HC Deb 23 October 1992 vol 212 cc711-48

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

11.58 am
Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

I welcome the annual review of policing in London. This is a general debate and it is not possible to be specific—only to refer to a number of key points about the state of policing in the capital.

I shall comment on the four police forces that serve the people of London and make some remarks about police strategy and the Metropolitan police. The Royal Parks constabulary serves Regent's park in my constituency, as well as part of the City of Westminster and London as a whole. The constabulary performs a useful role for the royal parks, and I warmly welcome the standard of service that it gives both to the residential community and to a large number of visitors to London. I would, however, ask my hon. Friend the Minister to pass to the Treasury my view that the employment of expensive Royal Parks constables on what amount to car parking duties needs to be reviewed, especially as the constabulary is to become responsible for policing Hyde park, for which the Metropolitan police have been responsible since 1866.

The other constabulary that performs an invaluable service in London is the British Transport police. That very efficient police service has shouldered a large part of the burden unwelcomely brought to London by the Provisional IRA's mainland terrorist attack on the capital. Every day, the British Transport police have to decide whether to close down part of the underground system or mainline railway stations. It is worth placing on the record the excellent job done by the chief constable and his officers. They make an often unseen but most commendable contribution to the safety and welfare of the travelling public in London. The 400 British Transport police officers on the London underground system, working with the management of London Underground, have continued with their three-year success story in reducing the fear of crime as well as the incidence of crime on the London underground system. Their work shows that crime can be controlled.

It is important to note that crimes of violence against the public travelling on the underground fell by more than 20 per cent., against the figure in the comparable period last year. The London underground is believed to be the only urban transport system anywhere in the world on which crime is falling. That is important news, because it means that people can travel on the underground system without a sense of fear and because it will encourage visitors to come to our capital—something which we warmly welcome.

London's second largest police service is the City of London police, with a strength of about 800 officers and nearly 400 civilians. That force is also in the front line in the fight against terrorism. I need only refer to the appalling incident at St. Mary Axe in April this year, which left three people dead and another 100 injured. The cost to property has been estimated at about £2 billion. The City of London police and the lord mayor responded to that awful incident magnificently. We should remember that the City force also has responsibility for dealing with major fraud and, in recent times, the force has accepted no fewer than 105 investigations into fraudulent activity. They have a very good record.

The largest of the four police forces serving London, and the one that is traditionally the subject of our annual debate, is the Metropolitan police force. The funding of the work of this, the largest of our 52 United Kingdom police services, costs more than £.1.6 billion, of which 84 per cent. goes on personnel costs. The costs of policing in London are certainly very high.

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's establishment of the Sheehy inquiry into aspects of the structure of the police service, especially in relation to police ranks and how they should be rewarded. That review is important.

There is an urgent need to re-examine the way in which resources are deployed within the Metropolitan police. I do not believe that there should be an increase in the authorised establishment for the Metropolitan police in London. That may seem a curious statement to make, but I make it because I believe that we still have a long way to go in improving the deployment of resources in the Metropolitan police. In that context, I refer to a written answer that I received to a question that I tabled earlier this week about the central command complex at New Scotland Yard, the 69 divisional control rooms and the 11 other specialist units, which employ a total of 726 police officers as well as 477 civilians. There seems to be massive duplication in the provision of control rooms. That is unnecessary and not efficient. I should like that to be reviewed as a matter of urgency so that we can deploy those expensive uniformed police officers to the front-line police duties in which the people of London want them to be engaged. We should employ civilians—including, perhaps, retired police officers with knowledge and expertise—in duties that do not require fit young men and women.

Let me refer to the problems of policing in London. I, too, thank Sir Peter Imbert, the retiring Commissioner, for his outstanding service to the people of the capital. I extend those remarks also to the excellent contributions made by police officers of all ranks and their civilian support services. There are many bright, able, talented people in the Metropolitan police eager to serve the people of London and to create the new style of policing that we have discussed today—sector policing. They recognise that it will be a real challenge in terms of management and the use of resources, but they are willing to take up that challenge.

Sir Peter has laid the foundations for sector policing through the implementation of the Plus programme, which has clearly shown that the police are willing to encompass change, however painful it may be. I wish that other elements of the criminal justice system—particularly the lawyers—would be as willing as the police to consider new ideas about their working practices and the way in which the criminal justice system should deliver its services.

The poor listing of cases in the courts consumes police manpower at an alarming rate. It is probably one of the biggest wastes of police time and money in the criminal justice system. I repeat: let us have no more police officers, but let us have better deployment of those we have. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider that point in consultation with the Lord Chancellor and his Department. If sector policing is to be a success, the police managers on the ground will increasingly complain about the waste of their resources that result from the poor listing of cases. Modern technology can improve that system, and we look forward to the development of those arrangements.

I am, alas, prevented by constraints of time from referring further to the problems of crime control. I hope that other hon. Members will deal with them in their remarks.

12.8 pm

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Since I was elected in 1983, I have attended and spoken in every one of the debates on the policing of London. They all follow the same pattern. The Home Secretary comes in, makes a speech and disappears. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is here "] The right hon. and learned Gentleman has just returned; he must have known that I was about to speak.

I thought that the Home Secretary conceded that there was now an argument for a democratically run police force in London. He did not agree with the argument, but at least he conceded that a valid argument was being made. Many of us have advanced that argument year after year. It is unacceptable that what pertains elsewhere in the country, where there is a degree of democratic involvement with the running of police forces and the local authorities, does not apply to London.

A vast amount of public expenditure goes to the police force in London which impinges on the lives of every citizen in London in some form or another. They surely have a say in the overall policing policy and there should be some form of real accountability. In a debate on a Friday morning on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, there can be no detailed questioning of the police authority for London; we cannot question the Home Secretary in detail on specific aspects of the report. That is simply not acceptable.

The Home Secretary probably concedes that argument in his heart of hearts. Labour Members meet the Home Secretary at least once a year and I imagine Conservative Members do the same. We also have meetings with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. As Members of Parliament, we have many other duties to fulfil. We need an open police authority for London so that the public can see what is happening and what is behind the policing policies for London. If that happened, there might be more support or less support for those policies, but at least they would be in the open.

The question about the part that the police play in the justice system has become more urgent. The Birmingham, Guildford and Tottenham people who were wrongly convicted have been released. That has exposed major flaws in the judiciary and serious problems in the way in which the police undertake investigations in the first place. Those issues must be addressed.

The policing of London is obviously in part a reflection of the social conditions in the capital. In the constituency that I have the honour to represent, unemployment is now about 20 per cent. and rising fast. Last year, fewer than 12 school leavers succeeded in getting a job immediately after leaving school. The disillusionment, depression and anger among young people who are growing up in a society in which they know that it is very unlikely that they will find a job leads to a high degree of alienation. Unfortunately, many of those young people are tempted into crime, drugs and an underworld existence. They feel forgotten and ignored by the rest of society. The police must deal with those particular problems.

I am glad that the report mentions crime prevention. However, we will need to know how many more safer cities projects there will be, whether the money available for those projects will be increased and whether the Home Secretary recognised that there is a serious social link between the increase in crime in some parts of London and growing social deprivation.

The local police force in my constituency is centred around Holloway police station. In common with the rest of London, it has developed sector policing. I should be grateful if the Home Secretary or the Minister would tell us when the regional system is to be abandoned in London and when we will adopt borough-based policing with sector policing underneath it, because there would then at least be the possibility of better relations with the local authorities and the local communities.

The police in the Holloway area clearly recognise that there are serious problems about the lack of youth provision and growing unemployment among young people. It is very much to the credit of Chief Superintendent Matthias and the other officers in the station that they were prepared to devote great effort to running a summer youth project this year. That took up a great deal of police time and cost a lot of police money. I am not complaining about the fact that the project was run. I applaud it, and I visited it twice. However, it is reflection of the cuts in local authority expenditure and general social provision that the police are forced to spend time and resources on what is in effect a social provision to cut street crime and the number of young people who are bored and have nothing to do, particularly during the school holidays.

The problems in London with traffic and transport are enormous and absolutely horrendous. The Home Secretary referred to the way in which the police try to deal with traffic problems, but I should be interested to know what advice the police have given him about the way in which they have been pushed into implementing red routes at the expense of other traffic areas in London. I should like to know whether they support a rational transport policy in London that does not develop a road system which encourages yet more cars and commuters to go motoring in and out of London or whether they support the idea of an integrated public transport system which would free police resources for better uses.

In the Home Secretary's speech and in the report, there are references to the increase in sexual and racial violence. Those increases are demonstrated in the number of cases reported. Surveys have been carried out in Islington and elsewhere into the incidence of street crime particularly where it is sexually or racially motivated. They have found that many people are frightened to walk the streets at night because they fear attack and fear that they will not be able to get home safely. If people are attacked, abused or treated badly by others, that is frequently not reported to the police; therefore, those cases do not appear in the statistics.

The Home Secretary should not underestimate the fear felt by many people, particularly in respect of the increase in racial violence and the activities of the far right and ultra right. Such activities stem from the British National party and its office in Welling. Racist violence is increasing in London just as it is in other cities in Europe. Those activities, including the incitement to racism, are illegal. Many Asian shopkeepers and black families are afraid because they have received excrement through their letter boxes and seen their children abused on the streets. They are frightened by the degree of racial abuse and intolerance. They look to protection from the police and to the strongest possible condemnation of the activities of the far right.

The report refers to the number of police operations over the past year involving the use of firearms. Such operations have risen from 147 to 191. However, it is unclear from the report how many policemen and policewomen carry firearms as a matter of course. We have a tradition in this country of not having an armed police force and I support the idea of an unarmed police force. If we have an armed police force, the criminal elements will increase their use of firearms and we will end up with the gun law that has developed in many American cities.

I raise that point because the report refers to the issuing of firearm and shotgun certificates. I found it frightening that 751 new firearm certificates were granted last year. Only 14 were refused and only 15 refusals to renew were granted. Some 3,618 shotgun certificates were issued. A total of 39,991 shotgun and firearm certificates have been issued. Nearly 40,000 people are legally carrying guns around London. Obviously, many other people may be carrying such weapons illegally. I hope that the Home Secretary will consider that point and reduce the number of firearms certificates and tell us the truth about the number of occasions when the police carry guns.

One section of the Commissioner's report relates to the tragedy of deaths in police custody. Some of those deaths are suicides although the causes of some of those deaths are not yet fully known. The Secretary of State is aware of the problem and I have raised the matter with him previously. A most serious investigation of the matter must be undertaken. When the police have carried out their own internal inquiries into suicides or other deaths in custody, there is a need to make public the Police Complaints Authority report and the internal inquiry reports into the reasons for the deaths and the actions that have been taken to ensure that full care is given to everyone in custody and that there is constant surveillance to prevent such tragedies recurring. There have been too many unexplained deaths in the past. If there is to be confidence in the police force in London and the form of investigation, those reports should be open so that we can discover the causes and prevent the recurrence of such terrible tragedies.

