HC Deb 14 November 1997 vol 300 cc1165-207

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

11.20 am
Kate Hoey

I was talking about the bright future of the Lambeth community police consultative committee and my confidence in the leadership of Michael Franklin.

I want to mention a few of the initiatives taking place in my borough and how Lambeth is in many ways taking a lead in the diversity of operational policing. Many of the initiatives are designed to ensure that the old vicious circle of suspicion, mistrust and entrenchment remains broken. Trust does not come overnight, and everyone in Lambeth is very aware of how just one badly handled incident can set back relations so quickly. There is a need for enormous sensitivity in dealing with some of the incidents in my area.

On 4 March this year, the four Lambeth police operational command units—Brixton, Streatham, Vauxhall and south-west operations—launched something called policing diversity in Lambeth. It is a community and race relations strategy set up in response to the Metropolitan police's corporate strategy, the London Beat.

Policing diversity in Lambeth is a comprehensive initiative intended to bring about positive change in the policing of Lambeth's diverse communities. Partnership and participation differentiate PDL from previous initiatives. In June 1997, a sub-group of the Lambeth community-police consultative group was established to formulate a new partnership between Lambeth's police and communities. This sub-group is called the policing diversity working group. It has drawn up an action plan that was completed with the full participation of the community and the community-police consultative committee. It represents the commitment of Lambeth police to begin the process of real change through partnership with the relevant communities. It also represents the commitment of the communities to work in partnership with their police service.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

Will the hon. Lady confirm that this exciting partnership was entered into voluntarily by the police and the local authority because both recognised its importance for the people whom they serve?

Kate Hoey

Of course it was entered into voluntarily. Indeed, it is the strength of many of these initiatives that people wanted them to happen. I know where the shadow Home Secretary is trying to lead me, but I do not think that it is relevant.

The action plan has been completed, and there are a number of recommendations. I mention it now because it is important that every support is given from headquarters and that there is no slackening of effort. The sub-group will examine ways to increase ethnic minority recruitment into the police service, as there is still a problem with under-representation. It will consider ways of developing local recruitment initiatives in conjunction with partners, as well as ways of trying to give people in the community a feeling that, although they do not make operational decisions, they are at least consulted.

For example, when we come to choose the key police officers in areas such as Lambeth, it is important that people feel that they have some say about the kind of officers they want and the way in which those officers should work, although the ultimate decision clearly has to lie with the Commissioner and the Home Secretary. Such initiatives are important and I hope that certain problems, perhaps to do with resources, do not prevent their being implemented.

I shall cite one instance of the police listening carefully to local opinion. Last year, there was a proposal to establish a custodial suite—a criminal justice facility—in Clapham instead of a new police station. The facility would have brought some 62 cells to an area which, even if one agreed that it needed them, was not suitable in terms of access for the whole borough. There was a great deal of consultation, and I was pleased that just last week it was announced that the criminal justice facility proposal has been dropped and that there would be a new police station, which is what people wanted. There is also the possibility of reducing the number of divisions in Lambeth. I pay tribute to the police for listening to the huge protests in the area, not local NIMBY protests but in Lambeth as a whole, and from the local authority.

The Lambeth firearms amnesty has already been mentioned, and I should like to put it in context. It did not just happen. In May and June, there were three firearms incidents in the borough—two were fatal, and in the other a young boy was shot through the door of his own home. On 17 June, there was a community police consultative committee meeting in the town hall, which I attended. It was a very volatile meeting. People were angry, but there was also a feeling that the community had almost accepted the fact that such incidents were going to happen and that guns would be used in the borough. There was almost a feeling of despair.

Thanks to the efforts of some very good local people and the work of the community-police consultative committee, people began to ask why they had to put up with such incidents. If there had been so many incidents in such a short time in one of the leafier parts of the country, there would have been outrage. People began to feel that they had to do something themselves. The initiative for the amnesty came from the community, but was quickly supported by the local police, the Commissioner and the Home Office. As has been said, it was launched by the Home Secretary. It was good that the Home Secretary was there and we were delighted that he gave his support, but the assembly hall was packed so early in the morning because people wanted to hear Ian Wright. He made a very simple, moving speech and, in a few short sentences, put over the message that having a gun on the streets was not cool. I hope that that message got through to some of those people for whom Ian Wright is a role model.

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary confirmed, 12 guns have been handed in so far, together with a large amount of ammunition. That is a success. Some people have suggested that 12 guns are not a lot, but for Lambeth that is a real success story and there is still time to go. I hope that the media pick up on that and do not repeat the nasty attitude of one piece that I saw in the London Evening Standard, which suggested that the amnesty was a waste of time. It is not. We should be delighted about the results.

An excellent report called, "Deaths in Police Custody: Lessons from Tragedy" was produced last year by a Lambeth partnership spearheaded by the community-police consultative committee. Work on that is continuing. The police have taken all the action that they can, but some of the measures in the report need the Home Secretary's approval. I hope that we shall hear a little more about what might be done to implement the other recommendations in the report, which was widely accepted as a positive way to deal with some of the tragic deaths in police custody.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned CS spray. There is still concern in the community about the use of CS spray, although I do not share that concern. The policy was piloted in Streatham. There was consultation before the final operational decision was taken, which made a difference, even if some people did not agree with what was decided. We have to continue to be careful in our use of the spray, but everyone wants our police men and women to be protected in any way possible. If that means the use of CS spray, so be it.

In his comments on closed circuit television, the shadow Home Secretary did not mention Brixton, where the custody suite now has CCTV. That has been a major factor in building confidence about what happens to people in police stations. Unfortunately, it has not yet been possible to find a satisfactory technical solution to the problem of getting CCTV into police vans in Brixton. That is being worked on. I hope that the Commissioner does not give up, because CCTV in the police vans in which people are picked up would be another confidence-building measure.

We have lost some good police officers in Lambeth who have moved on or retired. I pay tribute to Superintendent Rees, who worked in Vauxhall for some time. That makes a real difference. I know the difficulties, but it is important to build up continuity. It is much better if we can keep our superintendents for as long as possible. We shall be losing Superintendent Ted Peel from Brixton soon as well. We also lost Alan O'Gorman, who did so much for the success of the Lambeth summer projects. Those projects were among the first efforts a few years ago to get local people to work with the police, bringing the local authority on board. They were very successful.

Being a police officer in Lambeth is a very difficult job. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will continue to ensure that officers in my borough are given the necessary resources and the support to make people feel that they are being policed properly and that they can walk the streets safely.

11.33 am
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). Maps from as far back as the 18th century mark the boundary of Westminster with a dotted line down the middle of the Thames. It is as much a pleasure to face her across the House as it is to face her across the river.

I was grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) and the Home Secretary for their—literal—exchange about prostitutes' cards in telephone boxes. Westminster city council will also be grateful.

I am not sure whether the long tradition of debates on policing in London is threatened by the likely move to a different pattern of police authorities in the capital. In case it is, I pay retrospective tribute to the contributions made to such debates over many years by my erstwhile parliamentary neighbour, Sir John Wheeler, in a constituency capacity and as Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, before he took up responsibility for security matters at the Northern Ireland Office.

The City of London has long had a police committee, as well as its own separate police force. They and I recognise that the policing problems of the City are different from the wider problems faced by the Met, just as the City community is different from the wider Greater London scene. A word about the City of London police is worth while in the larger tapestry of the debate. To the credit of the force, I want to make two points about crime and one about community support, rounding my comments off with figures from a generic test of public reaction.

The first development is the automatic number plate reader, which has generated 273 arrests since its inception in February this year. On average, more than 500,000 vehicles are read each week and checked against the vehicle database of the police national computer. Each individual operation takes four seconds. It is significant crime-busting technology, covering offences such as robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft, stalking, sexual offences, witness intimidation and driving offences.

Secondly, I believe that the City of London force is the only force currently taking DNA samples from all persons charged or cautioned for notifiable crimes. Offenders who have committed crimes in other force areas have thereby been identified. That will gather speed as the database approaches an effective size.

The force's community support contribution that I should like to mention arose in the health area. There had been perceived public anxiety about heart attacks in the City as Bart's began to be run down. A broad partnership is providing automatic external defibrillators in four City of London force vehicles and at the Old Bailey, with 100 police officers trained in the project, in a force of fewer than 1,000 officers.

The most recent fraud arrests in the City are sub judice, but I close this cameo snapshot with the information from the report by Her Majesty's inspectorate that the combined public satisfaction with foot and mobile patrols in the City is 89 per cent., placing the force at the top of national public satisfaction figures. In a period of uncertainty about London governance, I express my appreciation for the reassurance that there are no plans to change the status of the City's force.

Moving westward into Westminster, I do not wish to give the impression of a different level of confidence in the Met, but I should like to stress some significant central London policing problems relating to homelessness and a separate concentration of recent immigrants. I serve as an officer of the parliamentary all-party groups on homelessness and on refugees. I shall not seek to examine whether my interest in talking on those subjects derives from those roles or from my constituency business, or which of those prompts the other. I suspect that it is probably a bit of both.

Now is not the time to deal with the rough sleepers initiative or go into the detailed figures, partly because I have had privileged access to the so far unpublished May monitoring figures. The figures had been falling, but have now levelled off. Moreover, my constituency remains the principal source of incidence, as it has been for many years. I do not suggest that nothing changes, but I believe that the previous incidence of sleeping out under the arches and in the Strand has a resonance from the fact that the site where now stands the Savoy hotel and where once stood John of Gaunt's palace was host, under the Tudors and Queen Elizabeth, to a hostel for the homeless. That demonstrates a sad continuity of life in the capital.

There is evidence of rough sleeping showing fluctuation by area within central London, and by age and condition. There is a police dimension to that because, as with prostitution, residents are subject to variations in exposure to the phenomenon and look to the state' s social arms to solve them.

There is a high incidence of alcohol abuse and, more locally, of drug abuse. There is also an incidence overall of mental instability which calls as often for Department of Health treatment. The underlying abuses give rise to specific and violent oral abuse towards pedestrians and bystanders, which prompts residents to have perhaps unfair expectations of what the police can do in the context. Latterly, there has been a particular and growing problem in the Victoria area, with a marked bias towards older rough sleepers. The consequences of that have exacerbated community tensions with residents.

Five of Westminster's six main police stations are in my constituency, and Westminster's police community consultative committees all meet in the constituency. I enjoyed the Home Secretary's post-1829 history. He will know that in addition to the activity on West India dock around the turn of the century, the history goes back still further to the Bow Street runners in Covent Garden who were based, as he alluded to, on the magistracy.

The central of the three police consultative committees, which is based in the west end, serves as an umbrella to a comprehensive homelessness forum in which the police also take part. To the three committees' combined credit, under police auspices, they will hold in the spring an all-day conference on the street people, to ventilate both opportunities and restraints. I am grateful to the police for their collaboration in the initiative. To be specific, the police homelessness unit at Charing Cross is well respected and well regarded by the homelessness agencies in central London. It has clearly been honed by long exposure to the problem.

For obvious reasons, I want to remain as neutral as I can in commentary on extra-Westminster experience. As the rough sleepers initiative has expanded, the agencies are not as invariably respectful towards the police response elsewhere. Zero tolerance-style initiatives at best move the street homeless around central London, as with prostitution, and at worst increase the intolerant harassment of them by others. There has been a rise, both quantitative and qualitative, in violence against street homeless people including, I fear, in Soho, stretching from some being set on fire while asleep to the murder of two young homeless people.

Mr. Michael

I recognise the seriousness of the issues with which the right hon. Gentleman is dealing. Will he, however, recognise that the term "zero tolerance" can be used in a variety of ways? The Government have used the term with some care. We have used it in terms of trying to deal with low levels of violence and disorder which sometimes grow to greater levels of crime and violence. We do not see zero tolerance as a reason for thoughtless or intolerant intrusion into the way in which particular social problems are dealt with.

Mr. Brooke

I am perfectly content to accept the Minister's intervention. I was seeking to address the consequences of particular actions towards the homeless.

On recent immigrants, I have become increasingly aware of a deterioration on what I will literally and not metaphorically call the north-west frontier of my constituency—the swathe between Marble Arch and Bayswater. At the South-East Bayswater residents association annual meeting last week, the divisional superintendent expressed his concern, which has since been reported by the local paper, at sharply rising crime rates. Violent crime is up by 60 per cent. in a year and street crimes up by 44 per cent.

