HC Deb 05 February 1996 vol 271 cc28-111

[Relevant document: Minutes of Evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 17th January (House of Commons Paper No. 155-i.]

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

3.58 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

When we last debated the policing of London, I placed before the House my vision of what the Metropolitan police can deliver and are delivering for our capital city. My vision was of even more reductions in crime; an even safer city where safer streets improve the quality of life in the capital; and a city where there is a flourishing and active partnership between the police and the public, where individual members of London's public know that they can make a real difference by volunteering to support their local police in whatever way best suits their local needs.

I said that I wanted that to be delivered by a police service that is visible, approachable and predominantly unarmed, and which provides a reassuring presence right across London. I outlined my plans and those of the Commissioner for bringing that about, and the Government's commitment to providing the necessary resources.

Today, just over 13 months later, I want to return to my vision and the success that we are having in making it a reality. I want to take stock of the objectives and achievements of the Metropolitan police in the light of that vision, and I want to explain how they fit into the Government's general strategies for law and order.

I make no apology for beginning with the Met's crime figures. When—as is the case today—the police make major advances, we should celebrate those achievements and ensure that the public know about them. The Government have never accepted, and will never accept, the depressing view that we are powerless in the face of increasing crime, and neither has the Commissioner.

Let us make no mistake: there has been a major breakthrough in stemming what many had predicted was an inexorable growth in reported crime in the capital. The significant falls are precisely where we most wanted them—in the two volume crimes that make up nearly half the crime in London: breaking into our homes and stealing our cars.

Let us look at the figures for the past two years in the Met, to June 1995. Overall, we see the biggest drop in the number of crimes—118,300—since records began. In the second year alone, there were 60,000 fewer recorded crimes in the Metropolitan police district than in the previous 12 months. That is excellent news.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

The Secretary of State referred to the figures for recorded crime. Does he agree that a sizeable proportion of the people of London fail to report crimes, because they know that their local police force is overstretched and undermanned, and even if it responds there is very little possibility of a clear-up for that crime?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Lady should know that one of the offences that has fallen sharply in recent years is that of theft of cars. Indeed, if she had listened to what I said, she would have heard me draw particular attention to that a moment ago. Is she suggesting that people do not report the fact that their car has been stolen?

Ms Jackson


Mr. Howard

I think that she is in a fantasy land if that is what she thinks, because she knows perfectly well that to make an insurance claim for theft of one's car, one has to report it to the police. If the hon. Lady thinks that people are not reporting the theft of their cars, I suggest that nothing that she says deserves to be taken seriously. I certainly do not propose to take seriously what she says after that intervention.

The even better news, of course, is that crime is coming down across the country. Whether measured by police recorded figures or the British crime survey, the overall position in the Met is better than outside London. For example, vehicle crime fell by 33 per cent. in the two years to June 1995. That is a drop of 79,200 offences. Theft of vehicles in London has dropped by 39 per cent. in the period from June 1979 to June 1995.

Look at burglary. The Met attacked it vigorously just as we asked it to. The Commissioner's anti-burglary initiative, Operation Bumblebee, used, for the first time, techniques such as intelligence gathering, surveillance and targeting of suspects, which previously had been used only for the most serious crime. The fact is that there have been 8 per cent. fewer burglaries in the Metropolitan district in the two years following the start of Londonwide Operation Bumblebee in June 1993, and a 30 per cent. leap in the number of crimes being solved.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I regularly attend neighbourhood watch meetings in my constituency, which falls within the Ealing and Southall police areas, and I know that the fall in the number of burglaries has given tremendous heart to local people. The police tell me that they have been able to pinpoint and target particular culprits and have them dealt with them, and that partly accounts for their great success. Does that mean that my right hon. and learned Friend's concern for dealing with those people, should they continue in their ways when they are released back into society, is a matter of concern for everyone?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend, who takes a close interest in these matters, is right to cite the targeting of persistent offenders as one of the reasons for the Met's success. Of course, if those offenders are not dealt with properly by the courts, much of the good that the police do will be undone. As my hon. Friend will know, that consideration prompted one of the proposals that I announced in Blackpool last October, which was intended to ensure that persistent burglars were properly dealt with.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

In 1994, 959 burglars were cautioned by the Metropolitan police, and were not prosecuted. I accept that, in the case of domestic family incidents, the police may have had some discretion, but some of those who were cautioned were not prosecuted because the Crown Prosecution Service did not think it worth while. The Home Secretary must tell us whether those people are included in the clear-up rates, and what is the disparity between the use of cautions for burglars by the Metropolitan police and their use by other forces in England and Wales.

Mr. Howard

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has intervened. He made a series of allegations which were reported in the Evening Standard last week, and which disclosed depths of ignorance previously unplumbed even by him.

If the hon. Gentleman had made the slightest attempt to check his facts, he would have discovered, first, that, contrary to what he said, the guidance that I have given is designed not to increase but to decrease the number of cautions given by the police, and that it has had a considerable effect.

Secondly, he would have discovered that the number of cautions given has no effect on the crime figures, because a crime is recorded as a crime, whether a caution, a prosecution or a conviction follows. Thirdly, he would have discovered that whether a caution is given makes no difference to the clear-up figures. Each of the three components of the hon. Gentleman's allegation was completely incorrect.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Howard

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I must then continue my speech.

Mr. Hughes

In his capacity as police authority, will the Home Secretary join me in paying tribute to the success of the Metropolitan police in combating crime in London? Wearing his other hat, will he confirm that that success has been achieved despite the fact that, according to his published figures, the grant to the Met fell this year and is projected to fall again next year? The standard spending assessment has also fallen, as has the capital addition. The Met's resources are now lower than they have been at any time in the last five years.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong, as I shall shortly demonstrate, when I deal with resources. I thank him for his tribute to the Metropolitan police, however.

The latest published figures for burglary were affected by a change in the recording criteria, and appear to show a 6 per cent. increase, but the Commissioner has told me that the more recent figures for the last quarter of 1995, compared with those for the last quarter of 1994—again, comparing like with like—show a fall of 15 per cent. in the number of burglaries of people's homes. That amounts to some 5,000 fewer offences. It seems that Bumblebee is working.

Seven major Londonwide operations to date—-two involving massive joint operations with other forces— have made a significant impact. Under Bumblebee, nearly 4,500 premises have been searched and more than 3,000 people arrested. Property recovered has included firearms, high-performance cars, knives, axes, mobile telephones, forged passports, stolen licences and MOT certificates, computer equipment, jewellery, drugs, cash and electrical goods.

Operation Christmas Cracker—the nationwide Bumblebee on 5 December—was mounted by 12,000 officers from 40 forces across the country. It resulted in nearly 3,500 arrests, and the recovery of property worth around £1.8 million. In the Metropolitan police district alone, 744 properties were searched, 560 arrests made, and £119,000-worth of property recovered. The Met has made a real impact on crime levels, and it is putting fear where it should be: with the burglar, not the innocent householder.

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

Operation Bumblebee has undoubtedly been a tremendous success, and great credit is due to the Metropolitan police. Does the Home Secretary agree that much of the credit for the operation goes to the successful initiative that was piloted in my north London constituency, where Bumblebee started? What was important about the initiative, however, was that it relied on a partnership approach with local authorities, my own included. That is what made it a tremendous success.

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for recognising Operation Bumblebee's success. As she will know, I have always laid great emphasis on the importance of partnership between the police and the public, and that includes partnership between the police and local authorities. Of course local authorities have a part to play in these matters.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and the Metropolitan police on the reduced crime figures, which are welcome, but will he accept that, as a whole, crime has risen in the past 30 years? Has the problem perhaps been that some of his predecessors, of both parties, have listened far too much to the half-baked left-wing ideas that still appear to be held by Opposition Members, by people in the criminal justice establishment, and even by some judges?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I am far more interested in what is happening now, and in what we want to happen in the next few years, than in what happened in the past.

Bumblebee techniques are now being applied, through Operation Eagle Eye, to mugging—the crime that Londoners fear most after burglary. The Commissioner tells me that the Met's street crime clear-up rate has accelerated past the 15 per cent. target that I agreed with him. He tells me that, before Operation Eagle Eye, at one stage street robberies in London were running at around 850 a week. The increase has now been capped. The figure has already dropped to 500, and the Commissioner tells me that it is still dropping. Over the same period, arrests for street robbery have almost doubled.

It is all the more remarkable that all that has been achieved when the demands on the Met are greater than ever. The population of the Metropolitan police district has risen from 7,260,000 in 1990 to 7,455,000 in 1994. As the Select Committee on Public Accounts heard last November, every year, more than 1.5 million 999 calls are coming in from the public. The Metropolitan police answered 86 per cent. of them within 15 seconds over the past 12 months, and 90 per cent. of them within that time in the past four months.

That is well over 10 per cent. better than the Metropolitan police charter target that I agreed with the Commissioner for the force's policing plan. It would be hard to find a better emergency response service in any other capital city in the world.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

On my right hon. and learned Friend's points about street robbery and the success that the Met is beginning to have, courtesy of Operation Eagle Eye and such initiatives, will he say a word or two about anything that might be learned of a constructive nature from policing experience in the New York police department? I understand that some interesting experiments have been pursued there, and that a team from the Met is shortly to go there to review the position for itself. Will he say a bit more about that?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right, and I am about to make an observation about New York. Some techniques there are worth examining, and, just a few months ago, I considered them with Commissioner Bratton. But we are too grudging about celebrating success in our own country. Compared with other major cities here and capitals abroad, London is a safe city. Other world capitals have much higher rates.

Commissioner Bratton has made great progress in New York, but, for all the most serious offences, the crime rate there is far higher than in London. For robbery it is three times as high, and for rape it is twice as high. The homicide rate there is 210 per million—10 times the London rate—and most European capitals have homicide rates much higher than that in London. Amsterdam has 84 per million; Stockholm has 54 per million; and Berlin has 39 per million. The rate in London is 21 per million.

Of course there are problems of violent crime in London, as in all capital cities, but the Met is making good progress here, too. In the 12 months to June 1995, recorded violent crime in the Met area fell to 75,300 offences. Compared with the previous 12 months, that represents a decrease of 1,260 offences. That is probably the biggest ever annual fall, and certainly the biggest since the war. The Met figure for the 12 months to November 1995 shows that the rate of decrease is now 3 per cent.

Of course, there is still far too much crime. Every crime is one too many, and we all want to see even more arrests and more detections. But the Commissioner can be justly proud of the spectacular results that he and his officers have achieved. The success of the police in getting crime down deserves our full support.

The police welcome our comprehensive strategy to turn the tables on the criminal. As the Commissioner told the Home Affairs Select Committee last month: The pendulum has swung back towards protecting society. The climate within the criminal justice system is more supportive of law and order.

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)

If the record on detection and the prevention of crime is so great in the capital, will the Home Secretary explain why 90 per cent. of Londoners are so concerned about crime in the capital, and why two out of three Londoners believe that crime has got worse over the past few years?

Mr. Howard

It is largely because of the misinformation that is peddled by the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends. They bear a heavy responsibility for the fact that the people of London do not yet understand how much the Metropolitan police are achieving. I hope that the hon. Lady will see the error of her ways, will help us to pay tribute to the Met for its achievements, and will help to reassure Londoners about the extent to which the capital city is becoming a safer place in which to live.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend intends to cover the issue that I am about to raise, but in case he does not, could he tell the House what the Metropolitan police are doing to combat the crime that worries every capital city in the world—that of drug trafficking, which crime touches the lives of us all?

Mr. Howard

If my hon. Friend will bear with me for a moment or two, I shall certainly deal with that later.

A key part of our strategy is investing in technology. As the Commissioner says, technology has been responsible for many of his current successes. Good and innovative policing cannot be separated from good and innovative technology.

The national DNA database went live in April 1995. The database is revolutionary. It is the first of its kind in the world, and relies on leading edge technology and the most up-to-date DNA techniques. More than 30,000 profiles have been entered on the database already, and more than 300 matches—matching DNA profiles from individuals to profiles from traces left at scenes of crime, and profiles from traces left at one scene with another— have been made in these early months of operation.

The number of samples being sent in by the police, and the already high number of profile matches, speak well for the continued success of the database. I am pleased to be able to announce that the Metropolitan police forensic science laboratory has now formally been granted authorisation to contribute DNA profiles directly to the database.

Much of the good and exciting new technology will be on display at the second annual Met technology fair that will take place from 12 to 14 March at the conference centre at 1 George street. I urge all hon. and right hon. Members to call in and see the technology behind Operation Eagle Eye, the new body armour, DNA, livescan fingerprints and the new imaging, mapping, and tracking systems of the police. Also on view will be the much-needed new personal radios that I have approved for the Met, which are already installed in the central area and delivering a much higher standard of officer safety.

Visitors will also be able to see CRIS, the Met's new computerised crime report information system, which starred in a recent episode of "The Bill". CRIS is already working in two areas of the Met, and will be implemented right across the rest of the Metropolitan police district before the end of the year. The Commissioner tells me that CRIS is already showing that it can make a contribution to the upward trend in detections and the downward trend in crime. We all want that downward trend in crime to continue. It requires the on-going commitment to resourcing the police that the Government have always demonstrated.

For the next financial year, like this year, we have agreed that the Met should have a special grant in addition to the money from the new national funding formula.

We are giving it £130 million in that way in recognition of its unique national and capital city functions. The Met has unique needs, and we are meeting them. Spending on policing in the Metropolitan police district is well above the national average, and so is the number of officers per 1,000 population.

In total, we are making available £1.65 billion to the Metropolitan police in 1996–97—£20.5 million more than last year and an increase of 86.8 per cent. in real terms since 1979. In addition, we have removed altogether the 2 per cent. ceiling on the amount that the Metropolitan police can carry forward from one year to the next. Due to reductions in its rates contributions, that new flexibility is likely to be worth an extra £25 million to the Met on top of the existing maximum of £34 million that can be carried forward. That gives the Commissioner very substantial extra spending power—worth up to 3.6 per cent. of this year's budget—if he needs it.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

For the year 1994–95, which is the subject of the debate, will the Secretary of State explain why Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary reported that the strength of the police in the Metropolitan police area fell by 131 officers during that year?

Mr. Howard

I am coming to police numbers in a moment. The hon. Gentleman will know full well that we made substantial extra resources available to the Metropolitan police for 1994–95. As he also knows, the way in which those resources are spent is a matter for the Commissioner. He has the responsibility and discretion to spend that money as he sees fit. We made money available to enable all the needs of the Metropolitan police to be met, including extra officers. It is for the Commissioner to decide on his priorities within that budget.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I understand the Home Secretary's point about the additional allowance for the Met because of its additional duties. Will he confirm the real-terms increase for normal operational duties—not additional capital duties, for which there is a separate grant—year on year? My understanding is that the real-terms increase this year is less than the rate of inflation.

Mr. Howard

Had the hon. Gentleman been listening to what I said, he would have appreciated that that is completely wrong. What I said—what the truth is—was that, as a result of the various changes, the Commissioner has extra spending power worth up to 3.6 per cent. of this year's budget if he needs it. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that that is in excess of the rate of inflation. That is therefore a significant increase in the budget. The hon. Gentleman's question is based on an inaccurate understanding of the facts.

Ms Hodge

Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Howard

No, I have given way to the hon. Lady once.

We should not overlook, either, the Commissioner's substantial efficiency savings, which have been achieved by reducing management overheads through restructuring the force and by civilianisation. Since 1993—this is one of the reasons why the number of officers has gone down, to return to the question put by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), whose attention has strayed elsewhere—the number of officers on the Association of Chief Police Officers grade in the Met has fallen from 52 to 35, and the number of chief inspectors and superintendents from 840 to 594. That is a total reduction of almost 30 per cent. In addition, about 1,000 posts have been civilianised over the same period. What all that means is more officers out on patrol. That is a key part of my vision for the Met—high public visibility of the police.

As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's pledge to provide funding for 5,000 extra police officers is worth an additional £180 million during the next three years, and £20 million in the first year. The Metropolitan police's share of that is £3.4 million. That would have enabled the Commissioner to recruit 149 extra officers. In fact, I understand that he proposes to recruit 180 more officers, and that they will all be out on duty by the middle of this year.

Contrary to some media reports, there is no problem about recruitment. I understand that the Commissioner's latest recruitment round was so successful that the force had to wind down the campaign early, and that the applicants are of high quality.

The Met has also made real progress in attracting more recruits from the ethnic minorities. Nearly 9 per cent. of recruits to the regular constabulary are now from an ethnic background, and the figure for the special constabulary is up to around the 15 per cent. mark, precisely mirroring the ethnic composition of London as a whole.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

We all appreciate the fact that ethnic minority recruitment is improving, but does the Home Secretary acknowledge that there is still a major problem with retention in the Met? Unfortunately, many of the ethnic minority police who are recruited do not remain in the force, so there is still a problem there.

Mr. Howard

I would not for a moment suggest that all is perfect, or that there is no room for improvement— of course there is. The recruitment figures I just gave, however, provide grounds for encouragement, as I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

That is an important point, and the House will be encouraged by the information that my right hon. and learned Friend has given. Does he agree that it is important that the colour of someone's skin should be as important as the colour of their eyes or their hair, and that it should be no more likely a predictor of whether or not they join the police service or become the subject of police attention?

Mr. Howard

I entirely agree and reinforce everything that my hon. Friend said.

So far as the up-to-date position on establishment is concerned, at the end of January this year there were 27,719 officers in the Metropolitan police—around 5,000 more than there were in 1979, and a 22 per cent. increase in police strength—and 16,928 civilian staff, which is over 2,600 more than in 1979. At the end of last December, there were 18,769 uniformed constables, which is almost 600 above the establishment figure. The Met has more police constables than ever before.

Strength has been brought up close to establishment levels. There were 552 vacancies in the Met last month— one tenth of the vacancies in 1979. It is even more encouraging to see that the number of constables increased during that period from 16,500 to 20,833. The proportion of officers allocated to street duty has increased from 26 per cent. in 1984, when such records began, to 35 per cent. in 1995. There are more resources than ever before, and better use is being made of them.

But another and much more precious category of resources is needed for policing. I refer to the personal resources of courage and dedication needed by every police officer, and his or her family, who places the duty to uphold law and order above personal safety.

During the year—for the third time since I became Home Secretary—I had the sad duty of attending the funeral of an officer who paid the ultimate sacrifice that policing can ask from those resources. That officer was PC Phillip Walters, who died tragically last April in a shooting attack, following a call to a disturbance at a private residence in Ilford. More than 3,000 other Met officers suffered criminal violence in the past year. Every one of those attacks disgusts me.

The bald statistics hide a catalogue of valour and personal sacrifice. Let me give an example—one that is not for the squeamish. PC Barry Cawsey, a 28-year-old rugby player serving at Forest Gate, gave evidence— on crutches—last month of how he was treated by two so-called joyriders whom he tried to stop getting away. PC Cawsey was not well placed to make his arrest, but he did his best to get into the vehicle and not be shaken off. "I can't get rid of him," said one of the thugs. "He's holding on too tight". The fleeing joyriders then manoeuvred the vehicle at top speed and crushed PC Cawsey against parked cars. This young officer saw his flesh tear right down both legs and his muscles pulped. Such sacrifices are made by the Metropolitan police on our behalf day in, day out. We should always be deeply grateful for the work done by Met officers.

Ms Tessa Jowell (Dulwich)

Will the Home Secretary join me in paying tribute to PC George Hammond, who died recently? PC Hammond was seriously injured 11 years ago in circumstances similar to those that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has described. Despite his incapacity—the officer suffered from kidney failure and other injuries arising directly from the attack—he fought for the retention of the kidney unit at Dulwich hospital. After his retirement from the police, PC Hammond continued to show the spirit that he had shown in devoting himself so selflessly and courageously to serving the residents of Dulwich.

Mr. Howard

I am very glad to join the hon. Lady in that tribute. That was a particularly sad case, and she is right to raise it.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

Some 2,500 police officers were stabbed by knives or other sharpened implements in the past year alone. Does my right hon. and learned Friend therefore accept that my private Member's Bill, the Offensive Weapons Bill, will go some way to deterring such appalling knife crimes?

Mr. Howard

I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who knows that the Government fully support her Bill.

Attacks on the police such as those we have mentioned demonstrate the need for the best available protection. My policy is clear and simple. Anything that helps to protect police officers and others who face violence on behalf of the rest of us—including changes to the law on offensive weapons, such as those proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland)—must be looked at seriously.

The Commissioner takes the safety of the public and of his officers equally seriously. By the end of next month, all operational officers in the Met will have been trained in the use of the new long batons and the new handcuffs. They will have seen a video, been given a personal handbook and attended specialised training sessions. Once each officer has successfully completed the force tests, he will have issued to him a protective vest to a standard at least as high as anywhere in the world.

In last year's debate, I reported to the House my decision to approve replacements for the traditional wooden police truncheon. As a result, the Met is making good defensive use of the long straight acrylic baton and—for plain-clothes officers—an expanding baton. The Commissioner tells me that there has been a decrease in assaults on his officers since the new batons were introduced, and that is welcome news.

I have also explained the measures that the Commissioner was taking, with my full support, to increase his armed response units and to allow certain officers better access to firearms. Again, the Commissioner informs me that this policy has helped him to reduce armed robberies on business premises, and the use of firearms by criminals. Those measures represented, first, an essential improvement in routine self-defence, and, secondly, a balanced response to the firearms threat in London. In my judgment, they have helped to ensure that we can continue to maintain a predominantly unarmed police force on the streets of the capital.

There remains a gap between the use of a truncheon and the lethal use of a firearm by a specialist team. We need a safe means by which an officer can incapacitate a violent criminal short of hand-to-hand combat. That is why I supported the chief police officers' decision to trial CS sprays, which can be directed at a violent assailant and put him or her out of action. The Metropolitan police is one of the forces piloting the use of sprays. The trials will begin in March, and will last for six months. They will be properly evaluated, and I await the results with interest.

I said earlier that a major part of my vision for the capital, as for the whole of England and Wales, is a flourishing and active partnership between the police and the public. Partnership is not a pie-in-the-sky slogan. It is a central and completely practical part of the Government's approach to tackling crime. It means people—ordinary members of the public and local businesses—volunteering to support their local police in whatever way best suits their local needs; and especially, it is about local solutions to local problems.

The new Metropolitan police committee, which I put in place last April to advise me as police authority, has also been busy forming links with the various local voluntary bodies. Sir John Quinton and his committee are all volunteers themselves. They give me good advice, and are well placed to promote partnerships and pursue my approach with the Met.

The best of all possible ways in which the individual member of the public can help his local police is by signing up as a special constable. One of the objectives that I set with the Commissioner in this year's policing plan, following consultation with Sir John Quinton, was a stretching recruitment target of 650 new special constables—384 more than the previous year. The Commissioner and his colleagues have, I know, worked very hard to meet this target, including a local recruitment drive, advertising, improvements in handling applications and a push for specials right across the force. The latest figures show that he has recruited well over 400 so far, and is, I understand, well on the way to hitting the target.

I shall soon be discussing next year's target for specials with the Commissioner. We recently announced a new fund, started with £4 million of Government grant in 1995–96, to help all police forces to expand their recruitment of specials, and to improve their training and recruitment processes. I understand that the Metropolitan police has made a bid for support from the fund.

I am delighted that local businesses and organisations are also recognising the value of the special constabulary. They have done so not only by encouraging their staff to volunteer but also by practical support. For example, Wandsworth special constables have been provided with a car sponsored by a local firm, TFL Motor Group, and Harrods is providing a car for special constables in central London.

In Lambeth, some £5,000 has been given by Brixton Challenge to help boost recruitment following the public disorder there. A cable network company in east London is running an advertising campaign for specials at no cost. Other local campaigns for specials have also, the Commissioner tells me, been helped by reduced advertising rates generously offered by local companies.

