HC Deb 16 July 1999 vol 335 cc691-761

[Relevant documents: Report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, 1998–99; Metropolitan Police Committee Annual Report, 1998–99; Metropolitan Police Committee Annual Plan, 1999–2000.]

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

9.33 am
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

Every debate on the report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is important, but today's is special because we are at a point of transition. The Greater London Authority Bill, which from next April will bring the boundary of the Metropolitan police service into line with that of the 32 London boroughs, will establish the Metropolitan police authority. which we plan should take effect from 3 July 2000. There will of course be a report to me—as the police authority for London—on the current financial year. As usual, that will be made available to the House, and it will be up to the usual channels to decide whether it should be the subject of a debate.

This debate is also special because the annual report is the last by the current Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon. It is right to take this opportunity to refer to his outstanding record of achievement. Among his successes since his appointment as Commissioner in 1993, burglary—the crime that Londoners most fear—is at a 20-year low, and overall crime in London has dropped annually since 1993. There have been many high-profile operational successes against serious crime. Examples include the arrest and conviction of the Mardi Gras bomber, and the highly professional response of the police and other agencies to the three nail bombings in London which shocked us all earlier this year and which caused many injuries and three deaths.

Sir Paul's greatest resource is the men and women of his service. On behalf of the whole House, I pay tribute to their dedication, courage and commitment. Officers and civilian staff, whom we all see every day, serve London well. Sir Paul is rightly proud of advances in the safety of his officers, in the supply of equipment and in systematic training in its use. Police officers' lives have been saved, and assaults on officers reduced by more than 50 per cent.

There is a continuing debate on the use of CS spray and its alternatives. Any such equipment should command full public confidence, but it is worth bearing in mind that it was introduced to protect police officers in extremely dangerous circumstances. We should never forget that police officers in every other major city who face the same kind of risk as ours are routinely armed, while London's police are not.

It is a further tribute to the efficiency and success of the Metropolitan police force and the courage of its officers that London has one of the lowest murder rates of any large city in the world, at 2.1 per 100,000 population. That is eight times lower than New York, the city heralded as one of the safest in the United States. It is three times lower even than that of the major city of the Netherlands, which is seen as a very peaceable nation.

The Commissioner's determined and successful efforts to deal with corruption underpin the integrity of the overwhelming majority of the Metropolitan police service. His personal commitment to diversity and equality is reflected in a 50 per cent. increase in the numbers of black and Asian officers in the service, even before I launched my initiatives on such recruitment.

Sir Paul has reinforced the outstanding international reputation of the Metropolitan police service and shown a personal commitment to community consultation and communication. His record has been most distinguished. He has already set about with a will to implement the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, including the partnership arrangements with local authorities. To help achieve that, he has already announced a reorganisation of the internal commands of the service, reducing the number of divisions from 62 to 32 and aligning each with its London borough boundaries. These arrangements will be phased in by 1 April next year, and the borough commanders have already been designated.

Perhaps the most important single event over the past year for the Metropolitan police—indeed, for all the police forces of this country—was the publication of Sir William Macpherson's report on the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which I put before the House in February. The failures and shortcomings documented in that report were shocking, and the Commissioner was right to acknowledge them and to offer his profound apologies to Stephen Lawrence's family.

The programme of change set in train by the Macpherson report has major implications for the future of policing across the country. It requires of our police forces a high commitment to providing a service of the greatest quality to all our citizens, regardless of their race or religion. The action plan that I published on 23 March charts the way forward, and the Metropolitan police are playing a leading role in driving forward the process of renewal.

Macpherson did not come to conclusions only about the police service—that fact is sometimes overlooked. He made recommendations on the need to increase black and Asian recruitment, retention and promotion for all the public services. I am announcing the targets for those services for which the Home Office has responsibility; some of them have further to go than does the police service.

The Commissioner has personally discussed the lessons of Macpherson with all senior staff, including all officers in command of local operational command units. All 1,800 officers of the rank of inspector and above have received, or will receive, personal briefings. All officers throughout the service are being briefed by their local commanders, using a tailored briefing which pulls no punches.

Coming to terms with the inquiry and its findings in that way provides secure foundations for reform. The Commissioner acted—again before the publication of the inquiry report—to develop the Met's diversity strategy, including the establishment of the racial and violent crime task force. There has been significant progress in that respect. Success in dealing with racist crime is measured not by the number of recorded crimes going down, but by the number of recorded crimes going up. There has been strong encouragement to report racist crimes, and the number of such reports increased by more than 110 per cent. in 1998–99 compared with the previous year. A strategic intelligence cell in the task force has produced an annual increase of more than 900 per cent. in intelligence submissions on racist activities. Detected offences that led to charge or summons have increased from about 400 to more than 1,100.

The Metropolitan police are driving forward comprehensively the post-Macpherson action plan as it applies to them, and both the Metropolitan police committee and I receive monthly progress reports from the Commissioner on the matter. As he says in his annual report, all of that demonstrates a resolve and willingness to embrace change, ensuring that the Metropolitan police service becomes an anti-racist organisation that sets the standard for others to follow.

In partnership with the London boroughs of Merton, Greenwich, Hounslow and Tower Hamlets, the Met is currently developing projects designed to achieve a sustained and long-term reduction in racially motivated crime, which, at the same time, increase confidence in policing among the black and Asian communities. The project is currently undergoing final development under the guidance of some distinguished criminologists funded by the Home Office. The total cost will be about £9 million, of which £1 million will come from the targeted policing initiative of the crime reduction programme. The Met and local authority partnerships are providing another £8 million.

The Commissioner reports continuing success in the central business of the Metropolitan police service—that of reducing crime. Incidentally, I commend the presentation of the Commissioner's report; it is extremely good and should serve as a model for other public services. As I have already said, burglary in the Metropolitan police area is at a 20-year low. It fell by a further 8 per cent. in 1998–99, compared with the previous year. Street crime too declined by 2.3 per cent.

Effective policing relies, palpably, on public help and confidence. I want to commend especially those people who have reported crime through the Crimestoppers freephone line, which the Met has promoted with local authorities and other partners. Last year, there was a 72 per cent. increase in results from information given under the system: 663 people were arrested and more than 1,200 offences were solved. Another measure of the Met's relations with the public is the fact that 93 per cent. of victims said that they were satisfied with the initial police response to a reported domestic burglary; and 86 per cent. of victims were satisfied with the initial response to a report of a racial crime.

The drive for crime reduction must be persistent and determined, in London and elsewhere. I therefore welcome the fact that the Commissioner has set challenging, specific, service-wide targets in the policing plan for the current financial year, in addition to the targets deriving from local partnerships and strategies. In recent months, there have been some increases in certain categories of crime. That shows that we can never be complacent in tackling crime, even after successive years of reduction. It is too soon to judge the causes of those increases. However, the Commissioner noted that, for example, during that period a large number of officers was diverted to exceptional operations—including the Greek Embassy siege and the operations to end the nail bombings. The Commissioner has responded with increased operational deployment, including a fresh investment in Operation Eagle Eye targeted at street crime. Earlier this month, the drive for intelligence-led, proactive policing was reinforced within the Metropolitan police service by the establishment by the Commissioner of a challenge fund of £5 million.

There have been claims that the fact that there are fewer stops and searches is linked to an increase in street crime, but the Commissioner tells me that those claims have not been substantiated. If one considers the pattern of the increases in street crime and that of stops and searches, no consistent picture emerges across the Metropolitan police area, as there might have been if—as was reported in some newspapers—the effect of the Macpherson report had been as powerful in respect of that aspect of police behaviour as was suggested. The Commissioner tells me that operations against street crime rely on intelligence-led operations, using surveillance techniques, decoy operations and plain clothes officers, in addition to targeted stop and search. In some areas, where there is a high proportion of black and Asian people—including that represented so ably by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who is also my constituency Member of Parliament—the results of such targeted exercises have succeeded in making the streets, as well as people's houses, safer.

Stop and search will continue to be an essential and legitimate tactic in preventing and detecting crime. I fully support its proper use and am pleased that the Macpherson inquiry took the same view and stated, in unqualified terms, that the law on stop and search must remain and that it needed to be used. The Met is in the forefront of conducting trials on new approaches that will help to ensure that stop and search is carried out effectively, sensitively and in strict accordance with the law and the code of practice.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Will the Home Secretary tell the House the source of the information published this week by Dr. Marian Fitzgerald, who carried out several studies for the Home Office? The information on statistics that she leaked was certainly gathered in advance of the publication of the Macpherson report. However, was the source of that information the Government's own unpublished report on stop and search practices in the Metropolitan police? If so, does the Home Secretary not think that that was an appalling leak of the Government's information?

Mr. Straw

Dr. Fitzgerald has left the employment of the Home Office. As far as I am aware, she was herself the source of the reports. My only information is what I heard on the radio; I gleaned from that that Dr. Fitzgerald had compared published data from the British crime survey and the 43 police forces. She suggested that a possible conclusion to be drawn was that, especially in the provincial forces, there was a considerable difference between the number of people who reported to the survey that they had been stopped and searched by the police and the number of records held by police forces. If we can give the House any further information, I shall ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to do so in her winding-up speech. I am not aware of any unpublished report on stop and search, but I shall ask my hon. Friend to look into that.

My policy is to place Home Office publication of statistical series on a basis that is independent of Ministers. We now set dates for publication and notice is given. As for research findings, the Research, Development and Statistics Directorate is pretty independent of Ministers. It always has been and, in many ways, that is quite right. Once the research has undergone peer review and has been properly evaluated, it is published. That is as it should be—after all, the information is not advice to Ministers but material that is paid for by the public purse, and so should be in the public domain. In one sense, the greater distance there is between Ministers and professional researchers, the better: once research is in the public domain, while Ministers may or may not agree with the conclusions they can nevertheless use it as a contribution to the debate.

To return to the issue of partnership working, reducing crime is not a task only for the police. Our Crime and Disorder Act 1998 provides a framework for effective local partnership, led by the police and local authorities and engaging a range of other partners, including police community consultative groups and the community as a whole, to audit crime and to devise and implement local crime reduction strategies. Across London, the Met has worked hard, effectively and closely with its partners within those crime and disorder arrangements. I have witnessed that work and I have been struck by the huge change in attitude that has occurred, especially on the part of London boroughs over the past 10 to 15 years. Now, regardless of political persuasion, they work with a will and co-operatively with the Metropolitan police service to make their communities safer.

The Met and its crime and disorder partners are taking part in the first phases of the Government's £250 million crime reduction programme. Seven London projects have been selected in the first round of the burglary reduction initiative, in Brent, Haringey, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth and Southwark. These are aimed at reducing burglary in those parts of the capital with a burglary rate at least twice the national average. They tackle one of the most common crimes and one that causes a great deal of distress and public fear. Funded by more than £400,000 from the crime reduction programme, the projects will employ tried and tested interventions along with new methods.

The targeted policing initiative is also providing nearly £1.5 million toward two other projects involving the Met and four London local authorities. Those aim to improve the way in which the police tackle crime and will be applied to a range of problems, including the use and proliferation of crack cocaine, youth disorder, vehicle crime and criminal damage.

What the Met is doing is developing intelligence-led policing. Alongside well-established systems of gathering criminal intelligence, it is gaining advice and information from people and communities who, increasingly, have confidence in the police and want to support them.

The Met and other criminal justice agencies must also work effectively. Progress in that respect includes the creation of youth offender teams where the Met, social services and probation, health and education services co-operate in a joined-up response to youth crime. We know that more than 70 per cent. of young people dealt with in the right way on a first offence do not re-offend. The youth offender teams, which are being piloted in some London areas and elsewhere, will come into force across the country from April next year.

The teams can now jointly identify and tackle those who might otherwise slide into crime. As we know, the young are particularly at risk from drugs, and in April last year the Met introduced a directorate to co-ordinate the fight against drugs. As part of its three-year drug plan, the Met is committed to introducing an arrest referral scheme in every London borough by April next year. As I announced on Wednesday at the Association of Chief Police Officers conference in Manchester, over the next three years we shall make available nationally up to £20 million of central funds toward the cost of running the referral schemes.

To undertake their great and varied range of duties, the Metropolitan police have to have the right financial resources; it is the Government's job to provide most of those resources, and we have delivered. This year, the Commissioner has at his disposal revenue expenditure of £1.8 billion, which is about a quarter of all expenditure on policing in England and Wales. That sum represents an increase of some 3 per cent. on last year, and so is in line with the national average.

The great bulk of that expenditure—about 80 per cent.—is devoted to employing officers and other staff. From the early 1990s, the Metropolitan police service lost officer numbers at an average rate of about 300 a year—nearly 2,000 altogether in the period from 1992 to 1998. We have now stabilised the position, with a loss from the Met of only 21 officers in 1998–99. The Commissioner's aim this year is to maintain police numbers at around 26,400; he has the funds to do so, although he does of course need an adequate flow of well-qualified recruits to meet the target.

Effective policing is not merely about numbers of officers. Reports from the inspectorate of constabulary and from the Audit Commission have confirmed that success in solving crime does not depend solely on the number of police officers available". Effective policing and crime reduction is not just about how many police officers there are, but about what the police do with their time and with the technology and other assets and skills available to them.

A telling success is the Commissioner's action on attendance management. During the past financial year, the Commissioner was able to secure a reduction in sickness absence in the Met of more than one quarter, which is equivalent to more than 500 additional police officers available for duty each day. In addition, every time the number of officers who present as sick but who are not sick is reduced, it releases management time to front-line operational duties.

That is an example of the overall purpose of our requirement on all forces, including the Met, to improve efficiency. We have set a 2 per cent. efficiency target this year, and the savings are to be invested in front-line policing. The Commissioner has gone further, with an efficiency plan that aims for 3.5 per cent. efficiency gains. During the year, it will be the Met's task to demonstrate that those gains are delivered, and my task, with the assistance of the inspectorate and the Metropolitan police committee, to review and monitor what is happening.

The Met's aim in respect of personnel is to secure a quality work force, delivering a quality service. Let me give some examples: the Met has introduced a new foundation course for detectives; it has piloted the national senior investigation developmental programme, which focuses on the management of serious crime; and it is developing a new interactive computer-simulated training package, which is a world leader in the field. The service has also instituted a comprehensive anti-corruption and dishonesty strategy, with ethical testing. The public need to have confidence in the integrity of the police service, and members of the service themselves need to be confident in each other's integrity.

The Met is developing a range of measures to achieve the targets that I have set for the recruitment, retention and progression of minority ethnic community members. Those are, rightly, challenging targets. To meet them, the Met seeks the active support of others in London, and I hope that it will receive that.

A history of the Met in the 19th century explains that in 1829 Peel raised a new kind of standing army virtually overnight, and in a capital city where the largest organ of local authority hitherto had been the parish vestry". That history also explains that in 1829 there were three partners: the Home Secretary; the Receiver, who took on what became elsewhere the local authority role; and the commissioner". Therefore, 170 years ago, the Home Secretary intended to establish a tripartite relationship for policing London. No one can say that it is premature to introduce such an arrangement for 2000, modified to take account of the creation of the office of mayor and of the Greater London assembly.

Sir Robert Peel, all those years ago, showed the most extraordinary foresight. He established boundaries for the Metropolitan police service that, even then, went as far as the small agricultural village where my forebears lived and my relations still live—Loughton in Essex, which at that time was not connected by anything but a track to London. Sir Robert established boundaries so wide that they still extend further than that of Greater London and the area covered by the Greater London assembly. He put other arrangements in place that have unquestionably stood the test of time. As the House knows, we have tried within the scheme of the Greater London Authority Bill to retain many of the arrangements that Sir Robert and his successors established.

In working towards the establishment of a Metropolitan police authority, I am extremely grateful for the advice of the Metropolitan police committee. In preparing for the Metropolitan police authority, the committee is advising me on the budget, the policing plan, efficiency planning and the first ever best value performance plan. Led by my Department, the committee will also contribute, with the Met, to work to ensure that resources are available to enable the MPA to, as some would say, hit the ground running.

There is a good future for the policing of London, to the benefit of all the city's communities and citizens. I invite the whole House to support all those, including the Commissioner and all his officers and staff, who are working towards that. I commend the report to the House.

10 am

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I understand that congratulations to the Home Secretary are in order because yesterday, at the university of Leeds, an honorary doctorate degree was conferred on him, so he is now the right hon. Dr. Straw. I gather that Mr. Jeremy Paxman was similarly honoured. I am bound to say that, in the case of at least one of the awards, I am not entirely sure that the good sense of the university was entirely justified, but I am happy to confirm that my doubts do not relate to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am glad that the war of the roses is clearly now over.

On another note of harmony—I am sure that the Home Secretary does not expect all my remarks to be harmonious—I entirely agree with him that Sir Paul Condon's career has been a supreme and distinguished one. We greatly admire his work, and pay tribute to all the many successes that the Metropolitan police have enjoyed under his leadership. We wish him, when the time comes, a long and happy retirement.

I warmly welcome the opportunity once again to debate the policing of London. On the previous occasion, I said that, as a former Metropolitan police officer all those years ago, I felt rather honoured to be winding up the debate for the Opposition. Having survived two Opposition reshuffles since then, it is an even greater honour today to have been given the responsibility of making the opening contribution to the debate on behalf of the Conservative party. The recent catalogue of mistakes emanating from the Home Office, for which Ministers must take full responsibility, heightens our sense of anticipation of their imminent reshuffle within the Government.

At the previous debate in November 1997, the Home Secretary gave a personal assurance that he was determined that the House would be able to debate the policing of London every year. That was some 20 months ago, so clearly it is not only passports that have been delayed. In those intervening months, the House has debated the police service in London on two other, significant occasions: during the consideration of the Greater London Authority Bill, which contained the proposals for a new Metropolitan police authority to which the Home Secretary referred, and in a debate on Sir William Macpherson's report on the events surrounding the murder, in 1993, of Stephen Lawrence.

Despite my good-natured reproach of the Home Secretary for the delay in having this debate, we are grateful for it. However, we want reassurance that the Government will continue to hold debates on the policing of London annually, notwithstanding the creation of the MPA. The creation of the new authority suggests that the annual debates could in future be even more important for reviewing how the new structure is working in practice.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Conservative Members remain sceptical that the new authority will command public confidence, given the Government's refusal to include borough representation. Police commanders work closely with local boroughs. The Home Secretary referred to such work today when he mentioned crime and disorder partnerships. However, if members of those boroughs are not represented on the MPA, the authority will be viewed as remote, and that will give rise to concerns about the potential politicisation of the management of the police service in London—as he knows, there is already some worry about that. That would be a wholly retrograde step.

Mr. Straw

Borough representation is important. However, in the early 1970s, I served as a borough representative on the Inner London education authority, which was a rather amorphous body that contained Greater London council representatives as well as borough representatives. One of the reasons why I was not in favour of doing as the hon. Gentleman has suggested is that I did not think that the system worked. Borough representatives end up being very unclear about their role and to whom they are properly responsible.

It seemed to me, and in the end my view commended itself to the House, that it would be far better if the Metropolitan police authority were composed according to a formula identical to that for police authorities outside London. That would mean that just over a majority of the authority would be made up of elected members, justices of the peace and independent representatives. Its strategy would then follow in the footsteps of that set by the Home Secretary, which would mean that the good arrangements with the boroughs would be much less likely to be disturbed than if there were borough representatives on the authority.

Mr. Greenway

We shall see, in the long run, who is right. My point is that crime and disorder strategies are to be delivered at the borough level. It is crucial that the boroughs have a clear relationship with the Metropolitan police authority. I used the word "remote" and, if the authority is seen to be remote, it will not work.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that there should be an annual debate on policing in London. Will the Opposition also press for an annual debate on policing elsewhere in England and Wales? With the existence of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly and frequent debates on specific London issues, there is an increasing tendency for middle England to feel disfranchised in the House.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point. The Home Secretary will recall that the only other opportunity to debate policing in any depth is the annual police budget statement. This year, we were grateful for the opportunity to debate that for about two and three quarter hours on a Thursday afternoon, rather than only 90 minutes. We want to debate the policing of the country more frequently and at greater length, and preferably not on a Friday, so that hon. Members would find it easier to attend.

There is a need to review the policing of London in debates and also to review the Home Secretary's residual role and his responsibility for some of the special features associated with policing the capital, such as the royal family, diplomatic matters and major public events. Under the new structure, the Home Secretary remains accountable to the House for those matters. The Metropolitan police, who are by far Britain's biggest police force, will continue to be the focus of public attention on the performance of the police service in general and the fight against organised crime.

