HL Deb 22 July 1987 vol 488 cc1425-53

5.37 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich rose to call attention to the report of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis for 1986 (Cmnd. 158); and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, by a coincidence this debate on the Report of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis is taking place just nine days before the retirement of Sir Kenneth Newman.

As we all recognise, Sir Kenneth has had a testing career, first, in the Palestine Police, then in the Metropolitan Police. He was then the Deputy Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and later Chief Constable. He then became Commandant of the Police College at Bramshill and subsequently Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. I believe that all who have come into contact with him, regard him as an outstanding leader of his service. He was calm and decisive at times of crisis, a man of firm and unyielding principle, cool and rational, insisting on the highest standards of professionalism from those who served under him. I believe he will go down in the history of the Metropolitan Police as one of its greatest commissioners. He will carry with him into his retirement the thanks of this House and the gratitude of many citizens of London. I know that all noble Lords will want to wish the very best of good fortune to his successor, Mr. Peter Imbert.

I turn now to the contents of Sir Kenneth's final report. It discloses, once again, a significant rise in serious crime in London. In 1986 robbery rose by 7 per cent. compared with 1985, which in turn showed an 11 per cent. increase compared with 1984. Sexual offences rose by 7 per cent. on top of a 17 per cent. increase in the previous year. Within this group of offences the number of offences of rape rose in a single year by 45 per cent. There is further evidence in the report of the growth of trafficking in heroin and cocaine, which is still one of the most rapidly growing industries in this country.

The increased level of serious crime in London, together with the heavy pressure of public order commitments such as those at Wapping—which alone led to the deployment of an average of over 300 officers a day being taken off the streets of London—has, led, as I think we all recognise, to heavy demands on the resources of the force.

I turn now to this serious problem of police manpower in London. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, will, I am sure, be telling us of the substantial improvement in police recruitment since 1979, just as his noble friend Lord Glenarthur did when we debated the crime situation pertaining in London in 1986. What he tells us will of course be true. An increase of over 4,000 men and women not only sounds impressive but is indeed impressive. Unhappily, the reality is very different. The effect of the reduction in the working week has been the equivalent loss of 3,000 officers. The cash limits placed on the force last year led to cuts in overtime estimated at around a further 400 officers. Additional leave entitlements since this January took another 144 officers off the streets. Then there are the consequences of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, much of which we welcomed, which took another 177 officers off the streets. The Drug Trafficking Offences Act took another 42.

Furthermore, quite apart from police burdens, the level of sick leave is a matter of serious concern. Last year over 400,000 working days were lost as a result of sickness and, although some were the result of injuries on duty, many were due to the pressure of police work in London which in turn has led to a significant wastage of experienced officers to other police forces in England and Wales. The loss of manpower caused by sickness has, as I have indicated, now reached very serious proportions. It is in fact equivalent to 7 per cent. of the strength of the Metropolitan Police—in other words well over 1,800 officers.

I accept—as I am sure everyone does—that the police must be efficient in terms of their use of resources. However, cash limits are undoubtedly creating serious problems in the Metropolitan Police. Over 75 per cent. of their expenditure is related to pay and pensions and the balance is concerned with maintaining and replacing buildings, transport and communications. In that situation it is hardly surprising that the Commissioner, faced with still greater demands on his depleted manpower, has had to warn the Government—as he does in explicit terms in his report—that further economies imposed by them can only be at the cost of a lower level of effectiveness and service to the public. In view of what the Commissioner has explicitly said on this point, I think that it is right to remind the House of the Prime Minister's commitment on this very question, at the Conservative Party Conference in 1985, when referring to the police, she said: If they need more men, more equipment, different equipment, then they shall have them. We don't economise on protecting life and property". When the noble Earl comes to reply, I wonder whether he can tell the House when the Prime Minister's pledge will be fully implemented in London. The economies now being imposed on the police are entirely inconsistent with what the Prime Minister said on that occasion.

I now turn to what I suspect will not be a matter of great surprise to the noble Earl and that is the question of the use of police cells for remand prisoners. These have, in effect, become a second prison system. We welcome what the Home Secretary said last week and indeed what the noble Earl told the House when he repeated the Statement, when he announced that he was increasing the level of remission for short-sentence prisoners. I should be very interested to hear what the noble Earl has to say about the implications of that Statement in relation to the use of police cells in London and elsewhere. I think that wherever we sit in this House we all recognise that the Home Secretary's decision was not an easy one. It was I believe a brave decision. I must confess that I found it a little hard to accept the fierce criticism by his immediate predecessor Mr. Brittan. It will be recalled that when Mr. Brittan was Home Secretary he announced with pride in an article in The Times, that he had solved the problem of remand in police custody—there would be no more. He did indeed deal with the situation, but only for a period of 48 hours. Subsequently, however the prisoners began once again to pour into the police stations and, needless to say, Mr. Brittan declined to do anything further about it. Nevertheless, he now attacks his successor for having taken action to implement his own promise. As the father of my noble friend Lord Attlee said, in a rather different context, to the late Harold Laski in 1945: A period of silence on your part would be appreciated by us all". However, quite apart from the issue of remands in police custody, with the very significant manpower indications which are spelt out in the Commissioner's report, which takes further policemen off the streets of London and elsewhere, together with all the squalid and degrading conditions which are involved in keeping remand prisoners in wholly unsuitable accommodation, the Commissioner's report deals with a totally different question which also has very substantial manpower implications: the matter of jury nobbling. This problem is spelt out in detail in the report. In particular, there is the case where a judge makes the appropriate direction whereby a team of 72 officers can be involved in giving round-the-clock protection to each member of the jury. In many cases that also applies to key witnesses. In a substantial case the cost to the police can amount to £750,000. Mr. John Dellow, the new Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has made it clear that large sums of money are available to these professional nobblers in order to intimidate both jurors and witnesses.

I accept at once that it is easy to recognise the problem, but it is far more difficult to decide what to do about it and to bring to justice the gangs of criminals who are involved in this practice in London. The noble Earl will recall that this particular matter was raised in the debate on the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. I think that he, and I, together with many others, will be interested to know what further action the Home Office, and the Lord Chancellor's Department, is contemplating to deal with this extremely disquieting situation.

I shall now turn to two other matters that cause very serious public concern—the growth in trafficking of narcotics and the use of firearms, particularly shotguns, by criminals. I will start with heroin. In the period of 10 years between 1975 and 1985 Home Office figures show that heroin seizures rose in number from 236 to 3,126, which is a rise of over 1,200 per cent., and the quantities involved rose by well over 5,000 per cent. We are faced with evidence that heroin abuse is continuing to rise, accompanied by the threat of a sharp rise in the use of cocaine.

I think that it is accepted, by all concerned in this matter that at least half of our country's drug problem lies within London; very few significant provincial drug operations do not have some contact with the criminal community in London. Let me illustrate this. Drug submissions to the Metropolitan Police forensic science laboratory number more than the submissions to all the other forensic science laboratories in the United Kingdom.

I welcome the action which the Government have taken to implement the findings of the Broome Report, but I find it depressing that once again the Commissioner's request for a substantial increase in the size of his central drug squad has been ignored. All North American experience demonstrates the folly of having inadequate resources to deal with the sophisticated criminals involved in trafficking in narcotics. I very much hope that the noble Earl will be able to tell us that this matter will be reviewed as a matter of urgency.

Secondly, I turn to the use of shotguns. In the four-year period 1983 to 1986, armed robberies in London increased by 46 per cent. Within that period armed attacks on banks rose by 53 per cent. and on security vehicles by 97 per cent. In many cases, shotguns were used. The Government have been told repeatedly by many senior police officers, both in London and elsewhere, that it is necessary to impose firmer control on shotgun licences. But still, unhappily, nothing has been done. The matter was raised again by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, on the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill only last week. We have received hints that the Government may be prepared at least to impose a requirement on licence holders that they should take adequate steps to protect their weapons from being stolen; yet even on that limited question nothing has been done.

