§ 8.36 p.m.
§ The Earl of Kimberley rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what they propose to do to establish better relations between the public and the Metropolitan Police.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, last July when I tabled the Motion I did not know that the Metropolitan Police had commissioned a report six months previously, nor did I know that on the cover of the Sunday Telegraph colour supplement in August this year there would be an identikit picture of a police constable with the caption:
Wanted, a new face for the Force".
§ The colour section described the public relations exercise which the Commissioner, Sir Peter Imbert, had initiated. That to me is encouraging. Sir Peter must realise the somewhat tarnished reputation which the Metropolitan Police have which could and should be improved without much difficulty.
§ A typical example is of a man who enters a police station. He waits for half an hour before anyone can see him. Finally, the sergeant realises that he is a researcher for the public relations company. He is then told how sorry the sergeant is but he (the sergeant) mistook him for a member of the public. The report commissioned six months ago basically said that the Metropolitan Police was riddled with deep internal divisions; many officers fell helpless and misunderstood; many police stations were run down; notices being stuck up at random—a type of Sellotape culture; that there were inadequate internal communications; there was no common sense of purpose; and that some officers' attitudes to the public were insensitive and thoughtless.
§ I should like to state categorically that any criticisms I may make of the Metropolitan Police do not refer to any of the many police officers in the Palace of Westminster.
§ The police and the public have four main sources of contact. The first is that of the victims of crime. It appears that the current attitude prevalent in the Metropolitan Police, if the crime is difficult to solve and only minor, is: "Report the details and forget about it. It is not economically viable to spend time on such crimes". That is where public confidence in the police could be greatly enhanced even though the chance of recovering stolen goods or the apprehension of offenders is remote. Unfortunately, after a burglary clues as to the identity of the offenders are unlikely or rarely to be found. Long ago, police officers made the victims feel that they cared for them and that they would try to catch the offenders. Today, the attitude is, "There is nothing that we can do. Ring us up with a list of the stolen goods, and then tell your insurance company". The victims are left feeling that the police do not care; the police are no good; and the victims will not inform the police if they witness unlawful happenings.
§ About a fortnight ago the Audit Commission published a scathing report that there were 60,000 cases of housebreaking, car theft and cheque fraud 707 which went unsolved each year because police officers either did not bother to collect fingerprints or, if they did, they mismanaged them.
§ The other point that came up immediately after this, about four days later, was that Saatchi and Saatchi had been asked to handle the advertising. Their slogan was, "Give the Long Arm of the Law a Hand". The campaign appealed to the public to be the eyes and ears of the police particularly during November. My Lords, it should not just be in November, it should be the whole time.
§ It is fair to say however that this attitude may possibly have been engendered by the obsession of senior officers with saving money at all costs, given the current budgetary restrictions. However, it is an area in which a little less penny pinching—that is, police officers at least going through the motions of trying to help—could engender a feeling of confidence in the police.
§ Major offences such as murder, rape, etc., are on the whole well covered, and I think that confidence in the police is good because of that. To sum up on that point: a little more time spent helping victims pays millions in police-public relations and thereby eventually saves a lot of money.
§ The second major point that comes up with the public is traffic offenders and parking offences. Those are nearly always sticky situations. Traffic offences, that is, speeding etc., cause accidents. Accidents hurt people and cost money. The traffic police are fairly unsung heroes when dealing with accidents and they are hated by potential accident-makers—people speeding, bad drivers and so on.
§ The problem is that there are good drivers and bad drivers; but the majority are bad and the police tend to treat all drivers as bad. If a policeman is following a driver who is speeding, how does the policeman know whether the driver exceeding the speed limit is good or bad? He does not, so he assumes the worst. It is only when one has to clean up ghastly accidents that one sees the danger and the damage caused by bad drivers.
§ Nevertheless, tact and good humour should be drummed into the heads of the traffic police. I am not saying that there are not some policemen who follow this philosophy, because there are. A great deal of harm is done to police-public relations by rude, overbearing and frequently tired, over-stressed police officers. The reason behind their being rude and overbearing is that it is often forgotten that policemen are human beings as well. The trouble is that sometimes the policemen themselves forget that fact.
§ If parking is unrestricted, it clogs up the streets, drivers become frustrated and angry, they drive badly and accidents happen. It is an almost insoluble problem. There must be parking restrictions, but privatising clamping was a silly, stupid and ill-thought-out idea, although it was done to economise on police manpower so that police officers could perform more important duties. What is the point of clamping a car parked at a meter? This happens frequently and the meter is then no use to any other vehicle. Why not make the penalty for overstaying 708 the time on a meter stiffer, say, whatever you like for one hour and thereafter £100 per hour. Removing cars which are causing a blockage is far better than clamping them.
§ My noble friend knows about my experience. Briefly, my car was clamped outside my flat within five minutes of me parking the car there while I was loading my luggage. When the adrenealin had settled down, I wrote to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and to Sir Peter Imbert, the Commissioner. After much correspondence, the fixed penalty notice and the clamping fine were refunded. I had not asked for that to happen. All I was doing was trying to crusade. Being a member of Parliament, I thought I might be able to help some other luckless indiscriminately clamped members of the public who do not know how to look after themselves. They do not know what action to take when their vehicles have been indiscriminately clamped.