Such co-operation and support in London is by no means confined to specials. A whole new crop of partnership strategies is springing up throughout the Met as local organisations gear up to improve life for their neighbourhoods. The kind of partnership that I want between the Met and the public continues to grow in all areas. There are now over 12,000 neighbourhood watch schemes, and 201 business watch and 51 school watch schemes. The Crimestoppers initiative led directly to 266 arrests last year.

Some of Britain's biggest companies are joining forces in business-led coalitions against crime. Household names like Marks and Spencer, Barclays bank, Dixons, Coca Cola, the BBC, EMI, Polygram, the Novotel hotel chain and drinks companies Seagrams and United Distillers have pledged to underwrite new initiatives that aim to make our streets safer.

Partners Against Crime in Hammersmith and Fulham was launched with grants and donations of £140,000. First results of the united front will be seen in two operations to target street crime in North End road in Fulham and around Shepherds Bush Green. Security staff from one of the companies will be involved in the second scheme to monitor closed circuit television cameras in Hammersmith town centre.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

I am grateful for that comment, because one of the things that had so far being missing from the Home Secretary's speech was greater emphasis on crime prevention. The burglary rate in White City, which is in my area, dropped by 66 per cent. in two years—thanks to no Government funding but to money from the BBC, which was used in conjunction with the police and the local authority. We also got it down in two high-rise blocks in Shepherds Bush, despite getting only a small amount of Government money, using a concierge system, which the Government then refused to extend to the rest of the estate.

Mr. Howard

I am not sure where the hon. Gentleman thinks the BBC gets its money. The truth is that there is scope for local initiatives and partnerships of that kind. Not all successes in the fight against crime are assisted by Government money—although it is clear that Opposition Members have yet to learn that lesson. Partners Against Crime is also planning training programmes that are aimed at directing persistent offenders away from crime.

The royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea also has a partnership board, and it has just received £1.6 million in funding from the single regeneration budget. Some of the money has already been earmarked for a closed circuit television system in Earl's Court. There is also a safer cities project in the borough, setting up domestic violence units and dealing with drug-related issues on the Worlds End estate. A CCTV system is again planned, this time for the north of the borough.

Wandsworth has the highest number of neighbourhood watch schemes in London, and their work in partnership with the police is rightly imitated all over the capital. The junior citizen scheme—like the one in Westminster, which was visited recently by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State—aims to teach our children the difference between good and bad citizenship. Wandsworth has a neighbourhood special constable scheme, with recruitment part funded by the council. The number of specials on Wandsworth division has increased by 50 per cent. to 33.

Later this month, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State hopes to meet Mr. David Streven, a member of Wandsworth council staff, who is about to go out on the beat as the first neighbourhood special constable in London. The borough is also funding the introduction of CCTV in two shopping areas.

Mrs. Roche

I am delighted that Westminster is following the excellent example of my borough of Haringey in introducing a junior citizen scheme. Does the Home Secretary agree that London fared very badly from the introduction of CCTV? According to an analysis that I conducted by means of responses to parliamentary questions, it is most worrying that the lion's share of the money went to the constituencies of Conservative Members of Parliament. Can the Home Secretary assure us that London will not be discriminated against in the latest challenge? Will he also consider very seriously the excellent bid by my area, particularly Wood Green high road?

Mr. Howard

I do not accept for one moment that London was treated unfairly in the recent competition. It may have escaped the hon. Lady's notice—I know that she and her right hon. and hon. Friends spend much time in a fantasy world—that Conservative Members of Parliament represent more London constituencies than do Opposition Members. I am very confident that that state of affairs will continue after the next general election.

The use of closed circuit television cameras to detect and prevent crime is also spreading in close co-operation with local authorities and businesses. CCTV is a common theme in many of those initiatives, and it is one of the 1990s' big success stories in the fight against crime. Our investment in CCTV has increased from nothing two years ago, to £5 million last year and £15 million in the coming year.

Some £317,400 was allocated to schemes in the Metropolitan police force last year. Among the more well known are Newham, Wandsworth, Sutton, Enfield, Mitchum, Woolwich and the extensive City of London surveillance system. Our grants are expected to lever in another £667,300 from sponsorship, making a total of nearly £1 million to be spent in the capital under that initiative alone. That is on top of the sum that has already been invested in closed circuit television in Hammersmith and Wandsworth under safer cities schemes, which was also funded by my Department.

Lady Olga Maitland

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on that investment in CCTV. Is he aware that crime in Sutton has decreased by 15 per cent. as a result of his support for the installation of CCTV cameras?

Mr. Howard

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. That result is reproduced in many other parts of the capital.

The Metropolitan police are doing their part. They are included in all seven city challenge programmes running in London, and are an active partner in all eight of London's safer cities teams. They are represented on all 25 of London's drug action teams.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

I welcome the Government's action in installing CCTV in order to increase public safety. Will the Home Secretary take on board the recent incident that occurred in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard)? In that case, there was an awful murder in a tower block which had cameras installed at the entrance, but they were so old that they were unable to identify the murderer. Does the Home Secretary accept that, if cameras are to be installed, there is a case for monitoring and updating them regularly, to ensure that they remain in good working order?

Mr. Howard

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support, and I take very seriously the point he makes. That is why we have issued guidance about how to make the most of closed circuit television, how to ensure that the reproduction quality is as high as possible, and how to gain maximum benefit from the expenditure to which the Government are making such a significant contribution.

Again this year we have seen tragic deaths arising from the pernicious activities of drug dealers. I have made it a national key objective for all police forces to take action against drugs. In London, I approved the Commissioner's priority to improve performance against drug-related crime. Each of the Metropolitan police's five areas now has a dedicated unit to help divisions target street-level drug dealing. They work closely with their colleagues in the south east regional crime squad, many of whom are seconded Metropolitan police officers, to hit at the source of the problems: the dealers and the importers.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan police force continues to run successful partnership programmes against drug abusers where there are particular local problems. Operation Welwyn, in the King's Cross area, has set the standard for high profile enforcement activity. Since 1992, Operation Welwyn has led to the conviction of more than 300 drug dealers, trafficking in crack, cocaine and heroin, leading to prison sentences of more than 450 years.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

Will the Secretary of State do as the Commissioner does and pay tribute to both the Camden and Islington councils and the local community groups who have made such a big contribution to the success of Operation Welwyn, which was initiated by me and by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith)?

Mr. Howard

I am happy to pay tribute to everyone who has played a part in Operation Welwyn. It is very important that all concerned play their role, and I accept that the hon. Gentleman certainly played his part in that initiative.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The Home Secretary has paid tribute to all those who have played their part, and he has outlined a whole range of useful initiatives and issues that require co-operation and consultation in London. Does he agree that the work of the Metropolitan police advisory committee might be enhanced if, in addition to his appointees, some members were appointed from police community consultative committees and other associated groups throughout London? Many of the issues we have mentioned could then be pursued in greater detail to everyone's benefit as they occur. Would that not be an improvement on the London scene?

Mr. Howard

I know how strongly the hon. Gentleman holds that view, and I understand the force behind his question. The committee has made contact with such groups and it is working very closely with them. I think that that is a particularly effective way of ensuring that I receive the best possible advice.

Finally, I shall refer to the Metropolitan police force's public order duties during the past year. One of the core functions of any police force is the maintenance of the Queen's peace. That is especially true of the Metropolitan police force, as the policing of major events and demonstrations in the capital has always placed great demands on it.

Some will remember 1995 as the year when serious public disorder broke out again in Brixton. However, they are taking completely out of perspective an isolated local incident that was contained effectively by the local police. I visited Brixton immediately following the disturbances, and it seemed to me that, in many ways, the event revealed the underlying strength of the relationships built up by the police and responsible local people since 1981.

Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

I thank the Home Secretary for his remarks. Does he agree that Lambeth has moved forward enormously in terms of the relationship between the local authority and the local police? There is a joint logo for Lambeth council and the Metropolitan police in areas of partnership—which would have been unheard of only a few years ago. Will he pay tribute again to the work that has been done, particularly by the new chief executive, Heather Rabbatts?

Mr. Howard

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, and I am grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to all concerned, and to the extent to which things have improved in Lambeth. I am sure that she agrees— indeed, it was implicit in her question—that there was an awfully long way to go from the events and circumstances of a few years ago, but, yes, progress has been made, and I am happy to pay tribute to all concerned.

I especially deplore the attack that was made during the course of the disturbance in Brixton on PC Tisshaw, whom I visited in St. Thomas's hospital the day after he was hurt. His injuries might have been much worse, however, if a section of the crowd had not held off his attackers and made a way through for his colleagues to help him. Those members of the public deserve our acknowledgment and thanks.

The community in Brixton returned to normality remarkably quickly after the disturbance. That was partly due to the excellent relationship built up over the years between the local police and local residents in consultative groups. They spoke to one another and continue to do so, and that two-way communication promotes understanding and makes the job of the police much easier.

What is worth remembering, and is too readily forgotten or not fully reported, is the immense amount of work done behind the scenes by the police to ensure that many public order problems are solved peacefully— another successful and peaceful Notting Hill carnival, another round of new year celebrations in Trafalgar square without serious incident, and the immensely painstaking and successful policing of the VE day and VJ day commemorations. The Commissioner tells me that, thanks to better stewarding and planning, there is much less risk of major disorder at football matches than, sadly, was recently the case.

The year 1995 was an excellent one for the Metropolitan police. The people of London can justly be proud of the policing service they receive, and of their and the police's successes against crime. The Commissioner and I, and the Metropolitan police committee, are committed to improving that service, and to providing even better value for money.

The Government will continue to listen to the people at the sharp end of the fight against crime, and to respond to what they say. We shall continue to ensure that the police and the courts have the powers that they need, we shall continue to invest in cutting crime, and we shall continue to ensure that London and the rest of the country have the best police service that it is possible to provide.

4.51 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

When paying tribute to the bravery of many Metropolitan police officers, the Home Secretary mentioned the appalling injuries suffered by Police Constable Barry Cawsey and the immense courage with which he gave evidence in court. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Ms Jowell) mentioned Police Constable George Hammond. I shall open my contribution to the debate by referring briefly to PC Hammond's story.

In 1985, PC Hammond was stabbed with a 12-in knife as he sought to arrest an armed robber during a raid on a sweetshop, and almost died. He had to receive one blood transfusion after another, mainly from blood supplies donated by police colleagues. He spent five months in intensive care and needed a heart bypass, a kidney transplant and an eye operation.

It is understandable that PC Hammond was never able to recover fully from his appalling injuries. He never returned to street patrol, although he was able to take on light police duties, and became a neighbourhood watch co-ordinator. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich, PC Hammond died last month, aged 58. His former colleagues and many representatives of the local community, whom he had served faithfully, attended his funeral, but it received only cursory attention in the national media.

We must never forget PC Hammond and the thousands of Metropolitan police officers who, over the years, have been killed or injured trying to make London a safer place for the rest of us. His story reminds us that, every time they go out on the streets, ordinary beat police officers face as much danger as those in specialist squads, and that, when they are unlucky enough to suffer injury, the trauma can continue for the rest of their lives.

At least PC Hammond survived for some years. As we heard from the Secretary of State, PC Phillip Walters, who was attacked in Ilford in April 1995, did not. He died almost immediately from his injuries and for his family and colleagues the trauma continues, not least because a retrial has had to be ordered of the man accused of his murder.

I pay tribute to the men and women of the Metropolitan police, to all the officers and civilian staff, especially to the 3,623 officers who were assaulted while on duty, and to the further 10,000 officers who received injuries from other causes while performing their duty.

I welcome the Secretary of State's comments about the provision of better protection for police officers in London and elsewhere, including the piloting of CS sprays.

I commend the work of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Paul Condon, and all his colleagues in continuing Sir Paul's programme of reform to make London's police more effective, responsive and accountable to the people of London. The success of his leadership was amply shown by the way in which he and his officers dealt with the appalling riot and other criminal acts in Brixton in December 1995, and by the way in which the people of the district and the local council overwhelmingly backed the police and refused to be drawn into any continuation of that conflict. As Sir Paul commented the day after: It wasn't Brixton that rioted last night, it was a small minority of thugs and criminals". I commend members of the public who intervene to prevent crime or to detain its perpetrators. Head teacher Philip Lawrence, who was tragically murdered before Christmas, was doing no more and no less than hundreds of teachers throughout the capital do daily—trying to keep the peace and instil discipline and good behaviour in a generation of young people who have been brought up in an unruly and, in some cases, violent culture.

As the Secretary of State said, in 1994–95 there was a welcome 7 per cent. reduction in recorded crime in the capital, but that figure masks significant variations in specific crimes and how they were reported.

Partly for reasons that the Secretary of State explained, which are to do with new definitions, burglaries declined by 1 per cent. and arrests declined by 5 per cent. I hope that that does not suggest that the effect of Operation Bumblebee has peaked. Robberies increased by 6 per cent., emphasising the need for specific action to tackle street crime, such as that which the Commissioner has undertaken with Operation Eagle Eye. It is important for all of us to remember and acknowledge that robbery— mugging—is the crime that most causes fear in the minds of men, women and children in London, and that that type of crime has increased three and a half times since 1979.

Although the Commissioner's report contains much good news about the fight against crime, I know that he would be the first to counsel against any complacency.

When the House last debated the policing of London, the Secretary of State told the House that his financial settlement for the Metropolitan police will enable the Commissioner at least to maintain present numbers of police officers in London."—[Official Report, 2 December 1994; Vol. 250, c. 1443.] Despite the fact that the Secretary of State made that promise halfway through the financial year—presumably after discussion with the Commissioner—that did not happen. As the official report of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary shows, the number of police officers in the metropolitan service declined in 1994–95 by 131, to 27,480.

I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State say that the Commissioner hopes to appoint more constables, but we shall be very lucky if, as a result of those appointments, the number of officers serving in the Metropolitan police reaches even the level that was last reached in 1992.

The decline in the number of police numbers in London in 1995 gives the lie to the pledge made by the Conservative party before the most recent general election to increase officers by 1,000. In the three years following that pledge, the number went down year on year, not up. It is little wonder that Londoners have lost faith in the Government's ability to tackle law and order, and that crime is the first concern of most Londoners—it is shown by every survey of Londoners' opinion. That that is Londoners' daily experience on the streets of their city is palpable.

As crime has increased and the fear of crime has grown even more, Londoners have had to change their daily routines. In many cases, that has had appalling effects on the quality of people's lives. The number of parents who allow their children to walk alone to primary school has halved in the space of 10 years. Seventy per cent. of parents in a survey recently conducted by Baraardos considered their neighbourhood to be unsafe for their children to play in without adult supervision. All of us with teenage children in London feel constant anxiety about their safety.

Crime and the fear of crime has a devastating, constraining effect on how women, in particular, lead their lives. Elderly women in many parts of London feel trapped in their homes and unable to go out at night. Young women have to be instructed how to walk more safely when out alone. Although that advice is necessary, it adds to anxiety. One in two women drivers feel afraid when driving alone through the inner city.

Mr. Forman

The hon. Gentleman is making important points about fear of crime, because we must differentiate between fear and reality. Does he agree that national and local media could make an important positive contribution by reporting the sentences that courts eventually mete out to persons convicted of crime—often against the person— as fully and factually as they do the original crime? Often, there is an unsatisfactory disparity between the banner headlines given to the original crime and the lack of publicity given to the subsequent court sentence.

Mr. Straw

I agree. One problem is that the media capture the original incident but there is no follow through. As we know, the effects of crime on victims such as PC Hammond can continue for years. It would be advantageous if the press were to report sentences, where they are appropriate or inappropriate, although such is the increasing delay in the criminal justice system that it is months, and sometimes years, after a crime is committed that the perpetrator is sentenced—if he ever gets to court.

Lady Olga Maitland

The hon. Gentleman has been reciting a worrying catalogue of fears about crime. Bearing that in mind, will he explain why he and his party have consistently voted against every Government measure to tighten up the fight against crime? Surely its voting record gives lie to the old claim that Labour is tough on crime. The truth is that Labour is weak on crime and is the criminal's friend.

Mr. Straw

That was an absurd contribution, delivered badly. We will take no lectures from Conservative Members who, during the term of this Government, have presided over the fastest and largest increase in crime under any Administration since the war. Moreover, the factual basis of the hon. Lady's question was entirely wrong. The Secretary of State could, if he wanted to, explain why, in 1988, he voted against a proposal to ban the sale of knives to under-16s, when we voted in favour.

Despite the best efforts of the police, during the past 16 years, there has been more crime, and more people have got away with crime. Recorded crime in Greater London increased by 47 per cent. between 1980 and 1994, while the number of people who were cautioned or convicted fell in absolute terms by 2.5 per cent. I am all in favour of better press reporting of sentences. I am even more in favour of more offenders being caught and punished for their crimes.

Leaving aside cautions, the number of people pleading guilty or found guilty in Greater London between 1979 and 1994 fell by more than one third, or 31,000 offenders. A Home Office research study published last month, "Anxiety about Crime", found that the public were more worried about burglary and rape than about the illness of a family member, road accidents or job loss.

As crime across England and Wales rose in the 1980s, the response of some police forces, overwhelmed by the task facing them, was to appear to retreat into concern about serious crime alone. All too often, people who reported non-violent street crime such as theft from cars, vandalism, criminal damage, graffiti or general loutish behaviour were met with a response that appeared to suggest that the police were too busy to deal with their problems. In some cases, the next time residents experienced such behaviour, they saw little point in reporting it.

There must be some scale for determining the resources that the police should devote to the detection of particular crimes. It is plainly right, to take an extreme example, that the top priority for any police force should be the investigation of homicides, which should necessarily involve more effort than the investigation of the theft of a Mars bar from a local sweetshop. For too long, insufficient attention has been given to disorder on our streets and to the powerful connection between unchecked disorder and much more serious crime. The Home Office study found that levels of disorder measured by perceived problems caused by noisy neighbours, poor street lighting, teenagers hanging around, drunks, tramps and drug misuse was predictive of fears about burglary, theft from cars and mugging, and a general feeling of not being safe.

There is some recognition of the connection between crime and disorder by the Metropolitan police and local authorities. It is reflected in the Commissioner's reforms away from a purely reactive, firefighting service to problem-solving, sector policing. It is reflected also in the excellent work of all Greater London local councils in partnership with their local police. The Metropolitan police and London boroughs would be the first to acknowledge that much more needs to be done before there is a significant improvement in the quality of life for individuals and families, and before we rid of the streets of fear.

The existing criminal justice system does not deal effectively with disorder or apparently petty crime. For that reason, last June, I presented, with colleagues, the document "A Quiet Life", which gave Labour's proposals for community service orders and new composite offences of disorder, to give local police and local authorities much more effective powers for dealing with persistent disorder and criminal anti-social behaviour. I am in no doubt that, if those proposals were on the statute book, they would greatly help to improve the quality of life of thousands of Londoners.

I am sorry that, instead of recognising the sense of those proposals when they were first published, Ministers unwisely sought to rubbish them. Eight months later, Ministers acknowledge that existing arrangements for dealing with neighbourhood disorder are wholly inadequate by making proposals for change in the Housing Bill—but they are complicated half-measures, too little and too late. Disorder and quality of life issues do not appear among the Secretary of State's key objectives for the Metropolitan police or other forces. It is time that the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognised the importance of disorder as an issue and the impact that it can have on the peace and quiet of neighbourhoods and on the daily lives of Londoners.

Mr. Cohen

Does my hon. Friend agree that community safety orders could make a contribution to tackling racial harassment, not just in London but throughout the country?

Mr. Straw

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is worth noting that, when we published our community safety proposals, the warmest welcomes came not only from the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales but from the Commission for Racial Equality.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

My hon. Friend was absolutely right when he referred to the problem of young men hanging around. Does he agree that that is not simply a problem in Greater London, but that there is barely a town or a village in our nation that does not have the same problem, and that the people who suffer the most from it are the elderly and women? There is a fear and a worry abroad. If my hon. Friend's proposals were accepted, that would go a long way towards helping to get rid of the problem.

Mr. Straw

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Ministers do not appreciate that much of the behaviour that causes fear of crime does not feature in the criminal statistics. As loutish behaviour and disorder on the streets have increased, so too, rationally, has people's fear of crime.

Ms Hodge

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the ways in which we could tackle disorder on the streets would be to increase, rather than decrease, police strength? That is why the decline in the number of police officers is so catastrophic for the people of London. Does he further agree that it is not simply police strength, but the cut in overtime that police officers are able to perform, that matters? Some 620,000 hours have been cut from those that police officers walk the streets of London. Does he agree that that adds to the disorder?

Mr. Straw

I accept a great deal of what my hon. Friend has said. She is right to mention the need to increase the number of police officers. I am proud to say that, while the number of police officers in London has increased by 300 a year since 1979, during the Labour Government, between 1974 and 1979, the number increased by 500 a year. Those are the facts.

Mr. Howard

Is the hon. Gentleman talking about numbers or about establishment, bearing in mind that, in 1979, the numbers below establishment were 10 times what they are now? Is he now prepared, at last, to admit that there are more police constables in London than there have ever been? As to his repeated allegations that there was a reduction in numbers last year, when will the hon. Gentleman—if he wants to contribute to honest debate—compare like with like? The strength in December 1994 was 27,611, while the strength in December 1995 was 27,719.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests that I was making an allegation about police numbers, but I was not. I was merely reading out the annual report of the chief inspector of constabulary— his own chief inspector—who drew attention to the fact that, in 1994, there were 27,611 officers in the Metropolitan police and that, by the end of year that we are talking about, the number had dropped to 27,480. If the Secretary of State is worried about the fact that that was only a part of a financial year, we can examine the figures for 1992.

The figures provided by the chief inspector of constabulary show that, in 1992, there were 27,812 officers in the Metropolitan police and that, by March 1995, and contrary to the Prime Minister's pledge to increase police officers in London and elsewhere, the number had decreased by more than 300, to 27,480. Those are the facts that have been provided by the Home Secretary's chief inspector of constabulary.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like. Everyone knows that police strengths fluctuate at different times of the year. To make a proper comparison, one must compare the same month of two different years. If the hon. Gentleman were to compare December 1994 with December 1995, he would find not a decrease, but an increase. However, I expect that that simple point is too complex for the hon. Gentleman to grasp.

Mr. Straw

One thing we remember from the Secretary of State's time at the Department of Employment was his ability to switch from seasonally adjusted figures for unemployment to the actual figures as and when it suited him. If he has an argument about the figures, he had better take it up with his chief inspector of constabulary. The figures come from the chief inspector's report, and I am astonished—it is now obvious—that the Secretary of State has not even read it.

Mr. David Congdon (Croydon, North-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw

No. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman later. I shall deal with the important point raised by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), who mentioned the example of New York. I think that there are lessons that police in London can learn from police in New York, although the two cities have very different levels of overall crime and different political relationships with the police.

The decline in the homicide rate in New York, which has been much talked about, has been matched by declines across the United States. In any event, as the Secretary of State has acknowledged, the homicide rate has decreased from a much higher base. However, I think that the decline in the amount of street crime and disorder, and the palpable sense that people there have of a more peaceful city, can in part be attributed to the measures which Commissioner Bratton and the New York police department have taken—and those measures are worthy of further study.

Mr. Forman

I was listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said. He said that those measures are worth further study. That is precisely what the Metropolitan police are doing. Will the hon. Gentleman go further and commit his party in any sense to pursuing the policies that are taking place in New York?

Mr. Straw

Yes. As the hon. Gentleman may know, I too went to New York in the summer to look at the effects of those policies. It is important not to say that everything that happens in a distant city is transferable and automatically better than what is happening here. American police forces have learnt an enormous amount from our police forces, including the London police force, about community policing. As the Secretary of State said, we must not suggest that everything that happens here is worse than what happens in other countries, because, when it comes to policing, what happens here is usually better.

There are lessons to be learned from the policies being followed in New York in relation to disorder and tackling the petty disorder and petty crime that people all too often turn their faces away from, and which the police sometimes say they are too busy to deal with. I am happy to commit my party to tackling those problems.