On the morrow of the 60 Dover asylum seekers arriving by coach at Westminster City hall, I must dwell for a moment on the effect that asylum seeker concentrations are having on the perception of residents in the host community. In the Paddington division, that takes the form of immigrants from eastern Europe, the horn of Africa, the middle east and now from Algeria and other African countries.

I raised with the Home Office in August the issue of Romanian gypsies in Paddington and, much later, I got a general reply about asylum law, which I appreciated. It was, however, a general reply rather than a targeted response to this markedly unfavourable development in local eyes.

The following statistics I give descriptively and not evaluatively. Some 5 per cent. of all persons arrested in Paddington are from eastern Europe and 110 of the 123 persons reporting on bail at Paddington Green and Harrow Road police stations—Harrow Road police station is not in my constituency—were born outside this country. As they are, in the main, recent arrivals, they are not tied into any of the statutory or community systems that bring people together and, linguistically, they set the police a much larger problem than the one they have successfully solved with the Chinese in Soho.

The one silver lining to the problems with asylum seekers is that central Governments of both parties have accelerated the working together of local authorities and the police against those problems. I agree that that approach is reinforced by this Government's policy. I acknowledge that resolution of the problem that I am describing lies elsewhere in government, but I am aware that, in the meantime, the police have to cope with the consequences—and, here, resources become critical.

It would be silly to disguise anxiety on the ground of resources. I understand that no extra resources are to be given to local authorities, in the context of the recent consultation paper. I am perfectly happy to regard the jury as being out on the subject as far as the new Government are concerned, but I am among the one in five on the Conservative Benches who sat here before 1979.I am afraid that I do recall the 1979 inheritance, which was prompted first, by restraint on numbers and, secondly, by restraint on pay, which cost us in the 1970s the retirement of well-experienced 35-year-old police sergeants whose loss and absence were so conspicuous and serious when we expanded police numbers dramatically after 1979.

I will air in conclusion a suspicion that is both an index of concern and a salient of hope. Very roughly, my diagnosis runs as follows. The police expansion after 1979 coincided with a simultaneous retraction in many other parts of the public sector—just as it did with significant parts of the private sector—so that the police were not obliged to use modern management techniques to wring the most out of their resources in the way that their less immediately fortunate colleagues had to do. The dividend is potentially still there at the centre of the Met. It will be a painful dividend because of lying fallow heretofore and it will call for uncommon leadership, but, to mix my north-west frontier metaphor, it is from that source—that untapped dividend—that the relief to the siege of Paddington may lie.

11.48 am
Ann Keen (Brentford and Isleworth)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for letting me speak in this important debate. The Metropolitan police services continue to strive to improve policing in London, and that is demonstrated very much by their community links within the London boroughs, which have already been referred to this morning. I commend the London borough of Hounslow on its home security scheme, in particular for 60-plus citizens. More than 2,000 homes have now benefited from home security systems and we have seen a difference.

We work continually with schools, with multi-agencies and with youth workers. Recently, Brentford school for girls put on a drama called "Danger Stranger" in which young people acted out roles for older citizens to make them aware of bogus callers. That is especially important at this time of year.

Our well-respected crime prevention officers and our excellent home beat officers work together within the community. I hope that the House will join me in congratulating the Brentford youth and community section of the police force on hosting Hounslow borough's youth seminar today on citizenship. Police Constable Neil Evans and his team have brought together ten 13-year-old students from each of 15 schools in Hounslow. This morning, a drama production took place, hosted by Cranford community school, demonstrating drugs abuse, how to make friends and form relationships, what happens when relationships break down, what happens in school, exam work and the students' future.

This afternoon, Isleworth and Syon boys school will be carrying out work through a music workshop and presentations. Football has already been mentioned this morning and I believe that some Chelsea footballers will attend the presentation. I think that Brentford footballers should have been used, but I am not in charge of the day.

By working together with those multi-agencies in an imaginative way, the police are demonstrating that one cannot lecture to young people about crime. It is important to learn how to prevent crime by working with young people on how to build relationships with adults and particularly the police. Our police force must be congratulated on the imaginative way in which they do that, many giving their own time and taking young people away on holiday for the first time. Those young people are made to feel respected, which is very important.

Community policing is valuable and not a soft option. Indeed, it is crucial and, when dealing with young offenders, we must look at the causes of crime. If young people are to respect older generations and the areas in which they live, they, too, must be shown respect. Sadly, the previous Government did little to help that. They did not invest in young people, but I am proud that the present Government are doing just that.

"Winning the race" is a document which was launched recently, and, like the Government, I whole-heartedly support it. It is important to deal with racial crime and, like other London boroughs, Hounslow has a multicultural society that is a family of one. Problems exist, however, and we must deal with recruitment and retention of black and Asian officers in the Metropolitan police. May I take this opportunity to congratulate Divisional Commander Barrie Meyers, who will soon retire from Hounslow police force? He and his family have contributed a great deal to racial harmony in Hounslow and I shall be sad to lose his experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen) will join me in congratulating him on his work.

I do not want that experience to be lost so I hope that we can look at ways of using officers who have given long service and have great experience to pass on to young officers and the community. Some officers enter the police force at degree level, but many have not obtained that academic recognition of their knowledge. Perhaps the courses that many officers spend much of their own time studying, so that they can specialise in child abuse or a range of subjects across the spectrum of community work, could be recognised and put in an academic setting so that they could be rewarded for their experience.

I shall keep my speech short because many of my hon. Friends want to speak in this important debate. We cannot deal with crime without dealing with youth crime and prevention. The Government will continue to invest in that.

11.53 am
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

May I take this opportunity to add the support and appreciation of the Liberal Democrats for the work of the Metropolitan police? My hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has done that over the years, and I should like to continue that. We do not appreciate only the professionalism and courage of officers, which have been highlighted by the recent tragic death of WPC Nina Mackay. As a new Member of Parliament, I have noticed the courtesy and openness of the police service, both in Scotland Yard and in the local division. The police have shown a willingness to invite us in and talk with us without being defensive, which I had not expected from the police and which I find refreshing.

The issue that I want to home in on—several hon. Members have made the point in different ways—is that the police service in London is becoming seriously frayed at the edges. Various figures have been produced. Those that I have from the House of Commons Library suggest that in the past five years we have lost 1,300 officers and a further 813 civilians who substituted for professional officers in carrying out police work. That is a substantial haemorrhage of people who were doing, and could continue to do, police work.

The problem in some parts of London is much worse. My division has experienced a cut of 15 per cent. in police manpower, and it shows. One can see a distinct reduction in the number of police on the streets, and police stations have been partially closed. Money is simply not available for the projects that some hon. Members have eloquently described. The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), the Opposition spokesmen, recited at great length the number of closed circuit television systems, but he did not mention my constituency.

I was at a meeting in the middle of this week on an estate that won an award for its architectural design 15 years ago, but which is rapidly declining after years of social deprivation, and is now in serious social difficulties. We pulled together the community leaders in that area and one of the consensus demands was for a CCTV system. The police strongly endorsed the request, but said that they had no money; the council said that they had no money either; the lottery bid has failed; and I have written a begging letter, more in hope than in expectation, to Sir David Sainsbury, whose store is in the middle of the complex. The resources are simply not available for those crucial projects, so I do not understand the evidence that has been cited about the abundance of resources for policing of that kind.

As the Home Secretary described clearly and well, the origins of the problem lie in strict public expenditure restrictions over the past five years. Real spending on the police in London has been declining every year since 1993–94 and, regretfully, the present Government have adopted that severe approach to public expenditure management, which will result in further contraction.

In addition, there is the specific problem of pensions. I initiated an Adjournment debate in the House about a week ago on the fire service. The Metropolitan police's problems are not yet as serious as those of the fire service, but they are heading in the same direction. Some 16 per cent. of the police budget in London is accounted for by pensions. The police are therefore getting into the same vicious circle as the fire service, because as the numbers are cut back, there are fewer contributors and more police are retiring—they are living longer, and I welcome that.

The pensions budget is growing and squeezing out police services. Something will have to be done about that; the Home Office will have to deal with a problem that has been swept under the carpet for many years. Specifically, there will have to be more reserve provisioning for pensions. It is an unfunded scheme. Reserves will have to be set by and, if they are, more resources will have to come in to fund normal police services.

Let me highlight another aspect of the problem of funding of the London police. Are the Metropolitan police adequately compensated for the various services that they perform on behalf of the country as a whole? Some of those are obvious, such as the major national events and the protection of the royal family, although I had not realised that the Metropolitan Commissioner is responsible for the Queen when she is in Balmoral, as well as when she is in London. Then there is the policing of drugs. About 75 per cent. of all the realised earnings—rents—from the drug trade are realised in London. It is substantially a London problem.

One item deserves more attention from the House: the combating of terrorism, which is No. 1 in the objectives of the Metropolitan police in the recent statement. I find it more than a little irritating that under that heading there appears the cryptic note, "Costs not published." I do not know why that is the case. I readily understand why special branch officers do not want their photographs and addresses published in Metropolitan police reports, but there is no reason why we should not know what the cost of terrorism is. Why should we not be told?

I suspect that that is part of the rather childish approach to secrecy that has grown up in this country in relation to the secret services. I was a member of the diplomatic service at one time in my history, and I remember the days when we were not allowed to talk even to each other about the existence of the secret services; we referred to them as "our friends". We were not allowed to refer to their addresses; we had a mysterious convention called Box 500, which related to a well-known address in the west end of London that was regularly filmed on "Panorama".

That childish cult of secrecy has permeated even the Metropolitan police accounts. It is not a matter of idle curiosity. We cannot make a serious assessment of whether the top slicing of finance for Metropolitan police functions is adequately compensated until we know the cost of combating terrorism. I urge the Government to be more concerned about transparency in the reporting of that important aspect of Metropolitan police activities.

The thrust of my party's criticism relates to our overall approach to public expenditure. As the Home Secretary knows, we have been critical of the Government's approach to public expenditure. We think that they should have been more courageous about personal taxation. In this debate, I shall not hide behind the general prescription of more personal taxation, but I shall make a few specific suggestions about how cash-pressed police authorities, including London, might approach the question of revenue. Some of my suggestions may be a little controversial, but I want to air them in the House.

The first suggestion is that we might look a little more creatively at charging. The Metropolitan police should charge for the services that they provide for national events of a commercial kind. I am the Member of Parliament for Twickenham, and I did some research on the costings of tomorrow's big event, when England play Australia in my constituency. I discovered that the cost to the taxpayer of providing policing outside the ground—it is sophisticated, high-cost, mounted police surveillance—is about £40,000. The Rugby Football Union pays £10,000 for policing inside the ground, but the bulk of the cost falls on the taxpayer.

That is the cost of one match. If we multiply that by 10 for the year, we are speaking of £500,000 at one ground alone, but there is not just one ground. Anyone who tries to travel out towards the M3 at any time of the year will know that on a Saturday one cannot do that, because we do not just have the Rugby Football Union; we have three first division rugby union sides and the second rugby league side in Britain—all playing within a mile of each other. All that imposes substantial costs.

It is a growing source of resentment not only among my constituents but among many others, that much of the cost of that provision, for a highly commercial, professional sport, is borne by them. They cannot get access to the grounds, they are not allowed to watch the match on television, because the rights have been appropriated by Rupert Murdoch, and, to add insult to injury, they are told that they must pay for it all through taxation. That is wrong, and the authorities must look at the principle of making a charge for that purpose, not just in respect of rugby union, but in respect of premier league matches, big matches at Wembley and other similar events.

There is another area in which charging would be right and appropriate. A great deal of police time is wasted on call-outs to commercial premises where burglar alarms and fire alarms have not been properly maintained. That is a cost to the police and to the taxpayer. I see no reason, in principle, why a charge should not be levied after one or more false calls from a commercial premises, as substantial amounts of money and police time are involved. The police must consider charging as a way of generating additional income.