As we saw at the time of the publication of the Macpherson report earlier this year, criticism of the Metropolitan police undoubtedly impacts on the public's perception of the police service in other parts of Britain. Increasingly, however, I have found that those criticisms, which many thought unjustified, have encouraged many members of the public to volunteer their support for the police. More positively, the police response to terrorist atrocities in the capital, such as the recent nail bomb attacks and public order demonstrations, including those that took place in the City of London only a few weeks ago, enhances the public's appreciation of the work of the police service, not only in London but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) reminded us, throughout Britain.

That admiration is felt even more acutely when a police officer is murdered while on duty. In our previous debate, in November 1997, we took time to reflect on the then recent murder of WPC Nina Mackay, and her death should be a continuing reminder of the courage routinely demonstrated by police officers, day after day, in helping to make our communities safe. Thankfully, as the Home Secretary told the House, this week's publication of the annual report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis confirmed that the rise in the number of assaults on officers on duty has been stemmed, and indeed has fallen sharply in the past 12 months from 2,894 to 2,151. I am not sure what the percentage decrease is, but it is significant and very welcome.

I welcome what the Home Secretary said about protective equipment, and I agree that those who judge whether any of that equipment is appropriate should bear it in mind that, in other capital cities, the police are routinely armed whereas, here in London, they are not.

The Police Federation Metropolitan office takes the view that the supply of safety equipment, such as CS spray and new police batons, which were sanctioned by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)—he knows that that and our agitation over some time for protective clothing had my strong support—has been a key factor in the welcome reduction in the number of injuries of police officers.

Criticism of CS spray must be set against the advantage of reducing and preventing injuries to both police and civilians. The very fact that officers are now better equipped often dissuades offenders from resorting to violence at the time of arrest. Indeed, a police officer told me the other day of an incident in Acton, which is one of the pilot areas, in which a violent man wielding a machete gave himself up immediately on seeing the policeman withdraw his CS spray. The figures clearly speak for themselves.

The beneficial effect of fewer officers on sick leave is that more police are available for duty. We warmly welcome the success of the sickness management project over the past 12 months. I understand that it has achieved almost £20 million of efficiency savings. I recall a Home Affairs Committee inquiry in which I was involved making recommendations along those lines. Nevertheless, such improvements in the management of police sickness, and the resulting availability of more officers for front-line duties, cannot obscure the Opposition's deep-seated concerns about resources and police numbers in the Met.

In order to gauge the recent trend of police manpower, I referred to Hansard—not to the previous debate in November 1997, but to the exchange between my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, when he was Home Secretary, and the present Home Secretary, in February 1996. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend vividly recalls the occasion, on which there was a disagreement about the strength of the Metropolitan police.

My right hon. and learned Friend pointed out that, between December 1994 and December 1995, there had been an increase from 27,611 police officers to 27,719. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), as shadow Home Secretary, preferred to rely on figures from the chief inspector of constabulary, which he said showed that there were 27,812 officers in the Met in 1992 and that that had fallen to 27,480 by March 1995. Such arguments seem both sterile and academic when one considers what has happened to police strength under this Government.

As recently as 30 June, the Home Secretary confirmed in a written answer that Metropolitan police strength was standing at 26,073. What a dismal record for a Government who promised so much in the fight against crime. Even if one accepts the 26,400 to which the Home Secretary referred, the fact is that police numbers are declining at a rate which, if sustained—there is increasing evidence that it will be—will result in insufficient police officers in London to police our streets and communities in the way that both they and the public want.

The right hon. Member for Blackburn was right about one thing in that debate. The record shows, as he claimed, that total manpower in the Metropolitan police peaked in 1992—he made a brief reference to that again today. However, the number of constables in the Metropolitan police was at its peak just before the general election, when there were more than 500 more constables than in 1992, but fewer officers of senior rank. Sadly, the right hon. Gentleman cannot claim that the desirable trend of more officers for front-line duties and fewer senior officers in administration is continuing under his stewardship of the Metropolitan police.

Mr. Straw


Mr. Greenway

Let me give the right hon. Gentleman the figures; then perhaps he will explain them to us.

The three most recent Metropolitan police annual reports show that the number of constables has fallen from 20,957 in March 1997, to 20,635 last year, to 20,396 now—a fall of 600 officers in two years. So the conclusion is damning: front-line policing is being cut under Labour.

Mr. Straw

Exchanging tales about police numbers is an unwise path for the hon. Gentleman to tread. If he wishes to turn this into a partisan debate, I shall give him some simple, incontrovertible facts about police numbers in London. Between 1992 and March 1998, police numbers in London fell by nearly 2,000—300 a year for every year that the Conservatives set the budget. They set the budget for 1997–98 in January 1997. I ensured an increase in the resources for the Metropolitan police service in 1998–99 over and above the previous Government's allocation for that year. As I reported to the House just a moment ago, the result was that numbers stabilised last year, with a reduction of only 21. The Commissioner has assured me that he has the funds to maintain stable numbers—providing that he can get the recruits—for this year. The question for the hon. Gentleman is why police numbers fell by 300 a year—by 2,000 in six years—under his Administration.

Mr. Greenway

First, it was not my Administration. None the less, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. If he wants to continue down that path, we could pursue matters much further. When he was in opposition and standing at this Dispatch Box, he stated each year that the number of police officers available for front-line duties was falling. The figures show that the number of constables available for front-line duties rose under the previous Government, and particularly so during the previous Parliament. The fall was in senior ranks. If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that it was not a good idea to get rid of some commander, chief superintendent and chief inspector ranks, which were administrative posts that could be filled by civilians, and to improve the management structure to create a flatter style, all of which took place under the stewardship of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, I would be amazed, given that, as Home Secretary, he places such great store by the need for the police to make more and more efficiency savings in order to retain the funds with which to ensure sufficient police officers.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

Does my hon. Friend agree that all this bandying of figures means nothing to my constituents and others in the Hillingdon division because the reality is that, this year, the division lost 13 police officers and five civil staff; since January 1997, it has lost more than 15 per cent. of staff; and we are extremely worried that we will lose another 17 members of staff in the coming year?

Mr. Greenway

There we are; up-to-date information from the street, as it were. The Home Secretary may smile, but he and I represent constituencies in which we have our own problems with police numbers and markedly different situations. I suspect that, from the experiences in the constituencies of right hon. and hon. Members, this debate will show that the number of officers available for duty is falling.

The Home Secretary says that he believes that the position has stabilised but, sadly, for both serving police officers and the people of the capital, that is the height of complacency because all evidence is that the decline in numbers is set to worsen.

First, the age profile of the Metropolitan police is increasing. In February 1999, the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), gave me some written answers, confirming that the average age of serving police officers in the Metropolitan police had increased from 35 to 38 in only five years. Of currently serving officers, 3,300 have more than 25 years' service and more than 1,000 have more than 30 years' service. To replace those officers as they retire and as others leave the police service for other reasons, the Metropolitan police need to attract new recruits.

The Home Secretary added a little caveat to his comment—he said that numbers would increase provided that the Metropolitan police can recruit the officers that they need. I share with the House some information given to me this week by the Metropolitan Police Federation: in the past few months, the recruitment rate has declined sharply. The Metropolitan police look to attract new recruits at the rate of 190 every five weeks, for 10 training courses at the police training centre at Hendon. In both of the last two five-weekly intakes, the number of recruits fell to below 100—at 98 and a mere 88 respectively.

Within months, the effect of that decline in recruitment will be fewer officers and increased pressure on those who remain in post. Remember that the Metropolitan police are some 500 officers short already, with another 750 officers moving on secondment to other police forces because of the change in the Metropolitan police boundaries associated with the introduction of the Greater London police authority. I say in all sincerity to the Home Secretary that that does not augur well for the increase in ethnic recruitment that he has rightly targeted. We support such an increase, and the objectives arising from the Macpherson report.

There is much other evidence of cuts. Police stations are closing; yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) confirmed to me that four are targeted for closure in his area alone. There are problems within the criminal investigation department. Detective inspector posts are not being filled. Uniformed inspectors with no CID experience are in charge of CID branches at major divisional headquarters, and the detective constable is the most senior detective in many of our police stations. There is no proper career structure within the CID; that is a cause of the difficulty. There are also cuts in the mounted section.

That catalogue of general decline does not augur well for the policing of London. It is all very well for the Home Secretary to tell us about the many successes, all of which we applaud; he cannot ignore the evidence before his eyes of a declining police force in our capital, and it is shameful that, today, he refuses to recognise the problem.

As the Home Secretary said, in each of the next three years, the Metropolitan police must make efficiency savings of 2 per cent. In a conversation with me, the Commissioner said that he was confident that he could meet that target for the year ahead, but I question the extent to which that arbitrary 2 per cent. target—which has been set not only for the Metropolitan police but, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, for other police forces in England and Wales—can be achieved year on year without some effect on the budget available for police manpower.

The increasing age profile has consequences for pensions. The prospect of more than 3,000 Metropolitan police officers taking normal retirement over the next three years or so has huge implications. The Commissioner has warned that, before long, as much as a quarter of his budget could be absorbed by police pensions. Conservative Members are the first to acknowledge that there is no easy solution to the pension funding problem. If there had been, it would have been implemented; the Home Secretary knows that.

We acknowledge, too, that there are implications for public expenditure in stemming the tide of reductions in manpower. As the Home Secretary said, the Metropolitan police get about a quarter of the total police budget. However, I believe that it is entirely right for us to point to the fact that all the good work of the previous Government in rebuilding police strength and morale in the capital is being undermined. The increased strength in manpower that we witnessed during many years of Conservative government is evaporating. If the Government gave the police a priority equal to that given to them by Conservative Governments over 18 years, we would not be in this position. As it is, the Government's policies are making matters worse by imposing funding cuts disguised as arbitrary efficiency targets.

Above all, we contend that enforced cuts and other features of police policy are deeply damaging morale in the police service and making it more and more difficult to recruit the young men and women who are needed to maintain police numbers at levels adequate to uphold the standard of policing in London that the police want to achieve and that the people of London deserve and have every right to expect.

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)

If the previous Government had such a record of success, will the hon. Gentleman dissociate himself from the remarks of one Ivan Massow, who apparently has joined the list of clowns seeking to run for London mayor for the Conservatives? He said: Londoners are fed up with a police force that is managed like British Leyland in the 1970s and split into competing fiefdoms. If it is the success story that the hon. Gentleman says, this Mr. Massow is wrong. Will he confirm that he is wrong and dissociate himself from his remarks?

Mr. Greenway

I will confirm what the Home Secretary confirmed, which is that, over five years, the number of crimes in the capital fell year on year, and that was because of the action taken by the previous Government. I will not engage in an argument about an article and a comment that I have not read. However, I do say, in conclusion on this matter, that I do not relish having to come to the House on a day like this, with a responsibility to bring the Home Secretary up short on his complacency about police numbers. I simply relate to him and the House what the Metropolitan Police Federation, serving police officers and even divisional commanders are saying to me, and I dare say to him. We cannot go on like this. The number is set to decline further. In our next debate, we shall see who is proved right.

Mr. Straw

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, between 1992 and 1998, the number of police in London fell by nearly 2,000? Yes or no?

Mr. Greenway

I do not accept that. I do accept that the number of those in senior ranks fell, but the number of constables for front-line duties increased. If the right hon. Gentleman—a Home Secretary pressing for efficiency savings—thinks that it is not a good idea to strip out unwanted senior ranks at great expense, I am very surprised.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Does my hon. Friend agree that in London—as in Gloucestershire—even if police numbers are stabilised, the fact that the Government have introduced extra legislative burdens, such as the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the working time directive and provisions for maternity leave, means that there are fewer police on the beat?

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend correctly says that we ask more and more of our police, but I would acknowledge that all Governments have expected more and more from our police.

Mr. McNulty

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for returning to the point, but a mayoral Tory candidate is essentially attacking the record of achievement of which the hon. Gentleman is so proud. Either the mayoral candidate is completely wrong and the hon. Gentleman should dissociate himself from what he says, or the record was a load of nonsense. Which is true?

Mr. Greenway

First, the hon. Gentleman should confine himself to worrying about Labour mayoral candidates and what they may say about the policing of London in their election campaigns. Secondly, I am convinced that, when the next election comes, the people of Harrow will want to know from the hon. Gentleman why a party that stood at the last election as being tough on crime has in government presided over a significant cut in the number of police officers in the hon. Gentleman's borough, let alone across the length and breadth of London. It is important that we have these exchanges on police numbers because that is what our constituents expect. Their experience is not a good one.

I shall move on to the Macpherson report. The Home Secretary knows that the allegations made in the Stephen Lawrence report were accepted. The Opposition accepted much of the criticism that was levelled at the police. Those criticisms have undoubtedly cast a long shadow over the police service, especially in London. That has had adverse consequences for police morale. Allegations of corruption within the Metropolitan police have also had a negative impact on morale and on the attraction of the police service as a career for young people. I believe that that is one of the root causes of the recruitment difficulty to which I have referred, and it must be addressed.

I sense that many serving police officers are deeply frustrated. They are determined to repair and restore the battered image of London police post-Macpherson. They want to make further progress on many of the successful initiatives of recent years—which the Home Secretary acknowledged—that have seen crime fall year on year to an unprecedented degree. They are eager to rebuild relationships with local communities, particularly those of an ethnic origin.

Police officers rightly take pride from the way in which the Metropolitan police handled recent terrorist incidents in Brixton, Brick lane and Soho. I think that the Home Secretary knows that a senior FBI officer telephoned the Commissioner after their success with the nail bomb attacks. He was incredulous at the success of the operations. We are justified in paying tribute to that success. The police response to the recent disturbances in the City again reminded us that the approach to the policing of public disorder in London is among the best, if not the best, in the world.

At the same time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) has said, we are asking the police to do more and more, and they cannot do it with fewer and fewer officers. They are bemused and bewildered by the Government's apparent willingness to see police manpower haemorrhage. They interpret that as a lack of commitment.

Another development that is contributing to poor morale is the recent reform of disciplinary procedures in the police. We understand why the Home Secretary made the changes and we accept that the arguments are finely balanced. However, it is my clear impression that there is deep anxiety among many police officers that their enthusiasm to catch criminals and to deal with disorder exposes them to allegations of misconduct that are often malicious or distorted. Such alleged breaches of police regulations or charges arising from internal police disciplinary inquiries will be judged on a balance of probabilities rather than, as previously, on the criminal standard of proof.

A great deal could be said about some of the publicity surrounding the recent disciplinary action taken against Detective Inspector Bullock. Some of that publicity suggested a degree of guilt, and an expectation of disciplinary punishment, which were not supported by the facts. When it comes to what punishment may be appropriate, I am sure that the Home Secretary would agree with me that the punishment has to be relevant and proportionate to what has been established and not to what has been alleged in the media.

We remain concerned that there is still a lingering fear that the ability of the police service to confiscate or reduce the pensions of officers who are found guilty of criminal offences, which we support, may be extended to other areas of police discipline. We do not believe that to be right. When the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) replies, we should be grateful if she would clarify the Government's views on this matter.

The Home Secretary touched on the question of whether the reduction in stops and searches has had anything to do with the rise in street crime over the past two or three months. The questions answered by the Home Office revealed a 45 per cent. increase. I will not delay the House with another argument about figures. I am grateful to the Home Secretary for what he said about Dr. Fitzgerald, which clarified the matter.

Whatever the figures, the level of street crime affects us all. I think that it gives rise to the fear of crime rather more than the numbers of murders in London, which the Home Secretary rightly observed are among the lowest in any major city throughout the world. Indeed, that applies to the figures throughout Britain.

Two weeks ago tomorrow my daughter, Louise, was married in the House. We had a wonderful day. At 2 o'clock I went to my front door in Gilbert road, Kennington, to see whether the vintage taxi that we had hired for the occasion had arrived. Indeed it had. Parked alongside it was a police car with a blue flashing light. While the gentleman who drove the taxi had been waiting for the appropriate time to knock on my door to say, "I have arrived, Mr. Greenway, to take you and your daughter to the House of Commons," three young black boys aged 15 or 16 on mountain bikes jumped into his cab and robbed him of his bag, his wallet and his driving licence.

We could have a debate about what we should be doing to protect cab drivers. However, I have related an experience that occurs all too frequently. I found it astonishing that, in broad daylight—

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Greenway

I shall finish the story. I am quite happy to give way to the hon. Lady. [Interruption.] The incident took place in the constituency of the Under-Secretary.

I found it astonishing that, in broad daylight in a London street at 2 o'clock in the afternoon such an incident should occur.

I have the highest regard for the police officers for the speed with which they came to the incident. They were clearly of the view that such incidents occurred all too frequently. I make no point other than that it is such incidents—everyone knows somebody who has such an experience—that give rise to the fear of crime. That is why it is crucial that the police continue to be able to police in London without fear or favour, notwithstanding what was in the Macpherson report.

Ms King

Has the hon. Gentleman ever mentioned in the House the skin colour of people involved in such incidents when they are white? Is he able to recognise the anger with which his remarks are received? I do not describe Opposition Members as white Members. They are MPs. Will the hon. Gentleman please recognise the anger that he causes when he does this? It is quite disgraceful.

Mr. Greenway

I find the hon. Lady's comment quite disgraceful. I am making no point other than relating to the House an incident that occurred within a mile of the House that is typical of other incidents. The police know—it does no one any good to try to hide this point—

Mr. McNulty

What point?

Mr. Greenway

I have made the point that three 16-year-old coloured boys—[Interruption.] Black boys. The fact that the police know who these people are adds to the situation that we have to face.[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. Perhaps the House should calm down. We will not have shouting from a sedentary position.

Mr. Greenway

I am amazed at the reaction of Labour Members—

Mr. lain Coleman (Hammersmith and Fulham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Greenway

No. It is time to wind up, and I have one or two more things to say.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Will my hon. Friend allow me?

Mr. Greenway

I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Wilkinson

It is entirely appropriate, is it not, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for an hon. Member, whether from the Front Bench or the Back Benches, to describe the characteristics—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, it is not.]—of any suspected criminal, be that person black, white, brown, yellow, long-haired, short-haired or anything else? My hon. Friend was merely describing the participants, as he thought them to be, in an act of violent crime. In that, he is making no other judgment at all.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He sums up entirely the point that I am making.

The House still needs to address one other matter in relation to the Macpherson report. We retain grave concerns about the Government's handling of the publication of the Macpherson report. For the best part of a week, as the Home Secretary knows, we had one mistake and blunder after another, all of which served to undermine the public's confidence in the report's recommendations, the quality of the Macpherson inquiry and the competence of Ministers to oversee the proper implementation of the report.

We remain of the view that it is utterly disgraceful that no one has had the courage to admit to being the source that leaked parts of the report to The Sunday Telegraph—a leak that the Home Secretary considered sufficiently serious to obtain an injunction against publication. There has been no opportunity to debate the matter, but our concern is all the greater because the leak inquiry concluded that the person responsible was someone senior in the Home Office and Government. Given that that limits significantly the possible number of culprits, the failure of the person to identify himself or to be publicly identified has damaged the reputation of all those who had access to the report.

No doubt Ministers think that, with the passage of time, the whole thing will blow over and be forgotten, but the many witnesses and informants whose identities were revealed in the blundered publication of the appendix of the report will not forget so easily. They face perhaps many months and years of fear and anguish for doing no more than coming forward to help the police.

Worst of all, the blunder could have been avoided if the Home Secretary had shown greater trust and confidence in the Metropolitan police by granting them more time to read and consider the report in advance of publication. It was thanks to the vigilance of police officers, rather than of officials in the Home Office, that the mistake was spotted so quickly. Police officers are left to provide the round-the-clock protection for those who were affected.

I shall conclude—[Interruption.] If hon. Members did not interrupt and make such a fuss, we would have made progress more speedily. Despite the Macpherson criticisms, the police service in London is one in which people who live and work in the capital, as well as the many millions who come to London for leisure, can have justifiable confidence. However, any impartial assessment of the successes of policing in London in recent years would have to conclude that it was the initiatives of the previous Government that brought tangible results in the form of reduced crime and improved policing. Those continue to provide the framework for much of the current success of policing in the capital. The Home Secretary referred to one such success, Operation Eagle Eye, in respect of the vexed problem of street robberies, which were the subject of a recent exchange.