12.18 pm
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

I am sure that I speak for the vast majority of my constituents when I begin by praising the everyday work of the Metropolitan police force which provides a dedicated, professional service of the highest standard. That has been recognised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and his predecessors with more than just words. Resources and manpower have been increased dramatically. Across London, policing strength has risen by 27 per cent. since 1979–6,000 more officers—to a record level of more than 28,000. Pressure on uniformed officers has been eased, too, by the civilianisation programme. Of course, both factors have had a direct impact on crime levels. Although, regrettably, crime is still rising in the London area, it is rising at a markedly lower rate than elsewhere in the country.

There is, however, some imbalance in the allocation of the new resources within London, and the position in the Bromley borough in which my constituency is located causes some local concern. For example, in the Beckenham division today there are 188 uniformed police officers, compared with 221 three years ago—a reduction of about 15 per cent. in the direct police strength. Despite sterling work by the local chief superintendent, Ted Fullelove, and his officers, the extra strain on manpower has been shown in the most recent local crime statistics. In the first six months of this year, total recorded crime rose by 1,182 on the year before, to a level of more than 6,000. House burglaries were up by nearly 30 per cent., to a figure of 1,294, and joyriding was up by 45 per cent. It is of particular concern that only about one in 20 house burglaries and one in 35 joyriding cases are now being cleared up.

Another cause for concern is the identifiable growth in drugs-related offences, which I suspect is probably greater than the figures show. In a sense, drug use is a victimless crime and, therefore, not often reported by those who are involved. Some figures can illustrate the seriousness of that form of crime—for example, about £43 million in seizures across London. The police certainly believe with good evidence that drugs can be a causative factor in many other crimes that do not show up as directly drug related.

Clearly, the police are hard pressed. In my borough they do not have enough men on the ground to deter and to detect at the levels that the public expect. I make no criticism of the police. They do a wonderful job in very difficult circumstances. They protect the community, comfort victims, defend the innocent against lawbreakers, and risk personal danger, abuse and threat to keep society safe. But we cannot expect them to perform all their duties to the highest standard that they want if they are depleted of their most valuable resource, manpower. We owe it to them and to the whole community to put right that shortfall.

Police manpower should not be falling in any borough; it should be rising to match whatever increases are showing in the crime figures. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend, along with the Commissioner, will look closely at that genuine problem and the request from my constituents on the distribution of resources.

I am not asking my right hon. and learned Friend for vast extra funding for the Metropolitan police as a whole, I am asking him to look at the particular problems that come about from the allocation of manpower. I understand the pressure on the Met in other areas, particularly in central London, but the needs of outer London boroughs must not be forgotten in the concentration on problems in the centre of the area.

I close, because I want to leave time for the many hon. Members who wish to speak, by briefly recording my enthusiasm for the sector policing concept which is being introduced across London and which is already bearing fruit in the Bromley borough. It is bringing the police force closer—visibly closer—to the man in the street and it is already manifesting itself in the greater use of police on the beat in the Beckenham area—a long-time request of residents in that area. That is giving them greater confidence that the police are present and protecting them and making officers visibly available at local level to deal with emergencies as they arise.

Backing up sector policing are the new sector community consultative groups which are already operating well, having been set up recently in my area. They, too, bring the police into greater closer contact with local people. Bringing the police closer to the community has to be good. I have never heard that criticised as an objective, and I have seen many benefits flow from it. Putting the interests of victims and potential victims first must not be questioned. It is essential to give the police the flexibility to choose how best to do that at local level and the resources to do it well.

12.24 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Home Secretaries come and go and shadow Home Secretaries come and go, but some of us keep on battling on similar issues in this debate every year. We welcome the Home Secretary and his Labour opposite number to their new responsibilites.

On behalf of those whom I represent, although they may not know him personally, I offer a tribute to the outgoing Commissioner. He has not only been a good personification of the force but extremely popular and effective within his force and outside it. His force welcomed his time in office. It is also with optimism that we greet the appointment announced today of the chief constable of Kent to come back to London, where he served his apprenticeship.

The other word of thanks should be more general. We should be grateful—I certainly am grateful on behalf of my constituents—to the police force in London. I go further than that. In terms of individuals and structure, I believe that there are fewer things wrong with the police force in London than at any time since I have been in the House. There are always complaints about the police, but I have had fewer complaints recently than I used to have in the first years after I was elected. I hope that that shows new sensitivity to the issues and concerns.

I hope that we can also soon move to general use of the term "police service" rather than "police force". Much of the concept of policing has changed and the words that we use should reflect that. I have one little criticism of the Home Secretary. We should call the police either the police or police personnel, not just policemen. There are many policewomen.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay

Police officers.

Mr. Hughes

Or police officers. It is important that all police officers are valued. That may be regarded as a pedantic point, but it is not pedantic to them.

I welcomed the Home Secretary's announcement that he is looking at police authorities around the country, including in London. I did not expect him to leap into a new structure straight away. He was perfectly fair with the House when he made his announcement. When Lambeth finally gets its act together, which we hear is on the way, and the consultative structure at borough level is therefore completely organised, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have an open mind about a structure for London as a whole. It is not realistic for me to bid for a directly elected police authority from the Tory Government in the few years, but it might be realistic to have an indirectly elected authority—representatives of the boroughs of London—to debate police matters along the lines, for example, of the police consultative groups. At present there is only one forum per year to debate such matters—this debate—and self-evidently that is not enough, and it cannot be, because many issues relate to matters outside the constituencies that we represent.

I hope that the Home Secretary realises also that the bit of the police service to which most people relate is their local police station, and the division or borough in which they live. Areas may in theory be useful concepts in terms of organisation, but I am not persuaded about that. However, people do relate to the more local levels of organisation. I hope that the Home Secretary realises that we must strengthen the local police structure rather than continue building up the numbers of people at area level. Within the local structures, the key individuals are the senior officer in each division and the home beat officers. Whatever happens, I hope that the idea will persist that one person should have responsibility for one patch and should be in the job for a sufficiently long period—that means a significant number of years—to know the community and be part of it. That person must also have a deputy so that when he or she is away on leave or for other reasons, someone else who knows that community is on duty.

I am not quite so enthusiastic as others about sector policing. Clearly, it is not a good idea to divide personnel equally among the three shifts because the level of work arising is not equal. But there is a great danger that each sector will become top heavy. Some of the police to whom I have spoken, both privately and in public, are also not so happy about sector policing as the general consensus today suggests. I shall be meeting the Home Secretary soon as part of the annual political round and I should be grateful if we could talk further about sector policing. We must be careful how we develop this policy.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) referred to police personnel and deployment. If he thinks that he has a problem with crime in Beckenham, he should try being Member of Parliament for Southwark and Bermondsey. We are in different leagues. It is all about what people expect. We must not assume that we can shift more police to the Beckenhams of the world when the Bermondseys have many more problems, and I would say that even if I were the Member of Parliament for Beckenham.

The key issue is deployment of personnel. I accept that the establishment has been increased. That is good news, but there are two problems. I am not persuaded that the complex method of assessing how many police officers there should be in each area is correct. I have examined it, and I admit that I do not entirely understand it, although I have seen the formula and read some of the papers. The formula does not take the variables into account accurately. The most important variables are resident population, working population, visiting population and crime. Those are the four major contributory factors. We must re-examine the way in which we assess the number of personnel allocated.

Even more importantly, the great problem at present is that however many police officers per area we have in theory, many of them are never in the area because they are taken out through what is called "AID" for central resource use. The figures that I have been given for October for my patch are as follows: Southwark was committed to supplying AID on 23 occasions, including seven football matches, 11 central London reserve occasions—anti-terrorist activities—one royal visit, one party conference and for three charge centres. That took out 121 police constables, 24 sergeants and four inspectors for, I gather an average of eight hours each. We must think again about how we meet central demands because we denude the local police services on a regular basis, often making the service that is left unmanageable.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hughes

I will not, because I am limited to 10 minutes, but I am grateful to be adopted as the hon. Lady's hon. Friend.

I welcome the Home Secretary's refreshing approach to looking at the issues anew from outside. Performance indicators are a good idea. We must address the problem of detection and clear-up rates. People in London are not happy about that. By objective standards, clear-up rates are poor. We must make sure that everyone is alert and that the police are not complacent.

It may sound odd for me to say this, but it is right to accentuate the responsibility of individuals—above all that of parents for their children. Much crime is committed by relatively young or even very young children, for whom it appears that the parent takes no responsibility whatever. That is not adequate. People cannot expect other agencies to deal with problems if the immediately available agency—the family—makes no attempt to deal with them.

It is no use the Home Secretary and his Ministers telling us, as the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) told me yesterday, that the Commissioner's analysis that there is a link between unemployment and crime is invalid. Both recent Commissioners have said that there is a link. As the pattern of unemployment increases, so crime increases. It is no use the Minister of State saying that a report by Dr. Simon Field disproves the case. Dr. Field may say that links in individual circumstances of crime are not clear, but the pattern is clear.

I will give two examples. Many unemployed youngsters in my constituency will make money out of drugs if they think that they can do so. They burgle to obtain the money for drugs. Many people who are out of work in my constituency and elsewhere will handle stolen goods if they think that they can get things more cheaply that way. That is because the economic circumstances are dire. We must accept that, on a macro scale, economic policy is the most important thing that can reduce crime.

Please let me continue to give high priority to dealing with the drugs menace. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said that he was astonished that 75 per cent. of drugs-related crime came from London. I am not astonished, and I hope that the Home Secretary would not be astonished if I took him around my constituency to see drug dealing in the daytime on the streets and estates in front of everyone. It is a social menace and it needs to be tackled.

Finally—I see that I am in my last minute—please let us protect the youth service, because unless we have a proper youth service we will not succeed with other agencies. Let us keep up the battle against racism; Southwark has had a successful campaign recently. Let us develop links with local communities to secure community safety, keep up the pressure for better victim support and speed up the work of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Lastly, let us ensure that fewer police have to work on traffic, domestic or other issues which could be handled by other services or by special constables.

12.34 pm
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the House and to the Minister who will be winding up the debate for the fact that I must leave shortly for a long-standing constituency engagement.

Mr. Corbyn

No problem.

Mr. Marshall

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his unfailing courtesy.