Another, and perhaps even more controversial, approach could involve what the Treasury somewhat pompously calls "hypothecation"—that is, money generated as a result of police activity which normally disappears into the Treasury. I suggest that, on some occasions, that money might more appropriately go directly to the police. An obvious case is when substantial amounts of cash are liberated from drug barons and other villains. Why should that money not go to the police—perhaps to fund activities related directly to drug prevention?

A steadier stream of income could be generated from fixed-fine offences. I am sure that hon. Members have noticed, as I have, the enormous contrast between the zeal with which local parking officials collect fines on behalf of the council and the somewhat less energetic approach employed by the police in respect of their responsibilities. Of course, the police have better things to do in some cases. We could deal with that issue in two ways: first, by decriminalising many minor traffic responsibilities that rest with the police, thereby freeing the police for other duties; secondly, by insisting that the fines that currently pass from the courts to the Treasury go directly to the police service. Some police forces in Merseyside and Warwickshire have begun to examine those suggestions, and I think that we could be a little more imaginative in that area.

As to efficiency, I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) who claimed that vast reservoirs of productivity gains could be squeezed from the police—I suspect that most of them were squeezed out a long time ago. However, there are sources of inefficiency in the system that could be tackled.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), who has a county court in his constituency, pointed out that substantial numbers of police officers often spend days sitting around in court waiting to be summoned by magistrates. With a little more thought and inter-agency co-operation, we could save the police force an enormous amount of time. Perhaps police could be equipped with Mandelson bleepers; I think that is what they are called these days. Such economies are cheap. The Liberal Democrats want to see public services funded properly and we want to see the tax mechanism used for that purpose. However, I believe that we should look creatively at other options.

In conclusion, I shall raise two issues that have nothing to do with police finances but which merit mention. The first involves community relations. I probably have one of London's smallest ethnic minorities in my constituency. However, as a Londoner, I value the fact that we have a multicultural and varied ethnic society. I do not view that as a problem, but as something positive of which we should be proud. Companies are beginning to locate in London because of our diverse society.

It is fair to say that, starting from a very low base, the Metropolitan police have adapted extremely well to that situation—certainly in the past five years. The attitudes that I encounter, particularly among senior officers, are enlightened and far sighted. The Metropolitan police undergo some very advanced training in coping with ethnic and inter-ethnic relationships, which is most commendable. I salute their work: they are far ahead of the armed forces in that respect.

None the less, we should not be complacent: some problems exist. It is no illusion when I see police frequently pulling over expensive cars, an extraordinarily high number of which have black or Asian drivers. There is a creeping process of stop and search that is very difficult to pin down and identify. I think that there are problems with stereotyping at grassroots level in the police force which need to be addressed.

Finally, we support the move towards London governance and would welcome the emergence of an elected police authority. It is a great credit to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis that he has anticipated and welcomed that body, thereby demonstrating his openness to a more democratic form of management.

In my discussions with police, some anxiety has emerged about what form London governance will take as it affects the police. The police hope to see the kind of model that we have in British provincial government: the typical police authority. Some police are concerned that the mayoral system will distort that model. They fear—perhaps it is a misapprehension which the Home Secretary can correct—that hyperactive New York-style mayors will intervene in operational policing matters because of the many brownie points to be collected in that area.

Mr. Straw

Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman. I made it quite clear in my opening remarks that we intend to replicate, so far as possible, the tripartite arrangements that exist in the provinces for the government of police. The difference will be to take account of the Met's national and capital policing functions, which will involve continuing involvement by the Home Secretary. I should make it clear that we have no plans whatever to provide for the mayor or any police authority—including myself—to have operational control of the police. That is a matter for the chief officers of police.

Dr. Cable

I thank the Home Secretary. Many police officers, as well as members of the public, will be reassured by that clarification.

I reiterate our very strong support for the police, our concern over the depletion of resources, our belief that the police should be better funded, and the need to look beyond taxation to new sources of revenue.

12.10 pm
Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster)

On behalf of my constituents, I endorse the remarks of other hon. Members. We all benefit from the commitment of police officers to serve our areas.

On partnerships, the police recognise that they cannot succeed alone. Indeed, it is my submission that we did not expect them to do so. The word "partnerships" seems to be in vogue at the moment, with people referring to them in all sorts of areas. From my experience, since being elected to the House, it is a matter to which we should devote as much time as possible, as there are benefits to be had all around.

There is a need for local authorities, schools, youth outreach workers and the police to combine to solve youth crime. Only last week in my constituency, a member of the public who had acted as a witness in a particularly difficult crime was attacked by youths as a result. On one occasion—a Wednesday evening—while the police were in my constituent's house, the police car was attacked. The next evening, before the police arrived, youths in the area stoned all the windows of the house, and the young children living in it had to be taken elsewhere to other relations. That illustrates the need for strong policing.

The problem that we have in Upminster, which forms part of the Havering division, is that, over the years, resources for policing the area have been reduced. It is assumed to be a leafy suburb that does not need the same level of policing as other areas—indeed, the figures show a continual reduction in the number of police officers for that area—but we do have black spots, and in those areas police station opening hours have been reduced, as have police numbers. That not only lessens the deterrent effect but gives rise to a fear of crime in the area. Therefore, we should look at this matter much more carefully. With a good working relationship with local authorities, youth outreach workers and schools, some of these problems can be solved. For that reason, the proposals in the crime and disorder Bill will be welcome.

Opposition Members criticised Labour councillors and, indeed, Labour Members of Parliament. My perception is that there is a need for local public involvement, and that proposal comes from the public. It is not something that Labour councillors or Labour Members dreamed up. Of course, the public look to their representatives for a resolution of the problems that are associated with crime. In other words, they want their councillors and Members to be involved. Community orders will act as a conduit.

The criticism that has been directed at Labour Members is unfair. The suggestion that Labour Members merely smile and do not present their constituents' problems to the Home Secretary is wrong. Of course we make representations to the Home Secretary. Such criticism is unjust.

There are good examples throughout the country of partnerships working with the retail sector of business. In my constituency, however, many of the smaller business retailers feel that they cannot join these partnerships as we in this place might expect they would. One of the problems lies with the change in taxation which occurred some years ago with the introduction of the uniform business rate. That is not especially relevant to the debate, but it reflects the attitude of some retailers. I accept that there is not a direct link.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

I intervene as very much a part-time retailer. In the London borough of Hillingdon, we have recently been awarded a Home Office grant for closed circuit television in Uxbridge town centre. The local retailers were responsible for a large part of the matching funding. When I was a member of the Uxbridge initiative committee, the then deputy leader of Hillingdon council said that CCTV was not a matter for the ratepayers and that he did not want to allocate any council funds to it; he thought that it was entirely a matter for retailers. Many councils have provided money for CCTV and, under pressure, so did Hillingdon council, but it was not willing to do so.

Mr. McDonnell


Mr. Darvill

I shall—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I recommend that the hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) deals with one intervention before he runs into another.

Mr. Darvill

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The experience of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) is different from mine in some parts of my constituency. The police consulted and representations were made to me as the constituency Member. Representations were made also to the local authority. There are different enthusiasms, but the thrust of the argument is that local authorities and central Government should be encouraging partnerships.

The local business community in my constituency found that, with the introduction of the UBR, they had not developed links with the chamber of commerce or the local authority. That is something at which we need to work.

I read some of the information that has been provided by the Library on funding. Since 1979, the proportion of funding in London, compared with the rest of the country, has fallen, fluctuating between 26 and 30 per cent. This year's figure is 25.5 per cent., so the amount that the Metropolitan police area receives as a proportion of that received by the whole country has fallen. That puts pressure on outer-London areas, thus creating difficulties.

Mr. McDonnell

I apologise to my hon. Friend for intervening so abruptly earlier. While on the subject of resources for the police, we should also consider the availability of resources for local authorities to install closed circuit television. As the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) said, the issue for Hillingdon was that, having had an horrendous revenue support grant settlement from the previous Government, the council had to prioritise its investment in CCTV. That is an investment in the protection of life and limb, particularly of those families enduring racial attack and harassment. In that context, a council may want to put the onus for retail protection on the retailer. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that it is a matter of priorities, and socialism is the language of priorities.

Mr. Darvill

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. I was about to make that point. There is a problem not only with funding for the Metropolitan police but with particularly bad local authority resourcing through the standard spending assessment. Local authorities find it increasingly difficult to work with the police and with retailers. If we are to encourage partnerships with local authorities, we must not ignore the funding implications.

In my area, the police have had some success in combating burglary and theft. However, violence and youth crime have increased. Although the public are pleased about the improvement in the clear-up rate for burglary, that has not eroded their fear of crime. We must develop policies to deal with those problems.

12.22 pm
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I am glad to be called in this annual debate on the policing of London. I am particularly pleased to follow the hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill), and to congratulate him on his thoughtful contribution, although I do not exactly agree with him and with his interpretation of certain statistics.

I am disappointed that the number of Metropolitan police officers has declined slightly in the past year, but that should be put in context. We should recall that, 18 years ago, there were fewer than 22,000 Metropolitan police officers, whereas today there are well over 27,000, which is an increase of about 20 per cent. Overall, the previous Government held good to their commitment: they increased significantly the number of police officers.

The budget rose dramatically. I was interested to hear the comparison given by the hon. Member for Upminster. He will know that the budget is just under £2,000 million a year, which represents a real-terms increase of almost 90 per cent. on 1979—allowing for inflation. More important, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), who confirmed that morale in the Metropolitan police 18 months ago was at a low ebb.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Eighteen years ago.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I am sorry–18 years ago. The Minister may he able to give us the figures, but, compared with 18 years ago, there are more bobbies on the beat. In other words, more civilians have been brought in to do the work previously done by policemen which it was unnecessary for them to do. That was a commendable performance by the last Conservative Government.

A perennial source of worry is the high turnover of officers leaving the Metropolitan police force. Officers are not necessarily retiring or taking a different job, but going to police other areas of the country where they find attractions. In the long term, the Government will have to look at the London allowance for officers of the Met and at whether bonuses can be given according to the length of a constable's service in the Met.

By any standards, our Metropolitan police officers are asked to perform a difficult, dirty and dangerous job. I want to stress the dangers, and I repeat the statistic I gave when the Home Secretary kindly allowed me to intervene on his speech. Last year, according to the annual report, 12,276 police officers were injured while on duty, of which 3,280 were injured as a result of being assaulted while on duty. Those appalling figures demonstrate yet again the debt we owe to those people who serve us in tackling crime and disorder in our great capital city.

During the past 18 years, I accept that crime has increased dramatically not only in London but throughout the rest of the country. However, we must remember that the number of recorded crimes has gone down in the past four years—I think in the country as a whole, but certainly in the Metropolitan police area. Over the past four years, crime is down by almost 11 per cent.—by just over 100,000 crimes. Within that number, burglaries are down by 21 per cent. and car theft by 24 per cent. I applaud the special initiatives undertaken by the Metropolitan such as Operation Eagle Eye and Operation Bumblebee. I am pleased also that the detection rate is improving; that is good news for all Londoners.

The hon. Member for Upminster made the point that, unfortunately, serious crime—particularly crimes involving injury—have increased in our capital city over the past few years. That is a problem which the Home Secretary will want to address. Sir Paul Condon's foreword to the report says that, although he acknowledges that serious crimes are up, part of the reason for that is changes in police recording procedures". Perhaps the Minister will give a little more information about that, although whether he can reassure us remains to be seen.

I cannot find in the annual report information on the significance of the increase in serious recorded crime as a result of changes in police recording procedures. I have said that expenditure on the Metropolitan police is now just under £2,000 million a year. That is a huge increase, but it is worth noting that the previous Government planned an increase of about 3.4 per cent. for the current financial year—an increase of about £55 million. As the need to constrain public expenditure is currently shared by all hon. Members, such an increase is not to be sneezed at.

In the context of the Metropolitan police budget, I think that all hon. Members are deeply concerned about the rising cost of pensions, which I understand are unfunded and have to be met out of revenue. That problem will have to be faced not only by the Metropolitan police service but by the London fire and civil defence authority. The figures that I have gleaned—the Minister may care to confirm them—show that the pension bill now amounts to about £290 million a year. I reckon that that is 15 per cent. of the total budget, but I do not want to exaggerate and should point out that in his foreword Sir Paul Condon says that it is 9.9 per cent. of the total budget.