I am aware, of course, of the pressure of the shotgun lobby but it is time that the Government acted in this matter. The safety of the police and the public requires it. I tell the noble Earl that we shall be putting down amendments on this matter, I hope on an all-party basis, when we reach the Criminal Justice Bill. I very much hope that he will be in a position to support those amendments when they are introduced.

Finally, I deal with the all-important question of relations between the police and the public. There are, as we are all aware, still many severe tensions in inner-city areas in London as elsewhere. There is the problem of racial attacks, which are still difficult to quantify, but which pose an intolerable threat to the well-being of many of our fellow citizens. There are, of course, in London and elsewhere plenty of hardworking political extremists bent on keeping the police out of inner-city schools and determined to poison the relationship between the police and the community. That is why it is even more important that when there is any misbehaviour by individual police officers, the most rigorous action is taken to deal with it.

The trial which ended at the Old Bailey last week—the Holloway Road episode—was just such an incident. It was, as we all recognise and as the judge made clear, a wholly disgraceful business. I very much hope that the demands which have been made in the aftermath of that trial from some fellow officers—that the policemen who came forward to give evidence against their colleagues should be ostracised—will be ignored, as I am sure they will be, by the overwhelming majority of policemen in London. Only because they came forward was it possible to convict those responsible of these extremely serious assaults.

In conclusion, there remains, as I think we all recognise, deep public anxiety about the level of serious crime in London which is continuing to rise inexorably. To tackle it I think that two requirements are necessary—adequate resources to police our streets and the firm co-operation of the general public. The first is the responsibility of the Government; the second is the responsibility of us all. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.57 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, on the front of this excellent report we have the words, Crime is a problem for society as a whole: it is too important to be left to the police alone". This has been my maxim, and it is what I have attempted to do, in the crime prevention world for the past few years. To sell the message of prevention of anything is not easy. Whether you are talking about preventing crime or preventing accidents, people always believe that it happens to the other fellow and not to them. It is only when it has actually happened that they sit up and take notice.

Neighbourhood Watch, Business Watch and all the crime prevention panels with which I have been concerned do work and I urge the Government to make sure that they receive some financial support. The panels not only have to obtain the good will of citizens to operate them but they actually have to get the money from some of the people to do this very worthwhile job. In my opinion it is an excellent report and I underline what my noble friend has said concerning Sir Kenneth Newman. He has been an excellent officer and we salute him for what he has done.

It is impossible, obviously, to cover everything so I shall concentrate upon a matter on which I have spoken before and upon which, no doubt, I shall have to speak again because the wheels grind rather slowly in your Lordships' House. I refer to the increase in crimes of violence. The statistics are analysed in rather a curious way. They are described as less serious and more serious. No crime is petty to the person against whom it is committed. I have said many times before that physical scars heal but mental scars do not. I think that it is quite wrong constantly to refer to crime as petty crime; all crime is to be abhorred.

I was astonished to read in the report that a large majority—a dreadful expression—of recorded offences of violence against the person involved slight or no injury to the victim. I am not quite sure how the victim did not experience any violence. He must have been extraordinarily quick on his feet to avoid the person who was inflicting it. I should like to know from the Commissioner exactly from where he got that particular explanation.

It is easy, of course, to take quotes from newspapers, but I was particularly impressed by an article in an evening paper headed: Let me tell you why I do not walk alone". It opens with these very significant words: London is a different shape at night. A route that takes five carefree minutes to walk during the day becomes a 10 minute all-senses-on-the-alert assault course once darkness has fallen". Indeed, as a Londoner, I am sad that I no longer wish to travel on the Underground after six o'clock in the evening, such is the measure of fear that one has from the known assaults that one has heard of and from people one knows personally.

Linked with this is an article which I read last evening. The police now describe this as "the year of the knife" and they give an outline of one weekend in the borough of Lambeth. I will not cite all the incidents, but I will give your Lordships a measure of what it is like to be actually out there working. On Friday night a man was arrested in possession of a four-inch knife. In an alleyway behind a library the victim was threatened with a long knife. In the main road—this is only Friday evening—a man of 32 died from a stab wound. That is just a few examples, and I shall now give your Lordships a few examples from Saturday. The victim was approached by a man with a knife and the victim's throat was slashed with a Rambo-type knife. A gang of six youths robbed a man at knife point in the main road. And so it goes on. There is another example on a Sunday which I select for your Lordships: The victim was approached outside his own front door and threatened with a knife. I note in the report that 3,400 officers were injured as a result of having been assaulted in one year. That is an appalling figure.

Chief Superintendent Mike Fairbrother is quoted as saying, We are seeing early evidence of a generation which carries knives almost as part of their clothing". They would not hesitate to use them if they are frustrated in a burglary or, indeed, even if they are challenged.

As I told your Lordships on a previous occasion, there are now dozens of shops springing up in the metropolis selling these and other offensive weapons; this is not to mention mail order. There appears to be no law preventing this. There are opponents to the idea of some laws relating to knives and to shops selling them. Slightly ridiculous examples are quoted. One is of a housewife who wants to buy a bread knife. I do not know about the ordinary housewife, but I think that I have bought two bread knives in the whole of my married life. I do not believe that that is something one buys every day. Then there is the example of a boy scout returning from a camp with a sheath knife; or a decorator who is hanging wallpaper and he still has his knife in his pocket. I suggest that, if that were all we had to worry about, there would be no problem, but people legitimately carrying knives are rapidly being outnumbered by people who carry knives with the direct intention of using them as an offensive weapon. Everyone knows what I am talking about. I hope to have an exhibition in the Commons at some stage. Then there is the butterfly knife—horrific; and the Texas Star, which one merely swings to slash people's faces. These weapons are deliberately bought for one purpose only—to wound someone.

I have given notice to the Home Secretary that I shall promote a Private Member's Bill in an attempt to restrict the sale of these weapons. I am told that it is difficult to define and to enforce, but this will not deter me. If we do not make a start, the number of these shops will increase. I understand from the police that there are 22,000 martial arts classes throughout Great Britain. We know that the students are supposed to learn only the gentle arts of Kung Fu, but it is significant that many of them buy from these shops.

This may involve some changes in current law. The police are concerned about the fact that they can no longer stop and search for knives. In fact, there is reference to it in the report: My officers perceive that there is now an increased use of knives in some areas…". The police are faced with extremely difficult situations, which involve considerable personal risk.

I am very glad that the report mentions the negative attitudes towards the police, to which the noble Lord referred. Luckily these are held by only some sections of the London community. We are reminded that the force operates by and with the consent of the people. There is nothing more soul destroying than to be put in the wrong when one is doing one's job and one knows that one is doing the right thing as the upholder of law and order. We must give the police 100 per cent. support.

I believe in the goals put forward by the report: the reduction of criminal opportunity; the enhanced detection of crimes; the attack on organised crime; support, care and concern for the victims of crime—we want much more attention given to that—and the preservation of public tranquillity. My own poor effort I hope will make some contribution to ensuring that these ideas are fully implemented.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for tabling the Motion on the report of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and for his excellent speech initiating the debate. Having been concerned with the police for quite a substantial part of my official career, I welcome the opportunity to repeat how much we all owe to the Commissioner, who is just about to retire and, indeed, to the Metropolitan Police as a whole.

I have seen something of policing in other parts of the world—not just the television versions—and it is a matter for pride that, notwithstanding all the problems and some rather distressing recent events, the Metropolitan force stands high among the best. It may be rather un-British, but I do not feel particularly ashamed about saying so.

If one looks back, those who defined the boundaries of the Metropolitan police district in 1839 at the second attempt certainly displayed notable prescience in foreshadowing the area of Greater London. More important, as Kenneth Newman points out in the report, is the fact that the basic role of the police has remained unaltered since its foundation in 1829; namely, to prevent and detect crime, to protect life and property and to preserve the Queen's peace. While rather too many of today's crimes would still be recognisable to Sir Robert Peel—human nature does not change all that much—it is obvious that there is a vast difference in the problems that the police face today.