I listened with interest to the speech by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), and noticed his comments on the awful activities of the IRA. I hope that that presages a change in the official Opposition's attitude to the prevention of terrorism Acts, which were first introduced by a Labour Government, but which the Labour party now constantly votes against.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield talked at some length about crime in Islington and people's fears about it. One problem that we have faced in London during the past two or three years is that a number of law makers have become law breakers. Members of Parliament have boasted that they would not pay the community charge. Surely it is wrong for Members of this House and leaders of local government in London to say that they advocate selective obedience of the law. If one tells people which laws one is going to break or keep, one cannot be surprised if some people decided to break the law.

One of the most dangerous comments made by the hon. Member for Sedgefield concerned the confidence of ethnic communities in the police. Members representing London constituencies know that the majority of police in London are completely colour blind; they seek to preserve law and order, which is essential for everyone living in London, and they seek to ensure that every complaint is fully investigated.

Of course, concern has been expressed about certain policemen following the events of Broadwater Farm, the Birmingham Six and other similar cases, but it is as well to remember that all those cases took place before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 became law. I do not believe that under the present legal system it would be possible for those offences to be committed by policemen trying to take a short cut to ensure that certain people were convicted on false evidence.

I agree with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) about police manpower. Under the Government, the police have been given an extra 6,000 policemen, additional civilians to do work previously done by policemen and huge extra resources. One of the things that we discover in life is that if one gives people huge additional resources there is slightly less pressure on them to use the resources as efficiently as they might. I believe that there may well have been some misallocation of resources in the fight against crime in London.

I sometimes suspect that certain officers in the Metropolitan police are anxious to wage war against motorists. Sometimes, I drive to the House along the Finchley road at 7 o'clock in the morning. There is a spot on that road where it is not unknown for two policemen to be lurking at 7.5 am, trying to trap people driving on the bus lane.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Quite right.

Mr. Marshall

The hon. Gentleman may say that that is a good thing, but I think that citizens would be happier if the police were trying to solve the 80 per cent. of unsolved burglaries rather than seeking out motorists who are not behaving in a particularly antisocial way at 7.5 am. The other evening I was driving along Millbank and I saw a not very svelte policeman hiding behind a lamp post, trying to catch one or two motorists in the bus lane. When the police want the public's co-operation they should seek to behave in a way that will generate it.

It is unfortunate that individuals in police stations sometimes leak stories to newspapers—doubtless for no fee. Some of us were appalled when details of the difficulties of the previous hon. Member for Hexham were clearly leaked from Hampstead police station to a local newspaper.

I was also appalled at the suggestion made by Sir Peter Imbert of the existence of middle-class crimes. If one talks to ordinary Londoners one finds that they regard some crimes as imporant and believe that they should be dealt with as a matter of priority.

I accept that police sometimes have to tackle crime in London with their hands tied behind their backs due to the too-frequent willingness of magistrates to grant bail against police objections. It is terrible that some of our magistrates are excessively naive; there are normally good reasons when the police object to bail.

I know that the previous Home Secretary spoke of introducing a new offence of committing a crime while on bail. However, the trouble is that those who commit further crimes while on bail do so partly because they think that they may not be detected. The magistrates should take a much more robust attitude. As I said, the police normally have good reasons for their objections and the magistrates should he less willing to concede defence applications.

During discussions about crime in London we are frequently told that we are talking about reported crime, but such an argument is often offensive. When it is said that reported crime has increased, the apparent implication is that there has been a sudden change in individuals' propensity to report crime. I do not believe that people's willingness to report burglaries has changed massively during the past 20 or 30 years. Anyone who has been the victim of a burglary, as I have, wants—and always has wanted—to claim against insurance and report the crime. I am somewhat cynical about those who say that we are merely talking about reported crime, not actual crime.

If the police are to succeed in defeating crime in London, it is important that they should receive maximum co-operation from the public. I heard of a case in my constituency where a burglary took place, a next-door neighbour saw it happening and witnessed the goods being moved from the house to a car. But the neighbour did nothing, and said that she did not want to become involved. Our fellow citizens in London who seek to behave like the Pharisees and pass on the other side of the road should recognise that they may be the next victims. If the burglar, rapist or assailant gets away with one crime, his or her appetite will not be satisfied and they will return to crime time and again.

The war against crime in London involves not only the police against crime, but everyone in London against crime. I welcome the growth in the neighbourhood watch scheme, and I hope that every law-abiding citizen in London will continue to help and support the police. That is the only way to reduce the amount of crime—actual and reported—in the capital.

12.43 pm
Ms. Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

I feel sure that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) did not mean to imply that rape ceases to be rape if the victim knows her attacker. I and, I am sure, the majority of hon. Members would find that entirely unacceptable. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Uxbridge nodding his head in confirmation of my presumption.

The hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) issued a clarion call for no more police officers. That call would not be echoed in my constituency or by my constituents. They believe, as I do, in the deterrent power of a uniform. While they welcome sector policing, they are concerned that some eight-hour sector policing shifts will have only six police constables.

Despite the Home Secretary's claims, my constituents are deeply worried at the increase in crime, particularly on the estates. We realise that no matter how many officers are employed, there will always be a hard core of criminals who break the law, and that stiff sentencing is only of value after a crime has been committed. London and the nation as a whole need a strategy for preventing crime—particularly that committed by juveniles and the young.

About 15 per cent. of all indictable offences in London are committed by juveniles, and a further 23 per cent. by young adults under the age of 21. In London, those figures are accentuated by the problems of poverty and homelessness—factors that have always been with us but which are being exacerbated during this long recession and—at least in respect of the young homeless—by the Government's policy of removing 16 and 17-year-olds from the benefits system.

Tackling crime committed by juveniles and the young is vital because of its sheer scale and because, despite the relatively petty nature of such offences—though they are petty only in the legal calendar, not to those who are their victims—they still provide a doorway through which their perpetrators may pass into a lifetime of more serious and repetitive offending.

The benefits of confronting crime immediately it manifests itself are obvious. In my constituency, local youth and community officers estimate that of all first-time offenders who enter the young offender programme, 75 per cent. never reoffend. Imagine a 75 per cent. clear-up rate across the whole of London—that really would be cracking down on crime. My constituency, with a population of 60,000 has only four centres where the problems of young offenders can be addressed, and none of them is statutorily organised. One centre that four years ago employed four full-time staff must now rely on volunteers and is about to lose its premises. Local youth services in my borough have been cut by 45 per cent. since 1990, and will shortly be cut even more.

The Secretary of State referred to increased police resources, but that again reflects the Government's short-sighted, one-dimensional attitude to solving the nation's problems. They are prepared to spend billions of pounds dealing with the effects of the problem, but not one penny on preventing it in the first place. In a debate on Wednesday, the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) —in a different context—made that point most tellingly: I want more investment front-end in success and opportunity, not investment back-end on redundancy and failure." — [Official Report, 21 October 1992; Vol. 212, c. 484.] It also makes eminent sense to apply that sentiment to crime prevention. It appears that we would rather accept the price that is paid by the victims of crime and the price of apprehending the perpetrators and of trying, convicting and incarcerating them, than pay the small price of giving offenders opportunities and guidance that would have prevented them committing offences in the first place.

If the Government really are committed to tackling crime, prevention should be made a statutory responsibility for local authorities—and that means that the provision of youth services should also be statutory. The Child Care Act 1980 states that all interested parties must liaise in the provision of adequate youth services, yet when it comes to being given hard cash to provide those services, youth provision is not included in standard spending assessments.

The Government should also finally and clearly turn their back on the short, sharp shock policies that characterised Mrs. Thatcher's Victorian renaissance, and are still beloved by many members of her party.

Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth)

Hear, hear.

Ms. Jackson

Between 70 and 80 per cent. of juveniles leaving prison custody reoffend within two years. Does the hon. Gentleman say "Hear, hear" to that? Such sentences do not provide a short, sharp shock but a short, sharp training course in how to become a more successful criminal.

The Government must also provide the resources for the youth, community and leisure services that are so vital in preventing crime. The country's taxpayers do not wish to save money on youth schemes at the expense of being afraid to go out of their own front doors at night.

Actually working with young potential offenders, or first-time offenders, is not a soft option. It is not some wishy-washy liberal attempt to spare those who offend from the consequences of their offences. It is a practical and proven way of combating and solving the growing problems of crime in our society, and in London in particular. It is about giving people back a sense of responsibility; it is about showing them that society has an interest in them and an obligation to them, and that they in turn are obliged to take a constructive interest in their society.

As the chief superintendent of one of the police stations in my constituency said: We should be seeking to give people back some self worth, self esteem and self respect. That is the way to begin to tackle crime. I believe that is it high time the Government began to recognise that fact.

12.50 pm
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

First, let me echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), who recalled the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) to police efforts to counter IRA bombings and other atrocities. Let me also repeat my hon. Friend's wonderment at the sheer gall of the hon. Gentleman's comment, in the face of the fact that, each year since 1982, he and his party have failed to support the renewal of the prevention of terrorism Act. That, I think, should be said over and over again.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) spoke of the difficulty of combating crime committed by young men wielding knives. In my capacity as deputy chairman of the "Why" campaign—founded by Bill Dennison, whose son was knifed to death—I see the difficulty very clearly. Young men going out on a Friday evening will put into their pockets their keys and a knife, knowing perfectly well that they are very unlikely to be stopped and searched. I entirely support my hon. Friend's concern about the failure of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to plug the loophole. A policeman may see a young man walking along the street, having come out of a pub in the company of people who are likely to be dangerous to the community, and he can do nothing about it. I hope that the Home Secretary will look into that.

I welcome the Home Secretary's encouragement of consultations between the police and the community. It is a great source of pride to me that Sutton, in my constituency, has a very active police consultative group, which enjoys an excellent rapport with the police and meets them regularly. The group came to London yesterday to meet me at the Home Office.

The leafy suburbs of Sutton and Cheam should not be seen as completely quiet and peaceful. There is anxiety in the area about the serious increase in burglary and auto crime, and a general increase in crime that is disproportionate to the increase in police resources. It is important to retain a sense of balance in regard to how we deploy our police, especially when a crisis or a mutual aid programme is in progress in the centre of London. Too many police officers may be drained from the outer to the inner areas, leaving problems elsewhere.

In Sutton, burglary is the number one issue on locals' minds, because the district is largely residential. Not only has the incidence of burglary risen all over the London area—it is up by 200,000 since 1976, doubling that 1976 level—but burglars seem to gain entry far too easily, through open windows or open back doors. Doors get kicked in. Householders can do nothing about it. Burglars use jemmies. We should mount an education campaign for householders so that they know how to protect themselves.