Whatever the percentage, it is a significantly rising figure. It is certainly 12 per cent. up on the previous year and I think that there has been an increase of about 50 per cent. over the past five years. The only way to get around that is by some special arrangement. It would be totally wrong to expect that a sum more than, never mind as much as, any increase in the Metropolitan police budget would be offset by the huge extra demand on police pensions.

The Metropolitan police have to tackle racism. We all take the view that racism is an obnoxious evil. It must be stamped out, and the courts and police must have the powers to do that. I understand that the crime and disorder Bill will contain clauses to give extra powers to the courts. Perhaps the Minister will give further detailed information on the Government's proposals. When I looked at the matter, I concluded that the police had all the powers that they need to tackle racism under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Perhaps the Minister will refer to that when he is summing up.

Finally, I agree with the hon. Member for Upminster about the importance of a partnership between the police and the public in tackling crime. I welcome the new schemes on crime partnership which have been introduced by some London boroughs and I wish them success. Pioneering local crime prevention schemes are important and I instance the one known as Watchlink, which co-ordinates the neighbourhood watch schemes in the metropolis. I think that I am right in saying that there are more than 12,000 neighbourhood watch schemes in Greater London. They are a good and concrete example of that partnership, which we all know is important in tackling crime.

I welcome the development in closed circuit television. I note that the previous Government—I think that the Home Secretary was a little unfair about this—having provided £37 million for CCTV schemes, pledged a further £75 million in the lifetime of this Parliament. That is not such a considerable sum that it cannot be found.

Mr. Michael

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that it was such a generous offer, will he explain why the previous Government did not put it in the budget lines?

Sir Sydney Chapman

I cannot because I was not a member of the Government and I do not know the exact detail. I do not even know what the Minister means by putting it in the budget lines, but is he saying that a manifesto commitment should be disregarded if it has not been put "in the lines"? I am sure that he is not saying that. As the previous Government did provide £37 million for CCTV, it is not unreasonable to say that they would have met their commitment to provide £75 million over four to five years.

Mr. Michael

It is easy to judge the previous Government by their record. In 1992, they promised 1,000 additional police officers and failed to deliver them; in fact, they cut police numbers. They failed to provide for CCTV beyond this year. That is a failure to meet the rhetoric that they used in the pre-election period. It is simple.

Sir Sydney Chapman

When Ministers in this new Government fail to respond positively to an intervention, they usually say, "I wonder how the hon. Gentleman has the brass cheek to say that because his Government, when they were in power," and so on. I am inclined to say the opposite or to give it back to the Minister. I know that he is a relatively new Member, but if he compares the condition, the numbers and the funding of the Metropolitan police in 1979 with the position in 1997, he will find that the last Conservative Government hugely increased the commitment to the police.

I welcome the CCTV schemes and I hope that they will continue. The Metropolitan police have already been helped by DNA testing. I welcome the database and was pleased to hear what the Home Secretary said about that. That raises the issue of the introduction of technology in fighting crime. We have to be prepared to change the structure and perhaps the administration of our police force, given these new technological innovations.

A police station around the corner from where any one of our constituents lives is reassuring—we all accept that—but often, if our constituents have an emergency and ring 999, help comes from not the local police station but from further afield. We have to accept that. It is not the nearness of the police station that is necessarily important, but the response time in dealing with emergency cases.

Often, the police station around the corner contains only one or two policemen manning the front desk, while the other policemen are out and about keeping the peace, so I suggest that, in the next four or five years, there will be proposals to close some old smaller police stations and to reposition larger ones further away from many of our constituents. We have to be prepared to consider such suggestions responsibly rather than with just a knee-jerk reaction, saying, "No, it has always been there. It must remain."

Last Sunday, Remembrance Sunday, we all had the opportunity of meeting police in our constituencies. After the wreath laying, the service and the march past, I talked to some of my bobbies on the beat, if I may call them that, and asked them to give politicians an example of what could help the police. The answer was that they would like members of the public to record the serial numbers of unfixed equipment in their homes that could be stolen during a burglary. That is an important point to pass on. If we record the serial numbers of cameras, videos, televisions, bicycles or whatever, that would be a good thing. It is quite separate from continuing to encourage the marking of such goods, especially the more important items.


Mr. Michael

For the sixth time!

Sir Sydney Chapman


Finally and in conclusion, the Home Secretary and others have referred to Arsenal. I have a problem when that word is used. It seems that half of my constituents support Arsenal, while the other half support Tottenham. I assure the House that I do not sit on the fence in this matter—I enthusiastically support Barnet. Unfortunately, that football club may move from my constituency to a much better site down the road in a neighbouring constituency. I wish it well.

I hope that recorded crime continues to fall in the metropolis, that funding and the detection rate continue to rise, and that the numbers in the Metropolitan police quickly return to full strength.

12.42 pm
Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

I want to report on some of the activities in my constituency to develop community partnerships to tackle crime. I want also to refer to a couple of cases that have previously been dealt with by the Metropolitan police but are currently of concern to me.

I do not want to be contentious, but I was surprised by the speeches of some Conservatives Members who previously presided over a capital city in which crime doubled while the number of police officers fell. I can remember the commitment given by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) that there would be an additional 5,000 police officers, some 1,000 of whom would be for London. Instead, we lost 770.

Since the general election, many of us have worked hard to build a safety partnership with our communities. We have regular meetings with police officers. For example, I regularly meet the local superintendent, Alan Shave. He is an excellent professional in his field, but unfortunately he is now moving on. I wish him well in his future career and I am sure that he will rise to the top. I also meet inspectors Pat McGuire and Peter Hughes to examine local problems. I go out on the beat with local beat officer Rob Leighton and others. I have also been out in a police car, but because of a combination of travel sickness and absolute terror I doubt whether I shall do so again.

I meet the police consultative committee—something my predecessor refused to do. We have convened a community conference and we have had brainstorming sessions on community policing and community safety, all of which have resulted in the launch of new initiatives. We have a multi-agency approach to tackling problems on our estates, especially youth crime.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has visited my constituency twice and opened a new youth centre in an area where we have had specific problems with youth crime and general incivility. We have launched initiatives with the police force, through local Members of Parliament and the local authority, to tackle racial harassment and attacks. The local police have operated a mini zero tolerance exercise in the town centre, where there have been some problems. I welcome the new Government's approach to community partnership, which we are working hard to implement at local level. I also welcome legislation to strengthen community safety and the youth crime initiatives that were partially outlined today by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Hon. Members representing London constituencies are hampered—we may as well be straight about it—by the impact of the national formula for the distribution of resources. The impact of recent resource losses makes it time for us—as a cross-party group of London Members of Parliament—to undertake further discussions on the formula.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) said, constituencies that can be described as covering the peripheral parts of London—those on the edge of London, between country and inner city—have been affected by the London formula, which penalises success. When we have been successful in reducing crime, we lose police officers. Such an outcome cannot be right. Ensuring that we are not impeded in our attack on crime will require discretion and flexibility.

It is time to re-examine the additional resources given to London to deal with national and imperial functions. Those resources are inadequate and do not begin to reflect the real demands on police time and resources in dealing with national operations in the capital.

As other hon. Members have said in this debate, insufficient local authority resources have played a role in undermining services that ensure community safety. In my area, we do not have a mediation scheme because we lack resources for one. In the coming months, however, we will attempt to identify both local authority and private sector matching funding to launch such a scheme.

We have a domestic violence initiative run by the local authority and local police, but it is dramatically understaffed and under-resourced. The initiative's staff, however, are excellent and hard working.

Local people are working with their local authority and with local police on incidents of racial harassment and attack, but they are under-resourced. It is time for the Commissioner to produce another report on the role of ethnic minorities in the Metropolitan police, not only to ensure—as the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) said—that they are reflecting our community's ethnic composition but to ensure that we are monitoring the effectiveness of racial and ethnic awareness in police training.

The House has not debated policing in London annually because the previous Government did not allow an annual debate. I deeply regret that the House sometimes debated the subject only once every two years. London may, however, get a fairer share of time and resources with the establishment of a police authority within a strategic authority for London. It is ludicrous that the Home Secretary has been London's police authority.

The Metropolitan police committee has been only a token of democratic accountability. Sir John Quinton—an amiable duffer, who I have met—is not a Londoner. He does not live in London and he has a greater knowledge of the Norwich City football team than of policing in London. I respect the work that he has valiantly tried to do on the MPC, but it is not an accountable body. We need a democratically elected and representative body that will enable us to supervise policing in London.

I should like to deal with two cases. The first concerns Frank Johnson, who has been in prison for 22 years after being convicted of murder. I visited him in prison. His case has been referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. On the evidence that has been published so far, I am convinced that he will be released. He would have been released much earlier, but he has refused to accept guilt, insisting on his innocence.

After the Criminal Cases Review Commission has considered Frank Johnson's case and—I am convinced—found in his favour, I invite the Home Secretary to ensure that those who were responsible for denying to his defence, evidence thereby proving his innocence, are brought to book and properly prosecuted. It does not matter how long ago the case occurred.

I want to draw attention to a more recent constituency case, which I should like the Home Secretary to meet the Commissioner to discuss. A few weeks ago, Mr. Lakhvinder "Ricky" Reel, a 22-year-old constituent, went with his friends to Kingston. He was chased by a group of skinheads and racist abuse was hurled at him. The group of friends split up and Mr. Reel went missing. His body was found in the Thames two weeks later.

Despite my close liaison with the local police, Mr. Reel's family are not happy with the speed, seriousness or availability of resources employed by Kingston police in the investigation. The family cannot come to terms with the death of their beloved son until they know exactly what happened to him. I urge the Home Secretary to ask the Commissioner to undertake an inquiry into the investigation of the case. If necessary, I am happy to facilitate a meeting between the family and the Commissioner so that the family can express their concerns.

Despite my concern about the two cases I have outlined, I do not wish to detract from Labour Members' overall support and admiration for the men and women who daily risk their lives to secure our safety in London. Our task is to ensure that they are adequately resourced, adequately empowered and adequately supported by the Government.

12.50 pm
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

I join right hon. and hon. Members who have paid tribute to the Metropolitan police. I would also like to thank the police in Kingston, including Bill Wilson, a very distinguished policeman who was the chief superintendent of our local division for several years and who retired earlier this year, and Peter Lally, his replacement, whom I welcome. I wish him well in his work.

I am disturbed to hear that a constituent of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) was murdered in Kingston and that the victim's family are unhappy about the way in which the Kingston division responded. That may reflect the fact that the Kingston division needs more resources. I am happy to assist the hon. Gentleman in his efforts to get to the bottom of the case.

I want to bring to the House's attention the resourcing problems facing Kingston division and area No. 5. Without warning, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) got in before me and mentioned some of the difficulties in area No. 5, which has suffered significant cuts compared with other parts of London. The cuts have been especially severe in the Kingston division. In just two years, we have lost more than 40 police officers—more than 10 per cent. of our manpower. Station opening hours have also been cut.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) said that we should not regard police stations as sacred cows. He might be right, but I have anecdotal evidence that suggests that the reduction in the opening hours of stations in New Malden and Surbiton has led to an increase in crime on the high streets there. I have heard that from retailers and residents, who say that local criminals know that, as police stations are not manned all hours, the police response to crime near the stations will be slower. That is a result of the cuts made under the previous Government.

The local police division has responded magnificently to the budget constraints imposed on it. It has restructured and reduced the number of sectors to try to use the remaining manpower far more efficiently, but I am still not convinced that, even with these efficiency measures, it will be able to provide the standard of policing that it provided prior to the cuts. The cuts have seriously undermined its ability to police the streets of Kingston and Surbiton. That is a great concern. I shall watch closely, with other residents and the local police and community consultative group, to see how the new structures perform.

I hope that if and when the Commissioner reads my speech tomorrow he will be aware of the need to discover whether the cuts that have been imposed on the Kingston division have undermined the ability of local police officers to patrol our streets. He should not allow any further cuts; he must be sure the police can stabilise crime levels in our area with the current efficiency measures.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington talked about the formula for police resources in London, which I believe is the key point for the debate. The allocation and use of manpower across the capital are operational decisions for the Commissioner, but the formula that he uses for distributing resources could be debated. It is highly controversial, with many subjective elements. For example, the formula rates the police resources put into investigating a burglary as equal to those required to investigate a murder. That is clearly not sensible. Ministers should ask the Commissioner to review the formula urgently and give him back-up support.

