office. A permanent police office is planned using local authority premises.
There has been success also in dealing with bogus callers, a particularly nasty crime where the victims are often old people cheated out of their money by con men who trick their way into homes posing as gas, water board or other officials. An initiative in north London, Operation Worker, which is still going on has led to a reduction in this crime of 19 per cent., a 44 per cent. higher clear-up rate, there have been 115 arrests and 1,276 crimes have been cleared up.
The Met has had success in harnessing new technology to improve the fight against crime. Last November, a young woman, only 22 years old, was murdered in her flat in Tottenham. Scientists applied their high-tech skills of DNA profiling and laser fingerprinting and enabled the police to arrest her murderer within 24 hours of the crime.
The partnership approach is not the latest fad, but builds on a rich tradition of community-oriented policing. The Tottenham division of the service among others, has realigned its community beats with electoral wards and developed a community unit to improve partnership with the community. External agencies, local authority departments and the police are now dealing together with licensing and alcohol-related crimes and pay parties.
Chief Superintendent Geoffrey Bredemear at Tottenham and Chief Superintendent Trevor Harvey at Hornsey, who are involved in a process mirrored right across the Metropolitan police district, hold meetings each quarter with local authorities, chief executives and directors of education and social services in their areas to co-ordinate the approach to crime prevention. Further meetings are planned with housing, engineering and planning departments. The issues discussed include joint 541 training in child abuse work, schoolsafe projects, truancy campaigns, juvenile liaison panels aiming to divert juveniles from appearances in court, juvenile crime prevention and reduction initiatives, traffic management and crime prevention design advice.
It is not just a question of dealing with problems after the event. The examples that I have given reflect the fact that a vigorous, determined police force is dealing with the problems of crime in our inner cities. The Metropolitan police have crime prevention design advisers, who are experienced crime prevention officers and who specialise in how the environment can affect crime. They try to influence decision makers to make improvements at the design stages to design out crime. They are involved with most London boroughs in estate refurbishment work. They are helping to reclaim estates for those who live there by breaking up the anonymous tracts of public space which nobody owns or feels a part of.
On the Leaview estate in Hackney residents now have gardens of their own. Basement car parks on the Stockwell Park estate in Brixton have been broken up to provide private and individual carparking spaces. On the same estate, a lake has been restored and now provides valuable recreation facilities. A concierge system has been introduced into the Chalk Hill estate in Wembley. Public walkways have been reduced.
Alice Coleman is, of course, one of the leading lights on ideas for designing out crime, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is looking closely at her ideas. She was one of the pioneers who argued strongly against walkways between tower blocks, which was a fad of the 1960s and which affected one of the estates —Lisson Grove—in Marylebone, which I used to represent. I remember starting a campaign to do away with walkways, and in those days that was a bizarre and eccentric thing to do. However, it has now become absolutely necessary, because walkways provide an opportunity for crime.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Far be it from me to call the Home Secretary a bizarre and eccentric person. Clearly we welcome improvements to estates— better lighting, the removal of walkways and other improvements cut crime and make people feel safer. However, one of the problems in my borough and in other boroughs is that the Department of the Environment will not agree to the continuation of refurbishment projects. Often, three or four blocks on an estate have been refurbished but another has been left untouched. Will he ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to continue the post-1948 programme to complete the refurbishment of all estates? That will make people feel safer, reduce crime and provide a better standard of life.
§ Mr. Baker
I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's comments to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning. The hon. Gentleman was in the House the other day when we dealt with squatting, and when I reminded the House of the Government's substantial programme to provide hostel accommodation in London and accommodation for the homeless in London and, indeed, of the programme to expand development of capital in London, not only for local authority estates but for housing association estates. Substantial sums of money are being provided—£100 million for hostel accommodation over the next three 542 years, £300 million for the homeless initiative and about £2 million for the refurbishment of housing association properties.
One crime that I particularly want to tackle is the evil of racial attacks. I share the Commissioner's abhorrence of these vicious acts. There are far too many such attacks in London—during 1990, 2,908 incidents were reported, a rise of nearly 8 per cent. on the previous year. There were 291 arrests in 1990, a clear-up rate of about 30 per cent. —some success but with much room for improvement.
At local level, a number of divisions, some with specialist units to deal with racial incidents, have joined local authorities in groups to tackle racial attacks. The Met published a five-part document—"Working Together for Racial Harmony"—in December containing new directions for reporting such incidents, and since the beginning of the year all are now documented on crime sheets, which should ensure as comprehensive a recording system as possible. They have also produced a video called "Harassment and Racial Menace" for local communities in seven languages: English, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali and Gujerati to encourage victims to report incidents to the police.
The partnership approach has also led to the formulation of a draft joint police/local authority strategy for dealing with racial incidents in the borough of Greenwich, where already the clear-up rate for racial incidents is higher than the average at 44.8 per cent. It is not merely a question of catching the criminals: they must be properly dealt with by the courts. I am sure that hon. Members are aware of the life sentence given in a case earlier this year as a result of a black youth being stabbed.
The bread and butter of partnership work is close relations with police community consultative groups. Forty-one consultative groups now operate in the Metropolitan police district and cover all boroughs. Real progress is being made. For example, in July my noble Friend the Minister of State attended the launch of the Harrow police and community consultative group sub-committee on racial harassment; the Metropolitan police have just produced a document providing good practice suggestions for groups; and local councillors have now become fully involved in the Brent, Ealing and Haringey groups.
That leaves just two boroughs, Hackney and Lambeth, where the council is not fully involved in the consultative process. It is a mystery to me why some left-wing councils persist in seeing the police as a threat, when all around them is clear and growing evidence of what can be achieved through partnership. I am told that there is now an attempt to improve co-operation in those two boroughs, and I welcome that. I urge them to participate fully. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) will say the same.
Partnership is also about people doing more to protect themselves, their families and each other from crime. The introduction of neighbourhood watch to Hampstead garden suburb has been followed by a drop in burglaries of 10 per cent. About 80 per cent. of the suburb is now covered by an active neighbourhood watch and 40 per cent. of homes have their property marked. Neighbourhood watch was joined in 1990 by more pubwatch schemes and the launch of business watch and schoolsafe, further ways for the police and the community to act together to beat crime.
543 If the partnership approach is the cornerstone of the Metropolitan police's activity, the PLUS—professionally led united service—programme is the foundation on which it stands.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
What does the Home Secretary believe is the reason why recorded crime has doubled since the Government took office?
§ Mr. Baker
I have answered that question many times, but I am happy to answer it again. Since 1945, crime has increased by an average of 6 per cent. a year. At the moment, we are suffering an increase in crime largely related to the motor car—28 per cent. of all recorded crime involves cars, which is why we have introduced measures to allow the police to arrest young offenders who steal or break into cars, and why we are also working with motor manufacturers and insurers.
This week, I attended the motor show at Earl's Court to launch a new insurance scheme suggested by the Association of British Insurers. The scheme would, for the first time, impose an obligation on the person who loses something from his car to make a contribution to the loss of about £100, and would introduce discounts on insurance premiums if security devices are built into the car.
Six months ago, the insurance industry was reluctant to take such steps because, at that time, losses from car crime were running at about £300 million a year. Now they are running at more than £700 million. To reduce crime requires a multiple approach, involving different industries and agencies. For example, the car industry is being encouraged to build in more security devices, especially an immobilising device, which is the single most important way to reduce crime. If someone broke into a car, it would not be possible to move it. Such devices are available, and I have asked motor manufacturers to consider introducing them into their cars.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I am not sure that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) will think that his question has been answered. Does the Home Secretary accept that statistics since the war show that the higher the unemployment rate, the more crime increases—especially juvenile crime? It has decreased since the early 1980s when unemployment decreased, but it is now increasing as unemployment rises. I presume that the Home Secretary will accept that that is a cause of increasing crime.
§ Mr. Baker
I do not necessarily accept that. Much crime is committed by people with jobs, and many people who are unemployed do not commit crime. It is not possible to make such a simplistic connection between the two factors. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) will agree that, whatever the level of crime, one must marshal all one's 544 forces—not only the police—to deal with it. The most important point in my speech has been the importance of partnership in dealing with crime.
§ Mr. Baker
If the hon. Gentleman studies the latest crime statistics, he will see that crimes of violence have not increased in some parts of the country and that sexual crimes have not increased in some parts during the past year. So there is a pattern.
The foundation of the success of the policies of the Metropolitan police is the PLUS programme. The key to PLUS is the adoption by the whole service, the police and civilian staff alike, of the statement of common purposes and values set out fully at the beginning of the Commissioner's report. It is a simple way in which to set them out and they are described simply and clearly. It is an easy-to-understand mission statement of what the police are in business to do and what values inform them in doing so. Each man and woman in the Metropolitan police service is attending a seminar to work through what the statement means. This will be reinforced by team-based discussions at the workplace. The aim is for the men and women of the service to think through for themselves how they can do better and thus offer a better service to Londoners.
The concepts of leadership and quality of service are central to PLUS, but concepts are useful only if they achieve results. The Met is distributing a booklet on leadership to every member of staff with supervising responsibilities and intends eventually to send it to everyone. For the first time, the booklet sets out in clear, concise and practical terms exactly what is expected from those who are responsible for leading others within the service. It will provide a benchmark against which leaders will be measured.
A booklet on quality of service, again setting clear specifications for what can and should be achieved, will be distributed at the end of the year. The Commissioner has set a target that all 999 calls should be answered within 30 seconds. In No. 5 area, the south-west of London, targets have also been set for answering letters and routine telephone calls more quickly.
PLUS is studying how staff can be better managed. This is a key issue in an organisation of nearly 28,500 police and about 17,000 civil staff, where there were more than 6,000 applications to join the service as police officers last year and there were more than 1,400 recruits. Robust equal opportunity policies are a priority for the Commissioner. He knows that providing a fair and non-discriminatory service to the people of London requires a similar approach throughout his own organisation.
More support is being given to working parents in the Met. A four-week summer holiday play scheme has successfully taken place, in co-operation with Surrey county council. An information pack for all officers starting maternity leave has been produced. Career breaks have been introduced, so any officer can take an extended unpaid break of between one and five years without having to resign from the service. This is the first such scheme in the country. Some 90 officers have already benefited from it. The Met is one of six forces to take part in a pilot scheme to introduce part-time working.
545 A wide range of measures is being taken to improve the retention and recruitment of ethnic minority officers, including a review of the grievance procedure, improved support networks for new officers and better training to challenge insensitive behaviour. I dare say that many hon. Members will have seen the television advertisements that were put out by the Met. They are very good and have won prizes. They have also appeared in the cinema. They tackle the issue of racial prejudice head on, while making clear the very real challenges that police officers have to meet.
Initial results are encouraging. Applications to join the Met from members of ethnic minority communities have increased significantly—928 this year alone—and now form a greater proportion of all applications. There are now 545 ethnic minority officers and about 10 per cent. of each new intake of recruits are of ethnic minority origin.
The Met is clearly at the centre of positive equal opportunities developments in the service and has played a central part in the planning of a major European conference next May, which I shall open. I look forward to many other forces following their clear lead.
The PLUS programme is also improving communication. A local free police newspaper is available for the public in Enfield, Camden and Holborn, containing useful information about not only where the local police are and how they can help with a number of problems, but what other services and help are available in the area. Some divisions, such as Lewisham, have put pay phones and maps of the local area in their reception area to improve the service to callers. Others, such as Streatham, have put internal phones in their reception areas to provide a direct link with special units, such as the unit dealing with domestic violence.
Performance indicators are being developed to monitor improvements in quality of service. Customer satisfaction surveys are being conducted on two out of the eight areas. Initial results are encouraging, with over 80 per cent. of respondents finding the service good or very good. If they are successful, they will be extended to a further two areas as part of a rolling programme.
This summary makes clear the scale of the PLUS programme and the target it has set itself, which is how the Met can improve to provide a better service to Londoners. The PLUS programme is especially associated with the Commissioner, Sir Peter Imbert, to whom I pay tribute.
PLUS is already delivering the goods. A key development, which will gather pace over the next two years, is the introduction of sector policing throughout the Metropolitan police district. This policy has my full support.
The public will see more clearly than ever the Met's commitment to policing tailored to the community's needs. Small teams of police will be responsible for policing particular geographical areas within the division. Manpower will be deployed according to when and where it is most needed.
Sector policing gives front-line officers the opportunity to concentrate on policing an area smaller than a whole division, and encourages them to build a relationship with the local community. In this way, officers build up a thorough knowledge of local matters and identify local concerns quickly. The public get to know and identify with their officers and especially their local chiefs. I would expect to see their local chiefs serving for a longer time in those areas.
546 Londoners are already getting a real taste of this. In Bexleyheath, for example—only one example among a great many—Chief Superintendent David Mellish has been reaching out to his local community through the local press and, through meetings, finding out what the people in the area want and what their priorities are. I am sure that it is no accident that Mr. Mellish has recently been promoted to assistant chief constable in another area.
I am in the happy position to report to this House on the many real successes of the Metropolitan police in 1990 —successes forged in partnership with the people of London. The Metropolitan police are making more arrests and solving more crimes than ever before. Each year, they clear up 150,000 crimes. But neither I nor the Commissioner is content to rest on this record. We are determined that, through the PLUS programme, the service will deliver an even better service to the public and even better value for money. The foundations on which the Commissioner is building for the 1990s are strong indeed.
§ 10.6 am
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
Somewhere at the beginning of his speech, the Home Secretary announced that the Opposition's intention would be to spread gloom and doom during the morning. Nothing could be further from the truth; the Home Secretary was diametrically wrong. It reminds me of the days when he used to tour the country predicting success for the Conservative party in by-elections.
My purpose this morning is basically to congratulate the Metropolitan police on the year's work which is now under review, and to suggest some ways in which the Home Secretary and the Government might co-operate with them in producing an even better result in the year that we shall debate when Parliament next has the opportunity.
As you know well, Madam Deputy Speaker, today's debate is based on two constitutional fallacies. The first is that the Home Secretary is the policy authority for London. That is no criticism of him, because he could not be the police authority in any practical meaning of the term. Although he carries that title, he is clearly incapable of discharging that job because it is beyond the capability of a single Minister. He has neither the time nor the opportunity to exercise even the degree of responsibility which is accepted by a provincial police committee.
The second fallacy is the myth that today's discussion —five hours on a Friday once a year—makes the London police authority and the Metropolitan police accountable to Parliament. In reality, the debate has always been an unhappy compromise between a seminar and a public relations exercise. The constitutional importance of the occasion can best be demonstrated by the simple fact that, if the Home Secretary had had any influence with the Prime Minister, the debate would not have been held during the current parliamentary year. It should have been held in the summer, but, because of mismanagement of the Government's business, it was postponed until the autumn.
As the House knows, the Home Secretary became briefly infamous in his own party by publicly demanding a November election. If the Prime Minister had taken his advice, we would have gone through a whole parliamentary year without a debate on the Metropolitan police. Its accountability would have been negligible. The whole 547 myth that the House is somehow in control of its operations would have been exploded. The idea that the Metropolitan police are in practice accountable to anyone is clearly absurd.
In our view, successful policy requires a genuine partnership between Government, police and people. Certainly the Home Secretary used the word "partnership" many times today—but by his deeds shall we know him. The important thing is not to talk about partnership but to forge a partnership which the people whom the police serve understand. I have no doubt that such a partnership requires an elected police authority to express people's judgment on the performance and policy of their own police service—an elected police authority not to control police operations but to ensure that the police are sensitive to the will and wishes of the men and women whom they serve.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
The right hon. Gentleman has reaffirmed the Labour party's commitment to a democratically elected authority to run the police in London. Perhaps he could spell out how he envisages that such democracy would operate. Would it operate in the same way as the Labour party in Hemsworth last night, where the wishes of the local people were set aside? It is no good the right hon. Gentleman asserting from the Dispatch Box that he believes in democracy. When he operates the internal workings of the Labour party, they represent not democracy but autocracy. For him to talk of a belief in democratically elected authorities is sheer humbug.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The right hon. Gentleman speaks with the gravitas of a true Home Secretary. As for the will of the people of Hemsworth, no doubt that will be expressed on 7 November, as will that of the people of Langbaurgh on the same day, with the same result.
I shall turn away from the Home Secretary's trivialities to the real subject of the debate. I understand why he wants a diversion from the point that I propose to make.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Not until I have answered the Home Secretary, which is in itself a major task.
It is to the credit of the Metropolitan police that they increasingly share the view that an elected police authority for London is desirable. As the Home Secretary knows, discussions have already taken place among senior officers, and between them and the Association of London Authorities about the establishment of an elected authority. The Evening Standard reports that most senior officers now favour an elected authority. Certainly, when I was at Bramshill college last week, every senior Metropolitan officer who took part in the discussion was in favour of the elected authority that gave reality to the concept of partnership. Today I make it clear that the Labour Government will establish an elected police authority for London.
Despite its limitations, today's debate affords us an opportunity to discharge some necessary duties, and, indeed, to perform some pleasant tasks. One of those is to welcome back to duty the Commissioner, Sir Peter Imbert, who is back in office and back to work after five month's 548 absence with a serious heart attack. I am sure that it was no more than an oversight that the Home Secretary did not make the same point, and I am sure that he would wish to be associated with that sentiment now.
The annual report also provides an opportunity to comment on the general policy of the police and their general working during the year. Once again, it reflects the commitment of the Met and, I believe, the Commissioner's personal commitment, to a service sensitive to public needs.
The public's greatest need is for a reduction in crime. As the Home Secretary said, recorded crime in London rose in 1990—the year under review—by about 10 per cent. That is, it rose to a total of 834,000 reported incidents. Regrettably, the latest quarterly figure shows a greater increase of 11.3 per cent. On a yearly basis, that would mean about 881,000 offences—an appalling acceleration.
The Home Secretary described the increase as "slightly slower" than that in the rest of the country. I suppose one could describe as slightly slower an increase taking place at half the speed of that in the rest of the country. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to describe that difference as slight, who am Ito argue with him? After all, the difference is no more than 100 per cent. Although the increase is slower than that in the rest of the country, it is still an enormous increase. None the less, it is barely half the rise in the figure for the rest of the country, so I offer my ungrudging congratulations to the Met on what is for it and for us a comparatively good result. The fact that congratulations are appropriate on an increase in crime of no more than 10 per cent. shows us how dismally the Government have failed throughout the nation to redeem their 1979 promise to reduce crime in Great Britain.
When discussing the increase in crime within its area, the Met approaches the subject in a more intelligent fashion than the Home Secretary did today. When the figures were published, the Met officers who discussed them at the press conference and explained them on the television went out of their way to relate the increases to social conditions in the capital. They spoke specifically of unemployment and deprivation, and explicitly about the need for a social programme to combat crime and to give young unemployed men and women things to do. They referred explicitly to greater co-operation with local authorities in order to combat crime. The Home Secretary does himself and his reputation no good by refusing categorically to face the issues that sensible senior policemen gladly face and understand.
When we talk, as we will continue to talk, and as did the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), about the relation between crime and unemployment, we know that the two graphs are exactly correlated. When unemployment goes up, crime goes up; When unemployment comes down, crime comes down. The correlation is absolute. The Home Secretary must know that, because a working party in his Department pointed out the absolute correlation between the two sets of statistics. When we draw his attention to that cause of crime, we do not for a moment suggest that the attack on the symptoms should be held back. One of the most foolish approaches to this matter is to talk as though we must choose between a tough policy towards those who commit crime and removing that which causes it in the first place. The two methods have to go hand in hand.
Today, once again, the Home Secretary showed little understanding of that obvious fact. We all say that 549 criminals must be caught, convicted and punished. But the causes of crime also need to be tackled and overcome. The right hon. Gentleman's failure is due, I fear, to dogma and the bone-headed prejudices still to be found on the Conservative Back Benches. The only derisive laughter that I have heard in relation to the Metropolitan police this morning came from behind the right hon. Gentleman, when he was discussing some of the management techniques now being employed by the police.
The related subject of crime prevention is dealt with on page 10 of the Commissioner's annual report. The Commissioner insists that it requires a policy and programme in which the police operate with the help of and in close consultation with other agencies. The report talks specifically about the creation of an environment that discourages crime, and of what it describes as "careful" lighting.