I give my total support to Operation Bumblebee, whose aim is to reduce burglary to pre-1960 levels. I support also the fact that it seeks to change attitudes to burglary. Burglary is not listed as one of the serious arrestable offences in the Criminal Justice Act 1984. That is because burglary is an offence against property, not against the person, but any person who has been burgled feels that their home has been raped and violated.

We should remember what happened in Edmonton earlier this year when the house of an elderly person was burgled. Nothing much was taken, but the old lady was so shocked and distressed by the burglary and the invasion of her privacy that she died two days later. We should pay far greater attention to the trauma of burglary and to the sentences that are passed on burglars. The public feel that at the moment burglars get away with it too easily.

We should also pay greater attention to the age of those who commit crimes, particularly those who commit burglaries. I support what was said by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms. Jackson) and her concern about juvenile crime. Nevertheless, I take issue with the hon. Lady on one point. She tends to blame poverty and homelessness for juvenile crime, but the great majority of children who come from low-income groups and who live in accommodation for the homeless do not break the law. They do not commit offences. They know how to lead a law-abiding life. Children have to be taught discipline, but I fear that we have got out of that habit.

The problem was highlighted in Lord Elton's inquiry in 1989 into discipline in schools. It would be worth updating the findings of that inquiry. If children are not set a proper example by their parents and are not properly supervised, they go off the rails. One of the most disturbing cases that my local police station in Sutton keeps telling me about is that of youngsters being found roaming the streets late at night. When the police contact the parents, they do not seem to be at all surprised that their children are running around town. We should put more pressure on parents to act responsibly, to supervise their children and to know where they are.

I support the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 that require parents to appear in court and pay a fine on behalf of their children. The Act came into effect on 1 October. I should welcome a report on the success of its implementation, or otherwise, as soon as possible.

There is also the question of school discipline. Schools help to set the tone. Although discipline is not part of the core curriculum, I believe that it ought to be. There should be closer liaison between the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Education and an effort made t o see how school discipline can be improved. I have visited schools where there is a very sloppy atmosphere, litter in the playground and sloppy teachers, as well as graffiti and broken windows. Teachers ignore bad behaviour in those schools. Such a tone leads to children believing that lawlessness is acceptable, with the result that the community has to pay the price.

I believe, therefore, that it is enormously important that we ensure that children have a proper, structured atmosphere in which to grow up. I do not accept their coming from a low-income background as an excuse for them breaking the law.

Children are committing not only burglary but auto crime. Such crime is very much on the increase in Sutton. I support the Government's endeavours to ensure that car parks are better lit and better supervised and hope that they will carry on their endeavours.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. Hon. Members will be aware that the 10-minute rule is now lifted, but I appeal to them to keep within that limit so that all those who wish to speak may do so.

1 pm

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

May I say how glad I am, as a new London Member, to be called to speak in this important debate?

The issues of crime and policing are of much concern to me. I know from talking to my constituents, wherever they live in Hornsey and Wood Green, that crime is a major issue for them. Rising crime and the fear of crime worries and concerns all of them.

I was pleased to hear the Home Secretary say that he might think about the consultative arrangements for London. I urge him, when conducting his review, to take into account the views of senior police officers. In the past few years, it has become clear that many senior police officers, including members of the Commissioner's management team, now support a police authority for London, for which Labour Members have been pressing for many years. As it now appears that there is agreement in many quarters of the Metropolitan police, I ask the Home Secretary to consider it.

May I dwell on one issue in particular and then deal with a couple of other issues briefly? In the recess, I spent a great deal of time considering the issue of domestic violence in preparation for the investigation of the Home Affairs Select Committee that will begin shortly. I spent some time talking about the problem to police officers in my constituency and elsewhere and to refuges and women's groups. One of the important aspects of domestic violence is the police's response, in which I am glad to say— and I do not think that this is unduly chauvinistic—London has led the way. There are now 62 domestic violence units in London. We have an excellent domestic violence unit in Hornsey which is well regarded by local people and local refuges. The response of people who have had contact with the unit and who have come to see me at my surgery about tragic domestic violence cases has been positive.

I do not wish to sound complacent about the policing of domestic violence. Domestic violence is often a hidden crime, committed behind closed doors. We still have very little idea of the extent of it. We know that there has been a huge increase in incidents reported to the Metropolitan police. The number of reported cases increased by 8,660 between April 1991 and March 1992—a 45 per cent. increase on the previous year's figures.

That increase was in part caused by the fact that more women are reporting such incidents to the police. It also reflects a change in police practice. In the past there was a regrettable tendency for police officers to "no crime" such cases—that is police jargon for not reporting them and not counting them as crimes. I am glad to say that in London the situation is changing and, as a recent victim support report recommends, the police are treating domestic violence with the same seriousness as other forms of violence.

I understand that the Commissioner sent a superintendent to Ontario last November to examine the progressive approach of the police there towards domestic violence, and that a pilot project along similar lines will be set up in Islington in the new year. I hope that I and other London Members of Parliament can obtain progress reports on that project. If, as I hope, it develops well, we shall want to adopt the best practice model in the rest of London.

There is still much anxiety among women's groups and other organisations concerned with domestic violence about the policy of policing domestic violence in London and elsewhere. Many groups call for a central co-ordinated policy for all domestic violence units. Although there are practice guidelines for such units, there can still be great variations in the way in which the police operate. In some areas the units are properly equipped and resourced and, for example, police photographers are provided to photograph women's injuries. Women can then use such photographs in any civil, as well as criminal, proceedings which may be brought in such cases. But in other areas of London the provision is not as good.

Many groups are also worried about the definition of the primary role of police domestic violence units. Do they have a social work role—counselling, and so on—or should their role be, as I think it should, that of an arm of the police, which exists not only to tell people their rights but to act as criminal investigators and to ensure that domestic violence is treated with the seriousness that it deserves? It would also be a step in the right direction if we ensured that in all crime prevention initiatives domestic violence was treated with the same seriousness with which we treat other forms of assault.

The way in which we treat domestic violence in ethnic minority communities is also important and I have had discussions with a number of ethnic minority women's groups on this issue.

Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

My hon. Friend has made some clear points about the role of domestic violence units, and those units are to be welcomed. It is excellent, for example, that in Lewisham the police work in partnership with the council to deal with racial attacks. However, is there not still a great deal of work to be done to ensure that the police realise that domestic violence is not acceptable in any culture or community? Just as it is not acceptable in general terms, it is not acceptable in any society in London.

Mrs. Roche

I thank my hon. Friend for that interesting observation. It is true that we must not allow cultural stereotypes to prevail. It must be appreciated that everybody has the right to the same protection under the law, and police officers must ensure that they receive it.

Sector policing has been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House. In my constituency the Hornsey police division went over to sector policing on 14 September. I welcome sector policing. It is an extremely interesting idea and it is right that we should consider changing the shift system, the form of policing used since Sir Robert Peel invented the service. When we do so, however, we should take on board some of the concerns felt by police officers on the street who are concerned that there are resource implications in sector policing. I support my hon. Friends who have asked for there to be more police officers. We must have those extra officers in London.

I also ask Home Office Ministers to evaluate sector policing properly. I know that the Hornsey police will evaluate it, but it is important—and I note the Home Secretary's comments that he would study performance indicators and customer satisfaction surveys—that we have a system to study the experience of sector policing, not just in one division, but by making comparisons with other sectors.

Sector policing has implications for consultative arrangements. It is right and welcome that there will now be sector-based consultative arrangments. That is a step in the right direction, because it will bring decision-making to a far more local level. I also urge Home Office Ministers to appreciate that the process may need more resources. There are many consultative arrangements in London which receive Home Office funding to ensure that their business can be conducted properly. If sector policing consultative arrangments take off as they should, there may be claims for funding for sector-based consultative arrangements. I suggest that that should be supported.

I turn briefly to crime prevention and the partnership approach. I am pleased that in my area the local police, under Chief Superintendent Trevor Harvey, have been active in working with Haringey council to ensure that there is tremendous co-operation between the local police and the council. A good example is the initiative to prevent burglaries in south Hornsey, to which the Home Secretary has referred. Such crime prevention initiatives need money; they cannot be done on the cheap.

We do not need a moratorium on the safer cities project; we need its extension. I should like more money to go into crime prevention. It is not good enough for the Government to shirk their responsibilities and to expect the police and the local authorities to use their meagre resources as best they can.

We also want the implementation of the Morgan report. It is disgraceful that the report has been mothballed for so long. Crime prevention is an area in which local authorities, especially in London, can make a real contribution in the fight against crime. I urge the Government to put more money into this valuable area.

1.13 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I will try to stick to the roller-coaster of Madam Speaker's request about time by briefly echoing the tributes paid to the police of London on their work in the past year and on the way in which they have been reforming themselves and their practices and achieving the breakthrough on crime that we seek.

I will briefly resist the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) who referred to police hiding behind lamp-posts stopping cars going into bus lanes. I hope that they will continue to do that. If we are to have public transport flowing freely, my complaint is more that the police do not always go up to the drivers of coaches parked in bus lanes and remind them that bus lanes are for moving buses and not for stationary ones.

I echo what has been said about sector policing. In Battersea, we have shown that it works. Despite preliminary doubts, it is now popular with police and public and is achieving results. I am sure that it will contribute greatly to London's policing.

There are certain areas in which the police alone cannot achieve a breakthrough; they need the support of the public. First, they need the support of the people who leave their doors unlocked. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said, 30 per cent. of burglars do not have to force entry because the door is left open for them. Locks should be fitted and used. We need the support of the insurance industry in this; where claims are made in respect of burglaries, the industry should take into account the actions of policyholders in fitting locks and any contributory negligence that there may have been.

The same goes for car crime. We need the support of motor vehicle manufacturers, who should make their vehicles secure against crime. We also need the support of architects, designers and town planners, who should ensure that they design out crime when planning new estates and improving existing ones.

We also need the support of British Rail. We have heard how successful London Transport has been in getting rid of crime on the underground. A pro-active management has worked with the public and the transport police to get rid of crime. Sadly, British Rail has not taken the same view. When I have sought to have measures taken at Clapham Junction and Wandsworth Town stations, where constituents of mine have been assaulted and even stabbed, British Rail has said that it is not its task to prevent such incidents. I say that it is, indeed, British Rail's task and that it has as much of a duty as anyone else to help the community to fight crime. I hope that the Minister will put pressure on British Rail, through his colleagues at the Department of Transport, to play its part with staffing measures and through the installation of cameras and emergency telephones.