I should like to make an early lobby on the factors that should be taken into account in the review. In Kingston, we should not be trying just to stave off further cuts, but expanding our police force to meet future problems. The formula should take into account the underlying dynamics of crime. At the moment, it just paints a static picture, which cannot be right. If the formula is not dynamic, it will not be sensitive to likely future movements in the crime statistics. If it is based purely on historical factors, it is almost certain to be wrong.

There are several dynamic factors in Kingston that are likely to necessitate more resources for our local police service. Kingston already has a vibrant night life. A huge number of new pubs have opened in recent years. If all the applications before the authorities for new pubs and night clubs were approved, there would be a 100 per cent. increase in the number of young people coming out of clubs and bars in Kingston town centre in the early hours. That would clearly leave the police needing extra resources.

Local people are trying to react to the developments. Local magistrates, the local authority and the local police have opposed applications for new licences time and again, but their opposition has been turned down almost without exception. Local people, who understand the local situation, are almost powerless to prevent the dynamics that I am talking about. It is very important that Ministers and the Commissioner realise that the trend in Kingston town centre is likely to be towards greater night time activity, with more people, often under the influence of alcohol, turning out on to the streets. More resources will be needed to deal with that.

There is also the dynamic of population. There is a clear shift of people from inner London to outer London, while the trend in police resources in recent years has been for a shift from outer London to inner London. I am not saying that that was necessarily always wrong, but there will be more people in the outer suburbs in future.

Many housing developments are going up in Kingston, which suggest that the population in our area is likely to surge in the next few years. What is relevant is not just the total population, but its composition. In Kingston, we have a young population: the university has trebled its size in the past 10 years. I do not, of course, want to impugn the character of the students at Kingston university. With so many of them going into the pubs and nightclubs of Kingston, however, there may be a knock-on effect on the need for police resources.

Kingston is also a major retail centre. I am pleased to say that it is a successful one and is booming. That means, however, that there is a massive influx of visitors to Kingston town centre during the day for shops and at night for pubs and clubs. That requires police resources.

We have heard much about partnerships today. My local authority is working with the police and the private sector and it has invested in closed circuit television. Kingston council has found the money to provide a town manager to liaise with local business and to ensure that its concerns are met as quickly as possible and that any problems are dealt with as soon as they can be. There is partnership to deal with the problems, but all involved in the partnership say that they need more resources from the police to make those good initiatives work.

The final dynamic that I want to bring to the House's attention is the proliferation of drugs and alcohol. Hon. Members may say that Kingston is just a leafy suburb. According to magistrates, however, whom I have met on several occasions since the election, between eight and nine out of 10 incidents that come before them are in some way related to drugs or alcohol. They are a major problem in our area—a major dynamic behind the increase in crime.

We are talking not only about resources to meet the problems, but about multi-agency approaches and about using current resources better. However, all the people involved in tackling the problems say that they cannot succeed only through that approach and that they need more police. I urge the Commissioner and the Home Secretary not to allow a formula that is static and based on historic data to dictate the way in which resources are allocated across the capital. We need to look to the future and the formula needs to be more sensitive.

We must also consider ways in which the police could use money more efficiently. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) gave a number of examples. He mentioned an example that I whispered in his ear earlier. The police in Kingston are often required to spend a lot of time in the magistrates court and the county court. The police headquarters is two minutes from both courts so the local police asked the courts whether the officers needed for cases that day could be given pagers and called when the relevant case was about to be heard, but their request was turned down. That prevents the chief superintendent from using his resources rationally.

There are many other ways in which we could use resources more effectively. I shall give an example from my constituency, which has 10 railway stations, of the way in which the British Transport police work with the Metropolitan police. When there is an incident at a station or on a train coming into my constituency, it is dealt with by the local police, although an alarm button may have been pressed and the British Transport police may be thundering on their way to deal with the problem. They arrive half an hour late and the incident has already been dealt with. Such lack of co-ordination leads to a poor use of resources. Although the Metropolitan police have dealt with the individuals concerned, it is the British Transport police who have responsibility for following up the incident. That does not seem a rational use of resources.

I emphasise that local people and local councillors in the borough of Kingston are working hard in partnership with the different agencies to try to tackle crime. The Home Secretary announced recently the requirement on local authorities to produce crime audits. The royal borough of Kingston already does that and is working proactively to tackle crime. I urge Ministers and the Commissioner not to penalise areas that already take all those initiatives successfully because that will undermine their success and put our constituents' safety at risk.

1.4 pm

Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), whose constituency borders mine, on his sensible remarks about the importance of community and partnership policing. That is an area in which we can work together in the interests of our constituents.

May I take this opportunity to inform the House that last night I was a guest at the Ambassadors for London awards. I accompanied an organisation in my constituency, which received a special award for the many hundreds of thousands of visitors brought into London and the millions of pounds of revenue generated by its activities during two special weeks of the year. The organisation is the All England Lawn Tennis club, which I nominated for the award. As it was taking the award, I wondered whether, next year, there could be a special award for the Metropolitan police. I am sure that the House shares my view that the Metropolitan police play a special role as ambassadors for London. The bobbies of London have always been ambassadors for London and a major attraction. Not only do they make life safer for those who visit London but their friendly approach and style of policing make us justly proud of them as one of the finest forces in the world. I take this opportunity to salute them for that reason.

The importance of good community policing must be seen in the light of economic regeneration, especially in urban areas. At the opposite end of my constituency to the All England Lawn Tennis club is the Abbey Partnership policing initiative. The shadow Home Secretary referred to that project, and the previous Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the current Home Secretary have both visited it. It has made a valuable contribution to making our streets safer and to making my constituents fear crime less, and it is a cornerstone of our local strategy for economic and urban regeneration.

On the Commissioner's report on the policing of London, I wish to express on behalf of my constituents my gratitude to the Merton division of the Metropolitan police for the high standard of work that has contributed to such an achievement and for its efforts to develop partnerships in the community as a priority of its local strategy. I am particularly pleased to refer to the efforts undertaken to establish such partnerships between the police and the London borough of Merton. That has led to many pioneering projects. I have already referred to the Abbey Partnership policing initiative under the umbrella of the Merton partnership against crime. The Merton partnership has also done excellent work to tackle problems such as racial assault and harassment and domestic violence.

As I said in my maiden speech on Monday, Wimbledon is a multicultural and diverse area of London where we have a number of problems with racially motivated crime and harassment. I congratulate the Merton division on its work to tackle that problem, which has been important in establishing good community relations and trust between different parts of the community. Local regeneration, both economic and social, depends on that trust.

It is important to bear in mind the fact that until now, such partnership work has not been viewed nationally as a core policing responsibility. That has meant that, to resource such activities, individual local police managers have had to make out an annual case for the maintenance of those much-needed activities.

In that context, I welcome the Home Office's proposed changes to the police national key objectives. Those changes will better reflect the major initiatives that our Government have set in train to tackle crime and its causes. The revised objectives will clearly identify targets for the reduction of local crime and disorder in partnership with the local authorities, other local agencies and the public. The Abbey Partnership policing initiative is already a partnership between the magistrates courts, the probation service for south-west London which is located in my constituency, the local police and the local authority.

I look forward to the inclusion of the new objectives in the Metropolitan police plan as a way of guaranteeing that partnership and tackling local crime problems are placed at the heart of Metropolitan police work. As I have shown, we have in Wimbledon and in Merton as a whole an excellent example of the kind of partnership between the police, local authorities and other agencies that the Government will emphasise in their crime and disorder Bill. I know that the police in Merton support the measures to be proposed in the Bill, especially the theme of partnership with local authorities and the local community.

As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the Bill will place a duty on local authorities and the police to develop statutory partnerships for crime prevention. That is an essential element in the switch of emphasis towards reducing the incidence of crime and disorder, rather than simply reacting to them once they have occurred.

I welcome the Government's intention to create a Metropolitan police service that is accountable to Londoners through the establishment of a police authority for London as part of their plans for the Greater London authority. The consultations on the plans have revealed widespread public support in London generally and in the part of London that I represent.

I know from direct experience that the police in my constituency of Wimbledon and the London borough of Merton also strongly support our plans to bring democratic accountability to policing in London. That will bring strategic control of services such as the police, which are vital to the effective functioning of our capital. It is essential that policing in London is accountable. Previously, as we have heard, the police in London were accountable only to the Home Office and through a patchwork of consultative groups that could not adequately convey the concerns of all groups in the community. The new plans for accountability in London will bring the police even closer to the community. This will greatly enhance the possibilities of promoting partnership with local authorities and local communities, as local experience in my constituency has shown.

Strategic planning in London will also facilitate better co-ordination of crime prevention policies, so that the Metropolitan police can develop the same kind of partnership with the new London authority as the Merton division has developed so well with the council in Merton. I hope that the new authority can also act as a forum for the exchange of best practice. I commend to other areas of London the partnership initiatives in my area.

A Londonwide partnership strategy could be developed for neighbourhood watch schemes. Currently, there is a wide variation between different areas of London in the development of links between local neighbourhood associations and the Metropolitan police. Perhaps it would be a good idea to develop Londonwide guidelines for partnerships between the Metropolitan police, neighbourhood watch groups and similar community groups. That kind of partnership with neighbourhood watch must be set in the context of developing a greater sense of civic responsibility in the local community as a whole.

I firmly believe that partnership between local authorities, community groups and police is the way to restore to communities a sense of civic co-operation that will not only lessen the incidence of crime and disorder but reduce the fear of crime. It will engender the trust that local communities need to progress and will allow necessary urban regeneration to take place in London.

1.14 pm
Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)

I am surprised that my first point has not been raised in the debate before now. It would be remiss if, in this Parliament's first debate on policing in London, hon. Members did not at least note that the former parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation, Sir Michael Shersby, is no longer with us. We should pay at least passing tribute to his work.

I was extremely disappointed to hear the shadow spokesman, the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), make such a miserable, curmudgeonly and bitter speech. It was not worthy of any Front-Bench spokesman, and certainly not worthy of a significant and serious debate about London. It was notable for its absence of any review of policing in London in the last year, and was a contribution which London policing could have done without. It might also have been useful if the right hon. Gentleman had been in the Chamber to hear my comments.

It is refreshing to have a Home Secretary who is inclined to uphold the law. His predecessor seemed to break the law once a week—sometimes before breakfast—and, more often than not, he showed little respect for policing in London or the wider judicial system. With the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend, the sooner he stops being the police authority for London, the better. A democratically accountable police authority will be better for all concerned.

As hon. Members have said, we did not have annual debates on policing in London in the last Parliament. In fact, we had only three such debates in five years—which, according to the most rudimentary arithmetic, does not equate to annual debates. London expects far more, and we will get that accountability under the new authority. During the last debate on policing in London, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) claimed that there was accountability. He said: 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";—[0fficial Report, 5 February 1997; Vol. 271, c. 107.] The sum total of the accountability that the previous Government afforded to Londoners was one debate and 150 letters per year. Everyone would agree that that does not equate to a significant discussion of policing in London.

In the same debate, it was noted—among other things—that more than 3,000 police officers had suffered criminal violence during their duties in the previous year. As hon. Members have said, last month saw the tragic death of Nina Mackay in the east end. We are very well served by the Metropolitan police force and its courageous officers, and I know that the whole House pays tribute to them.

When one reads the transcript of the last couple of debates on policing in London, one is struck by the smugness and complacency of the former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)—it oozes from the page. It is also interesting to see in those transcripts the names of dear, much-lamented people who are no longer with us: Greenway, Merchant and others who are long and happily forgotten. In the 1994 debate, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said—I suppose fairly reasonably— that he envisioned a visible police force, an even safer city with safer streets, more reductions in crime, and flourishing and active participation between the police and the public. That is all very laudable, but, sadly, precious little was achieved in that direction during his tenure as Home Secretary.