The opening chapter of the report—the Commissioner I know will forgive me if I say that the style makes it clear that it is his own handiwork—gives a vivid picture of some of these problems and the thinking that lies behind the way the police are tackling them.

Two developments that are naturally enough not spelt out specifically in the report are worth underlining. When I was first involved, of the six top posts in the Metropolitan Police—that is, the Commissioner, the deputy Commissioner and four assistant Commissioners—only two were held by policemen. That is now unthinkable. The police themselves have become more professional and have demonstrated that they can produce their own leaders. In those days the Metropolitan Police and the provincial forces remained perhaps rather aloof from each other unless the provincial chief constable happened to be one of the favoured few who had been to Hendon police college, which, incidentally, closed down in 1939 but has left behind it clouds of glory that persist in the popular press even to this day. There is now a much greater two-way exchange of senior officers between London and the provinces. I am sure that the Home Office is determined that this policy should be maintained.

The second development I have in mind is that the Metropolitan CID is no longer the separate, self-contained empire that it used to be until not all that long ago. I am sure that the Home Office will keep an eye on this important aspect which, to put it at its lowest, is something of a safeguard against the ever-present risk of corruption—a risk which, it seems, will never be completely exorcised.

Turning to the report, I am glad to note that even on its covers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, pointed out, it reflects something of what was said on Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill the other day; that is, to rub in the fact that the prevention of crime is not a matter for the police alone and that the community must play its part. In that context, it would be interesting to know whether the Home Office attaches the same importance to neighbourhood watch schemes as the Commissioner evidently does, notwithstanding recent research (under Home Office aegis, I believe) which strikes a somewhat sceptical note; and whether it remains pessimistic about the prospects of progress in the two or three boroughs where there are as yet no consultative groups.

One overriding consideration must be that our highly trained and expensive police officers are used on duties which can be discharged only by those possessing police powers. In this context there are some rather disquieting facts in the report. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, reminded us that we were discussing the other day the grave objections to prisoners being detained in police cells and looked after by police officers. I very much hope that the measures recently announced, and other steps which might prove to be practicable, will have the result that no future report on the Metropolitan Police will have to include a section on this duty.

I find it disappointing that the introduction of the Crown Prosecution Service is said to have led to an increase in the demands on the police. I notice that the Chief Inspector of Constabulary makes the same point for the provincial police. This was not the idea at all. I wonder whether that is the long-term position. It takes a bit of swallowing.

I feel sure that if there were more traffic wardens they could add to what has been done in relieving the police of some of the duties which they used to discharge. Today's newspapers suggest that wardens might be given greater powers in regard to immobilising vehicles. It is rather disquieting to find that their numbers went down in 1986. I also notice that of more than two million fixed penalty notices, less than half were paid and that an almost equal number were cancelled or failed because the offender had not been identified in time. I hope that the statistics will not give wrong ideas to any Members of your Lordships' House. I know that the problem was not new in 1986 but there seems scope here for some improvement.

The size of the Special Constabulary also declined during the year. A total of less than 1,500—which is hardly an impressive figure—makes one wonder whether the police really believe in the ability of the specials to give them effective help. I wonder, incidentally, how many come from the ethnic minorities.

Lastly, in this context, the Commissioner states that 1,170 police posts have been identified for possible civilianisation. I can only say that the sooner something is done the better.

On quite another point, I should like to support the pleas made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for greater controls over shotguns. I derive no comfort from the fact that in 1986 there was a sharp increase in the number of certificates issued in the Metropolitan Police district. I confess that I find it hard to believe that here has been such an enormous increase in the rabbits which can be shot in the hedgerows of that police area. I do not agree with those who suggest that criminals, and those who wish to shoot at pictures, will get hold of weapons anyway and that it is pointless to have stricter controls.

I should also like to agree with the noble Lord when he spoke about the Holloway Road incident and of those officers who came forward being ostracised by their colleagues. I regard that as a very grave matter. The outcome will be something of a touchstone for the reputation of the force.

I do not think that I ought to address the House any longer, although the report touched on such a wealth of topics that one could talk for quite a long time. The final point I wish to make is to pay tribute to the Receiver of the Metropolitan District and his staff, the backroom boys, who look after the necessities which make the police force tick. One responsibility of the Receiver, with the approval of the Home Secretary, is to fix the police rate and the precept on the local authorities. I express my sympathy with him in the intellectual processes he will be going through in devising how to fit what is already a very complicated procedure into the poll tax which is to come. He will find nothing in the Scottish legislation to act as a precedent to guide him.

6.16 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I knew that my noble friend Lord Harris would make a powerful and disturbing speech. I knew that the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, would make one's hair stand on end when she talked about risks. I do not believe that either exaggerated the situation. We are back to the days when Mrs. Thrale begged Dr. Johnson not to come down to Streatham at night. That is the position today, and it is very disturbing.

There are two approaches to crime. One is to fight it. That is the first thing we have to do; that is what all the speeches have been about. Another approach is to see whether there is some way to stop people committing crime. This is a very long way round. It seldom works but it has to be tried. I have irritated my friends for the last 50 years by talking from this side of the question rather than from the other.

There are one or two positive matters in this very wide report to which I shall come in a moment. However, I wish first to associate myself with the tribute which my noble friend Lord Harris paid to Sir Kenneth Newman. I knew him first when he came to Northern Ireland and after a short time succeeded James Flanagan as Chief Constable of the RUC—the most difficult police job, I suppose, to be found anywhere. He acquitted himself admirably and withstood with great firmness and good temper the complaints from both quarrelling sides: on the one hand, that he was not doing enough; on the other, that he was doing too much.

Sir Kenneth then came over here to his present position in charge of one of the most famous police bodies in the world which we who live in London respect, admire and depend upon for our safety. However, like all great bodies, it had some problems. He earned praise from all sides, not least for his firmness in tackling alleged corruption in his force. That is one of the most difficult and distasteful of all tasks for a new broom. It is generally agreed that he has gone a long way in the right direction.

Sir Kenneth has also adopted a very open stance towards the public and has taken them more than is usual into his confidence. I suppose that his worst problem with the public has been the need to insist on a better approach towards the ethnic minorities, in particular the blacks in the inner city areas. A great deal of his area is inner city. He inherited a force which was shown to behave quite often in a way that was not acceptable. Most courageously he invited in critical outsiders from the Policy Studies Institute who made a fascinating report called Police and People in London. However, this revealed a worse situation than any of us had expected.

Sir Kenneth set about putting matters right with great energy. His successor will find the position a good deal better, but not yet entirely right. This is at least partly because the reaction of the blacks to callous behaviour tends to persist even when the behaviour has changed. Thus it all takes time. I have seen what has been done in Birmingham and I have spoken about it before in the House. The blacks I saw were absolutely splendid. There was a very good man with a Birmingham accent who was training other blacks. He said to me, and to my noble friend Lord Hunt who was with me, "You must not think there are not a lot of other people outside who would not come in here". So he was only getting one half; the other half remain to be converted.

What interests me about the report is that the Commissioner shows full awareness of the problem and how he has initiated a much more positive effort to bring the public into his efforts at crime prevention. He says at the beginning that, we have been consciously organising a coherent structure within which the public will be enabled to work with us in a purposeful partnership". He goes on to explain that there are only three London boroughs that do not yet have consultative groups with the police attending. But in spite of this he says that the oldest group—Lambeth—is full of constructive proposals and still finds its progress limited by the ambivalent and sometimes hostile attitude of the borough council. So there is a long way to go and I do not think it is any good trying not to go it, if I may so put it.

We in NACRO believe strongly in the consultative groups where statutory and voluntary agencies, such as tenants' associations, welfare services, housing authorities and above all the police, join us to analyse causes and agree preventive action. Sir Kenneth quotes the Pepys Estate in Deptford where the police have taken part in a NACRO multi-agency project and have seen very good results. To quote his words it has, helped to reduce crime and bring about improvements in the orderliness of the estate". The aspect which makes this frightfully difficult is the infiltration of drugs among the young blacks. We are told by our people who work there that the parents are entirely in favour of the drug business being put down. They back the police. But the young do not. There is quite a long battle to be fought here, a battle which is a mixture of trying to help the people and at the same time shutting some of them up. They are very difficult matters to combine. One is apt to lose people's confidence and then it becomes most awfully difficult.