Lighting has been described by previous Home Secretaries as one of the trivial remedies for crime. As the Home Secretary referred to lighting this morning—he is now counting the Opposition Members in the Chamber, but perhaps he will concentrate on my question instead —will the Under-Secretary of State give the Government view on the subject later? We hold the view, as do many authorities, that improved lighting is a great deterrent to some sorts of crime.The Home Office has produced a working paper—coincidentally, it was sent to me shortly before a conference on the subject run by local authorities and lighting companies—in which some scepticism was expressed about whether money invested in lighting would bring benefits. I think that that working paper was wrong and that the Home Secretary was right today. I hope that the Under-Secretary will emphasise and confirm that point in his reply.
The Commissioner talked explicitly about the creation of crime-free environments and careful lighting. All those measures, which we have advocated time and again, were examined by the Home Office, in a crime prevention document that has come to be called the Morgan report. That report, made to the Home Secretary by his own officials, made suggestions exactly in line with many aspects of the Commissioner's report. Yet the Government publicly criticised it. At best, they were half-hearted about it and, in many instances, they totally failed to implement its proposals.
The report referred to eight Government failures, although I shall mention only two of them today. One was the failure to confer a statutory duty on local authorities to fulfil a designated crime prevention function. Another was the failure to allocate adequate resources to crime prevention. I want to examine those two ideas in direct relationship to what the Home Secretary now says.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to Hackney and Lambeth. I understand that Hackney is now co-operating in the way in which he and I would expect it to, but, whether or not that is so, I have no doubt at all that both Hackney and Lambeth should be co-operating in the many initiatives in which it is possible for them to take part. I believe in a partnership—between local and national government, the people and the police—and I expect all local authorities to take part in it.
The Home Secretary talked in passing about some of the ideas in the report for the first time today. Lighting is one example, as are the fencing in of open spaces and the bricking up, boarding up or demolition of derelict buildings. If the right hon. Gentleman is to promote those 550 ideas, and if we are to have the social programmes that the Commissioner proposed, which seemed today to receive a half-hearted endorsement from the Home Secretary, there must be a formal relationship between local authorities and the police and an obligation must be placed on local authorities to pursue sensible crime prevention programmes.
The best local authorities do that already, but some do not, and one reason why they do not is that, not being a statutory duty, crime prevention does not carry grant. If the Home Secretary wants local authorities to do the things that he has commended today, the law must be changed to require the worst of them to do them. I hope that, having taken advice on a previous point, the Under-Secretary will also take advice on that one and that he will give me an answer in his reply.
I want to make it absolutely clear that, next year, when the Labour party is in government, we shall impose a duty on all local authorities to work with the police in implementing crime prevention programmes. In the light of that, let me comment on one or two specific proposals and ask several questions concerning the recommendations made in the Commissioner's report.
§ Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
The right hon. Gentleman has made a significant public expenditure pledge on behalf of his party. Before he gives a detailed analysis of what he would like to be done, can he give the House an estimate of the extent to which public expenditure will be increased as a result of his pledge?
§ Mr. Hattersley
Yes. I have no doubt that the aim could be achieved within the present Home Office budget. I shall refer in a moment to some of the ways in which money in that budget is wasted.
A typical example, and one directly relevant to London, is the enormous amount now being squandered on the excessively expensive practice of holding prisoners in police cells. The Commissioner's office tells me that it costs rather more to hold a remand prisoner in a prison cell than it would to keep him in the Savoy hotel. Enormous amounts of money could he saved from the Home Office budget and it is important to start using that money for sensible projects. Having dealt with that point, let me move on to more sensible matters.
First, let me congratulate the Commissioner on one aspect of last year's report and on the information that he has given us on the way in which it has been implemented during the year now under review. I refer to the Commissioner's initiative on racial assaults and racial violence, which the Home Secretary has already mentioned, telling us about the increase in the number of recorded incidents.
I do not want to sound even more complacent than the right hon. Gentleman, but I share the Commissioner's view that the recording of extra incidents is probably in part the result of the extra attention focused on the problem in the report. Whether that is right or wrong, it is certainly the case that a large additional number of men and women have been caught and convicted in respect of such offences. That is absolutely right and I congratulate the Commissioner on the clear way in which he has focused the capital's attention on those crimes and on his continued commitment to reducing their incidence.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the view of many people—particularly those involved in race 551 relations work—there is still significant under-reporting of racial attacks in London? Therefore, while I welcome the fact that the police are now taking such crimes more seriously, I think that we still have a long way to go, especially in encouraging desk constables and sergeants immediately to ask the person reporting an assault whether he or she believes it to have been racially motivated. That is the basis of the definition according to which reporting should take place.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I agree with my hon. Friend—indeed, I hope that my agreement was implicit in my point that the apparent increase in recorded incidents is due to the fact that the question should be asked and is being asked. I am sure that he and I would also agree that it is right to offer our congratulations to the Met for beginning to face up to the problem and trying to overcome it if it possibly can.
I also commend and congratulate the Commissioner on the paragraphs of his report in which he expresses his belief that the Metropolitan police should play a proper part in the creation of a multiracial society. The increase in recruitment of officers from the ethnic minorities is warmly to be welcomed. I understand that such officers now represent about 9 per cent. of the intake, and that applicants represent an even larger percentage. The Commissioner says in his report that he hopes that more and more of the black and Asian British will look upon policing as a worthwhile occupation.
For what it is worth, I want to add my urgings on that very point. If the police are properly to represent all sections of society, two things must happen. First, the police must understand their role in a multiracial society. That is happening more and more. Secondly, members of the minorities must apply to join the police in greater numbers. I certainly hope that they will and I urge them to do so.
Let me now deal with a related matter—the proposals and suggestions made tentatively by the Commissioner on the subject of marches undertaken with the intention of malign provocation. The Commissioner is understandably frustrated by the activities of what he describes as organisations which "lay a siege from within" to the community but do it in such a way and do it with such comparatively small numbers that he is not justified in calling for the prohibition of the activity but nevertheless has to use large numbers of officers to hold down what is certainly racial provocation.
As the Commissioner rightly says, although the officers can prevent a breach of the peace, they cannot prevent the racial disturbance that inevitably results. I understand exactly why the Commissioner proposes that some special action might be taken. I also understand why he states at the end of his recommedations that civil liberty questions need to be answered. For my part, I hope that the discussions that he proposes will take place, in the hope that we shall be able to do something to end such activities without the unacceptable infringement of civil liberties.
Part 1 of the report is devoted to the PLUS programme, which seems to me admirable, both in concept and execution. That programme, too, is related to partnership within the community. The idea of partnership is set out in the statement of common purpose and values, and it is 552 important that we should give the Metropolitan police the opportunity to implement the provisions of that statement and the resources that they need for that purpose.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will answer a specific question on that subject. Some devotees of sector policing within the Met advocate with great enthusiasm the idea of having teams of officers responsible for an area continually for 24 hours, but they are now expressing doubts about whether sufficient manpower is available to operate such a system.
Will the team approach to a sector mean that officers are not available for other essential duties particularly emergency calls? Will the Home Secretary tell us something about that, particularly as I understand that, last week, he announced an extra 1,000 police officers— I was going to say to be recruited, but I am not sure whether that is so, because the Home Secretary has a habit of renouncing earlier announcements of extra police officers.
With regard to recruitment, unless extra resources are made available, many police authorities, as is now the case, will not expand up to establishment because they will not be able to afford the cost. However, I understand that, of those 1,000 extra officers, none are for the Met. If the Minister can confirm that, I hope that he will also tell us whether he believes that the PLUS programme can be carried out without extra resources.
The PLUS programme relates to the Met in particular because there are areas where the concept of staffing allocation is beginning to worry the local communities which co-operate strongly and enthusiastically with the police. I have been told that the consultation group in Holloway, which rejoices in its success in co-operating with the police, is depressed by the fact that a 10 per cent. reduction in crime has also resulted in a 10 per cent. reduction in resources available to fight crime. If the Minister can tell us something about the general staffing levels and the pressure, we might—although I am not altogether convinced that we shall—be reassured.
I want to raise several other questions before I refer to a subject which, having been mentioned in passing last year, excited more attention than anything else that we debated when we considered this subject last year. Can we hear something about the use of police cells for remand prisoners? A chief constable to whom I spoke this year said that he welcomed his cells being used for remand prisoners, because the Home Office pumped so much money into his authority for that purpose that he received it in the form of revenue rating; he urged me not to criticise the proposals because he needed the money— [Interruption.] The Home Secretary is aware of whom I am speaking.
When pressed, that chief constable agreed that that was a scandalous waste of money. Almost every police authority considers it to be an equally scandalous diversion of scarce manpower. That is not a job that police officers do well. They do not want to do it and they should not be required to do it. They are not turnkeys and they do not have the expert eyes to be professional prison officers.
How many remand prisoners are being held in London police stations? What does that cost? Although it seems almost inconceivable—I have been assured that this is true, and I simply ask the question because the likelihood is so horrific that I hope the allegation will be denied—is pressure on London police stations with remand prisoners to be relieved by postponing various improvements 553 scheduled for Brixton prison? Will those improvements be postponed to put remand prisoners back in those completely intolerable conditions?
On page 20 of his annual report, the Commissioner refers to pressure on resources. As the Home Secretary would not do this formally to the House on Monday, will he tell us something about the proposals for docklands police? Are they to be privatised in some way? Are they to be handed over to the new independent private authority? Are police officers to be replaced by security guards who are badly trained, badly paid and without the necessary powers and qualifications?
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I intended to raise that point. One of the straightforward aspects of docklands is that the population of residents and business people has increased considerably. If the answer to the question raised by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is that there are no extra police for London, the implication for greatly expanding communities is very serious.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am sure that the House will want to allow the Minister as much time as he needs to answer those very important questions, and I am sure that he will be specific when he refers to police numbers and to the plans for docklands. The idea of a police force without the training, professional skills and powers of police officers in charge of that area is completely intolerable and should not be acceptable in our society.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
Is the right hon. Gentleman talking about the proposals that relate to the port of Tilbury, as I suspect he is? That is important and I am glad that he has raised the matter. He will be aware that there are two aspects of docklands—the London docks and Tilbury. Tilbury is a separate port and is in Essex.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am talking about Tilbury initially, and I fear that the practice with Tilbury might spread. A concept that we have debated in this House in relation to other subjects is creeping privatisation. What might happen in Tilbury could happen elsewhere. I have seen it happen in ports outside London. I visited a port where the police have been replaced by a private security organisation. I met a lady sergeant in charge, and she was kind enough to conduct me around with the management. I asked her how she became a sergeant and she told me that she had become a sergeant because she had done two weeks' training. When I asked her what she had clone before her two weeks' training, she told me that she had been on the checkout at Woolworths. That seems inadequate preparation for being a non-commissioned officer in a police force. I do not want that to spread from the provinces into London.
§ Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)
Surely that is a better qualification for being a Back-Bench Member of the Labour party.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am glad that we did not miss that point.
No one doubts the necessity of diplomatic and royal protection being carried out to whatever level or extent is necessary to preserve life and safety. However, the Commissioner's report refers to the enormous increase in 554 manpower involved in such protection over the past year, which I fear, although I hope that I am wrong, will continue.
The Home Secretary must consider whether that protection is a proper charge to be made in any degree or to any percentage on the local authorities which pay towards the upkeep of the Met. Will the Minister tell us whether he believes, as we believe, that the time has come for that charge to be accepted nationally in full rather than for any percentage of it to be placed among the responsibilities of the boroughs concerned?
I want to conclude, with some trepidation, on a point that produced such an avalanche of letters last year; I look forward to my postbag with great disquiet. I refer to traffic movement in London. There are two points about traffic movement in London that are noticeable to those of us who live in the boroughs. The first is the efficiency with which the meter system operates. Those of us who have residents' parking permits are aware that, if we stay on a yellow line after 8.30 or remain by a parking meter after 9.30, we will receive a ticket within 20 minutes and will be clamped within half an hour. I make no complaint about that today, although I have complained about it at 8.30 and 9.30.
The second point that we notice is that, while the meter system operates so efficiently, when we drive through London's arterial roads, we are constantly blocked by commercial vehicles parked on single yellow lines, double yellow lines and traffic junctions which are loading or unloading or dropping passengers. They are now a major cause of traffic jams.
Two thousand years ago, the Romans required carts to be within the city walls only between sunset and sunrise. I do not suggest that that should now happen in London, but a tougher line must be taken against drivers who wilfully park in a way that prevents traffic flow along arterial roads.
§ Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his conversion to the red route concept.
§ Mr. Hattersley
It is much more than the red route concept. I want to consider the yellow box concept: we could go through the entire spectrum before the debate ends. More action must be taken about the blocking of junctions. I am almost willing to give a prize to any hon. Member who has seen someone prosecuted or stopped for parking on the yellow hatchings in a juction. That is one more thing which is bringing the capital's traffic to a halt.
I make that point with trepidation because I know that the flood of support—not that that is in any way unusual for me—that I will obtain for that idea will make life in my office intolerable next week. However, the point is important for two reasons—the technical necessity of keeping London traffic flowing and the relationship between the people of London and the police. One of the things that irritate the London citizen about police officers whom he or she sees walking along the road is why they are not doing something about those cars. If we are to have the relationship which the Home Secretary and I want, that minor irritation could well do with removal.
I end my remarks as I began, by offering the Metropolitan police the Opposition's congratulations on what, in adverse circumstances, has been a successful year. I promise the Metropolitan police force that, not this year 555 but in the year beginning, say, early May 1992, there will be resources and support to let it have an even more successful year than it has had until now.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
The right hon. Gentleman is promising more resources in the event of a Labour Government winning the election. When he was a member of the previous Labour Government, when he sat in Cabinet discussing police resources, he actually reported an under-resource for the Metropolitan police, and left the Metropolitan police 4,500 officers under establishment. That was his record in office. That is what the country should remember.
§ Mr. Hattersley
It was because we believed that there had to be a reorganisation of police pay and police numbers that my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary and I jointly set up the inquiry into police pay, which was our legacy to the incoming Conservative Government. That inquiry and report were ours. It is an absolute feature of the Home Secretary and his party that they want to fight the battles of 15 years ago—which I suppose is better than losing the battles of next year. If he wants to fight the battles of 15 years ago, I stand absolutely by our record. Our record is crime at half the level that it is today. We will stand by that record.
§ Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
I shall take up some of the points that were made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), but first I join my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in welcoming Sir Peter Imbert back to the commissionership of the Metropolitan police. He is innovative and he commands enormous respect among the people of London as well as members of his own police force.
I welcome this annual debate on policing in London. At the outset, it is important to remind the House that, when we consider the police in London, we naturally think of the Metropolitan police with its record high establishment of 28,364 police officers and its 16,720 civilian staff who are responsible for policing 799 square miles, including the 32 London boroughs and some outer districts as well as Windsor castle. The Metropolitan police force costs an enormous amount of money. The total cost today is £1,286 million and the greater part of that sum comes from the Treasury through the taxpayer.
The other police services of London include the efficient City of London police, with its establishment of 798 police officers and 433 civilians. The British Transport police force is responsible for policing the London underground and it deserves particular credit for an excellent record in crime control and crime prevention.
Although overall crime levels in the Metropolitan police area have risen recently—up 9 per cent. in 1990—statistics for crime on the underground show a fall for the third successive year, most notably in categories involving violence. They are down 23 per cent. on the 1989 figures. Within that category, robbery fell by 12 per cent., assaults by 13 per cent., indecent assaults by 11 per cent. and other sexual offences by 59 per cent.
Crime on the underground needs always to be considered in the context of the numbers travelling. With nearly 800 million journeys every year, the chances of 556 becoming involved in an incident are extremely small. In 1990, fewer than two incidents per 1 million passenger journeys involved violence. It is particularly important to set out that record, because it reduces the sometimes irrational fear of crime on the part of people who use the underground system.
I also pay tribute to members of the Royal Parks constabulary for their excellent work in the royal parks. I know from my experience in the city of Westminster how splendidly they serve a very large tourist population as well as the local residential community.
I now refer to the Labour party's absurd proposition that there should be an elected police authority for London which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook again confirmed today. [Interruption.] I say "absurd" because there is absolutely no evidence of any demand from the public for an elected police authority within the areas of responsibility of the four police forces that I have mentioned. The ambiguity of the Opposition's case for that proposition is remarkable. They have not made it clear whether they envisage their so-called elected police authority being responsible for all police activities in what I presume to be the area of the 32 London boroughs, the City of London and the eight outer districts in the home counties, as well as the Royal Parks police and the British Transport police.
The Labour party must make clear its definition of the composition and responsibility of that supposed police authority. Given that 90 per cent. of expenditure on the police comes from the taxpayer via the Treasury, it is difficult to imagine what the authority would do.
Outside London, police authority arrangements provide for a committee composed of two thirds local government councillors and one third justices of the peace. They are in no way responsible for operational matters; nor can they give directions to chief officers of police. They have a limited responsibility for aspects of the efficient administration of the police service, but even that is questionable and is carried out only in conjunction with the Home Office. Moreover, the police authority system has had a pretty chequered history. There is no evidence that such an authority has even identified or stopped bad working practices or operational failings. This failure to provide objective oversight is most marked when considering the recent West Midlands crime squad saga and the overall incompetence of the Derbyshire police authority.
That the Labour party wants to replicate those arrangements in London is absurd. There is no compelling evidence that the police service arrangements outside London engender any greater confidence in the work of the police; rather, the increasingly effective police consultative arrangements provide that essential local link between the police and the public. The 74 Metropolitan police divisions all have access to the police consultative arrangements and they report increasing public participation in discussing the problems of a local community and the desired style of policing.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the relationship between the local authority and the police in the City of London, which is a police authority, works very well?
§ Sir John Wheeler
The City of London, as the hon. Gentleman knows—he wants to abolish it, after all; it is 557 another Labour party pledge—is a unique government unit with a special responsibility. We know very well that we are not comparing like with like in any sense. There are other arguments against an elected police authority—
§ Sir John Wheeler
I shall not give way, as I should like to press on. The hon. Gentleman may be assisted by my arguments.
Based on the costs of the London borough elections in 1986, the likely cost of holding elections for the 32 London boroughs alone would be about £3 million. The overall turnout in the 1990 London borough elections was 48.2 per cent., but that average masks substantial variations from area to area. At borough level, turnouts ranged from 59.7 per cent. in Richmond to 36.1 per cent. in Hackney. At ward level, turnouts ranged from 68 per cent. in the Barnes ward in Richmond to 18.1 per cent. in the Liddle ward in Southwark. It is likely that the turnout for an unwanted election for an authority for which the public have made no demands at all would be even less. The absurdity of the Labour party's proposal is thus manifest for all to see.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The hon. Gentleman's argument suggests that both Opposition parties—supported as he knows, by many Londoners—have argued for a separate election for a police authority. But that is not what happens in the rest of England. Members of police authorities are elected at the same time as the members of the other strategic authorities for that area. As it is not a question of separate elections, the hon. Gentleman's argument in his last few sentences was completely specious.
§ Sir John Wheeler
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman speaks for the Labour party on this point. The opposition parties have not made that point clear; nor have they said whether they envisage all four police service functions in London coming within the jurisdiction of the proposed authority. In addition, they have not made clear the area for which the authority would be responsible. The issue is a good deal more complicated—
§ Sir John Wheeler
The hon. Gentleman can make his speech later.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook also referred to crime in London. It is a matter of some concern that recorded crime within the Metropolitan police area increased by 11 per cent. in the 12 months from April 1990. The rise is lower than in many police force areas around London, notably Essex, which in June announced a 25 per cent. rise in crime.
It is important to keep the figure in perspective. Recorded crime has increased by an average of 5 per cent. per year since 1970. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the increase in recorded crime since the end of the second world war. Some of the increase is due to an increase in the proportion of crimes reported to and recorded by the police. That is particularly true of some violent crime. It should be remembered that that type of crime, which is the most worrying for the public, represents a very small proportion of all recorded crime 558 —about 5 per cent. in London. The vast majority of offences are against property—over half the crimes recorded in London were theft or handling stolen goods.