For all the publicity associated with every announcement of Government policy to fight crime, often rehashed, there is thus far scant evidence that their policies to fight crime are making any discernible difference. Unless the Government reverse their attitude towards resources and police numbers, their eventual legacy will be a depleted and demoralised police force. I cannot believe that that is what the Home Secretary intends. It is to be hoped that the debate will help to concentrate minds within Government on the urgent action needed to reverse that deplorable trend.

10.44 am
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

All hon. Members, especially those of us who represent London constituencies, welcome a debate on the policing of London.

First, I should like to pay a warm tribute to the work done since the last election by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his team in tackling crime throughout the country. The legislation introduced by his Department clearly shows the public that the Government intend to make our cities and towns safer, so that people have security in their lives. Like my right hon. Friend, I pay the warmest tribute to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police and to police officers, both men and women.

We as Members of Parliament have close contact with the police forces in our constituencies and build up a relationship with them. The police welcome that and our continuing involvement in the local committees on which we serve along with the local police.

I am in no doubt that matters have improved noticeably not only in London but throughout the country since the last election. However, as my right hon. Friend is aware, there are still, sadly, far too many crimes of violence. I represent the Tooting constituency in the London borough of Wandsworth. Week by week I read in the local papers, the Wandsworth Borough News and the Wandsworth Borough Guardian, about the crimes that take place in my area.

A report published last week was headed "Racialist Yobs in Brutal Attack". It concerned a group of young white thugs, who attacked a Sri Lankan late at night on Tooting broadway. The youngster had to be treated in hospital. There was a case recently of a 13-year-old girl who was walking across Wandsworth common and faced an attempted knife-point rape. Sadly, there was a recent attack on a Turkish cultural centre in my constituency, when two people hurled a petrol-filled bottle through a kitchen window, causing great damage to the building.

Whereas I praise the work that my right hon. Friend has been doing, he and his colleagues in the Home Office know that there is still more to be done. I welcome the tough policies on crime that have been followed by his Department and the Government. That is what people want, and I applaud my right hon. Friend for introducing those policies.

In any debate, hon. Members have a right to comment on matters of local concern. Having been in the House during the 18 years of government under the premierships of Margaret Thatcher and right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), may I tell the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) that year after year areas like mine suffered cuts in police manning, the closure of police stations and so on?

One of the issues of concern in my constituency is the possible reduction of opening hours at Tooting police station. The station is to be open for only 12 hours a day. That proposal is not popular locally, and I ask my right hon. Friend to engage in further discussions with the Commissioner and local police to see if the reduction in hours can be avoided. It should be pointed out that in recent years, two other police stations have been closed in my constituency.

My right hon. Friend has rightly mentioned the ethnic communities living in London. My constituency has a large ethnic community made up of extremely honourable people, many of whom have lived here for many years. They are hard-working, law-abiding people, but they often question the police's attitude to them and, as my right hon. Friend said this morning, the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence and the way that the police handled that matter seriously eroded the community's confidence in the police.

My constituents from the ethnic communities often say to me how much they applauded my right hon. Friend's determination to hold the inquiry into that murder, which could and should have been held years ago under the previous Administration. Then, there never was any intention to hold an inquiry, even though not only the ethnic communities, but the vast majority of people in this country wanted one to be held. It is to my right hon. Friend's credit that he ensured that it took place. The Macpherson report, which has been referred to repeatedly in the debate, has been greatly welcomed not only in London, but throughout the country.

In April, I asked the Home Office a number of questions about policing in Wandsworth, one of which concerned the number of stop and search operations in the borough; there were 5,489 in 1996, 5,784 in 1997 and 4,130 in 1998. Although my community welcomes that reduction, 1 have to say to my right hon. Friend that members of the ethnic community are invariably stopped and the same people are often stopped repeatedly, which causes local problems. I do not dispute for a minute that there are occasions on which people have to be stopped by the police, but I believe that the regular stopping of certain people appears to be questionable, especially when they are not prosecuted for any offence. That does not help those of us—irrespective of which side the House we sit on, because I believe this to be a non-party issue—who are seeking to build up relations in our communities with all whom we represent.

I also asked the Home Office about the number of racially motivated assaults in Wandsworth; there were 30 in 1997–98 and 66 in 1998–99. Regrettably, there has been a substantial increase in such attacks against decent, honourable people who live in my constituency. I ask my right hon. Friend to give the greatest possible assistance as we seek to reduce that figure, because such attacks cause the most serious problems in communities such as mine.

The two previous speakers discussed recruitment at length, but I shall deal specifically with the recruitment of Asian and black police officers, be they men or women. I asked the Home Office a question about that and I was told that, on 23 April, there were four officers from an ethnic background at Tooting police station and seven at Wandsworth, totalling 11 officers with an ethnic background in the London borough of Wandsworth. The borough sends three Members of Parliament to the House and its population is more than 260,000. I do not believe for a moment that there are not many capable men and women from ethnic backgrounds who could play a commendable role in policing, if not in Wandsworth, then generally throughout London, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will seek to increase that number.

I am not saying that achieving an increase will be easy, but when I and my colleagues meet members of ethnic communities at functions I am sure that we are all repeatedly asked, "How come there aren't more ethnic officers in this area?" At times, it is very hard to give reasons for that and my colleagues from other London constituencies or boroughs may be able to give the House figures similar to those that I have cited. I have to say to my right hon. Friend that 11 officers of ethnic origin in the London borough of Wandsworth is totally unacceptable to its Members of Parliament, and my two hon. Friends the Members for Battersea (Mr. Linton) and for Putney (Mr. Colman), who also represent the borough, agree with my comments.

Page 35 of the Commissioner's report is headed "Street Offences and Juvenile Protection". I serve as a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and chair its Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee, whose day to day work concerns the protection of women and children. The Commissioner's report gives frightening details, of which hon. Members may not be unaware, about the trafficking of women: Growth in the trafficking of women into the UK for the purposes of sexual exploitation continues, and such women now represent a significant proportion of prostitutes operating in London. Investigations conducted into networks operating from Lithuania, Hungary, Ukraine…have confirmed earlier intelligence indicating organised crime involvement. The Council of Europe has 41 member states—my right hon. Friend was in Strasbourg recently at a Council of Europe Assembly—and those three countries mentioned in the report are all members.

On 13 July,The Daily Telegraph reported on "Huge traffic in prostitutes to West", referring to the fact that Lithuania is regarded as the staging post from which women are sent to various parts of Europe and other parts of the world. I liaise closely with a senior member of the United States Congress, Congressman Christopher Smith, who has introduced legislation in the United States in an attempt to stem that traffic. The market is huge and the United Nations estimates that the trafficking of women is worth $7 billion year. That is obviously of such concern to the Commissioner that he has referred to it in his annual report.

I do not believe that we are doing enough to protect women or to stop them being sent here—I understand that many enter this country on forged passports—nor are we doing enough to help them when they realise that have been deceived about why they have been brought here. They want to get out of the evil trade that they have been forced into, but support systems do not exist. My right hon. Friend and his Department work with the Council of Europe and I hope that he and his officials will work with the Committee that I am privileged to chair, because we are currently looking into the ever-increasing growth of the trafficking of women. What the report does not refer to is the clear evidence of major trafficking in young children for sexual purposes which has come to the Council of Europe's attention.

This has been an extremely interesting debate and London Members welcome the opportunity to have it. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, his team and the Government have, at long last, started to tackle the real issues of crime. When I meet my constituents or when they write to me, they say that they accept that there is a lot still to be done, but that they genuinely believe that this Government are deeply committed to tackling crime. I believe that, and welcome what my right hon. Friend has done since coming to office.

11 am

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. When I addressed the House on the policing of London in December 1994, the first occasion on which I did so as Home Secretary, I set out my vision for a London of the future. As the Home Secretary said today, London is one of the safest capital cities in the world. My vision was for an even safer city: where safer streets improved the quality of life; where a visible, predominantly unarmed, and approachable police force provided a reassuring presence; and, above all, where there were fewer crimes and fewer victims. I am proud of the progress that has been made towards making that vision a reality and I pay tribute to the men and women of the Metropolitan police for their work in achieving those objectives.

I pay particular tribute to the Commissioner. This is the last occasion on which we shall debate the policing of London under his term of office, and it is partly that fact that impelled me to speak in the debate. I did not appoint Sir Paul Condon to his post, but I had the privilege of working closely with him for four years. I am convinced that he will go down as one of the great Commissioners of the Metropolitan police, and the people of London owe him a very great debt. I also pay tribute to the Metropolitan police committee, which has done much valuable—if at times under-rated—work.

I want to consider some specific issues, the first of which is the level of crime. Over the past six years, recorded crime has fallen across the country, and that is also true for London. A major breakthrough has been made in stemming the rise of crime in the capital, although it was almost universally predicted that that simply could not be done. I remember being challenged, in my very first speech as Home Secretary, by the Prime Minister, who was then shadow Home Secretary. He asked me to accept, as the criterion of success of my term of office as Home Secretary, the outcome in terms of what happened to the crime figures. I can tell the House now that, although that was my primary objective, I was not sufficiently confident that I would succeed in bringing the crime figures down to accept his challenge. In the light of events, I wish that I had done so.

Between 1993 and 1997, crime rates throughout the country fell by some 18 per cent. In the Metropolitan police district they fell by some 8 per cent. More than 66,000 fewer crimes a year were committed in 1997 than in 1993 when I became Home Secretary. I am delighted that that trend appears to be continuing, although I shall have some cautionary observations to make about that before I sit down.

The Commissioner reports that, although changes in Home Office accounting rules have resulted in an apparent increase in crime in 1998–99, in reality crime has fallen for the sixth successive year. The most significant falls in recent years have been in two of the volume crimes that cause most distress to Londoners: breaking into our homes, and stealing our cars. Between 1993–94 and 1997–98, domestic burglary in the Metropolitan police district fell by 21 per cent. and vehicles crimes by almost 30 per cent. Those trends, too, appear to be continuing. As the Home Secretary said, the Commissioner has reported that, in 1998–99, the number of burglary offences in London fell by a further 8.3 per cent. to the lowest level in the capital for 20 years.

Initiatives such as Operation Bumblebee, which was launched in 1991 and extended Met-wide in June 1993, have had a real impact on crime levels and have done much to shift the fear of crime from the citizen to the criminal. Similar successes have been achieved by Operation Eagle Eye, the Met's initiative to tackle mugging and street robbery. Operation Eagle Eye was launched in the summer of 1995 in controversial circumstances, when street robberies in the capital were heading towards 40,000 a year. Since then, the rate of increase in those offences has first been slowed and has now been reversed. The Commissioner reports a fall of 2.3 per cent. in 1998–99. It is vital that the police are supported in building on that achievement.

The figures that I have been quoting are for recorded crime. As those figures began to drop during my term in office, in a way that had not happened before, the statisticians and other experts rushed to pour cold water on them. "These figures cannot be trusted," they said. "We must wait for the British crime survey, which is a much more reliable basis for assessment. That will give the lie to the myth that the crime figures are falling." On occasion, I believe, the Home Secretary associated himself with those criticisms.

Last year, the British crime survey produced its findings for the period 1995–97. It showed a drop in crime of 14 per cent. over that period—the first time ever that the British crime survey had recorded a fall in crime. That was the answer to the doubters, and that fall in crime is a legacy that the Conservative party left to the present Government.

I very much hope that the trend will continue, but it will not do so unless resources are provided to enable the Commissioner to retain an adequate police presence on the streets of London. We have had arguments about that today. I simply limit myself to saying that it is my devout hope that the legacy of falling crime will prove to be lasting. I also hope that the resources will be made available to enable that trend to continue. If they are not, and if the crime figures do not continue to fall, the Government will bear a heavy responsibility.

May I now deal with a subject that has had, and will continue to have, profound implications not only for the Met but for the police service as a whole? I refer to the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and to the publication of the Macpherson report. I shall quickly pass over the ignominious circumstances in which the report was published, save simply to say that I do not begin to understand why the report on the leak, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) referred, has not been published. Given that the Home Secretary champions—or is said to champion—the cause of open government, why on earth has that report not been published? I have never heard a satisfactory answer to that question.

The murder of Stephen Lawrence was a despicable act. It is a matter of painful regret that the investigation into it was not more effective. Obviously, there are many lessons to be learned. Many of the Macpherson report recommendations are to be welcomed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who was shadow Home Secretary at the time of its publication, welcomed in particular the stress that the report places on the importance of increasing trust and confidence in policing among minority ethnic communities. I echo that welcome. However, in attempting to improve how the police respond to, and interact with, ethnic minority communities, we must ensure that their hands are not tied to the extent that they cannot police effectively, as that would have adverse consequences for all communities.

We must always remember that the poor and the disadvantaged suffer most from crime. It is vital that any and all traces of racism in our police service are eradicated and that all communities, of whatever race and culture, have equal confidence in those who police them. We must not, however, prevent the police from taking action to deal with crime, whoever is the perpetrator of it. For that reason, care must be taken to ensure that officers do not become reluctant to deal with criminal elements of any particular community for fear of being branded racist or discriminatory, or of facing disciplinary proceedings.

I have been particularly concerned by some of the recent figures on crime in the metropolis and on stop and search. In an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), said that in the first four months of this year the number of stop and search operations conducted by the Metropolitan police fell from 25,715 to 14,110, which is a drop of more than 40 per cent. Over the same period, there was an increase in notifiable offences from 78,212 to 85,194, a rise of almost 10 per cent.

I understand that my hon. Friend has been told by the Commissioner that in Tottenham stop and search operations fell by 48 per cent., whereas notifiable offences increased by 25 per cent. A few moments ago, the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) gave figures on the drop in stop and search operations in Wandsworth, although he did not give us any corresponding figures on notifiable offences.

The issue of police use of stop and search powers has always been an emotive one, not least because people from ethnic minority communities are disproportionately represented in the stop and search figures compared with their representation in the population as a whole. To get to the truth about this, we need to look a little further. We should look behind the bald figures and comparisons.

When I was Home Secretary, I was troubled by the fact that people from ethnic minority communities were disproportionately represented in those figures. I asked for more detailed information. In particular, I wanted to know the proportion of people from ethnic minority communities who were searched and subsequently arrested compared with the proportion of the white population who were arrested after having been stopped and searched.

If it turned out that the proportion of, for example, black people who were subsequently arrested after being searched was significantly lower than the proportion of members of other communities, there would be real cause for concern that they were being stopped and searched unnecessarily, and possibly as a result of discrimination. If, on the other hand, there was no significant difference in the proportion of black people who were subsequently arrested after being stopped and searched compared with people from other communities, it would be difficult to make out the case for discrimination.

I asked for information on that point, and research was published by the Home Office in 1997, which showed that in a sample of police forces, including two districts of the Metropolitan police, the percentage of those stopped and searched who were subsequently arrested was broadly similar for all ethnic groups. In fact, the Met's latest stop and search figures show that for 1998–99 the percentage of black people who were stopped and searched and subsequently arrested was slightly higher than the corresponding figure for white people: 13.1 per cent. for black people; 12.7 for white people. On the other hand, the proportion of Asians who were subsequently arrested was slightly lower: 11.5 per cent. compared with 12.7 per cent. That may merit further examination.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument is slightly confusing. As I understand it, roughly three people from across all ethnic minorities for every one white person are stopped and searched. Logically, the arrest rate would have to be correspondingly higher to ensure that there was no discrimination. The fact that the arrest rates are within 0.4 per cent. of each other in the case of black and white Londoners destroys his argument.

Mr. Howard

I am afraid that the hon. Lady has misunderstood the point. She is wrong. We have to consider the proportion of the people in all communities who were subsequently arrested after having been stopped and searched. If the proportion of those who were subsequently arrested was significantly smaller in any community—it is slightly smaller for Asians—that would be a matter for concern. That is what ought to lead one to examine whether those powers are being exercised in a discriminatory way.

We must be careful not to allow simplistic inferences to be drawn from statistics that do not necessarily reflect the full complexity of the issue, but nor must we allow unsubstantiated perceptions to hamper the police's ability to do their job, and to undo all the good that has been achieved through targeted initiatives, such as Operation Eagle Eye.

I was particularly pleased that, in an interview in the Evening Standard on 13 May this year, the Minister of State, who has just joined us, affirmed his support for stop and search. He said: Stop and search is there to be used as part of the police's armoury. We expect the police to use it. There's no softly, softly policy, there's no hands-off policy. That is an important statement. It was reinforced by the Home Secretary in his remarks to us at the beginning of the debate. I hope that the Government stick to it.

My concern is that the Government's response to the Macpherson report should not undermine the ability of the police to carry out their duties. That must not be allowed to happen. There is much of merit in the Macpherson report, and I know that the Commissioner has responded positively to the thrust of its recommendations. However, we must not throw out the baby with the bath water. In seeking to eradicate any traces of racism in the police service, and to ensure the fair policing of all communities, we must be careful not to inhibit the police in their use of the powers that they need to tackle crime effectively.

We should not allow the police to be burdened with spurious responsibilities, which may interfere with a sensible ordering of their priorities. To me, one of the most puzzling recommendations of the Macpherson report was that which suggested not only that the term "racist incident" must be understood to include both crimes and non-crimes—I understand that, and have no difficulty with it—but that both should be reported, recorded and investigated with equal commitment.

If an activity has been defined by society and the law as a non-crime, it ought inevitably to follow that it is given less priority in an investigation than an activity that has been defined as criminal. There is a crucial distinction between the two. Aneurin Bevan famously said that socialism is the language of priorities. Policing, too, must have priorities, and it must give greater priority to the reporting, recording and investigation of crimes than it gives to the reporting, recording and investigation of non-crimes. That is a basic proposition of common sense, and I am puzzled that it was not shared by the Macpherson inquiry.

I again pay tribute to the Metropolitan police and the work they do, often in the most difficult circumstances. The Government must be careful not to make those circumstances impossible by failing to resource the service properly, or by tying its hands. If crime starts to rise in London and in the rest of the country, the Government will have no one to blame but themselves. They will have frittered away the Conservative legacy of falling crime and a greatly strengthened police service. Were that to happen, they would rightly be condemned.

11.19 am
Mr. Stephen Twigg (Enfield, Southgate)

I am pleased to contribute to this important debate. As other hon. Members have said, policing our capital city poses enormous challenges for all of us. It is a busy, vibrant and diverse place. Many of the challenges posed to us here in London are the same as the challenges in any great town or city, but we face the extra challenge of the ever present threat of terrorism and terrorist violence.

It is almost three months since the three acts of terror in London—in Brixton, in Brick lane and in Soho. The threat of prejudice and bigotry tore at the heart of our capital city. It is important for us to learn the lessons of Brixton, Brick lane and Soho. All London Members will recall the days that followed the second bombing, when the capital city waited, expecting a third atrocity, and speculated about who would be targeted this time and where that third atrocity would take place.

I was very well briefed by the borough commander in Enfield, as I am sure other Members were by their local police, about possible targets in our community. Few of us thought at the time that the likeliest target was the lesbian and gay community, but we then witnessed that appalling atrocity in Soho, which, as the Home Secretary has said this morning, resulted not only in horrific injuries but in the deaths of three innocent people. We must learn lessons from that about how we can ensure that there is trust between all sections of the community and the police, and ensure that we deliver equal access to our policing service here in London.

One of the issues addressed in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was that of racially motivated or racially aggravated crime. We are already beginning to see the impact of that new law in the increasing public and police awareness of the importance of dealing with racial aggravation. During the passage of the Act, a number of us drew attention to the need to address wider hate crimes as well. In Committee, it was pointed out that crimes committed on the grounds of religion or sexuality were not covered by the legislation. I ask Ministers to consider whether we need to look again at the law as it relates to hate crimes, especially in the light of what happened in Soho—or at least, to look again at the guidance issued by the Home Office. It must be recognised that a hate crime committed against someone because that person is gay is just as serious as a hate crime committed against people because they are black or Asian.

As others have said today, it is important for our police force in London to reflect the diversity of our community. We still have a long way to go, but I pay tribute to the outgoing Commissioner for his work, and to the various groups in the police force who have been prepared to tackle some of the prejudice that exists—in particular, the Black Police Officers Association, the Lesbian and Gay Police Officers Association and the Greek and Greek Cypriot Police Officers Association. My constituency contains a larger Greek Cypriot community than any other constituency in the country, and I was delighted to discover recently that that association had existed for years. Its aim is to ensure that an effective relationship exists between the Greek and Greek Cypriot community and the police.