We in NACRO have about 60 ventures of this kind: in each we believe two matters are essential. First, the police must be involved as equal partners with the other components. Secondly, the inhabitants of the area must be involved in the active work of putting problems right and building things up. For this reason I was greatly disappointed by the failure of the noble Lord, Lord Young, last night to answer the question of my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter concerning contract compliance. It is essential that local people, especially black people, should be enrolled and trained to put right their own areas. It is only thus that a pride in their home ground can be developed. Nothing leads so directly to decent behaviour as pride in your environment.

Mr. Clark, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has made it clear that he agrees that this approach is essential. But the new Local Government Bill seems to contradict it. The Secretary of State failed to reassure us and it is perhaps unfair to press the Minister tonight for an answer. We in NACRO believe that this is one of the two conditions (the other being the co-operation of the police) which alone can bring about a real change in these very difficult areas.

So much for positive action. I agree very much with my noble friend and all other speakers on the question of further restrictions on funds. I am not interfering with shooting expensive pheasant or even cheap rabbits. I believe however that people should be made to lock their guns up. This brings me to another reflection about firearms on which I have no very positive statement to make. Sir Kenneth and I are both accustomed to the police being armed, as they always were in Northern Ireland. As the terrorists were only trying to kill British soldiers, RUC policemen, probation officers, prison officers, judges and almost everybody else, it was pretty obvious to anybody concerned that if you had a gun you had better shoot first. A number of RUC members and soldiers were killed by the terrorists through not shooting first. When they did shoot first there was always a frightful cry that they were shooting to kill. This sort of thing is contemptible in a situation of that kind and I do not think anybody in the House would have any time for it.

The situation is not quite the same in England because the armed robber does not particularly want to kill a policeman; he would much rather not see one. However, he has to take that risk. I thought the hysterical remarks in some newpapers the other day when one or two were, it seemed to me, very properly shot in a battle in which they had involved themselves was too foolish for words. On that rather aggressive note, showing that I am not only for letting everybody off, I await with great interest what the noble Earl will have to tell us.


Lord Renton

My Lords, we are indeed grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for the way in which he has laid the foundations of the debate. It is perhaps a rather odd thing that of the nine Members of your Lordships' House who are taking part in the debate, six have had experience in the Home Office of one kind or another. Mine ended exactly 25 years ago this month, so my experience is the least fresh of all. My memory of it goes back 30 years. That enables me to say that I have known every police commissioner in those 30 years and that Sir Kenneth Newman has been second to none.

My experience also enables me to reflect with some surprise that 25 years ago we made do with 17,000 police officers in the Metropolitan Police. There was pressure for an increase and the number was increased a little, but we now have over 27,000 and that is nothing like enough. Incidentally, I hope that I shall not be repeating points made by previous speakers, as I have other matters to mention, but there is one point that I should mention arising from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, when he referred to firearms. I did not hear him refer to the recent proposal that there should be an amnesty. We had an amnesty in my time. It did not produce many firearms from the criminals, although occasionally it did. But it reduced the number of firearms wrongly held among members of the public. That meant that when there were burglaries there were fewer firearms for people to steal. I should he grateful if when he winds up my noble friend will say what is happening about this recently announced amnesty.

I hope that it will not be considered a waste of your Lordships' time and attention if I refer to a matter which is not generally understood but is rather important. That is the simple but unusual matter of the constitutional position of the Metropolitan Police. The Home Secretary is responsible to Parliament for everything that they do, but he is not responsible in that way for other forces. He appoints the commissioner and several of the other senior officers.

As has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale, if I may so call him, through the Receiver he has to ensure that the Metropolitan Police get the finance that they require. However, the Home Secretary has no power to direct the day-to-day operations of the police in spite of his being answerable for them to Parliament. In very limited circumstances, closely defined by statute, he can issue a direction on a matter of public importance but he very rarely does so. On the contrary, the Home Secretary himself has to obey police officers on duty just like any other member of the public.

For example, he must not park even his official car in a way that will obstruct traffic. If he does so he can be reported and summoned by the humblest member of the metropolitan force. I once tried to explain this to a Minister of the Interior of a South American country who came on an official visit. He expressed great surprise, shrugged his shoulders and said, "Oh, but in our country I can park my car wherever I like". Our system has worked well for more than a century and I do not consider that it should be changed. But it needs to be better and more widely understood, and that is why I have ventured to mention it briefly in this valuable debate.

With regard to the report itself, its presentation is excellent. I am not referring to the glossy cover but to the fact that it is full of relevant detail and comments and that the comments are restrained and frank. There are two matters that I wish to mention. One is mentioned in the report and is given a good deal of prominence and the other is not mentioned at all. The first is crime among young people. The statistics on page 155 show that one-third of notifiable offences, the more serious ones, are committed by people between 21 and 30 years of age inclusive. But nearly half of the total are committed by people under 21. That is very serious and it must be important to get the rising generation to be more law-abiding and to co-operate more with the police.

On page 30 there is an interesting and encouraging passage on the work that the police are doing with the schools. I should like to quote two sentences of that passage. It says: Despite an effort by some groups to undermine and distort the police role, the Force schools' involvement programme is still welcomed in the vast majority of London schools". Another short paragraph deals with what the police themselves do to prepare for this work. It says: Officers involved in schools still receive training at three of London's teacher training colleges and by summer 1987 a further 300 officers will have attended. It is envisaged that this training will be continued for the foreseeable future to supplement valuable local training initiatives"— initiatives among the police. Some of those are described in the next section on page 31. There are competitions and entertainments. The report says: In Brixton probationary police officers are attached to community projects for work experience with local youths. At Kennington police station a project has been set up to provide children soon to leave school with work experience". There are visits to the Peel Centre Training School and summer camps for unemployed young people in which the police have helped not from a policing point of view but just to make good contacts. Various other details are mentioned.

These steps cannot succeed—and they are necessary and worthy steps—without the full support of ILEA and of those education authorities on the periphery of the metropolis, some of which are within the area of responsibility of the Metropolitan Police. It needs the co-operation not only of the education authorities concerned but of all school teachers. I am glad to say that over most of London that cooperation has been forthcoming. But it is notorious that in some other parts it has not been forthcoming. In Haringey and Lambeth there has been constant obstruction of the police when they have tried to help and even when a crime is acknowledged to have taken place in schools. I hope that ILEA will insist on cooperation by all its teachers and that parent associations which have a part to play will also help.

My last item concerns the handling of emergencies. I do not want to impinge on the next debate in which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is to take part, as am I, but what I have to say is relevant to this debate. Although the police are not primarily responsible for coping with emergencies in peace and war they have a vital part to play. The London Joint Fire and Civil Defence Authority, when it eventually decides to comply with its statutory duties under the civil defence regulations, will find that it cannot do all that is required of it without the help of the Metropolitan Police.

A proportion of police officers in every force used to undergo training in civil defence—and not so many years ago. Some officers of the rank of inspector and upwards used to attend courses at the Civil Defence Staff College at Easingwold. Unfortunately I cannot find any mention in the report of that kind of training or of the role of the police in dealing with emergencies even in peacetime.

London is a large industrial city. Large numbers of huge aircraft fly over it every day. Some have crashed on the outskirts of London and there have been some nasty accidents. There have been train crashes in London. It was only by the grace of God that we did not get fall-out from Chernobyl over London to an extent that might have been dangerous for several million people, but it could happen at any time. When it does happen the police have a part to play. Heaven knows, the police have plenty to do already beyond what is strictly policing—catching criminals and so on—but it is elementary that they should be trained for emergencies in the future as in the past. I hope that my noble friend—I am afraid that I have not given him notice of this point—will be able either to let us have his views on this matter when he replies to the debate or perhaps in answer to a Question later in the year he may be able to give some indication.