§ I think it is unfortunate that clamping is now done by private contractors, although I agree it is under the supervision of a police officer. With all respect to the Metropolitan Police, there are always a few bad apples in every barrel, and no matter how well-trained police officers are, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary wrote to me in his letter of 7th March, human nature being what it is, there must be doubts in the public's mind that corruption cannot be entirely ruled out. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, had the same problem not long ago. Today I heard that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, the leader of the SLD, had his car stolen by the police, when he had gone away for the weekend.
§ Finally, on clamping, on the news on BBC-1 on 12th July, a very senior police officer stated that if Her Majesty the Queen parked her car illegally, "We'd have it". For a servant of the Crown to use Her Majesty to make a point like that in my opinion is the ultimate in bad taste and shows the arrogance which exists in parts of the clamping department of the Metropolitan Police.
§ I do not know why we have all this fuss about breath tests. The police already have the power to use the breathalyser on any driver, they can stop any vehicle they like, when they like, if they feel like it. However, I sincerely hope that we are not beginning to see the embryo or birth of a police state. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary must take very great care to supervise this in order to protect the liberty and rights of the people.
§ The third point concerns lost property, accidents, etc. Generally when the public ask for police assistance in dealing with lost property, street accidents and so on, a great deal of police-public relations points could be built up. However, again money counts here. Police officers do what they can on a limited budget, but they often appear offhand and uncaring. No doubt the Commissioner recognises this and I am sure that he tries to combat the problem. It is an area where, as with all relationships, tact and good humour count for millions of pounds of goodwill and, if applied rigorously, would help a great deal.
§ However, what does incredible harm is the nauseating scene watched by Mr. Roald Dahl and his 709 wife and reported in the papers on 16th September of Mr. Barton, when handcuffed, being very badly beaten up by a group of five police officers and then thrown semi-conscious into the back of a van. He was charged on 15th September with two charges, both of which were dismissed. It is to be hoped that severe disciplinary action was taken against those five police officers.
§ The last point concerns criminals. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 has caused great problems for the police. The bureaucracy involved in processing offenders is now so great that many police officers are spending so much time dealing with paper work that there is no time left to do their proper job—that is, serving the public.
To sum up, in 1829 Sir Richard Mayne, the first Commissioner, wrote these immortal words:
The primary objects of an efficient police are the protection of life and property, the prevention of crime, and the apprehension of offenders when a crime has been committed. To these ends, all the efforts of an efficient police, or … (peace officers) should be directed".
Every police officer has to learn that quotation by heart at the beginning of his service.
§ However, I wonder, 159 years later, whether that quotation has sometimes been forgotten in the insane, mad rush by senior police officers to obtain as much modern technology for their forces, to save as much of the taxpayers' money as possible—an admirable quality with which I do not disagree—and thus ensure their own financial future. By this I mean that the current attitude appears to be, "If I save a lot of money, I will get the next rank. If I invent a new way of monitoring costs, I will be promoted". Unfortunately, this results in penny-pinching economies while thousands of pounds are spent in finding ways of making more penny-pinching economies.
§ We now have violence not only in London but in rural areas and country towns. What I am saying now applies not only to the Metropolitan Police but throughout our whole country. Highly trained and expensively trained police officers out on the beat serve not only as a deterrent to crime but also boost morale and relationships with the public. It is pointless having these officers doing clerical work. Therefore could not many more civilians be given the jobs of doing that clerical work? Only the other day the Home Secretary in another place said that police numbers stood at a record level. I am sure he is right. I would not dream of arguing with him. They may be at a record level, but are they in the right place? They should be outside and not indoors. It may well be that the Police Federation would not like it, because they are a kind of trade union, but the Police Federation does not run the police force.
§ In the beginning I mentioned tired and overstressed police officers. The Metropolitan Police have finally recognised that this phenomenon occurs. They are, however, to a degree too wrapped up in a belief of their own self-importance to pay much more than lip service to that. However, there is a wind of change; things are improving. That is one benefit of younger officers reaching high ranks quickly so they can remember what it was like when they were Bobbies on the beat. There are advantages of having 710 an accelerated promotion scheme as there as disadvantages. After having given that much thought, I do not know which system is better.
§ I was very intrigued at Question Time today in your Lordships' House to hear the Question of my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood on crime prevention. It was interesting to see how many noble Lords contributed to that Question and how few speakers there are on the police debate this evening.
§ To conclude, the police are often in an extremely difficult position, especially in respect of riots, inner city deprivation and other matters. But we must look at both sides of the coin. The British people cannot ignore the problems facing our society, and expect the police to pick up the pieces. The Government, the social services, the schools and, above all, the public have control over their own destiny. It is up to both the public and the police to put their houses in order.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I wish to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, on introducing this debate. I believe it is very important that such a subject should he aired. I am also grateful to the noble Earl for restricting the debate to the Metropolitan Police, and not extending it to all police forces. I say that advisedly because the Hampshire constabulary operates in the area where I live. Every two years in my area the Farnborough air show occurs. I live only a matter of yards from a main road on which there is a turnoff leading to Farnborough.