I ask, too, for the support of the cycling community. I am a great supporter of cycling in London because it is one way of improving London's environment. I am always battling for better cycling routes, and I urge the boroughs to deal with the pot holes which make cycling dangerous. I do not know the figure for London, but nationally there have been 24,803 cycling casualties in the past 12 months. Some accidents are caused by motorists and the cycling environment; others are caused by cyclists cycling without lights, through red lights, the wrong way down one-way streets and across pedestrian crossings. We had this argument last time the issue was raised, but we have yet to see a definition of pedestrian crossings which makes it clear that one may wheel but not ride a bicycle across them. Motorists and cyclists seem unaware of the law on that. I hope that it can be made clear to them.

It would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Minister would talk to the cycling organisations about the possibility of some form of cycle registration. The registration of bicycles worked when I was a student at Oxford, although I suppose that in those days there was a bit more metal on bicycles on which to paint the number. Perhaps bikes should carry a number plate on the back, as motor scooters do. We need a system whereby we can both identify bad cyclists and restore lost or stolen bikes to their owners. Cyclists would welcome consultation on that.

I urge the Minister to consider two of the ways in which the powers of the police to help the community can be improved. First, they should have the power to confiscate equipment belonging to people who perpetrate the crime, as I call it, of neighbourhood noise. The police have that ability in Scotland, but, despite the Liverpool case a few months ago, it is not clear whether they have it in England. That power would go a long way towards making the public more co-operative and the police more effective in stamping out one of the nuisances of our society. It is better for the police to have that power than for it to be exercised by the local council; a police officer who goes to confiscate equipment has a standing that a council officer does not and should not be expected to have.

We must also consider the licensing of amusement arcades, which are not simply unpopular with residents but can attract the kind of element which is attached to crime. They can also attract young people into that environment. At present, local authorities have very few powers over the licensing of such arcades, and the police therefore have few powers to advise them. I urge the Government to introduce a law which will make it much easier to resist applications for amusement arcades.

The police should do more with ex-offenders to bring them back into the community and to improve their relationships with the police. Lastly, I agree with what has been said about young offenders. So often the burglars of today are 11 and 12-year-olds. From time to time they are caught and sent to court. In no time at all, after receiving a very small fine or a warning, they are out of court and back up the drainpipes. We must do something to protect society from those young villains. If necessary, we must take them out of circulation. They should not be placed in the rough, tough prisons referred to by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms. Jackson). We should train them to be good citizens as they grow up and protect society from them. Never has so much been owed by so few to so many—and that is because the very few have pinched it.

1.20 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

This is our annual five-hour debate on policing in London. That alone shows the ineffectiveness of accountability in London. If this debate were taking place under a local authority structure, we should have several annual debates, and senior police officers and other officers would be here to answer questions and to discuss policing with us. In that context, we would develop a much better crime prevention policy, better policing and deal with some of the problems that emerge from time to time between the police and the public. That is why accountability is so important.

If the Home Secretary's opening comments were an indication of the beginnings of a U-turn on the matter, I should be delighted. It has always struck me as odd that the Conservative party seems to believe that democratic policing is bad and that undemocratic policing is therefore good. The Home Secretary suggested that Lambeth council, which was criticised in the old days, was now changing some of the old things that it had said and done. In the early 1980s local authorities said and did some things that were wrong and bad. However, I should place on the record the fact that they also did and said many good things.

The problem is that the other side of the same argument is that policing in the 1970s and the 1980s failed badly because there was bad practice in policing. The Home Secretary and the Minister should read carefully the speech made by Sir John Woodcock, the chief inspector of constabulary. He went far further than any policeman has gone so far in accepting the responsibility of the police for the malpractice of those years.

I have a long history of involvement in these issues as a probation officer and as a senior probation officer in London and as an inner London Member of Parliament. I warned the House and other people that if such policing continued out of control, the criminal justice system would come into serious disrepute. That happened and it took the Birmingham, Guildford and Broadwater Farm cases to bring it out.

Sir John Woodcock was right to say that such things could not have happened unless there was a culture that supported them. He was right to be critical of the rest of the criminal justice system. I would include the forensic service in that criticism and there is a very strong case for distancing it from the Crown prosecution service. The courts should also take some responsibility.

When the Government passed the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, I was one of the first to claim that some aspects of that legislation were unworkable for a police officer on the street. The Government achieved the worst of both worlds. They imposed restrictions on the police when they did not have the right structure to prevent innocent people being wrongly convicted. We have still not got that balance right. Inasmuch as the 1980s were a tragic period of lack of trust in the police, so also they reflected growing anger on the streets among people who felt that they could not trust the police.

After many years, I am much more encouraged by the way in which policing has turned around in the past five or six years. I have has some involvement in training and there have been significant changes. The onus is on the House to begin to change some of the other things that might help the police to do their work rather better.

It is no good the police saying that accountability means political control. It has come to our notice, to use that favoured term, that frequently Home Secretaries have been card-carrying, paid-up members of the Conservative party. That, to my mind, means that they are politicians. I would far rather have police forces under the control of a local authority, because a local authority does not impose duties on the police that are contrary to what they must do by their duty, any more than a local authority does that to its social workers. No councillor is allowed to say, "You will take this child into care," or, "You will make a restriction order on this person who is mentally ill and take him in under the Mental Health Act." One cannot do that in respect of education or housing, either.

The argument has never been that operational decisions should be under the control of a local authority or the Home Secretary. In fact, under this Government operational decisions have frequently been made by the Home Secretary. That is political control of the worst type. If the Government want to go down that road, they should recognise that they are on the road to a national police force under the Home Secretary's control, which is the control of a politician. That is unacceptable. Policing needs to be as near to the public as possible. Operational policing decisions need to be made by the police under a proper structure, just as they are in social services, and so on. Overall policy should be discussed with elected representatives because that is how we have crime prevention and victim support.

We will not deal properly with the confidence of the public until we give greater support to victims. I welcome the comments by the police and Sir John Woodcock in recognising that victims are often the last ones to be considered. If I am burgled, it is a problem for me. I have to contact the insurance company involved, list lost property and so on. That problem pales into insignificance when I compare it with that of someone in a low-income area in my constituency, frequently a pensioner living alone who cannot afford insurance. When their television set is stolen, it is not just that their home is invaded; they also cannot afford to replace the television.

That is why people at the street level in areas that are hit by crime feel very angry about the criminal justice system and the way in which it does not seem to give enough attention to victims and, in their eyes—wrongly, I often think—gives too much attention to offenders.

That brings us to crime prevention. Conservative Members still seem to think that crime prevention equals stronger locks on doors and windows. I am very much in favour of stronger locks on doors and windows. Indeed, if the housing proposals that Opposition Members have been making for many years had been followed, we would have had rolling programmes for public housing, housing association and council housing and, indeed, on my proposals, for private sector rented housing, too, in order to strengthen doors and windows. However, it is not just that, nor is it the concierge system which can dramatically reduce crime in high-rise flats. That is important, too, but even more important is the social and economic structure that we provide; that can make a difference between crime going up or going down.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) always seems to live on a different planet from the one that I recognise. If she believes that disciplining or putting a bit more stress or pressure on parents would make the difference between their teaching their children to offend or not, she is 100 per cent. wrong. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) accurately said, the police say that crime fits the pattern of poverty. They are right. This matter is not about imposing greater pressures on families; it is about recognising that the pressure is already too great. The probation penalties that I knew were already very toughly disciplined. It was the sort of toughness that neither I nor, I suspect, the hon. Lady would approve of.

I give the hon. Lady one example. A young lad is clouted round the ear when he is caught lying by his mother. She says, "Do not lie to me", and whacks him round the ear. That is a normal pattern of behaviour. However, some time later the doorbell goes and it is the milkman calling for payment of his bill. The boy's mother says, "Go downstairs and tell him I am not in." That example is a double message—it is all right to lie to some people but not to others. The message is not about discipline but about consistency. The two things that matter in parenting are love and consistency. The hon. Lady shakes her head. She should think about it for a while. Discipline will be effective, whether it is tough or soft. It is the consistency and the love that go with it that matter. We may not be able to legislate for that in the House of Commons. However, we can increase the structures that support a family under stress.

The other day I heard the Minister deny that there was a link between unemployment and crime. We all know that there is such a link. But no one who knows anything about the matter has ever argued that it is a direct, statistical, one-to-one relationship. It is not suggested that because someone is unemployed he or she is more likely to be an offender. That is not the argument. The argument is that as factors such as unemployment add to the stress on either an individual or a family, the chances of behaviour which is not the norm for that person or family increase.

The result may be mental health breakdown—hence the increased suicide rate for people who are unemployed—or, more likely, family problems. If a father becomes unemployed it is likely that his children will offend. That is because frequently a family is operating at the margin of coping. The family does tolerably well and just about manages. It may offer sufficient love and just enough consistency to get by. But then society fails to provide the necessary props for that family, whether in the form of employment, education, income or whatever. Society withdraws the safety net and the family, which previously just about coped, tips over and fractures.

The two factors that are most important in crime prevention are family structure and support, and community support. Those factors lead to lower crime rates in both older traditional societies and societies such as ours where there is a well-established community and families are reasonably well supported.

One measure that would do more for crime prevention than almost anything else is the provision of nursery education for every child. We could also offer support to families and communities by providing more services in other areas of education in low-income, high-unemployment areas. To get that support going and make the community operate as one that supports families will do more to cut crime than any number of locks on doors and windows. We do not want to be forced to live behind bars.

The Government have an appalling record on crime and a bad record on crime prevention and policing. We can crack crime in Britain but only if we put crime prevention first and ensure that policing is close to the community.

1.32 pm
Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth)

I have no doubt that few in my constituency of Monmouth will read the annual report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. That is not surprising as it costs £20. London is much more than simply the vested interest of London Members; it is the great capital of the United Kingdom. I rise to speak in the debate because my constituents are absolutely horrified and puzzled by what they see on the streets of London.

I have no doubt that my chief constable in our excellent local force in Gwent will read the report. He will be glad to see the extra police resources that are provided in central London. We are puzzled in Gwent that the Home Office considers that we do not need more police officers. In a generous mood my constituents will take the view that that reflects priorities where more needs to be done.

What do my constituents see when they come to London to go to the theatre, to shop or, indeed, to commute? They see that the area of central London from around the Strand has become the home for scores, if not hundreds, of homeless people who have formed encampments in every doorway. If one is there, not during the working and shopping week, but to go to the theatre in the evening, one finds that every air vent has been occupied and people are bedding down. Before the recent events in Lincolns Inn Fields, a bidonville had been set up—apparently with impunity.