6.40 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I join the debate with great pleasure and I should like to join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich for having initiated the debate. I have listened with great interest not least to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who probably knows more about the police than the rest of us put together. I have listened with pleasure to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, whom I follow, and to his exposition of the constitutional position of the Home Secretary and the fact that he cannot park wherever he wishes. Can the noble Lord tell me when last a Home Secretary was clamped, or fined for speeding? The answer to the second question is, very rarely, not because Home Secretaries do not generally speed but because they are driven by policemen. I knew a Home Secretary who ought to have been arrested for speeding almost every day of the week, and still should be, although he is no longer Home Secretary. He remains amazingly immune.

The noble Lord also mentioned crime among the young, which appears on page 155 of the Metropolitan Police Commissioners Report. It is a worrying total because, like other crime, it has increased vastly. I think that the noble Lord will find that crime among the age group from 15 to 25 has always been a much higher proportion than crime among any other group. That is not a reason for not worrying about it; but I do not think that it indicates a great shift in the pattern of behaviour among the young, other than that they are following their parents with rather exaggerated zeal.

In some respects I regard this debate as a continuation of last night's debate on our inner cities. Part of the problem facing the police is that, to deprived people, they are the symbols of the society which has forgotten them. Anyone who thinks that there is not a close and inescapable connection between social deprivation, absence of achievement, poor educational achievement and social disorder ought to look a little at our history. The police emerged from the Industrial Revolution and from the cities which grew up as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution. In querying a statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Allen, I suggest that the police were set up more to control social disorder than to deal with crime. It is an open question but certainly high on their list of priorities was the control of social disorder.

Nor should we delude ourselves that, because of a short period in our history where it was not the case, the English are a notably pacific people; they are great rioters. Throughout the 19th century, from the Gordon riots onwards, they rioted continuously up until about 1880. There was a riot at Tredegar against the Irish, who were kicked out in 24 hours and had to go down to Cardiff. About two years before there had been a riot in Camborne against the same group of people. Throughout the north of England and in Birmingham there were a continuous series of violent, riotous explosions when the army had to be brought in. Those riots were the result of economic and social change, and of social deprivation.

It is interesting to note that between 1880 and recent years there have been relatively few riots. When one looks at the history of America it is interesting to find that the black disturbances (as Americans used to call them with their passion for euphemisms) which disrupted their cities have, in the past 20 years or so, greatly diminished if not altogether ceased. In both cases I ascribe the pacification of the rioting classes, if I may refer to them as such, to their incorporation into the political system. In the late 19th century and the early 20th century the working classes were incorporated into the British political system. In the 'seventies and 'eighties the blacks in America were given the vote, incorporated into the American system and elected mayors, congressmen and so on. Their relative economic condition has not greatly changed but their political condition has been revolutionised. When we are talking of social disturbance I suggest that we should not forget the importance of political incorporation. I welcome the presence in another place of a number of black MPs, and I should like to see in this House more representatives of those groups than we have at present.

In all cases of social disturbance the police are in the front line. It is not therefore surprising, given the task with which they are faced, that the perception of the police which most of us have, owing to our age—and I exclude the Minister—is different from that of most people under 30 today. The old idea that if one wants to know the time ask a policeman would not be readily accepted by most young people today nor the natural response to seeing a Bobby. Indeed, Marc had a particularly sad though funny cartoon of a man with his hands up going up to a policeman and saying, "Officer, please can you tell me the time?" That represented a change in perception of which the PSI report, to which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, referred, gives dramatic evidence. The fact of the matter is that there is an enormous difference in the perception of the police among people under 30 than among people over 50. It is the under 30s who are worrying, and if the under 30s of all colours are more suspicious of the police than were we, and have less faith in them, that is doubly or trebly true of the black ethnic minority groups.

I cannot altogether share the optimism which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, expressed as to the changes which have taken place over the past few years. I do not think that any surveys or opinion polls have been taken comparable to those in the PSI report; but I should be surprised if there had been a dramatic change in attitudes. I think that in some ways the position is alarming because we have two groups of people both of whom, oddly enough, see themselves as minorities—because the police see themselves as a minority—locked into the position in which the stereo-types that they have of each other have been verified. Therefore when they now meet they expect hostility from each other and the expectation of hostility makes it far more difficult for them to defuse it. Therefore almost our most important achievement would be to see if that matter can be dealt with, although it is immensely hard. I welcome the moves taken by Sir Kenneth Newman; but, like the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, I think that it will take a long time and need a great deal of hard work.

One of the things of which those people who may be alienated must be convinced (alienated in the sense meant by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, when he talked about people being alienated from the mainstream of British life) is the fact that the police are genuinely trying to be fair and evenhanded. Therefore I wholly agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich in the latter part of his speech. He spoke of the importance of quick, thorough and drastic action being taken where wrong doing is discovered.

I have in mind two cases; one gives me cause for concern and the other makes me think that there are certain steps which we might consider. The case which gives me cause for concern was the trial which took place after the Tottenham riot. The judge dismissed the case against three juveniles because he said that police behaviour had been oppressive. It emerged that one of the juveniles who had been arrested had a mental age of under seven. He had been interrogated for 24 hours without a solicitor or his mother being allowed to be present—and this was done by a police force which was meant to be conducting an experiment in improving the way in which police evidence was collected. I want to ask what disciplinary action was taken against those men, because if none was taken I think it was a grave error.

The second case I want to mention refers to Holloway, which has already been referred to. I do not propose to go through the story, but it raises in one's mind the question of the adequacy of the powers of the Police Complaints Commission. I myself regard the powers they have as being in general quite adequate, except that they have in law a duty: to supervise the investigation of complaints". I very much doubt whether they are actually in a position to do that as they are at present constituted. I do not agree that they want a totally independent investigating force: that is far too big a business. They might have a small special investigating force. If you changed that duty from a supervisory one, and if you gave them the right to take over cases in critical instances or in cases where they encountered obstruction, that would greatly strengthen their powers and would prevent the kind of obstruction, or what appeared to be obstruction, that there was in the Holloway case.

The second matter that I should like to raise with the noble Earl is this. Is it really necessary that in formal police disciplinary proceedings evidence should be proof beyond reasonable doubt rather than, as it is in the case of every other employer/employee relationship, the balance of probabilities? I do not see why the police should be in a privileged position in this respect as compared with, say, nurses or firemen. They have equally responsible roles and are equally in touch with the public.

It has a backlash down through the whole police disciplinary procedure. It is only actually called into operation at a formal disciplinary hearing. But of course the disciplinary authorities know that if someone they are disciplining cares to be obstinate then, if they are going to win their case, they have to produce proof beyond reasonable doubt. I cannot myself see the justification for this and I shall be interested to learn what the Minister says in that respect. Apart from that, I should like once more to thank my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich for this interesting and important debate.

6.53 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I too rise to thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for allowing us to debate a most important report and a matter of grave consequence to the nation. I think we all appreciated the speech with which he introduced this short debate. I also from these Benches associate myself with every sincerity in the tribute that has been paid to Sir Kenneth Newman. I agree he is a very fine commissioner of police, whose name will be honourably engraved on the history of the Metropolitan Police, and deservedly so.

Mention has been made of the reputation of the Metropolitan Police. I at once want to say the obvious; namely, that those who let down the traditions of this great force are a minority, and a very small minority. The fact that they are produced from time to time brings the whole of the force into disrepute and I merely mention the matter on this occasion because Holloway Road and all that it meant has been raised in the debate.

Two observations would I make, with your Lordships' permission. First, I entirely agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, when he talked about the threatened ostracism of those who were responsible for bringing the offenders to justice. I would go further if he will permit me. I hope that an inquiry will be made within the Metropolitan Police as to those who are responsible for the idea of ostracising. I trust that disciplinary proceedings will be taken against them forthwith in order to see that the very seriously wrong action they propose is nipped in the bud and that we do not have to deal with the results of that action because we shall have prevented it.