As one would expect, during the air show the traffic builds up for miles on both sides. This year something very interesting happened. Motorists, many with young children in the back of their cars, had been sitting in a traffic jam for a very long time. But when they reached the turnoff they were all smiling and the kids were laughing like crazy. Some of our police, although in uniform, were dressed as Noddy men, some had funny faces, some had funny hats and some had great big plastic hands. Even we locals were laughing. I suggest that is a superb public relations exercise. It showed how to turn the public's frustration into amusement.
I believe that if we are to discuss how to improve relationships between the Metropolitan Police and the general public, we must first discuss what is wrong with that relationship today. Like the noble Earl, I wish to say that the remarks I am about to make have nothing, in any shape or form, to do with police officers in the Palace of Westminster, nor do they have anything to do, in any shape or form, with officers of the drug squad, the anti-terrorist squad and those officers who face criminals who are sometimes armed and those who face large, unruly crowds.
In the list of complaints there is the criticism that the police do not have enough manpower. As a result of that it was announced, as the noble Earl mentioned, that the police could no longer deal with petty crime such as mugging, housebreaking, graffiti, and other crimes such as snatching old ladies' handbags. Those crimes may be petty to the Metropolitan Police, but to the general public who suffer from them they are far from petty. That, in itself, engenders bad feeling.
711 We also have "no go" areas. The police deny that "no go" areas exist. Nevertheless we see them all the time on television and we read about them in the newspapers. We see and read of the police being confronted by people who may not be armed with guns but who are sometimes armed with bottles and staves. Unfortunately many of those confrontations occur in areas with large ethnic minorities. If a policeman arrests someone, before he knows it a crowd gathers and that person is pulled away from the policeman. One can then read the report of such an incident in the newspapers. At the end of the report it will state that no arrests were made. Members of the general public say, "Fine, but if I did something like that you can bet your life that there would be arrests". In other words the public feel there is one law for them—the basically law-abiding citizens—and another law, or lack of law, for others. That, again, is not a very good situation.
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act sets out guidelines. If memory serves me right, the guidelines stated that police officers were not to stop people because of their race, colour, religion, mode of dress or their hairstyles. Those guidelines are not adhered to. I have a friend who is a punk. One can tell that because his hair is still a slightly different colour to that of normal hair. He is perpetually being stopped by the police. My friend is well educated, intelligent and polite. He happens to be a talented musician and also a composer of lyrics. He is a thoroughly nice boy, but he is a punk. Therefore, it appears that in the eyes of the police he goes in for mugging old ladies. The terrible thing about this is that, by their very nature, genuine punks are non-violent.
Unfortunately that feeling about punks carries over from the police to the public. I have permission to recount a story in that connection. A short time ago my mother-in-law went to a bus stop to catch a Green Line bus. At the bus stop were three punks. A little way away stood a respectable looking gentleman. My mother-in-law went and stood over by the respectable looking gentleman hoping that if there were trouble from the punks that gentleman was there and he would protect her. So, what happened? The respectable looking gentleman started making obscene suggestions to her, whereupon the three punks came over and said, "Lady, is this man annoying you? If he is, we shall look after you". The respectable looking gentleman, who was obviously neither respectable nor a gentleman, decided that discretion was the better part of valour and left. I feel sure now that in future my mother-in-law will no longer be afraid of punks.
If the police do not like punks, it appears that they do not like young lads with posh accents either. I heard the following story from a very respectable source, although I cannot actually bear it out. One summer evening in Trafalgar Square four or five young lads were sitting on the lions and enjoying themselves. A police van drew up, some police leapt out, grabbed the boys and threw them into the van. The van moved off. In the van one of the boys politely asked one of the more aggressive police officers for his number. The reply was, "All you will get is my fist in your face unless you shut up".
712 The boys were taken to a police station, arrested and duly appeared in court. The police evidence was that the boys had been running through the crowd, knocking into people and using foul language. A man stood up at the back of the court and asked for permission to give evidence on the boys' behalf. He was a solicitor from Devon who had been in Trafalgar Square on that night and had seen what happened. He was sufficiently concerned by the treatment of those boys to find out to which police station they had been taken, what the charge was and where they would appear in court. He travelled all the way from Devon to give his evidence. The solicitor so obviously had nothing to gain that the magistrates believed him and the boys were found not guilty.
That being the case it must follow that if the boys were not guilty the police in their evidence were lying. When one lies under oath the term is perjury. Why therefore were those police officers not charged with perjury? That does not happen only occasionally. Time and time again, almost as a matter of course, too many police officers automatically give perjured evidence.