Did the former Home Secretary seriously review or analyse that and come back with an adjusted vision by 1996? No. In the debate in 1996, his vision for London was a visible police force, an even safer city with safer streets, more reductions in crime, and flourishing, active partnership between the police and public.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman made virtually the same speech. The stark reality is that he failed miserably as London's police authority. It is a shame that, after the private notice question, he did not stay around to account for his role over the past few years as the police authority for London.

It struck me as rather odd, then, that the former Member for Beckenham said of the previous Home Secretary, in 1994: He may not be flavour of the month with the liberal elite, but that runs in his favour because it means that he is clearly in touch with the views and aspirations of ordinary people in this country."—[Official Report, 2 December 1994; Vol. 250, c. 1489.]

Sadly, I think that Mr. Merchant was wrong then. However, he did not learn any lessons, because in the debate in 1996, he said that the former Home Secretary has proved to be the most effective Home Secretary that I can remember."—[Official Report, 5 February 1996; Vol. 271, c. 98.] That says much about the former Member for Beckenham's memory, but even more, I suspect, about his judgment. I hope that the people of Beckenham will show more judgment next Thursday than their former Member of Parliament ever did, certainly on this issue, and, without dwelling on it, other issues as well.

I want to speak in the main about my local police force. I had the pleasure of spending a day with the police force in Harrow. A highlight of the day was giving out divisional superintendent's commendations to police officers who serve in Harrow. I make no apology for speaking of the reasons for those commendations. PC Allan Greig was awarded a commendation for consistently outstanding and professional performance, having made 89 arrests and for submitting more than 80 items of information to the intelligence unit over a six-month period. This is nothing very startling, but it is core, dedicated and professional work over a sustained period.

Two constables, Christopher Lucas and Stephen Landy, were awarded commendations for courage and tenacity in preventing a man who had soaked himself in petrol from committing suicide—quite a daunting task. A drunken man was found pouring the contents of a petrol can on to his head while holding a lighter. The officers wrestled the lighter from him as he continue to pour the petrol, some of which went into PC Landy's eyes. These are outstanding but everyday occurrences for our police, in my borough and throughout London.

Actions in a domestic disturbance earned PCs Graham White and Neil Davidson a commendation, because they effected the arrest of a man armed with a knife. The man threatened and taunted both police officers then shut the door. They noticed that a distressed female was inside the house, forced the door open, restrained the man and arrested him after a struggle.

Sergeant Mark Radford and Ghulam Murtaza worked together diligently in post-event detective work to ensure that a case involving a 90-year-old woman was seen to justice. The woman was taken to hospital after being found injured in her flat. Detailed investigations by both officers established that a known criminal was responsible not only for a burglary in the flat but for committing grievous bodily harm. It was thought unlikely that the suspect, who was subsequently gaoled for seven years, would have been traced or the cases against him proven without the perseverance of the two officers. A sad postscript to that last commendation was that the victim, who was also suffering from senile dementia, subsequently died in hospital.

What struck me when giving the awards to those officers was their reluctance to receive them. These were, perhaps, out-of-the-ordinary events in an otherwise hectic and courageous schedule, but their reluctance to be patted on the back for such commendable work was telling in terms of their professionalism.

Another incident on that day put into context what other hon. Members have said about resources. In the afternoon, I went out with the fast-response unit, not in the usual car, because that was elsewhere, but in their backup car. I recollect that it had 140,000 miles on the clock. The driver said to me, almost in apology, that the car was in a particular state. We were driving round the area and the driver answered a call from the other side of the borough. He put his foot down, put on the blue light and everything else and away we went. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), I thought that travel sickness would be upon me.

Suddenly, however, the car slowed down and then stopped. Unbeknown to me, although I heard a slight noise, the blue light had fallen off the fast-response car and was way back down the road. As the driver bemoaned, highly experienced officers in fast-response cars are putting their lives in their own hands when they put their foot down and respond to a distress call at 90 or 100 mph. They would like to have some faith in the equipment that they must use. We see what the police have to put up with in both the cameos that I have presented.

The police in Harrow have done commendable work. The curmudgeonly and bitter parts of the shadow Home Secretary's remarks turned on the real and admirable partnerships that have been established over the years by the private sector, local councils and the police, largely at the behest of local councils of whatever political persuasion. To make silly partisan knocks from the Opposition Dispatch Box about what Labour councils have or have not done within partnerships is beneath even a man of the "stature" of the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire.

We should applaud all councils for their work with the private sector and local police forces and for all the initiatives that have ensued, ranging from, as in Harrow, the establishment of a youth consultation forum, the members of which go to schools to discuss with pupils, as is only right, the details of policing and self-discipline. These initiatives extend to community safety forums, for example.

We must avoid taking miserly views such as that such and such a council has closed circuit television and it is Labour controlled but perhaps it was under Conservative control when CCTV was introduced. Such heavy dollops of party-political prejudice are not warranted and do not, from the starting point of the debate, help in any way to understand the effectiveness of policing in London.

As a vibrant metropolis, London will always have crime. Such a large city will not be able completely to eradicate it. However, with so many agencies united and working together we can ameliorate the impact of crime. At the same time we can work together to overcome the great fear, or perception, of crime within many communities.

As has been said, we get the police force that reflects society. That being so, we must be mindful of what we do in other areas and of the impact of those actions on the police. It is more than appropriate to mention that in totality many of the Government's proposals for education, housing and welfare to work, as well as for youth justice, reviewing the Crown Prosecution Service and the introduction of a crime and disorder Bill, will represent a real attack on crime while increasing the quality of life of Londoners.

Accountability is crucial, and we know that it will be increased with the dawn, welcomed by the Metropolitan police, of the Greater London authority and a directly accountable police authority. It is time after 18 years to bring the Metropolitan police service back home to the London community. That will be the result of enhanced accountability. By working together, the mayor, the Greater London assembly, the Metropolitan police authority, the Metropolitan police generally, local councils, the voluntary sector, the business community and all communities representing a vibrant and multicultural city will be able to afford the police service and community safety that we all deserve.

The Metropolitan police service is coming home. The new Labour Government recognise the police in London as part of the community and not, as in the 1980s, as a private political army at the beck and call of central Government, or as a body detached from London's people. The force is part and parcel of our city's vibrancy. New Labour will restore confidence to the Metropolitan police and the people of London. That must be done because without the Metropolitan police, with all their courageous officers, there would be chaos and anarchy in our great city. None of us in this Chamber can afford that.

1.29 pm
Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North)

I shall first refer briefly to the comments of the shadow Home Secretary, who was kind enough to mention Ealing. He referred to Northolt primary school and Walford high school in connection with closed circuit television. He also spoke about the CCTV programme in Ealing town centre. Sadly, Ealing town centre is not in my constituency: it is on the perimeter and falls within the area so ably represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra).

As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) said, the important point about CCTV programmes is that they are partnership schemes. I am as unhappy as he is about attempts to politicise partnerships between local authorities, businesses, including retailers, and local communities, which occur regardless of the political complexion of the borough. It is a shame that hon. Members descended to that level. Such partnerships are a point of pride for many London boroughs, and are at the heart of everything that the new Government are doing, as was shown by the statements by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

I support the police in our capital, and I am constantly grateful for and in awe of the extent of their commitment. I have read the "Report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis 1996/97", which we have taken as our text for this morning. Anyone who has read it will recognise immediately the theme that runs right through it: the thin blue line of policing in London is becoming ever thinner. The resource implications delineated in the report are extremely worrying for Londoners. We read again and again of more being done with less. We could get away with that for one or two years, or even three, but the police cannot continue to do more with less without severe cracks appearing in the structure. Yesterday, I spoke to the Commissioner's office, and one of the expressions used was "the seams are now straining."

The report details extraordinary successes. Mention has already been made of the 12 per cent. reduction in burglaries in the period April to October, and of the 5 per cent. drop in street crime. I pay tribute to the officers in Operations Bumblebee and Eagle Eye, which have been so conspicuously successful in our capital city. One statistic that has not been mentioned is the 14,000 tonnes of high explosives that the Metropolitan police recovered in our capital city in the past year. Can hon. Members imagine the effect of 14,000 tonnes of high explosives had they remained in the hands of the terrorist agencies that had doubtless stored them?

Those successes have been achieved in the context of a reduction in staffing in the Metropolitan police service. The present Commissioner took over with a strength of 28,500 men and women. This year he commands 27,000, and we are on line for a figure of fewer than 26,000 next year. I have severe doubts about whether the present conspicuous successes of the Metropolitan police service can be maintained with falling staff numbers.

We recognise that resources are a problem in every aspect of government life. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) referred to Aneurin Bevan's claim that socialism is the language of priorities. In reality, everything is the language of priorities. We have inherited from the previous Government a crisis of funding across the board: in health, education, housing and pensions.

The issue of resources for the Metropolitan police is not just a funding crisis—it is a specific issue for London Members. The funding formula imbalance that penalises London must be addressed. If we, as London Members, achieve nothing else in this Parliament, let us please try to redress that injustice, right that wrong and correct the standard spending assessment formula which is crippling our police service in this capital city. We cannot allow it to continue.

One policing issue has been raised with me more often than any other during my many months as a Member of Parliament—the issue of tenure in the police force. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred to that, as did the Commissioner in the annual report, in relation to the management development strategy. The report refers to the wish in the Metropolitan police to ensure an equal distribution of resources, skills and experience throughout the MPS; and … to provide an interesting and varied career for both existing and potential MPS officers".

An "interesting and varied career" is a worthy aim, and I could understand it if that were the intention of the Met. That description could possibly be applied to the job of a Member of Parliament. I should like to put in a bid to be transferred to, say, Sedgefield in 10 years' time if the majority stays the same. If we are talking about being moved within the ranks, I would say that the Minister for Sport's job looks a little attractive to me. "Interesting and varied" though it would be, I am sure that none of us has any intention of trying to usurp your position, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We would not be so presumptuous.

An "interesting and varied career" is not how it is seen within the Met—quite the contrary. In Ealing, an extraordinarily successful police officer, who has co-ordinated the establishment of more than 150 neighbourhood watches in Ealing, has reached the end of her period of tenure and has been transferred to Hayes. I have nothing against Hayes and Harlington, but we want to keep her in Ealing.

Mr. McDonnell

No transfer fee was involved in this process, I am assured.

Mr. Pound

The officer moved to Hayes police station, rather than Hayes Town football club—despite Hayes Town's great success with Les Ferdinand and the 10 per cent. sell-on deal.

We are losing established police officers who have earned the respect of their local communities. Many officers, against their wishes in many cases—I accept that some may wish to move—are being moved from the area in which they have established their credibility to another part of the city. I have severe doubts and worries about that.

Ealing is covered by two police stations—Southall and Ealing. Sadly, neither is in my constituency, but both are just over the border. I wish to follow the precedent by paying tribute to Superintendent Mike Smythe, the divisional commander at Southall, Superintendent Geoff Bryden, the acting divisional commander at Ealing, and Superintendent Bill Troke-Thomas, who recently retired as divisional commander at Ealing and is now pursuing a career as a fine art expert and picture auctioneer.

One of the reasons for the tenure principle is that it is in the interests of the community and individual police officers. Senior officers have told me that it is a useful management tool to prevent individuals from becoming too complacent in their posts. It was mentioned on one occasion that it may also prevent corruption. If the only way in which we can gee up staff and prevent corruption is by moving them around the capital, that is poor management.

Mr. Greenway

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that I was a Metropolitan police officer in the 1960s. I joined the West End Central police station within days of the ink being dry on the Challenor report. I think that everyone deeply regrets that episode in the history of the Metropolitan police. One of the recommendations of the Challenor report was that officers should not be retained overlong in one police district.

Mr. Pound

I remember Sergeant Challenor well and I remember the documentation of the time. The hon. Gentleman is more knowledgeable in that area than I am, but I recall that that recommendation about moving officers applied to the CID and to specific sections within the Metropolitan police service. It did not apply to the entire uniformed force. We are not faced with a response to Challenor and West End Central: the matter affects every serving police officer and I am worried about that.

We sometimes hark back to a golden age of policing. Those of us who work in Norman Shaw South are in the old New Scotland Yard building, which is perhaps appropriate for old new Labour Members like me. Sometimes as we walk along the corridors of that building in which Crippen was interviewed, not, I am told, by the Whips but by the Commissioner of the day, perhaps we mentally clothe ourselves in trench coats and snap-brimmed trilbies. In our imagination we hear the silver bells on the black Wolseleys as they roar through Derby gate with Lockhart and Fabian who are there to protect the country.