My constituents are saying that, judging by the appearance of central London, it is no longer the great capital of an empire but a third-world country. They charge the Commissioner with seeming to have lost control of the streets, at least in a limited areas of central London. It is the law of the land—and ought to remain the law—that to sleep rough when directed to a reasonably accessible shelter is a criminal offence.

Mr. Tony Banks

There are not any such places.

Mr. Evans

I heard what the hon. Gentleman said and I will come in a moment to the analysis of how that has come to pass.

Beyond any shadow of doubt, it is an appalling social problem. there are a mixture of social factors, which apparently include care in the community for former occupants of mental hospitals—the most wicked form of care in the community imaginable, tossing them on to the streets to sleep rough. As the winter comes, anger is mounting among my constituents when they see people—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) must not intervene between the Chair and the Member speaking. She has done that twice.

Mr. Banks

She is only trying to crawl her way to the top as a parliamentary private secretary.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not need a sedentary contribution from the hon. Gentleman now and he may wish to catch my eye later.

Mr. Banks

That is probably the only chance to contribute that I shall get.

Mr. Evans

I shall be brief, to encourage the hon. Gentleman.

In winter, it is appalling to see people bedding down in the gateways of the Strand, likely to die of exposure in horrific circumstances. If nothing else, it is an issue of law enforcement. My constituents tell me that they find it funny that this only happens in a limited area of central London.

Mr. Banks

It happens all over London.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman is ignorant as to London. If one passes Temple Bar and enters the district controlled by the City of London police force, one will see no such problems. Mr. Commissioner Kelly and his excellent force are to be congratulated on enforcing the law.

The statistics are dramatic. Those for the most recently available year show that there were no convictions for sleeping out in the City of London and that there were 12 convictions in the Metropolitan police district. There were five convictions for begging in the City of London and 1,251 in the Metropolitan police area. I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the air vents and the emptiness of the streets in the City make that a much more attractive place to sleep out in central London than the Strand. People do not go there because they know full well that the law will be enforced. Why is it not being enforced by the Commissioner? I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that that needs proper examination.

Is it a case of an operational decision? There has been a lavish and expensive advertising campaign on the underground depicting some homeless person—to whom the Metropolitan police rightly owe duties—which states that the Metropolitan police are obliged to enforce the vagrancy laws. The report which the House is considering states: My officers have faced a difficult task"— That is readily accepted and respected — in balancing the wishes of all sections of the community. We have worked in conjunction with voluntary agencies to help those at risk or in genuine need. There is no mention of the enforcement of the law by the Commissioner in that regard, and the statistics clearly show that he is not attempting to enforce it. Everyone's experience of walking along the Strand or Temple place shows that to be the case.

If the problem is not due to the Commissioner, does it occur because the discretion to prosecute has not been exercised? My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary should tell us. However, it does not lie in the mouth of either my right hon. and learned Friend or the Commissioner to suspend and dispense with the laws of the land because certain aspects of fashionable opinion do not wish those laws to be enforced. The rule of law cannot be broken selectively. The Commissioner is obliged to enforce it.

A more reasonable explanation for what has happened may well be the lack of reasonable places of shelter available. But the problem with that explanation, if I understand the statements made by Ministers, is that they are rightly pleased that the number of such places has recently been dramatically increased. I note from the Commissioner's report that there is no suggestion that that is the basis for his decision or his practice of failing to enforce the law in that regard.

Mr. Tony Banks

The hon. Gentleman should talk to the people who know.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must ask the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) to contain himself. I know that that is difficult, but perhaps he could try a little harder today.

Mr. Evans

I know that I may shock the sensibilities of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), but great numbers of voters and my constituents feel strongly about the issue.

It may be that the Commissioner could rightly say that as a result of the legislative changes in 1982 and 1984, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam referred, the law is defective and has been unnecessarily weakened in relation to such problems on the streets. However, there is no mention of that in the report and the latest Government statement that I can trace in Hansard shows that there is no intention to review that sector of the law.

In selected parts of central London, evidence can be seen of immense personal individual tragedy which must not be allowed to continue and which can be explained only by the practices of the Metropolitan police. It is an outrage and a disgrace that such tragedy has been allowed to continue for so long. But to my constituents coming to London, the position in the capital seems an inner-city urban equivalent of the curse of new age travellers.

Such people are a threat. One does not know when approached by a beggar in the Strand whether that person is perfectly harmless and amiable or dangerous. The person may have a knife or be seriously mentally disturbed. Those who returned Conservative Members of Parliament and elected a Conservative Government did so primarily because Conservatives believe in security and the rule of law. The rights of my constituents to wander central London during the pre-Christmas shopping season are being gravely diminished by the present state of affairs. I should be grateful for a specific reply from my hon. Friend the Minister on this issue. I warn him that there is a silent accumulation of disgust at the inhumane situation that has been tolerated and a growing outrage that the rule of law has been suspended and dispensed with in a way that seems, on the face of it, unconstitutional.

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

I wish to describe two serious problems affecting my constituency—street prostitution and the scourge of drugs.

It is impossible for the majority of hon. Members whose constituencies may not contain the problem of street prostitution to appreciate the concern and outrage felt by those living in residential districts suffering from it. The resulting difficulties include the harassment of women walking along, who are taken to be prostitutes. There are a number of small schools in Stamford Hill, an area where the problem of street prostitution exists, and prostitutes ply their trade night and day. Women bring their children to school and find that there are prostitutes outside.

At night, there is noise nuisance when sometimes as many as half a dozen prostitutes congregate at street corners, squabbling and disturbing residents. In the Stamford Hill district there are a number of blocks of flats, some of which are sheltered accommodation for the elderly. Elderly people sometimes wake up in the morning and emerge from their doorways to find the corridors littered with used condoms and broken syringes—signs of the prostitutes' activities. We experience all the problems of crime related to the prostitutes, such as drugs and violence.

At any given time only a handful of hon. Members suffer from that problem in their constituencies and, as a consequence, the House does not take the matter seriously enough. The residents in Stamford Hill and those in the northern part of my constituency, around the Seven Sisters road and Amhurst park, have had enough of the problem. It causes them misery, is an environmental nuisance, and it gives rise to crime and related activities. My constituents want more resources devoted to the police, and by the police, to taking prostitution off the streets, and they urge a serious review of the law. More could be done to strengthen the law not necessarily on prostitution but kerb crawling. It takes two to create a nuisance, and the men who kerb crawl all night are just as much to blame as the prostitutes. People throughout the country share that concern. It is hardly fair that prostitutes can be charged and imprisoned while their male customers, who are just as culpable, get off scot free. I am sure that Members in all parts of the House take that matter seriously.

Surprise has been expressed at the scale of the drugs problem in inner London, but those of us born and brought up there have seen that transformation, with the introduction of hard drugs on to inner city streets—particularly crack cocaine. Drug abuse is itself an illegal activity, but it also creates violence. Many of the shootings and killings which occur in London are directly connected with the drugs trade, and crimes are committed by addicts trying to get money to pay for their daily fix. That is the motive behind many of the mindless and vicious assaults that we read about in the London newspapers.

Drug abuse is not, unfortunately, a crime which is committed behind closed doors. Housing estates are ruined when flats are taken over and used as retail outlets for drugs. Even in Clissold park, in which I walk my baby most days when I am not in the House, the sandpit cannot be used because it is full of crushed syringes. The drug menace is a sword at the heart of the inner city. Those of us familiar with the changing nature of that threat want the Metropolitan police to devise a serious strategy against drugs. In some parts of London, the belief is that their strategy is one of containment—but for the citizens of Hackney, that is not enough. We want the drug menace taken off our streets altogether.

The specific issue that I want to raise concerns serious allegations made against officers at Stoke Newington police station, which has developed an unfortunate reputation over the years. Earlier this year, thousands of pounds had to be paid to people who had been falsely arrested, harassed, or been subjected to violence by Stoke Newington police. I refer to a particular allegation—now the subject of an internal inquiry—that over the years, police at Stoke Newington netted tens of thousands of pounds by running their own drug dealers, planted drugs on people who were not drug dealers, solicited bribes, offered drugs to people if they would testify, and assaulted and racially abused suspects, almost all of them black.

Conservative Members, and perhaps even some of my own colleagues, may comment, "People would say that, wouldn't they?" However, the current major investigation into alleged corruption at Stoke Newington was triggered not by the fantasies of drug dealers or the complaints of local people, but in another way. Time and again when Customs and Excise officials planned VAT raids in Stoke Newington jointly with the local police, they arrived only to find that the suspects had gone. Customs and Excise began to believe that Stoke Newington police were on the take, as when they planned raids without involving the police, the supects would be there when they arrived. As a result of the notion that so long as they did not involve the police they would hit the jackpot, the investigation into corruption at Stoke Newington was dubbed "operation jackpot". These may sound like the kind of allegations that suspected drug dealers would be bound to make, but the investigation arose not because of complaints from my constituents but because Customs and Excise believed that the police must be "on the take".

In April 1991, the Russell inquiry into operation jackpot began. Since then, PC Roy Lewendowski, a policeman at Stoke Newington, has been arrested and charged with theft and VAT fraud. Another Stoke Newington policeman, PC Palumbo, was heavily censured by Judge Pitman in the case of Crown v. Noel. Eight police officers have been transferred from Stoke Newington police station. Another Stoke Newington policeman, Sergeant Gerry Carroll, shot himself in a cell at Barkingside police station. PCs Palumbo and Galbraithe have been suspended from operational duties. In a case involving Stoke Newington police—the case of Dennis Bramble—the prosecution offered no evidence because of the unreliability of police evidence". In July this year, Pearl Cameron, a Hackney resident, was sentenced to five years imprisonment in relation to drug dealing, but the judge commented: I sentence you on the basis that your dealing stemmed from the advances of a corrupt police officer. The police officer involved is at Stoke Newington police station. Since the inquiry began, 27 officers at Stoke Newington police station have been served with regulation 7 notices in respect of allegations that they have been involved in drug trafficking.

The inquiry is not based simply on rumour, or on allegations made by suspect sources. This is one of the most serious allegations of corruption involving the Metropolitan police for many years. Senior officers within the Metropolitan police have said that the level of corruption suggested by the inquiry rivals that discovered in the West Midlands police force.

I remind the Home Secretary that the Russell inquiry has been in progress for nearly two years. It is a matter of urgency for the inquiry to report, so that the shadow hanging over Stoke Newington police station can be dispelled. Until it reports, no one will know the truth of the allegations, and the trust and co-operation that Stoke Newington ought to receive from the community will remain in jeopardy. We were promised that the inquiry would report in the autumn. Where is the report? These are grave allegations, and it is not fair either to the Stoke Newington community or to honest policemen to delay the process in this way.