There is another point that I should like to make. I know that the sus laws no longer exist but one will see police officers stopping young lads, normally coloured. Occasionally one sees them being pushed against a wall or something like that. If one goes and asks what is going on one is liable to be arrested and charged with obstructing a police officer in the course of his duty. If one is not arrested the chances are one will be told to buzz off and mind one's own business. If one ends up in the police station and one happens to be a respectable, professional person such as a doctor or solicitor one will probably be all right. Otherwise, no. Noble Lords, may not believe me and if the House were better attended I should be tempted to suggest that they try it and see for themselves what happens. I should of course not suggest that to the Minister, first, because he is a Minister of the Crown, and, secondly, because he looks far too respectable and imposing for any police constable to have the temerity to try to arrest him or to tell him to buzz off. During the miners' strike we all know that violence was committed by both sides. That is very regrettable. However, I have heard too many stories for it not to be true that many of the county police forces were sickened by the gratuitous violence offered by the Metropolitan Police.
It may appear that I am anti-Metropolitan Police, I am not, I am only anti some of its members. That may be a very small minority but it is that minority which sours the relationship between the police and the general public.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, I believe that we need more police officers on the beat, fewer uniformed officers with their bottoms on seats. I read with great interest the fact that civilians are to take over more desk jobs. I believe that to be a good idea.
I believe also that we must have a new system for investigating complaints against the police. If members of the public have made a complaint against a police officer or police officers how can they have confidence in the procedure when that complaint is investigated by other police officers? Certainly the 713 officers may be from another police force but that does not alter the fact that it is the police who investigate a complaint against the police. I suggest that we should set up a new system under which one or perhaps two police officers would advise on police procedures while the complaint was investigated by intelligent but impartial people. I would therefore not recommend that I take part in that procedure because I am obviously not impartial.
I accept, as everyone does, that the days of dear old Dixon of Dock Green have gone forever, He was a lovable soul—if he existed—he was everyone's friend and everyone trusted him. He represented not only the law but also justice. That day unfortunately has gone. However, I suggest that when the police are trained they should not be churned out merely as police officers but somewhere along the line they should be taught that they must remember that when they put on their uniforms they are servants of the public and therefore they should not act as petty dictators.
In conclusion, I may have gone on a bit about the police roughing-up people and about the police perjuring themselves, but, regrettably, I did so because I personally have suffered from police perjury and I have been roughed-up by the police.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, the House is not particularly full at the moment. One wishes that a debate on the Metropolitan Police—who are perhaps the eyes and teeth of society—had attracted the same audience as a debate on charges in relation to eyes and teeth. It is a subject which is so important that it deserves to have more Members of your Lordships' House present for the debate which the noble Earl has initiated. We are all deeply grateful to him for having done so.
It is an important subject. It is one that worries the public and it is one that worries Parliament. The complaints that come forward in regard to the attitude of the general community to the police force and of the police force to the general community in the metropolitan area are very real complaints. There are special sections of the community whose relationship with the police is not as good as it should be.
In saying that I should like to pay a perfectly sincere tribute to the majority of the members of the Metropolitan Police. They do a magnificent job, very often with great courage and with great dedication to the traditions of the force, which are very fine indeed. We are talking tonight, I hope, about a very distinct minority but it is right that we should concentrate on them without forgetting the majority who do such a good job.
When we talk about the general relationship between the community and the police, I believe that it is right that we should reflect, as most people who are of advancing years do, on how young many members of the police force look. I can remember hearing that from my father when I was a youngster. I have now reached the age when the members of the police force look extremely young to me. But many of them are indeed young, and one of the things one 714 does notice—and this is something one wishes the Metropolitan Police would take rather more seriously than they do and something which should be accentuated in their training—is a touch of arrogance in their attitude to the community at large which is obviously not helping the community's relationship with the police.
Very often, even after a car accident, there is an attitude which is not that of a servant of the public doing his duty by investigating whether a crime has been committed in regard to careless driving, or whatever it may be. Sometimes there is almost annoyance at the time being wasted on having to take particulars of an accident which has occurred on the road. It is this undertone of arrogance and of an attitude which I will not call bullying but which certainly is too aggressive at times that hurts many members of the public and removes that respect for the police force which ought to exist. Again I emphasise that I am talking about a minority and not the majority, but how often is a community or a profession judged by the minority which does not live up to its traditions instead of by the majority which does.
Having said that, I want to defend many members of the police force from the criticisms that are made. Some were made tonight though with great moderation by the noble Earl. I do not Ihink that the background is always understood. For example, the noble Earl mentioned that members of the public are very often disappointed (which is an understatement) when what they see as important burglaries are not in fact taken up by the police. Sometimes days go by after the report is made before they sec a police officer.
I wonder how many of your Lordships realise that in fact there is now a points system in operation in regard to visiting houses and taking up burglary investigations. There never was before: that was left to the local policeman, who used to try to visit as many places as he could after reports of burglaries had been made. One knows that there may have to be a system of priorities, but the system of priorities resulting from this points system means that many people, and particularly many old people—in whom the very trespass into their private property creates fear, while the loss of items with sentimental associations though perhaps not very great monetary worth, creates much distress—will be hurt. The points system cannot be very justly administered and. though it is supposed to save a lot of money because otherwise petty crimes would be investigated, it is obviously something that ought to be looked at.