As my constituency waited in fear of a possible third atrocity, I was well aware of its diversity, and of the possible targets: the Greek Cypriot community, the Turkish-speaking community—including Turkish Cypriots—and the Jewish community. There was a feeling of vigilance, which is still there, although there have been only those three atrocities. I hope that there will be no more.

We must make certain that those who died at the Admiral Duncan pub did not die in vain. I pay tribute to all who have sought to ensure that we remember those people and act in their memory. In particular, I pay tribute to the Stonewall group, and to the gay and lesbian policing project in London. As the Prime Minister said at the time, we must recognise that those crimes were committed against all of us, and against the values that we all hold dear; but we must also recognise that the impact of the crimes in Brixton, Brick lane and Soho was felt most powerfully in the communities that were specifically targeted.

Let me make a broader point about policing in London. I welcome the Government's current policy, which is to encourage the development of a multi-agency approach and break down some of the barriers between different organisations. That is probably the strongest theme of the new crime and disorder legislation. Having spoken to the police in my area over the past week, I know that they feel very positive about the impact of the Crime and Disorder Act, which they say has provided a catalyst for agencies to come together to solve problems. It has brought about more coherence in the provision of services for the local community. They also say that they expect the new legislation to deliver cost savings, as different parts of the strategy are provided by the organisations with the most expertise and experience.

However, the police in Enfield have expressed concern about the fact that different agencies working together in crime and disorder partnerships have different priorities because they have different performance indicators. They have emphasised that it is important for all Departments and other agencies to pay regard to the Crime and Disorder Act when formulating performance indicators and deciding on priorities. They have also pointed out that funding remains a limiting factor—although, as has been said, it is hoped that some of it will be provided by the moneys that replace section 11 funding.

My constituency looks forward to having a single borough basis for the delivery of the police service, and the advantages of efficiency and representation that that will bring. The priorities of policing in my borough are much the same as those throughout the force: to increase security, to deal with young offenders speedily, to reduce the incidence of burglary and street crime, to deliver effective local partnerships to target crime and disorder, and, in particular, to increase the detection of drug offences in cases in which there is a link with violent crime.

The success that has been achieved in Enfield mirrors the national success of which the Home Secretary spoke—the success that has been achieved throughout the Metropolitan police area. Burglary rates have fallen throughout the borough over the past five years, and there was a 25 per cent. fall in 1997–98. Local businesses have been actively engaged in the attempt to tackle crime targeted on shopping centres, and, as others have said, we have seen the success of Operation Bumblebee and neighbourhood watch,

Enfield is taking a successful multi-agency approach to tackling racist crime. Some years ago the racial incidents action group was set up there, and the Home Office has commended it as an excellent example of good practice. Last year, I was delighted that the Home Secretary was able to visit the Oakwood area of my constituency, where there had been a particular problem of racist crime directed mostly at the Asian community, but also at the Jewish community. I am pleased to say that, thanks in large part to the work of the police, the local authority and the local community, there has been a significant fall in the number of reported incidents of racist crime in Oakwood.

Oakwood is a small area, part of a ward. In 1997, 48 cases of racist crime were reported there. I am told that since July 1998, only two cases have been reported. That is a very positive development. People are being encouraged to come forward and report crimes, and the police have been taking tough action. People have been taken to court and one or two of them have been sentenced. The local authority has made a strong commitment to work with the local community. I see that as a beacon of good practice, showing how partnership can be made a reality and people's lives can be dramatically improved.

As we have heard from other hon. Members, we still have a very long way to go. The borough-wide figures for racially aggravated offences in Enfield give a different picture from the one that I have described for that small part of my constituency. In 1994 there were 75 reported cases. By 1998 that number had almost quadrupled, to 287. None the less, there is a lot that is positive and can be welcomed.

The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the former Home Secretary, quoted Aneurin Bevan. Perhaps it says something about the new politics that we can now quote one another's folk heroes. In recent weeks, there has been a debate among Labour Members and in the country about the sort of appeal that our party has to make in the run-up to the next general election. It has been suggested that the choice is between an appeal to core voters and an appeal to new Labour voters.

The issue of policing in London is a good illustration of the fact that there is no such choice or contradiction. An effective policing strategy and campaign against crime is in the interests not only of people who have come over to vote Labour for the first time, but of our core voters. Indeed, it is perhaps in their interests more than anyone else's, because, as hon. Members have said, the main victims of crime, disorder and criminal behaviour are often precisely the people living on housing estates, the most vulnerable, elderly people who are frightened to go out, and some of the poorest and most deprived members of our communities. That is why it is important that we not only continue to be vigilant, and learn lessons from the recent events in London, but recognise that there are significant advances in the policing of London, which are for the benefit of all the people of this great capital city.

11.32 am
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

I join in the tributes to the Metropolitan police, particularly Sir Paul Condon. In some ways, the past year has been an annus horribilis for the police. There was bad publicity in London surrounding the Lawrence inquiry but, in many respects, there is a very good story to tell of crime reduction. Those two things need to be seen together.

May I add, on a personal level that, during the year, I re-established, with the help of some hon. Members who are present, particularly the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick), the all-party group on the police? During that work, I have had much co-operation from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Grieve and the Police Federation. It is clear that they want to talk to Members of Parliament, that they want their operations to be transparent and that they want to communicate. I am delighted by the way in which they have dealt with that issue.

It is clear that this debate has to take place under the shadow of the Lawrence report. It is right that the police should want to draw a line under it historically, to move on and to learn the right lessons, but we have to keep coming back to some of the underlying problems. One that I am particularly concerned about is racial violence and assaults.

I have tabled a series of parliamentary questions to the Home Office about underlying trends. The figures for the whole of London appear, at least on the surface, to be very alarming. They show that, last year, there were about 7,800 violent racial crimes. In the previous year, there were about 1,100; there was an increase of about 700 per cent. I do not pretend for one minute that racial violence has increased sevenfold in a year. I am sure that much of the increase is due to improved statistical collection and greater awareness of the problem; none the less, the figures contain worrying elements.

In my area, which is a predominantly white suburb—our ethnic minority population is about 5 per cent.—there were 100 violent racial incidents last year. What is striking is that that is more than in Brixton and Notting Hill. In the area immediately adjacent to Hounslow, there were four times more. The figure for the area is now the largest in London.

I suspect that there is a pattern. Whereas people in inner cities have in many ways learned to live in ethnically mixed societies and to co-exist happily, much of the bigotry has spread to the suburbs—that is where the violence is beginning to manifest itself.

A second point arising from the Lawrence inquiry is the sensitive issue of stop and search, on which the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the former Home Secretary, spoke at some length. There are two sides to that. It is clear that stop and search is an important part of policing and that the police should not be inhibited from doing it. At the same time, it is clear that, as long as there is suspicion of police attitudes—which will take a long time to dispel—practice has to improve.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

I was troubled by what the former Home Secretary said on statistics. I think the answer to the point that he was making is this—I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would comment on it. The former Home Secretary concentrated on what he saw as the rough parity between people who are arrested after stop and search—it is irrespective of their ethnic grouping—but should not the focus be on the people who are not arrested? If 88 per cent. of people who are black are not arrested and 88 per cent. of people who are white are not arrested, but three times as many people who are stopped are black, rather than white, does not that effectively mean that people are three times more likely to be stopped, even though they are innocent, if they are black?

Dr. Cable

Like the hon. Gentleman, I was a little confused by the logic of the former Home Secretary. There was an element of self-justification about it. The central point is that stop and search is an important police technique and must be used in a way that is acceptable. There is a good section in the Commissioner's report on how stop and search should be monitored and adapted—not abandoned—to fit in with multi-ethnic policing.

The final point on the subject relates to recruitment. It has not yet come across how serious the problem of under-recruitment of ethnic minorities is. I know that much effort is going into that in London. The Metropolitan police have devoted many resources and much thought to it, particularly in recent months. About 6 per cent. of the people they are recruiting are from ethnic minorities whereas, at the moment, people from ethnic minorities make up about 3 per cent. of the force.

The figures that my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has sent the Home Secretary suggest that, if the Home Secretary's target is to be met over 10 years, exactly half of all new recruits need to come from ethnic minorities. Clearly, that target will not be met. That is not a criticism of the target, or even of the police, but we are way behind all other police forces in the UK in terms of meeting that target.

That relates to a broader recruitment issue. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made pertinent points about the recruitment problem in London. It is not simply a question of numbers—there is the question of the quality of recruits. One of the points that Sir Paul Condon makes frequently in public and in private relates to his sense of alarm about the quality of recruits now available to the Metropolitan police. We are talking not about ethnic minorities, but all recruits.

There are great difficulties in recruiting graduates. If the police do get graduates, they will be at the bottom end of the qualification level. It is difficult to get police officers who have come from London; they come from out of London and so do not know the area. The whole recruitment situation is potentially disastrous. Frankly, it is a question of money and the local labour market. The Government and police chief constables will have to wake up to the fact that there will have to be big regional differentials in pay if the recruitment crisis in London is to be solved.

The figure that has been quoted to me—it seems plausible—is that a starting salary for a police officer in London may need to be about £5,000 above the rest of the country to meet London costs. Until chief constables in general and the Home Secretary grasp that, there will be a continuing recruitment problem.

Recruitment is part of a more general debate about numbers. We had a rather sterile debate about which Government were better or worse in the numbers game. The brutal fact is that it is a politically neutral trend. My police division is, I suspect, much the same as any other. Since the general election, it has lost 30 police officers—about 10 per cent. In the previous five years, it lost another 10 per cent. Casting blame one way or the other is not the issue. The fundamental problem is that police numbers have declined worryingly. We need to think through some of the consequences of that.

It may be, as the Home Secretary explained, that numbers are not everything and that one can increase productivity, reduce sickness and deploy police resources more efficiently. I accept all those points. However, where there has been a big reduction in numbers, there are fewer police officers on the street. It is not simply that people are more fearful of crime because there is a reduced police presence; there is a much greater incidence of petty, unreported crime. Certainly in my area—my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) tells me that the same applies to his constituency—which is an otherwise quiet, law-abiding suburb, there has been an enormous mushrooming of graffiti, smashed bus shelters and the like. Youngsters are running amok, knowing perfectly well that they are largely immune from being caught. They are undermining the quality of life for others.

When the Home Secretary first took office he spoke about zero tolerance of small-scale petty crime. However, the opposite is the case. As a result of the significant reduction in police numbers, the police are, quite understandably, concentrating on violent crime and more serious offences, and petty crime is quietly proliferating. In addition, lower priority activities such as traffic policing have been cut quite drastically.

The numbers issue is important particularly in relation to London. Since the Government were elected, there has been a reduction of some 1,000 police officers, 600 of those in London. It is linked to the funding problem. We can argue until the cows come home about which Government have been more or less favourable to the police in terms of resources, but the funding formula clearly works against London.

The Audit Commission report includes a damning table which describes how funding allocations have worked over the past five years. London is one of three police forces that have experienced a real reduction in police funding. There are 20 per cent. increases in Lancashire, Durham and other areas. In comparison with police spending overall, London has suffered considerably. That can be traced back to a new formula funding arrangement that was agreed in 1995–96. I do not know the background to it, but I suspect that it may have had something to do with the previous Government's desire to switch resources from the big cities to country areas, but, whatever the rationale behind it, it now discriminates strongly against big cities with complex problems such as racial difficulties. I hope that the Government will take a fresh look at the funding formula and what lies behind it.

Let me make one further point about funding. It is not simply a matter of the Government coming up with more money or switching resources from one region to another. Prudent action can generate income and reduce costs. I have a few proposals in that regard. For example, the Home Office should do more in respect of detoxification. An enormous amount of police time and money goes into handling drunks. Research carried out in my constituency shows that every time the police have to deal with a drunk and disorderly person, it costs about £100 in police time and resources.

A large part of police effort goes into handling drunks. A focused programme of dealing with drunks and drying them out would save police resources and time. It would also avoid the police having to deal with some of the most difficult personal cases on their books. I had a careful look through the cases of the 17 people who died in police custody last year and found that seven of those people were severely intoxicated, so a more focused programme on drunkenness would save a great deal of money and would result in better policing.

The Government should also consider forms of income generation. As we heard in the debate on drugs a few weeks ago, the police are already beginning to bring in small but welcome amounts of money from drug barons by expropriating their property. The same could apply in respect of smaller crimes. I should like fines for traffic offences to be put back into the police force instead of disappearing into the Treasury.

For some years I have argued that the policing of big events such as the rugby matches in my constituency should not be provided free. A few weeks ago, the local scouts organised a St. George's day parade. Because of the shortage of police resources, they could not obtain a police presence. None the less, 12 times a year there is a big international event with 80,000 people on the streets, and the entire Metropolitan police have to be mobilised at taxpayers' expense to support a professional function.

I am not picking on the local rugby football union which provides considerable benefit to my constituency. There are also events at Stamford Bridge, Wembley and other venues around London which benefit from enormous hidden subsidies from the taxpayer. The matter should be looked at.

My final comments relate to governance. The Home Secretary stressed the importance of the mayoral role, which will present other challenges. In many ways what is important in terms of governance is what happens not at an all-London level, but in local communities. There is a lively, on-going debate about police community groups. In many ways, that is what the relationship between the police and local communities is all about. In my constituency it is very supportive, but I know that some others are quite aggressive. It is important to have a link between the police and the local community. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) may well refer to this in his speech. There is concern that we now have a vacuum in that there is no legislative support for those organisations, yet they provide the community underpinning for policing.

11.46 am
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

I am glad to have the opportunity to participate in today's debate. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick), I have had the opportunity to take part in the parliamentary police scheme and spent 25 days with the Metropolitan police. We spent time with a range of specialist units and also went out on patrol to see at first hand what was happening at ground level. I am grateful for the openness with which those at all levels in the Metropolitan police spoke to us.

That experience was most enlightening in respect of what the police do every day. I was there when they arrested people for drug dealing, violent disorder and street prostitution. That brought home to me how many unpleasant and sometimes dangerous activities we expect the police to undertake as a matter of course. I witnessed an armed siege in north London, and the police dealt with it in an exemplary way. They devoted much patience and a great deal of time to talking someone out of a flat into which he had barricaded himself with an array of weapons that could have done considerable harm to himself and others.

A number of other impressions are worth mentioning. Reference has been made to the figures relating to burglary. It is clear from what is happening inside police stations that in the past year or two there has been a shift towards intelligence-led policing and a more professional approach to investigating crimes such as burglary. That has certainly had an impact on the figures. I suspect that it has also had an impact on job satisfaction for many police officers. Given that the new approach to dealing with burglaries was adopted at the same time as the Lawrence inquiry was taking place, I was curious about why the same techniques and efforts had not been applied to other crimes.

I found some aspects of police work surprising. A great deal has been said about police numbers, whether numbers were falling in London and what effect that might have. I saw room for greater efficiency in the use of resources, and certainly saw room for improvement in the use of information technology systems which, though more sophisticated than they used to be, still use old software.

I was surprised by what happens when an arrest occurs. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 sets out rules about what must be recorded and what steps must be taken, but I was amazed by how long an officer must spend off the streets to deal with even quite trivial offences. It can take an hour and a half or two hours to deal with the paperwork. I was told that one evening only one officer was on the street in one division because everyone else was in the station doing the work necessary after arrests.

There must be a better way to perform the vital but essentially administrative tasks of recording evidence and the details of what happened. All those tasks must be done properly if cases are to go to court, but they take an inordinate amount of time. Modern technology ought to make it possible to deal with matters more quickly.

The Commissioner favours a tenure policy under which officers are moved after a fixed time and do not stay in the same job year after year. I understand the rationale behind that policy. In units that may be sensitive to corruption, little cliques cannot be allowed to develop, impervious to new people or to outside control. Nor do we want officers to work in a comfort zone, feeling that they need not be challenged or do anything new. Specialist units should not become closed shops, particularly because there are often problems in recruiting black and Asian officers to them.

However, the tenure policy can be too rigidly applied. It results in training costs when people are moved, and it can mean that expertise is lost. Ensuring that people do not fall into comfortable habits and that specialist units have the necessary turnover are essentially management problems, but it may be that they are being tackled with a blunt instrument, and some refinement may be needed.

Among the issues surrounding the Lawrence report, stop and search still raises serious questions. Three times as many black people as white people are stopped and searched. That still happens. Significant change appears to be occurring in the pilot areas, particularly in the proportions of arrests.

I am extremely doubtful about the statistics given us by the former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). All of us should be wary of quoting simplistic statistics about the percentages of people stopped or arrested. Statistics are important, but we must not treat them simplistically when the issues are complex. Stop and search is important because of the attitudes that it engenders among those who feel that they are being stopped unnecessarily and unfairly. Constituents tell me that they have been stopped repeatedly, and that affects people's view of the police.

I was on the parliamentary police scheme while the Lawrence inquiry was under way, and it was interesting to note how often officers at all levels spontaneously mentioned it. Many recognised that change was necessary, but there was apprehension about what the inquiry's conclusions might be. The inquiry made it clear that failure had occurred, and had to be addressed. As I listened to the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), I felt that he ought to revisit the report to read what it said about the policing of ethnic minority communities.

Recruitment must be addressed. As the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) said, a police force with 3 per cent. ethnic minority representation is unrepresentative of communities in London, and that must change. One of the greatest safeguards for the policing of a multi-ethnic community is a force that represents the population. Welcome initiatives are being taken to involve individuals from borough forces in recruitment to the Metropolitan police, but a great lack of confidence must be overcome if recruitment is to improve. Why should a young black man or woman feel that the Metropolitan police offer him or her a career? The views of parents are important. Would a parent encourage a son or daughter to join the police? It will not be an easy task. However, I welcome the steps being taken to address that problem.

We also need to consider retention and what can be done in the Metropolitan police to ensure that recruits receive active support so that they are retained and can develop their careers and be promoted. Experience in local government and in other sectors where efforts have been made to change the composition of the work force shows that it can be done. However, it is not easy; it takes a great deal of effort and must involve everyone in the organisation. We must remember that it is no good making commitments at a senior level that are not matched by middle managers and throughout the organisation.

We should not fall into the trap of believing that all that is necessary is to see more black and Asian police officers in constituencies such as mine, or Tottenham, Poplar and Canning Town or those of other hon. Members. We should see them throughout London. It is as important that black and Asian police officers are on the streets of Bromley and Orpington as it is that they are in areas with a significant ethnic minority population.

We have a right to expect the police to make changes. The Macpherson report made that clear. There should be efforts to change—to recruit and to retrain where necessary. As politicians, we should be prepared to criticise when things go wrong, but we must ensure that we take the necessary steps to encourage change and development. We should encourage people to join the police; it is no good saying that we want to see black and Asian police officers if we do not do our part to encourage people to join the Metropolitan police. We must not be responsible for discouraging people from joining the police.

We should consider how we are to debate policing in London in the future. We shall not have debates that are quite the same as this one when the Home Secretary ceases to be the police authority. However, the opportunity to debate these matters is useful; we should consider how we can retain such debates in Parliament, even if they do not take quite the same form.

12.1 pm

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard). I sit on the all-party groups on AIDS and on refugees under his chairmanship; he brings the same thoughtfulness to this debate as he brings to both those groups. I also commend his participation in the police parliamentary scheme.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) made an extremely good speech; I echo his remarks on detoxification schemes. The Ministers on the Treasury Bench will be aware that I have been in correspondence with the Home Office, and with two other Departments, on that subject. That all three Departments were involved is an example of joined-up government, although I point out—neutrally—that I found varying enthusiasm in their responses.

It is 20 months since we held the previous debate on policing in the capital. On this occasion, the debate coincides with the publication of the Commissioner's report; I echo the tributes paid by the Home Secretary and by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) to the present Commissioner for the notable service that he has given to the metropolis. The headline in his report is that burglary is at a 20-year low. Largely out of curiosity, I revisited the speech that I made 20 months ago; I shall return to some of the issues that I mentioned then, because there is a continuity. In the interim, I report that, whatever may be happening elsewhere in London, in Paddington—an area which I featured in my previous speech and whose representation I share with my neighbour, the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck)—burglary has, sadly, been increasing during this summer. That includes hotel burglary—a subject to which I shall return.

