§ 6. Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham)
What measures he is taking to improve the success rate in fighting crime in the Metropolitan police area. 
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)
We have put in place a comprehensive strategy to cut crime, with new powers for the police, investment in new technology such as the DNA database and a streamlining of the criminal justice system. Crime reduction partnerships between police and local authorities are well established and the Metropolitan police are being reorganised on a borough basis.
591 Today, I have announced challenging crime reduction targets for all police forces. The Metropolitan police's target is to reduce domestic burglary by 10 per cent., vehicle crime by 31 per cent and street crime by 15 per cent. The new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, will play a key role in that strategy.
§ Mr. Efford
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, and in particular for the initiative that he has announced today which sets targets for cutting burglary and vehicle crime, but does he share my concern at the negative effect on the recruitment of new officers of the recent adverse publicity that the Metropolitan police in particular have suffered? As the Member of Parliament for Eltham, perhaps I am better placed to understand that than most. More needs to be done to demonstrate to the public the police's important role and the respect that they have in the eyes of the community, to deal with the adverse effect on recruitment.
§ Mr. Straw
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says about the development of our strategy, the establishment of the targets and the investment that we have been making in the Metropolitan police, including putting some millions of pounds into various crime reduction programmes under the crime reduction fund and the crime fighting fund. I accept that there is a problem over the recruitment of officers to the Metropolitan police service. I am not certain of the extent to which that goes back to problems that have arisen following the Macpherson report.
This morning, with the Prime Minister, I visited Newham borough and met officers of various ranks from that Metropolitan police service division. We were told that morale was good there and it palpably was, but there is a problem in relation to the relative pay of Metropolitan police officers, which goes back to the implementation in 1993 of the Sheehy report, which has led to increasing disparity between the pay of officers who were recruited to the Met before 1993 and that of those recruited afterwards. We are seeking to address that matter, not least within the police negotiating board.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
Does the Home Secretary accept that crime reduction, about which he made an announcement this morning, is the responsibility of everyone, not just the police? There should be targets for central Government and local government in London, just as there should be for the Metropolitan police. Can he assure us that the selection of those three categories—car crime, burglary and robbery—will not distort policing priorities, particularly in London and elsewhere, on violent crime, where the figures have been rising hugely? What does he say to chief constables, including the new Commissioner of the Met, who have asked for additional resources, who have had only some of their requests met by last week's announcement, and who will say that, unless they see the numbers going up to the figures they want, the Government cannot expect the crime figures to go down to the targets that they are setting them?
§ Mr. Straw
On the last point, I want police numbers to start to rise. That is why we will put in the additional funds—£35 million in the next financial year and many millions more in the following two financial years—to ensure that the police are able to recruit an additional 592 5,000 officers over and above the 12,500 that they say they were planning to recruit in that three-year period in any event. However, those officers will be best used when the police service is working at optimum efficiency.
It is a matter of record that under the previous Administration, the number of officers in the Metropolitan police service was cut by 2,000 between 1992 and 1998; that is the biggest cut that any force has ever had to suffer. None the less, owing to good leadership in the Metropolitan police service, crime was reduced to a significant extent in that period. We have to ensure that the investment is made in the police service, not least in London, so that the police can build on that sort of record.
I accept that the responsibility for getting crime down is not one for the police service alone. We have placed a statutory duty on local authorities to be involved in crime partnerships. As I announced this morning, targets will be set for local authorities as well as for the police service. The targets announced today by my hon. Friend the Minister of State and I were set by the chief of police and they are due to be confirmed by the police authorities in due course.
On the question of the range of crimes, we believe that domestic burglary, vehicle crime and robbery in the main metropolitan areas are among the crimes that cause the greatest concern to the public. Police services that deal effectively with those crimes are likely to be those that are generally the most effective in dealing with other crimes as well.
§ Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that to combat crime most effectively is not merely a question of resources, but one of public attitudes? Does he accept my congratulations on the fact that this year, we shall have a Greater London Authority that will, for the first time ever, ensure the democratic accountability of the police service in London to the people of London?
§ Mr. Straw
I share my hon. Friend's delight—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—that is, at the subject of the question, not the sedentary intervention. I support the comments made on the record by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) about the importance of establishing a Metropolitan Police Authority. My delight is all the more personal in that, 20 years ago, I introduced a private Member's Bill proposing that there should be an elected authority for the Metropolitan police area. I am delighted to have been the Secretary of State who has carried through his own ten-minute Bill.
§ Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)
I am sure that the Home Secretary accepts that, during the last Parliament, the number of front-line crime fighters in police forces throughout the country rose by 2,200. Since the last general election, he, as Home Secretary, has cut the Metropolitan police force by 1,100 officers who actually work in London. Is it not a cheek for him to set crime reduction targets for the police without setting 593 himself a target of restoring police numbers to the level at which they stood when he took office? Instead, he continues to stretch the thin blue line ever thinner.
§ Mr. Straw
First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on home affairs. However, may I offer him some friendly—not to say comradely—advice? When he produces such figures, he should remember who set the budgets for the Metropolitan police. The budget for the Metropolitan police service for 1997–98 was set in January 1997, when the Conservative party was in power—that is on the record. If we take account of the fact that the Conservatives set the budget for 1997–98, about which we could do nothing on entering office, we see that, over the six years from 1992 to 1998, there was a 2.060 reduction in the strength of one single police service, namely the Metropolitan police service.
I am concerned about the decline in numbers of police officers which has taken place since 1992 and which has continued under the present Government, but I will take no lectures whatever from the Conservative Opposition, not least because of the dramatic and unacceptable changes in police numbers that they forced on the Metropolitan police when they were in office.