Talking about the general community and having mentioned the elderly, I wonder how many people realise what a change has taken place. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, spoke in terms of great fondness for police images of the past. He mentioned the creation of a noble colleague of ours on the television screen. It used to be a habit when an elderly person complained to the local police that somehow or other he was unable to enter his premises, whether because of the carelessness of someone else or because of his own admitted carelessness, a policeman used to come along and do a wonderful social and public relations job. With a care that was exercised to the greatest 715 extent possible, the smallest window which would allow a policemen to enter was broken. The policeman used to go inside and would then do the best he could to clear up the glass. Then he would sit there for just a little while and sip the cup of tea which was given to him in gratitude for his help by the old person concerned.
Do your Lordships know what is the practice now? The practice now, which I have no doubt saves a great deal of money, is that the policeman gives the number of a locksmith. What an opportunity to create goodwill that old exercise was. Now, however, we are operating on a system of efficiency and money saving instead of the old traditions of friendship of the police for all law-abiding citizens and, indeed, a tolerance for those who break the law—it is for the courts to punish them, not the police. The duty of the police is to arrest.
I mention now specific groups in the community, taking first youth. It is a great shame but perfectly true that the relationship between police and youth is not what it was. This afternoon at Question Time, while it is true that there were not many, the supplementaries that were asked were answered with great courtesy by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. I was grateful to him for that, as were other noble Lords. One fact that emerges from the wretched statistics that the House has to consider from time to time is the still high percentage among those convicted of crime, especially those convicted of violent crime, of young people below the age of 20 and in their early 20s. I know that it gives no pleasure to the Minister to have to deal with those questions in debates on the subject.
Some projects the police favour. There is a South London auto project for youngsters convicted of driving away cars without the owner's consent and of stealing cars. They show that they have a great fondness for cars even if it leads them into some criminality. They go on this course in South London, and the police help the course. The youngsters are so keen on it that, if they commit an offence after having been admitted to the project, the biggest punishment is to have their course terminated. I know that some innocent law-abiding youngsters in South London have asked why there is a project only for those who are criminals and who have committed crimes, and why such a project is not assisted by the police for all young people wishing to join it. That would be an extension of a socially beneficial project. It could easily bring the police into contact with young people.
Time goes on. I wish to deal briefly with another section of the community, the ethnic minorities. This is a perturbing subject. I was talking this afternoon to a police officer of some seniority in the force in terms of years of service, if not of rank. He told me the most pathetic tale. He is very fond of football, and he knew a coloured lad who was very good at football. The police officer said to the lad, "I know some people who run a very important football club. I'd like you to come along with me. I'll introduce you to the people concerned in the club because I think they'd give you a chance". The lad immediately said, "No 716 thank you". Some few days later he came up to the police officer and said, "I want you to know why I said no thank you. I'd lose all credibility and quite a lot of friendship in the street in which I live if I had come along with you to that football club, and I would have been indebted to you for introducing me to it".
How tragic that that should be the relationship. It is not easy to answer. It is not easy to see the problems in the minds of ethnic minorities when youngsters are on street corners not because they want to be but because they cannot get jobs and because they suffer many social disadvantages.
I wish that I could give a solution to the problem that is being debated. Something has to be done. Matters are improving through community relations, councils, and so on, but something has to be done to make the ethnic minorities in this country, and especially in the metropolis, realise that the police are there to defend them and not to attack them. The police are there to encourage them to be good citizens of this country, as so many of them are. The Metropolitan Police have not yet been able to deal satisfactorily with that relationship. The coloured community has not yet been able to deal satisfactorily with it. We have not been able to deal satisfactorily with it. It is one of the grave problems of the Metropolitan Police and their relationship with the community at large.
§ 9.21 p.m.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Kimberley for introducing this debate this evening. He has spoken from experience and conviction. He made a fairly condemnatory speech but it is right that we should address our minds to the matters he raised. I was glad that he had put this Motion down because I believe that the public relations of the police are of vital importance. If we want to live—as we all do—in a society where peace and contentment and law and order exist, the relationships between police and the public are of paramount importance. That is why I believe that my noble friend's debate is of such importance.
If one looks at the general scenario, the police are the ones who have to keep the peace. They are the ones whom society expects to administer the law. But of course they cannot do it alone. The police cannot change society. They are, after all, only people who are drawn from society and who are dressed up in blue. As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, when they are dressed up in uniform they are the servants of the public. However, if society determines to accept a shift in what is acceptable behaviour, we cannot expect the police to reverse it. That is not their job.
It is alarming to realise that, by the age of 28, one in three males has been convicted of one of the more serious criminal offences. It is a terrifying statistic but it is a reflection on society.