The debate has also covered race relations matters and the Police Complaints Authority. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, with his wealth of experience, dealt with two aspects. One concerned the powers and duties of that authority; he felt that supervision was not enough. He also felt it was unnecessary that it should have investigative powers and personnel, and that this in the main should still be left to the police force.

I am going on to talk—I trust not at length—to your Lordships about some of the problems facing the Metropolitan Police and all the citizens of our great capital city. I will do that in a moment, but there is one matter that is obvious and it is this. The confidence of the public in the police must be maintained. I say this in parenthesis—and I shall talk a little about schools and youngsters, if I may. Let me at once make it clear that I deplore from this Dispatch Box any education authority and any school in our land that tries to bar its doors to police officers. I deplore that. I ask them to mend their ways and I say to them that my party, at all events, will never support their action.

Having said that, I turn back again to the attitude of the public. I feel it is important, as does the Police Federation, that there should be a completely independent authority investigating serious police complaints. That will give confidence in making such complaints and people will know how seriously and independently their complaints are taken. If the result is that the complaint is not substantiated, I think they will accept that from an independent body, but, rightly or wrongly, they will not accept it when the police themselves are carrying out the inquiry.

I move immediately to the aspect that I believe worries us all. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, started the discussion about young people. If I may, I would rather like to go a little closer than he did into the statistics revealed in the report. I turn to page 82. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter—he may wish to correct my history—I feel that this is a situation which may well be worse than any we have had to deal with in recent times. I am reading from "Age of offenders": as in previous years, about half the total number of people arrested for notifiable offences were under the age of 21 years: 20 per cent. were juveniles aged 10 to 16 years and 26 per cent. were aged 17 to 20 years". Then lower down: Younger offenders—juveniles and those aged 17 to 20 years—are most active in offences of motor vehicle theft (72 per cent. aged under 21), robbery (61 per cent.) and burglary (60 per cent.). Juveniles, that is those aged 10 to 16 years, are also disproportionately represented in arrests for theft from shops although 17 to 20 year olds appear relatively less involved in these particular offences". Looking at those figures and the types of offences is enough to make one tremble—anyone at least who is thinking in terms of the next generation of adults in the population. I say that in all frankness. The figures are disturbing and distressing. Even if, as the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, says, that is the pattern that we have had in the past, I know that he will agree with me that it is not one that we can afford for the future.

Having considered the problem with regard to juveniles, I turn to the question of the whole relationship between the police and young people. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, drew attention to those parts of the report dealing with police activities in schools, among school-leavers and with young people. I pay tribute to those activities and, with great respect, declare that they are not enough. Policemen who are spared for duties in relation to young people and schools are well spared. We say that we cannot spare them to deal with such matters because of our present establishment levels, but we must afford them as a matter of policy. It is a question of great national need.

What do I have in mind? I remember that I once put a question to the Minister, or it may have been to his predecessor, about the Metropolitan Police band. I hope that your Lordships did not think that I was indulging in flippant matters when I asked him whether he would tell us how it was getting on. That was not the formal way in which I couched my question but that was the gist of it. In a supplementary question I suggested most respectfully that police bands ought to be seen in and around our schools because that is the atmosphere in which the police force should be seen by our young people.

It has been said—and was repeated earlier in this debate—that the police are not looked upon today in the same way as they were when most of your Lordships who are anything like my age enjoyed the days of their youth. It is not a joke if today a policeman is the person of whom one does not normally ask the time. The caricature or cartoon that was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, is a picture of our times and a cynical remark upon them. I want to see policemen on our streets rather than traffic wardens. I do not want to hear that such duties are a waste of police time. I remember in my school days that the policeman was quite literally on traffic duty for part of the day. He took children from their earliest age by the hand and led them across the road. When that became the job of the traffic warden or the special warden, it was an unhappy time from the point of view of children's relationships with the police force.

Lord Renton

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord to give way. I wonder whether he is using the term "traffic warden" in its widest sense to include school crossing patrols? I recall seeking the support of another place when traffic wardens, properly so-called, were introduced. They were welcomed by all parties as a way of saving the police from rather irksome minor duties. I gave an undertaking that they would not be used to deal with mobile traffic but only with parking offences, stationary cars and the like. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive this incursion into his very interesting speech but I think that we ought to understand the situation.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, my point was that the alteration of their duties may not have been a very happy one. I repeat, with all the emphasis that I can muster, that I want to see the police force recognised not only as the body which issues a summons or, as it now can do, issues a penalty by way of notice upon people who are offending. I want the policemen to return to the earlier tradition by which we remember them; namely, that they are the people who help, who guide children across the roads—at least for some part of their time.

If one says that that activity is a waste of police manpower, I must refer your Lordships to another part of the report. I am taking a little longer than I intended and I shall limit my speech to that topic so that I can at least cover it properly and I shall not deal with the other matters that I had adumbrated in my notes. I hope that your Lordships will think that I am being somewhat considerate.

When quoting from page 82 of the report I said that an alarming percentage of cases in which children and young people were involved consisted of autocrime. It has always been said that one of the ways to prevent crime is to increase the rate of discovery of offenders, because that is the biggest deterrent of all. On page 16 of the report your Lordships may have noticed that 225,789 crimes in this category—it is a 13 per cent. increase in the 1985 figure, incidentally—accounted for 29 per cent. of the total crime recorded by the force. The RAC motoring service has called my attention to the fact—and it may be that the attention of other noble Lords has also been drawn to this matter—that although it appears from this report that a great deal of energy has been devoted to autocrime prevention, the clear-up rate is only 7 per cent. That is a shockingly low figure. Moreover, we hold the record for the largest number of autocrimes in Europe.

Since our police force is limited to a 7 per cent. clear-up rate, why do we allow our young people to get away with a type of crime that leads them on to commit other offences? It is not a waste of time to insist that policemen take more account of that kind of crime and of matters involving traffic offences and misdemeanours of that nature.

As a whole the report was received as an educative document. That does credit to the Metropolitan Police force, which knows—indeed has confirmed—the great problems that lie ahead. I hope that the whole nation will help it in the solution of those problems and that some positive action and results will emerge from this debate which has been so usefully initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Harris.

7.10 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, I know that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for giving us the opportunity to debate the important subject of policing the metropolis. When the Commissioner's report for 1986 was published three weeks ago, it attracted some attention, especially the references to manpower and finance. I shall respond to the points raised by your Lordships on these matters later, for they are important. However, I should like first to draw attention to some other aspects of the Commissioner's interesting and thoughtful report, which perhaps have not received the attention they deserve.

The first chapter sets out very clearly the Commissioner's basic approach to the policing of London. He believes, as do the Government, that the police cannot curb crime and disorder on their own; there must be a partnership between the public and the police. There is, of course, nothing new about this idea. What is new is the range of policies now being pursued to turn it into reality. Community/police consultative groups, neighbourhood watch, crime prevention panels, victim support schemes and lay visitor schemes are all designed to bring the community and police together in a practical and co-operative manner. Only five years ago these policies had not been born, or were still in their infancy.

Community/police consultative groups now operate in all but two of the boroughs and districts in the Metropolitan Police district. I am pleased to be able to tell your Lordships, and in particular the noble Lords, Lord Allen of Abbeydale and Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that a public meeting is taking place this evening with a view to inaugurating a group in one of those remaining boroughs. They play a significant part in determining local policing policy. Divisional chief superintendents consult them before preparing their annual plans, and attend meetings throughout the year. Groups have become useful fora for exchanging views about local problems. As the Commissioner says in his report, the next stage is for them to develop into a method of finding joint solutions to those problems.

Neighbourhood watch has brought even more Londoners into contact with the police. At the last count there were just over 7,000 schemes. Although it is difficult to measure their impact, the signs are that schemes can be effective in reducing crime. It may be significant that the number of burglaries—the main target of neighbourhood watch—declined slightly in London between 1984 and 1986. The less tangible effects are also encouraging. There is evidence that neighbourhood watch can reduce fear of crime, and it has certainly helped to rekindle community spirit in some areas. It will not come as a surprise to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, that not only is the Home Office keen to see these schemes increase and work, but so are Ministers. I am sure that what was said in our manifesto, which we hope to implement in the not too distant future, has not escaped his attention.

