HC Deb 10 March 1994 vol 239 cc387-9
9. Mr. Alan Howarth

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to make the police more accountable to the local community.

Mr. Howard

The Police and Magistrates' Court Bill will establish strong independent local police authorities and a clear framework for setting priorities and measuring performance. Local people will be better informed about what their local force is trying to achieve and how well it is doing.

Mr. Howarth

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we have enjoyed immense benefit from our tradition of policing by consent? That consent has been in important measure established and expressed through locally controlled watch committees, historically and by police authorities in more recent times. Will he therefore continue to seek the fullest measure of local accountability for police forces, consistent with efficiency and with appropriate operational independence?

Mr. Howard

Yes, I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. One of the new responsibilities of local police authorities will be that of preparing a strategy for a local partnership between the police and the public. Unless we can strengthen such partnerships, we shall never make real progress in the fight against crime. I agree with my hon. Friend that policing by consent is an essential element in that partnership.

Mr. Maginnis

Has the Secretary of State received any reports on the effect that the anti-terrorist cordons in London have had on the level of ordinary crime in the area? What lessons are to be learnt from that and has the community been informed of the benefits?

Mr. Howard

I understand that crime has been reduced in the area in which the measures are in force and the City of London Corporation is assiduous in bringing the results to the attention of those who live and work in the City. The future of the scheme is under review and certain procedures must be satisfied. I think that that is the answer that the hon. Gentleman wanted.

Sir Anthony Grant

Would not it be a good idea to make local authorities more accountable to the police? In Cambridgeshire, for example, the Lib-Lab coalition regime has flatly refused to apply to the police the £1.2 million that has been made available to it for that purpose.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. As usual, there is a complete contrast between the words from those on the Opposition Front Bench and the deeds of Labour local authorities which, up and down the country, refuse to give the police money that the Government have made available for policing purposes.

Mr. Maclennan

Will the Home Secretary accept my congratulations on scrapping, in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill currently in the House of Lords, almost all the proposals made in the White Paper that would have eroded the local accountability of police? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is prepared to look so objectively at Home Office matters in future, he will command more support than he has done up to date.

Mr. Howard

I do not wish to sound in the slightest churlish in reply to the hon. Gentleman's congratulations, but they seem to have been offered under a misapprehension. The changes that have been made to the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill are changes of detail. The principles are intact and they will deliver us the objectives that we have always sought to achieve.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take account of the concern of many police forces that they are unable to deal with noisy neighbours who cause great anxiety to people by disturbing them with parties all night, noisy radios and televisions, and the rest of it? Will he seek powers to enable the police to deal with that disturbing and annoying problem?

Mr. Howard

A range of powers are available at present. They are mostly local authority and civil law powers. They are not used as effectively as they should be. I should be happy to have a word with my hon. Friend about the matter.

Mr. Allen

Now that the Home Secretary has been forced to back down on some of the more ridiculous and wasteful proposals on police accountability, does he accept that, rather than pressing ahead with the rest of his package, it would be far better to put the money available into boosting the pathetic 76p per family per year that the Conservatives spend on crime prevention? The police and local communities do not want well-established relation-ships tampered with. They want to know when the Conservatives will get serious about crime prevention.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman's figures are absurd. Apart from the £200 million a year that we spend across Whitehall on crime prevention, the police spend a substantial part of their £6 billion-a-year budget on crime prevention. We take crime prevention extremely seriously. Contrary to the point made by the hon. Gentleman, the Bill that is at present in the other place will make a substantial contribution to crime prevention.

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