The first thing I would say to my noble friend Lord Kimberley is this. It is up to the police and the public together to put their house in order. If we want a decent society in which to live, it is up to all of us, and especially the leaders of society, to try to bring that 717 about. By leaders I do not mean just the police or politicians, but church leaders, doctors, professionals, leaders of the community, teachers and, above all, parents. It needs a conscious effort by everyone if we are to try to return to a more reasonable and ordered society. It cannot be left to the police alone.
There can be no doubt that the social context in which the police work has changed a great deal. Society has changed. It has become more complex and more violent. Authority is no longer accepted unquestioningly. That has not made the task of the police easier, in particular as the demands that we make upon the police have become more varied, more intricate and more complex. However, if the context in which policing takes place has changed, the philosophy of policing in Britain remains the same. The police-community relations is the modern jargon for an old concept. The concept that the police are the citizen in uniform serving the community of which he or she is a part is as old as the Metropolitan Police.
It remains true, as it has always been, that the police cannot do their job of maintaining the peace and tackling crime effectively if they cannot have the support and confidence of the public whom they serve, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, stated. Of course the police never have had and never will have the support of the whole community. What is important is that the majority of people in London should feel that the Metropolitan Police are their friends, that they act in their interests and that they can rely on police officers to behave, as my noble friend Lord Kimberley said, with courtesy, with impartiality, with restraint and with bravery in all that they do. I believe that this is vital. I agree with my noble friend Lord Kimberley. An abrupt riposte by one police officer, for example to a motorist, can alienate that person not only against that officer but against the police as a whole.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, used the word "arrogance". Arrogance which may momentarily have been portrayed can be construed as representative of the attitude of the police as a whole. If arrogance is used by one person, that can do a great deal of damage to police-public relationships. Arrogance when used can end up by turning against the police the very person who should be a friend of the police, whose friendship and co-operation the police need in fighting crime. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said that a majority of the police were good. I am glad he said that because it is true. He also said that there is a minority who are not. I believe my noble friend Lord Kimberley said that there were rotten apples in every barrel. That is inevitable. But one must recognise what is wrong and bad and should not necessarily harp on that and think that it is indicative of the whole, because it is not.
My noble friend referred to traffic offences. Some 46 per cent. of all male drivers have at one time or another been questioned by police in connection with traffic offences. That is an amazing statistic. One can realise how vital it is, as my noble friend Lord Kimberley said, that the attitude of the police towards the motorist, even under provocation, should be exemplary.
718 My noble friend spoke with feeling on traffic matters. I could take issue with him on one or two specific points. He said that the contracting out of wheel-clamping had been a mistake. By contracting out the physical work which is associated with wheel-clamping and removal operations, the Metropolitan Police have increased their capacity to enforce the law, while at the same time they have kept their costs down. I believe that is a reasonable thing to have done.
The effect of these operations is being carefully monitored by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. The result of contracting out is that illegal parking has fallen substantially and the use of off-street car parks has increased. So far from blockages increasing, traffic flows have in fact inmproved. The contractors work under the direct supervision of a police officer at all times. If my noble friend has any specific grounds for believing that these operations are corruptly conducted I hope that he will make them known to the commissioner or to me. If he does not do that it is quite wrong to cast general aspersions on the integrity of those who do this work simply on the grounds of what I think he described as human nature being what it is.
My noble friend asserted that the police have power to use a breathalyser at random on any driver. That is not the case. The police have power to stop any vehicle, but they may require a breath test only where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the driver has consumed alcohol, has been involved in an accident or committed a moving traffic offence. Where my noble friend and I are at one is in expecting the highest standards of behaviour from police officers in all their dealings with the public. But courtesy, impartiality and restraint are not always easy to maintain in the face of hostility or even, on occasions, physical attack.
We can be sure of hearing about plenty of occasions when the Metropolitan Police fail to maintain those standards. However, we hear little of the immense provocation to which they are at times subjected and which can lead to such lapses. The public's perception and acceptance of the police can change like litmus paper as the result of one wrong move. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that certain crimes were not properly investigated by the Metropolitan Police. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said that the commissioner had introduced a system of crime screening in order to help—
My Lords, that is so. There is a system by which it is decided which cause should have the greatest priorities. I assure the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that no crime is screened out simply because it is considered to be trivial. All serious crimes, especially crimes of violence, are fully investigated. The commissioner is well aware of the need to ensure that members of the public are not left with the impression that their crime has been ignored, even in cases where a full-scale investigation would stand no chance of success.
719 We should never underestimate the pressures which arc faced by the police in London. Unlike the Armed Services the police do not face a physically identifiable enemy; they face a series of shifting problems. The man who is interrogated for a crime one day may be seeking help from the police to find a lost child the next day. The man who is offensive to the police for interrogating him is the first to expect them to be available when events turn against him. The criminal can use everything in the book against the police, including knives, guns, and crowbars. Yet the police are unarmed and frequently unprotected. They can also be frightened. As my noble friend said, they arc only human beings but they are always expected to act with restraint. If they do not do so the media set about them and quite right too. We expect and we must have the highest standards from the police and failure to do so points us towards a police state, as stated by my noble friend Lord Kimberley. Gilbert and Sullivan said that the policeman's lot is not a happy one, and they were correct.