Mr. Congdon

I should like to refer to the point about police numbers. I was not sure whether the hon. Gentleman agreed with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary's statement that, at the end of December, the number of Metropolitan police was the highest ever. Does he agree with that?

Mr. Straw

I cannot agree, based on the report of the chief inspector of constabulary. The number of police officers employed in Greater London was greatest in 1992.

The important issue of juvenile offenders is related to the issue of disorder. As the commissioner's report shows, one half of all offenders in London are less than 21 years old, and one half of those are less than 17 years old. Juveniles in London are responsible for a significant proportion of crime and for much of the disorder on the streets. The criminal justice system in England and Wales is ramshackle at best but, in my view, its defects are nowhere more obvious than in respect of juvenile offenders.

Despite a reduction in the number of cases going before youth justice courts, the delays in cases reaching court are worsening. There are ludicrously complicated rules for the use of secure accommodation, which almost defeated, for example, the police in Mansfield. They certainly defeated the police and social services in Peterlee, County Durham, for a long time. Even where the hurdles of the rules for secure accommodation are overcome, there is a severe shortage of local authority accommodation in which to put young offenders.

Even more worrying is the fact that a bed desk clerk at the Department of Health headquarters in Leeds is daily effectively making judicial decisions and balancing whether one young dangerous offender should be found secure accommodation against the need of the community to find secure accommodation for another young offender.

There is uncertainty about the very concept of criminal responsibility for those who are less than 13 years old, after the House of Lords' recent decision on the concept of doli incapax. That matter is worrying for many of those who are involved in youth justice. I understand, from some of those who are involved, that the decision means that few offenders who are younger than 13 are now even being brought before the youth justice courts. There is a lack of real involvement of parents in the system and a failure to recognise that deficiencies in parenting must be involved in huge amounts of juvenile crime and disorder.

In my view, reform both of the juvenile justice system and of the Crown Prosecution Service in London is long overdue. We need a separate Crown prosecutor for London. There must be changes in the criteria that the Crown Prosecution Service uses for bringing cases, clear and enforced time limits on the timetable for cases and an inquiry into the appalling decline in the proportion of cases that ends with a conviction or caution of the offender.

As the reaction of the people of Brixton to the December riots showed, the Metropolitan police, under Sir Paul's leadership and that of his predecessor, have done much positive work to improve relations between the police and ethnic minority communities, including the Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities in Greater London. For example, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) mentioned, racial harassment is now treated extremely seriously by the Metropolitan police service, and rightly so, but it is widely recognised that much more needs to be done in the area of community and race relations.

First, there must be renewed efforts not just to recruit ethnic minority officers, but to ensure that they remain in the service. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) was entirely right. During the year, there was a small increase in the total number of ethnic minority officers, to 730 or 2.6 per cent. of total strength, but the Commissioner's report also shows that the Metropolitan police had to run fast to stand still. In 1994, 1,277 ethnic minority officers were recruited, but 1,384 left the service—100 more, and a higher number than the total of all officers who retired at the end of their service. That is plainly unsatisfactory, and suggests, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow made clear, that, although from the outside the service is attractive to ethnic minority recruits, something is going wrong when they get into the service. I know that the Commissioner is very worried about that.

Miss Hoey

I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend, but does he agree that, sometimes, there is a deliberate intention by some people—a very small number—from the ethnic minority community to target those young ethnic minority policemen and policewomen and to make their lives extremely difficult? Those young ethnic minority officers need extra support from the police service as well as from the community.

Mr. Straw

I accept that they are sometimes subject to the most appalling—and, in some cases, criminal— intimidation by other members of the community. As my hon. Friend says, that is all the more reason to ensure that ethnic minority officers have much more support that they get at the moment.

Mr. Spearing

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) in expressing concern about that issue. The Newham police community consultative group has discussed the matter and, where there are large ethnic minority populations, groups like that may be able to assist in finding out why the turnover is so great. Is not that yet another reason why those groups should be more closely integrated into the advisory committees that advise the police authority—the Home Secretary?

Mr. Straw

I accept my hon. Friend's comments.

Secondly, we should put into proper perspective the likelihood of those from the Afro-Caribbean communities to commit crime. In my constituency, for example, or in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, virtually no crime is committed by blacks, because there are virtually no members of the black communities living in those areas. In parts of London, much of the crime happens to be committed by black males, not because they are black, but because there are large Afro-Caribbean communities in those areas and a proportion of those communities—as in white and Asian communities—engage in crime.

A recent Home Office research study called "Young People and Crime", which contains the most thorough analysis of the question this decade, suggested that there is no difference between the propensity of the black community to commit crime and that of the white community. The report shows that the cumulative participation rate in crime by young people is 44 per cent, for whites, 43 per cent. for blacks and, as it happens, 30 per cent. for Indians, 28 per cent. for Pakistanis and 13 per cent. for Bangladeshis.

The report raised another issue, which may be a small one, but it shouted at me when I read it. The Commissioner reported that, during the year, two officers died and 883 officers were injured on duty in road traffic accidents. By definition, police officers do much more mileage in more dangerous circumstances than members of the public, but on my rough calculation a police officer is 50 times more likely to be involved in a road traffic accident and receive an injury than an ordinary member of the public in Greater London. That must be a matter of serious concern for the police and the public.

It is no accident that the New York police department has been able to show such sensitivity to public opinion about crime and disorder. The police service in New York is accountable to the people of New York. There is, however, no similar accountability to the people of London for the running of their police service. This debate is the only formal occasion for the House to hold the Home Secretary, as the police authority for London, to account.

Despite the Home Secretary's profession of concern for policing in London, this debate is taking place 10 months after the year that we are discussing. Between 1992 and 1994, there was no debate at all on policing in the capital. All that would have been different if the Secretary of State's predecessor had implemented a pledge that he gave the House in March 1993: to establish for the first time a police authority for the Metropolitan police on the new national model separate from the Home Office and with essentially the same tasks as police authorities elsewhere."— [Official Report, 23 March 1993; Vol. 221, c. 766.] Six weeks after the Home Secretary made that statement, there was a new Home Secretary, and six weeks later there was one of the fastest U-turns on records. The Home Secretary revealed that Londoners were not to be trusted with a democratic say over the running of their police service.

Instead, Londoners have had foisted on them a new, toothless quango—the Metropolitan police committee. Even the Conservative representative on the joint London Boroughs Association and Association of London Authorities delegation to the Home Secretary called the procedure for making appointments to the committee astonishing. The committee meets in private, its minutes are confidential to the Home Secretary and, despite the fact that it began to meet during the year 1994–95, no report of its work has yet been published. That is no way to treat Londoners or their police.

The Commissioner is on record as saying that he would prefer a proper, democratically based police authority for London, and the Commissioner is right. The only coherent excuse that the Home Secretary has given for refusing a police authority for London is The Metropolitan Police have unique national responsibilities"; and the national interest in the work of the Metropolitan police makes it right tht the Home Secretary should remain the police authority for London"—[Official Report, 28 June 1993; Vol. 227, c. 666.] There is national interest in the work of all police forces. That does not mean that the forces of Kent or Lancashire should be centrally controlled. Nor should it be so in London. Most crime in London, as elsewhere, is local. It is only right that local people in London should have a proper say in the policing of their communities.

The Home Secretary's separate argument in favour of the current arrangements is that the Metropolitan police service has certain national functions that make it different from all other forces. The Home Secretary knows that it is the opinion of senior officers at New Scotland Yard, as it was of his predecessor as Home Secretary, that those national functions could easily be ring-fenced in the short term and continue to be subject to separate accountability. In the longer term, those national functions may in any event come under new national policing arrangements, as was suggested when the House discussed the Security Service Bill recently.

I pay tribute again to the Metropolitan police for the difficult job that they do so well. During the past 15 years, they, like the community they serve, have been engulfed by an epidemic of crime and disorder. Although Greater London has only one eighth of the population of England and Wales, a huge proportion of the nation's serious crime occurs here—one third of all rapes, half of all armed robberies and an estimated three quarters of all illicit drug dealing.

In the past 15 years, the crimes that cause the greatest fear among the people of London—crimes of violence— have increased much faster in Greater London than elsewhere and 90 per cent. of Londoners are deeply concerned about the level of crime in their city. More seriously, two out of three Londoners believe that the crime and disorder that affects them will get worse. It is no wonder that the people of London reject the complacency of the Secretary of State and feel unsafe under this Government.

5.29 pm
Sir Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

My constituency is situated in the Metropolitan police district. Our annual debate on the policing of London provides me with a valuable opportunity to speak on behalf of the people who elected me to Parliament. Uxbridge is situated in the London borough of Hillingdon, which is an outer-London borough. Of course, the problems experienced by the Metropolitan police service in Hillingdon are rather different from those in some of the central-London boroughs about which we have heard a good deal this afternoon. I want to tell the House about some of the matters that concern my constituents, who live in an outer-London borough.

I should declare that I am parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales and my appointment is in accordance with the Police Acts of 1964 and 1972. I congratulate the Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, and the men and women of the Metropolitan police service on their outstanding performance. I also pay tribute to the special constabulary and the civilian staff.

It is clear from my experience of dealing with police matters in my constituency and in central London, that there is no question whatsoever of the Metropolitan police service being engulfed by crime, as the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) suggested.

I pay a personal tribute to the bravery of the late Police Constable Phillip Walters, an unarmed officer who lost his life doing his duty to protect the people of London and I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Blackburn. We shall not forget PC Walters and other officers who gave their lives to protect the people of our great city.

In the past year, the Metropolitan police service has prevented many households and businesses from being burgled and robbed. By targeting known offenders and putting them under constant fear of being caught, it has brought much-needed relief from the misery experienced by my constituents in outer London who have lost treasured possessions. The Commissioner's report reveals a 20 per cent. reduction in burglary against a target of 15 per cent. That is a creditable performance and, together with the success of the Operation Bumblebee roadshows, it has demonstrated to the public the huge range of property that the service has recovered. In addition, the Londonwide co-ordinated searches that were carried out in June and December 1994 resulted in no fewer than 1,279 premises being searched and 987 people being arrested.

Members are keenly aware that the business community also suffers considerably from crime. Businesses welcome the drop in robbery, which causes disruption of their work and a threat to employment. The fall in robberies from 1,068 in 1983 to 644 in 1994 demonstrates the progress that has been made in dealing with that criminal activity.

One of the slightly new aspects of crime against businesses in London is the theft of computer chips. The new Bumblebee for Business campaign was launched in March, and I hope that it will be successful in dealing with that problem. When a firm loses the ability to use its computer equipment, its activities often come to a peremptory halt. I would be interested to hear from my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, when he replies to the debate, what success the Metropolitan police are having in dealing with that aspect of crime against the business community.

The public has been cheered to learn of the success of Operation Bumblebee and Operation Christmas Cracker, in which the Metropolitan police and some 40 other forces took part. It resulted in several thousand suspected burglars, robbers and receivers of stolen property being arrested in the early hours of a December morning. I say "Well done" to the Metropolitan police and all the other forces concerned. That operation cheered up many people that morning.

The Metropolitan police dealt with more than 8,700 firearms offences during the year. The Commissioner's report reveals that shots were fired at the police on 16 occasions and that they recovered 3,305 guns and more than 74,100 rounds of ammunition. The number of officers attached to specialist firearms units increased by 50 per cent. What research is the Home Office carrying out into the source of the guns which now find their way on to the streets of London and other towns and cities? Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the customs arrangements at our ports of entry are sufficiently good to detect many of the firearms that are imported and used against the police and the law-abiding community?

One important factor in the success of the Metropolitan police is the setting of targets identifying the risks that the police should be tackling. The targets are formulated first by my right hon. and learned Friend, who identifies the tasks of police forces throughout the country. Those are the key objectives. Secondly, there are specific requirements for policing the capital city and the surrounding area, such as the outer London boroughs where my constituency is located.

I very much appreciate, as I am sure do other London Members, the opportunity to have an input to the targets that the local police set for the year and to be consulted by the divisional commanders in the areas concerned. My views are based partly on my local experience, as I know what my constituents are thinking, and I am a member of the Hillingdon community and police consultative committee. I want to illustrate the great value of that and other identical committees in the Metropolitan police district. It would be useful if their profile could be raised. They get very little coverage nationally, perhaps because they work in partnership with the police rather than criticise them.

In Hillingdon, a genuine dialogue has been established between the various community organisations represented on the committee and the police. Senior officers, including the divisional commander, attend meetings and brief the committee on local crime statistics, covering problems ranging from drinking in the streets to the need to increase closed circuit television in the town centre. Ethnic minority community organisations are represented and can express their specific concerns. A regular newsletter is published covering the many issues that are raised, so that everyone in the community knows what is going on. Those committees do a good job and deserve the thanks of the House for the opportunity that they provide for real dialogue and co-operation between members of the community and the police service in the Metropolitan police area.

My local group, together with local authorities, also developed a community safety strategy with the full participation of the police. That shows what can be done by the various agencies to tackle crime and, above all, the fear of crime. In fact, Hillingdon is a safe place in which to live, but people still fear crime. The opportunity to try to deal with that fear is extremely valuable to the community. It meets the point made by the Commissioner that the police alone cannot eliminate crime and that more needs to be done jointly.

Closed circuit television, which has been installed in Hillingdon, is a good example of the police, the Government, the local authority and, in Hillingdon's case, the British Airports Authority, working together for the benefit of the public. In response to the Home Office competition, the local crime prevention adviser suggested that the group should target local problems at five small shopping parades. As a result, the council was successful in obtaining a grant as well as financial backing. Following the installation of CCTV, there has been a dramatic fall in the number of 999 calls. That has happened in areas where cameras have been placed. It is interesting that there is no evidence of criminal activity being transferred elsewhere in the borough. There will, of course, have to be longer-term monitoring to ensure that the preliminary conclusions are correct.

I believe that Uxbridge needs CCTV in its town centre. I have suggested to the leader of Hillingdon council that the authority should enter the next bidding round with the intention of securing money to make that possible. There should be a cross-party, united approach to tackling crime. That is why I am happy to support the work of the local community and the police consultative committee.

As we have heard this afternoon, much of the crime in the Metropolitan district has been attributed to young people. As with many issues, it is only a minority of young people who commit criminal offences, or just cause a nuisance. An effective way of engaging the interest of young people and diverting their energies into a positive direction is the provision of youth services and ensuring that there are active voluntary bodies of every sort. Unfortunately, resources for such services, both in terms of money and people, are scarce.

It is interesting to reflect that, in 1996, the level of voluntary activity is much less than it was 40 or 50 years ago, when many young people rose to the challenge of belonging to an organisation such as the boy scouts or the Boys Brigade. As we have heard from Opposition Members this afternoon, too many young people are hanging around the streets with nothing much to do. I put it to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that there should be a national effort to harness both money and people to the task of tackling youth crime.

Mr. Howard

I am not sure that I want to get into an argument with my hon. Friend about the extent of voluntary activity now compared with 40 years ago. Is he aware, however, that a survey demonstrated that the amount of voluntary activity over the 1980s increased by about 15 per cent? There is therefore a substantial body of evidence to suggest that the amount of voluntary activity taking place now is greater than 15 or 20 years ago.

Sir Michael Shersby

I am interested to hear what my right hon. and learned Friend says. It appears to me, however, and to many people in my constituency, that the voluntary activities that are available for young people may not be entirely appropriate to divert them from standing on street corners. They need a challenge. They need something to persuade them that there is a worthwhile task to undertake. It seems that they are not being offered that challenge in quite the way that they should.

I have always felt—this is a hobby horse of mine and I shall not bore the House with it for long—that we need something like a royal rescue corps, which young people could join to be trained. They would have the opportunity, for example, to deal with civilian disasters. It worries me that so many young people do not have skills in first aid and self-survival, which were routine forms of training when I was a teenager.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the scouts, the guides, the Boys Brigade and the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme all have an important role in encouraging young people to participate in the community within a disciplined context? It is a tragedy that these organisations increasingly find themselves under pressure because of the collapse, in many London boroughs, of the youth service, which is hopelessly under-resourced and desperately seeking new resources. I note that the Home Secretary is making a comment from a sedentary position. However, if he talks to scouts and guides, they will tell him what I have described. Should we not do something about it?

Sir Michael Shersby

All the organisations that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned are doing an extremely valuable job, but we need more men and women in the community who are prepared to give their time voluntarily to exercise leadership skills. I have in mind the many men and women who have left the armed forces over the past few years, who have exactly those skills. I hope that they will find their way into voluntary organisations, which in my view stimulate the community to do something, and not the more bureaucratic, centrally controlled youth service.

As we note from the Commissioner's report, the police have made huge strides in reducing car crime throughout the Metropolitan police district. In Hillingdon, however, such crime is still a matter of great concern. In 1993, there were 6,281 thefts of or from vehicles and 2,427 cases of criminal damage to vehicles. These figures are to be compared with 75 robberies of people in public, 42 thefts from people by bag snatchers or pickpockets and 2,286 burglaries from dwellings. The figures illustrate the difference in criminal activity in an outer-London borough from that in an inner-London borough.

As a matter of interest, Hillingdon has the highest car ownership of any outer-London borough. It is a very prosperous area, of course. It seems clear that even more needs to be done by manufacturers and insurers to make vehicles more secure. I fully endorse the Commissioner's comments to that effect.

The knife culture is a terrible problem for those who live in the Metropolitan police district. In my judgment, it can be dealt with only if the police have the necessary powers to stop and search. We know that new provision was made in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to permit the stopping and searching of suspects in circumstances where a senior police officer gave authority for that to happen in a specific geographical area. Unfortunately, we do not yet have any detailed information about the extent to which those powers have yet been used. I hope that, when the details are known, they will be made available quickly to the House.

The murder of the headmaster of St. George's school, Maida Vale, highlights the need for urgent action to be taken by Parliament. I represented the Maida Vale ward when I was a member of the Paddington borough council. I know St. George's school and the surrounding area extremely well. I welcome the provisions set out in the Offensive Weapons Bill, which has been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said that the Government will be giving their full support to the Bill, which received an unopposed Second Reading only a few days ago.

I must ask myself whether the Bill's provisions will be enough to ensure that our highly trained police officers are able to stop and search people, often young people, who they believe may be carrying a concealed weapon. The Bill's provisions are probably valuable but are not quite enough to ensure that the job is done. That is not in any way a criticism of my hon. Friend or the provisions of her Bill. Perhaps she will not mind me saying—I say this with the benefit of some knowledge gained through working with the police in the past six years or so—that what is really needed are provisions similar to those that exist in Scotland. I fully realise that it is difficult and that it is a sensitive matter to consider giving the police in England the same powers as the police in Scotland, but it would be valuable if my right hon. and learned Friend and his colleagues directed their thoughts to the possibility of reducing the level of suspicion that a police officer must have before stopping and searching a suspect.

At present, in England, an officer must be satisfied, in accordance with strict criteria laid down under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, that a person has on him or with him a prohibited article before searching that person. If the officer searches and is wrong, he can be exposed to an action for civil damages. That deters the searching of suspects in a number of cases. Those inhibitions do not appear to exist in Scotland.

Although I understand just how difficult it is to make such a change, because of the sensitivities of the ethnic minority community in England, I believe that it should be considered. The support of the ethnic minority community should, in my view, be sought. After all, members of that community are as much at risk from being stabbed with a knife as anyone else. Every citizen has to trust the police to use their powers fairly. Unless that trust is given, the problem of knives will not be overcome. I hope, therefore, that some sensible modification of the PACE rules can be considered. I believe that that, taken with the provisions of my hon. Friend's Bill, could bring an end to the knife culture.

We have an outstanding report from the Commissioner and his colleagues. I wish them every success in the year ahead.

5.51 pm
Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

I am pleased to have this opportunity to say a few words about policing in London, and particularly in my own area.

We have heard about the startling increase in reported crime in recent years, notwithstanding any isolated decrease in a particular period. I shall not go through the statistics, which we can all cite, about the increase in crime or the decrease in some areas. Something on which we can all agree is that we are all aware, from our constituency surgeries, letters and personal contacts, that the fear of crime continues to grow.

Policing is a major issue in my constituency— containing, as it does, a part of Brixton. Any comparisons between the disturbances on 13 December and the riots of 1981 and 1985 are utterly bogus. Last December was not a spontaneous reaction by the local community to allegations of oppressive policing; it was incited by a tiny criminal minority and was joined by opportunistic looters, white and black, and a small number of people who were caught up in the hysteria of the moment.

I understand that, on 23 November, a successful anti-drugs operation was mounted in Brixton, and that a small number of people involved in the drugs trade were angry about that. It is widely felt that the unhappiness among drug dealers was a factor in the outbreak of violence against the police on 13 December. Local people and businesses in the area where the drugs raid took place were delighted with the action of the police, and I hope that the authorities will proceed and succeed in their efforts to prosecute those responsible, including anyone found guilty of incitement to riot.

Police and passers-by were attacked, cars were set alight and small businesses were looted and burnt. When I visited, it was heart-breaking to see businesses that had been built up over a number of years simply vanish overnight, particularly those of small traders who could not afford insurance or had not insured themselves. Buildings containing the offices of the community police consultative group and the publication The Gleaner were also subjected to arson attacks.

As I have constantly made clear, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) and hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, the vast majority of the community in Brixton—black and white—utterly condemn the violence. I hope that the Home Secretary will continue to commit himself to redoubling efforts to improve relations between the police and the local community after the tremendous efforts and successes of recent years. I hope that the Minister of State and the Home Secretary will also join me in recognising that Brixton is a bright and thriving area which is on the up. It is a part of London that is rightly attracting more businesses and inward investment.

The legitimate demonstration, which I believe was hijacked on that evening, concerned the death in custody in Brixton of Mr. Wayne Douglas, which came soon after the death in custody at Vauxhall police station of Mr. Brian Douglas—no relation. Deaths in police custody are a genuine concern for many, particularly in the black community, and that must be recognised. I am pleased that a working group to address that issue has been established in Brixton, containing members of the Lambeth community police consultative group, the Metropolitan police and the Police Complaints Authority. I hope that the Home Secretary will consider seriously any report or recommendations that come out of that work.

I make a suggestion that might well assist in allaying the concerns of the community following a death in police custody. It could be in everyone's interest for the police officers involved to be suspended from duty during the subsequent investigation by the independent Police Complaints Authority. Such a routine suspension would not prejudge any investigation or reflect in any way on the officers, but it would help to reassure the public. Great difficulties result from misinformation, which spreads around the community very quickly indeed.

It is in all our interests to speed up the process of the Police Complaints Authority. Although we must have respect for due process, there is concern at the length of time that it takes to investigate such incidents. There is concern at the way in which information is released, how little of it can be released, when it can be released, and to whom. There are problems with the work of the coroner and the way in which coroners are involved. There is also the problem of the subsequent consideration of prosecution by the Crown Prosecution Service.

As well as paying tribute to the people of Brixton for their resilience and determination to continue to build a better community, I wish to comment on the contribution, in the aftermath of December's disturbance, of Nicholas Long and Lloyd Leon, the chair and vice-chair of Lambeth community police consultative group. The local council adopted a most responsible tone when it dealt with the situation, with the chief executive and the leaders of the political groups on the council all determined to speak with one voice.

Such a display of consensus would have been unthinkable in the past, when Lambeth was the last council in London to refuse to join the community police consultative group. I hope that the Home Secretary—and also Conservative Members who are quick to use the borough of Lambeth as a way of getting at the Opposition—will recognise the great leap forward that Lambeth has made, especially the new chief executive, Heather Rabbatts, and various councillors, particularly Jim Dixon, who deserve recognition for their commitment to driving forward that progress.

I hope that the Home Secretary will also recognise the innovative collaboration between Lambeth council, the Metropolitan police and the community police consultative group in developing a multi-agency approach to a range of issues affecting the quality of life in the area. The project was formally launched in November. As I said in an intervention on the Home Secretary's speech, I believe that, a few years ago, it would have been inconceivable for the logos of the Met and Lambeth council to appear in the same heading, on documents committing the two organisations to working together.