The increase in recorded crime in London is not the result of any slackening off of police effort—far from it. There have been some significant police achievements over the 12 months covered by the statistics. A higher proportion of rapes have been cleared up. Police operations against street crime have led to a 5 per cent. reduction in such offences. The police have made it a priority to protect the public from serious, predatory crime. It is reasonable to expect the public also to take some responsibility for protecting their property from opportunist theft and vandalism.
It is important to remember that 94 per cent. of the crime problem in London relates to property and especially the motor car. Only one in six offences of violence against a person involves members of the same household, but, significantly, the majority of victims of violence were in some way known or associated with the attacker. The more effective recording of sexual offences reveals that two thirds of the women raped knew their attacker and just under half the women indecently assaulted had a previous acquaintance with their attacker. It is very important for the public to understand the facts. London remains one of the safest cities in the world.
Street crime, such as muggings and bag snatchings, are distressing for the individual and sometimes cause media reports that are either dishonest or selective in their statements and can be the cause of a great deal of fear, especially to elderly women. It is very important for the public to know that two thirds of all mugging victims are male and that male youths in particular account for a large proportion of victims of such crimes. Elderly women are the least likely victims of mugging. Most of those offences take place in the early to mid-afternoon and not after dark as is often supposed.
As my right hon. Friend said, the Metropolitan police are increasingly successful at detecting crime. No. 1 area, which I visited recently to discuss with the deputy assistant commissioner his own success story there, has carried out several operations with remarkable results. The DAC told me that those achievements were made only because of the total co-operation of the local community in all its forms and were especially due to the high morale of the Metropolitan police officers. The notion that the police are in any way lacking in morale is absolute humbug. Their record of achievement would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and dedication of the police themselves, or without the increasing support that they receive from the civilian members of their staff.
Car crime is a particular problem. The Metropolitan police say that more than 75,000 cars are taken and driven away, of which half are fairly easily recovered. The problem is that a quarter of those vehicles are taken and the contents stolen because the driver had not locked the doors. While there is increasing effort on the part of motor manufacturers to improve car security, the public are often careless in the treatment of their possessions. More must be done to deal with car crime.
The costs to the taxpayer of car crime are enormous and are not effectively calculated. I refer, for example, to the correlation between car thefts and accidents. In December 1988, the Home Office working group on car crime recommended some analysis of that point. I understand from the Department of Transport that some 559 data are being analysed at the moment and that the first results should be available in a couple of months. I am sorry to find that no work has been done by academics on that aspect of car crime, yet there are clear costs to the health service and the insurance industry and a great deal of misery to the public.
It is difficult to give a clear figure of the costs of car crime and I am not aware of a direct updating of the 1984 British crime survey estimate that the net loss sustained by the private motorist from car crime was £270 million. The Home Office produces annual estimates of the value of property stolen in crime recorded by the police. The latest figures for 1989 show that the value of property stolen as theft of a vehicle or from a vehicle totals £1,099 million, of which about £620 million is recovered, leaving a net loss of £471 million. Insurance claims for motor theft in the United Kingdom in 1989 totalled about £291 million. But because such crime is unrecorded the overall net loss to the public may be in the region of £550 million to £600 million. I welcome the fact that 1992 is to be car crime year. We require an innovative—[Interruption.] I am sorry that Opposition Members seem to think that car crime is amusing.
I think that we require an innovative approach—
§ Sir John Wheeler
No, I shall not give way.
An innovative approach should be taken to the problem. Most such crimes are committed by a minority of youths. The clear-up rate is low and one way to improve it might be to make the service provided by scenes of crime officers a contracting one. For a modest fee of about £25 such a service could provide an avalanche of forensic information which, through the use of information technology and computerisation, could provide the police with a welter of intelligence.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you have been given any sign that—if not now, at the end of business—there might be a statement from a Transport Minister on how the Government propose to respond to the letter from the European Environment Commissioner and the consequence for the seven projects that the European Commission believes contravene European law and environmental policy?
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As Member of Parliament for the district in which one of the projects is located may I re-emphasise the fact that the House expects to hear, either today or in the remaining days of this Session next week, how the Government intend to respond. This is one of the last chances to save Oxleas wood and some of the other projects.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
No Minister has been in touch with the Speaker's Office to inform Mr. Speaker that he or she would like to make a statement on the matter today.
§ Sir John Wheeler
I am on the point of concluding my proposal on how to improve the clear-up rate of car crime, which represents about one third of crime in this country. We need an improvement in forensic evidence to enable 560 police to make arrests through the better use of the skills of scenes of crime officers. If that evidence were available, the police would be given a welter of information which would give them the opportunity to improve the clear-up rate as it is only a minority of youths who are responsible for the large number of car crimes.
Bold thinking is necessary to deal with car crime. The traditional approach which fails to place greater emphasis on the responsibility of the vehicle's user must be the right way forward.
§ 11.4 am
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
I do not think it is possible for us to discuss law and order, justice and policing today without reflecting on the sombre backdrop which overshadows the debate. When I was at school I was brought up to believe that British justice was the best and finest in the world and the envy of people of other lands, but I have been shocked to discover that that is no longer true. There has been case after case involving appalling miscarriages of justice, and innocent men and women being imprisoned for many years. How fortunate it is that we do not have the dealth penalty. How fortunate it is for the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six that we do not have the death penalty. In those cases, crucial alibi evidence was withheld from the defence, police concocted statements, suppressed interviews and produced false confessions, the forensic evidence was useless and senior judges ended up with egg on their faces. All of that must shake confidence, and there are other similar events lodged in the public psyche.
The case in the west midlands that has been mentioned involved 52 officers who were purged as a result of allegations of malpractice. Evidence was fabricated by their serious crimes squad, which had to be dismantled. In Kent there was doctoring of crime clearance figures. There are worries about the influence of freemasonry. There were criticisms of the Taylor report on the policing of the Hillsborough disaster. We cannot deny that such incidents have a cumulative damaging effect on trust and confidence.
Another factor that has caused damage and in which I am sure that the police would have preferred not to be involved has been the role that they have played in industrial disputes. Until the 1970s the police role in industrial disputes was confined to preserving peace and upholding the law. The police were supposed to be impartial and to show no bias for employers or employees. If substitute labour was needed, troops were called in. In the ambulance dispute, however, police were called in to replace ambulance men. That has worrying implications for the independent status of the police and raises substantial legal problems.
Another factor involved the use of police in the mining dispute, particularly at Orgreave, where the South Yorkshire police have paid £500,000 in damages and costs to 39 miners whom they injured outside the Orgreave coking plant. No policemen were prosecuted. At Wapping, investigations by Northampton police led to charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and accusations of various assaults and brutality. On the grounds of what I believe was described as "delay" the case was discharged, and there were no prosecutions. Patently, justice was not seen to be done. All such incidents drive a wedge between the police and the public.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
In relation to Chief Superintendent Wirco of the Northampton police, who conducted the inquiry and the ensuing "delay", was not that delay caused by the police refusing to give evidence to their own officer investigating the case?
§ Mr. Leighton
I believe that that is so. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) gave evidence to the inquiry and, certainly, justice was not seen to be done. The matter was well summed up be a senior police officer, quoted in the Observer on 8 September this year, who said:I know from talking to my own children and those of my colleagues just how deep the animosity goes. I think we may be reaping the results of our own mistreatment of the young in the 1970s and 1980s: we were too hostile, too aggressive, too islolated. Then we did begin to get our act together after Brixton, but we spoilt it again with the miners' strike and Wapping.We were placed in hostile confrontation with the public. The new emphasis on service that you see in initiatives like the Met's Plus Programme is an attempt to close the gulf. But it is going to be a long job.This week saw the publication of a book by Robert Reiner, a London School of Economics law lecturer, who interviewed 40 of the 43 chief officers. In it he says that one of them said to him:The miners' strike did more harm for police-public relations than many people would be prepared to admit to. … The main reason was the public getting used to seeing police officers in riot gear, 'facing the people'.They saw police officers being injured, they saw police officers inflicting injuries and it's commonplace now.Policing is becoming increasingly complex. It is important in our modern industrial societies that we maintain law and order and have an effective police service. I believe that there is widespread support and respect for the police, and I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said on the subject. I also support the police. However, it would be unwise complacently to ignore the trend in some quarters where there is an erosion of that respect and confidence. It would be unwise to ignore the perhaps growing minority who no longer place complete trust in the police. I have explained some of the reasons for that, and there are others.
We meet some of the disenchanted people in our surgeries. Many of those who come to see me believe that police performance against crime is poor—they are referring to the low clear-up rate. Many people tell me that in the east end of London they think it is hardly worth reporting crimes, including robberies, to the police because the response is either inept or inadequate. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction among constituents. There is also a virtually complete lack of faith in the police complaints procedure. I have not met one constituent who is happy with the result after he or she has made a complaint.
I shall now move on to the present wave of crime. At the last election, the Conservative party masqueraded as the party of law and order, trumpeting simplistic nostrums. It claimed that it knew how to crack down on crime and promised to do so. It must now be cringing with embarrassment as it recalls its bogus prospectives of 1979. The only growth area of the economy has been in crime. The 12 years of Conservative rule have produced the circumstances which have led to the worst crime wave in British history. Of all the Tory failures, this must be among the biggest and we are all paying the price.
§ Mr. Soley
I also remember the Tory promise, "We must cut crime", which appeared on posters in my area. It is interesting to note that at that stage and, indeed, during the past three general elections they constantly blamed criminals and others in society whereas now, as we heard today from the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), they blame the victims for not doing enough to look after their property and themselves. It is the victims' fault. That is an incredible failure.
§ Mr. Leighton
As usual, the Government blame the victims. They scapegoat parents or schools. They blame everyone but themselves, yet they have been in office now for 12 years. What have they achieved? The doubling of crime: in 1979 there were 2.2 million recorded offences, but 5 million are projected for 1991. That is the steepest increase in crime in history. It is an epidemic. We have had two years of 18 per cent. increases and there is no end in sight.
On Wednesday the Police Federation said:Britain is in real danger of losing the battle against crime.Metropolitan police Sergeant Alan Eastwood, the chairman of the federation representing 147,000 police officers, said:It took 20 years for the crime rate to rise from one million to two million offences a year. It has taken just 10 years" —10 years of Conservative Government—for the figure to go from two to five million.For 12 years the Tory party worshipped a Prime Minister who said that there was no such thing as society but only individuals—it was everyone for himself. The rich have been loaded with wealth, but those at the bottom have been shut out, excluded and left to rot. Britain is divided as never before between conspicuous wealth and chronic poverty and despair. Those are the conditions which breed crime, and they have.
The Conservatives are creating just such a society, inflicting chronic mass unemployment and are depriving hundreds of thousands of young people of hope and a future. Yet they expect sweetness and light. How can they think that mass unemployment will have no effect on crime? Only the stupid would think that mass unemployment would have no effect on crime. Of course mass unemployment undermines and destroys the fabric of society. One has only to look at what mass unemployment is doing in east Germany. Only a Conservative like the Home Secretary would think anything else. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said, all the research shows a correlation between the increase in property crime and the increase in recession.
The 1980s were a Tory decade when for the first time the Government held out no hope for millions of people. Many people's incomes and benefits did not keep up with inflation. After 12 years, people are worse off in absolute terms. They are kept in poverty while others enrich themselves. For the whole of the 1980s we had more than 2 million unemployed. People say that we had unemployment in the 1930s and that it did not lead to crime, but in the 1930s finding a solution to unemployment was at the top of the political agenda. Under the Thatcher Government we were told that unemployment was a price well worth paying. The attitude was different. When the present Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer 563 he said that if it was not hurting it was not working. As a result, we have an underclass who have little to lose by committing crime.
Crime is not prevented by having lots of policemen. The inhibition to crime is social control. People do not want to commit crimes and be convicted because of what other people may think. What will people think of them at work? Will they lose their job? But if they do not have a job, have never had a job and will never get a job, they think, "What the hell—what does it matter?" Those people have no perspective on the future, so it does not matter.
It does not surprise me that in those circumstances there are riots every summer. The only surprise to me is that we do not have more. The police understand this even if the Home Secretary does not. Lord Scarman reported on what he described as the tinder in our inner cities waiting for a spark. Kenneth Newman spoke of the volatile vapour of social discontent hanging over the city, looking for a spark to set it off—usually an innocent or inept act by the police. Unfortunately, the police are often seen as the enemy—the representatives of the system. It is not the fault of the police—it is the fault of the Government.
Even Members of Parliament tend to get fractious at the end of the summer, and they go on holiday. How many of the kids who took part in the riots had a holiday? They do not get one. That is part of the reason for the riots.
More than a decade ago, when unemployment first reached 1 million, I thought that there would be disturbances. When unemployment rose to 2 million I heard a Labour Member say that it was unacceptable. The right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) replied that it was not unacceptable because it was being accepted. He suggested that we did not have to worry that we had 2 million unemployed. He was wrong. We have had riots every summer when there has been a spark. We also have what I would call a slow riot, a sort of permanent slow riot where the tinder does not explode but smoulders. The word to describe that is "crime"—the present crime epidemic is a slow riot.
In the 1930s the perception was that everybody was suffering and that we all suffered together. Everybody was in the same boat. Now, areas of poverty and unemployment with an alienated, excluded underclass are surrounded by areas of relative affluence and car ownership. That is the difference between now and the 1930s. Obviously, there is a connection between unemployment and crime. Crime has increased most in areas where employment has collapsed. If hon. Members do not believe that, they should ask the insurance companies. The insurance companies know where crime is highest, so insurance premiums are highest in the poorest areas.
What can we do to help the police? One idea stands out immediately. The Home Secretary referred to the PLUS programme. Commander Alec Marnoch of Scotland Yard's PLUS programme, which aims to achieve better relations with the public, said:An elected authority is a logical extension of the partnership and co-operation that has been going on at borough level. We would welcome such a body, which could reflect the priorities of the community.That is the view of the senior Scotland Yard officer and of all the senior police officers with whom I have discussed the matter. That is the quickest single thing that we could 564 do to improve matters. Her Majesty's inspectorate of police and the Police Federation have said that they would work happily with an elected authority.
The police believe that an elected authority is essential if they are to establish a proper working relationship with the public. Opinion polls show that the majority of Londoners support such an elected authority. I know that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, is a thoughtful man and I am sure that he would accept that such an authority is in line with the citizens charter—that public servants should be answerable to the public. After all, all power in a democratic society should be accountable.
Such a body would not have day-to-day operational powers. The national powers of Scotland Yard relating to anti-terrorism and to diplomatic and royalty protection would remain the responsibility of the Home Secretary, but the authority would have the same powers as authorities outside London to make appointments at senior level and it would have a policy and budgetary role; it would supervise complaints, investigate deaths in police custody and be responsible for monitoring equal opportunities policy. As a safeguard, the Commissioner would have a right of appeal to the Home Secretary. If that happened, the police would be more in touch and it would increase confidence and trust between the police and the people.
I hope that no one would be so silly as to suggest that the establishment of such an authority would somehow introduce politics into the matter. After all, what is the Home Secretary if not a politician? I admit, however, that I have heard him described otherwise. The constitutional position of the Metropolitan police is completely anomalous and unsatisfactory. The notion that it is somehow accountable to the Home Secretary is preposterous. That is a patent absurdity. The right hon. Gentleman cannot pretend to have a detailed knowledge of its work. The idea that this annual debate on a Friday morning represents adequate parliamentary scrutiny in ludicrous. An elected authority for London, as proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparbrook would be good for the police, for the public and for the joint war against crime.
§ Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)
I am grateful for this opportunity to participate in such an important debate, not only because it is a subject that concerns and interests my constituents, but because it is about London. As a Londoner who represents part of the great metropolis, I believe that the House does not spend enough time debating London issues, and today we are attempting to redress that balance. Regrettably, London issues are too often regarded as national issues. That is often true, but matters concerning the police and transport are specific to the capital and our region.
I regret the superficial approach adopted by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), whose speech did not address any of the issues that affect our great capital city. The right hon. Gentleman's plan for the establishment of an elected police authority is not a major issue that is raised regularly by my constituents. They are concerned not only about finding 565 and punishing criminals, but about preventing crime. An elected police authority would not undertake either of those functions.
When we debate the policing of our capital city, the first thing we must all state is that the Metropolitan police has a high reputation in London, throughout the country and across the world. The Metropolitan police provides the services of the anti-terrorist branch not only to the people of London, but of the nation. The work of the Metropolitan police must be commended.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) in his attacks on various aspects of police work and Government policy. There are many reasons for increased crime, and easy generalisations will not hold up; nor will they get us further in our debate on how to improve the lives of citizens in this great city and to prevent crime.
I believe that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East has a strange view of history. The 1930s saw far greater inequalities of wealth, and there were fewer opportunities and less choice and educational opportunity for the vast majority. To suggest that the poor and the unemployed are more likely to be criminals is absolutely insulting to them and their families. Just because one is poor and unemployed does not mean that one immediately commits a crime. The vast majority of people in the capital are good, law-abiding citizens, and they remain so whether they are unemployed or not.
§ Mr. Soley
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but he does not understand the argument, because the comparison with the 1930s is extremely important. As society and community structures break down, so do families. That was not the cases in the 1930s. Social breakdown includes the effects of unemployment and low income, and if the hon. Gentleman does not address all the relevant issues he will not understand the argument, never mind be able to make moral judgments. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the poor and unemployed, as individuals, are not more likely to commit crime, but the fracturing of families and communities, as the Church and others have noted, is a major factor.
§ Mr. Evennett
There are many reasons for crime in society, but the answers are not as superficial as the hon. Member suggests.
I have always been a great supporter of the police and, in common with the vast majority of my constituents, I believe that our police force does a tremendous job. Regrettably, too often the media, the experts and Opposition Members take the police for granted—sometimes we all do—and fail to recognise the many varied and difficult jobs that they must undertake.
The vast majority of Londoners warmly support the police in all their duties. I disagree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-East, who suggested that the public opinion of the police in London was diminished as a result of what happened during the miners' strike. That is arrant nonsense.
I believe that any debate on policing in London must concentrate on two different features of police work. Of course the policing of central London and the inner-city areas is one such feature of police work. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in his excellent speech, highlighted the tremendous number of new initiatives that are being implemented in those inner-city areas by the 566 Metropolitan police. My right hon. Friend highlighted the successes already achieved and the determination of the Metropolitan police that those initiatives should he effective.
The other part of London is made up of the suburbs, of which my constituency is part. The suburbs have different priorities and require different policing methods. This morning, I want to concentrate on the policing of those suburban areas and to highlight a number of issues relating to policing in my borough of Bexley.
My constituency is served by two police districts. One ward, a small part of my constituency, Thamesmead East, is policed from Plumstead, while the majority of my constituency is under the supervision of Bexleyheath police station. I have visited both chief superintendents and police stations regularly during the past eight years to discuss policing matters. I have also been in regular correspondence about individual problems.
I believe that we must congratulate the Government and my right hon. Friend and his ministerial team on the tremendous increase in expenditure on the police in the past decade, which has led to better pay, better equipment and facilities. I have seen such improvements in my area. On 17 May, I visited the brand new, modern-designed and well-equipped police station at Plumstead, and I toured the building with Chief Superintendent John Philpott. I spent some time in the magnificent operations room and watched the police in action from their nerve centre. I was impressed by the work being done and the equipment in the new police station. Money is clearly being spent in London to fight crime. New equipment for the police and greater manpower are vital.
My day with the police reinforced my understanding of the twin approach that they must adopt in the fight against crime in suburbia. They need increased technology to fight crime and apprehend the hardened criminal, but they must also have policemen on the beat to reassure the public and deter the petty criminal. On both counts, the work that I saw being carried out from Plumstead was impressive and reassuring.
As I said, the majority of my constituency is policed from Bexleyheath police station, which regrettably is a small, overcrowded and inadequate headquarters designed for policing in another era, probably the 1930s, the time to which Opposition Members are fond of referring.
I am delighted to report that a brand-new police station is being built in Bexleyheath and will shortly be ready. That will give Bexleyheath the same facilities, equipment and accommodation as Plumstead. The police and public are looking forward eagerly to the completion of the new building.