The Special Constabulary is one of the oldest expressions of the partnership between the public and the police. In addition to its traditional role as a reserve for times of crisis and emergency, the Special Constabulary now acts as a continuing link between the police and the community. For this reason it is particularly pleasing that nearly 8 per cent. of special constables are from ethnic minorities. The Metropolitan Special Constabulary has one weakness: it is not large enough. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is keen to see it grow, and so is the Commissioner. The Metropolitan Police have just launched a new recruitment film, and they are reviewing their recruitment procedures to try to deal with applicants more swiftly. We shall be watching the position carefully to see if these measures increase the strength to the extent that we hope.

I turn next to the young and it is a matter of major concern to us all that the peak age of offending in this country is 14 and 15 for girls and boys. This point was particularly highlighted by my noble friend Lord Renton and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. This is a very complicated area. It is not just a matter for the police, because it involves schools, parents, parent-teacher associations, teachers, families and homes. It is a vast and difficult area that we are looking at very seriously to see what more can be done to try to bring those figures down from the present horrifying level. I am sure that all your Lordships firmly believe that police involvement in schools is essential in the part that they can play in the development and maintenance of good police/community relations in general, and in the reduction of crime both against and committed by young people.

I do not think that the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was flippant. I think that the question was asked by my noble friend Lady Vickers and was about the police band. Of course, anything like that which can help to break down barriers is to be welcomed. It is clear that we all deplore the actions of those governing bodies and school teachers who seek to undermine the relationship between young people and the police. Their actions can only serve to undermine the trust and respect for the police, and for authority in general, that are an essential part of the society in which we live and to increase the risks to which young people are subjected.

As several of your Lordships have pointed out, despite these useful initiatives, the number of offences recorded—and I should like to stress "offences recorded"—by the police has continued to increase. This increase is certainly a matter for concern but we must keep it in perspective. Recorded crime in the Metropolitan Police District increased by 5 per cent. in 1986, roughly in line with the annual average over the past 30 years, and less than the national average. In the first quarter of this year there was a 4 per cent. fall as compared with last year, though it would be imprudent to draw too many inferences from that.

The clear-up rate in 1986 was 16 per cent., which was slightly lower than the year before, as in most forces. But the clear-up rate for the most serious offences was far higher; for homicide, for example, it was 81 per cent. The low overall clear-up rate is influenced by the large number of petty, opportunistic offences. These offences are far more susceptible to prevention by the public than detection by the police. It is worth bearing in mind that 25 per cent. of burglaries result from unforced entry.

The sensible way to deal with autocrime, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is for car owners to remember to lock their cars and to hide valuable possessions rather, than for the police to devote even more manpower to what is, unfortunately, a virtually unsolvable offence. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, responded to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, better than I could when he said that it is of course the concern of the public—that is all of us. It is not the public out there; it is every single one of us, and we must play our part in trying to reduce these petty crimes.

The police must, of course, have sufficient manpower and other resources if they are to tackle crime effectively. This is an area to which we have given a high priority. The strength of the Metropolitan Police now stands at 27,227, the highest ever, and some 5,000 more than in May 1979. The strength of the civil staff, many of whom work in direct support of the police, has increased by 1,400 over the same period. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked when the Prime Minister's pledge at the 1985 party conference would be implemented, and from the figures that I have given your Lordships you will see that it is already being implemented.

Furthermore, in May last year my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced increases of up to 1,200 in the police establishment over four years, together with increases of up to 600 in the civil staff ceiling over the same period. This additional civilian manpower should release 400 police officers for operational duties. In deciding on this programme of increases, my right honourable friend took full account of the Commissioner's assessment, which he re-states in his annual report, that the force needs larger increases. But he also had to take into account the rate at which the force could realistically increase strength, and the competing demands upon the public purse.

So far he has approved increases of 600 in the police establishment and 400 in the civil staff ceiling. He plans to implement the rest of the programme over the next two years. Sadly, the strength of the force has not so far kept pace with the increases in establishment. At the moment, the force is some 500 below strength. Wastage, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, said, has been running at a high level, thus eroding the gains from increased recruitment. The main reason is that the number of officers transferring to provincial forces has increased. This, as your Lordships will agree, is troubling, and my right honourable friend and the Commissioner have been working hard to find ways of staunching the flow.

As a result of these manpower increases, expenditure on the Metropolitan Police has increased very considerably over recent years. In fact it has increased from £295 million in 1978–79 to £929 million in 1987–88. That is an increase in real terms of 55 per cent. Those increases are greater than those enjoyed by any other major public service.

This expenditure is now cash-limited, like many other areas of public spending. A cash limit is a control; it tightens financial discipline. As such, there were bound to be some teething problems. But that would not have been a good reason for flinching from introducing it and, as the Commissioner recognises in his report, the difficulties which arose in 1985–86 have since been overcome by refinements to the cash limit system. He also acknowledges that the introduction of the cash limit has succeeded in its aim of making the whole force a great deal more cost-conscious.

As police authority for the metropolis, my right honourable friend has a duty to see that the force has sufficient resources. However, he also has an obligation to the ratepayer and to the taxpayer to ensure that it uses these resources effectively, and offers good value for money. Tha cash limit is an essential tool in this policy but because he was aware of the Commissioner's concern it was increased by 9 per cent. in this financial year.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, reminded the House this afternoon of the difficulty that we are facing with the number of prisoners being held in police cells. I am only too well aware of the burden which this places on the police and I pay tribute to them for their efforts in coping with the problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, knows, we are continuing to take action to alleviate the pressure by providing more places and by tailoring the estate better to match the population. There will be over 3,000 places coming on stream in the next 12 months. We are opening Rollestone Camp as a short-term interim measure.

On Thursday my right honourable friend announced the opening of Rollestone Camp and half remission for those serving 12 months or less. Furthermore he announced a speeding-up of the prison building programme which is already at record levels this century.

It cannot be a happy state of affairs when on the night of the 21st-22nd of this month we had 792 people in police cells, of which 551 were in the metropolis. I cannot give a date as to when that figure will reach nought, as it should. All I can say is that we shall continue to work hard to get it down from its present levels as quickly as possible.

As regards manpower, in October 1985 my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced an increase of 50 in the police establishment specifically to strengthen the effort against drugs. That point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. The increase of up to 1,200 over four years announced in May 1986 should in due course enable the commissioner to strengthen the central drugs squad further. I turn next to jury nobbling. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, said it is an extremely serious matter because it strikes at the integrity of our system of criminal trial. Those who try to interfere with juries commit the offence of attempting to pervert the course of justice, the penalties for which are unlimited. The law therefore seems to us to be equal to the task of dealing with jury nobbling where it is detected, but it is by its nature very difficult to detect. Perhaps for that reason I must say to the noble Lord that there are, as far as we are aware, very few suspected cases of jury nobbling, but I can assure the House that the police are aware of the dangers and take the matter very seriously.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway during the Second Reading debate on the Criminal Justice Bill put forward a suggestion for dealing with the problem and, with my right honourable friend, I am considering that at the moment. I welcome any suggestion that any noble Lords may have.

The police, shotgun owners and the Government all agree that secure storage is important in preventing shotguns from falling into criminal hands as a result of thefts from domestic properties. We are therefore closely examining whether shotgun users should be required by law to lock away their guns when they are not being used, in the same way as rifle and pistol owners are required to do. However, it does not necessarily follow that by strengthening shotgun controls the number of illegally-held weapons will be substantially reduced, bearing in mind that 840,000 shotgun certificates were in issue at the end of 1986. Any major changes to the controls would have significant resource implications for the police and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, would be only too well aware of that.