Before returning to the subjects that I raised 20 months ago, I point out that my constituency was, sadly, one of the three affected by the nail bombs unleashed in April and early May. I note that the other hon. Members whose constituencies were affected are in the Chamber today. The Home Secretary graciously allowed me to accompany him to New Scotland Yard to see the Met's response to that crisis. The experience was deeply impressive; it was a real-time illustration of what can be only statistics in a annual report. The case arising is, of course, sub judice; I shall say no more, save to thank the Home Secretary for his personal courtesy at a difficult time.

I shall likewise err on the side of caution in respect of the recent disturbances in the City of London although, in that instance, I am returning to a subject that I raised 20 months ago. The commissioner of the City police will report to the City of London police authority on the demonstrations in the City at a meeting on 28 July. Clearly, the commissioner's report will inform subsequent debate, so my contribution today will be of a general nature. However, I was glad that the recently retired Met officer who was invited to conduct an independent review should have been Tony Speed, who has a wealth of experience of demonstrations at the Westminster end of my constituency.

The response of the police to the events in the City involved a combined operation by the City, Metropolitan and British Transport forces. The deployment of police in the City on 18 June was decided in the context of what was anticipated at the time. However, there is little doubt that, in the event, the especially aggressive and premeditated tactics used by some elements involved in the demonstrations marked a new departure and is a development from which the police service is determined to learn lessons in dealing with such events in future.

On specific issues of communication by members of the public with the police during the demonstrations, I would observe only that, however robust the 999 telephone service may be—in London, it is very robust—the advent of the mobile telephone inevitably means that the demand on the service when danger is perceived by many members of the public simultaneously can be intense.

I shall now say a few words about resources for the City police. I emphasise that, in doing so, I do not seek in any way to link the issue with the events of 18 June; however, this biennial debate is an appropriate occasion to put down a marker.

A recent written answer from Home Secretary to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) shows the City police to be the only force in England and Wales to experience a reduction in both manpower and budget in 1998–99: manpower declined by 5.7 per cent. and budget by 7.3 per cent. The allocations of police grant for 1999–2000 were announced in a written answer to the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears) on 2 December 1998. The City's allocation was £55.4 million, down from £57.1 million in 1998–99.

That same written answer referred to the Home Secretary's decision to make a "special payment" to the Metropolitan police of £176 million, in recognition of its distinct national and capital city functions."—[Official Report, 2 December 1998; Vol. 321, c. 195.] I do not in any way suggest that such a special payment is other than merited; nor do I claim expertise in the no doubt impressive mechanics by which the figure was arrived at. I simply observe that no such payment is referred to in the written answer in respect of the City police, and I invite consideration of that point, especially in the contexts of terrorism and of police involvement in state visits that occur in the City.

During the debate in November 1997, we had painted for us a real-life tableau in respect of prostitutes' cards: not only did the Home Secretary accept them across the Dispatch Box, but he pledged a Government response. I shall not dwell on that subject today—it has been well ventilated, not least by my parliamentary neighbour the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North—save to say that an index of its scale is that one of the individual card distributors who puts them up in telephone boxes was found to have 2 million such cards in the boot of his car. Nor shall I criticise the Government for allowing 20 months to elapse, for that, too, is an index of how intractable the issue is in a modem society. However, in the light of the Home Office consultation paper, I hope that the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who is to wind up the debate, can shed light on where those matters stand.

That applies also to police community consultative groups, to which the hon. Member for Twickenham referred, and which we discussed during the Commons Committee stage of the Greater London Authority Bill. I have not had a chance to discover whether the Lords have returned to that subject, but it is fair to say that there would be concern among the police and in the community if the effect of the changes proposed in the Bill was to weaken the strength of those groups, whose value—if I temporarily cross the Thames into the constituency of the Under-Secretary—was demonstrated in the aftermath of the Brixton bomb.

That leads me, by seamless elision, to the issue of the recently arrived immigrant community in Paddington, to which I also referred 20 months ago. If the local schools have to deal with 120 first languages other than English, the police have to deal with perhaps 150 ethnic groups in that area. I stress that I am commenting only on the lawless elements in those groups. They tend to have come from societies accustomed to resolving issues with a knife; there is prolific shoplifting by children, and they are not, by previous background, used to trusting the police, and thus do not readily have interface with them. I shall not dwell on resources in relation to that issue, as I did with the City of London police, but I remark neutrally that Paddington has about 150 fewer officers than it did five years ago.

I also mentioned rough sleepers 20 months ago. I shall not revisit the issue at a general level, except to express warm support for the appointment of the rough sleepers supremo and the choice of Ms Casey to hold that post. Ms Casey brings not only much relevant experience to the task but imaginative sensitivity, tempered by hardheaded realism.

I want to dwell on one aspect of rough sleeping because of its relationship to the drugs problem in the west end. We are all aware, from last year's crime figures, how Westminster street crime, in all forms, outstrips that in other parts of the capital because of the huge numbers of visitors and tourists. It has been estimated that 70 per cent. of rough sleepers in the west end have a drugs habit financed heavily by begging. A sum of between £900,000 and £1.5 million per annum is estimated to be the reward of begging by rough sleepers in the west end. Broken down, that can mean that £60 in coins is given to an individual beggar in an hour and a half.

Of course, rough sleepers from outside the west end also come in to beg, but those who give to beggars there should be aware that they are potentially sustaining a crack cocaine addiction. Their good intent would be far better exercised if the money were given to voluntary groups or charities who have profound expert knowledge on the ground.

Operation Gridiron against the dealers, which has been an operation of great skill, diligence and courage, has so far clocked up 90 years in sentences, and that figure continues to rise. I pay tribute to the high-level support that the operation has received in the Met, as well as from the local police community group in Soho and from the Home Office.

It cannot be said too often that, if we are to rid the west end of that particular scourge, which is perceived as originating from Jamaica, the police will have to pursue prosecutions against dealers and customers alike, rather than falling back on cautions. Anyone thinking of trading in either direction should be pre-warned. The Jamaican aspect damages race relations here because the reputation of our black community risks being tarnished by dealers who are flown in from Jamaica. I remark neutrally that the Home Office also carries responsibility for immigration policy and its implementation.

That leads me to pay tribute to the Government's initiatives for liaison between the police and local authorities, which were also mentioned earlier in the debate. They certainly seem to be working well in my constituency, subject to the one proviso that it is important that the two bodies keep their two roles separate and there is no confusion between them.

On the west end drugs problem, Westminster city council will shortly put up signs giving warning of the positive prosecutions policy of the police.

Another example of that interaction and co-operation is the action on hotel burglaries, to which I referred earlier. Paddington police have not enjoyed much direct response to approaches to hotels in their area which cover the whole spectrum of hotel accommodation, perhaps because the trade is not anxious to advertise the risk to customers. An alternative route to improved security lies through the planning criteria set by Westminster city council.

Westminster is one of the three local authorities in west London which, along with the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, is taking part in the pilot projects of youth offending teams. A sum of £200,000 from existing resources has been diverted by the Met in Westminster to the youth offending team.

I made an amateur reference to the youth project at the West London magistrates court in a press-ganged contribution in the remaining stages of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill, but I commend exposure to the project to any hon. Member who has the opportunity to witness it.

I began with the City of London; I conclude with a reference to royal parks, for policing in those parks is as much a part of policing in London as any other policing activity. I appreciate that what I shall raise is not a Home Office responsibility, but its impact diminishes the authority of law and order in the heart of the capital. I allude to illegal vendors of food prepared in unsatisfactory and unhealthy conditions and sold by eastern Europeans, including a fair number of Albanians.

Illegal trading in Westminster is subject to penal conditions of instant confiscation of equipment. To get the equipment back, the shadowy figures who co-ordinate the illegal vendors must come out of the shadows. However, the laws do not apply in royal parks—including on the apron in front of Buckingham palace—which makes them a sanctuary for the illegal trade, which involves the use of a cooking oil with a nauseous ambience.

Primary legislation is required to solve the problem. There are as many as 50 vendors working at any one time in royal parks, and the trade has expanded into Kensington gardens. Territorial wars between vendors are leading to armed affrays in royal parks. The House will recall the two Victorian ladies who went to see Sarah Bernhardt play the part of Cleopatra, who remarked to each other in the interval, "So unlike the home life of our own dear Queen." In the same spirit, we do not expect such gang warfare in royal parks.

In a constituency capacity, I secured an offer of all-party support from the official Opposition Front-Bench team for a private Member's Bill on the matter as far back as January last year. In November last year, my noble Friend Baroness Hooper, who lives near a royal park, and I offered to sponsor a private Member's Bill. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport did not take up that offer until 8 June, which I fear was far too late for any prospect of the Bill's ultimate success. Although the Home Office does not carry responsibility for royal parks, I hope that, in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, Home Office Ministers will support the case for Government legislation in this area, for the issue is becoming a national scandal, to our discredit as a tourist magnet.

To return in a single sentence to the rest of London, I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Twickenham about recruiting, but think that, as Greater London Members, we should count ourselves lucky at the quality of policing that we enjoy. I commend all the forces that provide that for us.

12.17 pm
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I join all the tributes that have been paid to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and Sir Paul Condon—especially to my right hon. Friend for the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and to Sir Paul Condon for agreeing to re-open the investigation into the New Cross fire in my constituency, in which 13 young black people died.

Many hon. Members have spoken of today's all-time low burglary rate. I am glad to be able to say that that is true of my area. Over the past three years, we have seen a 37 per cent. reduction, and since April this year in my part of north Lewisham, a further 22 per cent. reduction. That is extremely good news for all us Londoners who are, of course, concerned about security in our own homes. Like so many others, however, I must report that, sadly, street crime is rising.

My local chief superintendent, Mike Humphrey, to whom I pay great tribute for his work, has not attributed any cause to such an effect, but he thinks that, perhaps, police numbers could be of some significance. He does not complain about the planned reduction that has been going on for many years, which is partly a recognition of the success in reducing crime. His concern is that, post-Macpherson, officers have been drawn away from their local areas to join area major investigation teams, which investigate serious crimes. It is his view that that should be recognised and that the police can afford no further reduction in the number of front-line police officers than that already planned.

I am glad to say that, under the Metropolitan police "protect and respect" policy, we are beginning in Lewisham to take very important steps in the recruitment of black and visibly ethnic minority officers. That is being done very imaginatively, in a way that was not possible or even considered in the past. New alliances are being formed with black and ethnic minority groups in the borough, and police officers are broadcasting on a black-led community radio station to identify with the local communities and to try to persuade them of the great importance of recruiting—and, more importantly, retaining—ethnic minority and black officers in the Metropolitan police.

Many Members have spoken about the new partnership that our Government have fostered between the police service and local communities, and especially local authorities in London. In my area, that has given a whole new meaning to policing and community involvement. Nowadays, when I meet the police and the many community organisations that I encounter in the course of my duties, I notice a completely new attitude. There is a new spirit—a commitment to serving the community in the round, understanding its diversity, analysing what is and is not being delivered, and seeking solutions instead of constantly reiterating the problems.

In Lewisham, a new community panel has been set up to advise police on pre-event and post-event critical issues. It involves elected members of the local authority, business representatives and black and ethnic minority group representatives. The stated aim of that new panel is to provide a credible degree of transparency regarding policing issues, and to provide a direct link between the police and the community that they serve. That is enormously important. All London Members have campaigned for many years for such a credible degree of transparency.

Post-Macpherson, it is felt that there is a need for even more specialist groups to provide interface with the community. Therefore, we have set up the diversity steering group. It consists of a cross-section of Lewisham police officers, the chair of the police consultative group and the director of Lewisham race equality council. Such a grouping would have been unthinkable in the past. The task is to make representations to the police management team on how to police diversity effectively and to provide a service throughout the borough.

Within the diversity steering group is a sub-group that has been set up to examine the use of stop and search powers. That sub-group is chaired by Mr. Asquith Gibbs, the chair of the police and community consultative group. He has written to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), about his concern, which has been expressed in the debate, about the continuing role and duties of the consultative councils. 1 hope that my hon. Friend will tell us something about that when she winds up the debate.

It is extremely important for that sub-group to be confident that the police will provide it with all the figures for which it asks, and will discuss their significance fully and in depth. The purpose is to ensure that the police are, indeed, trying to investigate committed crimes and recognising that such crime has an impact on the community, especially the ethnic minority community of our borough. I believe that it is the first time that those issues have been discussed openly with the representatives of the communities most affected and most offended. The fact that the police sit down for a rigorous discussion is extremely important and has encouraging implications for an improved policing service in our communities.

I want to mention Ringmaster, because I believe that it may be unique in my area and of interest to hon. Members. I see the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) shake his head. I apologise for suggesting that the system is unique to my constituency. However, perhaps there are only a few of us who have the service. It is a computerised voice-messaging system. About 12,000 individuals and organisations have agreed to subscribe to it. It is free of charge.

The Ringmaster system enables spoken messages to be transmitted from the police to any or all subscribers. If, for example, there has been a spate of burglaries in a locality, all the subscribers in that area can be provided with that information by the police. If a crime investigation is under way in a particular area, it is possible for the police to transmit appeals for witnesses through the network of subscribers. National appeals can be made through the system. Virtually anything that is important as a liaison between the police and communities can be transmitted by that means. This experiment—it is still an experiment in my area—demonstrates another aspect of the important intelligence-led policing methods that the Government are so actively promoting.

One local concern involves Millwall football club. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has taken a keen interest in the policing of football grounds and in tackling racism at them. It has been a priority for Millwall, especially under the recent chairmanship of Theo Paphitis. I commend the work of the local police with the club. In the past, sadly—and to a lesser degree now—Millwall has attracted the attention of racists in London.

To try to give effect to the Football (Offences) Act 1991, the police have been policing the ground for some time in covert surveillance operations, using concealed cameras and microphones to detect offences under the Act. I am glad to say that this has resulted in successful prosecutions.

More recently, the police have employed another innovative technique, which is to use undercover officers who are visibly from ethnic minority groups to distribute anti-racist publicity material near the football ground. This is an important move that can only engender further confidence within the black community. Again, the operation is monitored by cameras and microphones.

I have focused on these few examples in my constituency, which I believe have lessons for London as a whole and which address some of the most important issues that we in London face, particularly endemic racism.

I welcome the developments that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have campaigned for over so many years. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the extension that he has made to the Metropolitan police committee, bringing in more elected representatives. He has made policing in London more accountable. We look forward to the establishment of the Metropolitan police authority within the Greater London Authority, which will create further accountability in London and give Londoners a much greater say in every respect in the way that policing takes place in our diverse communities in this great capital city.

12.28 pm
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

I am very pleased to take part in this important debate. I am pleased also to be able to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), who preceded me. I echo her concerns and those of others about the future of police consultative groups. She may be reassured to know that when Millwall fans last visited Uxbridge a couple of seasons ago there was no trouble. However, I think that the numbers were a little low.

Given the Home Secretary's opening remarks, I am concerned whether future debates on policing in London—in their current style—will be held. That seems to be somewhat in doubt. 1 would regret that deeply, as it would deprive London Members of an opportunity to debate a matter of primary importance to them and their constituents.

For many years in this place my predecessor, Sir Michael Shersby, represented the interests of the Police Federation and took police matters extremely seriously. The fact that I was reminded of that this morning by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), who is not known for his consensual style of politics, speaks volumes for the respect in which Sir Michael was held in the House.

In Uxbridge we have a strong tradition of supporting the Metropolitan police, and I am delighted to continue the tradition. We owe them all a great deal for their selfless devotion to duty.

I am glad to say that the level of total reported crime in Hillingdon borough has fallen by 5 per cent. compared to last year, in spite of a below standard response rate to emergency calls. That problem was shown to be considered a lesser priority in an extensive police and community consultation that took place last year.

The successful reduction in crime has been achieved against the disappointing background of much-reduced staff numbers. I have made known my opposition to the fact that the division is to lose 13 officers and five civil staff this year, and may face a further reduction of 17 in the year 1999–2000.

That is a further manifestation of a serious problem suffered by outer London and the suburbs: the erroneous assumption that the suburbs are areas of leafy streets that can be ignored as an ever-increasing proportion of resources are used in the inner city. I am deeply concerned about areas such as my constituency, where policing levels are becoming dangerously low because of that mistaken perception. We cannot afford any further reductions in the suburbs.

The Hillingdon division has managed to deal with the reductions through an improved shift system, better management, combined control rooms and reduced sickness levels. However, there is a limit to the efficiency gains that can be made before staffing reductions erode the provision of effective policing. The situation must be carefully monitored.

Work is under way in Uxbridge town centre to create one of the biggest shopping centres in west London. It is due to be completed by September 2001. I am pleased to report that in the design of the development, efforts are being made by planners to reduce opportunities for crime. However, new pressures will inevitably be placed on the local division as a result of the greater number of customers attracted into the area. That means that the subject of police numbers will need to be revisited in the near future, to take into account the new demands that will be made on the division.

One concern that has been expressed by the local division is whether there is sufficient provision of cells. I hope that the Home Office will look into the possibility of providing more cell accommodation, perhaps at West Drayton police station. That would reassure the public about the continuing role of that police station, in the light of the widely opposed reduction in the opening hours of the front desk.

The outer boroughs, and Hillingdon in particular, are affected by the scourge of unauthorised camping by travellers. My constituents are being pushed to the edge. The current operational instructions to the Metropolitan police do not give the public the security that they desire. More resources must be made available to send a strong message that the spate of anti-social behaviour that we have witnessed is not acceptable. If we ignore that problem, we will do so at our peril. The anger of residents is close to boiling point and I fear it will spill over if action is not taken soon.

I pay tribute to the borough commander, Superintendent Alan Matthews, and to all the men and women who work in the Hillingdon division. They have done an excellent job over two difficult years in which they have been faced with reduced numbers and new structures. I also thank the Hillingdon community and police consultative group and the Hillingdon crime prevention panel under their respective chairmen, Michael Dent and Don Greenwood, for all their work, as well as all those involved in neighbourhood watches and victim support schemes. Their role in delivering community safety is fundamental.

Another aspect of policing in London—the work of the Metropolitan police wildlife crimes unit, which is dedicated to fighting such crime—perhaps does not receive the attention it deserves. Some Members may feel that that is not a great priority, but international wildlife crime is big business. Interpol estimates that the global trade in endangered species amounts to $20 billion a year and 350 million wild animals and plants are traded every year. It is estimated that 25 per cent. of that trade is illegal, which makes it second only to the illegal drugs trade in cash value. Many species are traded either as exotic pets or because they are used in the manufacture of goods such as handbags, shoes and belts. Snakes, crocodiles, parrots, tortoises and tropical fish are all part of the worldwide trading pattern.

Many of the most endangered species do not live in Britain or even in Europe, but unfortunately there is considerable demand for those animals and their products. As well as being a major trading centre in its own right, London is, sadly, one of the principal points of entry to Europe for illegal imports of endangered species. For example, growing western interest in traditional Chinese medicine has led to a large increase in the number of such traders operating in London. Traditional Chinese medicines and herbal remedies are lawfully sold in London every day and, although the majority of traders do not knowingly trade in endangered species, too many continue to do so and the number of convictions has been growing. The maximum penalty is two years' imprisonment or a £5,000 fine.

The demand for traditional ingredients has led to illegal trade in protected species and it is estimated that a tiger is killed every day to meet that demand. The world tiger population may be as low as 4,000, so on current trends the tiger is heading inexorably towards extinction. As a result of that worsening problem, the Metropolitan police set up Operation Charm in 1995—a special initiative designed to tackle the illegal trade in endangered species. One of the operation's successes has been the introduction of a sticker scheme whereby traders sign an undertaking that they will not knowingly trade in endangered species. They can display a sticker at their premises outlining their commitment to behave legally. More than 100 traders have joined the scheme to date.

I emphasise that Operation Charm is not about attacking traditional Chinese medicine, but persuading the trading community to work within the law and seek alternative ingredients that do not threaten endangered species. One of its aims is raising public awareness of the illegal trade, and leaflets, posters and postcards have been produced to highlight the problem. Through a combination of improved law enforcement and education, the operation aims to reduce the problem before it is too late for some species.