I visited the present building in June this year and met Chief Superintendent Dave Mellish, the Bexleyheath police chief to whom the Home Secretary referred to as an example of the new breed of police head in London, a man of great talent, leadership and ability. My meeting with him was interesting, and our discussion cordial. I welcomed his plans, to which I shall come. But since that meeting, Chief Superintendent Mellish has been promoted and will be leaving the area later this month to further his career in Northumbria. Regrettably, he will have served for only about a year in Bexleyheath.
That is indicative of the problem of policing suburban London. Good men and women with experience and flair, such as Dave Mellish, hardly have time to get to know their areas before being moved on. The result is that they 567 do not see their proposals being implemented before departing for a different part of the country. Dave Mellish is becoming assistant chief constable of Northumbria. I fear that changes of that sort have been all to frequent in Bexleyheath.
§ Mr. Evennett
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) should stop mumbling and listen. He might learn something. The number of changes that have occurred in my area in recent years cannot be good for the local force, or the community on fighting crime. Other local notables, such as councillors, justices of the peace and Churchmen, continue to serve longer periods and to get involved in their areas.
§ Mr. Evennett
Yes. At least the hon. Gentleman and I can agree on something this morning.
The Home Secretary and I support the need for greater contact between the community and the police. That involves local authorities and others who believe in the community and are anxious to fight crime. We must encourage people to stay in positions of authority longer, so that they have time to become part of the community. I hope that the ambitious plans that were explained to me by Chief Superintendent Mellish will be implemented by his successor, Bob Bligh, when he takes over shortly. Dave Mellish's ideas highlight the way forward for the policing of suburban areas such as mine.
It is essential in the suburbs to establish a police presence which can be responsible to communities. Policemen and women must remain in touch with local people and circumstances. The aim in Bexley is to have a new superstation at Bexleyheath and to establish satellite stations across the remainder of the police district. Those stations will be more user-friendly, making the police more accessible to local people of all ages. The investment should result in more public support and, one hopes, more effective action against crime.
We already have such satellite stations in Belvedere and Erith in my constituency. The new plans call for a further station in my home area of Crayford. The residents, business people and all concerned in Crayford are looking forward to their new police shop, for which there has been a campaign for some time. The shop will be an invaluable asset in the policing of the area.
The home beat officer is another important feature of policing suburbia. We are fortunate in my area in having some dedicated and effective home beat officers. I attended in September the annual general meeting of Larner road tenants association, where I learned that the local officer had a regular surgery on the estate every week and was well known to the residents. He is not just available to them but is trusted and treated as a friend. The estate is only one part of that home beat officer's patch. His community involvement elsewhere is equally effective.
An officer who is known by name and is regularly visible on foot in an area, accessible to people with problems, is bound to help reduce crime in residential areas. It is important that officers visit schools, meet the kids and get to know them by name and become trusted by them. Home beat officers can quickly get to know all 568 aspects of the local community and become aware of what the kids are doing in their spare time, including Saturday nights.
We hear much criticism of the young these days, and I accept that there are troublemakers. Fortunately, in my part of the world we do not suffer greatly from that problem. My young constituents are good, the home beat officers are getting to know them and are visiting youth clubs and elsewhere where the young are having fun. We regard that as vital to the policing of my area.
The most publicised crimes are always the most horrendous. The awful crimes described by the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) are to be deplored. The major problems for my constituents are the so-called routine crimes such as burglary, car theft and vandalism. Such crimes are, of course, more numerous and, for the individual, more personal.
The detection rate is the most important statistic, detection being the greatest deterrent to crime. Under Conservative rule, there has been a tremendous investment in technology, and that will help the police catch criminals. Hopefully, tough sentences will then be given to the convicted. Regrettably, in this decade, as in the 1930s through to the 1980s, hardened criminals will always be part of society. Sin will always exist. But detection and punishment will help remove such offenders from our streets. We must aim as a top priority to detect and punish them.
The appearance of policemen and women on the streets and of police cars patrolling suburban areas and shopping centres will not eradicate the activities of the hardened criminal, but it will go a long way to deterring the casual criminal. Regrettably, casual crime has greatly increased in recent years. We can do something about it, and a noticeable police presence is one of the most effective means. We shall see the fruits of that type of policing in years to come.
We all have property that we wish to protect. We must do more to look after it. That can be of great assistance in the prevention of crime. Even so, the most important tool is an effective police force apprehending criminals.
The police have a difficult dual role; their job can be difficult and dangerous. I know that the Government and the majority of hon. Members strongly support them in their difficult job. More money has been spent on the police, attempts have been made in the media to publicise how people can protect their property, and there are more policemen on the beat.
Law and order and the defence of the realm are the two most important issues that any Government must address. I believe that the Government are doing so and that the new initiatives to fight crime that they are taking with the police will ensure that the crime rate declines. It is an indictment of our society that the crime rate is so high, but with an effective police force, which we have in London, with good and effective investment in the police force and with community involvement we shall beat crime. In next year's debate, when the effectiveness of the investment in new measures will have worked through, I look forward not only to congratulating the police but to a declining crime rate.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I am glad to be able to participate again in a debate on policing in London. However, like other Opposition Members, I do not regard it as an adequate substitute for an accountable body whereby the people of London and their elected representatives can be the police authority for the capital.
As the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) rightly said, it is impossible for one person—a Cabinet Minister—to be the police authority of London. That is not a reflection on the holder of that office; it is an unmanageable job. London would be happier—the opinion polls bear this out and I dissent from what the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) said—with an elected police authority and that increasingly appears to be the view of the police force in London. However, for today, we must make the best of the substitute.
I welcome the Commissioner, Sir Peter Imbert, back to his job. We are glad and relieved that he has recovered from his heart attak.
In almost all respects, the police do a good job for us in London for which we are grateful. The senior police and the more junior officers with whom we have daily dealings are effective in almost every respect and helpful, co-operative and courteous.
Like other colleagues, I have cause to he thankful for our local chief superintendents. We have three in Southwark—David Martin, Bill Griffiths and Bob Davies —all of whom are relatively new to the job. We have lost two senior police officers. One, Alan Evershed, who is much missed, moved to a job in the diplomatic protection squad and the other, Bob Keevil, held the responsible job of community liaison officer for Southwark for many years. He retired last Friday night, when many people congratulated him on the work that he had done.
Happily, I detect that the turnround of senior officers has slowed a little. The Home Secretary said that it is intended that that will increasingly be the case. It is no good just getting used to senior officers only for them to move, and they cannot be expected to learn each new job quickly. It was unfortunate that Bexleyheath's police chief was moved after such a short time in post, but that says something about his merit, As nobody has answered the unasked question, he is indeed the son of my predecessor, as the Member of Parliament for Bermondsey, Bob Mellish. He has had a very good policing reputation in the Met.
It is noticeable from the Commissioner's report that the number of complaints lodged against the police in the past year was down, which says something about the responsiveness of the police force throughout the capital. It is also noticeable how many police officers do a job that is above and beyond the call of duty—saving lives, rescuing people and resisting dangerous and threatening attacks. Two young officers in Southwark, one of whom was a cadet and therefore deserves a higher tribute, were recently held up by somebody with a gun. It turned out to be unloaded, but they were not to know that. Bravely and calmly, they managed to get themselves out of that situation.
In saying how good the police are, however, may I issue one word of warning? The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) said that sometimes the police still go over the lines of proper activity. People have been 570 convicted but released on appeal when it has been shown that the police fell into the trap of concocting evidence, which is unacceptable. No police officer should think that he or she will get away with concocting evidence to lock up or to arrest people without having proper cause for believing that they are guilty. It is no excuse to say that it improves their statistics. Constituents of mine—none of us can know in advance whether innocence or guilt is the appropriate result—who have vigorously protested their innocence have been vindicated on appeal. For example, there was the well-known successful appeal in the past year of Tommy McCrossen; such cases do the police no good.
On general strategy, I have mentioned accountability and I hope that by this time next year we shall be well on the way to changing the system and introducing a London police authority, but at a local level there is continuing concern that local police buildings might be lost. The operational building strategy in south-east London has not reached a conclusion. Chief superintendents have said, "Don't worry, you will not lose any buildings." We had to fight hard to save Tower Bridge police station and I make the obvious point that our constituents make to us all the time: close a police building and you not only risk the wrath of the community but do a disservice to the community. The community wants visible policing—police officers being in the area and in and out of community institutions—and a police station nearby so that officers can attend incidents quickly.
I welcome the idea of sector policing. It is a good idea as the police will be more responsive to the changes in demand on their services, but it will not be possible to police growing areas of London with the same number of officers. As Ministers know, docklands, north and south of the river, is growing, so we shall need more police. Increases in police numbers were announced recently, but apparently none are for London and I hope that the Home Secretary and the Minister of State will reflect on that. I do not want to pinch anybody else's police officers, but we need more officers, because without them docklands will not be adequately policed.
I applaud the police for increasing recruitment from the ethnic minorities. Considerable progress has been made in the past year, and I hope that that will continue. If the police are to have the confidence of members of the ethnic minorities, it is important that they come from those minorities. At last we are making progress.
As other colleagues have said, however, the police are not helped by the fact that they must hold prisoners in police cells. In a letter dated 16 October from the Minister of State—the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold)—I was told:Our latest figures show the average cost of keeping an inmate in a police cell to be £221 per inmate per day, compared to £46 per day for inmates in a Prison Service establishment.There is no doubt that that is a ridiculous waste of public money. The need to hold prisoners in police cells interferes with the normal policing job. I know that there are Government commitments, but I plead with the Government to move into proper prison accommodation all those people who are being held in unsatisfactory facilities, who also impede the police in the execution of their duty.
The Home Secretary rightly made great play of the importance of partnership. I welcome the recognition of our police consultative committee in Southwark. It 571 provides a good forum, which I attend as regularly as possible, although last night I could not because I was waiting for an Adjournment debate. The partnerships offered by local police forums, police consultative committees and meetings with businesses are vital.
I reiterate a comment that I made yesterday: we cannot have an effective policing relationship with young people if there is no youth service with which to have such a partnership. The figures show that a high percentage of crime in the metropolis is committed by young people. The Commissioner's figures show that in 1990 there were 116,000 notifiable offences, of which about 46,000, or over one third, were committed by people aged between 10 and 20. As the Minister knows, some very young people are involved in such crimes. We must ensure that a good youth service is part of the equation. If the cuts in the youth service in London this coming year are as great as they were last year, we shall be asking for more trouble. Last night, the Minister for Sport announced his willingness to consider meeting people in the youth service about what could be done with the service in inner London. I hope that action is taken. Effective, detached youth work on the streets is often one of the best ways of preventing youngsters from falling into a pattern of crime.
The Government cannot argue logically or credibly that increased unemployment does not mean increased crime. Of course, there is no simple link between the two, but over the decades there has been a statistical pattern. It is self-evident that young people with nothing to do and no regular income are vulnerable targets. That can be seen all the time in places such as Southwark in the car thefts, burglaries and sometimes worse crimes that occur. If people are occupied, they do not succumb to the temptation to commit crime or want the thrill and excitement of committing crime.
During the past year, south London has suffered from an undesirable reputation. Two murders were committed in Southwark division in the period of the Commissioner's last report. So far this year, there have been eight murders in the Southwark police division and five murders in the Carter street police division, a considerable proportion of which have not been solved. One of those murdered was Jonathan Putt—I knew him and his family well. Unfortunately, the conclusions drawn by some parts of the media can be summarised in a headline on 13 August in the Evening Standard:They're not all villains, but they know a man who is".That was a comment on the people of south London. I rebut that simplistic suggestion.
I know the facts surrounding these cases and there is no common pattern. One or two murders appear to be gangland revenge killings; one appears to be a dispute between neighbours which got out of hand; one appears to involve an old grudge among youngsters which was converted into a wish for revenge when they got older; and one appears to involve a family member acting in defence of a parent under attack. There was no common theme. It is wrong to paint a picture of the community as though it were riddled with criminality and to suggest that everyone is involved.
On behalf of many of my constituents, I should like to say that the vast majority of the people are not villains; nor do they associate with villains. It is a slur for journalists to paint this part of London as one riddled with villains and, 572 therefore, unsafe. The area is actually one of the safest in the centre of our capital, as the police would willingly testify. That reassurance must be given because, if it is not, people become afraid without justification. The fear of crime is as big a problem as crime itself. Fear of crime is often the difficulty that must be overcome. The Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Westminster, North said that many crimes are committed by young people on young people and that such crimes are often alcohol related. Elderly people and especially elderly women are perhaps the most vulnerable, but we must not suggest that they will be the most likely victims of attack.
I have some comments and questions about community relations, especially race relations. My most unpleasant moment in eight and a half years as a Member of Parliament occurred on the August bank holiday weekend this year. A march against racism and facism had been organised through Southwark and a counter-assembly had been organised by the British National party. I went to observe—not to take part—as did many others. It was an ugly event. The 700 police officers did a very good job and just managed to keep the two sides apart. There were 20 arrests. I have no doubt that allowing the BNP to behave as it did and, in particular, allowing it to use our national flag as a party political symbol, is in itself a provocation. I have asked the Home Secretary—I repeat that request across the Floor of the Chamber as there is a general election coming—to consider what we should do to ensure that racist and extremist elements in our society are not allowed to inflame and make worse underlying community tension.
I thought that the original march was misguided as I could see trouble coming. Many people on the march against racism and facism now agree that it was a mistake to march in that place on that day. I hope that they will not do it again and I have made my feelings clear. However, there is no excuse for people who are marching lawfully to be attacked by bottles, bricks, stones or verbal abuse. I know of the Commissioner's concern about public order changes, but we must prevent such incidents from disrupting the community as happened on what was otherwise a beautiful, sunny bank holiday weekend.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the behaviour of the BNP and other fascist organisations, but I urge caution if he is suggesting that those who march for racial harmony and against racist violence are in danger of provoking trouble. Anyone who wishes to march for racial harmony and against racist violence should be allowed to do so and should not be in fear of provoking a fascist attack.
§ Mr. Hughes
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but the issue is more complicated. He does not know the details.
§ Mr. Hughes
I agree that the right to march should be protected, but people should reflect on the wisdom of choosing certain venues at certain times. The lesson learnt by the organisers was that they may not have made the right decision. That does not justify the fact that people fear being attacked if they march—the freedom to march is a right that we should all defend.
One of the most difficult problems is policing disputes between neighbours. I was interested in the Home Secretary's statement earlier this week about squatters. We 573 have still not got right the way in which we deal in congested urban areas with nuisance and neighbour disputes. People's lack of remedy is something with which, as a general rule, we as Legislators have not yet dealt adequately. In dealing with squatting and its implications the Home Secretary begins to touch on unlawful occupation, neighbour disputes, noise and nuisance and all of them should be considered together.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
I share the hon. Gentleman's worry about neighbour disputes and, as a Member of Parliament, I am only too familiar with them. However, there are some very good conciliation schemes. I take the liberty of mentioning the scheme in Islington, although my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is here. I opened its new premises a couple of weeks ago. It is a marvellous scheme which is much used and the idea is spreading across the country. Of course, resources are needed to expand it more quickly, but it represents a way of dealing early with disputes and of preventing the police or the criminal justice system from even getting involved.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. We have a mediation centre in Southwark. If people agree to go to it, it does a good job and such initiatives are worth supporting.
For many people in London, traffic is a nightmare. Last year a general police meeting was called by the Carter street police division and the main topic about which people wanted to talk was traffic, including parking and related issues. As yet, we have no legislation to deal with noise from cars. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 deals with noise in certain respects, but there is no legislation to deal with noise from cars, such as car radios. That gap must be remedied. I talked to police and environmental health officers about this subject only the other day.
I endorse the two specific points made by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. We must plan our arterial traffic movements to allow a time and place for vehicles to load and unload for their commercial activities without impeding the thoroughfare for those who are going along the roads. If that is not worked out properly, London traffic is slowed down enormously.
Box junctions are one helpful aspect of traffic organisation. When people breach the rules and stop in them, they drive me nearer to assaulting other people than anything else.
Mr. Humpfrey Matins (Croydon, North-West)
§ Mr. Hughes
I am glad that colleagues agree that that behaviour would be most uncharacteristic. If the police could do something about that offence, no matter who the person in charge is, we should all be greatly relieved.
I sense and observe a growing incidence of drug-related crime in the capital, after having seen it dealt with quite effectively in the second half of the 1980s. The people in question will know who they are when they read this speech. I went to see someone on a Saturday morning in broad daylight. I saw drug-related crime being practised out in the open in the middle of the estate in front of anybody who wanted to see it. It was not taking place in a stairwell or in a lift shaft. This happened on an estate not many yards from where I live.
574 The linked problem is alcohol-related crime. Far too many crimes are alcohol related. A constituent I knew, a 26-year-old talented final year student at the London College of Printing, was killed the other day by a motorist who has now been charged with an alcohol-related driving offence. The case is going through the courts. We need to deal with the alcohol problems which so often add to our criminal statistics and to the misery of our communities. Paul Witcher's family and girlfriend are more examples of just such tragic victims.
We need to continue to encourage the good work that is already being done. We should encourage citizenship and ensure that more visible community leaders are out and about in the community. We need better media coverage, stricter controls on the sale of alcohol, better planning, better lighting and, above all, better mechanisms for helping especially vulnerable people—women, the elderly and those who live alone. The agenda on policing is endless. The police do a very good job, but they and we cannot afford to be complacent for a moment.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. There is a lot of interest in this debate and speeches are taking 20 minutes on average. Unless they are reduced to about 10 minutes, I shall not be able to call all hon. Members who seek to speak.
§ 12.3 pm
Mr. Humfrey Matins (Croydon, North-West)
I am glad to have the opportunity to make a brief contribution in this important debate.
There is not much more to come. This is an important debate on policing in London and it is a pity that we have to have it on a Friday, because many colleagues who would like to be here cannot because of other commitments. It is an important subject, and I hope that at some stage we can spend more prime time on it.
The debate concerns policing in London, which is not quite the same as the level and the causes of crime: they are rather different subjects. We have had a bit of talk this morning about what causes crime and why crime levels are high. Does unemployment cause crime or is it bad housing, the way in which parents bring up their children, the television or indiscipline in schools? Over many years, I have come to the conclusion that I am not certain what causes crime. It could be some of those reasons, none of those reasons or all of them. I am equally convinced that many colleagues of all parties have. a great deal to say on the issue, and can invent a great deal of integrity and ability in a discussion of what causes crime and how we can cure it.
I sometimes wish that we spent more time in the House talking about that. It is a problem that we all must face and grapple with. Crime is rising all over the place and if any of us knew the answers, he would be the first to stand up. We ought to spend more time pooling good ideas from both sides of the House. I do not think that either side has a monopoly of wisdom. There is an awful lot to be said for the approaches on both sides.
During the years in which I have represented my Croydon constituency, we have had a number of excellent and outstanding policemen. At the moment we have Chief 575 Superintendent George Crawford at South Norwood and Chief Superintendent Malcolm Hill at Croydon. They are both excellent policemen, who do a great deal to serve the community.
The police are trying to get closer to the community in Croydon, as elsewhere in London. They have developed close ties with the local communities over the years and there is an excellent police consultative committee, which has been in existence for about five years. It meets regularly. Local authority representatives, councillors, members of the police force, leaders of the ethnic groups, Churches and voluntary groups all get together on the consultative committee. It works on a basis of co-operation rather than confrontation, is a good forum for discussion and does much good work.
The police play a full part in the consultative committee, as they do in the general life of Croydon. There are many people in Croydon from ethnic minority backgrounds—their families may have originated in India, Pakistan or east Africa. People from those communities have settled in Croydon and are tremendous contributors to local life. I attend many of their functions—it may be Pakistani welfare day on a Sunday in March.
On such occasions, I always find the local police well represented, and they are there as friends. They talk to the leaders of the ethnic groups and have formed friendships and contacts over the past few years. My goodness, that stands them in good stead when the subject of policing in Croydon comes up. They get full marks for that approach and also for the policy of sector policing, which has already been mentioned today.
That is all part of the attempt to bring the police and public closer together. The South Norwood division has been divided into smaller and more manageable areas, and the chief superintendent has provided a group of officers for each of those areas, dedicated to serving the public and examining and dealing with local problems, we have a team of officers committed to a small geographical area. They get to know local people and problems, and are well motivated.