According to the allegations, there appears to have been a ring of corrupt policemen at Stoke Newington police station. A number of people have been convicted and have served sentences on the basis of evidence from officers at Stoke Newington who are now being investigated by the police. What steps are being taken to establish how many cases may be involved? What steps are being taken to inform the solicitors of the people concerned? A number of cases are currently going through the courts on the basis of evidence from Stoke Newington officers who are now under investigation. What steps are being taken to ascertain how many such cases there are?

As I have said, these are grave allegations, and I do not repeat them in the House lightly. I put it to the Minister, however, that if we are to succeed in a crusade against drugs on the streets of London, the police must have the co-operation of the community. Such allegations, constantly repeated, cannot help that co-operation. The Russell report is long overdue. We in Stoke Newington—and everyone who trusts in the Metropolitan police—must urge the Minister to encourage the Metropolitan police to produce that report speedily.

It has been a common ploy of Conservative politicians over the years to accuse Labour Members of Parliament and Labour councillors of being soft on crime. It is an easy charge to make and it is often made, but there is no way in which any genuine representative of the people of inner London could be soft on crime. If there is any group of people who suffer from crime, be it street violence, crimes against property or the terrible menace of drugs, it is our constituents. During the five years that I have been a Member of Parliament one of the issues that has caused most concern to my constituents has been the effects of crime, and their perception in some cases either that police strategy is not appropriate or that it is difficult to understand.

No one suffers more from crime than the people that Opposition Members seek to represent. If we raise allegations of malpractice and complaints about the incidence of corruption, it is only in the long run to increase the chance of improving confidence in the police and co-operation with the police. That will be the basis for a successful war against crime in the Metropolitan police area.

1.55 pm
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

After three months preparation for this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am grateful that you have called me to speak. I am sorry that there has been so little time to discuss the policing of the metropolis. The genesis of my interest in the subject is that in my constituency I have the Port of London police authority, the second oldest police force in the country, which is justifiably proud of its reputation. It is a very professional body, but recently it was privatised. I deprecate its privatisation.

Had there been more time, I should have liked to spend longer on that subject. However, the privatisation of the Port of London police authority has been referred to in earlier debates by my hon. Friends the Members for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). All I wish to do today, therefore, is to pay tribute to the officers of the British Transport police authority, and in particular to its small federation which fought vigorously to guard the independence of the police authority and the office of constable.

Earlier this year, it took the authority to court to resist privatisation. I refer in particular to the chairman and secretary of the Port of London's police federation, Harry Johnson and Martin McGrath. I have the utmost regard for the way in which they defended the interests of their members and tried jealously to guard the independence of those police officers. The privatisation of that police force has implications for other forces. British Transport police are deeply anxious about the threat of privatisation of their services, particularly when legislation to privatise rail services has been passed, and they have not been sufficiently reassured.

Members of the Metropolitan police are also anxious about the fact that the Government are contemplating the privatisation of some Metropolitan police functions. We know that there are predators about. Security firms would like to be able to police London's orbital road, the M25. I hope that the Minister will give a categorical assurance that the Government are not contemplating privatisation of highly regarded police functions in both the capital and elsewhere.

As for the flawed nature of the Sheehy inquiry, the Home Secretary has again refused to include consideration by that inquiry of forces not under the control of the Home Office. It is nonsense to set up an inquiry to look into the role of the police but to exclude British Transport police, the Royal Parks constabulary and many other professional constabularies which are under the jurisdiction of other Ministers. It is offensive to those police officers. By refusing to include the British Transport police, the Home Secretary snubbed his colleague the Secretary of State for Transport. We were told by the Minister for Public Transport, the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), during the Committee stage of the Bill that seeks to privatise coal and rail that the Secretary of State for Transport had asked the Home Secretary to include the British Transport police. The Home Secretary confirmed that he had turned down the request of his ministerial colleague the Secretary of State for Transport. That is something that I very much regret.

I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) about the Royal Parks constabulary and British Transport police. Those two important law enforcement agencies should have been considered more in the debate. I invite the Home Secretary to consider whether the two forces should have co-jurisdiction with the Metropolitan police. If British Transport police officers were outside St. Stephen's entrance, as they were a few nights ago, they would have powers of arrest only as citizens and not as police officers. That puts them in some difficulty, causes embarrassment, and is misunderstood by the general public. Similarly, if the Royal Parks constabulary were in the vicinity of a royal park but outside its curtilage, they would be frustrated and embarrassed if they tried to act as police officers. I hope that that difficulty will be taken on board.

Given more time, I should have liked to discuss many other issues, such as the lack of employment protection for many non-Home Office police officers and the fact that the Home Secretary has no control over a plethora of minor police forces. I very much regret that he has no way of controlling the recruitment or considering the suitability of those policemen.

In preparation for today's debate, I spent a morning with the traffic division of Essex police, who share responsibility for policing the M25. When I arranged my visit with the assistant chief constable, he urged me to do as his officers instructed because of the danger of the M25. He said, "Stand where we tell you and exercise great caution because we have lost some police officers". The police officers who came to collect me were subdued because the previous evening a colleague of theirs in the traffic division had been killed on the M25. I pay tribute to police officer Chris Wiggins and extend to his family and colleagues in the Essex traffic division and the Metropolitan police my condolences and, I am sure, those of the whole House.

The traffic division should have received greater consideration today. It is not the most glamorous aspect of policing, but it is probably the most technically and professionally skilled aspect of it. In the final speech from the Back Benches in this debate, I am pleased to pay tribute to the police officers who try to maintain mobility and enforce the law in dangerous, hazardous and sometimes stressful conditions on and around the M25.

2.2 pm

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

We have had an extremely interesting debate, in which many hon. Members have spoken on a wide range of topics.

Every issue is important and I propose to raise a few of my own, but the debate is a deeply inadequate substitute for the proper analysis, goal-setting and shared policy making that would be the function of an elected Metropolitan police authority. We welcome the Home Secretary's apparent new attitude to the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) set out our approach to policing, which recognises the need to tackle crime effectively and seeks to address the underlying reasons for its continued growth. I have special responsibility for community and race relations, and it is perhaps in those two areas that the Metropolitan police have been most sorely tested in recent years.

We need to ask what the people of London want from their police service. They want a police service that they can trust and which will uphold the law and people's rights. They want a visible police presence where officers know the local area and a service that acknowledges that it is part of, and accountable to, the community. They want to be sure that if there is corruption or malpractice it will be rooted out. They want a service that is open about its activities, not secretive and defensive, and they wish, as we all do, to have a service that is honest, efficient and respected. The police themselves could surely wish for nothing less, and there are signs that they are listening.

The Metropolitan police under the leadership of Sir Peter Imbert has been in the vanguard of those trying to change police culture. As we have heard today, new management policies have been introduced under the Plus programme in an attempt to tackle the over-bureaucratic nature of the service and to develop a sense of corporate identity. Change at ground level, through sector policing, will be equally profound, but will it deliver the service that Londoners want and stem the increase in crime?

Theoretically, sector policing should result in closer co-operation between the police, the community and other agencies, but there is a real concern about the level of cover, which has been expressed today by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). One experiment in community and estate policing with which I am familiar led to a reduction of 60 per cent. in serious crime—but it involved increasing the number of home beat officers from one to six. Undoubtedly, it is feared that nothing like that level of cover would be maintained under sector policing. The Met still has some way to go, not least among some police constables on the beat, in winning the argument that resources will be more effectively deployed under sector policing.

The composition of the new local sector working groups will be vital. A truly dynamic relationship between the community and the police requires a high level of public participation, especially from the more sceptical sections of society. I have no doubt that we shall not stem the rising tide of criminality in our cities unless we greatly increase trust and co-operation between communities and the police.

There has been much recent criticism of the sensationalising of crime statistics. The fact remains, however, that London is the crime capital of Europe. We can be thankful that we do not head the league table for crimes against the person, but we have the highest overall rate of crime—specifically, at 60 crimes per thousand population, we have the highest rate of burglary and car crime. As we have heard repeatedly today, overall crime rates increased by 11 per cent. last year, having increased by 10 per cent. the year before.

Those crimes are primarily the activities of individual young men, often still in their formative years. They are not mature conspirators controlling large fortunes, whose hands are on the levers of power. How is it that we have so signally failed to create a more law-abiding and socially responsible community?

Of course, the person who commits the crime must bear the responsibility for the damage and hurt that he has caused. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott), I am all too conscious of the appalling price paid by many of the victims of crime in London. Nevertheless, we ignore at our peril the wisdom of Sir Peter Imbert's words which have already been quoted, attributing the growth in crime in part to the marginalisation of some elements in our society". Sir Peter continued: There is a need to offer hope to the most disadvantaged". When the Home Secretary spoke at the Tory party conference about those same young people, he threatened more punitive and draconian measures against those who offend. Perhaps his words were merely a sop to his audience, for he did not refer to those threats today—but neither did he offer a strategy to deliver new hope to our inner cities. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms. Jackson), who made an excellent speech, in asking how the Government aim to deter young people from a life of crime.

Does the Minister honestly believe that destroying the youth service and cutting training, amid record levels of homelessness and unemployment, will have a neutral effect on crime rates? Most Londoners do not believe that for a minute. They want an effective programme of crime prevention, and nothing that the Home Secretary has said today amounts to such a strategy.

Will the Minister tell us the rationale behind continuing to fund one-off and piecemeal projects rather than having an overall strategy? Surely the Home Office has enough information on the success or failure of individual projects in London to be able to sanction a comprehensive crime prevention strategy. I can offer the Home Secretary plenty of evidence from my constituency where the safer cities campaign, a task force, the drugs prevention unit, Lewisham council and the police have all been involved in a number of positive initiatives.

One example is Hawke tower, a 23-storey block of previously highly unpopular council flats with a high crime rate. Today, after the installation of a comprehensive security concierge system, there are no burglaries and a high level of tenant satisfaction. Which London authorities can find the money similarly to treat all their tower blocks? We also have the Ilderton motor project which is tackling car crime, one of our biggest crimes, and helping young people to overcome their own deviant behaviour. Where is the money to run such projects across the capital?

Even more seriously, where are the programmes and expertise to analyse local data, to predict local trends and to take preventive action? Despite police computers systematically recording burglaries throughout the area, it was only tenants' action, followed by help from the safer cities campaign, which revealed that one estate in Lewisham had a burglary rate twice the national average. Clearly, there is a need for making much better local use of crime data being collected Londonwide.

Safer cities has been a success, but there are only five projects in London. Will the Minister tell us whether they will end in 1994–95? What is their future? As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) asked, what will happen about the 20 new projects promised in the Conservative manifesto?