The purpose of the partnership is to further that multi-agency approach. It will focus on tangible results. Work is already under way to improve the service given to victims of domestic violence and racial attacks, to tackle noise pollution, to see what can be done about bullying in schools and to establish joint strategies to deal with the perennial problem of prostitution. A police inspector has been seconded to the partnership, and for the next three years will work in the town hall alongside council officers.

At the launch of the partnership on 9 November, Brixton divisional commander Peter Clarke said: It is a partnership that will harness the energy, optimism and diversity that make Lambeth such a vibrant and exciting place in which to live and work. We must put the past behind us and move forward together in a new spirit of trust, co-operation and understanding. The partnership will also help to tackle the serious problem of street drug dealing in the centre of Brixton. For too long, Brixton residents have had to put up with blatant drug dealing, and the violence that accompanies it. Innocent members of the public have literally been caught in the crossfire. There has been a series of long-term operations, using undercover police and new technology, to ensure the integrity of evidence presented to the courts.

The latest operation, which I mentioned earlier, took place in Coldharbour lane in November. It had the support of the community and drew many expressions of thanks from residents and traders whose lives had been disrupted. The enforcement effort will now be backed up by better street lighting and closed-circuit television in the town centre, financed by Brixton Challenge. That has come about as a direct result of collaboration between the police, Brixton Challenge, Lambeth council and the community.

The Lambeth safer cities project is yet another example of multi-agency work succeeding in practice. Like other hon. Members, I hope that the Home Secretary will look favourably on applications for funding for more CCTV in my area: I do not think that he will find an area in greater need of that extra security.

I have one gripe, which is infuriating, and which I am sure is shared by many other hon. Members. Just when an area is becoming used to the police officer in charge, and just when that officer is becoming used to the area, building up work in the community and getting to know the nuances of that community, he or she is moved on. I see that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) agrees.

I regret the departure of Superintendents Gallipeau and Wilson, and the fact that Superintendent Clarke is leaving Brixton after so short a time, albeit because of a well earned promotion to the rank of commander. I welcome his successor, Superintendent Peel, to the area, but I question the wisdom of moving Superintendent Godsave from his post at the same time. I had hoped for more consistency at such a crucial time for community-police relations in Brixton.

I hope that our other superintendents in Vauxhall, Superintendents Rees and Matthews, are not about to disappear as well. I have brought the matter up before, but I am never given a satisfactory answer. Of course members of the police force must be promoted and move on, but I think it misguided to keep them in an area such as Brixton for no more than just over a year. I also think that there should be informal meetings enabling Members of Parliament and community representatives to discuss who will replace the officer who is being moved. That would be one of the benefits of the establishment of a police authority for London, which my party supports. More sensitivity and continuity are needed in the appointment of divisional commanders.

There is no reason why Londoners who want their own police service should be treated differently from people in any other part of the country. I hope that the Minister will respond to that point when he winds up. Why should we in London not benefit from the same democratic accountability as the rest of the country?

I also feel that appropriate value should be placed on the role of experienced senior police constables acting as community or beat officers. Police constables in my area, such as Barrie Critchley, Alastair Reid and Mike Lacey— who have worked at the forefront of beat and community policing for a long time—do tremendously good work in building and maintaining links with residents and the business community. I also pay tribute again to PC Dunne, who gave his life in the service of our community. The anguish with which local people reacted to his death showed how strongly they feel about their community policemen and policewomen.

A rapid response is essential. Although we shall never see a policeman on every corner, so long as we have dedicated officers such as those I have mentioned, people will feel more in touch with the police—especially when they observe the energy, devotion and time that many young and, indeed, older police constables put into the running of initiatives such as the Lambeth summer project. Much of that work is done in their own time, and their dedication to local people bodes well for the future. The Lambeth summer project enables young people to see what is involved in working with policemen and policewomen. I also pay tribute to the continuing work of the excellent neighbourhood watch schemes in my area.

The role of sector working parties has already been mentioned. They can play an important role in allowing the community to deal face to face with officers policing their area, and to tackle problems on their estates directly. I especially welcome the excellent working party in the Waterloo area, which has involved not only the local community, businesses and traders but Waterloo station and the transport police, and, indeed, everyone with an interest in the area.

Various police operations are of particular use to my constituents. Operation Bumblebee has been tremendously successful in targeting burglaries. In Brixton alone, some 500 fewer burglaries were reported in 1995. Operation Eagle Eye has been controversial, and I know that the community police consultative committee is concerned about the amount of information and statistics being supplied by the Commissioner. Perhaps he and the Home Secretary will take that concern on board.

It should be stated openly and repeatedly that Operation Eagle Eye is not a random stop-and-search exercise. It involves the targeting of the tiny number of persistent offenders who are responsible for the vast majority of muggings. The police would do the community a disservice if they did not target that particular crime, which I know is of great concern to my constituents. I broadly support Operation Eagle Eye for that reason. The great majority of people have no sympathy with muggers; like me, they are more interested in the rights of the victim than in those of the criminal.

I express genuine disillusionment with the level of co-ordination between the various regimes in which many different agencies with an interest in community safety must work. It is a positive step that those agencies are working more closely than ever before, but that is not enough. As legislators, we must recognise that the systems within which we expect those different agencies to work are not compatible. One local case that I am dealing with—this draws on a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)— involves regular meetings between the police, social services and the local housing department on how one young thug can be stopped from making the lives of a group of elderly residents in a sheltered unit a misery.

There are delays in the system. Despite arrest after arrest, there still seems to be no way of keeping that young thug away from the people whom he has been harassing until he reaches the magic age of 18 and an injunction can be sought. Meanwhile, the unlucky residents are being failed by the system. It is simply not good enough that in this day and age, with all our technology and sophisticated systems, we cannot stop a small number of young people causing misery to so many others.

Noise nuisance is another example. We all know that it is a terrible problem in London. Even with the best will in the world among the various authorities, the existing statutory framework is inadequate to enforce the law. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has espoused some constructive ideas for changing the statutory framework for dealing with noise nuisance and other anti-social neighbour behaviour. I hope that the Home Secretary will realise the sense of those proposals. I welcome the private member's Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) on noise nuisance, and I hope that it will reach the statute book as quickly as possible.

Overall, we need a more co-ordinated approach, not simply to the way in which existing agencies work together, but in reviewing the regulations and laws that govern their actions. We can all define the problems, but unless we give the police and others the tools for the job, the solutions that we want will not be delivered.

I put on record again the improvement in the London borough of Lambeth, in the work of the local authority and the police, and in the workings of the community police consultative committee. I pay tribute to the dedication and commitment of all the Metropolitan police officers working in my borough. We know that there will always be bad apples—they even exist in Parliament— and we must get rid of the bad apples in the police and, indeed, in Parliament, but that does not mean that the police overall are not working extremely hard and in an extremely dedicated fashion to help the people of my borough.

We want our police service to improve and to be given the support and recognition that it needs, because without that police service we shall all feel much less safe in London. I welcome the progress that has been made, especially in my borough.

6.12 pm
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

I greatly appreciate this opportunity to thank the Metropolitan police. In the past year, with the Met police, I have been privileged to pilot the police and Parliament scheme, which is born out of the successful Parliament and Armed Forces Fellowship and the Industry and Parliament Trust. During that time, I have been allowed to spend some 25 days with the Met, both at Scotland Yard and out in the suburbs.

I have been out on patrol with the police. I have sat with them in the charge room. I have been allowed to hear their private conversations in their canteens. I have visited the police scientific research and development unit near St. Albans and the air support unit at Lippitts Hill. I have witnessed public order training and crowd control. With my own eyes, I have seen some of the grim evidence available in the paedophile unit at Scotland Yard.

I have spent time with flying squads, special branch, surveillance and intelligence units, the traffic police, the fraud squad at Holborn, the firearms unit and the murder squad. With the Federation Against Copyright Theft and the Met police, I have been out on a raid against a pirate video factory. I have also spent a day with the river police. I do not wish to see again—but appreciated at the time— the pictorial evidence they have of their work.

I have also spent time seeing the less glamorous, more mundane, but equally vital operations undertaken by the people who support those running the computer data bases for the police. They provide the information that the men on the beat need to do their job. I expect that every hon. Member would wish to join me in offering a vote of thanks to the civilians and police who are engaged in anti-terrorism, in protection and in explosives disposal. Much of our safety depends on their work.

I am grateful to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and to all those at Scotland Yard who have made that experience possible, to Bill Troke-Thomas, to all the men and women on his team at Ealing and Acton, and to the others who have worked hard to make the pilot scheme both informative and challenging. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be able to learn from the scheme—as, I hope, I have done—both in the Metropolitan police area and, most probably, in county forces.

I have a general impression, as hon. Members would expect, of a highly professional, dedicated, hard-working and fair police force. It does its best to make the most of sometimes limited resources, in the knowledge that the modern criminal is sometimes using more sophisticated electronics and communications systems than are currently available to the police. They and the people who resource them are working hard to correct that.

In the past year, the Metropolitan police force has had to accommodate change in structures, while at the same time waging its war against crime. The results have been impressive. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary outlined some of them earlier. Operation Bumblebee has led to a fall in recorded burglary of many per cent. In the past two years, there has been the biggest fall in recorded crime for 40 years.

The other thing I have learnt—of the many things I have learnt—involves the dangers that the men and women of the police force face from the effects of alcohol and drug-related crime. In April last year, Police Constable Steve Collins, a young man whom I had met at his police station only a few days before, was out on patrol in a car with a woman police constable. They saw a car that they believed to be stolen. They pulled it in. Steve Collins got out and went to accost the driver. The passenger in what was a stolen car leaped out, and, without any compunction, drew a gun and shot Steve Collins in the gut. Fortunately, that young man lived, is fully recovered and is back on duty. I was told, with black police humour, that, on his first day back at work, he was punched on the nose.

The police welcome the opportunity to use longer batons. Police in Ealing and Acton certainly welcome the trial use of CS gas. When I visited the black museum at Scotland Yard, I could not help noticing on the wall the roll of honour of policemen and women killed on active service, and the fact that two thirds of the people on that list, running from 1900 until the present day, had been killed since the abolition of capital punishment.

It is a fact of police life in London, and probably throughout the United Kingdom, that today's professional criminals go about their business carrying weapons as a matter of course. That is the threat that policemen and women face on the streets of this and every other city of the country every day of the year on our behalf. Many policemen and women—they do not complain much— feel that the dice has been loaded too heavily against them.

I am now going to do what I promised myself and some of those policemen and women I would try not to do: cherry-pick just a few of the issues that have been raised with me. In doing so, I know that, if they read any report of this, those whose concerns I have not raised will say, "Why did he miss mine out?" I can only say that, if I were to touch on all those issues, I should be here for rather longer than I promised.

The one issue that more than any other fundamentally concerns men and women in the Metropolitan police is that of disclosure. I know that that is currently being addressed by legislation, but the police find it quite intolerable that ingenious—for want of a better word— lawyers are able to go on fishing expeditions on behalf of the defence in the knowledge that, by so doing, they will waste time and money, cause confusion and delay, and perhaps—who knows?—secure an acquittal for a guilty man.

Some three or four weeks ago, I watched a video of an armed raid. Two armed men were robbing a jewellers in Regent street, and they were under surveillance from the time they entered the shop. The extremely courageous staff slightly upset police plans by chasing the armed robbers out of the shop with fire extinguishers. The two men were pinioned on the pavement, and the bag that one of them was carrying went flying. It was all very clear.

The two men were held on the pavement, arrested, and handcuffed and, heads lifted, they were identified straight to camera in an unbroken sequence. The camera zoomed in on the bag that had flown from the hand of one of them. A police officer opened it and revealed the guns and the handcuffs that the robbers had intended to use on the shop staff. Nothing could have been clearer but that those two men entered the jewellers intent upon armed crime.

The judiciary, the judges who criticised my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary for some of his measures, in their wisdom decided that in this case the police should name the informant who gave the tip-off. The police know perfectly well—and, of course, so do defence counsel—that, if the police ever named an informant in such a case, their sources of information would dry up. The police had no option but to drop the case. The men were released and are now free, walking the streets of London and presumably planning their next armed crime. The police cannot understand how we can allow them to be treated in that way by the judges, the courts and the system.

The police also find it strange that so many criminals are able to salt away the proceeds of crime; that the system does not work fast enough; and that our banks operate differently even from those in Switzerland—all of which sometimes makes it difficult for the authorities to gain sufficient evidence to be able to say, "Yes, that money, that car, that boat and that house were paid for solely out of the proceeds of crime, and can therefore be confiscated." We need to address that, to make certain that those who commit crimes cannot serve a couple of years in gaol and then enjoy the fruits of their criminal labours.

I should like our police to be allowed to do what American police, and certainly those in Washington, can do. They should be allowed to have the benefits of the proceeds that are seized as a result of successful arrests and convictions. In their fight against crime, they should be allowed to use the cars that criminals have been using. That works well in the United States, and is a tremendous encouragement to the police, who feel that they are getting a little bit of their own back.

I suspect that I will not be popular with my Front-Bench colleagues, with certain echelons in the Metropolitan police and possibly with people elsewhere for saying that the principle of transferability is incomprehensible. I spent a little time with the fraud squad. I met teams of very experienced detectives, who told me that, even with the experience that they had built up by the time they joined the fraud squad, it takes perhaps two years to become fully conversant with the intricacies and technicalities of the crimes with which they have to deal. That is equally true of many other specialist departments: it is a cry that I heard throughout the Met.

Those officers have deep and detailed knowledge and experience, but it seems to me as a layman that, using the HMI 1993 tenure guidelines, almost arbitrarily after five or possibly seven years—if we are allowed to stretch it a bit—we can say, "Chum, you are going back into uniform and back on the beat, or back into uniform anyway, to do something else." That does not make sense, and it could make nonsense of training and efficiency arbitrarily to put people back into uniform at the peak of their specialist efficiency. That seems quite wrong. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) touched briefly on that in connection with community policing, but I suggest that it goes much wider.

Of course we must create room for manoeuvre, for advancement and opportunities. We cannot have a block in every branch of the Metropolitan police or, indeed, in any other police force. But, by the same token, simply to say, "You have done your time and you must now move," will certainly do a disservice to the policing of London.

I should like to touch briefly on the question of inspectors' pay, because in that there is a lesson for us to learn; I have learnt it with hindsight. It is that, if it was right to buy out inspectors' overtime, it was most certainly wrong to do it retrospectively. It has benefited some men and women in uniform who work reasonably fixed hours, but some other people, especially detectives, who are used to working long hours and earning overtime, have overnight had their incomes dramatically reduced.

That is not right. We cannot suddenly subject loyal officers who have organised their domestic commitments on the basis of one set of expectations to a different set of contracts. But that is what we have done, and it has caused considerable concern and, in some cases, serious financial difficulty. It has been suggested that the buying out of overtime may be extended to sergeants. If that happens, I hope that we do not make the same mistake again. We have dissatisfied inspectors, and in some cases we shall have dissatisfied sergeants.

The Minister knows my concern about the misuse, the abuse, of material that has been obtained by closed circuit television and about—I hesitate to call them videos—the junk that is marketed under the name of "Caught in the Act". Closed circuit television is clearly a vital tool in the police armoury in the fight against crime, and it is vital that the public have confidence in that tool and understand why and how it is being used. They must know that it will not be abused.

In our review of the Data Protection Act 1988, we should consider the case for covering by that legislation material that has been obtained by the use of closed circuit television cameras so as to make it a criminal offence to use such material for any form of personal or public gain in the way that was tried and, happily, in that instance, failed.

I mentioned that I had spent some time with the fraud squad. It has taken a battering in the courts, and has been subjected to press ridicule. The fraud squad consists of a number of dedicated officers who work in highly specialised departments and have achieved very many unsung successes. It is always the big, bad, complicated cases that go wrong and get reported. The press does not find the successful results of painstaking police work quite as attractive.

I stand to be corrected—I think that I wrote it down correctly when I heard it—but I understand that fraud costs the United Kingdom £18 billion a year. I believe that I am right in saying that it costs the country more than the total of all other crime. If that is so, we need to put more resources, not fewer, into curbing fraud at every level. From this place at least, the fraud squad deserves the accolade that it appears to be denied by Her Majesty's press.

I was very interested to learn about the working of the air surveillance unit. Air surveillance is another valuable tool, not only in traffic control, but—sometimes—in the solution of armed crime. "Eyes in the sky" are extremely valuable in dealing with public order disturbances as well.

It seems quite extraordinary that our police air force has to fly from Lippitts Hill, and that it is not permitted by London authorities to have a floating helipad on the Thames in the heart of the City. I am not suggesting that helicopters should be based on the Thames all the time, but there is a very strong case for seriously reconsidering the establishment of a helipad—alongside HMS Belfast, for example. We should use the river corridor, as any other sane city would, to enable the police to do their job better.

Unless things have changed since I visited Lippitts Hill, police helicopters using air-to-ground cameras are able only to transmit pictures back to command control at Scotland Yard, where the information is relayed to the controller on the ground at the scene of an incident. If that is so, at little greater expense, it would and should be possible to have a mobile ground unit that is capable of receiving pictures at the scene of the incident from a police helicopter.

When I visited a firearms unit, it struck me as bizarre that arms dealers do not keep standard records. I am not suggesting for one moment that the professional criminal would not, could not or will not obtain the weapons that he or she needs from some source. It is far too easy to go into virtually any market in northern France, buy a handgun fitted with ammunition and bring it back across the channel.

We make it doubly easy for criminals, however, if they are able to go to a crooked gun dealer, hire for a day a handgun and eight rounds of ammunition for, say, £500, take it back at the end of the day like a tool from a hire shop, and say, "Thank you very much, but I didn't need to use it," or, "I used it, and here's another £300 to launder it." The gun can be taken away, washed out, have its barrel profile changed by repeated firing, and passed to another crooked gun dealer in another part of the country, where it can be used again.

When firearms units visit gun dealers to examine records, they do not find any standard forms, any record of what has come in and gone out, or any detailed information from which they can determine whether the records have been falsified. There are no detailed records of the disposal of guns that are taken to be destroyed. Instead, a shoe box full of slips of paper—apparently— in no particular order is handed to them. They are told, "Okay, sunshine, look your way through that." They have to spend painstaking hours doing such work, because there appears to be—again, I stand to be corrected if it is wrong—no official system for keeping records. Standard records may not greatly assist the police, but if they help slightly, the matter should be addressed.

I did not intend my speech to be a litany of demands. We should recognise that the policemen and women of the capital city do a difficult, demanding and often dangerous job. Such a job can be done only with the full consent and support of the public, and, on behalf of the public, with the full consent, and most certainly the support, of the House.

6.34 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I join those who have paid tribute to the police for all they do. I pay tribute to the Commissioner at the top and to the home beat officers—who in hierarchical terms I suppose are at the other end of the scale—who patrol the neighbourhoods where we live. I add my tribute to the local troops who look after my community. The range of service that they give is as all-embracing as that described by the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale). Like him, I do not want at all to suggest that the people who do the difficult and often frustrating work in squads such as the fraud squad are any less deserving of support and encouragement than those who work in squads such as the flying squad.

The hon. Member for North Thanet specifically addressed the issue of helicopters and the use of the river, and he also mentioned the river police. The river police are certainly an important part of the network of police services. Those of us who live near or along the river appreciate them very much.

I have a hunch that the police in London have very nearly regained the reputation that they used to have, which is still enjoyed by the other two public services— the ambulance and fire services—which are both hugely appreciated. Seeing the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) sitting on the Opposition Front Bench reminds me—if I needed reminding—that there is a great, lively, if not fiery, debate going on about the level of support and resources that we give our fire service. That is why there is proper concern about any suggestion of reducing the support and resources that we give to our police. That is why the debate about resources—although technical—is very important. I shall return to that, but briefly, because this debate is not the best forum in which to barney and banter about statistics that deserve to be considered elsewhere. Such statistics could easily be misleadingly misquoted.

Those of us who live and work in London are very conscious—as we all should be—of the risks that the police take on our behalf. I therefore join the tribute paid to the police officer who died last year in service of the citizens of London, and send my condolences on behalf of my party to his family and colleagues in the force.

We must view what is happening in London against the background of the changes in its population. Interestingly, the most recent figures come not from police documentation but from last week's King's Fund report, in which I observed the following telling statistics on our capital city.

First, we are a relatively younger community than much of the rest of the country; there are considerably more people aged between 25 and 44. Secondly, our population will rise over the next couple of years by about 175,000, and in inner London it will increase at double the rate it does elsewhere. We need to take that into account in policing.

Thirdly, in the next few years the number of people aged over 85 will increase by almost 25 per cent. We have a very large number of older citizens in the capital, many of whom live on their own. Fourthly, unemployment is 43 per cent. higher than the national average. Since that impacts most acutely on young people and especially young men, it is obvious that, if we not address the problem of high unemployment, a huge resource of human energy is liable to be misdirected.

The police want to ensure that their resources are not a lottery. The funding formula should not be arbitrary or extraordinary. In principle, I welcome the new formula set out in the police grant report, which we debated and voted on last week and which breaks down how we calculate what the Met police receive. I still contend that, if one takes out the additional money that comes to London because of the unique nature of policing in the capital—as extra money comes to London for many other things—it is at best arguable that the resources are being reined in, rather than growing.

That was the burden of an answer given to the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) on 18 January. He was told: In the current fiscal climate of budgetary constraint in the public sector the MPS is not expecting growth; the focus of management is on value for money and gaining more from the resources available. The reality is much more about redirecting resources than about giving the Met police more, though they are responding positively to that. The nation and the people of the capital would rather pay a little more for a well-policed capital city than cut back in the interests of a tax cut here or an election bribe there.

Under the formula one or two years ago—this was touched on last time we debated the subject—large resources were directed to the outer boroughs, where there was far less crime, which seemed unfair to the inner boroughs. The people of London need to know that the resources are spread evenly to start with, but that they then follow the need—the victims and the crimes—so that those who are most at risk are commensurately protected.

The figures certainly suggest that there has been a reduction in the number of officer hours spent on street duty in each of the London divisions each year since 1988–89. The figures are given in overall man days, and the average was 13,684 in 1988. It increased in 1989, came down in 1990, 1991 and 1992, and went up again in 1993, 1994 and 1995, but it is still lower than in 1988, at 13,384. Those figures were supplied by New Scotland yard and checked today. I accept that the percentage of officer time spent on street duties has increased from 31 to 35 per cent., which is welcome—I do not cavil about that—but on the average day, fewer people are acting as police officers back in our police stations than seven years ago.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

What is the hon. Gentleman interested in—people acting as police officers, or people out on street duties?

Mr. Hughes

I am interested in both, because one cannot have one without the other. There always has to be someone back at base—the custody officers, desk sergeants and so forth. There have to be both. It is important that the balance is changed, but we should not pretend that the overall number has increased, as it has decreased slightly.

What have been the successes of the past year? The first is more police on the street, which is positive. The second is the fact that there are more special constables. The Minister will know that, in my annual meeting with the Home Secretary, I have argued that we should and could do more to recruit specials. He is sympathetic and receptive to that, but we could do much more yet.

The third success is that the Met police's target for dealing with burglary was hugely successful, which is much appreciated. Fourthly, as I said from the beginning, it was right that the Met then went on to deal with street robbery, which is an extremely offensive crime that often targets some of the most vulnerable people. The Met was right to do so, even though, out of caution rather than anything else, it probably got the way in which it announced what it intended to do slightly wrong. Fifthly, the knives amnesty has been a good thing and has been relatively successful.