In addition to its work in combating the trade in endangered species, the wildlife crimes unit also deals with crime relating to British wildlife. One aspect of criminal behaviour is the increasing number of crimes committed against the badger population in and around London and in those parts of the home counties currently policed by the Met. Badgers are protected by law and anyone who takes, kills or injures a badger can be sent to prison for up to six months or fined up to £5,000. Badger diggers use dogs and spades to flush badgers out of their setts. They are attacked by dogs, which either kill or seriously injure them. Sadly, that crime is not unknown within the London borough of Hillingdon and even within my constituency of Uxbridge. The wildlife crimes unit helps to combat that illegal and cruel practice by maintaining contact with conservation groups, Government Departments, other police forces and interested parties to enforce the law against badger baiters.

Another area of wildlife crime relates to Britain's bird population. All British birds, nests and eggs are protected by law, yet every year the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds receives reports of more than 1,000 offences committed against birds. As some hon. Members know, London is home to many different species of wild birds. Unfortunately, they are subject to being shot, poisoned or trapped, their eggs are stolen and they can be captured for sale abroad. I am pleased to report that the Metropolitan police wildlife crimes unit works closely in conjunction with the RSPB, offering expert advice on tackling bird crime. Whether the wildlife crime consists of trading in rare animals, birds and fish from abroad or of gratuitous cruelty towards our indigenous wildlife, the work of the wildlife crimes unit is appreciated by an increasingly environmentally aware public.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to draw the House's attention not just to the problems and the successes within the Hillingdon division of the Metropolitan police but to the important work of the Metropolitan police wildlife crimes unit. I pay tribute to that unit and its officers in helping to enforce that important area of the law. As in every aspect of the Metropolitan police's work, Londoners have every reason to be proud of their police force. It must be supported, and not disparaged.

12.41 pm
Mr. kin Coleman (Hammersmith and Fulham)

I shall take the opportunity of this debate to highlight an initiative in my constituency. I shall be brief, because many other hon. Members wish to speak. Before I do so, however, I wish to deal with something that was said earlier in the debate. It gives me no pleasure to have to say this, and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) has now left the Chamber—I tried to intervene on him but he declined to give me that opportunity. I find it staggeringly breathtaking that, as we approach the millennium, on the sensitive issue of policing in London, a Conservative Front-Bench spokesman can come to this House and refer to members of the black community as "coloured boys", and not even realise that he is being deeply offensive. I hope that when the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) sums up for the Conservative Opposition, he will take the opportunity to apologise to the black community for that appalling, gratuitous insult made by his colleague.

The pilot scheme in question is called "Standing Together". It is an exciting three-year project that commenced in the area covered by Fulham police station in November 1998. It was inspired by an approach to domestic violence that proved highly effective and successful in Duluth, Minnesota. Domestic violence is the most common crime perpetrated against women. In the United Kingdom, two women a week are killed by their partners or husbands. One in three women have, at some stage in their relationships, been physically assaulted by their partners or husbands, and the vast majority of those assaults are never prosecuted.

Those shocking figures are an indictment of our society and of the failure of successive Governments and policing regimes to tackle the issue with sufficient imagination and rigour. In my constituency, a number of different agencies work together in a partnership arrangement dedicated to tackling the scourge of domestic violence. The following list is not exhaustive, but they include the Inner London probation service, the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, West London magistrates court, the domestic violence intervention project, Women's Aid west London and, of course, the Metropolitan police. The pilot's principal objectives are to increase the safety of victims and children who live with domestic violence, and to hold those guilty of the offence accountable and responsible for their actions.

Inspector Helen Ball of the Fulham police division advises me that it is her experience as manager of the project for the past nine months that if domestic violence is tackled from the victim's point of view especially, while the needs and behavioural patterns of the perpetrator are also taken into account, families can be strengthened rather than broken up. As part of that scheme, changes to usual police practice include officers gathering extra surrounding evidence, such as taking polaroid photographs and seizing exhibits immediately, so that the evidence does not rest solely on the testimony of the victim: the battered woman. A positive arrest policy is a key element of the strategy at that point. It requires officers to take immediate action to caution and arrest the perpetrator.

Those special investigative techniques can virtually remove the victim from the process, placing the responsibility for prosecution elsewhere. The experience so far is that by removing that burden on victims, a great weight is lifted from their shoulders, leading to a positive effect on their physical and mental condition. Victims of violence are placed in immediate touch with highly trained specialist advocates, who help them to assess their safety and their needs, and provide the necessary support mechanisms while the prosecution goes forward.

One of the perennial problems is that, without these important support mechanisms, victims come under terrible pressure from a range of difference sources, and often decide not to co-operate with the prosecution for understandable reasons. On conviction of the perpetrator, the courts are encouraged to demand pre-sentence reports in appropriate cases, and to consider one of the sentencing options available to them, which is whether to make a probation order with a condition of attendance at a violence prevention programme. Such programmes have had a highly encouraging success rate when used in appropriate cases.

The probation service provides a structured violence prevention programme for offenders, during which they are challenged and supported in examining and changing their behaviour towards their partners. All the agencies involved in the partnership group to which I referred meet regularly to review cases and to discuss openly mistakes and good practice. One advocate post has been fully funded by the probation service, and lottery funding has been successfully sought for two other key posts.

It is hoped that the pilot will make a difference by increasing the number of successful and effective arrests, charges, prosecutions and sentences for domestic violence; increasing the number of perpetrators attending violence prevention programmes; developing written protocols and good practice guidelines with and between all the partnership agencies involved in the pilot; establishing a supervised, high-safety child-parent contact centre in the pilot area; and increasing the number of women now able to remain safely in their homes rather than fleeing their community, their job and their family network.

Obviously, such ambitious and imaginative programmes are fraught with risks, and resources are regrettably scarce. However, I should like to congratulate the organisations that have shown such commitment and determination to ensure that the project will succeed. I particularly commend the community safety unit at Hammersmith borough council, and Councillor Christine Graham for her energy and enthusiasm. I also thank Inspector Ball and her boss Chief Superintendent Anthony Wills for their faith and bravery in supporting the scheme in the face of sceptics and those less committed to tackling face on the brutal crime of domestic violence that so scars many of our communities.

That spirit of co-operation between the voluntary, private and public sectors and our police force must be the way forward. I am sure that the House would want to join me in wishing those engaged in the "Standing Together" project in Hammersmith and Fulham all the very best for success in the future.

12.49 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

This is one of the highlights of a London Member of Parliament's parliamentary year. We have had the privilege—as ever—of hearing the Home Secretary give an account of the performance of the Metropolitan police, and their proposals for the year ahead. We have also heard authoritative speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the former Home Secretary.

There has been a broad consensus, but, when the question of police numbers arose, the debate became more heated. I think that the record should be put straight. The question of adequate police numbers is fundamental to the effective policing of London, and there is a grave risk that, if present trends persist, a serious shortfall will result.

Throughout the period during which my right hon. and noble Friend Lady Thatcher was Prime Minister, the number of police in the capital increased every year. The number increased from 22,528 in 1979 to 28,152 in 1990. Furthermore, the number of police throughout London—this includes the City force—continued to rise until 1994, after my right hon. and noble Friend had left office. After that year, the figures declined somewhat, but it must be borne in mind that, during that period, the policies of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe were beginning to bear fruit, and crime was also declining.

The Metropolitan police have stated categorically that the minimum number of uniformed officers in London should be 27,000. Anything below that figure makes life increasingly difficult. The present figure is 26,073, and the figure has declined steadily since the Government came to office. I earnestly hope that the experience of Londoners during the bad period at the end of the 1970s, when the Labour party failed to support the police service in London, will not be repeated. In fact, I do not think that it need be repeated: with imaginative policies, we can make better use of existing manpower. I think that there should also be some new initiatives.

It is true that the reduction in the number of absences through sickness has helped. The Home Secretary tells us that there has been a reduction of 25 per cent., which means about an extra 500 officers. I suggest, however, that fit, healthy and enthusiastic police officers should be allowed to stay in uniform for longer. If they still have what it takes, why should they be required to retire at 50? Allowing them to stay on would reduce the pension burden, and provide a higher level of experience throughout the force.

We know that retention is a problem with which the Metropolitan police must contend. A larger proportion of experienced officers would surely be welcome. I think that the retirement age should be more flexible, and that a retirement age of 55 should be the norm for the most senior ranks. That applies in the armed forces.

The Home Secretary emphasised the importance of quality in the work force. Nothing is more important than achieving the highest standards of discipline, and, given the increasing problem of corruption—probably as a result of the drug culture, and other social factors—leadership training is crucial.

If we are to get the best quality of officer, it will be helpful if officers are in the closest touch possible with the communities that they serve. Undoubtedly, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 will be of assistance. The partnership process that is envisaged in the Act is wholly welcome, but, as many hon. Members—notably my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)—have made clear, police consultative groups can be invaluable. In the borough of Hillingdon, the police consultative group works exceptionally well. It has the fullest support of the community and the local police division, under the admirable leadership of Alan Matthews, to whom my hon. Friend paid tribute. I would not wish it to be superseded in any way. Where the police consultative procedure works well and is functioning, it should be maintained.

I quote a letter dated 22 June to Michael Dent, chairman of the Hillingdon police consultative group, from Anderson Dunn, assistant commissioner: Turning now to Hillingdon's budget. For this financial year it is £20.479 million and Alan Matthews and his team have been given targets of 380 police and 90 civil staff. These are reductions of 6 and 8 respectively. The targets are likely to remain, but I and my Policy Board colleagues are meeting next month to review the system through which resources are allocated. This will have implications for the next financial year. Looking to then, it is not possible to say with certainty what our budget settlement will be, but the indications are it will not allow for growth and we know we are expected to make further efficiency savings. Coupled with other factors, pensions etc., this means we may again have to look at further cuts in staff numbers. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge explained cogently and clearly how outer London is already suffering, and how the suburbs are under-policed. If police numbers continue to decline and the police budget is not increasing in real terms, the position will become extremely difficult in Hillingdon.

In looking at quality of policing, we all wish that many more members of the ethnic communities were recruited into the force and, above all, retained. There may be differences of fundamental ethos here. Certainly, first and second-generation immigrant communities came primarily for economic reasons. They came here to establish businesses, to save, to remit money home, to bring their children and dependants here and to set up a new life style. Their ambitions were financial, to better the lot of themselves and their families.

It has only been over time, as generation has succeeded generation, that members of ethnic minorities have felt the commitment to the public service in the widest sense, including the police service, and to the community as a whole, so we should not expect too much, too soon, but we should at least expect the most imaginative measures possible to recruit more ethnic community members.

In London, only 3.3 per cent. of the force are ethnic minority staff. That is some 5,662 down on its target, a deficiency of no less than 25 per cent: a huge deficiency and the biggest by far in the country.

How are we going to deal with that grave problem? In the past year, the Metropolitan police have recruited 92 new ethnic minority officers, but 57 left the service in the same period, so it does not seem that there is deep career satisfaction among even new police service recruits.

We should learn from the time of Commissioner Trenchard, who established officer cadet entry to the police. The police college at Hendon offered a long, intensive course so that the service would have a few officers—the leaven in the loaf, as it were—throughout the metropolis who were inculcated in the ethos and traditions of the Metropolitan police, but, above all, had learned what was required to take responsibility and to lead.

I do not in any sense belittle or diminish the traditional pattern of entry, which allows everybody plenty of experience on the beat, which I know is crucial and fundamental. However, if people in London knew that, by joining the police at 17 or 18, they could have two or three years of cadet-style education and training which combined training in the leadership and character building required for a long-term career in the force with serious academic studies in relevant fields such as sociology, civics and politics, leading to a degree qualification, many from ethnic minority communities and others might take a different view. They might say, "This is the most fantastic grounding that I could possibly have. I would learn discipline and I would have an esprit de corps with my fellow cadet entrants. I would finish my cadet training not just as an officer, but with a degree qualification that would serve me in later life. Furthermore, during my period as an officer cadet entrant, I would be properly paid and looked after so that in no sense would I be a burden on my family, nor would I incur student loans and the financial incubus which my contemporaries at ordinary universities and colleges have to face." I hope that the Government will take that proposal on board.

It is my belief that the new pattern of establishing a Metropolitan police authority for the capital offers all Londoners a great opportunity to become more involved in the policing of the capital. I very much hope that the mayor will act particularly wisely in his selection of a deputy, as the deputy mayor will be especially influential among the 12 assembly members who will sit ex officio on the Metropolitan police authority. The deputy mayor will be the link between the mayor and the Metropolitan police authority. The authority will have the crucial function of checking the performance of the Commissioner and he will be accountable to them.

There is a risk that the Metropolitan police authority could become politicised. I know that the assembly members have to be drawn in strict proportion to the relative strengths of the parties on the assembly, and rightly so. However, the deputy mayor will be primus inter pares, and I hope that he will be at the right hand of the chairman of the Metropolitan police authority and someone in whom the mayor has complete confidence.

I suspect that most assembly members on the Metropolitan police authority will be those without a constituency, because the constituency members, with their huge twin borough constituencies, will have an extremely onerous work load, so there will probably be more Londonwide list members on the Metropolitan police authority. That is no bad thing so long as some have a territorial connection, and so long as territorial connections are spread across the capital so that no area can be said to be under-represented.

The Metropolitan police authority should be under the guidance of the Home Secretary, with whom, in addition to the Environment Secretary of the day, the mayoralty must work hand in hand. The Home Secretary will, in effect, appoint the Commissioner, who will in turn appoint his deputy, and the Home Secretary must get on sufficiently well with the mayor to take the mayor's advice on the appointment. Apart from the four London justices of the peace, the other seven members of the authority will come from a list drawn up by the Home Secretary, who, as he has a national responsibility for policing in London, will make one further appointment himself.

I am sanguine about the future of the police in London. I cannot pay sufficient tribute to Sir Paul Condon, whom I consider an admirable officer in every respect. We have been privileged to have him in London, and we wish him well in his future career. I hope that his successor will maintain his high standards. The Metropolitan police authority offers Londoners a real opportunity to become better involved in the policing of the capital. That can only benefit Londoners. If the Government can adopt more imaginative policies to improve the quality of leadership throughout the force and to attract more ethnic minority members into the force, our policing can go from strength to strength.

1.7 pm

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

I thank the Home Secretary for ensuring that issues surrounding policing in London are fully and regularly debated. Crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour remain the foremost concerns of my constituents. As many hon. Members have said, today's debate takes place in the shadow of the Lawrence report. I recognise that it has been difficult for police to deal with many of the issues raised although, over the past months, they have done so and done so well.

Of all the misunderstandings that arose around the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, the one that saddens me most was the idea that the report's findings tarnished every police officer. It is ridiculous and insulting to say that every police officer must be a racist. It is as ridiculous and insulting as saying that every black man must be a mugger. We must move away from those stereotypes. I am glad that my local force is far further down that route than, for example, the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), whose earlier remarks disappointed me greatly.

The catalogue of failure documented in the Lawrence report revealed individual failings, but its legacy will be the tackling of institutional failure. By doing so, it will radically improve the institution's performance, benefiting black and white alike. These matters are not just black issues, and certainly not just minority issues. The policy of stop and search exemplifies that fact. We have heard much about it today, and it is important to remember that some attempts to improve stop and search predate the Lawrence inquiry, although the inquiry gave them far greater urgency.

There are some astonishing figures from Tower Hamlets, where quality performance indicators have been taken into account in the new stop and search regime. The figures show that, in the third quarter of 1997, 2,514 stop and searches took place, but that there has been a fall, in the third quarter of 1998, to only 1,039—a reduction of 58 per cent.

In the House today, we have heard that, apparently, the reduction in stop and search means that the police are less effective, or that they have been prevented from carrying out their job so efficiently. In fact, however, the percentage of arrests in Tower Hamlets under stop and search has increased radically—from 6 per cent. in the third quarter of 1997, when there was a higher number of stop and searches, to 16 per cent. in the third quarter of 1998, when there was a reduction in stop and search of 58 per cent. Incidentally, over the past six months, the arrest rate for stop and search was 18 per cent.

I draw two conclusions from those startling statistics. The first is that, evidently, the percentage of arrests has increased, so even if the exact number of arrests remains unchanged, how on earth can the reduction in stop and search be blamed for an increase in crime? Secondly, if we ensure that policing is always based on reasonable grounds of suspicion and never on the unreasonable grounds of prejudice, the effectiveness of policing increases. That benefits every British citizen. Despite the fact that there were approximately 1,500 fewer stop and searches in Tower Hamlets, there was an increased percentage of arrests. What does that mean? It means less time wasting and more crime fighting. It means greater efficiency.

Efficiency is important. If the police meet their efficiency targets, they will be rewarded by the Government with an extra £1.24 billion. Even more important, if the police meet the Government's modest efficiency targets, that will free up a potential £140 million to be put straight back into front-line policing. That is what my constituents and I are most concerned about.

However, there are obstacles to efficiency, as has been pointed out. Racism is one obstacle; corruption is another. They sap efficiency and they profit no one, except the bigot and the criminal. What of the ordinary, law-abiding citizen? As the Home Secretary and the former Home Secretary pointed out, London is one of the safest capital cities in the world. There has been an overall reduction in crime, which is obviously welcome.

Unfortunately, however, in some areas—often the poorest—communities feel under siege. It is difficult to express the fear and resentment felt by people forced to live in fear on their estates. At present, many estates in my constituency give me great cause for concern. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), was kind enough to visit one of them—Denning Point—recently; I shall return to that point in a moment.

A few weeks ago on another estate—the Collingwood estate—in one incident during an elderly pensioner's birthday celebrations, there was a fire bomb, a machete attack and a serious assault on a young boy. That was just one incident. It is difficult to appreciate the desperation that communities feel in such circumstances.

Another factor that aggravates such insecurity—perhaps beyond anything else—is the explosion in hard drugs. The explosion in heroin abuse is especially marked in east London. Bethnal Green alone accounts for 40 per cent. of heroin seizures in north-east London. What shocks and terrifies me most is that, on estates in my constituency, it is cheaper to buy a hit of heroin than a bar of chocolate.

When that problem is combined with housing conditions that are a disgrace to a modern civilised society and social exclusion that rips communities apart and isolates them within a major capital city, we see the desperate need for a multi-agency approach. I am delighted that the Home Office is one of those Departments that is most ready and willing to look for proactive responses. That is why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State came down to one of the estates in Tower Hamlets: she came to see for herself the link that we both know exists between crime, drugs, poor housing, truancy and lack of education and employment opportunities. Perhaps most important of all is the youth service: if we do not tackle the problems surrounding our youth service and ensure that it is able to deliver, we store up huge problems for the future.

I thank my hon. Friend for coming to see the conditions at Denning Point and for her uncompromising attitude when there—her willingness to knock heads together. We have not got time endlessly to repeat the same arguments in the Chamber. I wonder how many Members of Parliament have to walk their kids downstairs from wherever they live past drug users in stairwells and over disused needles, vomit and silver foil—it is a scandal that anyone has to do so. One Department on its own cannot tackle those problems, nor can one police authority on its own. We all have to recognise that the police were never set up to deal with social problems on such a scale, caused by such a massive increase in hard drug abuse.

I am pleased that the Government have taken those issues to heart and that they have set up the social exclusion unit. However, it is the poorest areas that are hardest hit, so I hope that Home Office Ministers recognise that deprived areas need resources commensurate with the problems we face. The Home Office has given Tower Hamlets more resources for closed circuit television, and we are grateful but we need more.

The bargain strikes both two ways: not only do we need more resources, but we have to make use of the resources and remedies available to us. One of the most important tools provided by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is the anti-social behaviour order, which gives police and councils the ability to deal with the proverbial neighbours from hell. Those people will now face a fine or up to five years in prison, or both. I want people to be aware of that—not only Members of Parliament or local councillors, but those who live on council estates.

The other, equally important, approach promoted by the Government is partnership, which must lie at the heart of all our efforts and of a multi-agency approach. In that, the police community consultative groups play an important role: if the new Metropolitan police authority believes PCCGs work well, their existence is secure. But I believe the police must be challenged to ensure that PCCGs are secure; equally, PCCGs must be challenged to ensure that they are working well and effectively themselves.

My local PCCG has given me great insights in certain areas and has, on occasion, filled me with great hope for the future. On occasion, however, our discussions in the PCCG have fallen a little short of their potential. It is up to us all to make sure that we do better. I pay tribute to the individual members of the PCCG and members of the public who attend, enabling us to have a meaningful link between the police and the community.