Surely the Government must see that implementing the proposals of the Morgan report is the only way foward. Or is there, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield suggested, an ideological block? Central to the recommendations of the Morgan report is an endorsement of a local, multi-agency approach with proper status and funding. Morgan recommended: local authorities working in conjunction with the police, should have clear statutory responsibilities for the development and stimulation of community safety and crime prevention programmes, and for progressing at a local level a multi-agency approach to community safety. I repeat that there is widespread support for Morgan throughout the crime prevention community, including strong support from the Metropolitan police. I ask the Minister to tell us clearly today when the Government propose to act on the Morgan report.

I turn now to another specific and highly sensitive area of police-community relations—racial violence. One of the most sickening recent developments in Europe has been the rise of neo-Nazi and extreme right-wing activity. Historically, racism has flourished in times of economic hardship and London today appears to be no exception.

Over the past few years, there has been an horrific rise in racial attacks. In London last year, tenants reported more than 1,700 racial harassment cases to councils, but, because of the difficulties of testifying, only eight perpetrators were evicted. In Greenwich, racial attacks are now running at about 20 a month and there have been three racially inspired murders in the area.

The Home Secretary will know that the Commission for Racial Equality considers existing legislation to be inadequate to deal with the increasing incidence of racial crime. I am sure that the House wishes to know whether the Government have considered making a new criminal offence for racially motivated violence.

It is clear to us that many senior officers in the Met share our concern about the increasing scale of racist attacks and that they are taking the appropriate initiative. The new system of reporting, to which the Home Secretary referred, whereby the police officer no longer decides what is or is not a racist attack, but accepts the statement of the victim, is to be commended.

There are many other important initiatives, which I am unable to mention now because of lack of time. I commend the establishing of the racial incident unit in the Plumstead division, which is undoubtedly accounting for the increased reporting of the number of incidents in that area of south London. I make no apology for again mentioning Lewisham, where the police consultative committee, in consultation with the police, safer cities and the council, recently launched a poster campaign encouraging people to contact the police if they were racially harassed or attacked. That is an important initiative. I hope that it will be repeated elsewhere, giving a clear message that racism is not tolerated in this city.

The Met must also crack down hard on racism within its ranks. I note that, last year, there were 50 reported complaints about racially discriminatory behaviour. Sometimes as a result of their own work, the police may gain a distorted view. For example, a recent Goldsmiths' college report found that 79 per cent. of known drug users in Lewisham were white, yet 50 per cent. of those arrested by the police were black. Of crack users known to the police, 95 pr cent. are black, whereas 85 per cent. of crack users known to other agencies are white. We would all do well to reflect on those findings, especially the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall).

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) referred to domestic violence. Like her, I congratulate those involved in the establishment of the 62 domestic violence units in the Met area. Although I agree with my hon. Friends that there is much more work to be done in developing the units—in particular, working closely with local women's groups—I think that the DVUs represent a considerable achievement.

I have been glad of the opportunity to acknowledge the good work done by the Metropolitan police as well as to highlight some of its difficulties. I join all those who have commended Sir Peter Imbert on the positive steps that he has taken while in office. I congratulate Paul Condon on his appointment and wish him well in continuing the process of improving the Metropolitan police. I must emphasise, however, that while the Government continue to turn their back on the social problems that they are creating by their own policies and while they refuse to invest appropriately in tried and tested remedies, crime will continue to increase. Until we give the people of London hope and a sense of their communities' value, the Metropolitan police and many other agencies will continue to pick up the pieces of the Government's broken policies.

2.17 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle)

The range of issues covered in the debate is an indication of the extent to which we all look to the police for help and support. They are in the front line to help our constituents when they are the victims of crime. They pick up the pieces in times of emergency. They advise on crime prevention and they work in the community to help our young people avoid crime.

There have been a number of common themes in this interesting and varied debate. There has been widespread praise for Sir Peter Imbert for his contribution to the Metropolitan police and the leadership that he has given. An equally widespread welcome has been given to Paul Condon, as he contemplates his new appointment with effect from 1 February

Many hon. Members have emphatically condemned IRA bombings. The Government remain unshakeably committed to the defeat of terrorism in all its forms throughout the United Kingdom with all the means at our disposal. There have been 13 incidents in London since 7 October, resulting in the death of one man and injuries to 18 other people. It is only good fortune that has prevented further casualties. The current campaign of Provisional IRA attacks in London shows yet again that the organisation has no regard for the safety of the public. The public need to be alert at all times and to report anything suspicious to the police immediately.

Hon. Members have paid tribute to the memories of Sergeant Alan King and Detective Constable Jim Morrison. I add my tribute to those already voiced.

The other theme in the debate has been that of partnership, referred to first by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary who said that there had been a long tradition in this country of policing by consent. Police work and the campaign against crime depend on a partnership that involves not only the police but local authorities, voluntary agencies, businesses and the whole community. Sir Peter Imbert's strategy makes clear the commitment of the Metropolitan police to provide a policing style which has that objective at its root, deep in the community. Sector policing is a key element in ensuring that the service strengthens its links with local communities and builds on the benefits gained from working in partnership.

As has been the case in such debates in previous years, the large number of hon. Members who have spoken have raised many questions. Inevitably, the time available for me to respond has run short. I will cover what ground I can on the points that have been raised and will write to those hon. Members whose points I cannot answer before the debate concludes at 2.30 pm.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) referred to the role of police authorities. It is clear that there is a strong welcome for what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary had to say about that subject. We are looking at the role of police authorities generally, including the rather different arrangement in London. No decisions have been taken yet, but we welcome the contributions in the debate. Changes for the provinces or for London would involve legislation and there would, of course, be consultation before they were introduced.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and other hon. Members mentioned the Morgan report. The recommendations in the report have taken longer to consider than was originally anticipated because they were more wide ranging than had been expected under the working group's terms of reference. Several of the points raised went beyond the realm of central Government and they are still being considered. We hope to be able to respond to the main recommendations fairly soon. We are considering the views of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation and the local authority associations on the report's recommendations.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield and several Opposition Members also referred to crime and economic conditions. Recorded crime has risen steadily over the past 40 years. Since 1970 there has been an average annual increase of 5 per cent. There are many possible explanations for that, not least the fact that increasing affluence has increased the opportunities for crime.

Low incomes or unemployment do not cause crime. There are no excuses for lawlessness and hooliganism. It would be wholly wrong and highly condescending to suggest that people on low incomes are bound to be criminals. There is no single cause of crime and many people with problems or disadvantages do not offend.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The House has paid tribute to the outgoing Commissioner. Does the Minister agree with this sentence of the Commissioner's report: There is a close correlation between the map of crime and the map of deprivation"?

Mr. Wardle

I have made my views absolutely clear. I do not believe that there is a direct link between deprivation and incidence of crime.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) made an excellent speech in which he made it clear that he represents the Police Federation. He raised a number of important points. He asked about video recordings of interviews. There is tape recording of interviews in virtually all serious cases. That provides important protection for suspects and the police. The Home Office has commissioned independent research into video recordings on the basis of three pilot schemes where suspects' interviews were recorded on video tape. Professor Baldwin's report on that subject, which was received and published last summer, is now being considered.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge also mentioned DNA testing and its possible greater scope. He referred to the recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee that wider powers of DNA testing could be introduced with a DNA data base built from such samples. That would undoubtedly be a powerful investigatory tool. However, taking samples without consent and retaining samples of innocent suspects eliminated from inquiries would raise major ethical and legal inquiries. That issue falls squarely within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure and no doubt will be considered in that fashion.

My hon. Friend and other hon. Members referred to those who carry knives. I can appreciate the widespread concern at the recent knife attacks on police officers, but it would be impractical to impose further restrictions on the sale of knives that have legitimate everyday uses. That is why the Government's approach has been to tighten the law on the possession of knives in public. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 1988, allows a constable to search any person when he has reasonable grounds to believe that that person is committing the offence of carrying a knife in public without good reason. We fully appreciate public concern regarding the misuse of knives, but we do not think that there would be any advantage in amending the law at this stage.

Mr. Cohen


Mr. Wardle

I think that the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), who has not been present throughout the debate, wishes to intervene. Provided that he is very brief, I shall accept his intervention.

Mr. Cohen

I was present for the opening and closing speeches. The passage to which the Minister referred is not popular with police officers. They feel that it does not give them proper search powers. Although a general search power is not acceptable, a specific search power in connection with knife carrying would have all-party support. Will the Minister review that aspect?

Mr. Wardle

I will certainly bear the hon. Gentleman's comments in mind. The House has also heard my views.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), who has great experience in all matters relating to policing, talked about civilianisation of the control room and the best possible deployment of police officers. I hope that he will accept first and foremost that, of course, it is the Commissioner's operational responsibility to decide how officers are deployed, but we are committed to a programme of civilianisation, as my right hon. and learned Friend has highlighted.

It is a waste of resources to use police officers for duties that do not require police powers or experience, and control room duties have been identified as suitable for civilianisation. That matter is proceeding at the moment. So far, 520 posts are being civilianised, with similar programmes to follow in 1993 and 1994.

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) spoke about the safer cities programme. The Government are currently considering the future of the safer cities programme and its possible expansion, subject to available resources. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned borough-based policing. At present there are 69 Metropolitan police divisions compared with 35 London boroughs, plus the home counties districts that are policed by the Met. The Metropolitan police are in the process of reducing the number of divisions, deliberately to align them with borough boundaries. That reflects the intention of the Metropolitan police to develop closer partnerships with local communities to ensure that policing policy is as responsive as possible to local needs.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and for Deptford, talked about racist attacks. On this occasion, there was not much in the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey with which one could disagree, but he highlighted the importance issue of racist attacks. Racial attracks are wholly unacceptable to the Government. They cause pain and anxiety to victims and greatly harm race relations. The Home Office has issued guidance to forces on the response to such crimes, promoting the multi-agency approach.

In December 1991—these points were mentioned by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott)—the interdepartmental racial attacks group published a follow-up to its 1989 report. The follow-up report concentrated on good practice already established in some agencies and made recommendations for further progress. The Government make it absolutely clear that that progress has the highest possible priority.

As the hon. Member for Sedgefield said, the police cannot tackle the problem on their own. I agree with him about that. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made the same point. It is important to involve other agencies in partnership, where necessary. One useful example is the project called "Southwark Challenges Racial Abuse", which was opened in March 1992. It is a multi-agency programme aimed at tackling racial abuse. It involves, among others, the local borough, British Rail, London Transport, the British Transport police and the Southwark police community consultation group.

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms. Jackson) referred to juvenile offenders. She said that a relatively small proportion were persistent offenders.

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