Like the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Sir M. Shersby), judging not only from my perspective here, but from that of my local police and community consultative group, which I attend regularly, I must, however, point out that police statistics must be compiled in a more user-friendly way, rather than by picking only this month or this year compared with last. They need to be cumulative, easily accessible and comparable across the capital and between divisions. We are getting there, but we are not there yet. Clear statistics that can be used for accurate assessment of the crime trends would be welcome.

I pay tribute to some of the divisions in my constituency for successfully reaching and exceeding targets. Southwark is the principal division, followed by Walworth, Peckham and Kennington—I list them in the order in which they have the most impact on the area that I represent. I also pay tribute to their officers, chief superintendents and troops.

Like other colleagues, I must also pay tribute to the community liaison officers. The Minister knows that a long-serving community liaison officer is hugely appreciated. Andy Jagger, a local police constable who retired last year, was a hugely valued member of the police service. People like him give the service a good name. Andy Jagger and Boyd Schofield, among others, have served well on patches like mine for decades. They know everyone, they do such a good job and they are very useful.

Last year, the police did an excellent job, as they did the year before, working with young people at Easter and in the summer on the Southwark youth project. That is exactly the sort of activity with which the police are keen to get involved. It is sad that they have had to pull out of work on sporting events because of the priority of other duties, and I hope that that work will be reinstated.

Many good things are going on at all levels. The public perception of crime and of the dangers in London is lagging behind the successes. It is a little like school reputations, which take a few years to change round. I will not take issue with the Government or side with the anti-Government lobby on this subject, as we are making considerable strides in London. We need to build up that reputation, but to do so on the basis of accurate statistics that people can see, as well as measures on the ground that they can sense around them.

I have a short list of complaints. I join the hon. Members for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) and for North Thanet in complaining about the fact that senior and relatively senior police officers are moved so frequently. They are no sooner there than they are gone. I know that they have careers and promotion prospects and that they often do not want to go, but it is unsettling for communities and, if a chief superintendent is only somewhere for two years or a local inspector for a year, the sense of professional commitment cannot be built up.

There is something wrong with police stop-and-search activities. Clearly, young black people and black people in general are being stopped so much more frequently than people from the other communities in London. Black families need some assurances that that is being tackled, as the figures are clear and it is unacceptable.

This may be controversial, but I think that the police also sometimes go over the top when carrying out drugs raids—I have said so to my local police. For example, to use 100 officers to raid a local establishment in my patch the other day, out of which four charges have arisen— none among the most serious—seems to be over-egging the pudding. I can understand the public pressure to expose the clubs in which Ecstasy is peddled.

The devil is not the individual user but the dealer— particularly the commercial dealer. If one asked people of my borough or any other whether they thought it was a good use of police time for 100 officers to be involved in a raid on a night club in Wandsworth or Southwark to look for even a relatively large number of Ecstasy tablets, I believe that they would say that it was not. We must reconsider our priorities. I am all in favour of catching those who import and retail them, and make a lot money from lethal drugs, but 17, 18 or 19-year-old users should not be not a particularly high police priority.

Mr. Maclean

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that 17 and 18-year-old users must be supplied from somewhere, and that some night clubs are major sources of custom for dealers, who can make thousands from their evil trade? Is not Ecstasy a death-dealing tablet?

Mr. Hughes

It is, although not to the extent of tobacco or other drugs. We must put matters in perspective.

Mr. Congdon

Be serious.

Mr. Hughes

I am quite serious. The figures are entirely clear. They show that the number of deaths from Ecstasy is small compared with many other drugs, including drugs that the Government promote or allow to be promoted. Let us not get the balance wrong. The Minister is right to say that dealers must be clobbered, but 100 police officers are not necessary to pick up one or two dealers in a club. My point is that that is a huge use of police resources. If the police know the dealers, they can arrest them in a club perfectly easily.

The policy on closed circuit television is odd. CCTV should have been deployed in some parts of London but has not been, whereas places where crime is lower have received money for CCTV. Something is badly wrong with the mix.

Some other matters concerning policing in London clearly need to be remedied. I shall not elaborate the argument, but we need a democratic police authority— every other part of the country has such an authority— and I have no doubt that one will be established soon. We need a better sequence for consultation on Metropolitan police strategy. The police and community consultative committees and the police and neighbourhood forums need to take part early on, so that the strategy each year is properly formulated. It is good to have such a consultation process, but it would be better if it were carried out in good time.

We need a guarantee that someone will be on the desk at every police station at any hour of the day or night. I have taken this matter up locally and found that that is not always so. One must sometimes wait a long time for all sorts of reasons. Police station desks should have someone available all the time.

We need to tackle the fact that, for historical reasons, a conspiracy of silence often allows people who commit the most serious crimes to get away with them. Peer group pressure means that grassing on others does not happen, and we must make sure that every facility is provided to make it more likely that people will give information. If someone is stabbed, attacked or, worse, murdered in a pub or club or on the street, we should not have a situation where 50 people were there but nobody saw anything. That can best be avoided by better appealing for information locally, or by making an appeal particularly to the pride of a local community.

In relation to racial incidents, we must ensure that last year's problems with Operation Eagle Eye are not repeated. The figures concerning both the victims and the perpetrators of racial attacks must be given objectively, factually and accurately. There is no reason to keep the figures secret.

The most important groups are the young and the old. It is clear that a huge number of crimes are committed by a minute proportion of young people, who can start their criminal activities under the age of 10. They then play truant from school and are out on the streets. Young people hanging around are not the criminals: only the young people who are out of control, either on their own or with others, are the real bugbear of life in our capital city.

The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) intervened to say that that matter must be dealt with by a network of projects, including out-of-school assistance, homework classes and, in particular, the youth service. Training and employment opportunities will help to keep youngsters on the straight and narrow and stop them becoming diverted into a life of crime. Vulnerable youngsters often join gangs such as the one to whom Philip Lawrence lost his life defending one of his pupils. Sadly, more gangs are seeking to recruit more youngsters outside more school gates.

Such gang members harm and hurt the elderly most. We had a successful campaign in Southwark a couple of years ago against street robbery in which we tried to get across the message that street robbers are cowards. Young people—or anybody else—who jump out on elderly people on their own at a bus stop, going home or in a lift are the scum of the earth, and there should be no remission of their punishment. While the police have a good record in responding to community feeling, it is about time that the rest of us made it a priority to defend the old and the vulnerable. They are the most afraid in our capital city, and many of them have given the most to this city. We must make the streets safe for them again.

The minority of young people who are troublemakers should be dealt with and their parents made to take full responsibility, while the majority of elderly people who are afraid should be given the opportunity once again to be free citizens of London. We must make pensioners the priority as we try to beat crime. That would be a good test of whether the Government's policies were working for the rest of us.

6.56 pm
Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

May I begin with an apology to the House for my enforced absence from the early part of the debate, as I was called away to duties upstairs on the Public Accounts Committee? I missed some of the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), and I must tell my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that I may have to leave again during his speech.

This is a most important debate, and hon. Members on, both sides of the House will welcome the fact that, this year, the business managers have enabled it to held on a Monday. I recall too many occasions in the past when similar debates were held on Fridays. We can now have something of a prime-time discussion of the policing of the metropolis, although it is unfortunate that there are fewer London Members in the Chamber than many of us would have hoped.

We have an opportunity today to discuss with the Home Secretary, as the police authority for London, what is happening and what we think should be happening to the police on the streets of London, and to reflect what our constituents are saying about the priorities for police operations. It is also a good day to pay tribute not only to the chief officers, who must manage the London force, but to those great stalwarts, the home beat officers and all the people who participate in the consultative committees and the sector working parties. They form a most important network of communication in the policing of our great city.

I congratulate the Commissioner and the Metropolitan police force, as did my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, on the enormous success of Operation Bumblebee. There is no doubt that that has reaped a great harvest of arrests, convictions and returned property. I was invited to the Operation Bumblebee roadshow for south-west London, which was held at Sandown park racecourse.

I found strange the enormous amount of property that had been recovered in swoops on burglars' premises in various parts of London but not reclaimed. Senior officers wondered whether it would ever be reclaimed. People do not mark their property. It amazes me that some of them do not realise that it has disappeared or do not seek it more assiduously when it is stolen.

The roadshows, where the public are invited to come and see whether any of their lost property has turned up, are good. I have encouraged the Commissioner—and I again publicly ask him—to hold more Bumblebee roadshows in all the 32 London boroughs so that people do not have to travel too far to be able to inspect property and, if it theirs, to start the process of laying claim to it.

It has been mentioned that the Commissioner sets the priorities and the prime objectives for police operations each year. He consults the 84 London Members of Parliament and the police consultative committees in the boroughs. In their turn, the chief officers in our areas ask us what we think about the various aspects and the way in which they are setting priorities.

For as many years as I can remember, in my area of Kingston upon Thames and Surbiton, the No. 1 priority has been domestic burglary. It remains so this year and so it should. My constituents, whenever I talk to them or when they write to me, have no doubt that they want police to set the prevention of burglary as the No. 1 objective, but if the police and our good citizens cannot prevent it, they want burglars to be pursued and arrested.

An allied problem is that many elderly people fear attack on their homes by burglars. That fear is over-accentuated—unfortunately, sometimes, by the many television programmes about crime. Although they deliver good returns in catching the perpetrators of crime, the issue of whether elderly people are being excessively frightened by such publicity deserves discussion.

Nevertheless, the police should be aware that there is a fear of attack, as there of vandalism, especially in the quieter streets. Hon. Members who represent the more suburban parts of London will have seen much evidence of mindless vandalism, graffiti and, even worse, damage to people's houses and gardens—garden walls that have been pushed over and damage to motor cars.

I must pay tribute to a constituent of mine, a doughty individual who lives in Tolworth, Mr. Donald Parker, who for a long time has campaigned against mindless vandalism in the streets. He operates almost as a sheriff in his road. Early last year, he collected a petition of residents of the road which he asked me to present to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. A result of his efforts, the local police superintendent met Mr. Parker, myself, and officers, including the home beat officers, with the result that policing has almost eliminated vandalism in that area.

The efforts of the local people have caught the perpetrators who, for too long, had managed to escape because information had not been co-ordinated. Thanks to those local efforts, vandalism has been rooted out of that road for the time being. However, the efforts of the local people and the neighbourhood watch need to continue. It is good that we have such a thriving neighbourhood watch network across London.

The visibility of the police is regularly mentioned by my constituents. I was grateful for the pledge of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at our last party conference to have 5,000 more police officers over the next three years. In London, which is covered by that undertaking and is, to us, the most important part of policing in Britain, I understand that the commissioner is to put 180 more full-time police officers on the beat.

We must also consider the contribution of the special constables. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, together with the commissioner, wants 650 special constables to be recruited in London—of whom, apparently, 400 have already been recruited. That is something to which local neighbourhoods can make a great contribution.

Wandsworth council has always put a high premium on the visibility of police on the beat. That led Wandsworth, a year or two ago, to talk about extending its parks police to patrol on the streets and be more visible. It has recruited special constables. Local business has donated one vehicle, as a start, to assist with that operation. I believe that that has also happened in Knightsbridge, where a store has contributed a vehicle to assist the special constabulary. That is the sort of police visibility that our constituents want.

I was slightly surprised by the attitude of the Liberal Democrats. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke in a slightly confused manner about his party's approach to police officers on the beat. I thought that he was calling for more such officers, but then I discovered a policy document that was produced by the Liberal Democrats in September 1993. The document, entitled "Tackling Crime Together", contains the rather extraordinary statement: increasing the number of police officers has had no measurable impact on the level of crime. Putting more police officers on the beat will likewise have little effect in reducing levels of crime, although there may be other arguments in favour of it. That argument would not carry any weight with my constituents, who want to see more police on the beat and more evidence of police surveillance in public places. In that regard, I signal—in the best cross-party spirit—that I shall support the efforts of Kingston council to secure a grant from my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), for installing closed circuit television cameras in the main public areas of Kingston and Surbiton.

There is no doubt that closed circuit television contributes greatly to combating crime and to ensuring that the police obtain evidence of criminal or less violent, anti-social acts committed on our high streets and around our stations. Those of us with pubs and young people's clubs in our constituencies know the sort of crime that can centre around them. My right hon. Friend should note that, at the next round of grants, I shall push hard to have closed circuit television installed in Kingston.

I now turn to the extremely important issue of illegal drugs, which I raised by way of intervention during my right hon. and learned Friend's speech. We must move to combat the sale of drugs in all areas. I am afraid that nowhere in London—be it leafy suburbia or central London—seems to be free of the hazards of drugs and drug peddlers. Whenever politicians from all over the world meet to discuss our fears for the future, without exception the main topic of conversation is drugs. Drugs are far too easily available these days. They come from many parts of the world and cause great harm, especially to our young people, often pushing them to the point of mental illness and suicide, and shattering families, local neighbourhoods and groups of old friends.

I believe that the schools and youth clubs should undertake many more initiatives in conjunction with police forces to provide information to those who wish to root out drugs. At the end of last week, I attended a first-class seminar at the well-known Tiffin girls school in my constituency. The parents association and the staff at that school organised a seminar which was addressed by experts from the excellent Kaleidoscope project in Kingston, which is an anti-drugs counselling service. Staff from the centre told parents what to look for if they suspected that their children were using drugs, and alerted them to the signs of drug pushing and supplying.

As a parent of four, I found the seminar most revealing and informative. I believe that more schools, in conjunction with the local education authorities, should provide that kind of information to parents. There should certainly be an exchange of intelligence between head teachers, teaching staff and police forces when it is obvious that drug pushing is occurring outside the school gates and when children are entering schools with drugs that they have procured in clubs, pubs and on the street.

Extending the role of the security services is one of the Government's most important initiatives against drug peddling. It will form part of the intelligence network that will prove increasingly vital as the drug threat to this country grows. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on introducing the Security Service Bill and I hope that that law and order legislation will be supported on both sides of the House.

7.17 pm
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

I begin by returning to a point that was raised a number of times during the debate: why we are debating the policing of London in this manner. I shall not dwell upon that issue, but it is important to stress that the Home Secretary is the police authority for London.

Ms Hodge

Where is he?

Mr. Gerrard

Exactly. The debate is taking place and the police authority is not in the Chamber. We have debated the subject three times since the general election of April 1992—that has been the sum total of the direct input of elected representatives from London on the subject of policing in London.

The previous Home Secretary accepted that London needed a police authority, but a few weeks after his predecessor left that office, the present Home Secretary established the current quango, which does not meet in public, does not report to anyone and operates completely in secret—in fact, it operates virtually as a creature of the Secretary of State: it is not accountable to anyone else.

We have heard how the Metropolitan police have special national functions that are distinct from their local policing role. Although we all acknowledge that fact, I believe that it is often exaggerated. I have noticed little evidence of the activities of the diplomatic service in my constituency, and I suspect that the story is similar in many constituencies throughout London. The problems are exaggerated.

I am convinced that, before the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), decided that he was willing to go down the road of a police authority for London, he well knew that the Metropolitan police would be prepared to accept one and had considered what might be done to their structures and functions to cope with the separation of national functions, if necessary.

In the past three weeks, Sir Paul Condon, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, said that that remained his opinion. He said: I remain on record and have been for a number of years saying that I believe that the Metropolitan Police Service and the arrangements for accountability should replicate as closely as possible the accountability processes outside of London". Sir Paul Condon made an interesting comment about his reasons for wanting to develop closer accountability and closer links with the community: if we are to improve confidence in the police service, if we are going to deal with a significant emerging group of alienated young people in London and the communities they are drawn from … we need to move towards … different and tighter links into the democratic process in London. When the Minister replies to the debate, it is incumbent on him to answer again the question, "Why does London have to be different?"

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said that he believed that in recent years the people of London's opinion of the Metropolitan police had improved. There is some truth in that. A few years ago, there was an extremely worrying distrust of the police in many communities in London. There has been a shift since then; we should acknowledge that fact and give credit where it is due—to the police and to people in local communities who have worked with them.

In London, people's beliefs about crime trends make them afraid. A recent survey showed the extent of that fear. The crime figures for 1994–95 show a drop compared with the preceding year, but I suspect that many people in London pay more attention to the longer-term picture, which is far from comforting. There were 852,700 offences in 1990–91 and 837,000 in 1994–95—a small drop in four years.

We all welcome what has been done in Operation Bumblebee and the like. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) earlier, I was grateful not to have entered a secondhand shop that I was nearly tempted into in Hoe street, Walthamstow, which turned out later to have been run by the police for the purpose of attracting people in to sell goods to the police. I have no wish to appear on their video, even if I was going in innocently to make an inquiry about something in the window.

The small decrease in figures for the past year or two conceals worrying trends, especially the increase in crimes of violence, which are up from 36,000 in 1990–91 to more than 43,000 in 1994–95, the increase in robbery from 18,000 to 26,000 in that period, the increase in sexual offences and the increase in crimes against the person, which worry and frighten many people. As hon. Members have said, the use of firearms has increased, as has drug-related crime. It emerged that many of the burglaries that the police solved in Operation Bumblebee were carried out to fund the purchase of drugs. There is a close relationship between drugs and the commission of crime.

The recently published youth crime report, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), contained evidence that there were not the disparities between black and white youth in the commission of crime that are often the subject of popular myth, but it also showed that a generation of young men were not growing out of crime by their late teens, as their predecessors had done. There has been, and continues to be, a high rate of offending among 14 to 17-year-olds, but previously people tended to drop out of crime as they entered employment and formed stable relationships. Worryingly, more than 30 per cent. of young men aged 25 are now involved in some type of crime.

The report comments that, as the number of young people in employment declines, the capacity for the world of work to provide a rite of passage for young males diminishes. If the report is accurate in saying that people are not only becoming involved in crime when they are 14 to 17 but continuing into their 20s and 30s and turning into career criminals, the trend is extremely worrying.

There are worrying trends in racial attacks and racial harassment. Last year, 5,500 such incidents were reported—8 per cent. more than in the previous year. Given some Government policies, I fear that there will be a further increase next year. I wonder what the effect will be on some of the thugs in east London of seeing asylum seekers begging in the streets. That is Government policy, which will come into force next week, and I suspect that it will be used by racists and people who are responsible for racial harassment and racial attacks as an excuse to step up their activities.

I compliment my local police force in Chingford—the police division with which I communicate most often— on what it has done in the past year or two, especially to tackle racial violence. There has been an enormous improvement in the way in which the division tackles racist crimes compared with 10 years ago. It has also tremendously improved the way in which it deals with several sensitive matters such as domestic violence and mental health disorder.

In common with everyone who is connected with the problem, I am convinced that racist crime and racial attacks are significantly under-reported and that 5,500 incidents is far from the true scale of the problem. People are not yet entirely confident of what the police response will be. That leads to under-reporting.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn mentioned recruitment, and especially retention, of ethnic minority officers. The fact that, in the last year for which figures are available, more ethnic minority officers left the force than were recruited to the Metropolitan police shows that we are running to stand still. I am also worried about the increasing number of black police officers who, before industrial tribunals, allege racial discrimination against them within the police. I have been involved in a complicated case of that type. There is a problem.

I have no doubts or worries about attitudes at the top of the Metropolitan police. There has been continuous significant improvement for some years. When I talk to senior officers, I detect a sea change in attitudes to ethnic minorities compared with 10 years ago. The problem is ensuring that change is reflected on the ground. The experiences of some black police officers to whom I have spoken is that it is not—that they are subjected to insults and harassment from their colleagues. There is no room for complacency. Senior ranks need to keep up the pressure, to make sure that black recruits in the average police station do not suffer the harassment that some of them still have to tolerate.

As to public confidence in the police complaints procedure, I have no doubt that, in the long term, an independent complaints procedure is needed so that the police are not left to investigate the police. Many people in London question why the Metropolitan police fight complaints and take cases to court. In 1994, according to press reports, the Metropolitan police paid out £1.4 million in damages and costs. Recently, £90,000 was awarded in a case of assault, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. Out of 304 civil actions, the Metropolitan police won just 24. There must be a question mark over the reasons for fighting some of actions in the first place. Damages and costs of £1.4 million is a lot to pay out of the Metropolitan police budget in one year.

I will not get into the argument of whether or not there were one or two extra policemen on the beat this year, or will be next year, but I return to my earlier point about control. The Home Secretary decides how resources will be allocated to police forces throughout the country, yet the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself is the police authority for London. The lack of a police authority for London means that there is nobody to argue the specific case for Metropolitan police resources in the way that police authorities outside London are able to do.

As to police and local authority co-operation, again there is an enormous difference compared with 10 or 15 years ago, and nobody would object to that. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton mentioned a case in my constituency of a woman who was murdered in a tower block, when the closed circuit television picture was not good enough to provide a clear picture of persons who might have entered and left the block of flats at the time of that murder. Money is needed not only to install CCTV systems but to update and maintain them. It is not good enough to install a camera and think that is the end of it.

Mr. Cohen

My hon. Friend is correct to say that I intervened in the Home Secretary's speech on that point. Although the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that money is being put into CCTV, he did not respond to my specific point that money should go into a programme of monitoring existing CCTV systems. If I cannot get the Home Secretary to his feet to make a commitment in that respect, I hope that the Minister will return to that issue later.

Mr. Howard


Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. There cannot be one intervention on another.

Mr. Gerrard

I will be happy to give way to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Howard

I am delighted to respond. I made it perfectly plain to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) that we had issued guidance designed to ensure that CCTV schemes are brought up to date and made to operate as effectively as possible. Now it emerges that Labour Members want more money. Have they checked with the shadow Chancellor? Are they aware that claims for more spending are completely banned by Labour, which is trying to hoodwink the public into thinking that Labour is the party of low taxation? We ought to have the full facts before Labour Members start asking for more Government money.

Mr. Gerrard

My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton was making the point that, if CCTV cameras do not work, one might as well not have them. Unless money is available to keep CCTV systems functional, they are not worth having. It is like the argument about the national lottery money, which is available for capital projects but not for revenue to keep schemes running.

Some points that I and other hon. Members make may be seen as criticism of the Metropolitan police, but there is only one debate like this each year. If we do not use it to express our concerns, there are few other opportunities. We all want to support the Metropolitan police and to see them operate efficiently. Constituents in the poorest areas of London suffer the worst consequences of crime. People on estates are victims of some of the worst vandalism, break-in rates and consequences of drug dealing. It is not in our interests to have a police force which operates less than efficiently.

The biggest threat to improvement and further progress, judging from today's debate, is the complacency reflected in the Home Secretary's opening speech. He claimed that everything is all right and getting better, that there is no need to worry and that it should be left to him as the police authority to do all that is necessary. That was more or less the implication of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, and it is not the way to achieve a more efficient police force in London or permanently to reduce crime levels.

7.37 pm
Mr. David Congdon (Croydon, North-East)

The debate on policing in London must be conducted in the context of the significant extra resources that the Government have put into law and order nationally. Funding of the police service has increased by 96 per cent. in real terms since the Government came to power in 1979, which is no mean achievement and deserves recognition. I welcome the proposed 5,000 additional police over the next three years and the £260 million increase in funding in the coming year, which is 4 per cent. nationally.

Hon. Members acknowledge that the police do a first-class job. It is equally clear that the Metropolitan police have the toughest job of all as the force that serves the capital and all the difficulties that it brings. London is a large city with a substantial daytime community. We know the problems presented by organised crime, particularly in respect of drugs and firearms. I would not argue that London is badly treated in funding terms, because police expenditure per head is £228, compared with a national average of £97. I do not think that colleagues from other parts of the country would say that London is badly treated in terms of funding.

The situation is much more difficult, of course, when we examine changes in funding from one year to the next. I listened carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary when he explained exactly how the funding for London is to change. I noted with interest his statement that extra spending power—as much as 3.6 per cent.—will be available for the coming year in a variety of different forms. I certainly welcome the increase.

The distribution function is carried out by the Commissioner and is based on a formula, but I must confess that I am not always clear about exactly what the basis is. The latest information that I have is based on a written answer in Hansard of March 1993, which contains some revealing figures, although some of them might have changed since then.