The police, too, deserve credit and recognition, especially in my area, for their innovative approach. I refer once more to Denning Point. It is a place that returns to haunt me, but not as much as it haunts its residents. They are considering an innovative approach whereby they will seek help from the council to refurbish the garages on the estate. They will then seek private money to secure improvements to the premises and a concierge scheme. Everyone will benefit from that. That approach makes sense, and the police are doing everything that they can to promote it. I hope that the council will do everything in its power to make sure that the work goes ahead as soon as possible. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has taken a direct interest in that matter and will shortly be seeking an update from the council.

I return to the subject of resources, which remains one of the most important issues. I am pleased about the extra money allocated to Tower Hamlets as part of the £170 million safer communities package, and the extra £1.24 billion over three years is mostly warmly welcomed.

I note with astonishment that the Tories have described Labour's extra spending allocation as reckless. In conclusion, I shall state clearly what would be reckless. It would be reckless to ignore the need for us all, including all Departments, to tackle the issues of youth crime, which are directly related to poverty and social exclusion, which in turn foster hard drug abuse. It would be reckless in the extreme for us to ignore those issues, and I am glad that the Government will not do so.

1.22 pm
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North)

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). I congratulate her on an excellent speech that drew together all the different strands that underpin effective policing and security on the streets of our city.

As many hon. Members have said, this has been a critical year for policing in London, shaped as it has been by the Macpherson report, which was, rightly, a profound challenge to the way in which we police the capital. I strongly associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow about the message that has to go out to London's police. It is absolutely right to say that the message is not that all police are racist. Many, if not most, of our police do a splendid job on the capital's streets, but we face a challenge in eradicating all traces of racism and prejudice in the city. That is what the Macpherson report asks us to do, and in partnership with the police, we must do it.

I also associate myself with the remarks of other hon. Members who have congratulated the police on rising to the challenge presented by the tragic nail bombings earlier this year. That situation showed our police at their best, and I know that the many communities involved want to express their heartfelt gratitude to the police for their response.

I warmly welcome the signs of a cultural change in the Met's approach to the policing of the diverse population of the capital, which predated, rather than followed, the Macpherson report. I see evidence of that change in the boroughs of Westminster and of Kensington and Chelsea in my constituency. I have been very impressed by the sincerity and commitment of the borough commanders, Steve Otter in Kensington and Bob Currie in Westminster, as they approach their task of effecting change at every level.

Confidence building will be a slow and painful process. There is profound scepticism among young people of all colours and all backgrounds. I have heard that said not only in the public meetings that were held and led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Grieve in the wake of the Macpherson report, but by every young person to whom I have spoken—in schools, youth clubs, and so on. Parents, particularly from black and minority ethnic communities, bring to my surgery profoundly tragic cases of the alienation of their young children who have been repeatedly picked up, stopped and searched by the police. I do not apologise for returning to the theme of stop and search; it goes to the heart of winning back the confidence of black and ethnic minority communities in the city.

The disparities between white and black and ethnic minority communities, of which we have heard so much, help to explain the crisis of confidence. Yes, stop and search is a vital tool in the fight against crime; it will and must continue. Yes, it plays a preventive role—unquantifiable but indisputable—over and above the number of arrests that arise from it. However, as has been pointed out succinctly by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), the procedure is not well targeted.

As a consequence, a disproportionately high number of innocent black people, as opposed to innocent white people, are stopped and searched. That is not a good use of police resources. Last year 160,000 white people, 70,000 black people and 24,000 Asian people were stopped and searched but not arrested. That creates a reservoir of ill feeling, especially in black communities.

Stop and search is important not only because of the alienation that it engenders among black people but for two other reasons. It has a knock-on effect on the recruitment of black people particularly, and young people in general, to the police. We have heard of the Metropolitan police's recruitment difficulties, so the problem is significant. The policy also impedes the ability of the police to gain vital intelligence in their campaign to tackle crime in our inner-city communities, further impeding efficiency.

The pilot studies to which hon. Members have referred show that it is possible to bring about dramatic improvements in the targeting of stop and search, reducing the disparity between the black and the white community and increasing the arrest rate, which has risen in the pilot areas from 12 per cent. to 17 per cent. That is to be applauded; it shows what can be done. The issue is not whether stop and search should be used more or less; it is that it should be used intelligently and effectively.

We must be careful not to place all the responsibility for such disparities on the police. The Home Office study, "Ethnic monitoring in police forces: A beginning", clearly showed that many incidents of stop and search result from information given to the police by the public, which in itself is heavily skewed against black and minority ethnic communities. One of the vital pieces of information that we need from the pilot studies is whether the quality of information about black suspects is as good as that about white suspects. That seems fundamental.

I would imagine that when a white person is reported as acting suspiciously at or near the scene of a crime, information is taken about that person's characteristics other than skin colour, such as details of their clothing and hair, which gives the police more accurate information to go on. When a black person is so reported, skin colour is often deemed almost enough information. I hope that the pilot studies will reveal whether that is true, and if it is, that they will discover what can be done about it.

We know that recruitment is a serious issue for the police. One of the handicaps facing the Met is its single, citywide strategy for recruitment and training. We are, rightly, moving towards a more sophisticated approach to employment and careers advice—exemplified by the Government's adoption of the single work-focused gateway designed to provide highly tailored advice to jobseekers on their training opportunities—and our recruitment strategies must be more localised and flexible.

Colleges of further education have a great deal to offer as part of the process, by providing locally based training for people who do not initially feel confident enough to take up a training course at Hendon. I hope that preliminary and preparatory courses can be made available to young people. City of Westminster college is devoting serious thought to ways in which it can mesh in with the police's recruitment and training strategy, and I hope that Home Office Ministers will give that initiative positive support.

I echo other speakers when I say that fears about crime and security remain at or near the top of the list of my constituents' concerns. That is the case especially in large inner-city estates such as the Mozart estate, the Church Street estate and the Brunel estate. Many lives are blighted, not only by crime and the consequences of drug abuse, but by the fear of crime. Paddington police are to be congratulated on having brought about a 23 per cent. reduction in street crime in an area that has been plagued by it. That is marvellous, but perceptions take a long time to change, and unfortunately other crimes, especially crimes of violence, have increased significantly in the same period.

Pensioners are perhaps the most fearful, and often refuse to leave home after dark, but young people are the most at risk. In their early and mid-teens, when they should be enjoying their independence for the first time, many find that even the walk home from school is a time of fear, when they are at risk of being bullied, assaulted and having possessions stolen.

Understandably, members of the public love to see police officers, yet the police cannot be everywhere. Therefore we should welcome innovation and support for the policing role. In Paddington, the police have developed a new team of community safety constables to ensure that areas at risk are controlled more regularly. The local population have strongly welcomed that. The process that has resulted in the community safety plans has also been widely supported. Effective partnerships are being developed within the framework of the Paddington regeneration scheme, to complement and make best use of police resources. That is all excellent work, which has been pioneered by the Government as a result of the crime and disorder legislation.

Closed circuit television is another valuable tool in the armoury for the fight against crime. I greatly welcome the Budget announcement of the £150 million for CCTV schemes as a means of improving security. However, I return to one of the themes of my speech in last year's debate on policing in London. We must be careful to ensure that in inner-city boroughs, the needs of residential communities—such as the large estates and streets with high crime rates in my constituency—are not squeezed out by the need to attend to the pressures of the west end, where the number of crimes is much greater simply because of the daily influx of tourists and commuters. Understandably, residents sometimes feel that when they are bidding for resources for their communities, their chances are reduced because the money is hoovered up into Oxford street and the west end.

I understand that Westminster police and council are thinking of making a bid for money from the Government scheme to enable them to install CCTV in Soho. I do not wish to belittle the interests of the constituents of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), but I must say that it is a great shame if the money for that CCTV scheme, however justified it may be in the cause of tackling crime, has to be drawn from the same pot as the resources for which we have to bid to tackle crime and improve security along the Harrow road and on the Mozart estate. I wonder whether we might examine the issues affecting places such as Camden, Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea, where the existence of the west end and the increased daily population need special attention.

As the Minister is aware, during the past year I have made many representations on the subject of security arrangements at the Notting Hill carnival, and I am extremely grateful to her and to the Minister for London and Construction for their interest. I congratulate the main partners in the management of carnival—Clare Holder, the carnival trust, the local authority and the police—on the excellent job that has been done in recent years. Carnival has been transformed. An event plagued by crime a decade ago is now remarkable for its low level of criminal and anti-social behaviour—although residents do not always take that view when their front gardens and basements are turned into toilets for two days. None the less, there has been a transformation.

In terms of scale, carnival is the victim of its own success. That has raised real fears about crowd control. It is no criticism of the police or the carnival committee to say that the risks are real and growing, and that the level of stewarding is way below what it should be.

Each year the last-minute scramble for sponsorship limits the capacity of the carnival committee to recruit and train the number of stewards it needs to the standard required. It is not the job of the police to fill the stewarding gap. We are therefore left in a grey area of risk. The scale and importance of carnival as a Londonwide and national event demands proper investment in security. We already spend about £3 million a year on policing it.

I believe that we are reaching the time when we should remove the lottery element from the stewarding and route management of carnival, and devote a small proportion of resources to underwrite a proper programme of recruiting and training people to do the job. They would work with the police, and preferably be trained by the police, too. In partnership, they would help to minimise the risk. The present situation makes me gasp with relief every bank holiday Monday evening.

1.37 pm
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

First, I should declare an interest. My law firm represents the Police Federation. However, I have not had any contact with the federation in preparing my remarks.

As a member of the Committee that considered the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, I take a particular interest in how my local partnerships have developed. I am pleased that we have had, in our local borough commander, Chief Superintendent Simon Humphrey, a keen officer to develop initiatives. I am pleased to say that my local borough. Barnet council, through its leader, Councillor Alan Williams, and the deputy leader, Councillor Helen Gordon, has embraced the philosophy behind the new legislation. I think that we were very much ahead of the game in developing our community safety strategy.

At the end of last year, I was pleased to attend a conference that the borough organised with the police. It was well attended by people throughout the borough, including representatives of residents associations and ethnic groups, for example. The conference considered many different aspects of policing in the borough and local priorities for policing. I have little hesitation in saying that the partnerships that we have been developing in a coherent, but somewhat pragmatic fashion have thrown up only a few teething problems along the way.

One of the key areas of concern is the provision of resources to enable the partnerships to work. Some people might argue that extra resources should be diverted into partnership approaches to policing, but, although my chief superintendent would not thank me for saying so, I think that he would probably agree with me that resources for reallocation and redeployment exist within most organisations already. It is more a matter of shifting emphasis, and treating crime and disorder as a core business, rather than a bolt-on ancillary work load.

I regret that there have been some difficulties in trying to get together the joint funding and resourcing for community safety, drugs action and youth offending, for example. All three subjects require a contribution from more than one agency. Contributions can come in cash in some instances, whereas in others, it is only tangible things such as people and buildings that can be freed up. Thereafter, attempts can be made to equate those assets with money. The ability of some organisations, including the police, easily to free up money definitely can impinge on progress in developing initiatives.

Joint commissioning is a practice that is being developed within the area of drugs action. It is a useful way of agreeing the apportionment of resources to ensure fairness for each agency. This practice could well be adopted in other areas or implemented collectively at an executive level.

One obstacle is bureaucracy, which must be curtailed if individual organisations are to make effective contributions. They must have much freer access to internal money and resources. I hope that, as we develop more efficiency within the Metropolitan police, some of that freedom can be devolved to local level. Crime and disorder is not a bolt-on ancillary for any organisation. It must be a key component of the business strategy of the police, of local authorities and of all the other partners. It should automatically attract a degree of an organisation's core resources.

We have heard much about the problems that are facing ethnic minorities in the wake of the Macpherson report. I am pleased that, in our area, we have developed, in partnership with the police and other agencies, probably the most sophisticated community safety unit in the Met, working with victims of race and sex offences, victims of hate crimes against gay people and all vulnerable victims. Our community safety unit, which has received much praise locally, is a model for other areas.

Through our partnerships in Barnet, we have also developed a multi-agency racial harassment group, and within the forward-looking three-year crime and disorder strategy, we have started to work on a community reach-out scheme, a resource-intensive programme which has at its heart the notion of inclusion.

No group or individual in society should be left out. There must be early recognition that people will not necessarily feel free to make contact with statutory or voluntary agencies, including the police, for various reasons, including culture. The police and local authorities, assisted by voluntary agencies such as the race equality council locally, can make contact with all groups in the borough and establish clearly their particular needs. I hope that in the autumn, we can start to develop a forum specifically to address the community needs of minority groups.

In any complex society, not everyone will have a representative or form part of a recognisable group, but in Barnet, we could do more to probe the needs of the 60,000 people from ethnic groups in our area, and also look to the needs of the multiplicity of religious faiths, the gay community and all the others. Our approach must promote inclusion for all, rather than focusing attention solely on the visible minorities.

Efficiency savings in the police force are being achieved. The target for the Met this year is 3.5 per cent. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) referred earlier to the article today in The Daily Telegraph, which I do not think is a comic, by Mr. Massow, one of the potential Tory candidates for mayor. I do not agree with much of the article, but Mr. Massow makes a valid comment when he states: The police must welcome the restructuring that every London business had undergone and adopt performance targets and efficiency measures that will give Londoners the confidence that their money is being well spent and their community well protected. We have achieved that, year on year, in Barnet. Chief Superintendent Humphrey deserves great credit for making our police service effective. However, it will be difficult for him to continue to achieve efficiency savings, having been ahead of the game from the start, if further demands are placed on him.

I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) that in outer London constituencies, our concern is that our resources are not pulled in to feed the centre. The point was also highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck). Even in inner London, resources from Paddington are sucked into the west end. The process affects the inner city, but it affects the outer city even more severely. We must make sure that our resources are not distorted in that way.

That applies particularly to the reorganisation of borough boundaries. In our area, that will mean that the Hertsmere division, which is part of the current patch, will be divested to Hertfordshire constabulary. The Hertsmere division has 80 officers, plus the requisite central support. It represents one sixth of the work load, but gets 8 per cent. of the policing. There is a real risk that Barnet and the Met as a whole will be short-changed if the reorganisation of resources consequent on the new boundaries is not carried out on the basis of the national funding formula, reflecting the extra Metropolitan police special elements.

When discussing resource issues, it is important to consider national targets as they are applied to the Metropolitan police. I shall use the investigation of murders as an example. That is a national key priority. The national standards require about 20 officers to investigate the crime, irrespective of the nature of the murder. I do not suggest that murder is not one of the most serious crimes, if not the most serious crime, with which the police must deal, but is that national standard appropriate for the Met? By comparison, for a crime in which someone is seriously injured and placed on a life-support machine, only five specialist officers, who may not be fully trained, are required. That leads to great distress for the relatives. Even fatal road accidents in which several deaths have occurred may be investigated by only one or two officers.

We have to prioritise when we allocate resources and we must ensure that the needs of outer London boroughs are respected, but we also have to ensure that resources are used sensibly. Although national standards and targets are important, we must understand that demand for resources in the Met is increasing and ensure that we have the basic policing resources to deal with those other serious crimes as well.

1.45 pm
Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster)

I am pleased to contribute to this debate on policing in London. Considerable progress is being made in respect of policing and it is significant that a number of partners—the police, local authorities and the voluntary sector, including neighbourhood watch and many more—have contributed to it. Progress has been achieved not least because of the measures initiated by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and other measures introduced and enacted by the Government, such as the reduction in youth unemployment through the new deal. We must continue to be tough on the causes of crime.

The evidence of that progress is set out in the Commissioner's report, which is an excellent production. Performance indicators for 1997–98 were published earlier this year by the Audit Commission and they have been supplemented in my area by a local crime and disorder audit report. Its most startling statistic is the reduction in burglary—the level is the lowest in 20 years—and there were 11,277 fewer victims than last year. The objective at the start of the year was to reduce burglary by 7 per cent., but the figure has fallen by 8.3 per cent.

I am pleased to report to the House that my borough—Havering, which is covered by the Havering division of the Metropolitan police—suffers only four burglaries per 1,000 of the population, which is the lowest rate of all the London boroughs. Havering is also bottom of the robbery league, with only 0.46 per 1,000 of the population. The trend for other crimes is also downward: there were 389 fewer criminal damage incidents, which is a fall of 13 per cent.; 364 fewer non-domestic burglaries, which is a fall of 21 per cent.; 226 fewer incidents of shoplifting and retail theft, which is a fall of 17 per cent.; 190 fewer domestic burglaries, which is a fall of 16 per cent.; and 33 fewer vehicle thefts, which is a fall of 2 per cent. However, not all the news locally is good, and there is no room for complacency. There were 45 more thefts from vehicles, which is an increase of 2 per cent., and 20 more assaults, which is an increase of 1 per cent.

A real benefit of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which I believe will lead to continued progress, are crime and disorder audits, which involve the collection and presentation of data to identify the key crime and disorder problems in each borough. They involve gathering statistics on crime and other social problems such as truancy and drug usage. Through our audit, the borough and the police have, in partnership, identified the priorities of a community safety strategy, which is being implemented over three years. The audit has also helped to refine the short, medium and long-term priorities of the strategy and that approach, which I strongly support, responds to the views of my constituents and their local representatives.

The audit has also identified the age profile of offenders and the figures for 1997–98 show that 37 per cent. of crimes were committed by people aged between 13 and 19, and the peak age for offending was 16. Those statistics show how important the youth service is.

The data recorded in the audit are essential in helping local partnerships to identify priorities and formulate targets. The audits also build on the work of existing partnerships. I am pleased that the Metropolitan police report highlighted the partnership in Romford, which has helped reduce retail crime. Seventy shops in the town centre now participate in the initiative and Romford has enjoyed a constant reduction in retail crime since its inception. In November 1998, retail crime was 49 per cent. lower than in November 1997. In 1999, there were 41 retail crime-free days and, for a six-month period, there was no reoffending in partnership stores. Incidentally, the Home Office has recognised that, and is promoting the scheme in other major shopping areas.

As a result of the initiative's success, it is to be extended to other shopping centres in the borough, including Upminster, Harold Wood and Harold Hill in my constituency. The Harold Hill retail area will also benefit from the single regeneration budget funding announced yesterday, which includes many projects for improving community safety and assists with youth projects.

I pay tribute to Chief Superintendent Bob Youlden, who has embraced with enthusiasm the changes made in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I also pay tribute to Sergeant Mick Adamson at Harold Hill police station, and his recent successor there, Sergeant Wolford. Both sergeants have diligently assisted me in pursuing matters raised by constituents. I am particularly pleased with the police's recent commitment to recruit four additional police constables to assist with community policing arrangements.

I shall conclude by dealing with a number of pan-London and general issues. First, I wish to respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) about borough representation on the Metropolitan police authority, which will be created by the Greater London Authority. The hon. Gentleman ignored the obligation to consult, which is contained in the Greater London Authority Bill. He also ignored the need to get on with the local plans that are set out in the Crime and Disorder Act. He ignored the progressive and far-sighted work of boroughs such as mine in developing community planning forums, and the strategic role that GLA assembly members will play in the policing of London.

Much of what has been said today has been positive, underlining areas of progress. None the less, crime rates are still high, and the fear of crime continues to be a major issue, as highlighted in my area's crime and disorder report. Much needs to be done, particularly about anti-social behaviour.

I very much endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), who expressed her support for the raft of measures introduced by the Government. I am particularly supportive of the plan to introduce civic education, which will bring considerable benefits in the long term. I welcome many of the measures introduced by the Government, not least the increased support for the police service.

1.53 pm
Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)

I begin, as all other hon. Members have begun, by congratulating the Metropolitan police service on all its activities and work in London since we last held the annual policing of London debate.

I had not intended to respond to the remarks made by one Opposition Member, who said that it was 20 months since our last annual debate, but I have asked three questions at Business Questions, at various stages since then, inquiring when the next debate would be. I know from the history books of recent Parliaments that this annual debate has come a lot sooner than annual debates under the previous Government, when debates were biannual at best, but in some cases did not take place for quite a few years. Let us put that matter aside, because I am not one to indulge in petty party politics.

I welcome the fact that the Commissioner's report shows that there has been a downward shift in the number of police officers injured while on duty. However, more than 8,000 officers were injured in some capacity while on duty, causing 2,100 of them to be placed out of the service for the duration of their recovery. The men and women of the Metropolitan police force do a great service for London, of which we should all be proud.