I fondly remember as a young lad at Fulham football club seeing off-duty police officers standing at the Hammersmith end watching the silky skills and graceful play of Johnny Haynes and Tosh Chamberlain. I called my father's attention to the large number of officers at the Hammersmith end and he said to me, "Don't worry son, you are quite safe. They are all off duty." My father had recently had an unfortunate experience with a pound and a half of pork sausages. Meat rationing was still in force and he felt that he had been set up by the sausage squad. He subsequently changed his view of the local police. I do not know whether that was a mythical golden age, but I recollect police officers being part of the community. They knew one's parents and sometimes one's grandparents and, in time, they knew one's children. They were locally based, and those were the days before tenure.

Every day we ask more and more of our police. We no longer ask them to react to crime and see to crime prevention: we ask them to be agents of social change and control. We require police to go into housing estates to undertake work that we do not have the right to ask them to do. Parliamentarians must respond to those issues and address the matter of resourcing the Metropolitan police service.

Hon. Members who know far more about the subject than I do have made the case for funding. I associate myself with them and with the comments throughout the debate, which has been extremely positive. It has recognised the debt that we Londoners owe to our police service. I have confidence in the words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that the Government will be worthy of the trust and faith that the police service shows in us. We shall reciprocate.

1.43 pm
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

I add my praise to the Metropolitan police. Brent is the most multicultural and diverse area in Europe. Therefore, I especially welcome the Government's proposal to institute a distinct offence of racially motivated assault. In passing, I say that I especially welcome it because it may make life somewhat more peaceful in Brent town hall, where, recently, Conservative Councillor Peter Golds was reported to the police for attempting to strangle his fellow Conservative, of Irish extraction, Councillor Sayers, on the ground that he had attended a twinning ceremony in Dublin. I am sure, however, that that is not the legislation's purpose.

On a more serious note, I want to share with the House an example of best practice from the police division in Brent, which has forged links with the local community and introduced a scheme whereby it has trained with, and raised funds for, a group of about 15 children from seven different ethnic communities.

Last year, the police took, in their own free time of course, the group to canoe some 250 miles down a previously unnavigated river in north India. This year, they are meeting an even greater challenge and taking the group up Mount Kilimanjaro. In those ways, the police are working with the local community in my constituency and, in particular, allowing young people from a huge range of ethnic backgrounds to live together and to face a challenge together.

Last year, I met those young people when they reported on the success of their trip. Each one said that they had benefited not simply from the adventure, but by learning how different members of different communities worked and lived together and co-operated. That is a fine example of the way in which the police force in Brent has been a glue and a catalyst for a wonderful community initiative. I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to join me in congratulating Brent police force on its work.

I echo the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) on London's funding problems.

The remarks of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) related in particular to the stadium in his constituency. In Brent borough, we have Wembley stadium, so the local police force suffers particularly from the strains that are engendered by the huge crowds and the national importance of the national stadium. That will increase when the new national stadium is built, as the Government want not only the World cup in 2006, but, we hope, further events such as the Commonwealth and Olympic games to be based around the stadium.

It is undeniable that not simply having the national stadium, but being the force of the capital city, with all the other work that is associated with that, is a huge drain on the Metropolitan police and is at the cost of the local community and local policing, so I urge the Home Secretary to say whether, under the new Metropolitan police authority, the precepting formula may also be reappraised.

What is the measure of effectiveness by which our police force is judged? It is the detection rate—the number of crimes solved—instead of the measure elsewhere in the world, which is the direction in which the crime rate is moving.

While it is vital to solve crimes, it is of little comfort to people who have suffered assaults or those looking at the devastation in their burgled homes to know that the crime may be solved and the criminal brought to justice. It would be far better to assess our police force not on its capacity to solve crimes, but on the crime prevention rate and the reduction in the number of crimes.

The Government should consider changing the measure by which we judge our police and bring it in line with other countries. We should look at the crime prevention rate and judge the police as effective when the number of crimes diminishes.

1.50 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I shall respond first to the comments of the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner). Earlier, the Home Secretary reminded us of the origins of the Metropolitan police and, in particular, the 1829 days of Sir Robert Peel. Anyone who joins the police still has drummed into him by rote the same phrase that he used, and which I had to learn by rote in 1965—the primary object of an efficient police is the prevention of crime. After that come crime detection and the punishment of offenders. The hon. Member for Brent, North did the House a great service in reminding us of that.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will understand how I feel today. I cannot think of a time when a former officer of the Metropolitan police has stood at the Dispatch Box and made a speech in a debate on the policing of London. It is a great honour to do so. I should mention also that I was once a vice-chairman of a police authority in the north of England.

With my background, it is always a pleasure to debate police issues. However, while listening to a lively and constructive debate, with hon. Members on both sides speaking vigorously on behalf of their constituencies, I could not help wondering why we were having this debate today. There has already been one debate on London since the election. In addition, the Home Secretary said that in a matter of weeks he would announce the funding formula for London and for the police throughout England and Wales. We wait with bated breath in North Yorkshire to find out whether the increases that we have had over recent years, as a result of changes in the formula nationally, will continue.

Would it not have made more sense if we had waited for the debate until after the funding formula had been announced? We could then have assessed the generosity of provision. I should mention that I do not make any criticism of the special pleading from hon. Members on both sides of the House—in many ways, that is what Parliament is for. I reached the conclusion that it was as well to hold the debate now because I anticipate that when the Home Secretary makes his budget announcement we will find that the actual cash awarded to the police will be in stark contrast to some of the rhetoric that we heard from Labour Members in debates such as this when they were in opposition. There will be no extra money.

The Home Secretary told us also that there will be a comprehensive spending review—but we knew that. I do not think that anyone should be in any doubt—certainly no one in the police service is in any doubt—that the comprehensive spending review has as its objective discovering the extent to which the Home Office budget can be pared. It would be surprising if the objective were different.

As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said, since the new Government were elected, not only has there been no new money for police, but —because of inflation higher than 1 per cent.—in real terms, the spending already allocated by the previous Government will be less.

If I do nothing else in my speech, I want to nail the lie that the Labour party is somehow stuck with the previous Government's public expenditure plans for the next two to three years. It is the Government's choice to stick to whatever figure for police spending was in the Red Book. It is their choice, not ours.

I want also to make some facts clear about officer numbers and expenditure. There is no point in spending the next couple of years in a sterile debate over those matters when the figures speak for themselves. During this debate, I have obtained figures from the Library showing that, in 1997–98, net expenditure on policing in London alone has been £1.768 billion. In real terms, the equivalent figure for 1979–80 was £1,057 million. Therefore, in real terms, the Conservatives spent £700 million more on the police service in London in one year. That is what happened under the previous Government's 18 years of stewardship, and we should keep it clearly in mind.

Let us also face up to what has happened in the past 12 months. The hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) got it right when he talked about changes to the funding formula. In the national distribution of money, funding formulae are always changing. As I said before he returned to the Chamber, I suspect that, because of competing demands from different parts of the country, the Home Secretary is likely to continue that practice.

I make no secret of the fact that, in North Yorkshire, we are very pleased that, over the past couple of years, we have received an increase of more than 4 per cent. One of the consequences of the formula change, however, has been that London has received a bit less, despite a real-terms increase nationally.

The question that hon. Members want the Home Secretary to answer—in his statement, if not today—is what he will do about that consequence. If the Home Secretary is to give more money to London and abide by the overall spending ceiling—as, today, he has reconfirmed that he will do—he will have to get that money from somewhere else. I do not envy him the task, because it will not be easy.

When Labour Members talk about the figures, however, I wish that they would face up to reality. If they want more money in London, from where will it come? Which other parts of the country will suffer to provide the money? Conversely, will the Home Secretary tell us that he is kicking down the door of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that, in the circumstances, the police will get more money? It has to be one or the other.

Mr. McDonnell

Now that the hon. Gentleman has finally admitted that the previous Government reduced the overall proportion of resources coming to London, will he justify it, given that, in terms of taxation, London is a net contributor to the rest of the country to the tune of between £6 billion and £9 billion?

Mr. Greenway

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will join us in the debate on net contributions that we are likely to have in the next few months—net contributions not only from London but from England to Scotland and Wales. We can all argue about what is fair, but my point is that, no matter how we divide the cake, there will always be winners and losers. London won year after year, but perhaps it has not done quite so well in the past year.

I take this opportunity to nail another lie relating to how many extra or how many fewer officers or police constables there are. Following my exchange with the Home Secretary during the most recent Home Office questions, I tabled a written question which was answered by the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). He confirmed that between April 1992 and March 1997, the number of constables increased by 2,322. He then pointed out that overall police numbers fell by 469.

The issue is clarified in the first report of the Metropolitan police committee, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) set up a year or two ago. It shows that between March 1994 and March 1996, the number of ACPO rank officers in the Metropolitan police force fell from 47 to 34, a cut of 13; the number of chief inspectors and superintendents fell by 241; and the number of chief inspectors and above fell by 255. It is in those ranks that the numbers fell, and that is true across the country. Is the Labour party saying that, in the drive for efficiency on which it has now embarked, there is no room for dispensing with highly paid senior officers in management posts when the public want more officers on the street? Let us have no more talk about whether the previous Government were truly committed to the police service—everyone knows that they were—but we can all argue that, in an ideal world, we would like to do more.

In no other country is the image of the policeman more closely associated with its capital city than in Britain. I am not going to pass an opinion on which of the many television programmes over the years have most accurately projected the true image of the London bobby.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) got it right when he said that every day we ask more of our police. Having been a policeman, I know that the job is infinitely more difficult and dangerous now than it was in my time 30 years ago. There has been adequate reference— if there ever can be adequate reference— to that fact in today's debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) reminded us of the number of assaults on police officers, and the House has paid tribute again to the bravery and courage of WPC Nina Mackay. We have also considered what makes the London bobby so special—it is his good humour.

In an intervention, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) mentioned Euro 96 and the policing of major high-profile events in the capital city when our police do us proud. I was reminded of the stark contrast between the policing of football in this country and the scenes that we saw from Rome only a few weeks ago. People in this country and throughout the world know that.

The London policeman provides reassurance when he is seen on patrol. The strategy for high-visibility policing—which has reached 61 per cent., against a 60 per cent. target over the past year—is working and should be continued. However, we delude ourselves if we think that merely putting police officers on the streets will to prevent crime. It will help, as the hon. Member for Brent, North said, but it is not the solution to tackling much of the organised crime in the capital and the rest of the country. Operation Bumblebee has been successful largely because of the use of intelligence and the targeting of known suspects. That trend is likely to be developed further in the coming years.

Closed circuit television cameras also play a vital role. Partnerships with local authorities and business have been very successful, but a core element of that partnership is funding from national Government. The Government's continued refusal and failure to make clear where they stand on that gives the lie to their determination to stamp out rowdyism, loutish behaviour and crime in the streets of our cities.

Almost uniquely, the powers given by Parliament to the police to carry out their tasks are invested not in chief police officers, senior management or even, dare I say, the police authority—whether it be the Home Secretary or a police committee—but in the office of police constable. We have talked a great deal about policing objectives and new strategies for dealing with specific problems such as burglary, car crime, robberies, street violence and drugs, as well as the continuing threat of terrorism. The remedies to those problems lie in the qualities of individual police officers—their professionalism, their integrity, their dedication, their commitment and, all too frequently, their courage and determination. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) also reminded us of their voluntary work, especially with young people. Those are the qualities that count the most. That is why the police service has always needed to recruit well-motivated men and women of the highest calibre.

Success in that has varied over the years. There are growing grounds for concern that the police service, especially in London, is beginning to experience a fall in the quality of recruits. The Commissioner's annual report, which has rightly been much discussed today, says that during 1996–97, of the nearly 4,000 individuals who applied to join the Metropolitan police, only 692 were recruited. That is partly a resource issue, but we should also bear in mind the fact that 80 per cent. of those who applied were not considered suitable.

