HC Deb 24 July 2000 vol 354 cc749-50
7. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

When he last met the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to discuss arrangements for transferring responsibility for policing in London to the Metropolitan police authority.[130328]

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

I regularly meet the Metropolitan police Commissioner to discuss policing issues. The launch of the Metropolitan police authority was one of the issues discussed at our meeting on 22 June 2000.

Mr. Wilkinson

Did not the Home Secretary hand a poisoned chalice to the Metropolitan police authority on 3 July, inasmuch as during his tenure of office, he has presided over a diminution of police manpower of no fewer than 1,200 in the metropolitan area? Furthermore, in the past year no fewer than 588 officers have left the service, while recorded crimes have risen by over 100,000.

Not only do the Metropolitan police feel "battered"—to quote incoming Commissioner Sir John Stevens—but the general public are getting a raw deal, with the precept going up, crime going up and police numbers going steadily down. Is it not lamentable that under the current Government police numbers are no fewer than 1,500 below the minimum number declared acceptable by the previous Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon?

Mr. Straw

The chalice is far from poisoned. The establishment of a democratic and representative Metropolitan police authority has been widely welcomed by all parties and is something that, in my view, should have been done many decades ago. What is lamentable is the fact that, year after year under the previous Administration, there were mounting reductions in the number of police officers in London—155 in 1995 and 400 in 1996, rising to 700 in 1997–98, under a budget set by the previous Administration—yet Conservative Members of Parliament did not protest about that serious reduction in police manpower in Greater London. It has taken changes to the financial arrangements for the Metropolitan police service that I have made, including a significant increase in the special allowance, to ensure that, at long last, numbers will stabilise and then start to rise. The one thing above all that made life so difficult for the Metropolitan police service was the abolition of the housing allowance under the Sheehy proposals, which the hon. Gentleman supported and we opposed; we are now repairing that damage.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

Even if he would not describe it as handing over a poisoned chalice, surely the Home Secretary would agree that he has transferred the policing of London to the Metropolitan police authority in a pretty sorry state? How can he say that the drop in police numbers that occurred under the Conservatives is the problem when, during his years in office, the number has fallen by 1,581, at a time when crime is rising by 12.6 per cent., emergency calls are not answered and police stations are closing? Is he aware that Sir John Stevens has said that he needs 25,600 officers in London to police the capital properly, that numbers are currently lower than that and that even the mayor of London is now calling for urgent increases? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when numbers will return to the safe level of 25,600 that has been set by the Commissioner? Now, they are considerably lower than that, which represents an abdication of the Home Secretary's responsibilities.

Mr. Straw

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are now putting money into the Metropolitan police service and other police services to ensure that numbers start to rise. In addition, already in payment is a £3,500 increase in the London allowance for Metropolitan police officers. What is absolutely certain, following last week's announcement by the shadow Chancellor, is that under the Conservatives the sums available for policing in London and the rest of the country would be significantly less than they are under the Labour Government.