The figures reveal that Croydon, which is the largest and best London borough, has a population of 314,000 and 590 police officers in its two police divisions. Lambeth, which is an adjoining borough, has 245,000 people—far fewer—and 970 police officers. I am not in any way complaining that Lambeth has more police than Croydon, but is that ratio right? In Croydon, the ratio works out at 1.9 police per 1,000 population; in Lambeth, it is slightly less than four police per 1,000 people.

What is interesting about the figures is that the national average is 2.2 police per 1,000 people. I highlight those figures because, for the reasons that I have mentioned, such as its size and the scale of crime, one would expect London to have a higher ratio. However, is the balance between inner and outer London necessarily right?

I have taken the opportunity to examine the number of burglaries in 1993–94 and assumed that there might be a correlation between burglaries and the number of police officers. Croydon had slightly fewer than 6,000 burglaries, while Lambeth had just under 8,000. The difference is not massive, and it would probably not justify the difference in manpower. I think that Members of Parliament from London constituencies should consider that.

In the previous debate on the Metropolitan police, in December 1994, the Home Secretary told the House that the number of police in London had increased from 22,000 to 28,000. I was pleased to hear those figures broadly confirmed again in this debate. The monthly variation is not significant—contrary to what the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) tried to demonstrate—but there is no doubt that the general trend is an increase in the number of Metropolitan police officers.

I must put one qualification on that figure—it must be considered in the context of the number of posts that have been civilianised. There is not much point in having additional policemen and policewomen if they are doing office jobs that could be done by civilians. There could, therefore, be occasional small dips because there has been more civilianisation. With the new powers available to divisional superintendents to allocate their manpower budgets as they think fit, I would expect variations. As more duties are carried out by civilians, more police manpower will be freed up so that police officers can be on the beat, which is what the people of London want. People in London want to see the police on the beat, patrolling the areas in which they live.

I recognise that it is essential for the police to have modern computers and communications systems. Their importance must never be forgotten. In the debate in 1994, we were told that the Metropolitan police were on target for a trunked radio system to be fully operational by 1998. In his reply, I trust that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be able to confirm that that system will be operational by the target date.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary rightly placed emphasis on the fact that there has been a significant decrease in crime during the past two years. None of us is complacent about the decrease, because the struggle to reduce crime is tough. There is no doubt that the police must be given credit for their improved crime fighting and their useful targeting of resources.

I must say, however, that I was somewhat surprised that the targeting of resources on known offenders in target areas was not normal practice before, and that the police had to be dragged into using modern-day techniques to deal with crime. That is why the Government were absolutely right to introduce the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, which forces the police to set targets and objectives. I am sure that that Act will lead to further improvements in the future.

The 1994–95 figures for the Metropolitan police show an overall decrease in crime of slightly more than 7 per cent., but we cannot be complacent about the figures for specific crimes. There were 41,000 crimes against the person, 6,000 sexual offences and 28,000 robberies. My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) mentioned people's particular concern about burglary. I think that it is quite right for the Metropolitan police to target burglary and to try to reduce the number from 173,000.

I strongly welcome the increased co-operation between local authorities and the police. I remember the bad old days, in the 1970s and the 1980s, when many councils in London, particularly Labour-controlled councils, refused even to allow the police into their schools to talk to children. The idea of consultative committees sitting down and working with the police was anathema. There has been significant progress, and police consultative committees are doing a first-class job, as are the neighbourhood committees under them.

In Croydon, we have sector police consultative groups, in which many local people play key roles. I should like to pay tribute to the police who have been involved in community liaison in my borough. We have an excellent team there, under Chief Inspector David Hewetson and Alex Cashin, a very long-serving police constable who has done excellent work in the community.

Earlier in the debate, some hon. Members rightly spoke about the problems of racial harassment and about the need for good relations between communities. I am convinced that the work of community liaison officers, who visit various local groups and attend the community functions of Asian and Afro-Caribbean groups in particular, has done much to ensure good community relations in Croydon. When there have been incidents that have caused great concern, I know that the community liaison officers have gone into action, got alongside the various communities groups and done a great deal of good work. That work is similar to that which the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) described in relation to Brixton following the recent riots.

I echo a point made by the hon. Member for Vauxhall, and make a special plea to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in relation to moving chief superintendents on too quickly from the areas in which they serve. These days, the police depend far more on good relations with the local community and with community leaders. It is frustrating for all concerned to find that, once good relations and trust are established, the chief superintendent must move on because of a career move or for whatever reason. It is a real bone of contention if those chief superintendents are moved on too quickly. Of course they cannot stay in the area, even if many of us might like them to, but it is important that they are not moved on as soon as they have established good relations.

In the debate in December 1994, the awful murder in New Addington of Sergeant Derek Robertson was mentioned. There have been other murders since then. The police in Croydon are divided into two divisions—south Norwood and Croydon. It is fair to say that that murder, which happened shortly after some horrific knife attacks on officers in south Norwood, had a profound effect on the attitude and approach of the police in south Norwood. I am pleased that the new chief superintendent is doing all in his power to try to improve the morale of his staff following those awful incidents.

The level of casual violence against the police—violence in various forms—is most disturbing. The most recent report to the Croydon police consultative committee gives separate figures for the south Norwood and Croydon divisions and shows that, in November and December, 37 officers were injured in the course of their duties in the Croydon division and that 24 were injured in the south Norwood division. Those figures are disturbing—it seems that too many people are only too keen to attack policemen and policewomen with fists, bottles or knives. I should like the courts to impose heavier sentences on anyone found guilty of assaulting a police officer.

The type of crime in London also gives cause for concern. I happened to see in the Croydon Advertiser on Friday that, in 24 hours last week, there were three armed raids and two serious stabbing incidents. That level of crime is probably mirrored across London, and we should all view it with gave concern.

I shall not say too much about drugs, although I recognise that they are a serious problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton hit the nail on the head. I know that much good work is being done by the police and others in schools in Croydon to try to improve young people's understanding of the dangers of taking drugs.

The huge success of Operations Bumblebee and Eagle Eye has been mentioned, and I am sure that all hon. Members welcome it. More has to be done to reduce even further the number of burglaries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton said, what people fear most is coming home after a night out to find that their home has been burgled or, perhaps even worse—fortunately, it occurs less frequently—waking in the middle of the night to find someone in the process of burgling their home. Such crimes are awful, and too many people have had to put up with them.

The Metropolitan police serve London as well. I have, however, expressed some concern about the allocation of resources between inner and outer London, and hope that the Commissioner will take such concern into account.

The foundations for improved relations between the police and the community have been well laid, and we are seeing the benefits in terms of greater co-operation between the two. I pay tribute to the police for their work in dealing with the terrible crime of racial harassment. Such crime is difficult to solve because people are often not prepared to come forward as witnesses. Several people have come to see me, complaining of racial harassment. When I have spoken to the police about such cases, they have always handled them sensitively and professionally in a genuine attempt to solve them.

Difficult neighbours, noise and the like have been mentioned. They are serious problems, but if there is a racial element to them, they can be much worse. Such cases need sensitive handling by the police, and I believe that they have struck the right balance by working closely with local housing authorities to deal with the problem.

7.53 pm
Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)

I join other hon. Members who have congratulated the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis on his stewardship of the Metropolitan police, especially during the year under discussion. Of course, we all warmly welcome the small reduction in recorded crime in that period.

I was extremely concerned about what I would call the rather complacent attitude of the Home Secretary towards policing in London. If the same reduction in recorded crime that he reported to the House were sustained, it would still take us 15 years to reach the level of recorded crime that the Government inherited when they took office. That is a long time for Londoners to have to tolerate unacceptably high levels of crime. The Government cannot be trusted on crime, any more than they can be trusted on other aspects of public policy.

My contribution to the debate will focus on two aspects of great importance to my constituents and to the people of London in general. The first is the number of front-line officers working in London and the predicted resourcing of the police service in London in the coming year. The second is the police service's accountability to Londoners.

The Home Secretary is very good at claiming that he has significantly strengthened the front-line resourcing of police in London. If I may say so, he is at best disingenuous; at worst, he would appear to be misleading the House by selecting figures that may suit his argument but which do not, in my view, paint the full picture. The figures that we have are those that we gleaned from the annual report of the chief inspector of constabulary at the Home Office. I think that those returns can be trusted by all. They are not figures dreamed up by a partial group of Labour party supporters; nor are they compiled on the instruction of a senior Minister who is trying to justify what he wants the public to believe.

Mr. Howard

They are neither dreamed up nor unreliable—they are just out of date.

Ms Hodge

I fail to see how figures relating back to 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983, right through to 1995, can be said to be out of date. Either the Home Secretary is claiming that they are inaccurate or he is not. I would suggest that they are not inaccurate and therefore cannot be said to be out of date. They go back 15 years.

Mr. Howard

This clearly needs to be spelled out to the hon. Lady in words of one syllable. She began by accusing me of misleading the House—I do not know whether you noticed that, Madam Deputy Speaker, but that is how she began—

Mr. Dobson

No, she did not.

Mr. Howard

Yes, she did. That was how she began this part of her remarks. She made that serious charge, which I am slightly surprised that she was allowed to make, with reference to figures that I had cited—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) want to say something?

Mr. Dobson

No; I want you to shut up.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making an intervention; we cannot have one intervention on another.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Lady made her point by referring to figures that I had given earlier and which she was challenging, as she is perfectly entitled to do. I am trying to point out that the reason why the figures that I gave differ from those that she is citing is that the figures that I gave are more up to date. The figures in the document to which she is referring take us to April last year, whereas the figures that I was using take us to December last year and are therefore more up to date. It is perfectly simple.

Madam Deputy Speaker

There seemed to be a note of criticism in the Home Secretary's remarks. I was listening carefully to what was said and did not think that the hon. Lady's remarks were such that she should be pulled up for using unparliamentary language.

Ms Hodge

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for protecting me. I had selected my words extremely carefully. As my hon. Friends have said, the Home Secretary tries to produce seasonally adjusted figures, and the House is used to that. I repeat that the Home Secretary may have selected figures that suit his argument, but they do not paint an honest and full picture of what is happening to the resourcing of police in London.

The figures that I have before me demonstrate—the Home Secretary has not denied it—that police strength in London has not been increased substantially. It has not even been held at a level appropriate to the need. In 1990, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon became Prime Minister. In his speech at the party conference in October 1995, the Prime Minister made a commitment that he would increase the police strength throughout the country, and one presumes that that includes the police strength for the capital. The record speaks for itself. When the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister, the Metropolitan police strength was 28,126. By 1995, that figure had fallen to 27,574. As I read those figures, that means there are 500 fewer bobbies on the streets of London than when the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister.

That reduction has occurred at a time when there has been an unprecedented increase in crime levels in the capital. Yes, there was a reduction in the levels of recorded crime last year and, of course, every responsible hon. Member welcomes that, but the figures are still running at record high levels. The Government's failure to invest in policing in London—shown by the cuts in police strength and by the cuts in the Metropolitan police's budget, which they will have to absorb next year and in ensuing years—is selling Londoners short on their policing.

No wonder the fear of crime is so high. No wonder there is a loss of confidence in the police in London. No wonder the Home Secretary is the least trusted man about town.

Mr. Howard

Can the hon. Lady explain how a 3.6 increase in spending power can be characterised as a cut?

Ms Hodge

I am extremely happy to respond to that point, because the Home Secretary has made it several times. The 3.6 per cent. increase in spending comes partly from an underspending in the current year. That is partly how it is being financed. However, every other police force has had a real increase, as promised by the Home Secretary, of 3.6 per cent. London has been given less additional money than elsewhere and Londoners will be expected to fund the Metropolitan police in a way that they have never been before—from an underspend that was no doubt encouraged by the Home Secretary.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Lady is piling inaccuracy on inaccuracy. It is simply not true to suggest that every other police force has an increase of 3.6 per cent. The hon. Lady simply does not have a clue what she is talking about.

Ms Hodge

If that is not true, the commitment given by the Home Secretary that he would increase the police budgets of every police force by 3.6 per cent. was also not true. I understand that that is the commitment he gave.

We have 500 fewer police in London, but between 1991 and 1994–95, sexual offences have increased by 26 per cent.—those are my figures. We have 500 fewer police in London, but crimes of violence have increased by 16 per cent., and we have 500 fewer police in London but, in the borough of Barking and Dagenham, the number of burglaries has more than trebled in the past 16 years. In 1979, one in 34 households in my constituency experienced a burglary, but by 1995—the most recent figures I have available—that figure had increased to one in 11. That is a terrific increase in an outer-London borough. The same pattern exists for violent crime in my constituency. In 1979, one in 82 people in Barking had been the victim of a violent crime. By 1995, that had almost doubled, to the horrifying figure of one in 45.

I am sure that other hon. Members are also being visited at their surgeries by an increasing number of people coming to complain about disorder in the streets. Groups of residents come to talk about young people collecting on open spaces and about their fears as they watch, unprotected, the vandalising of cars and street furniture. Disorder on the streets is a growing problem which can only partly be addressed if we increase the presence of police in our streets. With the cuts in police strength in London, the ability of the Commissioner to deliver an increase in police presence in ordinary streets is undoubtedly curtailed.

Mr. Howard

indicated dissent.

Ms Hodge

The Home Secretary may shake his head, but it is true.

The failure of the Government to develop a proper policy on youth crime has had a horrendous impact. I have met the police and shopkeepers from Barking town centre and I have been told that a family of three sons, all of whom are under 18, is probably responsible for about 50 per cent. of the petty crime and burglaries that take place in Barking town centre. That is a very small number of people responsible for a very large amount of crime. Yet, despite 16 years in government and a constant pretence of being tough on crime—especially youth crime—the Conservative party has done nothing to assist the people and businesses in my constituency to tackle the very real problem of crime in the centre of Barking.

Lady Olga Maitland

Bearing in mind the hon. Lady's concern about juvenile crime, does she support the Government's policy to put young people into secure training centres if they are persistent offenders? Perhaps the hon. Lady could explain why the Labour party voted against such a measure during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Ms Hodge

The hon. Lady has been misinformed in her contributions to the debate today. The Labour party supports secure training centres for young people. My quarrel would be with the failure of the Government to deliver a policy that they have been promoting for a number of years. We have heard the Home Secretary, in the Chamber and outside, talk about investment in secure training centres for young people for a long time, but we have yet to see that put into practice. The suggestion that Opposition Members have not supported that is just wrong.

Let me raise another issue of concern not just to my constituents, but to those who live and work in London. We have heard much about the fear of crime, particularly among women. For every woman who is assaulted on the streets of London, there are probably 1,000 who are so frightened that they put themselves under voluntary house arrest. That is totally unacceptable. The lack of confidence in the Government's ability to tackle crime in the capital city has increased the fear of crime among women.

There are many implications. Not only are some women too frightened to leave their homes, but women are less likely to use public transport. That has a bad environmental impact on the capital city, and leads to the capital becoming clogged up with traffic at the expense of those who really need to travel by car. We must judge the Home Secretary's record of policing in London against that background.

I distinguish between operational management by the Commissioner and the responsibility for policy that I presume the Home Secretary still believes he has. I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has left the Chamber.

The increase in police strength since the Conservatives took office has been too small adequately to meet the needs of London. Figures from the annual reports of Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary, which are available in the Library, taking into account the decrease in the years since the Prime Minister took office, reveal that the increase was only 4 per cent. That is simply not enough to address the massive rise in crime. When we compare what the Government have delivered for London over the past 16 years with what they have done this year and intend to do next year, we reach the simple and clear conclusion that the Home Secretary and the Government cannot be trusted with policing in London.

There will be fewer bobbies on the streets this year and again next year. Those on the front line in the battle against crime will be doing less. According to the commissioner's report, the Metropolitan police have cut overtime by 620,000 hours. On a crude calculation, that represents about 400 policemen and policewomen, so Londoners have 400 fewer bobbies on the beat simply because of the cut in overtime. It is a hidden cut, but it represents a real reduction. There are 400 fewer dedicated men and women serving the community in London. If we add that to the 500 we have lost since 1990, we begin to unravel the truth behind the Government's hollow rhetoric about tackling crime.

From what we have seen of the budget figures that are being considered at present, the position can only get worse. The new formula that has been devised for distributing resources for policing has made matters worse for London. This year, London lost £115 million. The loss has been protected by a dampening grant of £85 million, but that is simply a short-term palliative and £30 million has gone. Next year, a further £30 million will go and London will be progressively deprived of much-needed resources.

Mr. Congdon

I am intrigued by what the hon. Lady is saying. Is she saying that London, at a figure of £228 per head compared with an average of £97 per head nationally, is under-provided? If so, is Labour pledging to increase the total funding available to the police above the 97 per cent. increase in real terms since 1979, or is she suggesting that London should have even more of an increase over and above other authorities and that, in effect, we should rob other cities to pay London? Is that what she is suggesting, or is it another spending pledge by the Labour party?

Ms Hodge

The hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) spoke about the lack of policing resources in his own constituency, so it is rather surprising that he now attacks me for talking about policing resources in the capital. He should also know that it is nonsense to make a crude comparison between spending per head on policing in London and that in the rest of the country. The Metropolitan police have a number of national duties over and above those covered by other police services.

Finally, I was referring to the distribution of resources. I should have thought that every London Member who cared about London would have joined me in saying that London will lose the money it desperately needs to provide a more secure place for people to live and work by having an effective police service.

The Government claim to be the party of law and order. If that is the case, why are they cutting police strength in London and the police budgets for London? Why is London the only police service not to receive the minimum 3.6 per cent. increase in funding that the Home Secretary promised all police services? Why are the Government letting London down? It is now part of the well-worn political lexicon, but it is a classic example of a Minister failing miserably to do what he says.

Could all that have happened if there had been a properly accountable police service in London? I think not. If London had a proper democratically accountable police authority, we would not be facing the crisis of confidence that exists in every community in London. The accountability of police in London is wrong.

It is wrong in principle, as every police service should be democratically accountable to the community that it seeks to serve and the people who foot the bill for that service. London council tax payers pay a precept, yet they have no say. It is wrong in practice because a necessary precondition for an effective police service is the consent and support of the community that is being policed. London lacks the transparent institutional link between the community and the police that must form the basis for building the trust and consensus that are required for effective policing.

It is particularly wrong because of the present Home Secretary. Theoretically, the Metropolitan police should be accountable to the Home Secretary and, through him, to Parliament. Our problem in London is that the present Home Secretary weaves and dives every time anybody suggests that he is responsible for anything. He may be trying to cover his own back, but he does so at the expense of Londoners. The creation of yet another unelected quango stuffed with Conservative yes people is an insult to Londoners.

When I asked the Home Secretary a series of questions about the newly formed Metropolitan police committee for London, he replied: These are matters for the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Committee.". Therefore, I dutifully sought a reply to my questions from the chairman of the Metropolitan police committee only to be told that he could not reply to my questions because his advice is confidential. That was in the name of accountability—what a farce.

The Metropolitan police committee for London has not yet celebrated its first birthday, yet it is already clear that the band of unknown men and women plucked from the Government's politically partial list of the good and the great is bound to fail. The committee was dreamed up as a sop in response to the legitimate protests of Londoners that the police service is not accountable to them. The committee is not succeeding, and it will not succeed. Indeed, it can never succeed.

The committee's members are selected, not elected. As I read the list of members, it is difficult to find a good reason for their appointment to such an "august" body. The members include, for example, a retired general from the Falklands. The members have no legitimacy in the eyes of London. The chairman is Sir John Quinton— I have no doubt that he is an honest and good man—who assures me that he has never paid a penny into Conservative party funds. He knows all about London. He lives in Chenies in Buckinghamshire, which is the last Conservative-controlled shire. His background and experience are utterly relevant to policing the capital!

Sir John is a banker by trade. He is chairman of Wimpey plc and the non-executive director of an East Anglian building society. When I asked him to describe how he kept in touch with Londoners and their needs when it came to policing, he said that he obtained a useful insight from people he came across at his local tennis club. When I asked him how he saw his role, he gave me his mission statement. None of us has seen that statement because it is confidential. It appears, however, that he saw his job as providing the best possible police service in London within existing resources. That seems fine but surely that is the job of the Home Secretary—or is it not?

The Metropolitan police committee costs London council taxpayers nearly £400,000. What for'? What is the added value of the committee? I do not know and its members cannot tell me. The chairman tells me that it is consulted on matters such as whether a firing range should be bought or a new helicopter. I am sure that these are vital matters, but the chairman cannot tell me what input, or effect, he is having, for example, on next year's policing plan for London.

I understand from what I have read in the newspapers that there is a row going on between the committee and the Commissioner on next year's policing plan. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us when he replies. What is the nature of the argument? Why do we want a police committee for London? We want a committee that acts as the public voice in policing matters. Instead, the Metropolitan police committee meets in secret. It gives advice to the Home Secretary that we shall never see. It has yet to publish a public report. How can that be said to reflect the voice of Londoners?

The situation becomes worse. When I asked Sir John Quinton whether he carried out surveys to test customers' views on policing—our views—he said that the committee did not carry out its own surveys but used those of the Metropolitan police. It seems that the committee has no independent means of testing Londoners' views.

When I asked whether the committee was taking a view on the effectiveness of existing police consultative groups, Sir John said that he had not interfered with the way in which the Metropolitan police consults these groups. When I asked how he incorporated Londoners' views in his report, he replied that, if his report was heavily criticised by the people of London, "we shall take account of it." That reflects the inadequacy of the current structure.

In answer to a question put to the Home Secretary in October 1995 by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), the Home Secretary replied: I am confident that the Metropolitan Police Committee will play an important part in improving the way in which policing in London can involve the community."—[Official Report, 19 October 1995; Vol. 264, c. 471.] Given the way in which the committee functions, however, it does nothing to involve the community any more in the policing of London. Unelected individuals who have no clear locus and no democratic constituency cannot improve the way in which policing in London involves the community. They are not doing that and they do not pretend in their mission statement to recognise that as their legitimate role.

We know that £400,000 would buy us an extra 20 policemen and women for London. I believe that that sum would be better spent on extra police officers rather than on a committee that is unelected and unaccountable, and ultimately will be unsuccessful.

8.26 pm
Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate. Having taken part in similar debates in previous years, I hope that the annuality of these debates can be restored. As Opposition Members have said, there was a period of, I think, two or three years recently when these debates did not take place. I hope that those who manage the business of this place will ensure that in future these debates are annual. They give us a useful opportunity to take stock of law-and-order issues as they affect our constituents. They enable us to make some constructive suggestions about how such difficult matters can be handled in future.

I make no apology for the fact that I shall make a rather parochial speech. I do so deliberately, because I believe that law-and-order issues are often matters of local concern. I believe also that the best policing is local, in many instances. I shall speak from that point of view.

I do not know what your experience is, Madam Deputy Speaker, but on the basis of recent contacts in my constituency, it seems to me that the fear of crime and the reality of crime are still, alas, all too evident among the general public. In my part of south London, however— that is Sutton, and specifically the constituency of Carshalton and Wallington—considerable progress is being made by the excellent local police force of Z division, under the command of Superintendent Duncan Croll, and more locally still by the sector police under Inspector Trevor Shepherd, who covers much of the Carshalton area and some of the Sutton area within the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), and Inspector Rick Algar, whose officers police the Wallington sector.

I pay a warm tribute, as have other hon. Members, to the local police for all their efforts in the difficult area that we are discussing, and to the law-abiding majority of my constituents, who give the police their support. A point well made throughout the debate is that it is not possible to achieve real law and order in any modern community without the full partnership and support of many agencies and that of the general public.

As we shall never have enough resources to do everything we want and need to do in crime prevention and detection, it is clear that crime will be controlled, and ultimately reduced, only through partnership among the police, courts, parents, teachers, local authorities, youth workers, politicians and, above all, the general public, whether mobilised in the shape of neighbourhood watch or in any other good local schemes. Both my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam and I are pleased to receive the minutes of the police liaison committee in Sutton and to attend its meetings whenever we can, as we did last week, and to see the valuable way in which all its members, under the excellent chairmanship of Mrs. Heather Shaw, contribute to useful dialogue between representatives of the local community and the police who serve it.