As recently as two years ago, the Commissioner said that there was no problem with attracting recruits of a good educational standard. Indeed, he said that there was a backlog of applicants. The Police Federation now believes that the standard of applicants is starting to fall. It would be a great pity if the police service could not attract people with the educational attainment and aptitude that the service demands if it is to achieve its full potential in serving the community.

Pay and conditions are clearly important factors, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet mentioned. We shall return to those issues. However, there are other factors that can detract from the appeal of a police career. Several hon. Members have referred to their concerns about the continued failure of the police to recruit sufficient numbers from the ethnic minorities. That is a continuing problem which we must address.

People from ethnic minorities will not join the police if they believe that they will be subject to racial bias and abuse. Similarly, many women are put off a police career by fear of sexual harassment. That fear has recently been reinforced by a number of high-profile industrial tribunal and court cases.

The efforts made by senior officers, especially the Commissioner, are well documented; time does not allow me to go into the matter in the detail that I should have liked. I advise hon. Members who are concerned about the matter, however, to look not just at the Metropolitan police report, but at the annual report of the Police Complaints Authority. It is not only racial bias within the police service that is a concern. There is also concern about the behaviour of a handful of police officers towards ethnic minorities. That problem has been, and continues to be, sensitively handled.

Instituting change through the command structure and disciplinary action is not always the best approach. We need to consider a forcewide reappraisal and development of personnel management policy and procedures. In that respect, a complete change of culture within the police service, through the development of personal skills and the creation of a framework for the assessment of individual behaviour and attitude of officers in all situations, may be needed. Aggressive behaviour, poor communication, the pursuit of personal agendas rather than the wider objectives of the force and failure to support colleagues are all examples of negative behaviour which is unacceptable in all situations and not just where racial or sexual discrimination may arise.

The force has begun to make some progress through the London beat proposals; again, time does not allow us to go into those proposals. Like the Home Secretary, I await the outcome of the inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee into police disciplinary matters. I share his concern, however, that the police service today attracts many more malicious and mischievous complaints. We must be careful to give our police officers the support they deserve.

In spite of the dangers and difficulties that we have heard about again today and despite the increasing demands made on it, the police service throughout London has had remarkable success in recent years in its efforts to reduce crime. Reported notifiable offences are 100,000 fewer than four years ago. That means at least 100,000 fewer victims. The police seek to ensure that our capital and the surrounding areas are safe places in which to live, to work and to visit. We wish them well in that task.

2.12 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alun Michael)

The remarks by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) were appropriate for bringing us to the end of the best debate on policing I have heard during my time in the House. I have my own reasons for feeling a keen sense of the privilege of speaking in this debate and of sharing in part the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary as the police authority for London.

My first knowledge of London was a week's holiday each year with my Uncle Bob in Barnet. Each year, I saw at first hand the pressures on police officers and their families as my Uncle Bob moved up to become Detective Chief Inspector Bob Roberts in the flying squad. He also served as a police officer in this House and I was proud to bring him here as a guest for my mother's 80th birthday.

My point is that the police officers who serve us in our capital city are men and women with families who also pay a price for the service we are given. Sometimes, that is a price paid at the hands of violence, as a number of hon. Members have said today. They also have the pressures of a demanding job and we should pay tribute to them.

There are special and difficult challenges that are peculiar to London. The city's boroughs, divisions and local communities nevertheless demonstrate some fine examples of police work, partnership initiatives and fresh thinking, which retain the finest traditions of the British police. For all its problems, the police service in London frequently provides lessons for other forces and other countries.

It has been a real pleasure to listen to this debate and to hear so many new Labour Members speak with knowledge and passion about policing in their local areas. I welcome the shadow Home Secretary's promise of a bipartisan approach to racism and racial violence in particular. His comment was endorsed by the junior shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ryedale. It is also important that the police should know that they have the support and encouragement of us all, and that has been expressed by every hon. Member who has spoken today.

The shadow Home Secretary referred to CS gas. We recently saw an excellent report by Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary on police safety, which stressed that training and other arrangements, including first aid, needed to be of the highest possible standard. The Commissioner is approaching the issue systematically and responsibly. At the annual conference of the Police Superintendents Association a couple of years ago, I saw an experiment with pepper gas. It made a vivid impression on many people, as the officer who agreed to be a guinea pig—he raised money for charity in so doing—was felled by a single squirt and it looked horrific. Only two hours later, however, I had a conversation with him, although his eyes were still streaming. It is much better to allow someone to go through a period of pain for a few hours than to restrain that person from activity as a result of a shot or other physical injury, which happens far too often.

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, it is important to consider the use of CS gas in a balanced way—it has been examined extremely carefully in terms of medical evidence, not only here but in other countries—rather than be driven by one or two cases. None the less, cases that go wrong need to be considered seriously.

I endorse the point that the shadow Home Secretary made about thank-you letters. As hon. Members know, when people take the effort to write such letters, that gives real pleasure. When we receive those rather than the usual letters, it gives us a boost. Our police officers so often deserve thanks that the shadow Home Secretary is right to use that as a measure of merit and of the standards that they offer us.

Finally among the issues on which I wish to agree with the shadow Home Secretary, I endorse his comment about Crimestoppers and remind hon. Members of the number–0800 555111. I regret, however, that the shadow Home Secretary spoiled his speech, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) said, by rehearsing a series of extracts from the Conservative central office handbook of meaningless rhetoric. I know that he has had a difficult job. His Government failed on crime during their period in office and few of his hon. Friends turned up today to support him. Indeed, the Conservatives ran out of speakers. We shall take no lessons from the Conservative party on financial planning. The Conservatives massively overspent the budget available for closed circuit television in a pre-election spree, and failed to allow for the future, as they did on so many other issues. We shall do what we can with the inheritance that they left us while staying within the spending limits pledged by the Chancellor.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) was right to criticise the shadow Home Secretary's comments on police numbers. The reference to an increase of 1,000 in police strength was skated over quickly by the shadow Home Secretary in his intervention on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, because he clearly did not know his facts.

In his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), the right hon. Gentleman spoke of resources—total finance. That is extremely sensible, but it is not the measure that the Conservatives chose to make the indicator of success or failure. The total number of police officers in the Metropolitan police is a reasonable measure.

The hon. Member for Ryedale wriggled on that issue. We understand that Opposition Members have a preference for speaking about constables, but they should remember that, when the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was Home Secretary, he set the aim of shaking out senior officers in order to put them back on the streets.

The overall number is the measure of effectiveness chosen not by the Labour party, but by the Conservative party in the persons of the then Prime Minister and the then Home Secretary in the run-up to the 1992 general election. In 1992, the base figure was 28,154 in London. In that year, the Prime Minister promised an increase of 1,000 police officers, so there should have been an increase of 225 officers in the Metropolitan police. Instead, there was a cut of 287, which left the total number 500 short of the promise. A further 168 officers were cut the following year. By 1997, the number was down to 27,185–1,194 short of the Conservatives' 1992 general election pledge. One must go back 10 years to find a lower number of police officers.

I give those figures to illustrate the record of the Conservatives on the measure that they chose. It is true that the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 put the matter in the hands of chief officers, rather than of the Home Secretary. In London and elsewhere, it is the duty of the Government to provide the resources and work with the police to fight crime. It is the job of chief police officers, with their police authorities, to decide how to use those resources.

With an air of increasing desperation, the shadow Home Secretary went on to offer the absurd proposition that a Labour Government would put partnership at risk. Our proposals in legislation, and our encouragement through the Home Secretary's key objectives, are not seen as a threat by the police, local authorities or the local communities, who want crime to be cut in their areas.

Yes, there are many examples of good voluntary partnerships in London, such as in King's Cross, and many outside London, especially in Labour-led local authorities. We praised people for the voluntary partnerships that have been formed over the past few years, since the publication in 1991 of the Morgan report which recommended such partnerships, but that report was left gathering dust on the shelf for six years by a Government who failed to enter into that spirit of partnership. Police and local authorities begged the previous Government to act and to make that a statutory responsibility.

We want to move on. Partnership works, but it must be approached efficiently and effectively. There is a lack of consistency. The partnerships that exist frequently lack clear analysis and precise targets, which we will give them to help them to plan and act locally.

We will put our plans in legislation. We have put our proposals in my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's key objectives. The shadow Home Secretary's own Conservative Back Benchers seem to want an acceleration of the partnership approach. In effect, we are turning a patchwork of voluntary projects into a consistent strategy, in which the local need and the local partners drive the action to cut crime where it happens—at a local borough and division level. Clearly, that is driving local authorities and the police in London, as we see from so many excellent examples. That is why our approach is welcomed—for example, by some of those concerned with policing in outer London.

Many concerns were expressed during the debate, not all of which I will be able to address in the time available. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North raised the question of tenure. The purpose of tenure is to ensure that the expertise at present invested in specialist units is more widely shared among uniformed patrol officers and that no officer becomes so specialised that he is unable to perform the primary policing function of uniformed patrol. The Commissioner's intention is to spread the skills of specialist officers to police stations around London, so that they are not locked into a narrow specialism, squad or division for their entire careers. It is meant to open up opportunities. The policy is causing difficulty for some officers in some areas who do not welcome it. The Commissioner assures us that he will introduce the changes gradually and that assistant commissioners are willing to consider cases where they are argued in the interests of policing in a particular local area.

Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Casale), understood what we are trying to do with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's key objectives and with legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) demonstrated the same understanding. I visited her constituency before the election, and have done so since. On the second occasion, I was delighted to see that the work that she undertook before the election with the police, business and local government to tackle youth crime has now come to fruition.

We cannot compel virtue and we cannot compel that partnerships be entered into with a true and genuine spirit—they must be worked at. However, we can create the right framework of law and process to help accelerate crime-cutting work and improve the effectiveness of partnerships. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is clearly determined to do that.

Several hon. Members referred to areas outside the London boroughs and found our partnership proposals reassuring. We shall consider what has been said, but the authority requires commensurate representation. Outer-London areas will have the chance to be part of the local partnership approach involving those areas, districts and the Metropolitan police.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) stressed the importance of sensitivity and of achieving community participation in police activities and community safety. She is absolutely correct. I share her pleasure at the success of the Lambeth guns amnesty to date. She referred also to deaths in police custody. The Commissioner is giving that important issue the attention that it deserves, and we shall respond as positively as possible. My hon. Friend is aware of the current consideration, and I am sure that she will accept our assurance that we take such matters seriously. The Home Secretary wrote to Mike Franklin, the chair of the Lambeth community police consultative group, on 15 September to provide a formal response. The Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into police complaints and discipline will bring forward several matters that we shall address when we see the report.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) referred to the increase in social unease. I agree with my hon. Friends that we have inherited many problems from the previous Government, but it is important that we get it right. Several hon. Members referred to the impact of pensions on police budgets. It would take some £20 billion to create a funded scheme in England and Wales, and London's share of that sum would be well in excess of £4 billion. There is no easy answer that does not involve drawing finances from elsewhere. We made that point when we asked the previous Government to deal with the issue, but they have left it for us to tackle—as several Opposition Members seemed willing to acknowledge.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Michael

I have only a few minutes in which to try to deal with all the issues covered by a range of hon. Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) referred to the death of "Ricky" Reel. I know that the Metropolitan police will take account of my hon. Friend's comments in their ongoing investigation and will provide any further information about that death. It is clearly important that the police work closely with relatives. However, the case is currently under consideration and still awaiting a coroner's inquest.

Many contributions from both sides—to which I should love to be able to refer in detail—reflected a common theme of the police and local community working together. I welcome that approach, particularly from so many new Members of Parliament. The formula for finances to which I have referred requires greater transparency and more predictability. If they know where they are from one year to the next, the police can plan for the future. We will consider that. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will say more about it shortly.

The hon. Member for Ryedale asked why we were having this debate. It is to debate the Commissioner's report on last year. We will debate the financing of the police for London and all the other areas of the country, including the hon. Gentleman's constituency and mine, in the very near future. I welcome the way in which he summed up his speech, and his emphasis on the very positive contribution made by the police. It is the responsibility of the police to keep the peace. Catching criminals is important, but keeping the peace and reducing crime are the objectives which we should share with them, and the objectives which all colleagues should share with the Commissioner—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, pursuant to the Standing Order.

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