Sector B, which covers Norbury, is an example. In Norbury, they have sector consultative groups—those are another good thing, and there will be more elsewhere. The police have little local consultative groups in small pockets of London. That all builds up confidence. Community leaders get together to discuss problems and various local issues. By talking about problems, one can generally solve them in advance.
I was pleased that the people of Norbury recently said so loudly that they wanted to keep their police station, which is still there. In some ways, Norbury is a prosperous part of south London, although the northern part of Croydon is generally not so well off as the southern part. Burglary is the main crime. It always has been and probably always will be, along with car thefts. Most of the burglaries are opportunistic. They are often the result of people not taking care of their property and leaving their doors open. The same goes for car thefts and taking and driving away.
I am not saying that it is people's fault if crime is committed against them, but we could all do much more to keep our property safe. For example, about five years ago I had my car stolen from outside my house. I had left 576 it open overnight, with the key in the lock, and was pretty embarrassed about it afterwards. I should not have done that.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary alluded to the possibility of developing a car that cannot be driven away even if it is broken into. I look forward to the day when we can develop such a vehicle and I am sure that technology will enable us to do so before too long. An old friend of mine in Croydon—a former councillor called Arthur Dwan—is a bit of an expert on car locking and has had much contact with the Home Office over the years. The Home Office is to be congratulated on pursuing the matter, but it is important to take any steps that we can to discourage car theft, by improved locking, through insurance and so on.
The same is true of property marking, and, in my constituency, property marking kits are often given away.
We also have excellent neighbourhood watch schemes in the Croydon area and there is no doubt that, where a good neighbourhood watch scheme is in place, crime figures are generally lower. We also have good victim support schemes.
I do not think that we live in a completely lawless society—although, because the local papers seem to carry nothing but reports of crime on their front and second and third pages, anyone reading them would probably think that we did. I do not think that things are as bad as they appear in the picture that is sometimes painted. We already know that the majority of offences are not offences of violence, and most violent offences—a huge percentage —take place in the home rather than outside it.
Much more crime is now recorded, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) remarked. The South Norwood police station has this year adopted a new policy on domestic violence and now regularly treats it as an arrestable offence, whereas in the past such incidents were referred to as "domestic issues" and sometimes not treated as crimes. Now, the police go in and they usually make an arrest. Is more crime being committed or is it merely that more crime is being noted as crime? I am never sure of the answer to that.
Two final matters worry the local police. In Croydon, as elsewhere in south London, we have a problem with so-called pay parties, where people create havoc overnight. There is much music and banging, terrible noise and great disturbance. Bad neighbours can also cause great noise and nuisance with music, banging, shouting and late-night parties. Many people complain to me about that and I have asked the police what they think about it.
It seems to me that, on occasion, the police think that they ought to be given a few extra powers to deal with the problem. At the moment, there is not much that they can do about it. They have to refer one to the environmental health department of the local council and, as we know, that may mean that nothing can be done for months. The police would like more powers to act on noisy parties and pay parties.
In Croydon, as elsewhere, people like to see policemen on the beat. They are reassured by the physical presence not only of a police station but of local officers. I warmly support sector policing, which I hope and believe will lead to a much stronger police presence on the streets. That greatly reassures people and that is what they want to see.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
In opening the debate, the Home Secretary gave his annual speech on policing in London. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) made a commitment that I am pleased to support—that Labour will introduce an elected police authority for London. The present arrangements are a sham and a farce. An authority that spends £1 billion a year is supposedly accountable to the Home Secretary, yet, given all his other duties, the right hon. Gentleman cannot possibly take charge of the detailed day-to-day running of the force and probably cannot even oversee its strategic objectives. Yet he is supposed to supply the element of accountability.
I am not complaining that it is difficult for London Members to meet members of the Metropolitan police: we all have an opportunity to meet the local police force in our constituencies. That is not the issue. The issue is the accountability of a major service. The Association of London Authorities has produced an interesting document and it has discussed its proposals with the police. I understand that many senior officers are in favour of a better framework in which to operate, in which there is accountability to the public on police performance and objectives.
The introduction of the ALA document by Derek Sawyer, the chairman of the ALA police authority, is interesting:As a politician, I can say things that my officers, quite properly, restrain themselves from. Firstly, the argument—that an elected police authority for London is desirable, necessary and inevitable—has been won. The only remaining opponents of the idea are the sillier sections of the Conservative Party buttressed by the die-hard elements of the Home Office mandarinocracy. They see power and influence over policing objectives passing from their hands to those of the people who pay for the service and have increasingly high expectations from it and decreasing levels of confidence in it.Those are wise words. I hope that the Home Secretary will consider more seriously his point about a structure for the police authority for London. If this Home Secretary remains Home Secretary, it is not acceptable that a 19th-century system will continue well into the 21st century. It is about time that it was reformed.
The debate turns on crime and crime statistics and the Home Secretary was more restrained today than his predecessors have been—and well he might be, when we consider the statistics. However, he seems to hanker for the days when all he could do was attack Labour politicians for somehow liking crime. People in my constituency, a poor inner-city urban area, suffer badly from high crime rates. Their homes are being broken into, their families are being attacked in the streets and their cars are being stolen. They suffer from high crime rates and they have no love for such crime rates.
It is too simple to say that the only way to solve high crime rates is through more repression and more police. Many other things must be done. The Home Secretary was right to refer to estate improvements and better lighting. That is very important. As I said earlier, that is fine as far as it has gone. However, many estates have experienced no improvements and in some cases half an estate has been rejuvenated while the rest remains in a very poor state.
We must also consider the high unemployment rates and the large number of young people who have very little to do, limited amounts of affordable entertainment and limited job opportunities. Those are serious problems and 578 no one has a monopoly of wisdom when it comes to solving the problem of crime. However, I believe that it stems from a combination of living conditions, unemployment and the greed factor which, more than anything else, has been promoted by the Government.
However, we must also consider the design of housing estates and the environment in which people are expected to live. As a local authority planning committee chairman and a planning committee member for many years, I was always opposed to the construction of high-rise or deck-access buildings. I am not prepared to live in those buildings and I do not see why anyone else should, either. We should think more carefully about the kind of environment in which people are expected to grow up. Perhaps the Government can play a role when they are a little more relaxed in their approach to the cost yardstick measures.
Sexual attacks, rape and violence towards women are very serious in London. The figures are disturbingly high. I believe that there is still a serious level of under-reporting of rape and attacks on women, partly because victims do not want to report attacks and when they do report them, they do not feel that they can endure the ordeal of revealing the attacker's name—if the attacker's name is known to them—and all the problems of prosecution that are involved. The police must be given more encouragement to treat cases as sympathetically as possible, as they do in many cases, and they must also offer counselling as quickly as possible. Far too many women suffer the most appalling attacks on the streets, trains and tubes and simply do not report them. They feel scarred for life by the experience.
We must also consider not just police on the streets and street lighting but the staffing levels of stations, underground stations, staff on trains and single-person operated buses. All those matters contribute to a sense of danger and ill-being for women travelling alone at night. In this capital city, most women should not be afraid to go out alone at night and afraid to walk the streets at night. It simply should not be.
Likewise, we are dealing with race attacks and racially motivated attacks. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke about the most disgusting aspect, which is the activities of the far right —the fascists in our society—for example, the British National party openly preaching racial supremacy, openly espousing racial bigotry and openly trying to sell its disgusting journal outside Brick lane market on a Sunday morning. Those people are poisoning our society. They promote race hatred, they promote evils and they promote and condone the violence that happens against black and Asian people.
Far too many Asian shopkeepers find great difficulty in getting insurance for their buildings because they are attacked so frequently. Far too many Asian families have experienced burning rags being put through their letter boxes. Indeed, far too many people have been killed as a result of that experience.
Once again, the figures show a higher level of reporting, but I fear that we are talking about the tip of the iceberg of a serious and large problem that mostly goes unreported. I hope that the police force will recognise the need straight away to ask the victim of an attack, "Do you think that it was racially motivated?" That is the basis on which it should be quoted as a racially motivated attack.
579 A further matter of concern is the treatment of homosexual people by the police and the number of prosecutions that have been brought. Ninety-six years ago, Oscar Wilde, one of the greatest writers of this or the previous century, was prosecuted and imprisoned. It broke him in many ways. He felt unable to live in this country after that and finally died in Paris. He was prosecuted under a law that many at the time thought was antediluvian. Such laws are still on the statute book and can still be used.
Research by Peter Tatchell on what he terms judicial homophobia—I agree with him—based on the latest available Home Office official figures, showed that, in England and Wales during 1989, consenting homosexual relations between men over the age of 16 resulted in 3,500 prosecutions, 2,700 convictions, 380 cautions and 40 to 50 prison sentences. Among those victimised were 31 men aged 21 or over who were gaoled for consensual gay sex with other men aged 16 to 21. That is frankly quite absurd and ridiculous. The people who are prosecuted for alleged gay offences are more likely to get longer sentences and more likely to get a gaol sentence than those found guilty of a sexual attack on a man or women. That is how bad the situation has become.
The Commissioner is well aware of the problem of attacks on gay men—that is the other side of the issue. A force directive has been issued on it. When London Labour Members of Parliament met the Home Secretary, we raised that very point. I am glad of the response that we received then and I am glad of the response that the Commissioner has given. However, the issue is not being responded to properly in many police stations in London. Hampstead police have a good record and have worked hard at trying to improve matters on Hampstead heath. However, local police often feel that it is not a high priority. The danger of gay men and lesbians being attacked on our streets is very great.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a misallocation of police resources to get involved in the entrapment of gay men? We are talking about victimless crimes. The idea that prosecution should take place is clearly wrong. Also, the police should not get themselves involved in trying to entrap those people.
§ Mr. Corbyn
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a gross misuse of resources to use police time for entrapment in respect of matters that could be considered a crime under the terms of an outdated law, when far more serious matters of burglary and attacks on people walking around the streets at night should receive attention.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
My hon. Friend is making some very good points. I have a copy of a report by Peter Tatchell which shows that, in 1989, the cost to the taxpayer of 3,500 such prosecutions was £12 million. The report also states that sentences for consenting homosexual relations with men aged between 16 and 21 are sometimes as long as those for rape and are often twice as long as the gaol terms given for unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl aged between 13 and 16. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is disgusting and that we have the worst laws in Europe? More homosexuals are being imprisoned now 580 than when homosexuality was supposedly decriminalised in 1966. Is there not a strong case for the Home Office to act?
§ Mr. Corbyn
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. The Prime Minister recently met Sir Ian McKellen, on behalf of Stonewall, to talk about our laws relating to homosexuality. I hope that that meeting, which I very much welcome, will result in the repeal of some of those laws. We can only hope that that will happen.
I am conscious of the time, Madam Deputy Speaker, and will refer only briefly to several other matters. The statistical section of the Commissioner's report draws attention to the number of firearms and firearms certificates that have been issued. I find it disappointing that, once again, there has been an increase in the number of firearms certificates issued—from 825 to 864. The number of dealers' licences has increased from 268 to 270. Interestingly, the number of firearms that have been confiscated or surrendered to the police has increased from 1,440 to 2,762. I am concerned about the continuing year-on-year increase in the number of lawfully issued guns on the streets of London. I am also concerned about the number of sporting licences that have been issued. Clearly, guns can fall into the wrong hands. Many weapons end up being used in armed robberies or in armed attacks on people. The utmost caution should be taken when issuing firearms certificates in our capital city.
My constituency is very much part of inner London, and we have many problems relating to immigration and asylum law. I am disturbed by the amount of time and money that the police consume when carrying out Home Office immigration policies. It is a ridiculous misuse of police time and manpower. I am sure that the police will have made this point to the Home Secretary themselves, but they should not be seen as partly responsible for this country's immigration policy. That leads only to bad relations between the police and the local community and exacerbates any tension between them.
The report refers to some specific incidents. I am glad that, in some cases, the Home Secretary has been prepared to issue orders banning racist marches. A careful examination should be made of the circumstances in which that poor young man, Ronan Adams, died on the Thamesmead estate. He was the victim of an awful racist crime. I am glad that a prosecution and imprisonment have resulted, but the fact remains that that young man's life has been lost. His family and friends are grieving and that estate will be scarred for many years to come. There needs to be the deepest examination of the circumstances that allowed such racism to grow in that area and resulted in that young man losing his life.
§ Mr. Cohen
My hon. Friend is again making an important point. Is he aware that the Society of Black Lawyers met in July and wrote to the Home Secretary demanding action against racial attacks and supporting the enactment of a racial harassment Bill of the sort that I presented to the House in 1985?
§ Mr. Corbyn
Yes, I am well aware of that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his efforts in that area. I hope that that Bill will be reintroduced and become law in the next Parliament, if not in this. My final point relates to deaths in police custody, which are referred to at the back of the Commissioner's report. Two occurred in my borough; one involved a death in Highbury magistrates 581 court and the other, a death in Holloway police station, which is now the subject of an inquest. They are both serious matters. I think that there needs to be the closest examination of the guidance given to local police stations on how they should treat people while in custody, the ways in which some people have died and the access given to those providing medical advice and help. Frankly, many in the community have the greatest suspicion about the way in which those two people lost their lives.
The report relates to a large organisation which should, and must, be more accountable to the people of London, who want a safer city and the confidence to live safely in it. More accountability will lead to greater confidence and, one hopes, greater safety. There are many good elements in what the police do; they work extremely hard and, in many cases, try to be open and accessible to the poublic. It is now up to the Government to recognise the public's demand for an accountable police force and to respond to the initiatives by the Association of London Authorities, supported by the Labour party.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
I declare my interest as parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales.
The report of the Commissioner of Police gives a useful overview of crime in the metropolis and gives considerable reassurance on the number of offences cleared up by the Metropolitan police. We are told that, in 1990, a record number of offences were cleared up. Last year, the total number of notifiable offences was 834,000, of which 141,700 were cleared up, against a background of an increase in crime of 10 per cent. A substantial proportion of the increase in crime involved auto crime.
I was glad to hear the Home Secretary refer to the discussions that have taken place with the Association of British Insurers. It has always seemed curious that, when a car window is broken and a minor article stolen from the vehicle, it is necessary to call in a police officer to obtain a crime number so that that number can be given to the insurance company. A better system would save a great deal of police time and I am glad that the Home Secretary is addressing that issue.
The range of offences that the police have to tackle in the metropolis in 1991 is substantial. Crimes include crimes against the person, sexual offences, street crime, auto crime and burglaries. 'Therefore, I was pleased to see the power of the Metropolitan police in action in my constituency about a week ago, when 18 people were arrested in a dawn swoop on no fewer than 39 homes. More than 150 officers with door-breaking equipment and special squads to foil savage dogs recovered thousands of pounds worth of stolen property—a semi-automatic pistol was also seized.
The operation was codenamed "Operation Switchback" and the raids were undertaken to combat the serious increase in burglaries and car theft that has taken place in Uxbridge and the surrounding districts in recent months. A clear message has gone out to the villains from the Metropolitan police: "Stay away from Uxbridge and the Uxbridge district." The message has been clearly received by those responsible for making people's lives a misery by taking their cars and breaking into their homes.
One element of the report should be uppermost in the minds of hon. Members: the characteristics of the 582 offenders. We are told that the 10 to 20-year-old age group was responsible for 40 per cent.. of notifiable offences in 1990 for which arrests were made—a pretty shocking state of affairs. A majority of people arrested were under 21 years of age—for motor vehicle theft the figure was 70 per cent., for robbery it was 66 per cent. and for burglary it was 56 per cent. I want to highlight the way in which the courts are obliged to deal with those offenders as a result of the laws passed by us here in Parliament.
As the Bail Act 1976 now stands, the courts are almost always obliged to grant bail. It is virtually automatic. As a result, youngsters who steal and take away other people's cars to race them on the open road or on the estates of Oxford or Newcastle are arrested, charged and then bailed. So are the young teenagers who steal from cars, and those who have just spent the day or night robbing the homes of our constituents. I wonder how many hon. Members when they go to their constituency home this evening will find that they have had a visit from yet another burglar. Those criminals are free immediately after being bailed to resume their criminal activities until the police arrest them again and again. The police bring them before the courts again and again, and they are given bail again and again. They go on to commit numerous other criminal offences.
Urgent action is needed now in this Parliament to amend the Bail Act. We must stop this crazy cycle of crime which is so frustrating, not just to all our constituents, but to police officers who find themselves arresting the same people over and over again.
I am told that by the time the first charge is heard in court following bail—we all know that it can take a long time—it is common for the offender to ask for numerous other offences to be taken into consideration. What has the criminal to lose? Not much, it seems. I am told by the Metropolitan Police Federation that 18 per cent. of people granted bail and charged with offences have an average of 1.8 offences per person and that 12 per cent. of people granted bail are convicted of offences committed on bail at an average of 1.3 offences per person. Those statistics understate the problem, as they come from a rather limited database that relies only on detected, reportable crimes. The true rates of offending on bail are inevitably much higher.
I wonder whether the House realises that local crime rates could be dramatically reduced by the detention of just one highly active criminal. Surely the efforts of the police and the courts should be directed to that end. Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State give the House some assurance when he replies that the Government do not intend to permit a system to continue where youths on bail for 20 or more offences of burglary, violent theft or auto crime can easily go on with their criminal activities?
In some parts of London, much of the police's frustration about youths offending while on bail arises from cases in which youths are believed, often with good cause, to be committing further offences daily without effective sanction from the courts. Another problem is that, once a custodial sentence is eventually passed, it is almost standard practice for the outstanding matters to he left on file or withdrawn by the Crown prosecution service, thus perpetuating the impression that some young people can offend with impunity.
583 In the words of my old headmaster when he wrote in the margin of my report, this will not do. I tell my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that it will not do. Action needs to be taken quickly.
There have been some encouraging developments in the provision of manpower for the Metropolitan police. In 1990, the recommendations of the "First Line Supervision" report were accepted, with the resulting provision of 29 new uniformed inspector posts and 177 new divisional sergeant posts. A further 108 new divisional sergeant posts will be provided in 1991–92. A further 181 new detective constable posts will be provided in the next two years, in addition to the 47 uniformed police officer posts for the policing of the docklands development. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred to docklands, and I am sure that those additional officers will be greatly welcomed.
In the past 29 years, there have been enormous changes in the way in which the police operate in London, and those changes are a matter of concern to the Police Federation. We have seen the introduction of computers and sophisticated communications systems, as well as many other changes in the make-up of the population of the metropolis. However, today the police are still operating on the same basis as they were when the Willink royal commission reported in 1962. The time has come when there should be another royal commission on the police, so that the role of the police officer in the 1990s and beyond is carefully considered. Recommendations could then be made to the House and to the Government about the way in which policing in the metropolis should proceed in the years to come.
My right hon. Friend has already set up a royal commission on the legal system, an act which all hon. Members will applaud. That royal commission is obviously necessary in the light of recent events. However, why not have a royal commission on the police? Why is it that there is still a reluctance to look carefully at the role of the police officer and how he will be expected to work with the community in the years to come?
The great improvements in reducing crime on London underground are good news. For the third successive year, crime has fallen and in those categories involving violence it is down by 23 per cent. on the 1989 figures. In addition, robbery has fallen by 12 per cent., assaults by 13 per cent., indecent assaults by 11 per cent. and sexual offences by 59 per cent. Those new figures should attract our congratulations to the British Transport police, supported by the Metropolitan police, and our congratulations should go to London Underground, which has achieved so much to make it safer to travel on the tube.
The new facilities that have been introduced by London Underground are extremely sophisticated. They include the new-style help point, from which information can be sought and assistance from the British Transport police quickly summoned. Those facilities are a good example of what can be done by good policing in conjunction with the use of modern technology. They have made my constituents, and I am sure those of many other hon. Members who represent London constituencies, feel much safer when travelling on London Underground.
584 I believe that policing in London is in good hands. The Metropolitan police have once again, done a first-class job against a difficult background. They deserve all our thanks, and they certainly have mine.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. Eight hon. Members are still hoping to speak before the winding-up speeches that are expected at about 2 o'oclock. Most of those hon. Members have been in the Chamber for most of the debate, and I appeal to those who are called to be brief so that everyone who wants to make a contribution to this important debate will be able to do so.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
If we all speak for between eight and 10 minutes we should all be able to get in. I shall do exactly that. I shall refer later to something that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) mentioned, so perhaps he would care to stay and listen to my speech. I hope that that is not too much of an onerous task for the hon. Gentleman.