As recently as last Friday, I made another visit to Wallington police station, the vital police station in my constituency, and benefited greatly from a useful exchange of views with Inspector Algar and his officers. I took the opportunity to go out on patrol in the Roundshaw area of my constituency with the beat officer concerned, PC Graham Curtis, and his colleague, PC Robert Butters.

That experience underlined to me the importance of partnership on the ground with officials from the housing department, youth workers and all those who can have a positive influence, especially on young people. With such a police presence, which is reassuring and well focused, it is possible to make greater efforts in youth club activity, neighbourhood watch and common citizenship, which ensures that crime is kept below the level that it would otherwise reach in the absence of such arrangements.

I was struck by what PC Curtis told me from his observations about the architecture of some of the estates that were built in the 1960s and 1970s. As the London borough of Sutton and the private sector have been successful with the single regeneration bid, we should be able to design out many of the opportunities that exist for crime in the architecture of large estates, just as, alas, they had been designed in when they were first built.

The good news about law and order in my constituency is demonstrated by the significant fall in reported crime for the second year running, and by the significant improvement in the clear-up rates on the most sensitive categories of crime. The clear-up rate is still not as good as the officers would wish, but it is getting better, and, with the support of the local community, it could get better still.

The police have had considerable success in targeting known criminals, which has already been mentioned. In one local example given to me today, a young man apparently admitted, once in custody, to 600 other vehicle crimes in addition to the ones with which he had been charged. Clearly, those factors affect the clear-up rate considerably.

I note the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam about the value of closed circuit television. She said, quite rightly, that there has been considerable success with the CCTV that was installed in the Sutton high street area. As soon as resources permit, I should like to see that technology spread to other parts of my constituency, to ensure that we do not simply displace crime and anti-social behaviour rather than eradicate it altogether.

I am confident that CCTV has a positive effect, but it needs to be spread as widely as possible to maximise the return on the investment. That can be done satisfactorily only as long as there is a strong partnership and understanding among the council, youth workers, teachers, the probation service, and projects to combat problems such as drugs through the youth awareness programme.

All that is good news, but the House will not be surprised to learn that there remain some important concerns on law and order in my constituency. Perhaps the most frequently expressed is that there still do not appear to be enough officers on duty at any given time. I do not know whether the problem is made worse by the common funding formula.

It would appear from what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said earlier today that there will be a real increase in the coming year of 3.6 per cent., which, as he rightly pointed out, is ahead of the current rate of inflation. He also told us that some 35 per cent. of all officers are now on street duty. That is very welcome, but my constituents would like the proportion to be higher still. They would wish that the common funding formula for the Met did not have the effect, as allegedly it does, of deterring Londoners from enjoying the police protection that they believe the special problems of the London area deserve.

It is a sobering thought that in the greater part of my constituency that is covered by the Wallington sector live some 60,000 people, in some six square miles of densely populated suburbia. Yet at any given time, if one were to carry out a spot check of the number of officers on duty, whether on bicycles, on foot or in quick-response vehicles, the true figure would be about six. Even though they do a marvellous job, and it is even more important that there is a partnership with all aspects of the local community, it causes genuine concern, especially among the lay public.

Furthermore, if we are to have the common funding formula, it is important that we do not penalise success in policing, in areas such as Z division—my own area— where, mercifully, the reported crime figures are not as high as those in other areas; indeed, they are falling when compared with the less fortunate areas, where the rate of crime is still high and rising.

In so far as we seek to resolve the problems with resources as and when they come available, we should do so on the basis of differential expansion rather than zero sum calculations, where, if one part of the metropolitan area gets relatively more resources, another part must get less.

I believe that we need to upgrade and extend the use of new information technology, which is already proving successful. That would certainly assist the officers in my constituency in dealing with what they regard as a blizzard of paperwork, and it would release more of them for active duty on the streets and in quick-response vehicles. They have argued strongly both to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam and to me at recent meetings that it would assist them in combating street robbery.

There has been one good step in that direction. I understand that, in dealings between the local police and the Crown Prosecution Service, there is a tendency to use what are called abbreviated files, whereby some four elements are used in a particular case rather than 15, which was previously the position.

In so far as police officers have to deal with urgent and violent crime, it is important that they are suitably protected. I was glad to hear what my right hon. and learned Friend had to say about that. I welcome the forthcoming trial of CS aerosol sprays. I hope that, when it has been properly considered, it will be available to officers.

The advantage, as explained to me, is that it is better designed to restrain or put off somebody who threatens a police officer physically, without necessarily doing excessive damage to that person, which might be the case with long-handled batons. It would be a welcome accessory for police officers.

It must, of course, be accompanied by tougher powers to deal with the carrying of knives and other offensive weapons. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her Bill. It was significant that, in the recent amnesty, in the Sutton and Wallington police stations alone, some 108 knifes and other weapons were collected.

In the long run, the continuing battle against crime must involve all of us—all members of the community. The police do their best, and we now have a professional and dedicated police service in Z division and in other parts of the country, but the police on their own cannot do everything. Notwithstanding modern technology and all the other modern techniques, the real key must be the partnership of which I have spoken, involving all members of the law-abiding community.

If we establish such a partnership, the level of crime will continue to fall steadily, as it has in recent years. Moreover, after a due delay, the fear of crime that disables and perplexes so many people will also be reduced, and people of all types and ages will be able to enjoy their pleasures and go about their business freely, without being dogged by that fear.

I commend the Metropolitan police for their efforts.

8.40 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) on, as usual, making a thoughtful speech. I agreed with much of it, especially his opening remarks about "designing out" crime on housing estates. As he said, we need to invest money for that purpose. Closed circuit television, entryphones and street lighting can all help.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) paid tribute to his local police force. As my hon. Friend's neighbour, I am happy to pay tribute to my local force, which has a good record in tackling racial and domestic violence every day, as well as more unusual crimes. It also has a good record on community policing.

The Waltham Forest panel of lay visitors has raised two important issues. The first is the detention of immigrants in police cells. In a report, the panel stated that in the summer of last year, four detainees were kept for as long as 80 hours in cells that were suitable only for detention for up to 24 hours. That, said the panel, imposed an unnecessary strain on both police and detainees— including other detainees being held in police cells.

Such lengthy detentions are unacceptable. Police cells, after all, are not prison cells; nor are they immigration detention centres. It should be borne in mind that the detainees have committed no crime.

The panel's second point relates to forensic medical examiners. Its report states: We have noted that many female detainees for cultural or personal reasons have expressed a preference for the services of a female FME. Female FMEs, however, are not available. I wrote to the Minister of State, Home Office, who is responsible for prisons. She replied in September, saying that the Metropolitan police currently employed 117 FMEs, of whom only 25 were women.

The letter added: If the sex of the person being examined is different to that of the FME, a chaperon is always present. The next sentence—with which I take issue—states: The Commissioner tells me that custody officers are sensitive to the individual needs of detainees, and if a female FME is requested they will do their best to oblige. I do not think that that is good enough. The panel referred to "cultural or personal reasons"; some of the women involved may have been victims of sexual assault, and should have the right to be examined by a female FME if they request it. I shall not go into the details of women being shackled in prisons, but one of the obscene aspects of that is the fact that they were shackled to men. It is just as bad for a forensic medical examination to be carried out by a man against the wishes of the woman concerned.

The number of police officers from ethnic minorities is still very low, as is the proportion. At the time of a report issued by the Commissioner, only 11 police officers out of a total of 237 in Leyton were from ethnic minorities—4.64 per cent. In all divisions, out of 19,693 police—including school crossing patrols—only 625, or 3.17 per cent., were from ethnic minorities. In that context, the police are not representative of the wider community they serve.

According to one report, some 60 per cent. of London's black 16 to 24-year-olds are out of work. There is discrimination against black people in general in terms of employment, but there is clearly discrimination against them in terms of police employment as well. If the police do not have enough officers from ethnic minorities, they will not have the necessary links with the ethnic minority communities where some crime occurs, and they will not be able to achieve the necessary results. My police chief tells me that many London police forces cannot take on more ethnic minority officers, because they are "downsizing"

The 1990 Trust—in conjunction with the National Black Caucus, the Association of Black Probation Officers, the Society of Black Lawyers and the Black Police Association—wrote to me about police recruitment. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, the trust pointed out: a higher proportion of ethnic minority officers quit the force compared to white officers. According to the Black Police Association, a large and increasing number of Black officers are forced to take the Met to Industrial Tribunals. The trust also quoted from an article in The Guardian, published in late 1994, which referred to police attitudes. Mike Bennett, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, complained of a growing feeling in the police force that white heterosexual officers are an endangered species". As the figures show, that was a very silly comment. Such attitudes need to be tackled.

The Conservative Government have a bad record on crime. Only one crime in 50 now results in a successful court conviction: that represents a 15 per cent. drop since 1980. The Government have cut compensation for victims. A woman who had been raped in a near-fatal attack received about £75,000 under the old scheme; now, she would receive only £7,500. A police officer who was the victim of crime would probably receive only a tenth of what he would have received under the old scheme.

The number of offences has risen by 47 per cent. since 1979 in London; within that figure, the level of violent crime has risen by 199 per cent., and the level of criminal damage by 116 per cent. The clear-up rate still hovers around 16 per cent.

The Government boast that the number of police officers has increased over the same period, but that is because the crime rate has soared. I will not go into the details of the police formula to which my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) referred, but it seems that there will be cuts. The Association of London Authorities speaks of cuts of £30 million last year, £30 million this year and the possibility of £30 million in each of the next six years. That must be reflected in police numbers.

Deaths in custody are an important issue. The verdict of unlawful killing that was returned at the inquest into the death of Shiji Lapite a couple of weeks ago was the second unlawful killing verdict returned on deaths involving Metropolitan police officers in three months. The Lapite verdict was made on 25 January; that on Richard O'Brien was made on 10 November last year.

Those verdicts are a terrible indictment of London's police service. Both juries accepted that unlawful, excessive and reckless force had been used by the police officers concerned. Both coroners expressed their concerns, in the form of coroners' recommendations, about the restraint techniques used by the police, and referred the files back to the Crown Prosecution Service. Decisions by the CPS on the cases of Brian Douglas and Wayne Douglas, who also died at the hands of the police, are awaited.

At the Lapite inquest, it was astonishing that police officers' evidence was that they were unaware of the dangers of neckholds and had received no training about those dangers, despite the fact that the Police Complaints Authority and the Association of Chief Police Officers had expressed concern about them.

On the day of the Lapite verdict, the Met paid out £90,000-worth of damages to three people assaulted by officers, one of whom had applied a neckhold. I will not go into all the comments and into what the coroner said about those cases. In the Shiji Lapite case, the officer admitted kicking the head as hard as he could". The coroner described a "gross disparity" between injuries sustained by Lapite and what the officers said was the case.

The police seem to have learnt nothing from those deaths in custody. In 1981, Winston Rose, a mentally ill man in my constituency of Leyton, died after suffocating on his vomit. In 1983, the same happened to Nicholas Ofusi. Those deaths in police custody from suffocation put out warning signals. In my opinion, they spell malpractice. Both the recent deaths of Shiji Lapite and Richard O'Brien raise questions about the police's lack of accountability. Action has not been taken to prevent future brutalities.

The "Spitting Image" programme has a question and answer feature either side of the break. The question in the forthcoming week could be, "Who issued no statement of apology following those verdicts, including that on the unlawful killing of Shiji Lapite, but instead, the day after the Lapite verdict was returned, issued an attack on the largest-selling black newspaper, The Voice, for complaining about racism in the Met?"

The answer would be Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. His reaction to those deaths in custody and to having to pay out those amounts of compensation are little short of shameful. He has a lot of good will, but he will lose it if he does not take firm action in relation to such deaths.

In a parliamentary question, I asked the Minister whether he would ban the use of neck "choke" holds, which have been banned in other countries. The Police Complaints Authority has produced evidence, and given it to him, saying that such holds are deadly. To his shame, in one of the worst answers that I have received in the House—and we receive plenty of bad answers—he said that he would not ban neckholds, despite all the evidence and the case of Shiji Lapite. That is a shameful episode.

The police must deal with the issue of deaths in custody or, as I said in a parliamentary question, they will supply a blue touchpaper for riots that no hon. Member wants to see.

8.54 pm
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

Like many capital cities, London is a city of crime, yet its streets are freer of crime and safer to walk down than most streets in cities of comparable size throughout the world. The reason is the work that has been put in over the years and, more recently, by the Metropolitan police in particular. That is a great tribute to them.

There are, of course, numerous causes of crime and many solutions are needed, but the single most important requirement is effective policing. That means, first, having a police force that, fundamentally, consists of good, honest and well-trained men. I am glad to say that that applies to the Met—its expertise is improving by the day.

Secondly, the police force needs to be of the right size. We have heard today that the Metropolitan police force is large and growing. It has about 5,000 more officers than in 1979; it got 259 extra policemen in 1995–96, and 180 more are promised in the coming year, so the size is increasing. More to the point, however, a record number of men are at the sharp end on the streets because officers have been released by civilianisation. We have the highest ever number of uniformed police constables on the streets. That applies in most regions in London, as well as across the board.

Thirdly, the police force needs to be correctly utilised. It needs to be targeted in the most effective way. That requires community policing—police on the beat—sector policing and the structure that supports that. It requires expertise, with police working in specialised areas to deal with, and to target, specialised crime. It requires police to be released from jobs that can be done by civilians so that they can concentrate on what one might call—as I am sure they would call it—real police work.

The results have been as follows. First, the police can more effectively deter crime by being visible on the streets. Secondly, they can produce a higher detection rate, which can be achieved, in particular, by expertise and specialised units in the force. That not only deters crime, but ensures that the people who are guilty of crime and who are detected are punished, often being removed from society. They cannot, therefore, at least for a while, commit that crime again. The results of those effective policies can be seen in the crime figures. As the Home Secretary said, over the past two years the crime rate throughout London has declined by 13 per cent. That means that more than 60,000 fewer crimes are now being committed in the capital than were being committed two years ago. That is no small matter.

That trend is reflected in my area, which is covered by Bromley police division, where there has been a decline in the number of crimes over each of the past two years, and the figure is improving. There has also been an improvement in the feelings of ordinary citizens in terms of their being safe from the effects of crime. The policies have produced real and sustainable benefits.

The detection rate has improved. It has nearly doubled from 12 to 23 per cent. which is also a good source of comfort. Of course there are differences within the borough and I am concerned that some areas are still showing signs of an increase in crime. In addition, some crimes are not showing the same decline as the general trend. Those areas need targeting, and to that extent I support my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) who rightly drew attention to outer London and the need for police resources and manpower to be distributed in a way that will tackle crime most effectively. I am not criticising the present level of resources, but it is wise to keep a close eye on those resources to ensure that they are best deployed.

Benefits flow from community liaison. In my area there are three police community liaison bodies: the Bromley police consultative committee, the Beckenham sector police discussion group, and the Penge area police community working party. Those three groups work effectively. I am a regular attender at the meetings of all three. They help to keep the police in contact with the views of ordinary people but they have other functions as well. They are part of the process of policing in a democracy and in that sense they are an important part of that system. They also help the police and the community through a two-way flow of information. More than that, in some cases they directly assist in protecting the public and assisting the police in carrying out their duty. In that context, I think especially of the neighbourhood watch groups in the area, which perform a useful function. I add my thanks to those, in the House and outside, who volunteer their time and effort to support neighbourhood watch.

The three discussion groups, or police-community liaison groups—whatever we call them—are useful from the politician's viewpoint because they enable local councillors and hon. Members in London boroughs to meet regularly not just one local police officer but officers throughout the hierarchy to discuss semi-formally the various problems that are emerging, as well as hearing community feedback. I praise the chairman of the Beckenham discussion group, Peter North, for his consistent work over a number of years. I welcome and thank the new chief superintendent for the borough, David Martin, for his commitment, even early on in his new post, to police-community liaison work.

The police do not work in a vacuum. They cannot carry out their job effectively without the backing of the whole law and order framework. Sensitive and useful reform of sentencing, the courts, rules of evidence and so on are essential. The Government's work on that over the past few years is reaping benefits and dividends that the police recognise. The toughening of sentencing policy, the improvement in the balance between defendants and prosecuting authorities in the courts and changes to the rules of evidence have succeeded in ensuring that the police can do their job more effectively. Those measures also ensure that their morale is improved, and they bring back confidence to the general public.

I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary for his personal work in this area. He has led, guided and determined the direction that should be taken. He has proved to be the most effective Home Secretary that I can remember. I support his plans to introduce minimum sentences, after consultation and after taking into account the views of people who are intimately connected with the enforcement of the law. That would also help the police in London in their difficult role.

Various innovations in new technology in terms of communication and of detecting crime, and the introduction of genetic data banks are already proving that they are useful in deterring and detecting crime. They are a useful additional armoury for the police in their difficult role.

Of course closed circuit television has a very important part to play. I suspect that its role will massively expand in coming years. In Bromley, there is an excellent example of its use in the town centre, where a new CCTV system has already prevented and detected crime. I am glad that the London borough of Bromley is planning next to introduce it in Beckenham town centre in the middle of my constituency. I hope that that is only the beginning, because I would like the use of such systems to be extended much further. They play an important role in making our society safer.

Sensitive reforms and innovation bring about a dramatic turn in the battle against crime, which is now being won. The benefits of the new measures and of Government policy are reflected in figures which increasingly show that things are moving in the right direction.

9.5 pm

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

There is no room in a debate on policing in London for self-satisfaction or complacency on any side. Crime and the fear of crime are part and parcel of the reality of the daily lives of those whom we represent. Whether one considers the number of police in December, as the Home Secretary would ask us to do, or the figures for April, the reality is, as the Home Office itself has accepted in its report "Anxiety About Crime", fear of, and anxiety about, crime are at their highest ever levels. That is the backcloth against which we debate policing in London and judge the Home Secretary's performance.

We owe the police, who are in the front line of the battle to reduce that anxiety and fear, a debt of gratitude. We owe them our gratitude and support—unconditional but not uncritical support—in the battle that they wage. In doing that, we owe it to them to be frank about some of the challenges that remain. At the forefront of those challenges is a continuing democratic deficit in the policing of London.

Reference has been made to Sir Paul Condon's views on that issue, and with good cause. When answering questions put by the Home Affairs Select Committee, he made it clear, especially in relation to the alienation of young people, that he felt that we needed to be prepared to look at ways in which to revitalise the links between the police and democratically accountable local bodies. That need is very clear to anyone who has any experience of working with young people in our city and anyone who has any knowledge or appreciation of the crisis that affects the youth service and voluntary youth work in London today.

Young people offend for a number of reasons. There is a complex pattern of causes of juvenile crime. There is no doubt that devilment is part of that pattern, but idleness and alienation play their part, too. One of the benefits of a properly resourced youth service, which enables partnership at local level between the local authority, the voluntary youth service and the police, is that it enables them to show young people another way.

When I was a young community lawyer, I sat on Westminster youth council. That council consisted of people from the uniformed sector, church youth clubs—one of which I represented—and local authorities. They sat with the police. Graham Dark, who, as hon. Members may remember, was head of security here, sat on Westminster youth council as a young inspector.

A whole cross-section of people in the local community were determined to ensure that young people had options and alternatives to the idleness that is all too often at the root of offending, that they were brought into the system, rather than alienated from it, and that they had some sense of responsibility to the local communities of which they were a part.

The fabric of that youth and community service has been stretched to breaking point and the increase in offending among young people must be seen in that context. We look to local authorities and to the Government to begin to tackle how we rebuild communities and a youth service that can act as a forum in which young people, the police, youth workers, the churches and the uniformed services can get together and show that there is another way.

Until and unless that is done, much of what we do and say about policing and young people will be to no avail. The local authority has a vital role to play. A police authority for London would also have a vital role to play—the fact that one does not exist is of profound regret. It does not end there. The lack of a police authority for London also acts as an obstacle to the development of strategies to prevent crime.

Recently, the Home Secretary visited Wembley, where the Chalkhill estate is due to be redeveloped. There is a partnership between local neighbourhood watch schemes, the police and people who live on the estate and who are desperately concerned about crime and offending. It has been a fruitful partnership.

I must pay tribute to Gloria Gold, who is the chairperson of the St. David's close and Barnhill road residents committee. Like many other people in London, she is involved in her local tenants' and residents' group and her local neighbourhood watch scheme. She is concerned about the pressure on resources, in terms of the provision of police officers on the beat. More importantly, she is concerned that the local authority does not seem to be giving the police and the local community the backing that they both seek to ensure that the developers provide for a police post on the estate. That is absolutely vital. I have taken up the case with the Minister, and I am grateful for his response.

The local divisional commander, Mr. Bligh, has obtained the promise of resources. All that is needed is a willingness on the part of the local authority that such important considerations for policing and crime prevention should be built into the development plan.

Just as we saw all too often in the 1960s and 1970s that crime was built into estates, so with co-ordination and effective strategies based on partnership, we can help build crime out of the estates. The fact that Brent council is not taking every opportunity to do so is a failure that it may come to regret.

My plea, which is echoed by other Members of Parliament and communities throughout London, is that we build on the partnership that is beginning to grow in our capital city—a partnership against crime.

We recognise that challenges remain. Reference has been made to recruitment into the police from a broader cross-section of the community, and that is a real challenge. The Metropolitan police still has some way to go in addressing that issue in terms of its equal opportunities policies, but it is supported by the community and this House as it does so. The real concerns about deaths in police custody remain, as do concerns about stopping and searching. Metropolitan police research into that matter has shown that a disproportionate number of young black people are picked up during such stopping and searching exercises. That is undoubtedly a cause of the suspicion that continues to exist in some sections of the community towards the police, and it also undermines the attempts by the police to recruit more young people from ethnic minority communities.

The challenges are there, but they can be overcome with goodwill and determination. Nothing is more likely to underpin our efforts to overcome the problem of crime and the fear of crime in our community than some sign that the Government have learnt the lessons of history and are prepared to give London what it demands—a directly elected police authority.

9.15 pm
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

A serious and thoughtful debate has been somewhat marred by the unrealistic claims of Labour Members that the Government are somehow responsible for rocketing crime. I note that Labour has produced a briefing note for its Members which runs to only one and a half pages. The briefing shows the paucity of Labour's arguments, and demonstrates how it is clutching and clawing at the air as it tries to produce figures to substantiate its point of view.

The truth is that Labour is full of hot air, signifying nothing. Interestingly, the briefing contains not a single mention of Labour's failure to support Government legislation to take tough action on crime and on thugs. The Government have a positive record of tackling crime, and we know that we have the public's confidence to carry on in that regard. No one can blame the Government, however, for the criminal actions of some people, and society must look to its conscience on that matter.

I am concerned about juvenile crime, and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner's report is disturbing. Twenty-eight per cent. of all notifiable crime is carried out by 14 to 20-year-olds, while 53 per cent. of those arrested for robbery and 50 per cent. of those arrested for car crime are from the same age group. I feel that parents and schools have a key role in setting standards and insisting on law-abiding behaviour.

Mr. Soley

While I agree about the need to a set a good example, does the hon. Lady agree that that would be easier if we did not have a Home Secretary who was constantly at war with the courts, losing cases before them, undermining and sniping at them and generally undermining the rule of law?

Lady Olga Maitland

The most important thing is that we have a Home Secretary who is totally dedicated to tackling crime. My right hon. and learned Friend has introduced legislation to deter crime and to deal with bullies who try to flout the law.

Young people and young criminals should be taught not just the three Rs in school, but the difference between right and wrong. School bullies should not be tolerated; school authorities have turned a blind eye to their activities for far too long. There are no excuses for committing crimes—we cannot blame socio-economic factors. The vast majority of poor people in this country would regard such a view as frankly insulting.