I cannot let pass two items. Perhaps we shall be pleasantly surprised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) when he winds up the debate, but most Conservative Members who dwelt on policing in London—one or two did not bother to do that, which is a novel approach to such a debate—waxed lyrical on a petty argument about numbers. They know as well as members of our Front-Bench team that there are great hidden complexities behind the numbers game. We might all do well to grow up a little and stop playing that game.

The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) did not respond when I intervened. Either he was right, and the numbers have fallen considerably, especially during the last five years of the previous Administration, because there was a managerial revolution and a culling of the senior ranks, or, as I said earlier, the clown who is standing for the Greater London mayoralty—I do not mean the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), but I cannot remember the other fellow's name—is wrong when he says that the Metropolitan police are run like British Leyland was in the 1970s. They cannot both be right. If I had to guess, I would put my money on the hon. Member for Ryedale. There clearly was a managerial revolution in the Metropolitan police service in the 1980s and certainly in the early 1990s. That does not explain all the figures, but it is part of the process.

I parted company with the hon. Member for Ryedale when he inadvertently offended a great portion of the black community in London. I happily accept that it was inadvertent. I am sure that he has read the Macpherson report and the proceedings of the Macpherson inquiry, but, if he had read it in detail, he would have seen that, on at least half a dozen occasions during the proceedings, the word "coloured" was used to describe someone who was either black or Asian. That rightly caused mighty offence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman) said, for a Conservative or anyone in the House, not least someone on the Front Bench, to describe people as coloured, especially when we are six months away from the millennium, is a matter of profound regret.

I respect the hon. Member for Ryedale, and I know that his comment was inadvertent, but that is the point. It is not just that he is an ex-police officer, but, as Macpherson showed, in the Metropolitan police there is a deep, latent, racist culture, and they do not know that it is racist. I fully accept that the hon. Gentleman did not mean to be offensive to anyone, but, because he did not mean to be, it makes it all the more problematic. I am sorry that he is not present.

I now come to the guts of my comments. The proposals for the Metropolitan police and the borough divisions are to be welcomed. The comments of the hon. Member for Ryedale are nonsense. He is from North Yorkshire: I cannot find it on the A to Z map. It is not in London. It is interesting that the hon. Member for Aylesbury, who will respond to the debate for the Conservative party, is not a London MP. If we cast further afield, of the 11 Conservative MPs in London, perhaps one should have made it as the official Conservative spokesperson on London. Sadly, not. The spokesperson for the Conservative party is from Oxfordshire. What that says about the quality of the 11 London MPs whom the Conservatives managed to get in the last election, I do not know: that is an internal difficulty, and is nothing to do with me.

The police in Harrow are exceptional. Borough commander Ian Carter, who has just joined us, has gone deep down into the bowels of policing and community work in Harrow. Recently, there were two racist murders in Harrow—they were certainly crimes of white on black. I do not want to dwell on the pros and cons of either case. I have known and had plenty to do with both the families involved, and I want to dwell on another aspect.

In the first case, members of the peripheral groups sniffing around for political gain at the Lawrence inquiry approached the family. They almost harassed the family of a recently murdered 14-year-old to get them to come out as anti-police. The family said, "There was a dispute, but it has been resolved. The perpetrators are behind bars, serving their time. We have no complaints about the police." Nevertheless, they were harassed by some trivial, peripheral elements surrounding the Lawrence campaign—not by those directly involved in the Lawrence campaign; I am certainly not saying that. It is to the shame of those involved.

A second case involved a group of independent television producers. I think that they were producing a documentary for Channel 4. They approached the family of someone who had been killed just after boxing day in what was, unlike the first murder, an avowedly racist murder, and particularly horrendous. The television producers wanted to conduct a detailed interview with the family—again, with the aim of getting them to attack the police. They wanted the family to talk about what the police had and had not done, and to undermine the relationship between the family and the police. The family—rather like the first family—said, "We think that the police now have a suspect, and we think that they have acted very diligently. If you want to record an interview with us to that effect, we are happy about it, but if you want us to say that here is yet another family with a murdered black son, wanting to vilify the police, we will not do so. We do not want to vilify the police."

The television production team then went away. The people involved did not want to present the positive side of a particularly tragic and harrowing case; all that they wanted was bad news. That is reprehensible.

Let me make another point about the media. When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made his statement about the bombing outrages, I said that I found it deeply offensive and unsatisfactory that the media—as well as some politicians who ought to have known better—rode on the bandwagon whose import was "The Grey Wolves have done it. The British National party has done it." That gave a degree of legitimacy to the existence of those nasty little groups. Hon. Members will recall the huge debate in which we engaged about the resurgence of such groups, and about their strength or otherwise. It turned out, however—this may be sub judice; I cannot remember exactly what progress has been made—that all three bombings were committed by some sad, obnoxious little nutter.

Mr. Dismore


Mr. McNulty


If we believed the media, however, we would believe in the existence of a burgeoning underworld of extreme right-wing fanatics, ready to burst forth in some sort of doomsday scenario. The media owe an apology to the wider community, not least the black community. That was deeply offensive.

I am glad that the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) has returned, because I wanted to dwell on his history. Let me do so for a moment, if I may. He may have missed what I said earlier; let me reprise it. Playing number games is not helpful to any serious debate about policing in London. Let me add, now that the right hon. and learned Gentleman—an habitual offender, who constantly broke the law—is present, that policing by conference rant has not been entirely helpful in London over the past 20 years.

During the last, and my first, policing in London debate—I think that an Opposition Member mentioned this—I said "Mea culpa", or rather whatever the plural of that is. I pointed out that, during the early 1980s, some—not all—of the activities of certain London councils in relation to the police were a sheer and utter disgrace. They disgraced this grand party, which is now 100 years old, and I firmly dissociate myself from them. As I have said, I am not talking about all the activities of those councils; I am talking about certain elements of what was done by the Greater London council, and by certain local authorities. It started from the vague premise that the Metropolitan police constituted some sort of oppressive occupation army of the capitalist forces. That was bunkum, and I repeat that it is to our shame.

In 1998, Harrow had a Labour council that pioneered the idea of a multi-agency forum—long before Barnet thought of it, I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). The aim was for such forums to tackle racial harassment, and to develop a community strategy involving the police working closely with Harrow's diverse community—not in some Mickey Mouse or cosmetic partnership, but in a genuine partnership.

Yesterday, the borough held a conference celebrating all its assorted partnerships. As I said earlier, borough commander Ian Carter spent the whole day at the conference, and played an active role in all the events. The highlight, of course, was my own winding-up speech.

I say in conclusion—I nearly said Mr. Mayor. I was back at the council. I apologise. Mr. Deputy Speaker—that all sides have made serious points that are beyond politics. Whatever people think of our custody, if you like, of the Metropolitan police over the past two years, if a recruitment crisis is growing or bubbling, it has not happened in two years. There is one, and we need to do something about it in general terms before we get to specifics.

It is of great concern that black and Asian officers still make up only about 3.55 per cent. of the force. Of as much concern is the almost neutral position over the past year or so: for virtually every black or Asian officer or cadet joining, one leaves. It is the same story with the recruitment of women, which people have not dwelled on unduly. Fifteen per cent. of the capital's police force are women. That is appalling too, and needs to be addressed.

If I were a tad unkind, I would say, never mind anti-racism, the Met still perhaps has a way to go in terms of recognising gender issues and the role of women within the organisation—sadly, there is no time to discuss the matter. Perhaps some at the Met should spend less time at the lodge.

The Metropolitan police service has served us well, despite its politicians—clearly, I do not mean over the past two years. The happiest day with regard to the policing of London will come in the near future when, voluntarily or otherwise, the Home Secretary is sacked from being the police authority for the Metropolitan police. The sooner that that aspect of his job ends—I know that he will agree—the better. As the Home Secretary said, since Robert Peel was a boy, London has yearned for the day when the Metropolitan police authority is set up. When the authority is in place, I shall be very pleased. I am even more pleased that the current Home Secretary is relinquishing that aspect of his role and, not, heaven forbid, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe.

2.7 pm

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

I am grateful to have the opportunity to reply to a debate that has been wide ranging and, on the whole, good humoured and constructive. As is only right, I pay tribute not only to the professionalism and dedication of the Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, but to every man and woman in his police service.

The variety of concerns that have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members have reminded us of the broad scope of the responsibilities that we ask the Metropolitan police service to carry out. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) spoke about the pressures that are caused to decent law-abiding people by prostitution, and reference has been made to the problem of the advertising of prostitution. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) spoke about the difficulties experienced in the royal parks. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) referred to travellers and growing public impatience with that problem and to the work of the Metropolitan police in countering the traffic in endangered species.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) spoke with characteristic force and cogency about the drugs problem in her constituency, about how that brought decent, hard-working families almost to the point of despair and about how their solution required not only police initiatives, but those launched in partnership with many other agencies. That theme characterised many contributions, including that of the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who referred to several initiatives in his borough to strengthen partnerships between the police and other organisations in society which work for greater public peace and observance of the law. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) gave us the benefit of his experience of the police fellowship scheme. He also drew our attention to the length of time that police officers may have to spend at the police station after making an arrest. Conservative and Labour Home Secretaries alike have received representations from right hon. and hon. Members and from the police service about lightening the burden of paperwork to the minimum necessary so that the police can stay out doing their job.

As many right hon. and hon. Members have observed, the past year has been overshadowed by two factors—the nail-bombings in Brixton, Brick lane and Soho and the publication of the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the ensuing debate about it.

Let me refer first to the bombings which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg). Although nothing can erase the horror and tragedy of those crimes, one consolation to those of us who observed from outside was the fact that those outrages sparked the community in London and nationally to draw together. Although the attacks were directed at black people, British Asians and gay people, people from all backgrounds, all walks of society and all political beliefs agreed that they represented vicious assaults on all of us as citizens of this country.

Perhaps that public reaction was sparked by the public reflections on the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the revelations in the Macpherson report. There is a tremendous fund of good will, which crosses party and social barriers, to learn the lessons of that report and apply them in a way that will contribute to building a better and more harmonious society. That theme was reiterated many times in today's debate.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow talked of the need for the police to recruit and retain officers from the ethnic minorities and pointed out the difficulties and challenges involved. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) complemented what he said by describing a number of innovative ways in which her local police were tackling those challenges. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) raised the possibility of relaunching a police cadet scheme, one objective of which would be specifically to draw in new recruits from ethnic minorities.

I do not have time to deal at length with the issues raised by the Macpherson report, but I was glad to hear the Home Secretary and a number of Labour Members agree with its conclusion that the power to stop and search remains essential to effective policing, but that we also needed to reflect on the way in which those powers were exercised. I can say with reference to my constituency that that also applies to forces outside London. The hon. Member for Walthamstow and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) warned us in different ways of the danger of too simplistic an analysis of the stop and search statistics. The Government should take account of my right hon. and learned Friend's points, keeping under active review the possibility that the police may have reacted to the Macpherson report or to changes in disciplinary procedures by being less willing to exercise their lawful powers, with the consequence that they may be being less effective in dealing with some crimes. The Government should remain alive to that risk.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow warned of the need to get away from stereotypes, talking of how the poorest and most disadvantaged people in our society were most likely to live in fear or to be the victims of crime. The Minister represents Vauxhall and may know that my own thinking on these subjects was influenced by my contesting that constituency against her predecessor just over a decade ago. There is no better apprenticeship for a Conservative politician than donning a blue rosette to go canvassing on the Stockwell Park estate. I encountered a tremendous fear of crime among many poor people, and learned of their grave mistrust of the police and the criminal justice system, particularly among the young and people from the ethnic minorities.

We all have a duty to reject racism. All crimes are horrific and should be condemned, but a crime with a racial motivation may go beyond affecting its victims, poisoning all of community life and setting people of one race or neighbourhood against others. The Home Secretary was right to say that tackling such problems can never be a matter for the police alone.

I hope that the Government accept the need for a sensible balance. Legislation will come forward to bring the police within the scope of the Race Relations Act 1976, and I was concerned to read the Home Secretary's recent letter to the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, which said that the Government were considering reversing the burden of proof in race discrimination legislation. I ask Ministers to weigh carefully what that would mean to effective policing and morale among the police.

The Home Secretary and the Commissioner have brought us good news on crime. The falls in recorded crime vindicate the criminal justice policies initiated by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe. At least in part, and for the time being, Labour Ministers intend to continue with his initiatives, and that is welcome. However, there are warning signs in the crime figures appended to the Commissioner's report. Clear-up rates for burglary and street crime are down significantly over the past 12 months in comparison with the previous year's figures. Car crime, to which the hon. Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) referred, rose significantly during 1998–99. As the Home Secretary has set the target of cutting car crime by 30 per cent. over five years, based on the 1998–99 figures, I am sure that he will be alive to the need to deal with that problem.

The Home Secretary talked of resources, but did not mention that the amount going to the Metropolitan police from revenue support grant and non-domestic rates had fallen this year. The council tax payer in London has had to carry the burden of paying for the Met according to page 76 of the Commissioner's annual report. The police have had considerable success in meeting overall efficiency targets, but the figures conceal the facts hidden in the report's detail about the tremendous success in tackling sickness. The Home Secretary rightly alluded to that point in his speech to the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland the other day. However, that must be set against the Met's inability to meet the planned efficiency target on several other initiatives. That gives us a note of warning for the future.

I do not want to get into too great an argument with the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) over manpower. Much of his speech reflected the best of the Labour party's tradition of public spirit and patriotism. However, his hon. Friends the Members for Hendon and for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge raised concerns about police numbers in their constituencies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) pointed out, not only has the total strength been reduced, but the number of police constables and the number of civilian employees is lower. The annual wastage rate has risen; and there are difficulties with recruitment. As recorded in the Metropolitan police survey, the public are increasingly dissatisfied with the perceived number of foot patrols. There has also been a fall in the number of special constables in the Metropolitan police area. As was pointed out, we now face the fact that some officers will be seconded to forces outside London, with a consequent loss in the personnel resources available to the Commissioner.

The Metropolitan police have achieved a great deal during the past 12 months. The continuing fall in crime is welcome. However, there are warning signs for those who want to read the detail of the Commissioner's report. We shall judge the Government on how well they meet their responsibility to sustain the morale and effectiveness of the police service in London, and to maintain the achievements of the service in combating crime in the years to come.

2.22 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kate Hoey)

Today's debate has shown the enormous range of issues, challenges, and achievements involved in undertaking the policing of London. I am very grateful indeed for the large number of contributions from both sides of the House. Debates on policing are an opportunity for Members to share some of their personal experiences of policing in their community. We have heard some admirable speeches. It was nice to hear the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who drew on his great experience as a former Home Secretary to give us his views on the fall in crime, and who told us that he is pleased that we shall ensure that that reduction continues.

The debate has confirmed the major themes identified by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he opened it. Those include the enormous debt of gratitude that the people of London and those of us who are their democratic representatives owe to the vast majority of the members of the Metropolitan police service. They daily dedicate themselves to the preservation of order and safety—often at personal risk—and to the detection and reduction of crime. As my right hon. Friend said, today is especially a day to commend Sir Paul Condon as he comes to the end of his time as Commissioner. I know that he will be pleased to know how many Members have spoken of him. His final year was difficult, but throughout it all he maintained a dignity and statesmanship for which I know that he has been greatly appreciated, not only by the public, but by his own officers.

If I cannot address all the points that were raised, I shall write to hon. Members. The debate has underlined the profound importance of the report of the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence to the Metropolitan police, to the police service nationally and to all of us in society. We have recalled the deep apology that it was right and necessary to make to Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence and how the best memorial that can be offered for their son's death is to implement the lessons of that report vigorously and fully—in their spirit as well as in their letter.

Vital to that is the determination that our police force is representative of the entire community. My hon. Friends the Members for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) raised the importance of the recruitment targets set by the Home Secretary for ethnic minority officers. The Government and the Met welcome all ideas on what more can be done. We want Members of Parliament for London and elsewhere in the country to be involved in that effort.

The Met' s positive action team is involved in a range of measures to address that issue, including target advertising, investing more in advertising, producing literature in different languages, careers conventions, and working more closely in partnership with local communities and with employment services. In addition, we are interviewing those members of ethnic minorities who joined the police force and then left. All of us have a contribution to make and I am sure that we shall all make it.

Intimately linked to diversity is the overarching theme of partnership and co-operation. Now, more than ever, it is clear that the police should not be expected to maintain order and deal with crime on their own. The other side of that coin is that, with the police, we must find ways and develop systems of working together, both to identify the real problems and to create and implement effective solutions.

Many hon. Members have mentioned the good work and innovative partnerships that have already started in their constituencies and boroughs. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman) gave a detailed account of the "Standing Together" project on domestic violence; and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) gave an account of the partnership approach to policing of Millwall football club.

Several hon. Members raised the issue of partnerships at local level, including my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), who mentioned the Notting Hill carnival. With my hon. Friend the Minister for London and Construction, we shall continue to consider carefully how to ensure that that event is policed safely.

One of the earliest examples of partnership was the establishment of police community consultative groups. I am aware of the concerns about their future felt by members of PCCGs and hon. Members; those concerns were expressed eloquently today. I am confident that the Metropolitan police authority, which will take over responsibility for consultative measures, will not want to get rid of any consultative group that is felt by the community to be working well. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) said, the future of PCCGs is, in many ways, in their own hands.

As a Minister, I do not often get to mention my own constituency, but, with my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), I should like to pay tribute to my local community police community consultative group in Lambeth and to its work, especially after the recent bombings. I am sure that both my hon. Friend and I would be extremely upset if the MPA tried to interfere with the working of that PCCG. In the wake of the Macpherson report, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the looming requirement on police authorities under the local government best value programme, consulting all sections of the community about policing has never been so important.

Other than the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), hon. Members on both sides of the House took a balanced approach to police numbers in London. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), who has apologised for having to leave before the end of the debate, said that there is no point playing party politics with police numbers. However, I have to tell the hon. Member for Ryedale that the numbers he used are wrong. According to figures provided by the Met, last year's reduction in London was a grand total of 21, whereas he spoke of substantial reductions.

The hon. Gentleman also said that there was a decline in the capacity for front-line policing, but that is not the preserve of constables alone. Senior ranks are involved in, lead and otherwise participate in active, focused and effective policing operations. He also seemed to imply that police resources are reduced because of planned efficiency gains, but, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, the whole point of the efficiency plan is to find savings that must, in turn, be reinvested in front-line policing—exactly the sort of policing that the hon. Gentleman recommends.

I emphasise that efficiency savings are not, therefore, cuts in overall policing resources. They are designed to promote the better use of those resources. All Members of Parliament need to work closely with their local commander and police force to ensure that resources are used properly.

When we discussed London policing in the proceedings on the Greater London Authority Bill, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) expressed concern about the Met's wildlife crimes unit, and I am glad that he drew attention to its excellent work. The poaching of species such as tigers and rhinos thrives because of the demand in places such as London for products made from those animals. Operation Charm, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, is working to stop the demand for those illegal products in London. That operation is recognised by enforcement agencies throughout the world as a brand leader, and it has had an impact on trade in London.

It is interesting to consider that aspect of policing and then to consider the issues raised by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), including illegal trading on our streets and the placing of prostitutes' cards in telephone boxes. The number of issues with which the police in London have to deal reveals the scale of the problems that they face and highlights what a good service we have.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg) expressed the hope that we would bring to crimes against gays and lesbians the same understanding and seriousness that we apply to racially motivated crime. I can confirm that the Commissioner has told me that that is his policy.

In the past year I have visited all parts of the Met, including the specialist units that do not get much mention, such as the mounted police, the river police and the firearms unit. There is no doubt that the Lawrence inquiry caused a fall in morale. However, having seen those people in action and talked to them, I believe that they now have confidence and want to move on from the Macpherson report. They want to continue to police and serve London in the best way possible. They know that there are lessons to be learned from the Macpherson report and that changes will come when the Metropolitan police authority is set up. We all look forward to its establishment.

I can assure hon. Members that we shall want to continue to debate the policing of London after the Metropolitan police authority has taken over, and I am confident that the next time we have such a debate, we will be able to report an improvement in the Metropolitan police service. We are well served by the Met and I am pleased that the annual report and this debate have given us the opportunity to tell everyone what a good police service we have.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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