It is entirely right and proper that complaints against the police should be thoroughly investigated. By way of example my noble friend Lord Kimberley raised the recent press reports of an incident involving Mr. Earl Barton which was witnessed by Mr. Roald Dahl, the author. I cannot comment on the case but I understand that the Police Complaints Authority is at present supervising an investigation into a complaint made by Mr. Barton against the police officers who arrested him.
It is not only the lout and the mob who impose such strains on the police. Members of the public, whether they are being arrested for a crime or seeking police help, are often unreasonble, rude and violent. It is horrifying to realise that last year 4,534 Metropolitan Police officers were assaulted in London alone.
The most law-abiding citizen can feel resentful or apprehensive when approached by a police officer. As a result he often responds to the officer in a way which is less than friendly. I found it myself when recently my local police officer, whom I know well, approached me and I immediately asked, "What have I done wrong? Have I parked my car in the wrong place?" In fact he had come to talk, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, invited. What a terrible reaction that was—a Pavlovian reaction—to a friend. I felt ashamed. But if it is the reaction of one who is as privileged as I am to be involved with the police, it is not surprising if the policeman anticipates a similar or possibly worse reaction when meeting a hostile group of people. The police officer himself reacts in advance accordingly.
My noble friend Lord Kimberley referred to the recent Wolff Olins report. That report said that:The attitudes of the Met towards the world in which it works can best be described as wary. Many policemen and women feel beleaguered and misunderstood.It is therefore even more surprising—and something which we need to be reminded of more often—that officers of the Metropolitan Police generally do a superb job.
720 In a survey of public attitudes earlier this year, only 11 per cent. of Londoners thought that the Metropolitan Police did a poor job. Sixty-nine per cent. had a good image of the police in London. The Wolff Olins report found that the Metropolitan Police were an organisation which enjoyed widespread public support. They have internationally renowned centres of excellence, and they provide an increasing police presence on the streets.
But of course the Metropolitan Police are not faultless. There are legitimate concerns about certain areas of the Met's work. The same report said that there was a lack of a common sense of purpose; that there were internal divisions particularly between the police and civil staff; that there was a need for further improvement in management and training; and that the stresses of policing in London create a wariness among officers which is sometimes reflected in an insensitive and thoughtless attitude to the public.
Needless to say, some sections of the press have siezed upon these problems as evidence of a crisis—and the commissioner realised that this danger existed when he decided to publish the Wolff Olins findings. But he considered that the public should have a chance to comment upon the problems. I believe that that was a brave decision, and one which is symptomatic of the openness of the Metropolitan Police today.
The commissioner's aim is to ensure that the Metropolitan Police provide a courteous, fair and effective service to all Londoners. It needs to be representative of the public which they serve. And it needs to be responsive to the needs of the public which they serve. The Metropolitan Police are doing much to bring that about.
I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred to ethnic minorities. The recruitment of more ethnic minority police officers is essential if we are to maintain good relations between the police and the public. We are a multi-racial society, and it is important that the police should represent—and be seen to represent—the community as a whole. The ethnic minority communities in London, just as much as anyone else, need to feel that the Metropolitan Police are their police force. The communities need to look up to them, to respect, to trust and to be part of them. The minority communities must know that the police will protect their interests in the same impartial way as they protect the interests of the majority.
The commissioner shares that view. The Metropolitan Police have been working hard over a number of years in order to try and increase the number of ethnic minority police officers—and they are having some success.
In 1981, at the time of the Brixton disorders, there were 138 minority officers in the Metropolitan Police. That is a pathetically small amount. Nearly as many—114—were recruited last year alone. About 10 per cent. of the strength of the Metropolitan Police special constabulary now consists of ethnic minority officers. That is good. But I am bound to say that it is not good enough.
721 But however hard the Met try to increase their ethnic recruiting—and they have tried—you cannot force people to join. The Met will only achieve a substantial increase in the number of black and Asian officers with the active support of the minority communities themselves. Those communities should feel a pride in having their members become part of the police force. They should not make those who join the police force feel ostracised or feel that, by joining the police force, they have not been loyal to their own communities. It is up to the leaders of the ethnic communities to encourage their members to join. It is up to the police at all levels to welcome them.
I therefore make a special plea to the people of ethnic minority origin. It is this. The police are there to serve the whole community. Members of the ethnic minorities are wanted in the police service. The interests of their communities will be the better served if their communities are represented in the police force. The Metropolitan Police are also working hard to ensure that they remain responsive to the changing needs and to the priorities of the complex community which they serve.
In order to respond to the needs and to the concerns of the community, police officers need to know what those concerns are. Consultation between the police and the public is, therefore, an established part of the way in which the Metropolitan Police operate. In 1981 the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, recommended, after the disorders in Brixton, that arrangements should be made for obtaining the views of the community about the policing of their area through local consultative groups. Consultative groups now exist in every London borough and they are providing an important channel of communication between the police and the public.