I must emphasise how much I, in common with my colleagues sitting up here in the Kop, welcomed what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said about an elected police authority for London. His stout defence of such a proposition is reassuring. To be anchored in these uncertain days to such a substantial figure is reassuring to us.
It is interesting to note the way in which the idea of an elected police authority has come to be so acceptable to such a wide range of previously diverse opinion. According to opinion polls, it is extremely popular among the majority of Londoners and is supported by the three police associations, by senior officers at Scotland Yard and by the Liberal party. It is well set out in Labour's documentation and if the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) took the time to read it, he would appreciate how well it is set out.
Now, only the Conservative party is dragging its feet on the subject. But I suspect that in the end Tory Members, too, will be converted to the widespread opinion in favour of an elected police authority because it makes sense. One is reminded of the formula set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) when talking about new ideas. He said that first they were ignored, then considered to be mad, then denounced as dangerous and that later, after a pause, one could not find anybody who did not claim to have thought of them at the beginning. That is now the situation with the proposed elected police authority.
I was a member of the Greater London council when we first put the idea forward and I recall how it was denounced as a mad and dangerous scheme. The hon. Member for Westminster, North clearly misunderstands our proposal. There will not be separate elections for a police authority when the Labour Government have set up the new Greater London authority. The police responsibilities will be within that authority. The hon. Gentleman suggested that it would cost £3 million. If that were to be the cost, it would still be cheap at the price, because democracy always demands a certain price. After all, £3 million is about what the Ministry of Defence has been accused of losing through fraud in its own activities. I note 585 in the defence reorganisation that the only regiment that has not been affected by the Government's proposals is the MOD's light-fingered brigade.
The gross caricatures that we have heard from the Government Benches about Labour's police authority proposals are absurd and should be dropped. There is no question of a Greater London police authority interfering in the day-to-day operations of the police force. It is about forging an accountable, responsive and genuine partnership between the police and the local communities of London.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) made it clear that Labour is the police-supporting party. We are the party of law and order because our constituents suffer the most from crime. I invite Conservative Members to come to my part of the east end of London and see how much we suffer from crime on the streets, car theft and burglary—all crimes that we fear are not being addressed in terms of police priorities and resources. My hon. Friend was right to say that one cannot look at the problem simply in terms of a lack of police resources, although we accept that there is such a lack. Crime is also associated with poverty, unemployment: and the type of social deprivation that exists in many parts of London, mostly areas represented by Labour Members.
Recently I visited a number of publicans in the Stratford area—on business of course—and we talked about the problems of violence in that part of London on Saturday nights. There is a hell of a lot of violence associated with alcohol, football hooliganism and drugs. Publicans are leaving the Stratford area because they are not prepared to risk their lives and those of their staff, particularly on Saturday evenings, with the present level of crime.
Pensioners in the Stratford area will not come out of their homes in the tower blocks on a Saturday evening for a quiet drink because they cannot get one in a pub. They usually get a fight or are mugged on the way there or on the way home. This is clearly a matter of policing as well as of the other social problems that I mentioned. When we talk to the local police, they say, "We are sorry. Of course we understand the problems, but there is nothing that we can do about them because we simply do not have the resources." The Minister must consider the areas where there is so much crime against the person on the street: and ensure that the resources that we desperately need in the east end and other areas are made available.
The police could make many savings in their operations. They do very well out of the Government and we want a more appropriate allocation of resources. The Metropolitan police's standard spending assessment is set by the Home Office to equal its revenue expenditure. Compared with local authorities, that is favourable treatment. The Met is therefore never deemed to be an overspender. The allowance made for inflation in the 1991–92 precept is higher than either the current rate or what the rate undoubtedly will be in the next financial year. We want the extra money that has been made available to the police in the generous assessment of inflation to be used to tackle the problems that I have described in Stratford and elsewhere in the east end.
We are worried that London's charge payers are still paying far too much for national police functions such as protecting the royal family, diplomats and senior politicians. Why should they have to foot so much of the bill for a national responsibility?
586 We have considered how the police staffing allocation is made. Concern has been expressed about the contradiction that is inherent in the allocation policy, particularly the penalisation of success. Chief Superintendent Hopkins of Holloway police reported to the Association of London Authorities' consultative group that a 10 per cent. reduction has been made in his officers following a year when crime was reduced by 10 per cent. It us absurd to penalise successful police stations. That must argue against the idea of ensuring that we reduce crime. What is the formula for the police staffing allocation and is the Minister prepared to revise it to prevent penalising a division and to offer police incentives in crime prevention?
My last point relates to one by the hon. Member for Uxbridge and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook. The port of London police and the force responsible for the port of Tilbury are to be sold to a private purchaser. The port of Tilbury is the only remaining part of what used to be the London docks. That is being done under section 22(1) of the Ports Act. The House did not understand—I do not know whether the Home Office understood the point—that that police force would be sold. Andrew Mackinlay, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Thurrock, issued a press statement in which he expressed opposition to such a move. He made an important point that I should like the Minister to answer. If selling the port of London police sets a precedent, what will happen to other police forces that might be privatised were, God forbid and the electorate prevent, the Conservatives re-elected? For example, if British Rail is privatised, what will happen to the British Transport police? What will happen to divisions of the Met and country police forces that police the privatised BAA airports, the river division of the Metropolitan police, the Ministry of Defence police, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority police or the Royal Parks constabulary? Will the Minister give a clear assurance that those forces will not be privatised without bringing measures before the House so that we can consider their implications, rather than their being slipped through in some other legislation without our being fully aware of what is going on?
§ Mr. Banks
I think not.
The people of London, especially those in the east end whom I represent, entirely support the police. We want to see more police responding to the needs of our local communities. In no circumstances will that happen under the Government, but I am sure that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook is Home Secretary I shall be able to get the responses and resources that we need and which I know a Labour Government will provide for London.
§ Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is certainly an original thinker, but he has a short memory. He was part of the team on the Greater London council that helped to create the GLC police committee, which wanted to involve itself in almost every police activity, including selecting and appointing officers above a certain 587 grade. The GLC was politically motivated. If people such as the hon. Gentleman get their hands on the police in London, God help us all.
I listened carefully to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, much of which I agreed with. At the end, however, it became very much like a sociology lecture at a second-rate polytechnic. We heard about the police "reaching out" to the community, about every police officer in London going on a course and coming back to discuss it afterwards. Has not my right hon. Friend gone into a police station and found the shift numbers reduced because there were no staff to man areas properly? Before my right hon. Friend sends all the police officers on a course and brings them back for a chat, perhaps he should ensure that there are police available when a sergeant calls for a shift to go out on the streets. That is where people want to see the police.
We have heard before the shadow Home Secretary's views about crime. It is all down to deprivation—the poor little darlings do not have a job or any pay and they need our help. The right hon. Gentleman has forgotten that the poor little darlings of Newcastle burnt down youth facilities that they could have used and took away the livelihoods of many Asians and other ethnic people who were minding their own business and doing a good job. If we listened to the bleating and whimpering of the shadow Home Secretary, we would believe that no one was a criminal and that all those poor little darlings were hard done by. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that a local vicar, who did know a lot about what was happening, said that they were basically evil people. Only the shadow Home Secretary and Church leaders who know no better talk about deprivation, rather than face the facts of life.
We have heard much about how wonderful soft policing is, but there is too much consultation with so-called community leaders and not enough men on the beat. My kind of community policing does not involve sitting down with council members, local religious groups and so-called leaders but means getting men on the street. That would provide the best community policing. I make no bones about it—I have not attended, nor will I attend, a consultative committee meeting to which all these so-called representatives go. Such meetings are a complete waste of time. Senior officers would be better off organising bobbies on the beat or themselves going out on the street to find out what is going on. Sitting around in a council office for three hours during an evening discussing what one may or may not do and listening to someone saying what is right and wrong is not what the community wants the police to do.
The Metropolitan police and other police forces are too concerned about the impact on the community of operational decisions. The incidents in Oxford and Newcastle highlight that fact. I understand that, in Oxford, the police watched for months while the so-called joy riders raced about, but, because they were concerned with the wider aspects of maintaining law and order in the community, for a long time they did nothing.
In Newcastle, after several days in which many people were injured and many businesses could no longer operate, the chief constable said he was pleased that "no one was injured". Many of my constituents were delighted that the violence ended and that a few of the thugs had their heads 588 cracked open and the businesses of decent people were saved. They did not feel proud that the thugs had managed to get away with their actions for three days before the chief constable did anything effective.
It is offensive for a man, his wife and kids to have to cross Hampstead heath. It is full of gays performing whatever they perform in public. Let me tell the House about the soft policing in the aptly named Jack Straw's Castle—of course, Jack Straw and his castle of education bear no relation to that place. The police turn a blind eye to the activities inside and outside that pub. It is about time that the police realised that, to the average decent heterosexual family, gay behaviour in public places or nearby is not acceptable.
It is about time that the police started to crack down and did not worry about people such as Peter Tatchell, who intends to write to all Members of Parliament saying, "If you do not support gay rights, I shall organise the gays in your constituency to vote against you." I do not know whether that flouts parliamentary privilege, but Mr. Tatchell can take his threats and, if we were in a different place, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would tell you where he can put them.
We hear a great deal about deprivation and the feelings of minorities, but the police are not social workers. It is not their job to worry about the cause of the problems—it is their job to administer the law as they see it. If they become social workers, who will perform the policing duties?
There should be a tougher line on demonstrations. The right to demonstrate carries with it a responsibility to behave reasonably. Too often, we hear about the right to demonstrate, but we never hear about the obligation that goes with it. I share the concern of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who has gone, about demonstrations and who should take part. I do not want the National Front to be allowed to demonstrate on the streets, and it is not allowed to do so, so why are the Irish Freedom Movement and the Troops Out movement allowed to do so? They are just as evil—in their support for the Irish Republican Army and what it stands for—as the National Front. The Commissioner must take a tougher line on who is allowed to demonstrate in the street. I believe as, I think, do many Londoners—that the cost of such demonstrations should be met by the organisers, not by the public.
Let us consider the Notting Hill carnival—that wonderful event which the Commissioner allows while talking about a lack of resources and money. It cost nearly £4 million to police the latest carnival, where everyone was happy—except the person who was stabbed and died. Eleven thousand man hours were also allocated to the carnival. How can the Commissioner tell the Home Secretary that he wants more resources and more money when nearly £4 million and 11,000 man hours were allocated to police a carnival which is part of a foreign culture? That is a contradiction.
There is also a problem with football and other sporting events. In view of the crime rate, how can we continue to allocate police to cover such occasions in London? The best time to be a villain in London is about 3.15 pm on a Saturday afternoon. It is better still if there is also a demonstration at that time, because half the damned police force will be policing the football match and the other half will be at the demonstration or waiting to be called in. There will literally be nobody on the streets to protect innocent people going about their business.
589 It is time that we reconsidered sporting occasions. If fans cannot behave properly inside the ground, either the football club should take the responsibility or the police should say, "We are sorry, but we cannot police the event and, although you pay on occasions, you cannot hold the match." I am sick and tired of London not being policed in order to allow football louts—for example, those at West Ham—to bawl and shout and be involved in various criminal activities while decent people in the east end have no policemen on the streets. That is the dreadful position we now face.
On traffic, I share the concern of the shadow Home Secretary. Traffic in London is a major problem, but the one aspect that he did not mention was the blocking of taxi and bus lanes. We see that day after day outside the Palace. Coaches carrying tourists—who are essential to London —park two, three or four at a time, perhaps for an hour at a time. I raised the matter with the police, but the person to whom I spoke said that the police were in close contact with the Church authorities to ensure that tourists were not upset.
What the heck is going on? If coaches are blocking the bus lanes, they should be moved on, irrespective of whether the crowd that arrived in them is about to return. The person to whom I spoke said that the police were concerned to avoid friction, but it is not their job to worry about friction. If there is traffic chaos because coaches are parked in bus lanes, the coaches should be moved on.
Another aspect of the traffic problem is the police's attack on motorists, which is amazing. The latest development is unmarked cars and unmarked motor cycles. That could be a threat to a lady who is driving home alone late at night and is pulled over by an unmarked car or motor cycle. My advice to such a lady would be not to stop unless the police identified themselves. The police's attack on motorists is shocking, especially while they appear to be taking a less than kind approach to law and order.
My next topic is begging and vagrancy. We know what the do-gooders and bleeding hearts do about the homeless. We also know that for many, homelessness is self-inflicted because they need not have left their homes. We need some action against the begging in and around London, and especially in central London. It is an appalling and disgusting sight which must be stopped. Sleeping on the streets is also an offence under the Vagrancy Act 1935 and under other legislation.
When I raised the matter with the police, they said, "These are people who have nowhere else to go." I said, "It is not your job to worry about where they go. Your job is to make sure that streets and pavements are kept clear for people to utilise the place." If one goes along Victoria street and wants to use McDonald's or any other shop that is open in the evening, one must step around those people to get in. There is no need for them to be sleeping there and they should not be allowed to stay.
I have always been and still am a friend of the police, despite what I have said. I have family who were in the police and I have family who are still in the Metropolitan police. Occasionally, it does not hurt for a friend to stand up and say to the Commissioner, "You are doing things pretty well most of the time, but you are doing some things pretty badly on and off. It is about time that you took a different view." I hope that he listens to some of the things that I have said.
§ 1.5 pm
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
It is always a pleasure to follow a speaker from the liberal wing of the Conservative party. I think that he speaks for some Conservative Members who do not always speak out in quite the same way, which always saddens me.
It is some years since I have been able to speak on London policing and I welcome the opportunity, not least because there have been many changes. I will refer to the comments of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) in a few minutes, if he will forgive me. Some of the changes are very welcome. When I used to talk at police colleges to both senior and junior officers, some of the views and attitudes I heard then were not in line with what was needed in modern policing. There have been significant changes in the training and recruitment of police officers, and I welcome them. That has been a positive step.
The positive changes are reflected in many respects by the change of attitude of police officers. As he said, the hon. Member for Uxbridge represents the Police Federation. I was sorry that he did not spend time developing the point that the Police Federation now supports an independent police complaints commission and a democratic policing authority for London. The hon. Gentleman is paid to do a job by the Police Federation. I make no complaints about that, because it is perfectly reasonable, but he is the only Conservative Member who is in a good position to explain to the Home Secretary and to other Conservative colleagues why the police have changed their view.
That is an important point. When the Home Secretary and other Conservative Members attack the Labour party for being irresponsible in suggesting that, we can stand it because it is part of the normal political fight. However, by definition the Home Secretary and Conservative Back-Bench Members are also attacking the police. They say that it is irresponsible to ask for those changes, yet the police are asking for them. Surely the hon. Gentleman in his position has a duty to express very clearly to Conservative Members that it is responsible to argue for an independent police complaints commission and for a properly elected accountable policing body.
§ Mr. Shersby
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I do, of course, advise the Home Secretary of what the Police Federation thinks about many aspects of the policing of London. The hon. Gentleman need be in no doubt about that. If I had had longer, I would have dealt with the matters that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. In deference to the Chair, I kept my remarks short.
§ Mr. Soley
I understand that. My point is that the hon. Gentleman is in a unique position to persuade his own party to understand the arguments. Only his party—no one else—holds the view that I have described and it tries to represent the opposition view, whether it comes from 591 the Labour party, from the police or from anyone else, as irresponsible. That is why the hon. Gentleman has an extra duty, and I urge him to carry it out in the future.
The Conservatives have always seen law and order as their card, but they approach the matter more circumspectly now. At the past three general elections, they were very foolish to promise us that they would cut crime. In Hammersmith, they put round a leaflet at the most recent election saying that they would cut crime. They did not; it increased dramatically. That is a foolish promise to make at any time, because the causes of crime are pretty complex.
The interesting point is that crime should have fallen for precisely the reasons that the hon. Member for Uxbridge gave. Most crime is committed by the 10 to 21-year-old group. In the late 1980s, that age group dropped as a proportion of the population. The baby boom had gone through. The general prediction that I and others made in the early 1980s was that there was an opportunity for a Government who cared about the social fabric and got the general background to crime right, to bring about a reduction in crime in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Conservative party must answer the question why it has not only failed to cut crime but has drastically increased it at a time when the main group that commits crime—teenagers—has declined in number.
The Conservatives in Hammersmith, who seem to be going through an extremist right-wing phase, were making promises. They believe that one can simply bash the people who commit crime, and blame teachers or parents—that is what the Home Secretary and his predecessors have done. That is foolish, because it is so superficial. It cannot be the answer to crime.
The one area in which the Home Secretary appears to have learnt something since taking on the job is that the causes of crime are linked to the social structure. He has learnt that from Home Office research. The social structure means factors such as unemployment, income, housing, and so on. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) may not like that, but it is true. It was also true in the 1930s. As I said earlier, the reason that that effect is worse now than it was in the 1930s is that communities are more fractured and splintered, with the result that families break down.
The argument about unemployment is often misunderstood, and several Conservative Members have misunderstood it yet again today. The argument is not, and never has been, that if one is unemployed, one is more likely to be a criminal. It is that parenting is a crucial factor in deciding whether someone offends. If stress is put on a family which is only just coping, the chances of that family breaking down are increased. Stress can come from unemployment, low income and bad housing conditions, and that can tip that family over into fracture and breakdown. The same goes for communities. When that happens, the crime rate goes up.
It is unusual for me to spring to the defence of the Church—it probably does not need my defence as much as I might need its from time to time—but the Church is right to say that social deprivation is a factor in causing crime. That explains why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, the people Labour Members represent are those who suffer the most 592 from crime. Crime is high in distressed areas, and fear of crime is greater there, too. The link between family breakdown and community breakdown is strong. A Government who do not believe in society, or that infrastructure of society needs supporting, are playing with fire.
Another simple example is that of homelessness. If the number of people sleeping rough on the streets increases dramatically, crime will increase. One way of keeping warm at night is to drink—one does not really get warmer, as alcohol lowers body temperature, but one feels warmer. A homeless person under the influence of drink and trying to get money for drink is more of a risk on the streets. Such a person is more at risk of sexual offences—of being picked up as a prostitute—and of drug abuse, which is another way of dealing with distress.
When the Home Secretary was a junior Minister at the time that the Greater London council was abolished, I told him that, as a result of the loss of the 4,000 GLC hostel beds, homelessness in London, and therefore crime, would increase. He told me then that I was wrong; I challenge him now to admit that I was right. My predictions were based not on a flight of fancy but on knowledge and a lot of research—not least, on research carried out by his own people at the Home Office. The Government should give that some attention, and start saying something about it.
One cannot play the law and order card by sticking to the silly idea that we shall simply get tough on crime and it will go away. The Government have been talking about getting tough on crime for years. All they have done is to increase the prison population without solving the problem. In reply to the hon. Member for Uxbridge, I say that we could build another 10 or 20 prisons to lock up all the people who are now let out on bail. Make no bones about it—we would need 10 or 20 more prisons. We could do that, but we will not solve the crime problem until we address the wider issues. In my experience—this takes me back to my earlier comments about training and recruitment—modern police officers are now much more aware of that fact and much more willing to understand the structure of society.
That is one reason why the police have moved towards the idea of greater local authority involvement. The only way to make a good crime prevention policy work is to ensure close co-operation between the police and local authorities. Concierge system in high-rise blocks, improved caretaker facilities on estates, improved street lighting and improved security for women in danger areas can be put in place only with the co-operation of the local council.
Those measures cannot be implemented in isolation and it is wrong to ask the police to do what the Government have consistently asked them to do—to screw the lid down and hold it down in the hope that the thing will not blow up. That is what the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington seems to think is their role, at any rate. In fact, it is the Government who have created the problems with which the police are trying to deal. That is the real issue.
Crime will always be a problem in any society, but, at a time when every other society that has experienced a fall in the number of people in the key age group has also experienced a fall in its crime rate, and given that all our history suggests that that is what should happen and that all the evidence of the Home Office and others supports 593 that theory, the Government must explain how they have managed to deliver the highest crime rate in this country's history and to make Britain a much less safe place.