We cannot blame the police for amoral attitudes in society. Their duty is to protect the public, and our duty is to give them all the support and back-up that they need. That is why the Metropolitan police can spend £228 per head tackling crime, which is a generous figure compared with just under £100 per head in the regions.

Spending has increased by 87 per cent., even allowing for inflation, since 1979, which means that more officers are available for operational duty—contrary to the remarks of the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge). A further 5,000 police officers are due to come on stream over the next five years, following my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's announcement at our last party conference. The job of the police is to deter crime and to make sure that it does not pay; our job is to give the judiciary the necessary framework to impose heavy penalties. Above all, we must put the victims first. The Government have done all that.

I especially endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) about the hard work of the police in the borough of Sutton, where I am proud to be Member of Parliament for Sutton and Cheam. I endorse my hon. Friend's tribute to Chief Superintendent Duncan Kroll and I pay tribute to Chief Inspector Broadhurst, the senior officer at Sutton police station. They have a proud record. Reported crime has fallen significantly for the second year running: reported burglary is down 13 per cent. on the 1994 figures, reported vehicle crime is down 6 per cent. and clear-up rates remain above the Metropolitan police average, which is 30 per cent. both for total offences and for burglary.

I am glad to report that the Sutton burglary posse is now on the run. Those persistent juvenile offenders—young thugs aged 12 to 14 who build up hero worship among their peer group for burglary, taking and driving cars and plain stealing—are on the wane. That is largely due to improved policing and tougher sentencing, with more offenders being sent to secure units. They have now left town. That is the direct result of Sutton's policing policy of targeting known offenders. Their families, friends and movements were known to the police who, using good intelligence, decided to focus on the relatively small number of individuals who committed a disproportionate number of criminal offences.

Such tasking has had a considerable effect, because the police were able to build up a complete picture of young offenders—their life style, friends and movements—and put them under sufficient surveillance to be able to catch them red-handed. They have also been tackling car crime. Tasking is being focused in a similar way to make sure that young people do not take and drive away cars in the great numbers that they used to.

I am concerned about the large number of 19 to 21-year-olds who are vulnerable to the temptation of taking high-performance cars—whether stolen or belonging to their families—careering down motorways and causing the most terrible accidents. Car manufacturers should look to their consciences. Do they really need to sell cars capable of speeds of up to 180 mph when the motorway speed limit is 70 mph?

By the same token, it is important that we should focus on drug dealers, suppliers and the locations where drugs are known to be supplied. That has to be backed up by more health and education, which has been shown to be a better way of getting the message home than the law and order route alone.

I applaud the Sutton initiative on closed circuit television. That is undoubtedly the result of the input from the Government, who have made an overall investment of £15 million. It has changed the face of Sutton's town centre. Crime is down by 15 per cent. and the confidence of local shopkeepers is up. CCTV is an important innovation which has been introduced to car parks and, one hopes, will be extended to other high streets in the area.

I pay particular tribute to the 3,000 Metropolitan police officers who have been grievously attacked by criminals. It is essential that the police receive proper assistance to protect themselves as they go about their duties. Thugs take advantage of the fact that police officers are unarmed.

Stabbings constitute the majority of injuries to police. At Kilburn police station, I watched a training video about how police should deal with a knife attack. It was based on real-life experiences, with first-hand accounts from victims—both men and women—which are humbling to us all and should be compulsory viewing on television. If that video were shown on television, people would have a better understanding of the high risks that police officers run on their behalf. Those accounts emphasise how important it is that my private Member's Bill, the Offensive Weapons Bill, passes through Parliament, as it will play a key part in eliminating the knife culture.

Young thugs should not be allowed to get away with knife attacks. Society should say, "Enough—we have decided that you should clear off; it will end today." The knife culture is encouraged by peer group pressure and the propaganda that it is masculine to carry a knife. That must come to an end. Severe penalties should be introduced for those who carry knives and the police should be given greater powers of arrest. That will change the future face of society in London and make it safer.

9.25 pm
Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

This has been a good debate, in which London Members of Parliament have shown a passion for and commitment to safety in our capital city. It is a pity that the Home Secretary has taken so long to come to the House and be accountable to hon. Members for the policing of London. In some 40 months, this is only the third time that London Members of Parliament have had the opportunity to test his accountability. That says very little for the Home Secretary's concern about democracy and open government.

We have come to expect Ministers to say one thing and do another. With regard to an accountable police force for London, with the Government it is a matter of one Home Secretary saying one thing and the next Home Secretary doing another. Perhaps the Minister of State will tell us whether we can have fixed dates for debating policing in London.

It is astonishing that the Home Secretary is against proper accountability of the police service in London when senior police officers favour it—as indeed do the majority of people in London. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) said, why does London have to be different from the rest of the country? In a witty and devastating attack on the Metropolitan police advisory committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) explained exactly why we need proper accountability.

Throughout the debate, it has been quite clear that all hon. Members have the greatest respect for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and his staff and for the way in which they have approached the serious problems in our capital city. I remind the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) that there are female as well as male police officers. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) made a very telling point when he talked about the effect that the changes to criminal injuries compensation will have on police officers.

London suffers because some believe that its streets are paved with gold and that opportunity and wealth hang from every tree. However, London's scale and size is matched only by the scale and size of its problems. With 9.5 per cent. of the population out of work, unemployment is a bigger problem in London than in many other parts of the country. The Government's increasing practice of providing care in the community has hit London hardest and placed many at risk from serious crime. London and Londoners are confronted with a higher proportion of serious crimes—murder, rape, armed robbery, fraud and drug-related offences—than elsewhere in the country. Londoners do not need that. Officers of the Met have worked closely with councillors and community groups—the people of London—to try to combat those horrendous offences.

There have been notable successes. Before discussing some of the other issues that are of great concern to the people and the police of London, I pay tribute to the police in achieving results against considerable odds. Operation Bumblebee and Operation Eagle Eye have achieved and are achieving considerable success. I pay special tribute to Chief Superintendents Ken Chapman and Jane Stitchbury and their officers in the Lewisham and Catford divisions. Members of Parliament representing Lewisham work in close partnership with them and could not do our work so well without them.

In Catford division there has been a considerable increase in the clear-up rate due to the introduction of dedicated proactive teams. Nevertheless, the police believe that they are under-resourced and could do more if they were fairly treated by the Government. Unlike other police authorities, the Met will not receive part of the special grant that will guarantee at least a 3 per cent. increase in funding. They have been specifically excluded. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking, in a robust speech which obviously rattled the Home Secretary, made that argument extremely well—indeed, she rattled him so much that he had to leave the Chamber.

If, in response, the Minister says that the police will be able for the first time to carry over reserves, I say that, although that is true, it does not properly reflect the costs of providing a police service in London. The "crime management" formula assumes that similar crimes in different areas take the same amount of resources to solve. No allowance is made for variations in the time it takes to solve crimes and, in a densely populated city such as London with, among other things, a transient population, it is more likely to take more time to resolve problems.

We are equally worried about the "community relations" part of the formula, which is distributed purely on the basis of resident population. The consultants, Price Waterhouse, suggested that factors such as council estates, ethnic origins and levels of crime should be taken into account.

Much of the work that the police do is not reflected in the performance indicators. The chief superintendent in the Lewisham division said that a disabled woman's daughter has to call the police out at 3 am to help her put her mother back into bed. Because of the severity of that woman's disability, it takes five officers to help the daughter do that and preserve that woman's dignity. That is not reflected in the performance indicators, but who else is there for that family to turn to?

What about the case of Officer John Dine in Deptford, who has built up such a trust in his community that people whose first language is not English ask him to fill in their forms for them? That is not recognised in performance indicators, yet that is part of the police service.

Why has the Home Secretary rejected his consultants' advice on that issue? Why should the Met be prevented from qualifying for the specific grant because it has a rate refund this year, when other authorities are perfectly at liberty to carry forward reserves?

Last time we debated this subject, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) predicted that there would be a reduction in the number of police officers. Sadly, her prediction has proved all too true. The original budget for 1996–97 provided for 27,808 officers. The latest figures provide for 27,674–134 fewer officers. The Commissioner will try to deal with that at inspector and sergeant level to protect the number of bobbies on the beat. He has said, however: the impact on divisional policing will be significant and will undermine the ability to maintain proactive initiatives to meet local priorities. I recently requested figures for street patrols. They show that, in 1995, the percentage of time spent on street duties was 35 per cent. Given that only one third of police time is spent on the street, it is little wonder that the Commissioner—with, I am sure, the support of the majority of Londoners—is doing everything that he can to protect that part of the service. Perhaps the Minister can say what initiatives the Home Secretary is taking to help the police spend less time on administration and more time on the street, catching criminals.

Another success in crime prevention has been closed circuit television. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey), in an excellent speech, described the use of the safer cities initiative in her constituency. Many police officers remain concerned about which areas in London will be covered—as are the small businesses that would benefit most. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Sir M. Shersby) also raised that point.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green said, the guidelines have been biased against London, giving priority to smaller centres of population. Can the Minister reassure Londoners that he will take their fears seriously and play fair with London in distributing funds for CCTV, so that the capital gets its fair share? Crime in London has too high a cost for the Government to duck their responsibilities. Crime against business is a problem not only for individual business men and women but for their employees, the economy and the country.

The Forum of Private Business survey showed that more than 40 per cent. of businesses throughout the country were burgled last year, yet the figure for London was an astounding 61 per cent. Businesses are increasingly having to incorporate the cost of crime in their budgeting, with £525.6 million spent on crime prevention in 1994–95. London businesses are increasingly refused insurance cover, or are hit with exorbitant premiums. At the same time, shutters and closed shops encourage vandalism, graffiti and fear. It is estimated that crime costs businesses more than half a billion pounds every year, and that only two thirds of that sum is recovered. The message is clear: under the Tories, it is not the criminals who pay for their victims, as the crime tax hits the capital's economic and employment prospects.

It is clear that Londoners, in common with people throughout the country, have a considerable fear of crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall made a thoughtful speech on that issue and she was absolutely right. A Metropolitan police survey showed that half the respondents felt threatened by crime in their areas. Asked whether they felt safe walking home after dark, the number who felt very safe fell from a previously poor 23 per cent. to a staggeringly low 16 per cent. Thirty-seven per cent. of Londoners were "quite concerned" about crime, and 55 per cent. were "very concerned". Two out of three Londoners believe that crime in the capital will worsen. That is an appalling indictment of Government policies. We know also that 49 per cent. of women are afraid to walk down their own streets at night.

It is time to give our streets and public places back to our law-abiding citizens. That can be done. A number of hon. Members mentioned partnerships between police and local authorities. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) did not feel able to congratulate his Labour council on its excellent work in that regard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) spoke eloquently of the need for partnership to develop further. If I may give a plug for my own authority, there have been a large number of successful partnership schemes between the council, police and local community—so much so that good liaison and response has become part of the fabric of policing in Lewisham. The police in Lewisham—as elsewhere in London, I imagine—believe that it is vital to increase public confidence in the police. As Superintendent Ken Chapman said, that boils down to increasing police visibility. Confidence may be falling because the service remains under-resourced while its domain is extended. The police and the public want more bobbies to be putting in more hours on the beat, but that is difficult because of the increase in paperwork and the developing administrative role that the police are taking on, in addition to the increasing pressure on the police as other groups and support networks are eroded.

Many police officers feel increasingly frustrated by the amount of paperwork that they have to do, which is often thrown back in their faces when the Crown Prosecution Service decides not to proceed with a case. The police officer is then expected to go back to the victim and explain why a vandal, thief, mugger or worse is to get away with it. When will the Government review the way in which the Crown Prosecution Service works so that it enhances and supports the work done by the police, rather than causing deep distress and growing cynicism among the police and the public, and particularly among victims?

There have been a number of tragic examples of people being returned to the local community from care in hospitals when clearly they are not able to cope. Those people regularly end up on the streets. I do not wish to go into the details of individual cases, but due to cuts in council and other services the police inevitably end up picking up the pieces. The reduced network of other support agencies means that the police, instead of being a service of last resort, have become the only resort. Cuts in local government funding have meant that community organisations such as youth groups have to be closed or scaled down. Valuable preventive safeguards are therefore lost. The Government have done and are doing nothing to tackle that problem.

If we are to give people—children, the elderly and vulnerable, women, ethnic communities—and small businesses a stake in their community, we must surely begin by giving them a safe environment. A safe environment is one in which the elderly do not fear to go out at night and one in which women can choose which form of transport they use without concern. A safe environment is one in which our children are not pressured into petty theft or drug taking and in which our ethnic minorities no longer fear racial harassment and victimisation. A safe environment is a community in which the police, the council and the people work together in partnership to prevent crime and to deal with it.

It is clear that we do not yet have a safe environment in London, and that Londoners are not safe with the Tories.

9.42 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) on her first appearance at the Dispatch Box as a Labour Front-Bench spokesman. I shall enjoy debating with her, in my current capacity, for some years to come, while she remains in that capacity.

I must tell the hon. Lady that the hollow laughter that met her peroration at the end of her speech was not directed at her. It is just that my hon. Friends have longer memories than she does. Nearly all Opposition Members who have spoken in the debate have called for more money to be spent on the police and have pretended that they will be the guardians of the British police service, but Conservative Members recall that, during the last days of the previous Labour Government—after practically destroying the morale of the British police force—they left the police 7,500 officers short. They left the Metropolitan police 3,740 officers short. Lectures from the hon. Lady on whether the police are safe with the Government therefore ring rather hollow.

What is the constitutional position? Due to its unique position, the Metropolitan police accounts for its performance to the House through the Home Secretary. I believe that this debate has shown the tightness and wisdom of continuing that arrangement. That accountability is not, as several Opposition Members have suggested, merely a matter of a once-a-year debate. The Home Secretary and I answer more than 150 letters or questions from hon. Members about the Metropolitan police each year; the Home Secretary meets all the London Members of Parliament in their party groupings; we discuss the annual policing plan; we meet local authority representatives to discuss financial issues; and we present to Parliament the Metropolitan police estimates, the Metropolitan police accounts and the Commissioner's annual report.

Mr. Straw

How can the Minister make such preposterous assertions when only five Tory Members from constituencies in Greater London have bothered to turn up to hear him winding up?

Mr. Maclean

If that is the thrust of the attack from the man who wants to be the future Home Secretary, frankly I find it rather pathetic. I can understand that. Because of the savaging that the hon. Gentleman has had from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary over the past few months, he is scared to sit on the Front Bench unless he has a phalanx of colleagues around him. They are even there to protect him from poor little me.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) spoke from his personal experience of the Metropolitan police, gleaned from his attachment as part of the police parliamentary scheme. He referred to concerns about the tenure of specialist officers. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) raised her concerns and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) made a related point about the length of time senior officers spend in divisions.

The operational deployment of officers is, of course, a matter for the Commissioner but, as I think hon. Members recognise, there is a trade-off between giving officers continuity of experience, whether in a particular locality or in a particular speciality, and ensuring that training and promotion needs are met.

As the hon. Member for Vauxhall noted, the divisional commander at Brixton, Peter Clarke, is leaving his post on a well deserved promotion. I know that the Commissioner is alive to local concerns and that he will always listen to local people's representations, but in the last analysis he has to weigh up all the relevant considerations—including, in the case of specialist squads, the chief inspector of constabulary's recommendations on tenure. Reasonably frequent turnover guards against complacency and staleness.

I should like to mention some of the exciting new technological and hardware back-up that we have made available to the Met over the past two or three years. Hon. Members have mentioned some of them. My right hon. and learned Friend made it clear how vital it is for professional policing in the late 20th century that police officers are supported by the latest developments. The Commissioner sets great store by that and we have supported him to the hilt.

I shall, as an example, describe some of the backstage equipment that supports Operation Bumblebee, one of the most successful operations that the Met has run in the past 12 months. Just before Christmas, the Marylebone division of the Met organised a seminar on computer-related crime, at which it introduced Tracer, which it billed as "the thief s worst nightmare."

Tracer carries a DNA-style code. It is made up of millions of microscopic particles dissolved in water, each carrying a special chemical code just like DNA. The solution is simply brushed on to the item that is being marked. Its presence is revealed under ultra violet light. When a burglar tries to remove the Tracer marks, he faces millions of particles in all the awkward cracks and corners which have to be removed before the stolen property can be disposed of. Burglary of computers, especially computer chips, can be highly lucrative. The introduction of technology such as Tracer will make a real contribution to minimising the success of the computer thief.

The counter-action partnership initiative offers advice on how to cut crime in the high street, and commercial robberies have been cut across London by 31 per cent. Now Dixons and the Met, via the consumer electronics security initiative, are looking to the electronics industry to co-operate in making its products—which are highly desirable to criminals, who have created a flourishing marketplace for goods that are easily stolen and quickly re-sold—much more secure. That top technology is benefiting the law-abiding in society and getting at the criminal.

Operation Eagle Eye is underpinned by technology. All 25 of the divisions that are involved in Eagle Eye will, by the end of this month, have received a range of sophisticated equipment, including high quality video cameras and powerful computer systems.

An officer involved with CRIMINT—the crime intelligence system—was quoted as saying: With CRIMINT we are in a new world. I was recently asked if I knew something about a certain car. In the old days I would have had to hunt through my cards. I would probably have said, 'Yes, I do, but … '. With CRIMINT I was able to answer the question in about fifteen seconds. And with CRIMINT things just don't go missing.". That is the answer to the hon. Member for Lewisham, East, who asked what we were doing to speed things up and reduce paperwork. That is just one example. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary mentioned CRIS, which is another.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Sir M. Shersby) asked about business crime. I mentioned the partnership with commercial interests. The Oxford street partnership is another exciting initiative, in which major retailers are using Metropolitan police targeting techniques and are as successful against shop thieves as the Met has been.

My hon. Friend also asked about firearms research. Research funded by the Home Office at the Oxford university centre for criminological research concluded that there was no particular illegal firearm and that there was no Mr. Big. We remain concerned about illegal firearms getting into the hands of criminals and the police and Customs and Excise remain extremely vigilant.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) mentioned the increasing use of firearms. I am sorry, but that is not the case. Firearms were used less in crime in the Metropolitan police area last year than in any year since 1983.

My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) mentioned fear of burglars among old people. He is right to point out that the fear is more widespread than crime. The people who fear crime least are young men who hang around street corners. They are also most likely to be the victims of crime—they are most likely to commit offences against each other. Nevertheless, all our studies show that older people, who most fear crime have the least to fear from it.

Hon. Members and the media have an obligation to try to get across to elderly people the message that they do not stand a great risk of being burgled and that, if they are burgled, they do not stand a great risk of being attacked in their homes. Only a small percentage of old people are attacked in their homes during a burglary.

My hon. Friend mentioned the initiative by the Met to recruit more specials. I congratulate Wandsworth on revising its plans on policing the borough and for taking an initiative to increase visible policing in the area. The answer was not to use the parks police but, as Wandsworth has now decided, to back the Metropolitan police by recruiting more special constables. My hon. Friend also highlighted the view of the Liberal party that putting more officers on the beat would not help the fight against crime. Liberal Members must regret those words.

I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey praise the Met on its success and admit that there were more officers than ever before on street duties. The number of man days allocated to street duties has increased consistently since we started measuring operational duties in 1984.

With regard to stop and search, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not read the evidence of Sir Paul Condon to the Home Affairs Committee. He was asked: Do you feel that the concerns which have been expressed by the black community that a disproportionate number of black people are subject to these police powers are justified? If, as I understand it, the powers are exercised on reasonable suspicion, why is it then that there is only an arrest with one in ten of those stop and search procedures? He replied: I will answer that, but I will start just slightly off at a tangent. The one arrest out of ten stops is consistent, but I would argue my officers are colour-blind in its application, and the one in ten arrest is of all suspects regardless of whether they were white, Afro-Caribbean, European Asian, whatever. Now, if the figures reveal massive over-stopping of young Afro-Caribbeans and no arrests, then I would perhaps be prepared to accept your assertion. That was a rather robust put-down to the suggestion that his officers were biased in stop and search.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey will also regret his remarks tonight on drugs raids. He suggested that the police use too many officers. There is a world of difference between arresting a burglar, when one can get by with two or three officers, and raiding a night club where there may be 500 to 700 fit young people. Ecstasy may be on sale and there may be not one or two harmless users, but a dozen hardened pushers of a drug that kills. While I might be happy to go on a burglary raid with two or three other bobbies, I would want 200 around me on that raid and the highland light infantry thrown in to cover my back.

In some ways, I am glad that the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) said what she did. It will give Conservative central office scope over many months to quote some gross inaccuracies. The hon. Lady's speech was a tissue of fantasies. It reminded me of the propaganda maxim that, if a lie is to be told, make sure that it is a big one. I think that the hon. Lady will regret her remarks. Her allegations have no credibility. Her remarks about policing in London were about as accurate as her assertion that there were no problems in the child welfare department in Islington. Let the House judge the hon. Lady's credibility. I do not say "honesty" or "integrity": I merely ask the House to judge her credibility.

The hon. Lady made great play, in ridiculing an answer that I provided, of the number of occasions that the Metropolitan police committee had met to carry out public consultation in London. She had great fun at the committee's expense. She began her attack with the suggestion that, when she asked me about what the committee had done—for example, what publicity materials had been prepared, whether it would consult the boroughs' police consultative committee and when and with whom the committee had held public meetings, my answer began: These are all matters for the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Committee. She continued to make fun by suggesting that the Metropolitan Police Committee gives confidential advice to the Home Secretary so, therefore, she was prevented from getting at the facts. The hon. Lady quoted only the first line of my reply. I said: These are all matters for the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Committee. However, I understand that since the inception of the Metropolitan Police Committee the members have met representatives of the Association of London Government, the Outer London Metropolitan Police Consultative Association and the Government office for London, made more than 40 visits to individual police and community consultative groups, lay visitors' panels and community groups, held a meeting for all PCCG chairmen, open to the press and public, and held nine full formal meetings, and several meetings of sub-committees on remuneration matters and performance indicators."— [Official Report, 12 December 1995; Vol. 268, c. 606.]

Mr. Dobson

Keep going.

Mr. Maclean

I have had to keep going, because the hon. Lady chose to misrepresent the facts. If this evening is an example of how accurate the hon. Lady can be in quoting from something in Hansard, how accurate was she when she said that there was a commitment—a promise by the Home Secretary—that every force would get a minimum increase of 3.6 per cent? There is no such commitment. She said that there are fewer bobbies on London's streets. That is not so. She alleged that there is less money for London police. Again, that is not so.

Then we had the wonderful, magical pronouncement that Labour supports secure training centres. No wonder the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) had to leave the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Lady's pronouncement is patently not true.

I move on to police numbers in London, which has been the crux of the debate. What is the Labour party's quibble? What is the castle that it has built from which to make its case? Labour Members say that, in March 1995, there were 131 fewer officers overall in the Metropolitan police than in 1994. Let us put that in perspective. It seems that Labour is now the great defender of police numbers.

In 1979, the Metropolitan police was 3,797 bobbies under strength. That shortfall was brought about by a Labour Government. England and Wales were 7,500 short. In 1979, the Metropolitan police had only 16,500 constables. We have steadily increased the number of bobbies in London with the result that, at the end of March 1995, the Metropolitan police had 21,433. The Metropolitan police now has 5,000 more constables—bobbies on the beat—so we shall not take lectures from the Opposition about 131.

The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) quoted from the report of Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary. Again, he quoted only the table. He did not go on to quote the paragraph that says: The impact of the reorganisation programme is beginning to become more apparent, with further reductions in the number of senior and intermediate ranks … This continues the trend since 1992, which has seen an increase in constable strength of 1,892 (up by 396 constables in 1994). The Labour party does not seem to understand that.

Opposition Members do not understand that the Met has deliberately streamlined its senior management. It has cut 260 senior management posts and 429 sergeant posts. With the cuts at senior level, there are 600 more constables in the Met. That is the truth—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.