This is complemented by the more informal but nevertheless vital liaison which the police maintain with schools and with a wide variety of community and voluntary organisations and statutory agencies throughout London. Where there are special needs, the Met try to meet them. The new strategies for combating racial incidents and for responding to the victims of domestic violence are examples of this.
Lay visiting schemes are another way in which the police respond to the public's concerns. There are now 32 schemes in operation in London and they are making, in the inner city areas in particular, a substantial contribution to improving relations between the police and the local community.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary and I also fully support the commissioner's strategy of working closely with the public to tackle crime. Over 9,000 neighbourhood watch schemes have now been set up in London, together with 30 crime prevention panels. I think that it is, as a result, more than coincidence that burglaries of homes in the Metropolitan Police district fell by 5 per cent. in 1987 and that total crime was down by 4 per cent.
722 Drugs are increasingly becoming an immensely worrying part of society. The dependence on them increases crime in order that those who use drugs should have the funds with which to purchase them.
The police are correct to do all that they can to curtail this wicked trade. But to raid a club which is suspected of dealing in drugs does not exactly endear the police to its members. The feeling that "authority" has burst into a club alienates the customers; but it is an essential part of police work in order to protect society. That is yet another example of how difficult it is for the police both to protect society and to be everyone's friend. It is a difficult and often dangerous balance.
Training is also important in improving relations between the police and the public. As I have already said, a single rude or overbearing act by one officer can undo months of good work by the majority. As a result, the Metropolitan Police have therefore completely redesigned the training which is given to their new recruits in order to emphasise the vital importance of working with the public. Improved training in this aspect of policing has also been provided for all existing uniform and CID officers up to and including inspectors.
In January 1989 a professional development programme will be introduced. This is an ambitious long-term training strategy which is designed both to satisfy the public demand for more effective community-centered policing and to support the professional needs of the police. The endorsement of this training strategy at the most senior level in the Metropolitan Police is a demonstration of the force's intention to effect real improvements in the quality of its service. I think that is important and I hope that my noble friend Lord Kimberley will agree.
Although it is true that total crime is down this last quarter, crimes of violence against the person—the really horrible crimes—are up. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred to the word "fear". Fear has become an important part in the make-up of people. Like truth and love at one end of the spectrum, fear at the other end is a great motivator. It may be that only 2 per cent. of people will become victims of crimes of violence in any one year, but the other 98 per cent. wonder if they will become part of the 2 per cent. and they rehearse the traumas to which those 2 per cent. have been subjected, and which frequently are portrayed by the press.
Thirty per cent. of women are reported as being very worried about being raped; 20 per cent. of the population is reported as being very worried about being mugged or robbed. The fact that the vast majority of these people will not actually experience these crimes is not the point. They feel fear; they fear fear.
Fear, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred to it, may be unreasonable; it may be unnecessary and it may even be irrational, but it is real. It does not 723 respond to argument and it is not represented by statistics. But it is a fact and it is a de-stabiliser and a force for evil. The fear of crime may be more long-lasting and, in some cases, almost worse than the fact of crime. It intervenes in a person's ability to live his or her life in contentment without any crime having in fact been committed. The Government recognise this, and we realise that the presence of the Bobby on the beat is one of the most important purveyors of calm and confidence to the public. We have, therefore, undertaken to see that there are more policemen in London.
By the end of 1989–90, the present manpower programme, which started in 1986, will have produced an additional 1,200 officers. It will also have released—and this is a point raised by my noble friend Lord Kimberley—a further 500 officers through civilianisation, and it will have provided a further 200 civilian staff to support the police. The additional officers on the beat, which will result from our programme of increasing resources, will I hope help a little to alleviate fear. They will not, of course, eliminate it. The number of hours which are spent on the beat by Metropolitan Police officers was 13 per cent. higher at the end of last year than 12 months previously.
The reassurance which the beat police officer can provide helps to create the atmosphere in which police and public can work together as partners.
Much is being done to help and to protect the public and to tackle a difficult task in a sensitive way. But it is up to all of us, from the Home Secretary and the commissioner at the top to the constable and the 724 citizen in the street, to work as partners in order to ensure that the Metropolitan Police can continue to deliver the excellent service to which we have become accustomed; to which the police aspire and which the public demand, and together to combine against crime and its terrible effects.
I am conscious of the fact that I have spoken far longer than is agreeable at this time of night. I regret to say that I did so deliberately because I felt that my noble friend's Question was one of great importance. The fact of crime is a terrible thing and the fact of the fear of crime is also a terrible thing. The ability of the police and the public to work together, of the public to have the confidence of the police and of the police to know that they can serve the public properly is very important. I was anxious to try to explain to your Lordships as much as possible what we feel is being done and what the Metropolitan Police force is trying to do.
No one can ever let up if we are to get on top of crime and if we are to have a police force that is as I believe ours is, both efficient and respected. If my noble friend's Question this evening has contributed to that in a large or a small way it will have served a useful purpose.