If the Government do not deal with the hard core of the homeless—those who used to be in the Bullring—they will create a group of youngsters who have nothing whatever to lose. Sadly, we are now witnessing, and will continue to witness, the New York style of crime. People will be stabbed, regardless of whether they are carrying any money, by people who are so utterly alienated from society that they have nothing to lose. That is what makes today's crime different: it is much more violent and vicious than the crime of 10 or 15 years ago. I am not saying that crime did not exist before—merely that it is worse than it was before, because of the Government's failure to address the problems of the infrastructure.
I want to repeat a suggestion that I have been making for a number of years, because I should like the Government to think about it again. Certain areas of the country, including London, have crime problems that are particularly difficult to crack. Often certain families or individuals in a particular area are responsible. There are also several problems in areas with a lot of racially motivated crime against vulnerable groups. We ought to think more imaginatively about the use of the police in such areas. We have already taken a step in the right direction by stationing officers there in the daytime, but I think that we should enhance the career structure, or perhaps provide an additional financial incentive., to encourage one or more police officers to live in problem areas, streets or blocks of flats for several years and so to become part of the community.
Research shows that, at present the chances of a police officer being present when a crime is committed are very low. We should put police officers in the community for a given period, giving them extra incentives in terms of proper pay or career structure. If we do that, the officers will be part of the community not only during the day or at evening meetings; they will live in the community and pick up the more subtle nuances of life that can be understood only by people living in the area.
I would not for a moment suggest that we need such schemes throughout the country, but there is a particular job to be done in areas with such problems and I urge the Government to consider my suggestion. The other options are to try to move families who are threatened—in other words, moving the victim, which is unfair—or to try to convict those who are committing racial or other offences, but such attempts often fail.
Britain has missed a wonderful opportunity to get its crime rate down. Instead, it has risen, and we shall not get it down again until we address the underlying social issues. We must have a police force that is seen to be in touch with the local community and I welcome the recent steps that have been taken to achieve that greater contact. We must have a police accountability system through a local authority and there must be an independent police complaints authority.
We have made much progress. If I had said—as I did —10 years ago, what I have just said, the police would have criticised me. They would now say a loud "Hear, hear" to my suggestions. That shows how far we have moved in the right direction. Let us get the structure right, because, at the end of the day, the fear of crime may be greater than its actuality—but the fear of crime is a dreadful thing to live with.
§ Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford)
It is a great pleasure to follow the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley). I agree entirely with his point about co-operation between the police and local authorities. That is necessary. However, he must remember that co-operation is a two-way street and over the years Labour local authorities have refused to co-operate with the police. He also said that the fear of crime is greater than crime itself. I agree with him. A recent survey showed that Britain is one of the more crime-free developed countries, but that the fear of crime here is one of the highest.
We must try to bring down crime rates and also the fear of crime. That is why I welcomed the police blitz of crime prevention in Gants Hill, some of which is in my constituency. Hundreds of police officers visited more than 600 homes advising people about locks, alarms, security and neighbourhood watch schemes. The blitz was very successful in reducing burglaries in the area and, just as importantly, it reassured the public and the fear of crime was reduced. That was an excellent initiative.
The police do a job which not many people would want and they do it with a competence and professionalism which should be a great source of pride in this country. I hope that no one feels that the criticism expressed in this debate in any way outweighs the praise for the police. There has been great praise for the Metropolitan police from hon. Members on both sides of the House today.
It used to be a sign of old age when policemen begin to look younger. I believe that there is a bit more to it than that. The police in London are a little too young. They are recruited too young and they retire too young and that affects the general level of maturity of London's police force. They retire when they still have a great deal to offer.
For various reasons, London's police force lacks the maturity of other forces outside London. The attraction of living outside London means that too many police officers, whose training and initial experience was provided by the excellent college in Hendon, are enticed away to quieter places. London suffers as a result. We must do more to redress the balance. We must offer a package that makes London more attractive so that officers who are trained here, stay here.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced last week that 1,000 police would be recruited from April 1992 and that is welcome. However, money must also be spent to support the work that the police do behind the scenes. All too often the police do a superb job of skilful detection or courageous arrest only to discover that their work is not supported in court. All too often the administrative details such as warning witnesses or legal technicalities such as taking counsel's advice and passing it to the responsible policemen are ignored or overlooked. That means that the case falls when it gets to court, which is obviously intensely frustrating for the police because their work has been wasted.
Police can be moved too frequently from geographical area to geographical area or from specialisation to specialisation, often without their having any say in the matter. A policeman who has been specialising in the detection of credit card fraud for two or three years has built up great expertise and experience. If he is moved, without any say on his part, to child abuse, for example, his experience can be wasted. Of course there is value in 595 widening a policeman's experience, but there is also great value in using that experience. There is some scope for improvement in the police in London. Nobody would pretend otherwise.
Various suggestions have been made by the Opposition and I shall investigate them in some detail. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) suggested that Conservative Members should read the Labour party's documents about London. I have done so. For example, I have read "London Pride", which was last year's Labour tract on London. It mentioned the police twice. First, it said thatan overworked police force doesn't have enough time to investigate burglaries.Secondly, it said that the answer to that problem is to bring back what I can only describe as a revamped Greater London council. Let us examine what the GLC did in relation to the police.
The GLC had no responsibility whatsoever for the police, yet it spent more than £2 million on grants to groups to produce propaganda against the police. At one stage, it even tried to give £53,000 to the Troops Out movement in Northern Ireland, but it was stopped by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), who felt that he might lose the Bermondsey by-election. He lost the Bermondsey by-election anyway. However, I should like to know how another GLC could helpan overworked police force … to investigate burglaries.That problem was highlighted in the first part of "London Pride". So much for that document.
A second document was issued this year. It is entitled "London—A World Class Capital". I have read that as well. Policing barely gets a look in, except for an unedifying attempt to make people more afraid of crime than they are already. We are told that, on top of the restoration of the GLC,successful policing depends on public co-operation. The London boroughs will be placed under a statutory duty to help prevent crime.That would be a change, but how could the police in London hope for co-operation from London Labour boroughs? The Labour boroughs have been hostile to the police throughout the years. Lambeth council banned the police community consultative committee from meeting on any of its premises. Haringey council funded the payment of more than £3,000 in court fines. Lambeth council refused to allow police on to council premises without permission. Labour councils have always refused to join the police in their consultative procedures. It is no surprise that a recent Harris survey showed that only 8 per cent. of those questioned supported Labour's plans to make police authorities wholly elected. The police can look for no help from London Labour boroughs.
The Opposition have other proposals. They propose to allow secondary picketing and to restore the right to take sympathy action. Quite apart from the destruction that that would inflict on British industry, the damage that it would do to relations between British trade unions and the police and the confrontation that that would create would be devastating. We should be back to the time of Grunwick. We would find Labour Front-Bench Members back on the picket lines, yelling and screaming at the police as before.
596 There is more—there is the prevention of terrorism. In his 1990 report, the Commissioner said:The urgent need to combat terrorism drew heavily upon our resources during 1990. A continuing Provisional IRA campaign demanded an intense response.What do the Opposition promise in aid of the police? They promise to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act. That promise was supported in the Harris opinion poll by 3 per cent. of those questioned.
The Labour party appears to believe that there should be more police—the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said so—and with its policies, it would need them. In "Meet the Challenge, Make the Change", Labour stated:We believe, as does every police authority in the country, that there should be more police and that they should be more visible.The Labour party has also said:We will also increase the number of police officers.But would it? In practice, as we have heard, when the Labour party left office, it left the police force in London 4,500 below establishment.
The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) said that the Labour party may spend only on what she describes as a "priority", which includes a "top priority", a "high priority", a "first priority" and a mere "priority". There is no dispute about the fact that the one area that has never been described as any sort of priority in the Labour party's rhetoric is law and order and the police force. So, what does it all mean? I believe that it means that the Labour party will not be spending money on the police force and that, if we have a Labour Government, we can look forward to law and order being allowed to collapse due to lack of police morale and manpower—just as we found when Labour left office in 1979.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
In many respects, the speech of the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) was outdated and shows a misunderstanding of the present position and of the fact that, although law and order has not totally collapsed in the face of soaring crime, it has certainly been given a severe blow.
I do not want to repeat what has already been said in several excellent speeches by my hon. Friends. However, I, too, welcome the commitment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), the shadow Home Secretary, who is soon to be the Home Secretary, to an elected police authority for London. At the moment, the Home Secretary alone is accountable for the Metropolitan police, and this debate is our only chance to raise matters of policing in London with him.
I refer the right hon. Gentleman to what is happening at the top of the Met, because he is ultimately responsible for that. I draw his attention to the article in the Observer of 29 September, which was headlinedMet at war as corruption cases collapseand'Bitter faction-fight' over reforms sparked claim of offficer's Polly Peck links".It refers to the suspension of Assistant Commissioner Wyn Jones, an investigation that has already cost more than £250,000 and which, among matters of a similar ilk, has concluded that he asked his driver to drive him to the opera in a staff car. The article states that the faction fight 597 was between progressive reformers and the old school. How can the Home Secretary have let such a row get out of hand?
The article refers to some of the underlying aspects of the case, stating:In Mr. Jones's absence, a series of reforming initiatives collapsed. Last year he organised a conference of more than 300 ethnic minority officers, which led to radical proposals for curbing internal racism and attracting more minority recruits—access courses, new grievance procedures and the posting of black recruits in groups of six, to end their isolation. None has been enacted.Among his last acts was to institute career breaks for women who wished to have children. In at least one of London's eight areas, any woman presently applying for such a break is automatically asked to resign on the orders of the Deputy Assistant Commissioner. In another, only those who have served at least 15 years have been considered for a break.Such treatment of women is dreadful. I do not hold any brief for the assistant commissioner, but he wanted to introduce reforms which have now, allegedly, collapsed.
I should like the Home Secretary, who is the person accountable, to reintroduce those reforms into the Met now that this situation has been brought into the open. The right hon. Gentleman is in charge of the Met, and he has let it get into that state at the top. If such things had happened in a Labour local authority, the authority would have been ridiculed. It would have been hounded on the front pages of all the tabloids, but the Home Secretary has got away with it scot free—just like the prisoners from Brixton prison, for whose escape he is also accountable. When the Minister winds up, he should give us some answers to my questions about the position at the top of the Metropolitan police.
There is a great deal of jargon connected with law and order. "Order" is often used in politics as a means to crush dissent, but when the Government now use the word "law", it is with sand in their mouths as they have often been responsible for bad laws such as the poll tax. Their attempts to enforce that law have resulted in people being imprisoned and, in court time which could otherwise be used to deal with criminals, being used to hear cases involving the tax. The public, particularly Londoners, know that the Government's policies have brought record lawlessness, not law.
I am not happy with the use of "law and order" as jargon for electoral reasons. We should consider changing the approach so that we concentrate on crime prevention, catching criminals and police co-operation within the community. The Government have a poor record on crime prevention: they do not work properly with local authorities and they cut their money via poll tax and other revenue cuts so that they cannot implement crime prevention measures or back victim support schemes.
The briefing of the Association of London Authorities refers to crime prevention funding. It states:Local authorities feel that their contributions are underfunded and misdirected by Government. They favour short-term projects with an emphasis on capital funding rather than long-term projects with revenue funding. The extra training costs have been neglected and our own training budgets exhausted. Additionally, we have no London wide picture that would allow us to borrow best practice ideas or measure dispersal effects.The Government have not worked towards crime prevention with local authorities. As has been said, they are refusing to recognise social conditions such as unemployment, deprivation and the greed fostered in the early 1980s as causes of crime. We know that crime in London has soared up by 15 per cent. in the past year and 598 risen to historically high levels. We still have a low clear-up rate when compared with the high rate of crime. When crimes are reported, the police must respond swiftly if they are to catch criminals.
The third element necessary to reduce crime is community policing. I acknowledge that there has been some improvement, such as the introduction of more women police officers. One of the success stories in the Metropolitan police involves women police officers working both with the community and against crime. However, much more needs to be done in relation to community policing and the police working with ethnic, minority, women's, youth and gay organisations in the community. When the police work with the public, they gain their confidence and crime is cleared up as the public begin to report more and more of their suspicions. I want the community approach to be more widely adopted.
I have asked questions on the police national computer every year since 1982. In 1983, the Policy Studies Institute conducted a report for the Metropolitan police called "Police and People in London". Page 29 states:some young constables seem to carry out endless car checks".In answer to my last question, I was told that the Metropolitan police carried out 4 million vehicle checks and 4 million name checks last year, which means that each driver in London is checked about once a year in the vehicle index and about once a year in the criminal index. If a Londoner drives a car, he or she can expect to be checked against those computer indexes about once every six months.
I question whether that is necessary. Clearly, some are needed to prevent crime and to protect the police and the community against violence, but are 8 million checks a year necessary? Some of them must be a waste of time and money, and an infringement of individual privacy. Support for the police is diminished when people feel that their privacy is infringed.
In increasing numbers of cases, the PNC is used casually by individual police officers for their own unauthorised purposes. There needs to be better control over that.
The position will get worse when PNC2 comes on stream. That machine is about 10 times more powerful and will be able to check every Londoner once a month or every fortnight if he or she drives to work. Alternatively,
it can hold 10 times more information about each Londoner. Without proper control mechanisms, that could become counter productive.
I could raise all sorts of other matters about the police computer. The Data Protection Registrar should be more involved. On page 5 of his seventh annual report, he said:Proposals for further development such as an integrated criminal intelligence system and the national criminal record system … allied with the increased computer power and flexibility provided by PNC, demands careful attention to the data protection requirements.He is not saying that he is satisfied that those requirements are met. The clear implication is that he is not satisfied. He does not know whether those demands have been met, because he is being kept ignorant about PNC2. It is unsatisfactory that there is no proper data protection, especially as the Government propose increased vetting. For example, their scrutiny report on criminal records suggests that vetting would extend to spent offences and even to acquittals or decisions by the authorities to discontinue proceedings. That is a scandal and I have 599 tabled an early-day motion about it. Clearly, more account needs to be taken of data protection and the Data Protection Registrar needs to be fully involved.
I re-emphasise that the approach that is needed involves crime prevention, catching criminals and police cooperation with the community. Labour, along with the elected police authority for London, is committed to that.
§ Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)
A few weeks ago the hon. Member for Battersea was seen proceeding along Balham High road in the company of a police officer. He was then helped into a police van which went off, much to the amusement of some of his constituents. I was, in fact, going out with one of my home beat officers to see what the job involved, just as we and Opposition Members do in squad cars from time to time. It was a salutary and useful experience to see the sort of work that a home beat officer does and the welcome with which he is received by the community whom he serves under the new sector policing system.
We called on some victims of crime, not least some shopkeepers. One shopkeeper had recently been robbed. Somebody hopped into the shop, snatched money from the till and hopped out again. It emerged that the shopkeeper had not reported the crime because some weeks previously he had reported such a crime and the guilty party had not yet been found. The home beat officer had to explain that if every crime was reported, a pattern was built up which might enable the police to find the criminal.
That was a lesson to me about the need and usefulness of the home beat officer system. It also made me query police and crime statistics. The more crime statistics we have heard today, the more I have reached for the statistics book. For example, 50 per cent. of crime is supposed to be motor vehicle related. Yet although 90 per cent. of those who have their car stolen are likely to report it, only 30 per cent. of those who have something stolen from the car report it. That puts crime statistics into perspective.
The figures for different crimes go up and down year by year and one must question their reliability. I rely on the perception of the public and the police. It is more beneficial to visit one's local police station to see what is being achieved through different initiatives which are producing the results that we want. They are a credit to our police force, the many chief superintendents who have been mentioned today and Home Office Ministers who are working with the police and local authorities on many schemes in London to beat crime. That is what the public want.
Car crime is undoubtedly the big issue of the moment. In my constituency far too many cars are broken into and taken away or stuff taken from them. I welcome one initiative that the police have introduced, the "trap" car. If someone gets into one of those cars, the car doors lock and the horn goes off after 50 yds. If criminals realise that such cars are on the streets it could have a deterrent effect.
Vehicle manufacturers also have a responsibility to ensure that cars are safe against theft. I was alarmed when I got into my car and found that the key did not fit the ignition. I then realised that I had got into my car with someone else's keys. Mercifully I was unable to drive off, 600 but someone could have got into my car and taken things away. That is wrong. The owners of cars also have a responsibility to look after their property.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke about traffic offences and the police's responsibility for assisting traffic flow and moving cars that cause traffic jams. The right hon. Gentleman is right, but I wish that he would persuade the Labour party in Battersea of that; it is trying to stop initiatives such as red routes, which are designed to enable the police to keep traffic flowing. It is equally important, although the right hon. Gentleman did not mention this, that the police should be sensitive about the cars that they tow away. In the side streets of my constituency cars are often taken away in the early hours of the morning when they are obstructing nothing. They are taken simply because a team is patrolling the area with a tow-away vehicle. Often it is traffic wardens who authorise a tow away, and that decision gives the police a bad name in the community. Time should be spent removing vehicles from through routes and removing those that cause an obstruction and endanger the public.
The police should have extended powers regarding untaxed vehicles. There is nothing more aggravating for the law-abiding citizen than to see other people breaking the law and getting away with it. When such citizens see vehicle after vehicle untaxed they want some action. When those cars are parked on the public highway action can be taken, but when they are parked on estate roads—private roads—no such action can be taken. We should consider the definition of a public highway to overcome that problem.
Too many cyclists travel on the pavement and too many travel without lights. Every time I ask for the statistics on this matter I am told they are not readily available. That is not a surprise as such action is not perceived as a sufficiently important crime for people to take note of it. However, the public are aware of the problem and I am relying on their common sense and perception to convince the police that something should be done.
Great support has been given to the transport police of London and rightly so. The decrease in the amount of crime committed on the London underground supports the public perception that that form of transport is safer. That is good news and it has been brought about by the use of such things as cameras, mirrors, panic buttons and telephones for the public, as well as staffing in the right place at the right time. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary should pass on that good news to British Rail because too many of its stations in London are unmanned late at night. Those stations have no staff and no telephones, mirrors or video cameras to record any crime that may be committed. There have been too many assaults in those circumstances and the police and railway authorities should get together and act in the matter.
I am concerned about another transport-related crime, in that the offender was caught last night at Waterloo station. He was the escapee from Broadmoor. I congratulate those who caught him, but wonder how he got there. We had heard that the man, whom the public had been warned not to approach because he was potentially dangerous, had been on an outing, was browsing in a Guildford bookshop and escaped from his minder. If he was so dangerous that the public should not approach him, why was he browsing in a bookshop? I do not expect the Minister to reply to that today, but I hope 601 that the case is being looked into to ensure that we do not endanger the police and public by allowing such people to be on the loose.
The problem of drugs is also traffic related these clays. Whereas in my constituency one used to know where drugs were available—in certain launderettes and other fixed venues, sometimes flats—they now seem to be increasingly available from vehicles that are driven to places where somehow the young people know where to queue for them. The vehicles go in fast, dispense the drugs and are off. There is a different vehicle every time—for all that I know, they are stolen—causing an additional problem for the police.
We might make better use of cameras at such places. They are being used to good effect to counteract crime at some estates and inside tower blocks. If they were more in evidence to counteract drug-related crimes and perhaps prostitution in places such as Bedford hill, we might find that, in addition to recording evidence, cameras could help to deter people from taking the risk of committing a crime.
I appreciate that other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, so I shall not deal with many other issues. I support what has been said in favour of action on noise, a key area where police need greater powers to tackle the megadecibels of all-night parties.
I agree with hon. Members who referred to the excessive mobility of good police officers in London. Too often, when we have just got used to a chief superintendent, he is moved to another area. Too often I am singing his praises only to find that he is leaving, and I must get to know the new chap so that I can sing the praises for what he hopes to achieve in the coming six months, before he, too, leaves. The sequence of appointments is too fast. It has been suggested that officers should not retire so early. Equally, they should not have to move on too quickly.
As I watched a recent episode of "Inspector Morse", it occurred to me that his successes were down to his knowledge of the Oxford area. Perhaps we could have a Morse code in London and encourage our chief superintendents and staff to stay longer in post. We might then achieve similar successes against crime as that gentleman has had.
§ Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)
An advantage of speaking towards the end of a debate such as this is that one has had the opportunity of hearing the earlier speeches.
I was struck by the sheer hypocrisy of some Opposition Members in having the nerve to blame the Government for the present crime rates when some of those Members are, or have been, busy breaking the law by refusing to pay their community charge bills. Had they been busier obeying the law, not only would there be fewer people in the courts but authorities such as mine—the London borough of Waltham Forest, which has the sixth worst collection record in the country for the community charge —would not this year be imposing a surcharge of more than £50 on the decent law-abiding citizens of that borough.
The Sunday Times manifesto for London, dated 21 July 1991, contains several measures by which it feels that London could be improved. One of them says: 602Face crime head-on. London is the city with the highest crime rate in the country, which places a huge burden on the Metropolitan police.I shall return to that later. It continues:Traffic congestion has also created the 'London driver', who ignores parking restrictions, red lights and box junctions, and exceeds speed limits wherever possible.I agree with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about the selfish behaviour of those who block junctions. I should like to float the idea that what is needed is a series of mini-flyovers to take traffic over those junctions, rather like at the Hogarth roundabout.
I should like to take this opportunity to complain about state visits. From time to time, some tin-pot, crackpot, jacked-up dictator comes to this country and thinks that it is fun to swan around with the royal family in enormous limos, each of which seems to be about 100 yd long, disrupting traffic, frightening citizens and obstructing Members of Parliament. Once or twice on these occasions, I have had to show my pass to get into the House. If those people want to come here—I am perfectly happy for them to do so—why not do they hop into a helicopter at Heathrow and land in Buckingham palace gardens, thereby avoiding that disruption? There are several other headings in The Sunday Times report, but time does not permit me to set them out.
I want to mention the Control of Explosives Regulations 1991, which would give the police draconian powers. As I understand it, those powers would apply to someone who, perhaps on a walk in the country, picks up a shotgun cartridge and takes it home. He may leave it in his kitchen or use it as a paperweight on his desk. Under the regulations, the police can smash their way into his home at 3 am merely because they think that he may have a shotgun cartridge in his kitchen. I urge hon. Members to read early-day motion 1169, a prayer against the regulations.
I am a member of the British parliamentary lighting group—an excellent institution—and believe that if public lighting and street lighting were improved it would diminish the incidence of crime.
I am sorry that this is an unconnected series of bits—or perhaps bites—but I should also like to float the idea of a national demonstration centre. People should have the right to demonstrate, but in our crowded city they should not have the right to demonstrate at everyone else's expense. If they had a purpose-built facility, perhaps away from the centre of population they could demonstrate to their hearts content.
I wish to deal with one or two constituency matters and speak briefly on the subject of racial harassment, which is the most abominable, appalling and disgusting behaviour. The case of a constituent, Mr. N. Chaudry, who has suffered dreadful harassment, was brought to my attention. In January, his home was set alight in a petrol bomb attack. The family has received threatening letters. Mother and children have been threatened. The family have had their windows broken and their car is always being vandalised. I know that the police in my area are doing all that they can to fight racial harassment, and I applaud that. Indeed, I was pleased to see the chief superintendent present at the annual dinner of the racial equality council. That is good because, to some extent, it reassures the immigrant community. I am sure that that 603 community would like to see the police make more effort, but my saying that is not intended as a criticism of their action.
The 1991 annual report of the Chingford and Walthamstow division sets out several initiatives: school safe; the against car theft, or ACT, scheme; neighbourhood watch; pub watch; work shadowing; and the drugs hotline. Because of those good initiatives, crime in the area seems to have fallen, against the tide. During 1990, the number of burglaries fell by nearly 6 per cent. and auto-crime by 8 per cent. That is an excellent record. Let us hope that crime levels fall not only in that area but across London.
§ 2 pm
§ Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)
In January 1989, Sir Peter Imbert, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, wrote to all London Members of Parliament with a draft statement of the purpose of and values for the Metropolitan police. It included many fine statements, including the aim touphold the law fairly and firmly".I suggested that he should add the words, "but with common sense and good judgment". I was pleased that, when the final version of the statement was published, it emphasised the importance of the police doing everything and being seen to be doing everything with integrity, common sense and sound judgment.
The operation of the Metropolitan police in my constituency and in the London borough of Hounslow shows many encouraging signs. The police are taking the opportunities to keep in touch with local communities. The police consultative group works well. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) about such groups. They help the police to ascertain the reaction of the local community to their policing style and to get an idea of what the public think is important. I am encouraged by the ability and attitude of some younger officers. The character and quality of the people who will lead the police force bode well for its future in London.
The difference between the Hounslow police and the territorial support group, which came into operation in Hounslow last Saturday, has struck the local community. I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to look into the training and operation of that group in my constituency. Parents did not like the way in which their children—in some cases, girls of 12—were treated by the group. It is not acceptable to parents to have thoroughly bad language used in front of their children. Such behaviour stands at variance with the style of the Hounslow police. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider whether the group should be more closely linked with and trained in its operating area.
I wish to discuss one matter which forms the background to the debate and is an important element in this and future debates. I greatly regret the absence of better statistics to serve as the background to the debate than the quarterly or annual figures on recorded crime. As an indication of the amount of crime or its rate of increase or decrease, the recorded crime figures are so valueless as not to be worth the paper on which they are written. They are in no true sense a reflection of the effectiveness of the 604 Metropolitan police. The notes on the figures make it clear that they have no value for that purpose. Factors such as the increase in insurance, which causes more people to report thefts from houses and cars, have transformed some elements of the statistics and the increase in the number of people with telephones has made it much easier to report crime and has had a substantial effect on the figures of reported crime.
I am not sure why the Home Office continues to publish those figures on a quarterly basis. It has been suggested in the press that it is of some value with the Treasury in supporting requests for additional manpower, but I hope that the Treasury is made of sterner and more sophisticated stuff than that. I hope that the Home Secretary will consider whether it is sensible to spend money on continuing to publish the figures. I should be happy for them to be deposited in the Library of the House or in another library, but we have wasted far too much time and money on them.
If the Home Secretary believes that it is important to have better figures for the policing of London, I suggest that, as London is by far the largest police area in terms of population, he considers whether a form of British crime survey should be instituted for London. That, too, is not a perfect measure of crime, but it is much more accurate, reliable and helpful than the figures of recorded crime. For an area the size of London it would be worth considering. I ask the Home Secretary to consider seriously dropping the publishing of figures of recorded crime and to seek a better way of measuring crime in the capital.
§ 2.6 pm
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
I do not intend to discuss all the issues covered in the debate, which has been extremely useful. I have been struck by the quality of the contributions, particularly those of my hon. Friends, and especially by one aspect of those contributions. Anyone who has listened to the debate will be impressed by the level of pragmatism and by the ability to think without ideological blinkers shown by the Opposition and also reflected in the way in which Sir Peter Imbert produces his annual report. Anyone who has read his foreword to the report will be impressed.
We must bear in mind the background to the report. I do not say that the PLUS programme, which I shall talk about in detail, is not a marvellous innovation, but we must remember why the Metropolitan police and the excellent Commissioner produced that programme. It was produced as a reaction to a problem that he saw was becoming a crisis. We should not become too complacent about policing in London. What is happening under the leadership of Sir Peter Imbert is to be encouraged, applauded and welcomed, but it is the result of a crisis that most of us could see coming and which the Government had ignored, but which the Commissioner and his group of professional senior policemen had recognised. They knew that they had to act if there was not to be an even worse policing disaster in the capital.
The emphasis that the PLUS programme places on service-oriented organisations is first class. Partnership in the community is critical to the development of the Metropolitan police service. One of the most important aspects of the PLUS programme is sector policing, which puts the emphasis on community policing and on continuity of contact with teams of officers. Many hon.
605 Members have said how important that is. If PLUS and sector policing are to succeed, the Metropolitan police must have sufficient officers to perform such a vital front-line activity. All too often, officers are removed From the beat to cope with other contingencies, but it is on the streets that the critical relationship with the public is fostered.
At the Tory party conference the Home Secretary made much of his announcement of an additional 1,000 police officers, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke of that as well. The Home Secretary failed to mention that many police authorities will simply be unable to afford those officers, and that in many cases they will be phantom bobbies fighting a spectral battle against crime. None of the additional officers is destined for London.
I will concentrate my remarks on the rising levels of crime in London and on the need for a comprehensive crime prevention policy. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said, it is a sign of the times that we say, "It is only 10 or 11 per cent. in London. There is only a 5 per cent. increase in recorded crimes of violence against the individual. There is only a 7 per cent. increase in violent crimes against women." It may be "only" that, but the figure is rising and it must be stopped.
Crime levels in London are rising by between 10 and 11 per cent. Burglary levels rose by 16 per cent. in 1990. By any normal standards, such an increase is appalling. It is a measurement of the Government's failure to control crime that the Met's increase is relatively small compared with the national average of 18 per cent. in the most recent quarterly figures.
It is also interesting—no one else has mentioned this in today's debate— to see the high crime figures for the home counties. We cannot cut the relationship between the home counties and the Met. In Kent, crime rose by 30.5 per cent., according to the latest figures. In Surrey, it rose by 20.6 per cent., in Sussex by 24.3 per cent. and in Essex by 23 per cent. I suspect that some of London's crime may have been exported as people offend in wealthy areas. The appalling increases are not the fault of the police; they reflect a malaise in society. We all accept that. Most of the enlightened speeches this morning, some of which were made by Conservative Members, have pointed out the complexity of getting to the roots of that malaise.
We cannot afford to ignore the link between the steep rises and the recession. Home Office research has clearly illustrated the link between crime and recession. Spiralling levels of property crime are entirely predictable when one considers the extent of the recession and especially its impact on young people.
Nothing that I have said condones offending. I simply seek to place much of the blame where it truly belongs—with the Government. I wonder why the Home Secretary this morning did not quote the words of Sir Peter Imbert and why he did not take him on in the way in which he has been known to take on the Archbishop of Canterbury. Sir Peter Imbert has been far more clear cut and positive in expressing the relationship between deprivation and crime than the Archbishop of Canterbury has ever been.
I quote from the foreword to the report. Sir Peter Imbert says:But what of conditions in our inner-cities? Have the factors which were said to 'underlay' the disorders been addressed? Housing, education and employment were 606 identified as key areas in 1981. It is not for me to evaluate the changes that have taken place since then. However, the crime map fits all too closely over the map of disadvantage.Sir Peter Imbert then drives the point hard home. If the Home Secretary is doing the job of representing the democratic part of the relationship between the Commissioner and the police, he is negligent not to have commented on the views of Sir Peter Imbert, especially in view of the Home Secretary's other comments about the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Government are also to blame for the low priority given to crime prevention. The police put an enormous amount of work into crime prevention. They support watch schemes and advise on crime prevention measures, and local authorities are keen to work in that area. In London, we have seen outstanding examples of local authority work. Once again, the Home Secretary searches around for a Labour authority to castigate. When will he pick out the authorities, whether Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour, that are doing so much excellent work in crime prevention? Of the Labour authorities, Islington, Hammersmith and Fulham and Southwark all spring to mind instantly because they are doing positive work.
We have argued for years that far greater priority should be given to crime prevention and that the role of the local authority must be recognised. All our arguments have been reinforced by the Morgan report. Yesterday I attended the annual conference of Crime Concern. It was an excellent meeting and there were some good contributions. I hope that the Home Secretary will study the remarks of his Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris), who is not here at present. He made some remarks about the Morgan report being welcomed by the Government. That is not the impression that the Opposition have had. That report is to be buried because its central recommendations include giving local authorities a statutory duty to play a role in and to fund crime prevention. Eight recommendations of the Morgan report are eight fundamental criticisms of the Government's attitude to a locally based crime prevention strategy. Too often local authorities are left out in the cold.
Sir Peter Imbert's report hammers home what happens if the police do not have the trust and confidence of the local authority and a partnership that goes with the local authority into the community. If that partnership is not democratically led it will not work. There has been a fundamental change among those who police the capital city—and the rest of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) mentioned a book by Robert Reiner which reveals that most chief constables would welcome an elected police authority for London. That is a big change among the police and it has taken place not only at the top among commissioners and senior officers. When I visit local subdivisions in the Metropolitan area I hear the view strongly expressed everywhere that the police want that democratic role for London. They see nothing but good coming from it.
The Opposition say to the Government, "Throw off your ideological blinkers and realise what most pragmatic, fair-minded people are saying both inside and outside the police." That relationship would be right and would make the crime prevention strategy in the capital and in the rest of the country work far better.
607 There is another problem that troubles all of us. When we form the Government next year, we shall have to tackle it as seriously as any Government ever have. Young people today are in a condition in which they have never been before. A proportion of our young people are more under-privileged and more exploited—certainly more commercially exploited—than any previous generation. If the allowance for those on the youth training scheme had been held constant in real terms since 1978, when it was introduced at £28.50, it would now have been uprated to £52.50. Yet the same sort of young people—the 17 and 18-year-olds—are receiving £27 to £30 a week. Furthermore, 17 and 18-year-olds cannot draw benefit. If one under-privileged group of young people is exploited, although they will not all become criminals, it is obvious that the statistics will show rising crime among young people. The challenge for all of us is what we do with young people, how we encourage them and give them hope.
In modern Tory Britain one cannot walk safely in most of our town and city centres on a Friday or a Saturday night because of under-age drinking. That fact is undisputed by most Members of Parliament. Those who walk through my town of Huddersfield—or Halifax and other towns in West Yorkshire, or, indeed, most central urban areas of London—know that those areas are dangerous places on Friday and Saturday nights, because of the misuse of alcohol.
Young people are exploited as never before. The challenge that I have described today is an important one for us to grasp. It is too important a problem for political parties to ignore, and we must recognise that it will get worse and worse.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) referred to the unique opportunity afforded to us by the demographic downturn—the fall in the number of births. The fact that there were fewer teenagers should have meant a decline in youth crime, but that has not happened. Youth crime has increased and the challenge that we face is to grasp the problems and turn them into opportunities. Through real policies of youth opportunity and youth crime prevention, we must work positively towards a partnership that will make our country work for young people. That is the way to fight crime in the metropolis, that is the way to a positive policy, and that is the path that the Labour party in government will take next year.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peter Lloyd)
As I find is the case each year, this has been a full, interesting and varied debate and a great many serious issues have been raised. As I also find each year, I am heavily pushed up against the clock. However, I am glad that all those hon. Members on both sides of the House who sought to speak have managed to get into the debate. I shall try to respond to some of the points and to answer in the time that I have left some of the questions that have been asked—as far as my handwriting, which has become progressively worse, will allow.
I am glad that both Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen congratulated the Metropolitan police and 608 agree with us that the Met is making good progress with the right policing strategy. I am only sorry that, in one part of his peroration, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) tried to suggest that all our towns and cities up and down the country are rendered no-go areas on Friday and Saturday nights by young people. There are problems, but to exaggerate them in that manner does not help to solve them.
Let me deal with the specific questions of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who asked me first about a Home Office study that assessed the extent to which improved street lighting helped to reduce crime. A recent study by the crime prevention unit suggests that improved street lighting cannot be shown directly to reduce crime, although that does not, of course, mean that it is not a useful aspect of a more general programme of crime reduction, as has been shown to be the case in the refurbishment of certain estates in London where crime figures have been particularly high. Most particularly, however, improved street lighting helps to give the public confidence. As anyone who studies these matters knows, although the reality of crime is a huge problem, for many more people the fear of crime is a greater problem.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook also asked me to comment on the Morgan report on crime prevention, published at the end of August. We are consulting the Association of Chief Police Officers, local authorities and other organisations about its recommendations and, in the light of their responses, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider whether changes are needed and, if so, what changes are needed to structure, organisation and funding to make the delivery of local crime prevention activity more effective.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook wondered whether the Met would have enough officers to make a continuing success of the sector policing policy, which the right hon. Gentleman, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and, I believe, all the hon. Members who have spoken—except, perhaps, one—consider to be absolutely essential. The Commissioner believes that sector policing can be achieved within existing resources and I am sure that the the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will not forget that the Met now has 6,000 more officers than it did in 1979. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary discusses the Met's manpower needs each year as part of the public expenditure round. It is not normal practice to breach the confidentiality of those discussions, but it is no secret that the emphasis of the Commissioner's strategy is to increase operational strength through civilianisation and through this process we shall be making resources available for 1,000 new operational officers over the next three years.
§ Mr. Lloyd
Yes, in London, over the next three years.
The deployment of officers is a matter for the Commissioner. He uses the work load related formula. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook wondered whether in areas like area No. 1, where the police have had a particular success in reducing crime, that would automatically lead to a loss of officers. Of course, the Commissioner takes account of the crime rate with regard to the deployment of officers, but there are, quite rightly, other factors. He is considering his practice in that sphere 609 and will, if necessary, revise his formula. Although a number of policemen on the beat have been taken from administrative duties, that resulted because the Commissioner preferred it. As he and hon. Members know, money goes much further that way. We have undertaken to provide the Met with 100 extra police posts from 1 April 1992.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook wanted to know how many prisoners there are in police cells in London. The figure is 200 and they cost about £325 a night. He was right to say that the refurbishment and improvements of Brixton are being delayed until January to allow the extra places being provided by the brand new prison of Belmarsh to come on stream. The far-sighted provision of that prison will make it possible to deal with the problem.
There seems to be some confusion about the policing of London docks. Forty or 50 members of the Port of London police are not part of the Met, but are the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. He has announced that as a consequence of the privatisation of Tilbury docks, the status of those officers will change. They will be in the same position as their equivalents in places like Felixstowe, where I believe that there is no suggestion but that they operate with great efficiency and effectiveness.
There are no general plans to change the status of so-called private police forces to which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred, such as the Ministry of Defence police. If their status is to be changed, it would require legislation and the House would have an opportunity to debate the matter. However, there are no plans along those lines.
The policing of docklands is another matter. Docklands has the same policing needs as other parts of London and the Commissioner deploys his strength as he judges best. Extra policemen have been deployed to docklands and the new police station at Canary wharf will be opened by the end of the year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) raised an important matter and spoke with his usual thoughtful concern. He asked particularly about bail and the reported increase in offences committed by people on bail. It is not known to what extent reoffending by people remanded on bail has contributed to the increase in recorded crime. Home Office researchers are gathering information about that and are analysing recent research studies by police forces. The work is due to be completed by the end of this month. We shall then consider urgently what further steps may need to be taken. Discussions have already taken place with senior police officers and further discussions are expected when all the information has been brought together. It is an important point of widespread concern and I am glad that my hon. Friend raised it.
Government policies are already directed at reducing the likelihood that people on bail will commit crimes, by reducing the time spent on bail, by minimising court delays, by bail information schemes, which allow magistrates better to identify defendants who can be released on bail, and by increasing the provision of places in bail hostels in which people on bail can be monitored to minimise the risk of further offending without the need to remand them to prison. The Home Office has a programme to provide 1,200 additional bail places and improve bail hostels by April 1994. Five hundred of them have already been made available.
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed without Question put.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier, the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred to a letter from the European Commission to the British Government concerning a number of transport and environmentally related issues. The matter is obviously of great importance in protecting the environment and improving public transport in this country. As the Minister for Public Transport is present, preparing to answer the Adjournment debate, may I ask whether you have had a request from the Government to make a statement on this extremely important matter? It affects the M3, the channel tunnel route, King's Cross, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), and the future of Oxleas wood. It also affects other serious issues such as the M11 link. I hope that the Government will at least come up with a statement now to allay public concern.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps, through you, we could elicit from the Minister either an indication that he will make a statement now or, more likely, given that we have had no notice, that we may have a statement before Parliament is prorogued. Obviously, the matter is urgent because it is a time-limited issue, and a statement to clear uncertainty before next Tuesday would be very welcome if the Minister would indicate assent.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The matter affects my constituency because of the M11 link. I add my voice to the request for a statement either today or early next week. Perhaps the relevant Minister could also be present, because many such schemes have fallen foul of the EC because of their poor environmental standards.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
I have had no notice about a statement, but I am sure that what hon. Members have said has been noted by Government Front-Bench Members.