That point led my noble friend Lord Renton to mention the amnesty. I may be able to correct him as he slightly misunderstood what my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had said. The amnesty has not been announced recently. My right honourable friend has been considering an amnesty in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland for some months. That consultation process has now been completed and he expects to reach a conclusion fairly soon.

However, there are obvious attractions in taking out of circulation unwanted firearms by allowing them to be surrendered under an amnesty. But that amounts to a decision not to enforce the criminal law in relation to the serious offence of unlawful possession of firearms and it is not to be taken lightly. That and other considerations need to be carefully thought through. It would be unwise to rush into an amnesty before being reasonably sure that it would achieve the desired results without other unacceptable consequences.

I turn to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, which concerned traffic wardens. I am pleased to be able to tell the noble Lord that the Metropolitan Police are currently conducting a radical and wide-ranging scrutiny of the traffic warden service to find ways of making it more effective and, as a follow-on from that, the possibility of increasing the service.

The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, who I am glad to see in her place, highlighted the disturbing increase in the use of knives in crime and the fact that this is confined almost entirely to street robberies of personal property. There is also a perception among officers that youngsters are generally tending to carry knives around with them more frequently to ensure social acceptability among their peers. That is a very dangerous trend about which the Government and I am sure all your Lordships must be most concerned. In response to that problem my right honourable friend recently set in hand a study of how the law relating to the possession of knives and other sharp-bladed instruments might be reinforced. We have not yet completed our work on that, but your Lordships will know from the Second Reading debate on the Criminal Justice Bill that we hope that that Bill may prove an acceptable vehicle for change. Not content with knives, the noble Baroness went on to mention the other offensive weapons. Again we are very well aware and understand the concern that there is about the more general availability of offensive weapons. Some of them have perfectly legitimate uses, for example in sport, but there are others which do not. We are committed to taking action on the sale of items which have no legitimate use and I look forward to the support of the noble Baroness when we come to take action. I look forward to seeing her Bill in print.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I hope that we shall not hear again the words "legitimate use". I emphasise that there is no legitimate use for something like the Texas Star or a Rambo knife. Nobody could dream up a legitimate use for those. I hope that what I am talking about is clear. Offensive weapons can only be used as offensive weapons.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for highlighting that. I am sorry if I did not make that point clear. There are of course weapons which are legitimately carried which can be offensive and there are also weapons, as the noble Baroness has just reminded us, which have no legitimate use whatever.

With regard to civil defence and peacetime emergencies, there will be, I hope, no need for my noble friend Lord Renton to put down a question on that because the Metropolitan Police devotes considerable resources to civil defence training. In 1986 1,320 recruits received basic training. A further 1,980 sergeants and constables received refresher training and 32 officers attended a four-day war duty course at the civil defence college of Easingwold.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will allow me to intervene. It is splendid news that he has just given us, but perhaps I may make the comment that I find it very strange that it is not mentioned in the report.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we may have corrected an ommission tonight. Perhaps I may return to the point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, Lord Harris of Greenwich, Lord Bonham-Carter and Lord Mishcon, concerning the Holloway Road incident and the possibility of ostracism. That is an internal matter of management and discipline and it is for the commissioner to resolve, as I know your Lordships are well aware. He has made it clear to his officers in the force handbook of professional behaviour that they should not shield their fellow officers if they witness any malpractice. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, was right to speak of ethnic minorities.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, before the noble Earl moves on to the very important subject of ethnic minorities, will he kindly see that the portions of this debate dealing especially with the question of ostracism and Holloway Road are brought to the attention of the Commissioner of Police?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it will not need me to bring it to the attention of the Commissioner of Police. I am sure he would do that voluntarily in any case. I shall of course bring the whole of this debate to the attention of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, my honourable friend Mr. Hogg, who has special responsibility for the police, and indeed of the Commissioner as the noble Lord requests.

May I turn to the question of ethnic minorities. The Commissioner fully accepts the need to increase the number of ethnic minority recruits. The Metropolitan Police could put a good deal of effort into that in 1986. Their efforts were directed mainly at winning the trust and confidence of the minority communities That involved the introduction of a number of new initiatives. Representatives of the Commission for Racial Equality were brought into the force's standing committee on ethnic minority recruitment. The views of a number of local consultative groups were sought. Influential local people and serving police officers from the minority community were involved in localised recruiting campaigns. I am happy to tell the House that the results were encouraging. A total of 64 black and Asian police officers were recruited in 1986, compared with 44 in 1985. At the end of the year, 334 members of the force were from minority communities, compared with 287 at the end of 1985.

The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, also asked me three rather detailed questions. Perhaps I may write to him rather than answering him now.

It is particularly fitting that your Lordships should be debating the Commissioner's report this year for, as several noble Lords have pointed out, this is the last annual report to be presented by the present Commissioner, Sir Kenneth Newman, who retires at the end of this month. He has been an outstanding Commissioner. He has steered the force through some difficult events with coolness and great skill. And he has introduced fundamental reforms and a major reorganisation of the force which will mark his commissionership as one of the most significant in the history of the Metropolitan Police. I am sure that your Lordships will wish to join me in congratulating Sir Kenneth Newman on his achievements, and in wishing every success to the new Commissioner, Mr. Peter Imbert.

7.35 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I should like to thank all those who contributed to this short debate. So far as I am aware, this is the first time that this House has discussed a substantive Motion on the report of the Commissioner. I think it has been a very useful experience for all of those participating and I am grateful to all who have done so.

I should like to make two or three brief points before asking leave to withdraw this Motion. They are points which arose during the debate and upon which the Minister has now commented. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, raised the question of schools as did the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, whose views on this matter I very much shared. Perhaps the Minister can tell me, by correspondence, what exactly has happened following the passage of the Education Act 1986. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, and I were involved in a series of guerrilla compaigns against the Government to ensure that we had police involvement in schools written onto the statue book and we succeeded. I should be grateful if the Minister could let us know what has happened since then.

Secondly, the Minister, will not be astonished to know that his reply as regards resources did not meet with total acclaim in all parts of the House. As I foreshadowed, he drew attention to the welcome increase in the size of the Metropolitan Police, while ignoring some of the very substantial additional commitments imposed either by legislation or as a result of negotiations with the Police Federation. That has led to a situation where, in reality, we now have fewer police officers on the streets in London than we did a few years ago. That is a matter of fact. I very much welcome what the Prime Minister said. But I have to tell the Minister that there is a substantial gap between what she said on that occasion and the situation which is disclosed in the report of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. I very much hope that the Government will now look into that matter again with some energy.

I particularly hope that the matter of the Central Drug Squad will be re-considered. The fact is that when the Broome Report was produced, the Government provided welcome additional resources for provincial police forces. They did not provide additional resources for the Metropolitan Police. The Metropolitan Police had to take account of the drugs situation in terms of the additional 1,200 men and women that they were given. There seems to be a substantial gap between what the Government have done outside London and what they have done inside London. It is difficult to justify that, given the seriousness of the drug situation in London. I very much hope that that matter will be reviewed by the Home Secretary. I think that most of us believe that the present situation, in terms of the size of the Central Drug Squad, is highly unsatisfactory.

Finally, may I deal with the question of shotguns. The Minister said that he, his right honourable friend and others are discussing the matter. I do not have the words of the noble Earl on a previous occasion when this matter was raised. However, I think they are curiously similar to the ones he has used this evening. This process of consideration and reconsideration appears to have gone on for a period of one or two years. In the light of the seriousness of the situation in London in terms of the increased use of shotguns, I hope that this period of consideration and consultation will lead to an early policy decision. As I indicated to him, my noble friends and I are absolutely committed to bringing in an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to deal with this question. I very much hope that the Government will then indicate that they support it. There is overwhelming support inside and outside the police service for new requirements on the owners of shotguns to take proper care of weapons which can, if misused, cause horrifying injuries both to members of the public and to police officers. I hope that the Government will come to a firm policy decision quickly. Rather than having to press the matter to a Division, we should reach a decision by way of consensus.

Once again, may I thank all those who have participated in the debate and ask the House for leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.